I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Teed Off

So here's the plan: get up early, have breakfast, plot the day in reverse. What time do we need to be at the airport? How long does the bus to the airport take? What time does the airport bus leave? How long a walk to the bus stop is it? How long does that leave us to Do Stuff?

We actually didn't get up too early, really. Another sugar-heavy breakfast was made even more sugary by the presence of dense and lovely homemade chocolate cake. Limoun was not tormented by any stray insurrection and we sat at the grand table in the middle, since seemingly everyone else from the riad had disappeared early either on excursion or to piss off home I guess.

Oh, hang on, just checked - whirling dervishes are something totally different. The music we'd been treated to in the restaurant was Gnawa music.

We packed our stuff up and went to ask Mohammed what the deal is with checking out. He was fine with us leaving our stuff there, and we didn't even need to pay up yet - despite paying in advance, there is a government mandated tax payable on departure. We told him we'd be back around 2pm or so and buggered off to the bus stop - via a cashpoint which only displayed a blank screen after PIN entry, not useful - for round two of the hop-on-hop-off bus tour, with our 24hr tickets valid until midday.

Back up towards the Ville Nouvelle past the insemination clinic, Cycles Jihad, and the Cyber Parc, the first new stuff of the day came after we went back past the Chesterfield. Having walked back to the Jemaa el-Fna the previous evening there were 12 or so stops of this bus tour we hadn't seen, and without headphones we were reduced to having me read the stuff out from the map in my best fake City Sightseeing voice. "As we proceed down this thoroughfare, one of the widest in Marrakech, visitors to our city often like to pop into the Shell garage for a diet coke on the way to the train station" etc.

Turns out we hadn't missed much on Sunday. We drove down some uninspiring wide roads, saw a fairly impressive train station though no trains, the Theatre Royal, a conference centre, some chain hotels, some parks, the edge of the Jardins de le Menara which would've possibly been worth a visit had it not been crazily hot and with us having no opportunity for a shower or change, and then half hour touring around an area of rich people's houses and posh(-ish) hotels. Again.

Rather than wait for the circuit to complete we jumped off at one of the old city wall gates, being on the edge of the Koutoubia gardens. Across the road and into the gardens we were immediately photobombed and then hassled by Berbers (in great hats). Took a slow wander and sat down for a couple of minutes on the least shady bench we could find, then strolled past the sellers of wooden camels, bracelets, and Adidas wallets to the front of the mosque. The mosques in Marrakech are pretty much the only buildings which reach above 3 storeys, being a 5x1 design which some old fella decided was great and therefore must be used for all mosques in the city.

They are also pretty much the only buildings in Marrakech which don't have a bunch of satellite dishes on top, or mobile phone masts like all the fake palm trees which continued to impress Helen. She took more photos of them than of real vegetation, I think. We were treated to a panorama of satellite dishes from our lunch venue, a cafe balcony back across the square which was yet another entertaining walk. Helen had HORSES! shouted at her by a particularly blunt man, and got scared by a vaguely-too-close encounter with a snake that wasn't being overly charmed or charming. I think I was called Ali Baba another, I dunno, 3 or 4 times and we also had "Fish and chips!" shouted at us, which seems like a slightly worse version of the "Harry Ramsden!" call from Friday and a different kettle of fish/chicken from the "Hey, eat with us, we are better than Nando's!".

Pizza, diet coke, orange juice with cinnamon, virgin mojito and a BIG FUCK OFF ICE CREAM were consumed while we watched the 4 lads doing acrobatics on the ground entertaining the diners though not seemingly having much luck getting any cash for it. Conversation was starting to wane a bit. Was it because we were on the verge of splitting up?

It was about 1pm and really we wanted to get the bus at about 2.30pm. 90 minutes was an awkward amount of time, especially on this hottest of our 4 days. A comedy mis-hearing earlier had made me think Helen was in the mood for buying Big Macs when in fact it was knick-knacks, so we set off to buy some stuff before getting back to the riad. Of the two main drags heading south we'd found the vendors in the western one to be the least trying so headed down that, making a purchase from a non-pushy stallholder of fine kitchenware.

Around the corner and brief encounters with two kittnes whose cuteness cannot be put into words and unfortunately was not pictured, one last Ali Baba and hello, Riad Limoun Amara, time to say goodbye. As we waited for Mohammed to take our cash we snarfed a bit of wifi and saw the flight was delayed, grabbed a tactical piss, and walked our last walk to the Jemaa el-Fna.

Helen's wheely case is more of a magent for attention than even her hair or my ginger face, and is also an added bit of danger to the bike, moped and donkey laden streets. Offers of accomodation and horse transport succesfully dodged we got to the bus stop only 2 minutes or so before the airport bus turned up. So long, Marrakech.

The bus took us pretty much long the exact same route as the hop-on, hop-off tour had this morning except for a diversion to some main bus garage near a huge chunk of the city walls which we hadn't seen before. There was no aircon, a sign told us it was 35 celsius, and an ad told us our return ticket had been worth a good discount on the hop-on, hop-off as well. D'oh!

There was only one other person on the bus, and no others got on. RAK airport is small, with a single terminal and arrivals and departures on the same level. The bus stop dropped us exactly where we'd got on on Friday. By now, Helen was in a really quite poor mood and needed two fag breaks on the 5 yard walk to the terminal entrance. I was trying to gee her up with incessant enthusiasm for the fact we were about to get on a motherfucking plane, but was not having much success.

Handing her a form to fill out allowing us to leave the country didn't do much good either. Morocco requires you give the same information on the way out as the way in, and The Internet had led me to believe the ignorance of most departing passengers would be comparable to those arriving. I steeled myself for delays caused by people in front of us being turned away because they hadn't filled the form out.

Checked in at the desk because there's no online, no mobile boarding pass here. Got our paper BPs and went to the queue into departures, where we experienced delays caused by people in front of us being turned away because they hadn't filled the form out. Though the couple immediately in front of us I felt very sorry for - here was an English couple of pension age, comprising a feisty, in-charge woman and frail, slow man. She was trying to boss him through the procedure and the poor bastard dropped the boarding passes, despite keeping hold of them seemingly his only role; she shooed him out of the way while he stood helpless, unable to bend or even speak faster than 2 words a minute. At the documents check they were informed they needed the forms, but despite a language barrier this steely official did his absolute best to help them. No-one was enjoying this situation and I'm really glad the man gave them a seat, fetched them forms, handed them a pen, etc.

After this check there was security, then passport control, then another police check. Virtually everything was as cursory as the inbound had been thorough. Into the airside area and, hello, shops, hello, duty free, hello, bars selling alcohol. Woohoo! We explored, bought some sweets for our offices, and perched near the expensive bar. Helen was properly down by now, and we sat largely in silence while I blogged. She went to explore, she bought some beer, we ran out of dirhams.

The plane was delayed a bit, but not much. We didn't even try to get into the lounge, as I'd read it was fucking horrible and I also was under the impression it wasn't a proper oneworld alliance lounge, but just one which you can get into with a business class Iberia or BA ticket. I may have been wrong but we'll now never know, and as I type this it occurs to me that the Gatwick lounge was the last hurrah for my dear Cathay Pacific gold card, expiring at the end of this month and impossible to renew. Sigh. I got a lot of good use out of that card, and as of April 1st I have no way of getting into free booze areas when flying BA without actually flying in business or first class. God damn it. :-(

Aaanyway. We played a bit of scrabble, which didn't do much to lighten Helen's mood. I was trying not to try too hard but the going-home-comedown affected and affects her way more than me; as much as she loves flying, she really only loves it when flying away, not when flying home. Me, I just like being in big fuck off metal boxes in the sky. Hell, today me and Mark were discussing flybe flights from London to Inverness which go such preposterous routes as Inverness-Birmingham-Edinburgh-London City. That, to me, sounds like a fucking great way to spend a day.

Alex topped and tailed the trip with yet more good news by SMS while I'm in an airport. Good work fella.

I bought us some more beers on a card with about 20 minutes to go, then at my ill-timed behest we went to the gate too early. Bleh. Managed to find a seat and continue scrabbling, then walked to the plane and... oh. There's a 2yo kid in the row behind us. For fucks sake. Neither of us are big fans of kids at the best of times; locked in big fuck off metal boxes in the sky with them is not even the best of times.

Service was in reverse order to the outbound flight: main box of sandwich and cheese and mousse, then beer, then raisins. Obviously this is because we're flying the route in reverse. I got double food because Helen didn't fancy hers, in fact she really didn't seem to be in the mood for much. My continued attempts to cheer her up carried on failing, but I didn't chase it as much as I might have once done because I know how fucking annoying it can be to be continually asked, are you OK? Are you OK? Is there anything I can do? Are you OK? So we just kept playing Scrabble, and she beat the living shit out of me at it in the second game, after I'd won the first with 'ufo'. What?

Towards the end of the flight things got simultaneously better and worse. Better because Helen managed to source us extra free beer, worse because a group of middle-aged women decided to have a massive pow-wow in the aisle right next to us. They were these upper class ladies discussing at length such things as their high court judge friends' sons, who's anti-semitic and who isn't, how hard it is to learn golf, and how amazing it was that one of their party had actually gone into Marrakech and, wait, hang on, you what? Yes, indeed, it seems these posh women in cheap seats had gone all the fucking way to Marrakech just to play golf but NOT TO ACTUALLY SEE MARRAKECH. Now I can understand going on golfing holidays, but, really, do you go somewhere just to play a course or two and not to actually visit and enjoy the place and surroundings? Really? Not that I should be one to judge someone else's travel habits and preferences, really...

Despite leaving late we landed early, presumably due to some epic tailwind designed to piss Helen off even more by getting us back to the land of 4 celsius quickly. Immediately off the plane I was subjected to a vast, long vent about everything shit from the plane and particularly those bloody women and the revolution was back on. Her solution to avoiding people like that is to bloody well fly bloody easyjet or bloody Ryanair, and I tried to impress upon her my tactic of flying in cabins where it's not even possible to sit next to anyone. We'll see which wins.

A giant queue at the UK border meant we chose to each take a tactical piss in the loos near the Ebola control room. Welcome home. The queue moved fairly quickly, and as I was being seen the woman and her kid next to me were getting some vague interrogation - she had to hand over some papers, and the official asked the lad "what do you call this woman?".

A long walk to the monorail via a fag break, my phone told us the trains were fucked because there'd been delays for ages on the line between Gatwick and East Croydon. Welcome home. Got to the station and there was no Clapham Junction train for a while or so I spunked £1.85 on a diet coke. Welcome home. Down on the platform we learnt that some trains were running so late they were no longer going to stop at Clapham anyway and we had no choice but to wait in the freezing cold for 25 minutes.

Nipped up to the end of the platform to see if we could find a place for a vape, all we found was CCTV - accompanied by a "this is the CCTV room at Gatwick station, ... " announcement just as we got there. Welcome home. Then we saw the big Samaritans billboard while they announced the delays were due to a person being hit by a train. Welcome home.

The schadenforeman was strong. By now I was laughing at basically everything - the cold, the trains, the suicides, the Samaritans, the way it had taken us 90 fucking minutes between landing and getting a train, etc etc. Helen was not quite as impressed but smiling a bit. At Clapham we each had a tight connection, but of course mine was 5 minutes to move either 1 or 3 platforms while she had 7 minutes to peg it with a wheely suitcase along 10 platforms. In the end I actually made it from Gatwick to my flat, once the train had arrived, in less than 40 minutes. Smug Darren is smug. Helen made her service and was home safe about half hour after me.

Country 51, done. 2814 miles in the air. And off out with Helen tomorrow night. :)

Monday, March 02, 2015

Morocco's Modern Life

Woke up on Sunday with a minor hangover. I blame all the hot weather and alcohol, personally. But it was truly minor, and breakfast gave it a solid kicking.

Breakfast for the riad's resident cat Limoun was somewhat less of a pleasant experience. Two strays came in, both looking like they hadn't eaten for months and chomping down the cat food like nobody's business. Limoun gave a vague chase to one of them, and started from a hiding place at another, but didn't really protect his territory or food that much. He did however give Helen oodles of attention, jumping up on the lap and everything.

We left later than we had on Saturday and headed back down towards the ruined palace, where there was a bus stop for the hop-on, hop-off service we'd discovered in our guidebook. I am a sucker for these things as readers of my Greek, South African and Malaysian adventures of 2014 will remember. Really glad they are Helen's cup of tea too. Our plan today was not much more than "head to the stuff that's too far to walk" with a primary focus of going to the Majorelle gardens and the Palmery.

We waited at the stop for a fair while, watching the bustle of the southern medina go by while only suffering the most mediocre, lacklustre hassle from the cab drivers. Of most interest was the virtual fist fight which broke out across the road when multiple taxi drivers almost literally fought over whose fare to the airport one couple were.

The bus came along and I asked for two tickets IN FRENCH, got an answer IN FRENCH, and then responded with some non-random words IN FRENCH. Allez moi! It was 145dh for a not-quite-City Sightseeing open top tour around the main sights of the medina and some gardens, linking up in the modern French bit - ville nouvelle, or Gueliz - with a second loop which goes to that there Palmery and Jardins Majorelle.

Also in the Ville Nouvelle is an English pub called the Chesterfield, and I had made my intentions very clear that I was going to go there and see if I couldn't get a Guinness.

But first the bus tour. Pretty much the first thing which came up was a boring, pedestrianised area which looked like any English town's high street. Could've been in Wycombe or Basingstoke. For fucks sake. After that we were by the main square, the Jemaa el Fna with which we were now well acquainted, but the audio told me that no-one really knows what the name means and it might be "Square of the destroyed mosque" or "Square of death". I like that. It's been there since 1600 and got UNESCO'd up in 2001.

There are several hundred kms of underground canals allowing Marrakech to escape its natural aridity and be full of gardens named after rulers and dignitaries and, er, the Maroc Telecom Cyber Parc where you can, according to the commentary, get a very pronounced "wifi, broadband, or et cetera". It's actually been there since the 1800s but they've given it a really shit name. Helen fell in love with the mobile masts which are disguised as suspiciously perfectly straight palm trees.

The modern bit, as we trundled down Avenue Mohammed V, is pretty modern. You might as well be in a monochrome bit of Paris, especially when you come up to KFC, McDs, etc. We got off the bus at the changeover point and found the Chesterfield for later, stumbled across an e-cig shop useful for emergencies, and cursed my camera's battery dying. There were a bunch of street front cafés around and we chose one that didn't appear to be blokes only. Two sandwiches with chips came, and Helen exercised her French by asking where the toilets were only to get an immediate English reply of "yeah, they're upstairs".

As we left we asked the waiter where the Jardins Majorelle were and he said a 20 minute walk up one road, direct, not left, not right. It was actually about 10 minutes, not very picturesque and the only noteworthy thing being a tourist way over-compensating for being a European in Africa by dressing like Lawrence of Arabia or something. But worse was to come in the gardens as a couple of English lads were wandering around dressed in some kind of north African Islamic pyjamas. Behave yourself lads.

The gardens were great, my enjoyment heightened by the first diet coke I'd managed to source. It's a largely green garden with a fuckton of different cacti, but that's all fantastically offset by the primary colours of vivid blues and yellows and reds of the pots, walkways, and buildings therein. It's also nice and cool because the palm trees are massive.

Inside there is a Berber museum for which we'd paid the supplement and that was well worth it, certainly better value for money than the ancient pulpit steps at the palace. Sadly no photos allowed, but it's a tour through different aspects of Berber culture with each room representing one thing: jewelley, tools and utensils, clothing, religion, etc. I liked the bonkers hats and masculine apparatus, and especially the few exhibits of Berber alphabet which looks much more south American than African.

We sat down by the Yves St Laurent memorial for a bit, actually for longer than we'd wanted because suddenly we were hemmed in by, and I quote, a "massive queue of Germans". After making our escape we waited for the bus while watching a parade of horse-and-cartmanship. The circuit of this second loop was meant to take an hour and go through a really nice route through the Palmery, which is best done by this very bus, or on camel.

The Palmery is a bit shit really. the drive to get there takes ages along big motorways on the edge of the city, and then all you're presented with is a shitload of gated communities for the rich and famous, plus awful theme park-esque things like "Western village" with its sheriff's office and saloon. There are golf courses and big houses and occasional parking areas full of camels and quad bikes, but seriously there is nothing picturesque about the place. The whole thing would honestly have been a bit of a waste of time were it not for the fact that camels are awesome and we parked next to a few and got some OK photos.

On the way back to the ville nouvelle, one of the stops seemed to be purely to allow us all to throw our earphones over the railings to the horde of kids that greeted us.

Back at the centre and it was Chesterfield time. The entrance is kinda hidden as the pub itself is actually on the first floor of a hotel, and once you're inside it's labelled "Bar Anglais". It seemed quite English except for the goddamn lack of Guinness FOR FUCKS SAKE. But we could sit outside by the pool in the shade, so we sat outside near the pool in the shade. Some nuts and popcorn came out and we ate them while shooing away a pigeon - both because we figured we'd annoy the staff if we encouraged it, and because I kept flinching. But then we realised a) the staff were feeding the pigeons b) using iPhone slo-mo camera to capture a pigeon dicking around near our table was awesome.

When Helen and I had turned up we ordered 2 large beers, but while being served Helen had nipped to the loo and the barman had apologised to me that there was only one large beer glass, so we'd have to have one large one small. Expecting therefore to be the only bastard able to drink large beer I was crestfallen when Gavin arrived having been served a fuck-off massive stein of beer. Bah!

Chelsea won the league cup and I spoke at effusive length about the awesomeness of my Pebble smartwatch, but how you have to have your wits around you, recalling a story about Chris texting me "is she fit?" (which I exaggerated into "shagged her yet?" while telling) while on a first date - not with Helen - a while ago. Twat.

Gavin and his missus had a cab booked for later from the square and wanted to eat first, while Helen and I wanted to head back to the hotel, so we all strode along Mohammed V back to Jemaa el Fna as the sun set. It was really really busy and we got a real feel for the transition from the more "safe", Western part that we'd been in as we approached the old medina. The JeF was absolute fucking carnage, busier and crazier than at any point on the previous 2 nights, and we said our goodbyes and battled through the streets back to the riad.

The barber did not offer nor demand I shave. He looked forlorn, knowing I am a lost cause.

Briefly lying down almost turned into a full nap or kip, so I was kicked into action and we went to a restaurant we'd earmarked for lunch on Monday but brought forward. It's only a 5 minute walk from our riad, a place called Dar Es Salaam(?) in which such folk as Winston Churchill, Doris Day and Sean Connery have eaten. Well, now, so have we. We had no reservations so pitched up at 8.02pm - having been led to believe it opens at 8pm.

We were very quickly seated at a table in an already full room, with music in full flow from two awesome guys - one playing a guitaresque instrument and one with rhytmic clappery things who was dancing and rotating his head. Is this a whirling dervish? We haven't looked it up yet. Food and beer was ordered, we plumped for the set menu each and were warned Helen's main would take 40 minutes or so. That's fine.

The starters arrived and filled our table, which could easily have sat 6. We had about 9 different things - spinach, aubergine, some marmaladey stuff, peppers, beans, chickpeas, etc. Everything was lovely, as was the bread we had with it. The band changed, replaced by a group of 3 lads with more instruments and less dancing. Midway through their set the dancers came out, first a plate-of-candles-on-head dancer than a more traditional belly dancer, though a very different performance to the previous night. In this room the diners were largely situated around the edges and the middle had a large-ish podium where the perfromers could show off. The dancers then did work their way around the room, posing for photos but without requiring any money (at least that we could tell). I mean, this was a pretty upmarket place tbh.

The waiter took an awesome photo of me and Helen.

Mains came out, along with a wholly unnecessary apology for how long it took. I had the most succulent falls-off-the-bone lamb tagine with crushed olives in oil, while Helen had a pastilla with vegetables and cheese. They were amazing. The first band came back and everything got a bit participatory, people being given the opporutnity to try on the hat with the whirling bead and fail dismally to move their head properly or clang the clappers right. A group of English girls got involved and afterwards sat down talking about how hilarious it was, while we got a bit shirty about them not understanding the difference between fun and funny. Enough with your "let's laugh at the funny foreigners", you lot.

At some point a text from Chris arrived which lit up on my watch.

Dessert wasn't necessary but we had it anyway, a rice pudding and fruit salad. Patisserie was turned down and we paid and waltzed back to the riad, very slowly, seemingly more full than the previous night. How the fuck did that happen?

Marrakech is great and the end to our second and last full day was fantastic. Felt like we wouldn't really be in the mood to go home the next day.

I was still not single.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Justin Berber

Happy birthday, JB. Apparently.

I slept through the call to prayer on Saturday morning. What a rubbish Muslim I would make. Also I am told there was a cockerel, which I missed too. A bit weird to be on holiday and not wake up and immediately shove on BBC World or CNBC or radio 4 or download a new podcast; and in a room whose privacy levels the NSA and GCHQ would be proud of there was nothing to do except actually get up and do some day seizing.

First, a massively sugary breakfast in the courtyard directly outside our room, and some studious blogging interspersed with a bit of squeeing over the cat, Limoun. And then, some tourism.

Marrakech doesn't really seem to do mornings, as everywhere was relatively empty, calm and quiet compared to the madness of our first evening. We wandered back up to the now empty main square and took a few photos, and despite the sun it was actually a tiny bit chilly - perfect for me, annoying for Helen. We made sure we knew where the booze hole for the evening was and then set off to the souks.

The first two souks were pretty ordinary really. Some fresh produce, which is no use to us, and then some fabrics and stuff which we weren't interested in. But the main souk complex didn't disappoint, this largely covered (with various forms of metal) maze of endless alleys of shop after shop after shop selling leather goods, rugs, food, toys, spices, all kinds of everything. My gut instinct led us somewhere a bit crap at one point, but I made up for it by spotting a tiny artisan courtyard where people were actually making things out of leather there and then, with no hassle from locals, just a working area with residences as well. We weren't really in the mood to buy, just to gawp, and anyway this was on the way to the tanneries.

We were making half decent progress in the correct direction through the maze until, of course, someone gave us directions and then a lad happened to walk the same way as us and made conversation and, hello, he led us to the tanneries, talked a lot about my beard and called me Ali Baba, introduced us to the boss of some of the tanners and promptly disappeared without hanging around waiting for 50dh. OK then...

Boss man taught us some words in Arabic and Berber which we promptly used and then forgot, and walked us around his tannery. Over and over again, he explained how the hide from camels, goats, sheep and cows get shoved in lime and salt for a week, then covered in pigeon shit, then have the hair scraped off, then get plunged in water for a week, and then they're ready to be worked on. Apparently these here Berbers from the Atlas mountains only come down to the city every so often to do this work and sell it. We're on the last day of the big leather festival, before they piss off back to the hills, how lucky! We walked in and around two different tanneries and also got a birds eye view of some others, one of which we were requested not to take photos of because of the strictly religious guy who disapproved of cameras. They were interesting places, nothing like as picturesque as sundry books had led us to believe but also they didn't stink. We had been told about 15 times by now that pigeon shit is "Berber Chanel no.5" and is used because it does the same job but is less dangerous to the skin than ammonia.

Finally we were led into a shop where the most gregarious Berber salesmen in all Morocco sat us down, made his boys fetch us some mint tea, offered me 5000 camels for Helen, and directed us through the most astonishing sales pitch I've ever witnessed. We were shown big floor cushions I want to spell "poofs" with angering the entire gay community, then bag after bag after bag, then a shitload of rugs in various colours and designs featuring patterns representing ice, the high Atlas, the middle Atlas, Berber tattoos, luck, marriage, etc etc. Everything unique, everything much better quality than you'd find in that horrible main square where everything is "China quality", don't you know. Him and his folk have had to come 60-70km down from the mountains! The Arabs don't like them, politically (though personally they get along fine). We Londoners are eternal brothers with the Berber people and there is no obligation to buy anything and, seriously, how many camels for Helen? And I was repeatedly called Ali Baba because of my heroic beard.

We did actually want to buy something, luckily enough, but I felt really guilty his boys had laid out so many rugs when there wasn't a cat in hell's chance we'd buy one. They got put away and we picked a couple of items we did want and then the "democratic pricing" came into effect. More touchy feely, Helen was designated "director of finance" and a written haggle proceeded. He wrote down 1700dh which we misread as 700, so we started at 400dh. Cutting his arm off! 1400! 700? 1200! 1000? OK, 1000. He won't be able to eat but we're such nice people, etc etc.

It was a fair chunk of cash but we'd played into the whole experience and it was fun, and we really did want the things we purchased. But unfortunately the entire thing was soured as we left the shop, the boss of the tanneries magically appeared at exactly the right time and straight out demanded an extra 200dh for the tour he'd given us. No asking if we fancied rewarding him and his workers, just a flat demand for an exact amount of cash. We shoved 100dh his way and told him he was getting no more, and pissed off away back towards the main square.

"Towards the main square" is an interesting concept in Marrakech. We did actually get a bit lost and seemed to reach a very non-touristy area full of roaming youths and football gang graffiti. Refusing to explicitly stop and turn back, I glanced at my phone as if to check a text message and discerned a swift right right, left combo which would get us back on track back towards Jemaa el-Fna. Soon enough we were back in the covered souks with excellent fractured light beams, and a huge congested traffic jam of mopeds and pedestrians and cycles and donkeys. Absolutely crazy and fantastic to try and walk through these narrow alleys, which have been here for hundreds if not thousands of years and have resolutely refused to adapt since the introduction of motorised vehicles.

We totally knew exactly where we were going, and attempted to give off that impression, yet still had random locals shouting "main square, this way" every couple of yards, each pointing in a direction different to the last. No-one was getting our dh this time, we got all the way back just fine thank you very much. The only exception was this guy who tried to direct us to the Jewish quarter. Huh.

At the square we fancied something to eat and drink, so went up to the top floor balcony of a cafe and got some lemon juice plus a cheese sandwich and chips. Very authentic. We could see the Atlas mountains though, which was pretty fucking cool. At this café Helen realised she'd had her e-fag lifted from her bag, or maybe it had just dropped out - either way she didn't have it any more and this was bad. The nicotine cravings were already, ironically enough, stopping her from being able to open the emergency nicotine strip packet and there was some concern that she hadn't brought a spare and might have to get some real fags. Uh-oh.

Back to the hotel, via a vigorous demand from the local barber. Twice now, as he sees us approaching, he's leapt out of his doorway and shouted "SHAVE!" at me. Anyway we went back not just to check on the vape but just to have a break after the morning's madness anyway, and make plans for the afternoon. A recurring theme in our riad is to be serenaded by the night manager's mate practicing acoustic guitar. I'd been sure I'd heard him playing Metallica's Nothing Else Matters but then realised it was probably just the open strings, but now I am sure because he played all the way through to the end of the first verse. It seems to be about the only song he knows, apart from Old McDonald Had A Farm which we'd also had on Friday.

More Scrabble. I won, and was a bad winner. Helen did indeed bring a spare e-cig. Phew.

Now, time to head south. Virtually next door to our riad is a palace called Palais Bahia, a snip at 10dh entry into some really nice gardens with a few stray cats being cute and then a complex of tiled rooms and courtyards with fountains and stuff. Lots of really nice Islamic architecture and design, and vast amounts of photobombing tourists and GOD DAMN IT STOP TAKING PHOTOS WITH IPADS. I hate that.

Back out and heading a little bit further south, we really didn't know until now that there was a touristy area so close to where we were staying. A bunch of restaurants and stuff appeared and then we stumbled almost literally into the metalworking square, which was a proper clang-fest. Back out and around and here's another palace, this time all ruins and birds and cats and sunken gardens and pools. It's a vast(-ish) complex of roofless rooms from a palace built in the late 1500s modeled after something in Granada and it's really quite pretty and peaceful and we were very impressed by the cranes/storks/whatever they were all perched along the tops of the edge walls, as well as the cats wandering around and making rackets.

We wandered in and around each bit - the main complex, the annexe, but not into the museum of photography and visual arts which is somewhat incongruously in the middle of these ruins. We had however paid the extra 10dh to get entry into what we thought was a mosque, but is in fact a little room in which photography is not allowed and which houses a minbar from 900 years ago. A minbar is a stepped pulpit, and it was intricate and lovely and that but not honestly worth doubling the price of entry, certainly not for an infidel like me.

The final corner of the main complex has an upstairs terrace with views over the whole city and the surrounding mountains including them there Atlases again. Fantastic. While up there, I got a text from Gavin who is also in Marrakech with his missus right now - did we fancy meeting them up by the main square this evening? Well, yes, we did.

Left the palace and had a bit of a quiet moan about the girl showing masses of skin - high shorts and a vest on top. Come on, have some respect for local customs and opinion even if you don't share them. Crossed the busy street like a boss, I unwittingly left Helen behind. D'oh! She ran across and we strolled up the street parallel to the main one next to our riad. A brief stop to purchase a camel, we nipped through some side roads to get back to Zitoun el Jdid and popped into the Earth Café 'cos Helen was a bit peckish. A small snack turned out to be a plate so full of potatoes, apples, pastry and other stuff that I ended up having probably more than half of it, washed down with some "yogi tea" which did not taste of bear nor expert zen master. Out the window on this second floor we could see just how awesomely cobbled together the electricity infrastructure of the old town is.

Nipped back to the hotel, being implored yet again to shave, I startled a donkey and Helen laughed her head off at my saying "sorry mate" to it. I can't help being polite! She got changed while we were treated to Nothing Else Matters again, and I found out AFC Wimbledon lost 1-0 away to bloody Hartlepool. Sigh. Loz texted me asking if I wanted some beers and Geoff sent me a photo of a shitload of booze, both taunting me as we had yet to find alcohol in the city - though we were in posession of a flyer for a venue which promised booze and a happy hour from 4.30pm-1am.

Back to the main square, headed to an ATM and stumbled into Gavin and his missus who were just about to brave the souks. Told them where we'd be for drinking and a few minutes later there we were, with wine and local Flag lager on the 3rd floor with a view of the Atlas mountains at sunset. Bliss. The others joined us before we'd even got through our first drinks, let alone the "get one frees" and we sat and yammered on about Marrakech and football and betting and the soundtrack of Imagination (2 songs! Just An Illusion and Music and Lights!) and Kool and the Gang, but early 80s pop-soul-funk gave way to Adele and a desire for booze gave way to hunger.

Down 2 floors to one of the restauranty bits, the price was a bit jarring and having already established that we weren't all hungry we requested the tasting menu for 2, but to share between 4 of us. Oh, and some Casablanca beers.

Out came the food and we all tucked in, to small dishes of about 16 different things - meats, chickpeas, spinach, beans, tomatoes, pickled stuff, olives, just all kinds of loads of things. We all four of us got fairly full... and then the main course arrived. Hurrah! 4 tagines arrived - one full of cous-cous and veg, one just veg, and two with meat in. I think. Just loads of food, no real clue how this was meant to be for only 2 people but nonetheless I volunteered to wolf down everything that the others didn't want.

Belly dancers! I'm always awkward around this stuff, not really finding it particularly sexy and certainly not wanting to join in, have any attention paid to me, etc. Gavin got up and had a slight boogie and the other tables were nothing like as awkward or straight-laced as me. On the second round, a different lass came to our table and placed the big metal plate covered in bottles with lit candles on Helen's head, and she affirmed that it is bastard heavy. A photogapher was following people round and there were notes poking out of the breastwear, so we stayed cheap and took no pics.

Dessert arrived. Bloody hell. I bravely managed a couple of pieces, not sure anyone else tried any. Time to leave while our legs could still carry us, we left and went our own ways - Gav and Ag are staying a distance out of town and had a cab to haggle, something we are really glad we didn't have to do. The streets were much emptier though by no means empty as we stumbled back to the riad, this time the barber was cutting someone's hair so did not insist I shave. I moaned incessantly about feeling so ridiculously full, and we fell asleep sharpish to the sound of Nothing Else Matters.

I have still not been dumped.