The Jemaa El-Fna, the nerve centre and focus point of Marrakech, a Unesco world heritage site, was surprisingly quiet at 9.30 in the morning. If you exclude the loud calls to prayer by muezzin (or, more likely, amplified recordings) from the mosques at an ungodly hour before the break of dawn, Marrakech wakes up late and goes to sleep late. Market stalls were being set up. The orange juice vans were already there. It was refreshingly bright, still cool but sunny, and ahead of us a full day of exploration of this mad, wild city.

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Daylight gives such a different perspective to a place. The previous night, the square seemed enormous. This morning, relatively devoid of activity, it was a human size. We walked towards an important landmark – the minaret of the Koutoubia mosque. Past real live cobra snakes with their “owners” setting up their charming show. I gave them a wide berth. Obvious reasons.

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You can tell he’s not Moroccan from the cap. Or maybe not.

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Soon we met a different type of snake. Rather, perhaps, a vampire bat in the shape of a wizened old man. He approached us and offered Gianluca a cookie.

“Thank you!” (and maybe even “Shukran” from me, the pompous oaf of the group). I could notice that Sue had tried to pull us away. Then he started the usual silly chat, where are you from… Malta… ah, Malta! Blah blah blah and other further nonsense. Then he gave me a cookie and another one to Sue, who couldn’t figure out a way how to decline (two minutes later it ended up in a bin).

It was all heading towards a climax. He put out his right hand in front of him, palm facing upwards, and began to rub the thumb against the other fingers. The internationally recognised gesture meaning: money. I should have known. I had been warned much earlier. How much do you want? He shrugged his shoulders – “50 dirham…?”

“What! 5 euros for three cookies?” We gave him a 20 dirham note and from then on it was war. I’m sorry, Marrakech, but I can’t stand this trait of many members of your population. They won’t take no for an answer. Or they think that your no actually means “maybe”, and press you some more. Little do they know that I hardly ever buy stuff. When I do need to buy something (which is rarely) I go seek for it, which means that if I don’t seek then I don’t need and don’t want to buy whatever they wish to sell. And I hate it even more if they persist.

They jump at you while walking next to a restaurant (“I’ve already eaten”), a travel/excursion office, a hammam place (whatever it is)… “Espagnol? English? Italiano?” No, I say, shaking my head vigorously and also my right hand while walking straight on. “Excursion? Sahara?” NO, thank you!

“Tannery! Tourist! Best leather in Marrakech!” NO! “Espagnol? English?” Uzbekistan, I finally burst out. Surely, they can’t speak Uzbeki. “Ah, Uzbekistan! Pakistan!” You cannot even get lost in peace, or let them realise that you’re lost. If they catch you consulting a map, they come up to you and insist on showing you the way. NO, thank you! Walking outside the medina in the modern part of Marrakech, every few metres I was accosted by (yet other) wizened old men offering to polish my shoes. NO, thank you!

I’m probably coming across as arrogant. Well, maybe. Point is, I like to figure out my own way out of something, and if I’m really lost, THEN I ask. It’s the same principle that applies for shopping. But the main reason why I object so much to this overbearing attention is the underlying intention. They EXPECT a tip after insisting with their offer, WITHOUT you having asked for it. Okay, so everyone needs to earn their money. Fair enough, but then I like to choose myself where to spend it, when I need to.

Maybe I should stay away from any souk, anywhere in the world. You need to haggle over the price. It’s also expected of you. Sue loves it and she claims outrageous discounts. On such occasions, I move to somewhere disassociated and wait. Just like skiing, it’s not my world. Instead, please give me walking and taking pictures of beautiful architecture or natural landscapes, any time.

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Gianluca waits from a less disassociated spot than me while Sue is busy doing earnest negotiations somewhere inside

Clearly, I should have avoided staying in a crowded touristic mecca. Morocco is a beautiful country. I look forward to showing how much this is true in upcoming blog posts, when I write about the famous “excursions” that we took outside of Marrakech.

Here below are pictures of some oases of calm and beauty that we managed to reach within Marrakech. ‘Reach’ is the operative word here. There were others marked on a map, but too many motor scooters, shoppers and Moroccans offering their wares and services in the way, and Sue and Gianluca had had enough of it.

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Within the Koutoubia mosque area. A vampire bat would very soon offer a cookie to Gianluca.

We visited the Mamounia Hotel: this luxurious palace, with ample gardens at the back, opens its doors to the public from 11 in the morning…

We had a welcome break on the rooftop terrace of the Zeitun Cafe, overlooking the Kasbah mosque. Strictly no alcohol. You’ll need to go to a “bar” for that, and it’s not cheap. I drank a lot of fizzy water in Morocco…

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We visited the recently restored Badii Palace…

By late afternoon, the scene at the Jemaa El-Fna had livened up considerably again. I took this picture from another Zeitun Cafe…

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The message in the road signs pictured below is still clear, understood and ignored by all except by Ali Baba (more on this in a future blog post).

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Giving the lie to a founding principle of this blog (“exploring interesting places before they become too crowded…”): it took a long time to get into Majorelle Gardens… Here, Gianluca is negotiating with his Mama. The outcome was that he waited out the queue sitting on a pavement across the street playing an electronic game.

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The artist Jacques Majorelle, who constructed these gardens in 1924, trademarked the colour “Majorelle blue”. It is truly a remarkable hue.

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Inside Bahia Palace
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Inside Restaurant El Bahia

And finally, we flew back home…

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Marrakech Menara Airport

The moral of all the above story being: if you’re in Morocco, and not too far from Marrakech, do visit this extremely interesting city for an unusual and quite spectacular experience. But staying there for more than two nights is not for the faint hearted, especially inside the medina.

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