The trip was amazing, and a bit more arduous than most. We are already looking forward to going back, taking the few lessons we learned on this trip to improve on the experience.
The biggest question we always get is “Why Marrakech?” As people who love to travel, Sara and I want to see everything there is to see, so my thought is always Why Not? But how we decided on Marrakech can actually be traced to Michael Moorcock’s Elric stories. Michael Moorcock is my favorite writer, and my first exposure to him was, like so many others, the Elric books. (I had the 2-volume SFBC set as a teenager, and the damage was done.) Throughout the Elric books (and, indeed, the entire Eternal Champion cycle) the city of Tanelorn looms in the distance, a mythic, perfect city. I had known that Moorcock had based Tanelorn on Marrakech, but simply filed that away with other seemingly useless trivia. Jump forward a few decades to a year or so ago, when Sara and I were trying to decide where to go next, I came across an article (the actual article seems to have vanished in the aether, but this story refers to the article) in which fantasy writers talk about the most fantastical cities on Earth. Moorcock wrote about Marrakech, and something clicked.
Madrid was a little easier. We wanted to add a few days in a city we knew so we could relax at the end of the trip. We originally were going to do Paris or London, but realized it would be a little cold, so we looked into Madrid. We had never been there, but tapas bars seemed pretty self explanatory, and there were a few great museums to see. There was nothing we needed to plan in too much detail.
There is a lot of hectoring of tourists in the Jemaa el Fna, which can be tedious after a while. The henna ladies were particularly nasty, like vengeful furies if you said no to them. The poverty/standard of living that many there deal with can make you feel guilty, since a dollar to them means a hell of a lot more than it does to us; but once you give one kid a dollar, you are immediately surrounded by ten kids wanting their dollar, and, well, nobody wants to be surrounded by kids. After a few days, however, once you are more in tune with the rhythm of the place and stop gazing around like a slack-jawed tourist, people don’t seem to bother you as much. Madrid was a very relaxing way to end the trip, and it was a brilliant choice after the five days in Marrakech.
Highlights from Both Places
- Seeing Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights while dealing with the onset of a vertigo attack.
- Seeing Picasso’s Guernica
- Breakfasts at the riad
- Cafe Arabe and the excellent view over the city
- Kozybar, goofy name but an astonishing view of the ruins of the Baadi Palace, home to many nesting storks
- Hammam and massages at Les Bains de Marrakech (twice; decadent, I know)
- Tapas bars
- Museo del jamon (Yes, that’s Ham Museum, which is actually a chain of tapas bars)
- Getting a really nice camel leather bag for US$30.
- Finding the best stall to get merguez sausages in the Jemma el Fna (#30) Stall #31 is not bad, either.
- Gambas al ajillo
- Walking the ramparts of Essaouira
- Puerta del Sol on New Year’s Eve (and on the eve before New Year’s Eve, where the Madrilenos apparently practice the countdown. I really don’t know what was going on. They take that holiday very seriously.)
There were a few hiccups, like getting lost in Marrakech for about an hour in a residential area, but we stumbled across a pretty cool outdoor market on the way back the Jemaa el Fna. (We were saved by the cab driver who had taken us to Essaouira the day before, who just happened to be driving by. He pointed out the right winding route we needed to take to get back to where we wanted to be.)
I don’t like bartering, which is pretty much required in the souks, so that took some practice; my first few attempts consisted with me naming a price and then walking away muttering when they didn’t agree. (This tactic worked for my camel leather bag, which I got for $30 after he tried selling it to me for around $100.)
The exhaustion from Marrakech and the multiple flights played havoc with my precarious inner ear, so the last few days of the trip involved lots of passionflower, ativan, and wine to keep the nerve endings in my inner ear dulled enough so that I could walk in a straight line. I suspect my doctor would look askance at the wine, but it actually works. Or at least if I stumbled around, it was for the right reasons.