Marrakech express – part 2

I could wander these narrow streets for days, like figuring out a complex puzzle, trying different corners and turns until I understand it and come out the other side.

Our group arrives at the Bahia Palace, built by a sultan in the late 19th century as a showplace of Moroccan and Islamic design which he named for his favorite wife.

When I look closely, what I mistook for understated elegance is in fact detail and craftsmanship woven into every square inch of every surface in every room… it’s overwhelming. We wander from front courtyards to private apartments and rooms for the sultans wives and harem, to tiled courtyards and fountains and into private gardens. The Bahia Palace is breathtakingly beautiful. And our guide has stories to bring it to life for us as we wander from room to room.

After an hour long tour, we leave the palace and make our way back into the streets of the Medina.

We see carts pulled by donkeys, horse-drawn carriages awaiting customers, and camels for rent near one of the old city walls. Not far ahead we see the minaret tower of the Koutoubia Mosque.

It’s the largest mosque in Marrakech and was consecrated more than 830 years ago.

Along one wall of the mosque we see the remains of a thousand-Year-old fort. The red sandstone blocks appear to have been cut right out of the desert floor.

As the sun reaches midday, Heather and Sharon and I break out on our own to meet a local guide we’ve hired. Reda, with Marrakech Guide Tours, greets us with a smile outside a cafe near Jemaa El Fna. He is a pro, both at guiding his clientd around his city and at creating a tour that is exactly what you want. Heather has a short list of things she wants to buy, and Reda knows exactly where to go to find both the best bargains and the best quality. We are in the best of hands.

He leads us to a lantern shop where Heather has her choice of every style of lamp imaginable. She is in heaven…until it comes time to decide between all the beautiful lamps. They’re all too pretty to leave behind.

Heather and Sharon keep ticking away at their shopping list, one gorgeous souvenir at a time.

I decide to wander off on my own in hopes of finding a different kind of souvenir for myself. Just a few blocks (if you can call them blocks when the street is just a never-ending narrow lane) away from the souk is a narrow alleyway filled with artisan shops and coffee rooms. When I was talking to friends Michelle and Pat, and Marlon and Jim a couple of weeks ago and mentioned this trip, Michelle suggested I try to find the Henna Art Cafe if I had time in Marrakech. It turns out that a woman from Rapid City (where I live) moved to Marrakech several years ago and opened a cafe with a partner. I’ve pinned the location on my phone in an offline app and go to see if I can find Lori Gordon to say hello.

Lucky me, it’s easy to find. And even more luckily, Lori is in. It’s wonderful meet her and say hello. She has lived an interesting life filled with adventure. She moved from Rapid City to New Orleans but had to leave when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. When I asked why she moved to Morocco, she says she visited here on a vacation and liked it and “decided that 50 years in one country was enough”. I like her instantly. She’s funny and energetic, and something about her mannerisms and politeness reminds me of home.

If you’re ever in Marrakech, you should check out her beautiful little cafe and the art for sale which is henna tattoos made on plaques. Or even better, go for the real thing.

After my henna dries (and I find the perfect wall plaque to take home) I have an hour or two to fill before meeting the other girls for dinner. I decide to take a taxi to the La Mamounia to have a cocktail, the resort of choice for heads of state, celebrities and royals who visit Marrakech. This opulent 5-Star hotel was a favorite of Winston Churchill who spent winter days painting garden scenes on the hotel balcony.

My cocktail, a Donna Mamounia, thankfully is accompanied by some nibbles. At $25 per drink, I’m grateful that it’s also delicious.

I sit and soak in the atmosphere for an hour, engrossed by the history this place must have seen and by the quality of the “people watching” available here. There’s a Swedish couple to my left sitting quietly and reading tablets. Across the room a couple of Russian men and their plasticized female companions argue loudly about something before finally getting up and leaving. People come and go, wandering out the glass doors to the terrace and pool, or into a side room off the main gallery where a slender man plays classical piano music as a much more elegant white noise than I’ve experienced before.

My rusty French skills are getting a lot of practice in Morocco. I’m grateful for being able to converse enough to get by and to feel at least a little more polite for having made the effort. I ask for “l’addition” so I can pay and go. That’s a a lot of dirham for a single drink but it was worth every one.

Heather found a restaurant in Marrakech that is located in a beautifully restored riad only a short cab-ride from our hotel. One of our tour friends is celebrating her birthday today so we invite her to join us and form a foursome for dinner.

Pepe Nero, and it’s gorgeous dwelling, are located at the end of an unassuming unmarked alley. It feels a lot like a secret that I’m happy to have been let in on. The staff, the atmosphere and food are utterly divine.

We take our time working through each course of the meal, and two bottles of wine…

Celebrating our new friend Mary’s birthday with the most wonderful women I know is the perfect way to spend an evening in a foreign land.

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