One of the advantages of living in Europe is its proximity to exotic places like…Marrakesh, Morocco. Marrakesh is one of the hippest, cultured, atmospheric, friendly, delicious, and surprising places I’ve ever been.
In preparation for my first journey to Morocco (and the continent of Africa, for that matter), I made a conscious decision not to “Google” the hell out my upcoming trip, but experience it with fresh, unfiltered eyes. I didn’t have low expectations. I had no expectations. Surprise, Marrakesh!
Astonishing Thing #1: Sparkling Streets
I had no idea that the city of Marrakesh would be so clean! From the modern and architecturally stunning airport, to the palm tree-lined (and pothole-free) roads, to the un-graffitied walls, to the dusty ancient streets of the Medina…all are absolutely pristine.
Astonishing Thing #2: It’s Organized
The people of Marrakesh have rules and they actually follow them (hint, hint Italy)! In the Medina, motorcycles, bikes, and donkey carts travel on the left—pedestrians walk on the right. I didn’t see one collision (or even a close call) while I was visiting. Moroccans do traffic flow really well. I would call it organized chaos.
Astonishing Thing #3: It’s Safe
You’ve probably heard stories about how unsafe it is to walk around The Medina without a local guide at your side. Bunk. Yes, a lot of people stop to ask if you need help finding something or they may offer to take you to their uncle’s/cousin’s/father’s spice shop; a simple “No Merci” easily discourages them. I walked all over the city unescorted and, truth be told, I worry more about having my pockets picked in Rome.
Astonishing Thing #4: Everything is Negotiable
It’s not normal for Americans to haggle over every single purchase we make, but in Morocco negotiating price is a huge part of the culture (and one I didn’t particularly enjoy). If you want to buy stuff in the Souks (outdoor markets), you’re going to have to play the game. After my third transaction, I hung up my shopping boots and went for a coffee (which is great, by the way). I just didn’t have any more fight left in me.
Astonishing Thing #5: A Built-in Wake Up Call
Five times-a-day mosques deliver “a call to prayer” by loudspeaker; the first goes off at dawn. If you’re an early riser, no need to set your alarm clock. If you’re someone who likes to sleep in, I don’t know what to tell you. Nazir, a communications director for three museums who moonlights at Riad Dombaraka, explains that the call isn’t necessarily an obligation to pray, but rather a reminder for those who want to pray. (Watch the Video above).
From the first moment I arrived, I fell in love with Marrakesh and its super-cool vibe. I can’t wait to come back and see what other surprises this wonderful city has in store for me. ‘Arak qariba!
A big shout-out and bigger “shukraan” (thank you in Arabic) to my pal and artist Kelly Medford for inviting me to join her group during her watercolor workshop. For more information about upcoming painting workshops with Kelly click here.
Photo credits: Toni DeBella, Kelly Medford & Christine Cantow Smith