Of Tiles, Souks, and Tajine

While it was still cold and freezing in Amsterdam, I had the chance to enjoy a beautiful African sun getaway to Marrakech in January. But my trip to Morocco offered me much more than the warm sun, which is why I am writing about it six months later.

Only a few minutes into our drive out of the airport, I was overwhelmed by a familiar nostalgia. I experience this feeling every time I go back to visit my family in Karachi. The broad main roads leading to a packed and bustling city center, air filled with the smell of smoke arising from BBQ grills on every street corner, pavements lined with food stalls particularly fresh fruit juice, and walls plastered with all kinds of Arabic, French and English advertisements ranging from those about viagra to travel discounts — how could this possibly not remind me of Karachi?

Enough about my maudlin comparisons, I guess. Let’s get to what is truly exciting in Marrakech.

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While most people recommended visiting the souks in the evening to experience the hustle and bustle of countless street performers and the largest food court ever, I enjoyed the souks during daytime when they were less crowded. The souks are an extensive maze of shops featuring many different crafts and goods. I realized how extensive they were when I found whole blocks of streets designated to a particular craft. I enjoyed browsing through the wooden craft and leather shops.

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If you are planning to shop in the souks then you have to develop a thick skin and grow a muscle for bargaining. The shopkeepers can be very aggressive in order to sell certain items for unreasonable prices, so you have to play smart if you plan on shopping. I managed to score a one piece leather jacket and a stunning leather laptop bag for a price unimaginable in Amsterdam. I think bonding with the shopkeeper about the picture of Amitabh Bachchan on his wall helped bargaining easier.

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During the entire trip, I was in awe of the beautiful tiles I saw everywhere in Marrakech. From the stunning blues,whites, greens, plums, and browns, Moroccan tiles represent every single color group. The Bahia Palace has the most gorgeous tiled walls and flooring. The palace also features multi-colored glass windows and ceilings with the most intricate wood work and paintings.  Unfortunately, I could not find a guided tour of the palace, nor were there informational boards displayed around the palace to help tourists understand its historical significance. So, if you are planning a visit, it might be a good idea to plan ahead regarding the guided tour.

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When I was tired from the stirring medina, I headed to the calm and peaceful Majorelle Garden, or as popularly called, Jardin Majorelle. These gardens were designed over forty years by the French painter Jacques Majorelle. Strolling around in the garden is an experience; walking past exotic collections of plants like cactus (and others I could barely pronounce), breathing air filled with a sugared fragrance from a variety of flowers, cool January breeze playing with hair as the small, colorful birds sing to lift your moods.

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All paths of the gardens lead to a moorish edifice, which is the Berber Museum. It is small, but carries insightful collections that provide a good understanding of the Berber culture. The museum is divided into three sections: daily knowhow of the Berber life, jewels and what they represent, and the grandeur of the culture reflected through costumes and weapons. My favorite part was looking through the costumes and weaponry that enabled the Berbers to form grand empires in the Mediterranean. I would share pictures of the stunning Berber Museum, but photography was strictly prohibited there.

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In terms of food, I remained underwhelmed. On my first day, I tried a tajine which I did not like at all. The blend of spices just did not please my tastebuds. I kept trying different kinds of couscous and tajine throughout the trip in both touristy and non-touristy areas, but was never wowed.

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As for navigating the city, I would advise you to remain cautious. Tourist traps are prevalent. Street performers and sellers can be pushy and aggressive, so be careful about photographing them. Similarly, cab drivers over charge abundantly, so ask your hotel for what are reasonable fares and then decide accordingly with your cab driver.

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January is the perfect time to visit Marrakech. It is sunny during the day and pleasantly chilly in the evenings. The city landscape is stunning; for miles, the moorish, glowy minaret of the 12th century Koutoubia Mosque remains visible against the clear blue skies. Sometimes the scenery resembles a 90’s Yash Raj movie — palm trees line all main roads with a background of snow covered Atlas Mountains. How gorgeous is that!

All in all, Marrakech is a must-go if you’ve an interest in history, culture, and well….being warm during colder months. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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