Sunday, 1 June 2014

A Few Days In Marrakesh

Last February, to help keep our minds off the cold, grey days, we decided to pick out a warm, fairly exotic place to go in spring. We have a long list of places we'd like to visit while we're living on this side of the world, and Marrakesh is just one of them. It's always good to have something to look forward to, especially a holiday! So earlier this week we spent a few days in Marrakesh. We stayed at a beautiful place called Jnane Tamsna 15 minutes outside the medina, which I read about on Mr. and Mrs. Smith. We needed no further persuading after reading more about them on their web site and reading many good reviews.
As soon as we got there, we were impressed. The gardens and buildings were as beautiful in person as they were in pictures and they gave us a warm welcome with mint tea in the lounge. The property consists of twenty-four guest rooms in five houses with five pools, surrounded by lush gardens so there was a lot to take in and a lot of room to stretch out.
In addition to perennial gardens, like their colorful rose garden, they also have many vegetable gardens alongside olive trees, pomegranate trees, and a variety of citrus trees. 
Our room was amazing, and all the rooms of the main house were equally beautiful. I used two cameras while we were there, and you'll notice some iPhone pictures here as well, like the ones below. Some pictures below are from our room and one of the lounge in the main house (top right). They provided an extra bed for Lois and a baby cot for Ellie. They also had high chairs for meal times. 
Each night we'd meet in the main house for dinner. First though we'd have cocktails in the lounge, shown below. Dinner wasn't until 8, which is normally bedtime for Lois and Ellie, but having dinner later wasn't much of a problem since the girls slept in later than usual, and there was a good amount of stimulation around to keep them entertained before dinner. Every night the main house had a lovely warm glow from candles dotting each room. 
Dinner sometimes took a while to come, but once it came it was really delicious. They were also very accommodating to the girls. If we thought the girls might not like what was on the menu, the kitchen would make something else for them like spaghetti bolognese. 
Breakfast and lunch were also great. Sometimes breakfast and lunch would be set up outside in the garden. This table for a larger party was especially pretty one afternoon for lunch. 
We loved the pool! It's a real treat these days for us to go to an outdoor pool, something I took for granted most of my life living in the southeast in the US. I'd love to go to a pool everyday now if I could! Lois also made a friend who was just a bit older than her, and they were two peas in a pod pretty much as soon as they met. They met a few other kids as well and had fun playing hide and seek and looking for tortoises in the gardens. I was really happy other kids were there! I was worried we'd get the evil eye from guests without children with Lois and Ellie squealing and splashing around at a pool, which happened to us once before on a trip to Italy. Most of the time we had the whole pool to ourselves anyway. Heaven!
We enjoyed seeing the other pools on the property as well. They were all so pretty.
The girls did plenty of twirling, as always. 
Although we would have been happy just to stay at the pool each day, we did go into the medina few times. On the first day we hired a babysitter through Jnane and also a guide and a driver. We also scheduled a magic lesson for Lois since we weren't sure if the babysitter would want to take them to the pool. We pre-booked all theses things through Jnane Tamsna. They have other activities for kids as well, like cooking classes and gardening workshops. I was really nervous about having a babysitter we had never met but figured we'd make the call as to wether or not to leave our kids with her after we met her. She was the sister of the manager and really nice and seemed very capable. The mother of Lois's new little pal next door was a GP and she and her daughter were planning on being at the pool all day while we were in the city. Between feeling comfortable with the babysitter and knowing our new friends would be with our kids most of the time anyway, I felt very comfortable leaving them for a few hours. On the second day we really just chilled out by the pool, but we went into the medina again on the third day. The photos below are a combination of all three days. 
Here's some of our view as we left Jnane Tamsna to head into the medina. It's a bit of a different world just outside the property gates. The scenery goes from being green and lush to scrubby and fairly barren aside from palm trees. There's a small village next door to Jnane with a little school, but you don't see much more than that besides camels until you reach the main road. It was hard to discern the rules of the road sometimes. I'm not sure there are many rules of the road there though! I'm glad I wasn't driving. It was organized chaos, especially in roundabouts on the larger, busier roads. In the circle there would not only be cars but motorcycles, scooters, bikes, guys pushing veggie carts and we even saw one guy pushing live chickens through traffic in his little cart. And lots of honking. Beep beep!
Our driver took us into to town to meet our guide. Our guide was very friendly and informative. We told him we wanted to see the souks, which are the little shops or stalls in the nooks and crannies of the medina. 
We told him we wanted to go to the rug souks, and he took us to one of the larger interior rug shops (some shops are large and behind doors, while others are small spaces open to the alleyways). We were immediately thrown into your typical rug buying situation where they sit you down, serve you mint tea and put out a ton of rugs for you to see while they begin to try to negotiate with you. I very rarely get frustrated or nervous in social situations but that experience made me sweat! I had read about it in our guide book and online so it wasn't a surprise, but between the heat of the room, the hot tea, and the pressured sales pitch, I thought I might melt. I really just wanted to SEE rugs in the medina (at least at first anyway), as in look at them while walking around. I kept trying to tell the guy we just wanted to look at them while he continued to ask us to name a price. Although we did want to buy a rug at some point (and we did later in the week), this wasn't the situation I had in mind right when we arrived. The first day we wanted to get a feel for the place and I knew there'd be a lot of choice so I wanted to look around. We finally escaped that rug shop and managed to look around quite a bit.
I did often find it hard to simply look at things, unless it was at a distance. People were sometimes very aggressive as we approached their stalls, and as we began to look they'd say things like, "what color do you want? what size? this one's nice, look here, how many do you want?, make an offer, I'll give you a good price." We'd hear this before we even had a chance to really look at anything and I found it frustrating. I can't think straight when people are in my face right away asking so many questions! Not all vendors were so pushy, but many were. In a few of the particularly nice shops, the shop owners were not pushy at all but very relaxed and gave us a lot of room to look around. 
I loved the Berber pharmacies, like the one below, where you can get a huge variety of spices, oils, natural dyes, dried flowers and perfumes. Like so many things in the medina, the pharmacies were so colorful and a feast for the eyes. 
I also enjoyed seeing people working in the souks. I'm not sure if "enjoy" is the right word though. It was interesting and a fairly emotional experience. Many of us often buy cheap goods with little or no thought as to who makes them. Many craftsmen were working in tiny spaces, most smaller than your standard American walk-in closet. Some had three or four men working in one small space, and they were often just sitting on the ground. Most of them didn't look up when we walked by and if they did, few of them smiled. I'm not sure I'd be smiling in such cramped working conditions either, with tourists pointing cameras at me, and besides they were working after all. But this guy below in the shoe souk gave me one of the few smiles from workers in the souks (they make very pretty shoes like this). It was a real eye opener to see people working, stall after stall after stall, in these tiny rooms. Of course I have no idea how much these people get paid, but judging the prices of many of the products in the stalls, it can't imagine it's much. After we got home and did a little research, it made me happy to find people like Mushmina and Anou who make a huge effort to help craftspeople in Morocco earn a decent wage for their work. 
In the souks we also found heaven in a handbag! Oh my goodness, I've never seen so many beautiful leather bags. The photo in the top right is stacks of cut leather hides. 
And we paid a visit to some woodworkers. 
One of the benefits of having a guide was getting to go into places we'd likely never have known to go. Behind some unmarked, unassuming doors, our guide showed us a bread oven where bakers cook bread that locals make at home in the morning and then have baked in this oven. I asked if it was because they didn't have an oven, he said most people who would bring their dough here did have an oven but preferred the taste of bread baked in this oven and that it was just sort of a local tradition. Fascinating!
In the medina went to the Ben Youssef Madrasa, a former islamic school. The building was really beautiful. I loved the tiles and carved plaster.  
Our guide also took us to a nice place for lunch though I can't remember the name! 
And later in the week we went to Cafe Des Epices. Ellie had a full screaming meltdown in the cafe, which actually rarely happens, so we didn't stay long. It was close to her nap time and I think she was just tired and thristy. She was screaming for "milky" which is what she calls milk. Some milk for her and quick salad for us and then we made a dash back to meet our driver. 
And then of course after we returned to Jnane Tamsna there was the obligatory family camel ride. It ain't like riding a horse, let me tell you. Lets just say I won't be camel riding ever again unless I have to. Lois rode with me and Ellie with Andrew. Even though it was a pain, literally, I'd still recommend doing it for the novelty aspect of it. We look really goofy, don't we? Ha. 
We didn't go to the the Atlas mountains or Jemaa el-Fna at night. We were interested in doing both but decided we'll wait till the girls are a bit older. If you're planning to go to Marrakesh with kids, Alexis from Something I Made has a really informative blog post on her trip there with her children. We look forward to going back one day! 


Vintage Sheet Addict said...

That's somewhere I'd love to go, those colours....divine! :) x

Alexis said...

Really loved seeing your IG posts pop up last week! Sounds like you had a great time, Jnane Tamsna looks beautiful! Thank you so much for the link too... looking forward to seeing the rug you did buy on your blog sometime soon too...

marilu said...

Oh I love your photos! I went there kids free many years ago and I wouldn't imagine bringing them along but it looks like you made it work! X

mollymell said...

That's sound it was a great vacation Leigh. I think it's extraordinary when we have a chance to visit a place so different from where we live, it's like opening a new door to smells, color, sounds...

Your photos look great, so sharp, I hope one day I can take pictures like that.