After the peaceful idyllic getaway Les Deux Tours provided us with for the first part of our break in Morocco, the second part was always going to be slightly more hectic.
That was the reason we decided to book a place to stay right in the centre of the Medina (the old city). For us it’s not travelling unless we get to experience a real bit of the culture and lifestyle.
And our home for the couple of nights we stayed in the Medina was the Riad Al Loune.
Once the door opened the lady who worked there whisked Little London up into her arms for a cuddle much to his delight and offered him biscuits before making us a nice hot mint tea to enjoy.
The Riad was beautiful and it was everything we needed it to be, the staff were beyond helpful even walking us to a restaurant one evening so we didn’t get lost, and making sure breakfast was sorted before our extremely early flight home.
The Riad was the perfect respite from the busy streets outside and just somewhere where we could relax after spending hours walking around the souks and at times a place to hide from the Medina lifestyle itself. Because yes, it can get tedious.
Price wise the Riad was so affordable. Our son was free because of his age and our room came with breakfast supplied, which being pregnant meant I could start the day on a good full stomach rather than wandering around outside trying to find a ‘safe’ place to eat.
And it was so picture worthy.
While the pool was too cold to get into being January, in the summer I can imagine how blissful that water would feel. Probably the perfect time to experience Riad life.
While I can tell you how amazing the Riad is, the Medina itself did lose its charm after a while. So I’m glad we only booked two nights in the Medina- although I don’t feel like it was enough time to do everything I had planned but at the same time on the second day I just wanted to escape the Medina for a good few hours and just stay at the Riad for a time out.
Because while the Medina is full of that culture I so desperately wanted to find, it was also full of people just seeing you as a £ sign.
I knew this was going to happen after reading up before going, so I was prepared. And there are some things you may do which will justify the price of handing over money to someone who has helped you.
But then there are other things that after a while aggravate you- especially as everyone that ‘helps you’ asks for big notes (top tip: make sure you have all your money broken down into small change or small notes- quite an impossible feat to do as the money exchange won’t change all your notes and the airport hand over 200 dirham notes from the start. Without small change or broken down notes you’re screwed).
Walking through Jamaa El Fna, the main square is a sight you have to see. But if you stop for a second, you may find a snake around your neck.
^^The look of a man who hates snakes and knows his wallet is about to be rinsed.
You’ll then have a man demanding 200 Moroccan Dirhams from you which equates to £15.00 for literally a minutes work. Of course you don’t have to pay what they demand (I think we paid 20 Dirhams) but it feels like the choice is out of your hands about whether or not you even wanted to have a snake around you in the first place and an exchange of money therefore has to occur.
Two seconds after the above picture was taken another man appeared from behind Mr London Mum with a bigger snake…
When you escape the clutches of the snake men, you’ll find there’s a monkey suddenly sat on your child’s shoulder. Not one but two. And once the monkey is on you may as well take a picture because you’re paying that fee none the less.
And each monkey owner wants 200 Moroccan Dirhams. And it continues. Ours got 50 Dirhams each because they were our smallest notes.
Street pedlars will give your children toys knowing that they won’t want to give them back so you’re behest to buying their product whether you wanted it or you didn’t.
There just never seemed to be an end point. After a while even though everything around you is beautiful and crazy, you don’t want to get your camera out to take a picture because you have no idea what will happen next and what money you’ll be asked for.
Saying that though we did enjoy the main square, but we would have liked to have gone at our own pace and made our own choices. I understand there’s competition between everyone that is working in the square but accosting tourists isn’t the best practice. For us it just made us leave the square sooner than we wanted.
It’s an experience I recommend and a place I think you should visit if you are in Marrakech just don’t move at the pace of your toddler! That’s slow enough to be pounced on!
On leaving the square a lady who did henna came up to me. Immediately I said no thank you. Firstly I didn’t want henna being done because once it starts to fade away it’s one messy looking hand I’ll have, and secondly I’m pregnant so I don’t want to put anything on my skin that may potentially cause any issue even if it’s just itching.
My mistake was being polite to her.
She asked where I was from so I continued walking and just answered- as you do. She noticed my bump and asked about the baby. And said she wanted to give me a henna tattoo for luck for the baby. Again I said no thank you. She then grabbed my hand and tried to start doing a design. I grabbed my hand back but for me it just crossed the line.
Don’t get me wrong I never felt unsafe or threatened, just the constant having to keep our eyes open and make sure we never stopped did become a little frustrating.
Rahba Qedima square felt like a less intrusive square.
Much smaller in size with shops around the outskirts the people who worked in this square had their own market stands or they owned shops.
I loved this square because they weren’t trying to hassle you in the same way. It was much gentler.
Many of the shops had tortoises or chameleons outside for sale as a way to attract you inside their shops. Which worked on us because Little London was so intrigued by the chameleons.
They are sold to people because they eat insects in the home, and being able to let Little London get up close and touch a ‘dragon’ made his day.
We decided to go into the shop where we had stopped because actually we wanted to buy some spices to bring home and after a rather lengthy conversation on all the spices in the shop (even though we knew which ones we wanted) we did manage to purchase what we wanted without any extras. The adjoining shop keepers played football with Little London and all in all it just seemed like a friendlier atmosphere.
On our second day in the Medina we started making our way to the Ben Youssef Madrasa- literally the place is Instagram heaven.
But on the way there we were told by various Moroccans that ‘today was the day to go and see the leather tanneries’ whether that was true or not is irrelevant really. After reading quite a bit online I’d decided against visiting the tanneries even though it was something that’s been on my to do list for a long time. I’d read stories about money exchanging and threats.
Given my new-found understanding over money exchanging we decided actually maybe we would go. We knew we’d have to pay someone to take us there and back (and what a surprise a man showed up about 5 minutes later) and that it would involve more money once at the tanneries.
But as it was something we wanted to do previous to reading things online, what difference did it make if we handed over the money in essence to a tour guide.
At least it was our decision and the ball was in our court.
Now of course you can always try to navigate the Medina yourself if you want, but actually that is easier said then done. The Medina is literally like a maze. If you can do it though it’ll save you money. Just don’t accept any help along the way even if it’s someone that’s seemingly genuinely nice.
But once you reach the area of the tanneries I’m not sure what the protocol is. The man we followed obviously has a deal with one of them so he walked us right in. Whether or not you can just head straight into one is not anything I have experience with. But to save costs (on the man transporting you there) it’s worth giving it a go.
The tannery was fascinating to see. It showed us an age-old culture still making leather goods in the ways of their ancestors.
The skins from sheep, camels and goats are soaked in pigeon poo. The pigeon poo is collected from around the Medina by women in exchange for the wool and fur from the animals. Which is then used to stuff pillows and pouffes etc.
There’s a whole process and it takes far longer than I imagined. The colouring of the leather only happens in the summer which coincidentally is also the season the tanneries smell their worst. Personally I didn’t find the smell as bad as I thought but we did go on a breezier day.
Upon leaving the tanneries we got our man to walk us back to the Ben Youssef Madrasa. And finally we paid him what we thought was appropriate (we also gave some money to the guy at the tannery that discussed the process to us). All in all money well spent.
The Madrasa we had to pay to get into and having a firm price to pay was a nice feeling. It wasn’t expensive at all either at 20 dirhams each (£1.60) for both myself and Mr London Mum. Plus it’s a great way to again escape the streets of the Medina, particularly for our toddler who suddenly had the freedom to run around safely.
The architecture of the Madrasa which was an old Islamic school is simply stunning.
And we really enjoyed just wandering around the building freely.
We were able to look into the rooms of the scholars and just admire how beautiful the place was.
Our two-day and two night stay in the Medina was adventurous. Although it did become tedious it was also what we needed to cement our stay in Morocco. It felt like we were coming face to face with the real Marrakech.
It is a busy, crazy city which will annoy you to the point of wanting to scream at anyone that requests money from you, but it provides a great load of memories and things you can look back on and laugh about.
Two days were both more than enough time for us and also not enough time for us. There was so much more I wanted to see but I just mentally couldn’t have stayed longer if I’d wanted to. Maybe it was because I was pregnant so I walk slower and don’t have the same patience. Maybe because my toddler wanted to walk we were easier targets.
Everything culminated in it being a mixed experience for us but not one I regret doing at all. In fact some of my favourite memories from this year are from the time we stayed in the Medina. It’s those memories that are worth whatever we paid out in the end.
If you are able to do more in Marrakech and want to experience more than what we were able to, the other places I had in mind were the Jardin Marjorelle and also the Bahia Palace. Believe it or not there are quite a few places of respite within the Medina or near by should you require some escapism!