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Tuesday, 4 November 2014


Well where to start with Marrakech.  Having spent most of my life in London and loving city breaks as holidays in no way prepared me for the chaos that is Marrakech.  Ok I knew bartering is a big thing and was worried about that but that is not even the worst of it.

To be honest it started off well, I've never flown with Easyjet and it all went smoothly, we even landed early, so all good there.  The queue for the money change was small and we got it all within a few minutes and then our bags a few minutes later, I don't think I have ever got out of an airport that quickly in my life (apart from the whole having to explain my job to passport control as they are really strict).  We knew we wanted a petit taxi (mini cab) and how much they were, when I went to information to ask them, straight away they tried to sell us one for more than twice the book price so we walked away.  Luckily the taxi rank is just outside by the bus stop and he agreed to the book price so we were happy.  He drops us at the corner tells us where to go and we get hassled by people with a trolley, they pretty much took our cases off us and made us follow them to our hotel, then told us our tip was insulting and stood there whilst we rummaged for money.  Obviously we ended up giving a huge tip.  Lesson learned, find out what our local taxi spot is called and the directions, or get the hotel the pick you up.

Once inside the riad, it suddenly became peaceful, it was a beautiful building and we were sat down and brought traditional Moroccan tea.  Wow we were in love.  People who had reviewed our hotel said they didn't do tea, only coffee, so we stupidly packed some PG tips haha.  Anyway once booked in, they took us to our room.  The hotel is actually 2 buildings, the blue and the red, we were in the red, so had to go walk a couple of buildings down, we think there was only one other room being used and it seemed really private, we kept whispering it was so peaceful.  The bed was huge, the room was basic but beautifully decorated and our building had a lounge area and outside terrace.



After a shower to freshen up we braved going to Djemma El Fna,the main square for dinner.  It was absolute chaos getting there and even more so once there.  The main square is full of singing, dancing, magic acts, beggars, lots of crowds and food stalls.  We walked around the outside and down some side streets to see the wares being sold and then moved back to the square to eat.  We found somewhere quite quickly and the food was cheap and delicious.  There weren't any private tables, it was squeeze in where you can and a quick meal so they kept a high turn over but were really friendly, they even let me take a photo.

We then went for a roam around the square, now we only had big notes still and no coins, the first thing we tried to watch we were pounced upon for money so walked away.  Within a few minutes we were dragged into a semi circle, Stav placed on a wooden box and the man insisting that I took photos and then he made us swap.  It was all a little surreal as we couldn't work out what his act was, but then he made us pay, again we gave too much as we didn't have small amounts.  I have to say it was not an enjoyable experience, so we came back to the hotel and chilled in our gorgeous room.  We decided that we had to plan a little better and find a way to get smaller denominations of cash.

Tuesday was a new day, we had our route planned out and we thought we had enough cash as well.  Breakfast was in the blue building up on the roof terrace, at first they offered coffee, we asked for tea and out came Moroccan tea and lots of it, along with orange juice, and breakfast.  There was a large crepe, what I think is a Yemeni pancake (it looked like a flat crumpet) and a bread roll with honey and jam to spread all over.  It was delicious and filling and we were pleased to see other guests there as well as we weren't sure anyone else was actually there.

Next onto tourist sites, the walk was nowhere near as chaotic, we found a shop to buy some water who changed one large note for us and didn't get lost until we were in the Kasbah area.  Luckily we bumped into some British tourists so were able to compare stories and help each other out.  The first place we went to was the Sadiaan tombs, we were coerced into a shop first but didn't buy anything and managed to make it to our destination.  Unless you want to spend lots of money on guides it really is hard to know what you are looking at, but if you are careful you can hear what some of them are telling other people.

We agreed on the way out to look at a spice shop, they really really try to sell so we politely walked out and moved onto Badi Palace.  This was absolutely amazing, we have seen ruins before but nothing as big, we must have spent an hour there at least.

Whilst in the area we decided to visit the other palace, and I am so glad we did, it was beautiful, the detail put into building it was phenomenal, I really don't think I took a photo that did it justice.

We had to be careful taking photos on the street as if you are not buying anything people can get upset, I got a few snaps before we found a secluded square for lunch.

It was a nice hassle free little square completely pedestrianized with reasonable prices for basic food.  Afterwards we decided to have a look around and from one of the shops we discovered we were in Mellah, the Jewish quarter.  He was a really nice guy explaining all his tea mixtures and spices and tested some of his products on me whilst we drank tea.  We had already decided we wanted to buy some loose tea and he wasn't as pushy as we expected.  He gifted me a couple of items and when we discovered we didn't have as much cash on us as we expected (because we hadn't planned shopping today) he actually brought the price down, so we accidentally bartered.

At this point we had been walking for a long time, possibly 4 hours so we thought back home, maybe via a fountain near Djemma EL Fna.  How different the place is during the day, no food stalls and just snake charmers and monkeys.  We walked into the souk and got a little lost and eventually came out and went home.  It turned out we did see the fountain but it doesn't work any more.

All in all a good day, we managed to get lots of small change in case we needed it, some unexpected gifts and lots of sites seen, so time for a nap before braving the evening.

Our evening meal was at the EarthCafe, we had been recommended to go there and it was in all the guide books.  Even though we had been passed it during the day, we surprisingly got lost looking for it in the night time.  Djemma El Fna and the Sooks are so busy and confusing at the best of times that the confusion becomes worse in the dark.  Anyway it is a completely vegetarian restaurant and a fusion style food.  In all honesty inside did look like a run down cafe, but the food was amazing.  We both had freshly squeezed apple and orange juice and I had a pumpkin, spinach and goats cheese filo, which came with roasted apples and potato slices and Stav had 2 lentil burgers.  The food was so different to what else we were seeing in Marrakech, it made a really nice change, obviously I was happy with it being vegetarian as I didn't have to worry.  We were going to stop for dessert but was too full as they were huge plates, so instead took a stroll back through the Souks stopping for an ice cream and then avoiding the people trying to get us to watch their shows in the square.

Wednesday was our relaxing day, we slept in, which is a rarity had a nice slow breakfast, then wandered down the road our riad was just off of.  It was a market style street with little kiosks and we read online that shopping there was a lot cheaper than in the main centre and they were right.  We got a few good bargains, some were presents for other people and some for us.  As we had tea, we had to make sure we got a teapot and glasses and of course we got roped into buying extra stuff, but we did some bartering so all was good.  We dropped our bits back to the riad, went back towards the Souks and discovered even more of them by just wandering around.  I really don't know how anyone makes any money, so many of them are selling the same things as eachother, but it was certainly colourful and we didn't feel pressured to go into to anywhere, just wandered around.  We wanted a chilled morning as we have a traditional spa booked.

Well where to start with a spa treatment, it was orgainized by our riad so we weren't exactly sure what we were getting or how much, we had had a nose around at prices when walking past places so took enough cash for what we thought it would be and the credit card just in case.  Someone from our hotel took us to the spa, it was only a 5 minute walk but we wouldn't have known it was there, inside was such a shock, it was almost palacial, now I've not been to a west end spa, but it was how I imagined one, but riad style, so there was s small plunge pool and sofas around.  We took a seat and waited until we were asked to get changed, we only had a bathrobe and flip flops to change into.  Now we weren't sure of the ettiquette and I had asked at our hotel if we should be in swimwear and she said no, just underwear maybe, so that's what we did.  We went upstairs and a woman took Stav's bathrobe and asked him to go inside the room and then took mine, now she didn't speak English and so there was little issue about the bra, I think we agreed I should go topless.  We went into a clay and marble based steam room together and then after a few minutes the woman came in and washed and scrubbed us both down, it started with her throwing water at us, and then some black soap, that was washed off and we laid down whilst she scrubbed/exfoliated us pretty much everywhere, the shampoo and a face mask before washing it all off.  To be honest, it was a lot more relaxing then it probably sounds and definitely something I could get used to haha.  Once we were finished the robes went on briefly as we were shown to another room together for our 1 hour massage, which is probably the best I have ever had.  I'll admit I haven't ever had a full body massage before but it was still amazing.  I swear the woman massaging me was levitating at some point, Stav claims she was on the bed but I couldn't tell and there were definitely no legs/feet in sight.  Finally after waking us up we were shown downstairs for some mint tea.  I really could have spent longer in there, I felt like royalty.  Shockingly the price was a lot less than we budgeted for, only 790 dhirams, which is about £57 for the two of us as it was a couple's expereince.

Well once all relaxed, we stopped for fish and chips on the way back to the hotel, to get changed, because bikini bottoms would have been more practical and then back into the madness to find the Photography Museum.  We attempted to help a couple of Dutch girls out who were lost and being hassled by the locals and then got hassled ourselves.  Someone tried to tell us we were going the wrong way, probably so we gave him money, but we ignored him and found it all by ourselves.  Dinner was relatively civilized, we returned to Jemma but this time to a restaurant with a terrace, it wasn't that much more expensive than the food stalls but you could watch the action.  This was much more enjoyable, however it started to rain and the temperature dropped quite a lot so we had an early night, which was needed as the next day was going to be a trek to the Atlas Mountains.

The excursion we chose was to the Ourika Valley to visit the 7 waterfalls, our driver picked us up earlier than agreed, so we were really glad we had had an early breakfast, which this morning was downstairs inside the riad, so comfy although we were aware we were sitting next to people's rooms so were being extra quiet.  Anyway, there was a little concern as our driver was having issues getting hold of our guide, but we eventually met him, I have no idea if he was meant to be our guide or a stand in, but we were really pleased with him.  First of all we stopped off somewhere where they make argan oil so we saw that being made,

and of course I bought some knowing it was the good stuff and he chatted to us about the villages we were driving through.    Omar (our guide) insisted on stopping at the magic bridge to test our balance, this is just a rickety bridge that he wanted us to walk along without holding on, Stav videoed it all, although I did hold on a couple of time.

We stopped at a restaurant for a toilet break and then to start our trek.  According to the website this was an easy trek, so I was fairly confident I would be able to manage it.  Well there are no ropes to hold on to, no designated paths and quite a lot of rocks to climb without any equipment.  Omar was very patient and helped me with the climbing, I couldn't believe how he just bounded up the rocks.  Every time we saw other people, he decided their route was too easy and made us go a slightly harder way up.  I think he found it amusing how scary I found it all.  Anyway it was completely worth it as the views were amazing and so were the waterfalls.  Apparently in the summer a lot of Marrakechi trek up there for picnics as it is cooler than in the city.

After at least 2 hours we return to the village and stop for a 3 course lunch.  Whilst I would say the food in Morocco is quite basic, the Berber flavours are so much nicer than the town flavours, we were so stuffed afterwards.  Our final stop was a Berber musuem so we saw the different kinds of carpets and lots of antiques.  The Berber's seem very proud of the Jews and love to show off any Jewish items they have, I can't believe how many Menorahs and Channukiahs he showed us.  I don't think they know about any other festivals but they seem to love Chanukkah.

Finally we returned back to our riad to relax, tomorrow is our final day so we needed to chill out shower before dinner and probably get an early night as all that walking was exhausting.

Friday has arrived rather quickly, so we breakfasted, packed and left our bags at reception whilst we wandered off to the Majorelle Gardens in New Town.  We actually had to leave the city walls, and what a different experience that was, it was much calmer, we also spotted where a much better taxi rank was, but that's not the point.  Now I looked on google maps for directions in advance and it claimed it was a half hour walk away, and as we didn't know the area, we gave ourselves plenty of time, it was 15 minutes walk, maybe 20 maximum.  Unfortunately the price had gone up a little bit but we still had enough cash on us.  It was so calm and serene inside.  Considering it was the hottest day of 32 degrees outside, once inside the garden walls we had no idea how hot is was or that we were still outside.  These gardens were originally opened to the public in 1947 and at some point after Jacques Marjorelle dies Yves Saint Laurent owned the gardens.  There is a memorial there for him and a display of some of his art work.  There was also a really interesting Berber museum, so not surprisingly this took up a good couple of hours at a nice relaxed pace.

All that was left was to take a walk back to the main town, take in our last tea on a terrace before heading back to the airport.  As we had some small cash left on us we decided to approach some snake charmers to take photos, which they instantly put a snake on Stav.  Luckily he is not scared of snakes and when they tried to tell him they wouldn't accept his tip as it was too small, he said he was happy to leave with the snake on him.  Funnily enough the tip was then good enough.

So that was it, we went to the airport and finally arrived back in the UK in one piece.  Marrakech is such an unusual place, it is constant chaos with these random moments of beauty and peace.  I am so glad I went, however, I doubt I will ever go again.  I would have loved to have taken better photos but I really couldn't afford to tip or buy something from every where, so I will make do with my holiday snaps instead.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Proposal going viral

When my friend asked me to photograph her little sister's flash mob proposal, how could I say no.  For those who haven't yet seen it on facebook or you tube here is the video:
Flash mob proposal

What an amazing thing for family and friends to help organize and I even have to admit I got a little bit emotional when everyone around me was crying.

Here are some photos of family and friends arriving, rehearsing and then hiding....


 After being shown to their seats in the bar, the groom to be disappeared to the toilet.  I was so glad I had someone to sit with at the bar so it didn't look too suspicious.  As soon as her favourite song came on Harriet was just texting her boyfriend, when she looked up and saw her sister walking towards her singing, followed by everyone else....

 Well of course she said yes!

I am so happy to have been part of this amazing experience although I have learned a few lessons along the way.  Unfortuantely I was unable to get to the restaurant before the event and the light was not easy to work with, which I would have known if I had made the time.  I also did not expect the story to go viral over the internet, so I definitely need to look in to how to protect my photos or at least ensure I am being credited for their usage.  But all in all I'm glad the evening was a success and wish the happy couple a wonderful life together.

To see the articles where the story is featured, check out the links below:
Herald and Post
Chronicle and Echo
The Church Restaurant