Top tips for the exhausted Corporate Goddess
Roaming: While the general consensus is to switch off roaming before leaving your domestic airport, it is worth considering switching on roaming when travelling to Marrakech. While you may in your mind imagine yourself negotiating zen like with merchants in the Médina, the reality is that you will, in all likelihood find yourself completely lost down a series of intricate streets packed to the brim with people, bicycles and motorcycles and quite possibly, depending on when you travel, in the searing Moroccan heat. Forget maps, they are of no use to you in this frenzy and your problem is that as soon as you stop to take a breath and try and figure out where the hell you are, you can suddenly find yourself surrounded by some locals offering assistance on the directions or offering to sell you something. If you are travelling in the height of summer, add intense heat into the mix and that quickly equals frazzled nerves.
So what to do, well investing in your mobile phone provider’s travel roaming package is one thing to give consideration to. Most offer a basic travel package that will give you enough internet coverage to keep google maps on all day. If you are woman travelling by yourself, google maps can be an absolute godsend trying to navigate the souks or market streets. While you want to be able to soak up the atmosphere and wander about at your leisure, it is key to know that you have an escape route if it all gets too much in particular in the hotter months and there is nothing like moving with the sense of certainty that google maps provides in order to get any unasked for travel guides to back off fast.
The other alternative is to invest in a guide. If you are an independent traveller this might sound nuts to you, however quite a few of the main tourist attractions such as the Musee de Mouassine, Bahia Palace, Dar Si Said, the Saadian Tombs, the Maison de la Photographie are embedded in the maze and it would be a shame to discount them if you are overwhelmed by the crazy.
Marrakech operates an unusual value system, things that might be expensive in other places such as taxis and travel guides are relatively inexpensive here, while other things like eating out, not necessarily as much. A taxi around the city centre is about 20 dirhams (make sure and agree this with your driver before you get in), which equates to about 2 euro. Consider getting your Riad to arrange a guide for you on the day you plan on seeing the main tourist sites, and let the guide worry about traversing the maze. Then on your other days just wander about at your leisure. As with taxis, just make sure to pre-arrange the price first.
If you need a break from the madness of the Médina, Jarden Majorelle and the Yves St Laurent museum are fabulous options. Both are stunning and have coffee shops that are offer welcome respite and a change of scene. The Yves St Laurent museum also has a great short film on Yves St Laurent’s life.
Another good respite from the crazy is coffee at La Sultana, the staff are just lovely and the opulence makes a great change from the hubbub of the Medina and a great place to consider your purchases before venturing back to your Riad.
If you are interested in some beautiful photography for your home – look no further than the Museum of Photography. The pictures are stunning and the museum also helpfully has a rooftop terrace which can be an absolute godsend if you need to have a mint tea before venturing back out into the Medina.
For the Corporate Goddess who simply cannot leave the office behind, The Spot offers day rates of 70dirhams (about 7 dollars) for a co-working space that offers printer, phone and meeting facilities.
If the Medina in full throttle is just so not your thing and all the noise and crazy reminds you of a bad day at the office. A helpful way to manoeuvre it is to try the early morning/ after dusk strategy. It is actually incredibly pleasant to walk around the Medina and Souks just as they are waking up. Everybody is too busy setting up or having their breakfast and morning chats to even remotely care about trying to hassle you for business. If early morning serenity sounds good – try chilling out at Cafe De France with a mint tea / expresso / orange juice while the El Fna is setting up, then aim to be at the Cafe Des Espices at 9.30 for breakfast – this is the prime seat in the spice souk, the sights and smells are fabulous and the peaceful atmosphere at that time of the morning while stall holders are setting up should be savoured as lord knows it does absolutely does not last throughout the day. If you don’t do crowds, consider this option, hang out in the Souks until it starts getting a bit crazy around 11 / 12 ish and then get out of there, maybe coming back after dusk when it’s quiet again. One day of Medina mayhem can be fun but it is a holiday after all and you don’t want to go back to the office even more exhausted and frazzled then you were when you left.
Another handy tip – if you are the kind of person who uses music as a reminder of great holidays then this one is for you. Nothing will transport you back to Marrakesh quite like a play list of the songs that you heard in the Medina. This is where the Shazam App comes into its own – just hold it up, add the song to your Spotify Marrakech playlist. Some of the best soundtracks can be found at Cafe Des Espices and other Medina eateries.
Safety: Marrakesh is a lot safer then reports would have you believe. Yes you are going to get the extremely hard sell bordering on annoying in the Medina, if that’s bothering you, then just don’t be there at core times or consider some of the other tips above to ensure you are not looking too lost in that space. If the heckling gets too much, consider getting out of the Medina and spending some time at one of the hip eateries in the Ville Nouvelle including Cafe 16, Grand Cafe de la Post or Kechmara or hanging out in the cafe of the Yves St Laurent museum.
Heat. I was in Marrakech in August and it was ridiculously hot. Again a matter of personal choice however, if you are pale and interesting and in Marrakesh in the height of the heat, liberal layers of cotton / natural fibres can mean breathability and that sun burn stress and endless stops for panic applications of sun tan lotion is one problem you do not have.
For shopping, 33 Rue Majorelle right across from the Jardin Majorelle provides a lovely alternative to haggling at the Medina and the curated collection is beautiful and reasonably priced. While more expensive then the Medina, the experience is a lot more tranquil. While there enjoy a coffee in the included cafe Kaowa, particularly lovely if you are savouring your break from the Medina madness.
If you are vegan and have not been lucky on the food front in Morocco where a fabulous vegan meal can sometimes be a tad elusive, Cafe 16 is the place to go. Their vegan salad is one of the best in town and again the modern vide of the place can offer a nice alternative to the Medina.