Tag Archives: Morocco

Entranced by Essaouira: Jour the First

mrscarmichael of arabia (mrscarmichael)
mrscarmichael of arabia (mrscarmichael)

Emboldened by our mastering of Marrakesh twenty months ago, Gracie and I did little preparation or forward planning for our five day, September break in coastal Essaouria, save booking flights and paying a £1.00 deposit on a hotel just outside the medina.

Our get-away was planned on a day in July – cold, wet, dark and horrible. You know, a normal English summer. An infusion of blue sky was not just needed it was a true medical necessity. Four nights beside the Sahara would, we decided, do us a treat and go some ways to getting us through to mid-winter sunshine breaks – yours truly to Sri Lanka with the Carmichael clan, Gracie to god-knows-where yet but believe me, she’s working on it as I type.

Our in depth lack of preparation meant that as we queued for Moroccan immigration, we found the need to fill some gaps and were forced to quiz multiple travellers about the local currency:

What was it called? Dirham.

What was the easy conversion rule to/from British sterling? There wasn’t one.

Where in the airport could we get some? Nowhere.

How were things going so far? Great! The sunshine beating on our backs t’wixt plane and terminal just the tonic we needed.

And anyway, our charming taxi driver told us via limited French and a cornucopia of hand signals that lack of funds was no problem. He would take us to a cashpoint machine on the way to our hotel. Really, he seemed more interested in getting us to admire his antique blue Mercedes the like of which I have not encountered since a visit to a Waikato farm circa 1965. That Merc was being used as a coop for roosting hens. It had slightly fewer dents than our transport to town.

While Gracie admired a tree full of goats and text her hubby to say ‘safely arrived’, I battled with my iPhone relic, failing miserably to get Vodafone to link me with Africa. Three hours of connection on Wednesday was, I now realise, my full allowance (I am not worthy) but even that and very intermittent wifi at the hotel did little/nothing to spoil our adventure. In fact it was rather liberating, truth be told.

Room 101

There is a British television programme called Room 101 where celebrities are invited by the host to discard people, places and things they dislike and/or that annoy them. They are banished to room 101 as long as the celeb can provide adequate argument as to why said person, object or locale deserves this ignominious end. We were handed two keys to room 101! Who sent us there? Actually who cares? We thank you.

Although the irony was not lost on us I can think of worse places to be abandoned. Let me tell you a bit about Essaouira.

Essaouira (def:planned) used to be called Mogador but was changed when European engineers laid out the medina in such a way as to allow one to not get lost while walking through the souk. Getting horribly lost in a souk is quite fun once (see previous posts) but on a daily basis can be wearisome. Marrakesch, Fez, Cassablanca are three of numerous metropolises in Morocco where you can enjoy getting lost. Essaouira offers you the option. I like that. Gracie and I almost didn’t get lost ever. And whenever we did, we found something so pretty, so yummy, so interesting that the tiny getting lost was more than worth it.

Here’s a beach bag I wouldn’t have bought if we hadn’t gone off piste.

off piste purchase (mescarmichael)
off piste purchase (mescarmichael)

I rest my case.

Essaouira is a working fishing port on the Atlantic. The small blue boats above catch the big fish and are all painted blue because the last thing a fisherman wants to do is be showy and rile the sea gods. The big, nay huge boats catch the little sardines. It’s true I promise. A nice sardine catcher offered to show me round his boat. I thought it better not to go. Although I love sardines it is a truth that one can have too much of a good thing. Up front and personal with a hold of sardines and their catcher just might have been too much good.

Safely back from the port, we swam, showered and changed into evening medina attire. We headed out for food. And wine.

Wine, the food of life, is always an interesting obsession in a ‘dry’ country. Being experts (remember Marrakesh?) we didn’t give it a second thought. We should have. And we should have on future outings as well. It’s that old preparation thing again. Or lack thereof.

Anyway, night the first, we were lead by the boss of a lantern seller round numerous twisty alleyways and at fast pace to a lovely looking riad that had a sea facing roof terrace, nice menu and most affable hosts. They, the hosts, met, greeted and ushered us to the lift (trans: elevator). Said lift was tiny. Possibly the tiniest lift I have ever been in with other people. It’s proportions were Lilliputian but nil desperandum, Gracie and I were on our way up to view, food and a glass or two of vino.

“We are really looking forward to some fish and a lovely bottle of Moroccan wine,” mumbled Gracie, bouche pressed into the light blue collar of mine host.

“Mmmm,” said I to her shoulder.

The lift ground up another floor.

“We don’t serve wine,” said she of the collar and proceeded to tell us about the fresh fish on offer as we crawled up a further floor or two. As if nothing was amiss.

Gracie cast half a right eye on me. I glared a quarter of a left at her. We could see no more of each other in the capsule-like enclosure. The doors opened, the terrace looked beautiful, a waiter gestured us to our table.

I gave Gracie the full ‘you do it’ look.

“Ahh, we were really wanting wine, “said she. “We’re very sorry.’

“Would you like the table over there?” asked the riad owner.

“We’re so sorry,”we said in tandem.

“We won’t be staying.”

And we all piled into the open door of the micro – lift and crept back down to reception.

“Sorry, so sorry, sorry” we effused backing out the entrance as fast as we could.

Lordy, did we need a glass of wine!

hooray (mrscarmicahel)
hooray (mrscarmicahel)

Mesdames in the Medina (Marrakech Style)

No generic hotels for Mrs Carmichael and her musketeers on their well planned break in Continent Africa. No,no, no we chose to hit the medina hard and booked a riad right in the beating heart of Marrakech.The sensurround experience was what we craved; the sensurround experience was what we got. It would be fair to say that all of our senses were well and truly assaulted in this three day, three night adventure.

Slightly worse the wear from a vino overdose in Premier Inn’s finest  offering at Gatwick the night before and a very early wake up call, Gracie and I met K……in a North Terminal lounge for orange juice, coffee and no champagne! Sometimes our restraint is simply magnificent. K……and Gracie relented on the EasyJet flight adding prosecco to their cheesy nibbles. I still felt ever so slightly ill thus found it easy to take the higher moral (and sober) ground.

With nary a diram between us (multiple cashpoint malfunction at airport) we were deposited outside a gate by Mohammed, our taxi driver and escorted by a man with a wheelbarrow (for our suitcases) across a crazy road (think cars, mopeds, donkeys, horse and carts and people, people, people) and into the labyrinth that is Marakech’s medina.

The sun shone, the the sky was blue, this was Africa.

oh hey, Riad Sebban (mrscarmichael)
oh hey, Palais Sebban (mrscarmichael)

We awaited our upgraded rooms (top floor suites/private terraces – note to self: involve more travel companies in future holiday bookings) in the company of George, Georgina and Georgette, Riad Sebban’s resident tortoises and a glass or two of mint tea.

reserve that lounger on the left for mrs C (mrscarmichael)
reserve that lounger on the left for mrs C (mrscarmichael)

In our linen/cotton ensembles, we hit the Djemaa el Fna (Marra’s main square and must go tourist destination). Hmmm. Here are some things to avoid in the Djemaa:

Making eye contact with bracelet/toy/tat sellers #askingfortrouble.

Getting diram from a cashpoint machine while being sold bracelets/toys/tat #askingfortroubledouble.

Taking photos #reallyaskingfortrouble.

Having a snake put round your neck #sososoaskingfortroubleinohsosomanyways.

Apart from that the views sipping more mint tea, as the sun went down, were stunning and no trouble at all.

Marra with the Atlas in the distance (mrscarmichael)
Marra with the Atlas in the distance (mrscarmichael)

I began to develop a blister from my unworn for six month flip flop toe thong.

We all felt like a pre-prandial and decamped back to the riad for a glass or three of Moroccan vin blanc. The local wine is very nice and very reasonable. We decided to drink loads of it. My blister and its little brother had come on apace. Thankfully both K…..and Gracie had brought plasters for me to use up over the next three days while I wore other people’s shoes and my raw skin healed.

Not given to complaint I endured my pain, and uncoordinated footware, in total silence. Again thankfully, our first night restaurant was a mere 500 metres from Palais Sebban. I hobbled there in zebra Birkenstocks.

Seven tagines, four bottles of cheap, tasty Moroccan wine and a Whirling Dervish with a wobbly head and an active tongue later, we wound our way to bed.

Speaking of beds……….

Gracie's bed (mrscarmichael)
Gracie’s bed (mrscarmichael)

 

Mrs C's bed (mrscarmichael)
Mrs C’s bed (mrscarmichael)

Working on the adage, a picture says 1000 words, I shall not make one more sound about the sleeping arrangements in our suite. At least I couldn’t fall out of my compression single.

I don’t think K…… ever found her living room.

bigger than most London flat's (mrscarmichael)
bigger than most London flats (mrscarmichael)

We slept like lambs until we were called to prayer at 4.00am.

To be continued: Yves Saint Laurent, Oh How Your Garden grows; Journey to the Foothills of the Atlas and Getting Lost in the Souk or “I can Smell Your Money”.