"Salaam Malekum" & Greetings from Marrakech ...!!!!..
We arrived into Manchester airport from Luxor at 2230hrs on the 20th Jan. though it was past midnight before we got thru. customs....Unfortunately we were booked into the Cresta Court Hotel in Altrincham for the 21st. & were not able to check in till 1400hrs...so we decided to spend the rest of the night at the airport as comfortably as possible before catching the first bus to the hotel in the morning.... thankfully we were able to check in early which gave us the chance to catch up on some well earned sleep....We joined the local library in Altrincham as temporary members & the only reason was so we could print our tickets for our flight on to Morocco....A walk around this outer suburb of Manchester for a few hours & we had an early night to catch our Thomsons Airways flight 810 to Marrakesh the next day.
We arrived in Marrakesh at 1935hrs. on Friday & after a slight delay with locating the Thomson Rep. & boarding the bus for our transfer to the Tikida Gardens hotel.Seeing as we did not get to the hotel till 2100hrs. we were invited to have dinner first before checking in to our room (287) ...As they say, first impressions do count ...." and this hotel did exceed all our expectations"..Needless to say,we were very impressed & we would highly recommend this place....It certainly stands up to it's 4* status with every thing from Food,Service & Cleanliness....A Real Assett to Thomson Holidays....The hotel is situated at a very convenient 15min. drive from the centre of town and surrounded in a serene garden setting of palms,olive trees,orange groves & a large variety of cactii.....They do have a courtesy bus to take you into town & bring you back...though Songhi & I walked in on our first morning which is an interesting 45min. stroll....Playing dodgems with cars,buses,bicycles and horse & donkey carts in the streets of Marrakesh is not something I would recommend for the faint hearted..... January seems a great time of the year to visit Morocco,especially if you are looking for a break from the cold & wet temperatures of winter......I guess between 20 & 25deg.during the day is far easier to handle than around freezing..!!!!
We were woken at 0545hrs. to the sound of morning prayers around the city....After picking out the best of a huge selection from the buffet breakfast on offer,we hung around in reception for our meet & greet with the local Thomson Rep.(Richard).
Our walk into town took us via the Majorelle Gardens ...The palatial building was initially built by french artist James Majorelle & opened to the public in the forties but is now the property of Yves St. Laurent.....the gardens consist of a large variety of palms,cacti and towering bamboo & a quiet escape from the noise & crowds of the city.....Following the contours of the old wall that surrounds the old city we headed to the Koutoubia Mosque, a 70 metre minaret & the city's landmark,(Marrakech's equivalent to Paris's Eiffel tower) it was built back in the 12th century & eventually finished by Sultan Yacoub el-Mansour....We headed back for the hotel around dusk & after a couple of wrong but interesting turns we eventually found our way back for a well earned dinner.....with half/board ie.Dinner & Breakfast included with our stay the variety of cuisine on offer has been a real treat....."Tajine"cooking being the speciality(a sort of slow cooked/steamed variety of stews cooked in a variety of spices & herbs over an open fire and in very unique looking clay pots)....Mint tea is also a refreshing change from your average Liptons or Tetley bag and stalls selling freshley squeezed orange are a familiar sight on almost every street corner around town.
After breakfast on Sunday we caught the 1030hrs courtesy bus into the city & walked to the Menara Gardens on the outskirts of the city, it's also the gateway to the surrounding Atlas mountains.....Being Sunday & an extremely busy spot we later found that this is a favourite hangout for the locals on a Sunday....standing in the centre of the gardens & amongst the olive groves is a 19th century pavilion with a huge bathing pool.....We then walked to the El Bahia Palace built in grand style by Vizier Bou Ahmed.....Built on 2 acres of land & packed with citrus & palms in the gardens it's a beautifully architectured palace with a fine example of mosaics & carvings unique to this country.
A small group of us took an excursion to Ourika on Monday....It's approximately a 2hr. drive into the Atlas Mtns where at this time of the year,you are fortunate enough to see a sprinkling of snow ...We visited a traditional Berber village (the first inhabitants of Morocco) with also an invite into a Berber family's home.....My temptations got the better of me & I bought myself a Morrocan fez for a bargained price of 25dirhams....The 2nd visit was to a herb garden used for the manufacture of perfume & natural medicine..."an ideal interest to Songhi"..... and our final visit of the day was a 45min. walk up to a waterfall that took us thru. some small villages & townships where we were even lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the unique Barbary apes that inhabit these mountains.
On Tuesday morning Song & I caught the 1030hrs courtesy bus into town & visited firstly the El-Badi Palace....a 16th century palace built by a Saadian sultan, only to be stripped of all it's grandeur 100 years later by Moulay Ismail who decided his own palace could do with a bit of El-Badi's pizzazz & picked all the best bits of the building & carted them off to Meknes....Most of what remains now is just sandstone & the giant storks that have taken residence on the minarets & rooftops....The Saadian tombs was our 2nd. visit of the day and another impressive place, combining an ornate mausoleum with a cedarwood roof supported by a huge set of 12 marble columns.... It was built by the sultan Ahmed el-Mansour as his final resting place & he lies here surrounded by his sons,mother,sister & favourite wives while dozens of his servants graves are scattered around in the gardens.....Only discovered in 1917 it is presently slowly being restored...
We decided to give the city a miss on Wednesday and took a 3hr. cicuit walk from the hotel thru. La Palmeraie & the Club Med. Resort......I managed to get a few sneaky pics. of the camels & their riders without being hassled for money.......and then paid the price by getting caught in a sandstorm that just seemed to have blown up without warning on the way back to our hotel ..... Showered & rested and after another stroll around the grounds of our hotel both sat down to another delicious variety of Tajine cooking for dinner.
We awoke on Thursaday to our first sight of rain in Marrakech yet still managed an all day Thomson excursion into a different area of the Atlas Mtns. with our very experienced english/german speaking guide Abdul .....Our first visit was to the Cascades of Ouzuod (huge & dramatic waterfalls) which were a good 1hr.hike to the bottom & back. Our lunch which was included in the day's excursion was at the Aljazeera Restaurant in the small township of Demnate followed by a visit to the Natural Bridge at Imi n'lfri...... we walked to the bottom & under the bridge before climbing back up the other side........We arrived back to the hotel in good time for dinner..... A great day out & exceptional value for money......
On Friday morning we headed for the Jemma el-Fna square & thru the northern & older area of the Souks to visit the Ben Youssef Koran School.....Got cleverly collared into seeing a Tannery on the way by being told the school was closed till 1pm for prayers & then being demanded a present (money) for the the service & taking a pic......after a few harsh words for not paying up & being called "Bloody Tourists" we decided to get out of the area pretty sharpish.......not a pleasant experience, as we have heard stories that once you're guided in,attitudes change & they can lock you in until you do pay up.......We made it to the school eventually which surprise.! surprise ! was not closed as initially told.....Lesson learn't..!!..Don't trust them if they offer to show you the way...There is always an ulterior motive...."Cash" for their so called service..!!!! .. Ben Youssef School is Morocco's largest Koran school,but was closed in 1960....It is a great example of Moorish architecture with carved cedarwood,& very elaborate stuccowork & Zellij tiles.....Arabic inscriptions are etched into the walls & there is an enormous courtyard with a pool for ritual bathing before prayers......On the way back we stopped at the Jemma el-Fna square...It's a unique experience to witness the hustle & bustle of this place.....It's not much to talk about thru the day but by 5pm it's interesting to watch this place unfold into a hub of activity (organised chaos)....Snake charmers,story tellers,fortune tellers,monkey dancers & acrobats etc......along with the Tajines smoking on the grills,stalls selling fresh orange juice & herbalists selling all sorts of potions & amongst the variety of shops selling allsorts from carpets,to leather goods,tin & silverware,jewellery goods and clothing it is definately not an experience to miss.The tiny streets and alleys that lead off from the square are a crowded maze of shops where haggling & bartering is just their way of life.....We decided to go upstairs and sit on the balcony of one of the many cafe's & bars overlooking the square and watch the activity,at a safe distance & with a good view.
"A very relaxing & lazy day today".... We strolled down for breakfast around 0830.....I then tried to update this travel blog, though, with a very slow internet service it just seemed a long drawn out process...Anyhow, we have 3 days in England before the Irish trip,where I hope to catch up with the diary & photos......Songhi was feeling a little poorly (maybe the Tajine lunch from the excursion to the mountains the day before).....so she rested up a little after a bit of meditation & an offer of a remedy for an upset tummy by John & Julia (an English couple) holidaying here too......Seems John had gone thru. the same problem.....We both walked around the Hotel gardens in the afternoon while I snapped a few "Quirky" pics. as Song calls them, with the fisheye lens......Caught up with all the depressing news in Egypt on TV & considered ourselves extremely fotunate to have got out of there in time & before all the trouble erupted....Hope others still there are able to get out of the country safe & sound....We Had dinner around 1930hrs. though Song played safe & took it easy by eating lightly.
As we had seen most of the sights & scenes of Marrakesh thru. the week,it was a refreshing change to take a walk after breakfast & I photographed the 2011 Marrakech Marathon, which by sheer luck had the 25km. water stop a few meters from the entrance to our hotel.......Being overcast with a few showers it seemed a good day for a 42km run with more than 2000 entrants......It's been a while now since I ran my last full marathon, so having seen it thru. the lens of my camera I am now motivated with memories of that pain & torture after watching some of these runners.......Well, another five months & we're back in Oz. and I can start back in training with the Launceston 10 or Burnie 10 in Tasmania.........Songhi's feeling much better today,though she still needs to rest & regain her appetite for our last dinner in the Tikida Gdns. hotel tonight.......It has been a wonderful stay here in Marrakech....seen some beautiful & historic sights,eaten & drunk a great variety of exotic & amazing culinary delights and made a new set of friends along the way.....Would love to be back again soon.....!!!!!!!!!