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

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 caf├ęs 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.

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