Kids were happy to return home – leaving behind homeless cats and dogs, haggling and tuc-tucs
MARRAKECH: My very enthusiastic daughter Lilly who is almost 11 who embrace travelling with open arms and Ludo, an eight-year-old boy who doesn’t get impressed easily. He also worries about all the details I can’t explain but reassuringly tells him he would have to wait and see till he gets there.
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On the plane from London to Marrakech there was a sense of good atmosphere and we landed in the evening and the airport lit up with its impressive architecture. But I wasn’t impressed yet. As an experienced traveller it takes more than the airport to wow me.
We queued for almost an hour to get out of security and then to the taxi line. It was chaos. I had been told that the haggling starts there. Every price can be discussed and we soon agreed and I was given the oldest driver, quite likely 75 years old with a hat and a sore throat. He stuffed us into his car which was the most dodgy car of them all. That certainly woke the kids up and on the way there we passed grandmas and whole families with new-borns on scooters, very different to our Norwegian roots.
At night-time Marrakesh comes to life in every corner. Kids running around, cats here and there, food stalls, and market halls still open. He walked fast and the kids were running with their suitcases in tow. Our Riad was so quiet and beautiful from the noises outside.
Mohammed, my name is Mohammed, take a seat by the pool. Tea? Mint tea? I will bring you tea. A ritual common in Morocco. It’s a ritual, it’s not just tea. It’s a form of socialising, relaxing and enjoyment.
I recommend Riad Safa. Eight rooms, two pools, beautifully and calmly decorated in natural colours, central, nice home-cooked breakfast and friendly staff. Lilly was a bit scared when we sat on the bed. I want to go home. It is scary here, she said. I calmly said tomorrow you feel different.
Early next morning I jumped out of bed as my heart pumping. It was the start of the daily prayers from the minaret, mosques. The voice of an old man shouting or praying I should say, in a megaphone. This was the usual routine, five times a day.
Shopping. We were here for six nights. The first day after breakfast we were off to explore the markets. We bought handmade hats with personalized names, tea pots, herbs and spices. Just what Marrakesh with kids is all about. But the first day I was totally ripped off. My French is slightly rusty I should say.
One guy spoke fluent English and asked us to see a baby chameleon. My kids had already stopped by his two cages with turtles and chameleons. He put it in their hands. He took me aside. Spices, herbs, look this is lemon tea leaves, crush it, you can smell it? Paprika, cardamom, Chanel perfume bars, menthol, crystals, smell that too, only a few crystals in a box, hot water, smell it, see, like if you have a cold, all natural. I ended up with the lot. He said fixed price by weight, you can pay with card at my friend´s shop. Before I knew it I had paid and my daughter was given a green lipstick that changes colour by touch. He was a great salesman what can I say. If I had a shop I would have employed him. But I was ripped off and I learned. Next time I was going to say no and walk away. And then haggle.
We had lunch at a pizzeria opposite the well-known Cafe de France with a view to Place Jemaa El Fnaa, a huge popular market with snake-charmers and monkey handlers. I didn’t get too close to them as I heard they will only ask for money. But we were unable to escape from the Henna ladies. One lady took my hand and started to draw Henna, natural washable tattoo, before I could say anything. Another took my daughter and then my son. In five minutes flat they had tattooed both our hands and drawn a scorpion on my son´s arm. This didn´t come cheap, we paid with our pocket money and left hearing angry voices in Arabic.
Day 2. Traveling here in October is perfect timing. Degrees 30-35 Celsius and hardly any shade. Going during the summer months would have been painful as temperatures reach 45 Celsius.
A minivan picked us up at the Riad and took us to the Agafey desert. Only one hour drive out of town. Marrakech camel ride dot com was a good move and scored highest amongst the kids. We were greeted by again, Mohammed, and his five camels in the middle of nowhere. Lilly rode alone and I rode with Ludo on camels called Fatima and Banana, very relevant to my kids´ happy experience as Banana was a little cheeky.
We rode the camels for two hours with our guide Mohammed holding the ropes. Smiling and frequently stopping to take photos with my phone. After the ride we were escorted to a homemade sofa next to a tent. With the view of Marrakesh in front of us we had more sweet tea. A little later we had our tangine dinner inside the tent with candles. There were another two girls from USA and three men from Spain. The men were spending the night there and offered a glass of cold Spanish Sherry. On our second toast we went outside to admire the beautiful indescribable view of Marrakech lit up in the dark and millions of stars.
Day 3. After a long day riding the camels, we woke to prayers and sore bum. Taking it easy was on the menu, and a visit to the souks, seeing new things and just absorbing our surroundings. The kids no longer wanted to go home and in the evening we went to restaurant Le Foundouk. You wouldn’t know it was there. No major signs, just a big impressive old door. We had nuts, olives, couscous and lamb tangine beautifully cooked in lemons.
Day 4. Marrakech with kids include exploring a real Hammam. My problem was that I was a single mum with a son and daughter. Hammams are usually segregated. I couldn’t let my boy go by himself so I found Heritage Spa, an old well reputed spa in Bab Doukkala. We entered a dark charming place and sat down for tea. My son wore his swimming trunks while my daughter and I to our surprise had to wear a disposable thong. My daughter said I will never wear one of those again and laughed.
We laid down on marble tops. Two younger ladies scrubbed us thoroughly and covered us with a menthol wrap. My son didn’t like it as it was too strong for him and he needed to pee. The woman later came in and washed us some more, hair, face, bottoms. Left us again with a mud wrap and washed us again. When it was over, the kids said we are not doing that again. We relaxed in a quite dark lounge with cushions for some mint tea and Moroccan sweets. A different woman came and whisked me off to a relaxing essential oil massage while the kids got themselves dressed and moved to the lounge where they could watch their Ipads. Yes, I know, Ipads while exploring but it can occasionally save me some space of time.
Day 5. We mostly soaked up the atmosphere and didn´t go for many sightseeing. The kids walked a lot and in the heat we didn’t fancy seeing all the beautiful architecture although I wished I had seen Jardin Majorelle, a blue house of the famous designer Yves Saint Laurent.
We walked to see the Tanneries, where they wash and dry leather but in the heat capitulated and took a taxi to the restaurant Dar Essalam which was the movie director Hitchcock’s favourite place. Lots of tourists but that was understandable. Good service and even a belly dancer. We were given a huge menu but it turned out they only really had lamb in every form. No pigeon, turkey or chicken. The tangine and skewers of lamb tasted so good with hints of cardamom and cinnamon.
We took a tuc tuc back to Riad Safa which was another highlight with the kids. It navigated through tight alleys, nearly crashed a few times and used its weak horn to make its way. The kids understood the Moroccan way of life.
Day 6. The last morning. A last visit to the souks, picked up a couple of tangines and camel puffs. This time I haggled so hard even the guy sitting next to the shop, nodding saying that was a good deal. I also bought a traditional turquoise cotton dress. I was conforming.
Back at the Riad, the kids were ready to go home. It gave me a taste of more. I thought, when I retire I must come here. Buy a Riad, have some friendly staff, invite all my friends over, learn proper French, some Arabic, rent out rooms, relax, have tea and appreciate life.
I have made a few changes in my life. I will try to take more breaks, more tea, room scents, talk to people, talk to strangers, and smile more often. I’m lucky to be able to travel and see places. On the flight home with Norwegian there was still some sense of an atmosphere. Marrakech had made an impression. Colours, clothing, noise, smell, camels, herbs and spices.
Marrakech with kids. Kids were happy to go back to their reality world, leaving behind homeless cats and dogs, haggling and tuc tucs. But Marrakech did wow me, even though it is touristy and talked about. It has a natural charm. Its unique. Nowhere in the world will you find anything like it. Anything is possible. Anything can be handmade. Old and new.
I’m definitely going back. To see all the culture sights, I didn’t see with my kids. Book noisy free Hammams and massages, drink mint tea and write another article about wonderful Marrakesh – without kids.