Germany and Marrakech? An odd pairing, no?
I didn’t plan to travel around Germany much…. maybe next time. My reason for going there at all was to visit my friend, Michelle. She and I met while working at a horrible office job in California. We both hated our jobs, loved knitting and traveling and felt we’d found a kindred spirit. For whatever reason people connect, we connected. We’d often meet at a coffee shop on weekends with our knitting and just sit and chat. She’s a really terrific, bright, kind, talented young woman and I like her a lot. She and her husband, Aaron (who I’d never met before but now adore! Such a nice, funny, intelligent and interesting man), live just outside Stuttgart.
So, from Bruges, I boarded a train to Stuttgart…..
….with a stopover in Cologne where there’s a huge advert built into the structure for my favorite cologne – 4711.
It was an oft delayed train, actually. Plus, I had a stopover in Brussels, got completely confused as to where my connection was and nearly missed it.
I arrived something like an hour and a half late, if I remember correctly, but Michelle waited for me.
As usual, when I’m visiting with friends or family, I completely forgot to take pictures so I really don’t have many from Germany.
But, one day I went with Michelle to her workplace, walked around a bit while she was working and took these few pics.
There was a beautiful old graveyard nearby where I took these.
I wish I’d got more pics of her workplace. It’s a studio where great felted wool pieces are created. As I said, she’s very talented. Check out her Instagram to see what she’s up to: @ma_michelle_belle
I had a lovely and (much needed) relaxing time with Michelle and Aaron and hope to travel back to see them again some day.
Then I was off to Marrakech.
That’s Europe to the north and Africa to the south.
I remember thinking, “I’m flying over Africa! That’s Africa down there!” I guess I never thought I’d do such a thing! Yet, there I was. Upon landing, standing in a long line at the airport for well over an hour to get through customs then taking a cab into town, I found my hostel with walking directions from my cab driver (who could only get so close on the narrow alleys with his car) and then went out to explore.
My hostel was a few winding alleys from this, the first street of much activity.
I headed down this street, taking pictures…..
….and a man started yelling at me in Arabic, so I haven’t a clue what he said, but by the way he was waving his arms at me I surmised he was saying, “Shoo!” So I shooed.
This is Bab Agnaou, one of the gates to the old city, built in the 12th century.
Below is a pastry cart…
….full of delicious pastries and bees! The pastries were sweet, gooey yumminess.
My friend Dave wrote me an email saying, ” Of course, you’re going to the Musée Boucharouite, right?” I wrote back saying, “Of course!” Then, afterward thought about it and realized, wait a minute…. I had no idea what he was talking about! I looked it up and I’m so glad he informed me of it.
As with most places I’ve visited, the search was half the fun.
….and here we are at the Musée Boucharouite.
An unassuming door opens into a riad filled with beautiful handcrafted ‘boucharouite’ rugs on display. They are, quite simply, rag rugs created from scrap fabrics by Berber women in the Atlas mountains. What’s so unique about them is the variety of design.
There’s other types of art here as well. And the riad itself is a work of art. I enjoyed strolling around for a couple hours. I was there alone almost the entire time, apart from the staff. I’m sure it’s at least in part due to the fact that I tend to go out early. It was a lovely place to stroll around and get away from the hectic medina quarter.
….which leads to this grand central courtyard.
Built in the late 19th century, it was once called Dar Menebhi Palace. This central space was once open to the sky but, during renovation in 1997 to turn the palace into a museum, it was covered.
I love this beautiful velvet.
Now comes the hard part. I’ve been struggling with writing about Marrakech and I’ve been putting it off because my time there wasn’t entirely wonderful.
One of my first nights there, I went to the grand square to wander around. There was a band playing, or really, it seemed more like just a group of guys jamming. It looked fun and lively and I took a picture. Boy, was that a mistake. Immediately, this one man playing drums pointed his finger at me, shouted to one of his friends that I took a picture, then that man ran over to me, yelling, ‘Who told you you could take a picture? You take a picture, you must pay.’ I told him I didn’t know (how could I? There was no sign anywhere indicating it. They were a band playing in a public square, for crying out loud. You’d think they’d figure they’d get their picture taken). Shaken, I apologized and reached in my bag for some money. I had only change handy and gave it to him. He said that, no, he wanted bills. This change was not enough. I did have bills hidden away, but really, at this point my growing suspicion was that, no, this is a bullshit scam. I told him I didn’t have any and he handed me back my change and scoffed at me. Maybe I was foolish for doing this but I’ve always been comforted by the safety in numbers and there were loads of other people around so I didn’t think he’d take it any further and he didn’t. But, this encounter turned out to be a taste of things to come.
Another time, after being led astray by another man who, basically lied and said he knew of a place where I could watch craftspeople in action, I found myself totally lost. Totally turned around. I stopped at a kiosk to get some food and water and a young man asked if he could help me. I said no thank you. He looked at me, smiled as if in understanding as to ‘how it is out there,’ and said in so many words, ‘don’t worry, I won’t ask for money. I just like to help people.’ He seemed genuine. And, not wanting to be cynical, not wanting to give up on people, trusting in what he said, I said, ‘Okay, thanks’ and off we went. We actually had a nice, friendly talk along the way.
When we’d got to a place where he could just point and say, ‘go around that corner and you’ll almost be there (which turned out not to be true),’ he said he wanted me to pay him for this help. I began to say, ‘But you said….’ and he suddenly started yelling and waving his arms at me. Mind you, we were still in an alley. We were not in public at that point. So, here I (no spring chicken, mind you) am being yelled at by a young, angry man in an alley. After my experience(s) with the band and the man who led me into the middle of nowhere and a few other instances, I just started to walk away. He moved in front of me, but I persisted in avoiding eye contact and walking away. He was still yelling at me (a friend of his even walked over to me and said that I’d better give him what he wants), but I kept walking, my heart pounding out of my chest. Fortunately, around a couple corners were more people including two young women talking to each other. I asked if they knew English (they did) and if they could direct me. One of them (one of the sweetest, kindest people on the planet as far as I’m concerned) offered to take me on her motorbike to the center of town. Upon arriving, I practically begged her to let me pay her for gas, but she refused.
I don’t consider myself to be, in general, a fearful person, but I’ve got to admit, this whole experience unnerved me. But, as in any city anywhere on the planet, there are nice people and there are those who would take advantage of you. Sadly, to my experience there’s a greater percentage of the latter in Marrakech than I, personally, have found anywhere else.
I don’t mean to draw a completely bad picture of Marrakech. For me, roaming around and getting completely lost in the souks was an absolute blast and I loved it. And at the suggestion of my friend, Sarah, who went there a few years ago, I went to a rooftop cafe at dusk and watched all the activity below in the medina whilst drinking a glass of hot mint tea. I even met a really nice young woman from Mexico there and we had a great conversation. A lovely evening.
If you go to Marrakech, here’s my advice:
Go with a friend. I met a few young women traveling solo and nearly all of them agreed. I’ll say it again, there’s safety in numbers.
And simply be aware, if you need to ask directions anywhere (and it’s likely you will – it can be a maze!) be prepared that, no matter what they say (such as, “I don’t want any money, I just like to help people”) and no matter how sincerely it’s said, payment will most likely be expected. And I mean expected. Possibly to a scary degree.
Having said all that, I’d love to go back to Marrakech…. with a friend. Okay, there it is. Whew, catharsis! Now, back to the fun part – the souks!
Here’s a sight possibly not often seen – a part of the souk early in the morning before anything’s open!
I took this last photo from my seat at a restaurant as I waited for my food. Soon after, a few young people (early 20’s, probably) arrived at this spot and a man started taking pictures of two ‘western-looking’ women (models?) sitting on the cushions and acting casual and bored as if they lounged around here every day, with all these beautiful fabrics and colors. It was pretty weird and awkward! I looked everywhere but at them! Fortunately, my food arrived…
….and it was hard to look at anything else! This is a tagine – a dish named after the pot in which it’s cooked. Scrumptious yumminess, it tell you!
As I mentioned, a couple times I went to the central square at night and made my way to a restaurant balcony and watched the sights as the sun set.
It may be an ancient souk, but it’s a well-connected souk!
My time in Marrakech was over. Fun in lots of ways and not at all in a few others. I was ready to go.
This is my bunk in the train I took to Tangier. I spent a few hours talking with the two other women in the cabin. We had some good laughs and shared some of the same experiences – good and bad. It was pretty fun.
And now I’m off to Tangier.