Author: Lenka Love
Editor: Libuše Foord
The excitement of traveling and exploring new places won´t ever desert me. My last trip brought all the more joy to me, as the country I visited was unmarked on my world travel map. The beginning of September was in sign of Morocco for Love.
Morocco, a country in the Maghreb region of North Africa, is a perfect mixture of the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara desert. It is one of three countries to have both – the Atlantic and the Mediterranean coastlines. I was curious, whether I will like it or not. Morocco (al-Maghreb in Arabic – the West, officially the Kingdom of Morocco) is located on the north-west of Africa, only 13 km from Europe across the Gibraltar. My conception of Morocco was limited at first. I imagined the large souk – traditional Arabic market, the set of several scenes of the Sex and City II. (movie). Don´t look for this souk in Abu Dhabi. The whole trip of the renowned “New York four” was filmed right in Morocco. The production team had not received a permission from Emirates. Thinking of the movie and adding the Royal Palm Golf Hotel Marrakech into it, the picture of Morocco suddenly became much clearer – the square shaped buildings and swimming pools, beautiful golf course framed by the Atlas Mountains, comfort and top class service of the luxurious accommodation complex.
We got tickets from Prague through Paris, Charles de Gaulle airport – airport I like the least and I always try to avoid it. Well, it is not always possible. And I do not like Air France much either. It is apparently the only European airline still transporting primates for animal testing to the laboratories. This time, unfortunately, I had to fly with them. I hated to do that. The flight to Paris takes only two hours, though, and from Paris to Casablanca a bit over three hours. So, basically you read a few pages of your favourite magazine and you must get off the aircraft. Easy game! FYI: My suitcase got missing on the return flight. I am still waiting and hoping for its safe return.
For some reason, I thought Casablanca is the capital city of Morocco. It is not. It is actually Rabat, a city located on the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the river Bou Regreg. Casablanca is also situated on the Atlantic Ocean and it is the largest city of Morocco (population of about 4 million). It is considered to be a business centre of Morocco and one of the most important financial centres of the Africa continent. It has a certain romantic flavour because of a cult film of the same name Casablanca (1942) directed by Michael Curtiz, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Maybe that´s why I considered it to be a political centre as well.
The Red City
We only stayed for two meetings in Casablanca and we set off to Marrakesh right after. Marrakesh is an inland city located on the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. It is an economic and cultural centre of the southern part of the country. With almost 1 million inhabitants it is ranked as the fourth largest city, and it is one of the four imperial cities of Morocco. I had heard a lot about Marrakesh before the trip. My friend David – now living in Prague – comes from Marrakesh. Finally I could experience the red city myself. The nickname Red or Ochre city was given to Marrakesh because of its red city walls built in the first half of 12th century and other red sandstone buildings of that time.
On the way to our hotel I noticed there were sheep everywhere. There were herds of sheep by the shopping centres for sale – same as tubs with carps in our country before Christmas. I spotted the animals on the carts behind cars, so I asked where do they take them and I found out that families buy them for the 12th September – the start of Eid al-Adha – a Muslim holiday also called the “Sacrifice feast”. They will slit its throat and let the animal bleed to death – the halal slaughter I hate
so much. I´ve seen so many videos and signed so many petitions against the sale of products of such slaughter in the Czech Republic. It seems to be normal in Morocco. A tradition lasting for centuries, based on a story of Ibrahim and Ishmael (inspired by the Old Testament story of Abraham and Isaac). Ibrahim was supposed to sacrifice his son Ishmael to Allah to prove he trusted the God completely. In the end, Allah spared Ishmael´s life and a sheep was sacrificed instead. To be clear, there are many more religious cultures practicing animal (sheep) sacrifice (luckily, in the Czech Republic, we only bake sweet lamb from dough as a traditional Easter dish). To their defence I was told they share the meet with the poor, which makes it a bit more acceptable for me, but still… I felt I like the place a little less after this. Poor sheep.
I didn’t want this to ruin the whole trip, so instead I focused on more pleasurable things – like golf!
I was excited to finally see the beautiful Royal Palm golf course. And honestly, in the end, it was the finest thing I experienced in Morocco.
The “Royal golf” The Royal Palm Golf Hotel is a complex with a spectacular golf course and I´m happy to present it on my website. I could see it for myself at last and I enjoyed it with all my senses. The luxurious accommodation facility deserves those five stars for sure. In fact, I would give it a sixth one. The golf course was well trimmed and simply great. Only one thing was not perfect – a club house, because they were building it. There was a provisional small club house and the main one was still under construction.
There are several golf courses within the area of Marrakesh. I´ve not seen them all, but for what I´ve seen, nothing could compete with the Royal Palm Golf. I visited two more golf courses – Amelkis Golf Club – 2012 Ladies European Tour venue, and the Royal Golf Marrakech – a place welcoming the king´s mother every morning for her 9-hole golf adventure.
The Morocco´s King enjoys genuine popularity. Women love him, as he changed and expanded their rights. For example they get half of the assets after divorce, they have right to vote and complain. He supports social policies, e.g. helping poor and underprivileged by providing them with free housing, supporting construction of such housing. He would not stand people living in miserable conditions without electricity and drinking water, increasing the risks of transmission of infectious diseases. Last but not least, he backs development of northern Morocco and works towards maintaining connection and relationships between Morocco and Europe.
Back to the city
Enough about the golf and royalty. You mustn’t forget to walk through the old part of the city center to experience the life of local people. If you choose to walk at daytime, it will be rather hot, but the streets will be empty – hardly any tourists around.
Start with the Koutoubia Mosque – the largest mosque in Marrakesh. You won’t miss it as its minaret is 77 meters high. It is the most famous sacred building from the Almohads era. Its foundation stone was laid in the second half of 12th century. The minaret of the mosque was completed under the Almohad Caliph Yacoub El-Mansour and it has inspired number of other constructions, such as Giralde in Seville and the Hassan Tower in Rabat.
There is the Jemaa el-Fnaa Square next to the Koutoubia Mosque. It will blow your mind with the number of street artists, snake-charmers and monkeys. The square leads to the souk where you will find everything you wish for: From spices, to shoes, clothing, handbags, mostly fake designer bags
etc. They sell hens, turtles – simply everything. I bought just a few things, magnets I collect and spice – “magical Moroccan spice”.
The small streets of the city hide a monastery called Ben Youssef Madrasa founded by Sultan Abdullah al-Ghalib in 1565. It was built as an Islamic college for people to learn to pray. The place functioned as a small university town.
You may also discover many Riads in Marrakesh. Riad is a traditional Moroccan house characterized by its central open garden courtyard surrounded by walls. The Riads are at every turn and there are restaurants in some of them. I encourage you to take a look inside.
I found the Marrakesh railway station to be one of the most impressive buildings of the city. You wouldn’t believe it is just a station. The building is located right opposite the National Theatre. Both of these beauties are just behind the corner from my favourite Buddha Bar restaurant. Obviously, we visited the restaurant as well and enjoyed great food there (although they don’t serve my number one dish – mango soup). Another restaurant I can recommend is called Bo Zin – the place leads to a garden with small lagoons, and it is a pleasure to dine there.
What caught my attention?
For us – spoiled by the internet – it might be a shock, but you cannot call via WhatsApp, Skype or Viber in Morocco. The reason is, apparently, that Moroccan people have families in France and would use up way too much data calling their relatives. And Moroccan telecom did not appreciate it, so they banned the service. Whether or not it is the truth, you simply cannot make a call with apps online.
I was pleasantly surprised by people working in the streets and on the roads – trimming the trees and palms by the roads, cleaning streets. They are even building a new airport terminal. I liked it and I commended it to our guide. He laughed and said it is all happening because of the upcoming COP22 (Conference of the Parties) – a global event of the UNFCCC parties (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change). The organizers are expecting tens of thousands of people from around the world, including US President Barack Obama. Therefore is the whole Marrakesh “upside down”. For the purposes of the conference huge tents were built with large space around them for safety reasons. Honourable guests, such as the president, will be accommodated in the most beautiful hotel of the city – La Mamounia.
Regarding safety, the situation once again pleasantly surprised me. Policemen were everywhere, and although I´m a blondie (not so common in Morocco), no one dared to harass me (unlike in India). Roadside checks were quite frequent outside and in the city. However, they don’t stop Europeans for inspection very often. Moroccans are almost exclusively Muslims, mostly Sunni. At first I was rather concerned. During our trip, however, I learned that people here do not appreciate orthodox Muslims, they don’t receive white-glove treatment from the system and most of them end up in prison. It made me a little bit more comfortable.
I was also impressed by the way taxi service works in Marrakesh. There are two types of taxis – small and big. Small taxis operate inside the city and big ones outside. And the big ones take in up to five more different customers. That´s why you can see so many taxis completely full. Every additional customer decreases the price on the taximeter for the rest of them. I liked it, it was so convenient.
The one thing you cannot miss out while in Marrakesh is Jardin Majorelle – a botanic garden connected to the famous French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. Laurent and his long-term business (and once a life/) partner Pierre Bergé bought the property in 1980. Jardin Majorelle became unlimited source of inspiration for Laurent. After the death of the Paris haute couture designer in 2008 his ashes were scattered in the rose garden of the Villa Oasis. The place has a fascinating back story and Laurent with Bergé play a huge role in it. They literally saved Jardin Majorelle (together with the legacy of 20th century artist Jacques Majorelle). After Laurent died, Bergé donated the estate to a foundation in Paris. The street in front of the Jardin Majorelle entrance was renamed to the Rue Yves Saint Laurent in his honour.
Morocco and Marrakesh are certainly beautiful, despite the sheep. I could not sleep thinking of those poor creatures. I enjoyed the trip merely thanks to our guide. He was assigned to us together with a vehicle for the whole business trip. He would tell us different stories and spoke about various details we could hardly learn about without him. He spoke perfect French. You are lost without speaking French in Morocco. Not many people speak English here, not even in restaurants. Most of the information and signs are in French, same for the flight information at the airport. I was thinking of my mom a lot, about her travelling without actually knowing the language (my mom speaks German, but that doesn’t help much). Luckily she decided to learn English now!