We decided to try a Riad (a local house built around a cool courtyard with a water feature, built in the Moorish style with marble floors and huge wooden doors everywhere), right in the heart of The Medina (the old town).
Between you and me, any time I travel I always prefer to immerse myself in the local culture, language and food as much as possible so staying in a Riad seemed like he right thing to do. But, more on that later!!
My very first impression upon leaving the aeroplane was that we had parked very close to another plane with its jet engines on full blast. What else, I thought, could explain that extreme heat. However, as I walked down the steps and away from our plane I noticed that the temperature was actually rising!
It was with shock and, not a little, panic that I realised that this heat I was feeling wasn't the heat stream from the jets of a plane, this was just the ambient temperature in Marrakesh! At this precise moment I realised that this was going to be a difficult trip.
Our Riad, as I said was right in the heart of the medina. This meant that our taxi couldn't take us all the way as it was down little winding alleyways. The taxi was met by a guy who worked at the Riad and he had a handcart with him. He promptly unloaded our bags from the taxi, packed them all into his cart and headed off. We followed, helter-skelter after him through winding alleys, cats, dogs, people on foot, on pushbikes and motorbikes.
Everyone hustling and bustling about their daily business, not even giving us a second thought. We, on the other hand were harrumphing along behind, sweating, breathing heavily, our minds foggy with heat exhaustion. All this and we were only in the country about 5 minutes!! How were we going to cope?
Our Riad was down a side alley which lead to a further side alley and hidden behind a black wooden Morrish style door that looked like it had been salvaged from Bilbo Baggins' house in The Shire as it was only about three feet in height. Even I had to duck going through it. At 5'7" it made me feel positively gigantic. What are we doing here I asked myself? As we entered it was like Alice going through the door into wonderland.
As promised we found an oasis of cool, calm tranquillity. We were ushered to some seats in the courtyard next to a cool plunge pool with the sound of trickling water and chirping birds, under the shade of a fruit tree.
From nowhere, Moroccan tea was served, all minty and sweet, in little glass tumblers with local sweetmeats. Yum!! Ahh, this is more like it I thought as hot beads of sweat ran down my face, and back… and everywhere else. It was HOT – 49 degrees to be precise. The heat was unseasonable not to mention unbearable. We decided to eat at our Riad the first night so that we could acclimatise gradually. We had read great reviews about the food so we ordered tagine of chicken with lemon and olives as well as tagine of fish and a whole host of other local dishes like sweet tomatoes.
Over the first few days the heat stayed and it made doing anything really difficult. All of our plans to mooch around the souks and visit the mosques etc. all went out the window. I was travelling with afriend and as a woman she just wasn't going to do the 'hot and sweaty' look. She duly organised day passes to La Mamounia Hotel in Marrakesh so we could go and sit by the pool and have lunch and swim in the pool. It also had two air-conditioned gyms, both of which I used on the one day that was I was there.
Although, at first I did wonder about going to a posh hotel for the day instead of getting out and about into the city, I took one look at the other guests at our hotel each time the returned from their adventures in the city and realised that we were making the right decision.
To put La Mamounia hotel in context, it is apparently the hotel used for the Sex & The City 2 Movie, Gwynteh Paltrow was staying there the week before we arrived and there is a strict dress code. When we arrived, four six-foot Berbers opened the four doors of the double entranced foyer and we were swept through to reception – now this was the kind of holiday experience I could get used to! Why am I not staying here? I thought… then I noticed the room rates and knew why!
Winston Churchill's favourite cocktail bar is in this hotel and we thought it would be remiss not to try it out after our day by the pool and in the gym. Indeed the bar is now named after him. I can only describe it as sumptuous, cool, exotic, sophisticated and…expensive! That said, we still had a cocktail or two (the most expensive I've ever had) but they were of such incredible quality I was tipsy after one! It was one of the the best days there.
The only other thing that I really wanted to do was have a hammam. The hammam is like a bath where you are scrubbed, rubbed, lathered, washed and rinsed. We booked to go to Riad Maison MK owned and run by an English woman and a Riad that has a reputation for, not only a great hammam but also incredible massages and amazing, critically acclaimed food. We booked everything!
First of all I went into a darkened room lit only by a couple of candles (it was like being in a re-birthing tank – all dark and wet). I had been given a pair of what I can only describe as disposable g-string pants! Not a good look! But this is what my mates had been give to wear as well, so in for a penny, in for a pound I thought! We had been given the thickest, fluffiest white robes to wear in public spaces so that was ok. As I entered the hammam room there was a really nice, if muscular, Moroccan woman who twisted and contorted me, scrubbed a soaped me and periodically drowned me in warm comforting water. It was very hot, very wet and yet very soothing.
After this I was guided to the massage room were I was presented with phials of oils. I was invited to choose which oils I would prefer to massaged with based on there smells. Aaaaahhhh, luxury. After an hour I was guided to the roof terrace were we all met up and had some long cool drinks watching the sun set before heading to the restaurant for a five course gastronomic feast. I was giddy with happiness. So chilled out. We were all practically asleep in our desserts. I still ate mine though, well it would have been rude not to!
I know this all sounds incredibly indulgent, but it was so hot it was impossible to do anything else. Besides, I was travelling with friends who through personal life experience, both bitter and sweet, have come to the realisation that we only have one life to live and if you have a great time you'll only remember the fun, you won't remember the cost! With this lesson in mind I followed their lead and had a great time. I definitely learned an important lesson on this trip with my friends.
After a few days my friends flew home and proceeded to Essouira (Ess-O-Era) on the Atlantic Coast which was so different to Marrakech. It was about 22 degrees here with a strong Atlantic wind blowing in. So much cooler and because of the wind perfect for water sports. There was kite surfing, windsurfing, and surfing.
I decided to take some lessons and thought it best to start with the basics – so I went for surfing lessons. My instructor was a local 17 year old guy who spoke virtually no English, my French was poor and my Arabic, beyond please and thank you, was non-existent! Not the easiest way to learn but with a lot of hand gesturing and demonstrating we got there in the end.
I don't know if any of you have ever tried learning to surf but it is hard work! You spend a lot of time initially just tumbling around in the water and falling off your board. Eventually though, all going well you will finally ride a wave. This is what I was aiming for and by the first afternoon I was able to ride a wave whilst kneeling on my board, but I wanted what all surfers want – to ride in to shore standing upright on my surfboard, looking cool. Looking cool has never been a look I have ever been able to pull off with any ease!
It took me until day three before it happened. I watched for a tell tale swell in the sea that I hoped would transform into a wave. I got onto my board, lying flat and paddling towards shore with my hands in the hope that the wave would swell beneath me. As it did I waited for the perfect moment to jump up onto my board, it had to be timed just right. I had so far tried this about a hundred times with no luck so far. I had either made it up onto my knees or tumbled straight down into the rolling wave. This was it I could feel it was right as I went for the jump. Suddenly I realised I was on my feet, I couldn't believe it. Not only was i on my feet but I was riding the wave into shore. On the outside I was trying to look cool but the feeling of exhilaration couldn't be contained and I had to throw my fists in the air and whoop with delight! At which point I duly fell off my surfboard and straight into the water! Not very cool, but who cares I made up onto my feet!! I had so much fun learning to surf. I love my sports and outdoor pursuits and there is no better feeling than learning something new and exhilarating and to do it in Morocco was such a treat.
Staying with the theme of outdoor pursuits, I recently went to Scotland, Glasgow to be precise (such a nice city), to visit a friend for her birthday and we went to Go Ape. A company that organises outdoor activities. I discovered that we would be swinging through treetops on zip wires and tarzan swings. The most exhilarating activity but almost petrifying at the same time! lol. They have centres all over the country so I would recommend checking them out.
It was a cold wet day when we went just a couple of weeks ago but the best fun. After we were done we all went for a very posh afternoon tea (well it was her birthday – I know, any excuse). Again, a perfect day! You're probably getting an idea of my perfect day from all this – something sporty and exhilarating with something indulgent mixed in as well pretty much sums it up I think.
Finally, I have been having a difficult time trying to get tickets to the Olympics. I'd be interested to know if any of you have got some and if so for what events? I went into the ballots and have been trying to buy them online as well and just haven't had any success. That said, I must be watching at least 12 hours coverage per day. I am totally addicted and why not? The TV coverage has been great and Team GB have made us all so proud. I have also been tweeting incessantly about them to the point were I have had to go cold turkey for a day or two! If you'd like to follow me on twitter I have a new twitter handle: @miceal
Hoping your summer is as fun and action packed!! I'm definitely making the most of mine. As my friends taught me on holiday – we only have one life to live! How true this is.