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Inside the Bahia Palace (May 2017).

While visiting Marrakesh in early May, I had also booked a one-night Sahara desert tour in the middle of my five-night stay in the Moroccan capital (more on that later). The desert tour happened during my third night, and upon returning to Marrakesh the following day, I checked in once more into the same hostel for an extra two nights.

Now, while I could’ve just not have stayed those extra two nights and instead move onto a new destination in Morocco, I chose to do so for a couple of reasons: 1) my friend, a former assistante, was coming into Marrakesh that evening and we would be traveling together throughout the rest of Morocco, and 2) I hadn’t seen all that I wanted to see in Marrakesh during my first day, so I wanted to continue exploring. Despite the crazy robbery incident that had happened to me earlier in my stay, I didn’t want that to deter me from enjoying myself in the city.

I arrived back in Marrakesh from the Sahara Desert in the early evening: I got dinner at the same cafe I’d eaten at the first day before making my way back to my hostel, just in time for my friend to arrive and check in. It’d been over a year since we’d last seen each other, and it was great to see each other again. Considering that both of us had been traveling all day (her from the States to Paris then Morocco, I from the Sahara desert), we were quite tired and we hit the sack at a reasonable time, recharging to gear ourselves to explore Marrakesh the next day. Granted, my friend would only have one, full day to see the city, but we would manage to hit all of the hot spots that we wanted to visit in that time frame.

After the carb-loaded breakfast from the hostel the following morning, we set out to Jemaa el-Fnaa, where we visited once more the Koutoubia Mosque before returning to the main square to visit the souks. Compared with my first day in Marrakesh, which had been rather overcast, it proved to be sunny weather that day. The skies were clear and brilliantly blue, and it made for perfect photo opportunities everywhere that we went.

We visited the souks, but at the same time used it as a passageway to get to our other destination, the Ben Youssef Madrasa, an Islamic college which dates back to the 14th century. It’s famous for its beautifully-designed courtyard, filled with an incredible amount of geometric carvings on the walls and doors that it’s almost dizzying to look at. Not only that, but also it contains a number of small rooms that once were student dorms, for many of them lived and studied at the school. Considered one of the largest colleges in northern Africa, the Ben Youssef Madrasa is a popular tourist destination to happen upon.

My friend and I paid 20 dirhams (2 euros) to enter the madrasa, and we proceeded to tour the courtyard, admiring the star and petal-patterned designs everywhere while also trying to take photos without too many people getting in the way (a challenging feat, since it was close to midday when we visited, aka peak tourist time). We also climbed up to the second floor, where we went from dorm to dorm, checking out the square-shaped formation of everything that was inside of it, e.g. balconies, ceilings, walls. Although seemingly overpriced for such a small space, the Ben Youssef Madrasa is nevertheless a must-see when in Marrakesh, and I’m glad we had visited it.

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Inside the Ben Youssef Madrasa.

Following our visit, we headed out and returned to the Jemaa el-Fnaa, and from there we decided to head west past the Koutoubia mosque over to the Menara Gardens. Located in the New Town, it’s a botanical garden which is particularly known for its pavilion and large pond, which are set in front of the Atlas Mountains in the distance. In that sense, it makes for a great postcard-photo opportunity!

The walk over from the main square wasn’t very close, to say the least. Not only that, but also it was broiling at mid-day as we set out on foot over to the Menara Gardens. It was about a 40-minute walk, and along the way, we passed by some *really posh* resorts, probably where families and well-to-do tourists stay instead of in the chaotic Old Town center.

We eventually made it over to the Menara Gardens, almost delirious from the heat (and subsequently sunburned, even though we’d applied sunscreen that morning). All the same, we headed over to the pavilion and walked across the large pond to get the picturesque view of the Atlas Mountains. The heat was pretty bad, but the photos made up for it!

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View of the Atlas Mountains from the Menara Gardens.

Feeling the hot weather, my friend and I treated ourselves to some ice cream bars at a food stand in the gardens before heading back to the Old Town center. Our final stop for the day was at the Bahia Palace, a 19th-century palace whose name means “brilliance.”

…and brilliant it was! I didn’t have expectations when my friend and I paid 10 dirham (1 euro) to tour the inside, but it blew me away! With numerous courtyards decked out in elegant patterns and gardens so lush you’d think it was already summer, the Bahia Palace was a mecca for an architectural lover’s dream, and I would even go as far to admit that it was worth the money, more so than the Ben Youssef Madrasa.

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Inside of the courtyards of the Bahia Palace.
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Colorful door entrance.

We had to pry ourselves from the walls of the Bahia Palace to return to our hostel, as means of getting away from the heat, cooling off before we were to head out again later that evening to get dinner in the Jemaa el-Fnaa and wait until it got dark enough for the main square to light up and see what kind of entertainment would be happening then. After a simple and inexpensive dinner of tagine and couscous (with fruit juice and Moroccan mint tea on the side), we sat back and watched the sun set over the square and enjoyed the gradual lighting up of the area while people– locals and tourists– continued bustling around.

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Moroccan mint tea (so good!).

Once it was dark enough, we headed into the square to check it out. Merchants were still selling away (or rather, trying to sell) trinkets to tourists while crowds three people thick gathered in tight circles around entertainment acts. My friend and I were exceptionally harassed by waiters along the row of outdoor restaurants who were trying to lure us into their respective ones, even though we told them that we’d already had dinner. It was especially bad for my friend, who with her blond-hair, blue-eyes features made her even more of a target to those thirsty Moroccan men. Seriously, it was so intense that we hurried our way out of there (which proved difficult, since it was so crowded) just to be able to prevent any more harassment from them.

Any case, there wasn’t much to see that night- just a bunch of shopping and food, so we ended up returning to our hostel to freshen up and prepare for bed. We would be leaving the following morning to catch our train to the next destination in Morocco, and we didn’t have the desire to stay out, anyway.

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Jemaa el-Fnaa at night.

We left our hostel the next morning after breakfast, taking a taxi to the train station located in the New Town. Buying our first-class tickets for 31 euros each (unheard of in France), we boarded our train around 10h00 and shortly thereafter we departed, saying goodbye to Marrakesh in the process.

I would say that, looking back, Marrakesh wasn’t my favorite city to visit in Morocco. This is not to say that I hated it, but after exploring the other cities whilst in the country, I found Marrakesh to be a bit too rough, too hot, and overwhelming. The city is intense, especially if it’s your first time there, like me. Perhaps if I were to have started in another city in Morocco before making my way down to Marrakesh, things might have been different. In any case, I still found the souks and the Bahia Palace absolutely beautiful, and I would still encourage anyone who’s interested to visit Marrakesh.

More coming soon! Next up: the Sahara Desert!

 

— Rebecca

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