I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when landed at the airport. It had kind of been a ‘blind booking’. I’d heard that ‘Marrakech is awesome!’ but hadn’t really thought to look any further into WHY it was awesome. Oh well, I was there now, albeit stranded at the airport as the pre-booked taxi hadn’t turned up and back in the days before wifi was readily available I was at a bit of a loss so just waited patiently until the driver decided to make an appearance over an hour later.
After finally getting out of the airport I was thrust into the what can only be described as sheer mental-ness of the city and how it handles roads. A combination of speeding and constant horn honking had me gripping the seat with fear, and it was then I realised I hadn’t booked travel insurance. Oh. I somehow made it to my hotel but had to navigate the last coupe of streets alone as they weren’t wide enough to take a taxi. I was quite proud of myself for having survived the first night (well, few hours at least) and took great pleasure in the silence and serenity of the riad I had booked and sunk into a deep sleep.
I was startled awake by an almighty noise. The morning call for prayer (adhān). I hadn’t even thought of that when drifting off to sleep and certainly hadn’t anticipated a call from the rooftop right next to my bedroom. It definitely does the job at waking you up! Over the coming days though I grew to enjoy the calls, although the 5am one was still a tad early for me. Still I wasn’t going to let sleep get in my way of exploring this happily crazy place, and after a most delicious breakfast set out to explore the city…
Now being out and about in daylight things had a slightly different feel – they were even more manic! The roads were rammed, and not just with cars – with donkeys, bikes, vans, camels, scooters, skateboards and people. It was a free-for-all, and as I nervously navigated the streets I thought once again of my lack of insurance . . .
I reached the safety of paved areas and it wasn’t long before I was snapping away with my camera – gorgeous patterned tiles EVERYWHERE! As someone with a background and degree in pattern design and a huge love for geometrics I. Was. In. Heaven. This is a country that knows a thing or two about design, and the beautifully intricate Islamic patterns are stunning. Islamic patterns are often simple shapes overlapped and rotated to form more intricate designs. I found it really quite fascinating to try and break down the individual layers, and when I returned home I just had to make some of my own. I found an interesting article that breaks the patterns down and shows you how truly stunning and clever they are. They’re quite mathematical and far too much for my brain to handle!
And it wasn’t only tiles that caught my attention – the decorative ceramic plates and bowls were stunning. I so wish I could have safely packed some in my suitcase to bring home but alas, space and weight did not allow. The souks were another thing altogether – a crazy, never-ending maze of winding streets stuffed with stalls and marketplaces, all with a constant barrage of sales lines being thrown at you in all languages. At first it was a little overwhelming and made me want to scurry away in search of a more peaceful shopping area . . . but that was never going to happen here! Thankfully I soon got used to the rounds of ‘Pukka mate, pukka’ (inspired by Jamie Oliver) and ‘Asda price!’ (with the obligatory tap of their bum) and they even began to bring a smile to my face. I’ll admit I got a little tired of having to haggle for anything and was craving price tickets with fixed amounts, but at least I could escape and seek refuge back in the tranquility of my riad. Bliss.
PLANNING A TRIP?
Always haggle. I managed to barter one seller down to about 10% of what he asked for to begin with and apparently that was still overpriced according to other tourists. Don’t get sucked in and pay full price, and if things get too much, just walk away. They do have boundaries and will eventually leave them alone…you just have to be patient!
And be aware that if you take a photo of someone or their shop you will be expected to pay a fee. Always agree upfront and keep big notes in a separate pocket so you’re not seen to have more. Not ideal when going on holiday to relax but in a way it’s one of the many alternative charms that this vibrant city holds. You just have to learn to embrace it.
Then, after a long dusty day escape to your little safe haven of a riad and relax on the rooftop enjoying the sunset over the city. Just don’t forget your earplugs!
If you like any of the above patterns or illustrations, they are available as art prints, postcards or in a variety of homewares, such as mugs and coasters, from my online shop. Alternatively I offer a bespoke illustration service so please do get in touch if you’d like to commission a piece of work to remember your trip to Marrakech (or anywhere else!) by.
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