Marriage Proposal… mais c’est le Souk ici ;)

Marriage Proposal… mais c’est le Souk ici ;)

My boyfriend turned to me and laughed. ‘See’, he said trying to ease my fears, ‘I told you that they would want to trade you for some camels’. I tried not to look so pleased.  So many people had told me that this happened or had happened to them or their pretty friends but it was nearing the end of our trip and no one, not even the ugliest buck toothed peddler had offered up anything in exchange for my love. wasn’t I worth even one lousy camel? Not even the oldest most haggard one?Did I smell, or was my face getting too red walking about under the midday sun?Perhaps my perfume had expired and so my pheromones were going haywire but maybe  I was just having a few “off days”, who could tell? One thing was for sure though, it just wasn’t happening with me in the Moroccan love department, that is until now…

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We had spent 20 minutes bartering for a bracelet.

-“If I had a woman like you I wouldn’t argue over 50dhs. I would buy you this bracelet for 150 dhs”, said the owner of the next door shop as he grinned broadly, knowing he was in ear shot of both his friend the seller and my boyfriend. “In fact, if I had you”, he continued, “I would give you diamond and a detached house with a villa!”

-“See, I told you that they would want to trade you for some camels”.

-“No, not camels, diamond! Big diamond”, he answered.

This was enough to break my boyfriend’s concentration. Moroccan suitors were no longer to be underestimated it seemed. Love like everything else in Marrakesh had moved into the 21 st century and apparently camels were now just a thing of the past. His family had two houses, one in Wimbledon, the other in Kensingon and he had lived there for over 10 years… Was this just a final last resort tactic, the straw that would break the camels back,  the thing which would get my red sweating denuded boyfriend to pay the 150 dhs and whisk me away before I could think twice about the life without work, the free house, the huge rock and a life time of goat skin shoes? Most probably. Did it work? Of course it did. Does this take away the fact that I got a proposal? Of course not! Was I disappointed not to get offered loads of camels? A bit…

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We had come a long way since my first attempt at bartering, where I was lectured in the leather shop on the etiquette of Moroccan shopping- apparently you can’t keep lowering your offer once someone has accepted it as I was doing  :/ With my sails a bit deflated I entered the souks up North close to the Madersa Ben Youssef – I mean what a way to rain on my shopping parade with an angry accusation of dirty dealing!

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We negotiated our way through the maze, away from the tanneries and down towards Place de Jemaa El Fna. It was a journey filled with wonders: the artisans and their studios, the burrows covered in goat hides, the metal workers and the old man who carved beautiful chess sets with his feet. Then, closer to the main square we found the more sumptuous shops selling soft babouches and colorful carpets. Sometimes it was hard to know where to go and so whenever we found a few tourists we would surreptitiously follow them down, that is if we didn’t get waylaid by some treasure or shiny object. It was very dark in the main souks, darker than I had imagined and in some places dyed material and animal hides hung from the rafters . Bamboo had been laid across the passages to protect the bustling world below from the harsh gaze of the sun. A few lucky little shafts of light did manage to seep through though and when a person walked through these pools of gold they were lit up as if they had been chosen by God himself. We could see where we were going, but not because the sun was high in the sky, but thanks to the warm inviting glow of the shops and the thousands of lanterns and glass lamps on sale in the thousands of Alibaba caverns dotted along our road to openness. Along the main arteries of the market these lanterns shone bright and lit up the darkness like tiny stars. Down narrower streets the lights were off but on our arrival sellers illuminated their caverns and turned them into glorious caves filled with precious metals, gem stones and genies and in this way the darkness parted as we moved forward into the maze.

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We had to barter for everything and shopping Moroccan style was hard. Every person wanted to show us something or sell us something else. If they didn’t have it, they knew someone else who did. When we looked it would take time to leave especially if trying not to be too rude, and when we wanted to buy we had to mentally prepare ourselves that the deal could take a good 1/2 hour to negotiate. They were so much better than us though and we had to resort to communicating with them in Spanish instead of French to try to put them at a slight disadvantage. We had artisans make us sculptures to take away, give us guided tours of their work shops, we were offered tea and humoured and really every time we fell for it, enjoyed it and bought their products (which I may say were lovely anyway, so win win all round!).

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This part is for those of you who are interested in our purchases and the prices that I paid. 10 dhs = approx 1 euro. We bought domino sets (80-100), a leather pouf (180 dhs) and hundreds of pairs of shoes, (100 dhs for the best quality handmade leather babouches is a good price, but if you are buying many then you can get them for 90dhs each). We also bought 8 pairs of earrings ( 80 dhs), a leather hand stitched camel (10 dhs), 2 his/hers leather wallets (80 dhs for the pair), leather rucksack (180 dhs), natural perfume (1 dhs a gram), key rings (10 dhs each), hand painted tagine (150 dhs).

And…Don’t forget you can now stay up to date with our adventures, travels and  outfits on my  social media 🙂

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Journey of a dress

Journey of a dress

If you are looking to buy a dress or a eye catching piece clothing for a your next holiday, a party or just for wearing around town, my best advice to you is this: type into Google “scarf print“. Scarf prints are by far my most exciting fashion find of the moment, with pieces of clothing decorated in ornate designs, such as interlocking chains, mosaics cut and placed next to floral fabrics, geometric trellises and oriental prints. There is something here for everyone, from bold colors and shocking contrast to safe and elegant garments. I just love them all and I am sure you will too!

For my holiday to Morocco I had to limit myself from buying two scarf print garments, one a dress and the other a long shirt. Here are the photos of my Mango shift dress touring Marrakesh 😉

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We took a taxi to the Minaret garden where we walked around the lake and went into the house overlooking the olive grove plantation. After a quick visit to the Koutoubia Mosque, we walked around the lush gardens of La Mamounia and then ventured back into the heart of the Medina for a sport of shopping in the souks. If you look away from Place De Jemaa El Fna, to your right there is the Spice Market and there we had a lovely lunch overlooking the square full of carpets, spices, perfumes and wicker work baskets at Cafe des Epices – a great way to re charge whilst still being right at the heart of the action and where we had some of the best food of our trip. I can not recommend the gazpacho, the mini hamburgers and fresh juices enough!

Wearing

Mango Scarf Print Shift Dress – ASOS

Silver Bangle – Afghan Connection (charity supporting education)

Eclipse Flip Flops – Guess

Leather back pack- Souks de Marrakesh

 

Yves Saint- Laurent and the Majorelle Gardens

Yves Saint- Laurent and the Majorelle Gardens

We walked along shady lanes, in the midst of trees and exotic plants, past refreshing, burbling streams and pools filled with water lilies and lotus flowers.

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The leaves rustled and the birds chirped,  flocking here to take refuge, numerous in their numbers. Tall dark green pipes stretch upwards and curve into the sky. The bamboo trees are scarred by the etchings of previous visitors to Marrakesh’s most beautiful garden and the palm trees enclose you and cacti of all shapes and sizes grow in abundance. The path turned unexpectedly, revealing a building with Moorish charm, painted in astonishingly vibrant primary colors. It glowed with the same intense blue that the artist French artists Jaques Majorelle perceived in the Atlas Mountains in the 1920s when Morocco was still a protectorate of France. This garden is almost old enough to be considered antique, like the lanterns and the carpets for sale in the dusky souks which seem now a million miles away.  Its colour though is bright, as if painted just yesterday, the palette of primary colours exceptionally avant-garde and modern, a great homage to the city which taught Yves Saint-Laurent colour.

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  Yves Saint Laurent was an Algerian born French fashion designer, and is regarded as one of the greatest names in fashion history. One of the most influential designers of the past twenty-five years, he can be credited with spurring the couture’s rise from its sixties ashes and with finally rendering ready-to-wear reputable.He was known for his use of non-European cultural references and his use of non-white models. After successfully suing Dior for breach of contract, he and his partner Pierre Bergé, started their own fashion house, which in the 1960s and 1970s, popularized fashion trends such as the beatnik look; safari jackets for men and women; tight pants; tall, thigh-high boots; and arguably the most famous classic tuxedo suit for women in 1966, Le Smoking. Yves Saint-Laurent also started mainstreaming the idea of wearing silhouettes from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.

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Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Berge bought the garden in 1980 and started the long and costly process of restoring it. When he was not actively supervising the preparation of a collection, he spent time at his villa here in the Majorelle Garden, a place which he often visited to find inspiration and refuge.

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The personal link to the great fashion designer can still be felt and seen here in this beautiful place. As well as his memorial, the garden houses the collection of his “Love posters”, which were designed over 35 years and sent as greetings to his dearest friends and clients. They are largely made of collages centered around the word “LOVE”, with my favorites featured his cute bulldog Moujik!

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Worth a look as well the Love Gallery, housed within the gardens. Here  you can find a collection of “Love” posters Yves Saint Laurent designed over a period of 35 years. Every year he sent them as greeting to his close friends. They are largely made of collages created around the word ‘LOVE’, some featuring his beloved bulldog Moujik! – See more at: http://pillowmagazine.com/2012/04/11/love-affair-yves-saint-laurent-jardin-majorelle-marrakech/#sthash.uKtGJWxQ.dpuf
Worth a look as well the Love Gallery, housed within the gardens. Here  you can find a collection of “Love” posters Yves Saint Laurent designed over a period of 35 years. Every year he sent them as greeting to his close friends. They are largely made of collages created around the word ‘LOVE’, some featuring his beloved bulldog Moujik! – See more at: http://pillowmagazine.com/2012/04/11/love-affair-yves-saint-laurent-jardin-majorelle-marrakech/#sthash.uKtGJWxQ.dpuf

 When Yves Saint-Laurent died in 2008, his body was cremated and his ashes were scattered here in Marrakech, in the Majorelle Garden. Bergé said at the funeral service: “But I also know that I will never forget what I owe you and that one day I will join you under the Moroccan palms.”

WEARING

Flounce Geo Print Maxi-Dress – FOREVER 21

Pink glasses – H&M

Evil Eye Jewellery  (Ring Bracelet & Earrings)  – ALI EXPRESS

SILVER BRACELET – AFGHAN CONNECTION (charity supporting education)

Ecplise Thong Sandals – GUESS

 

5* Riad Palais Calipau

5* Riad Palais Calipau

There is no doubt that on your first trip to Marrakesh, to get a real flavour of the city, you should stay in a traditional bijou boutique hotel in the heart of the Medina. These hotels once traditional houses or Riads look more like the Sultan Palaces than hotels, with their interior courtyards lined with lush orange trees, water features, thick walls and rooms decorated with mozaics, they are a true wonder of Moorish Architecture and design.

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The walls of our Riad were red and from its protective shell little could be known of the beauty that awaited us inside. Indeed, passing the dark heavy door and stepping into Riad Palais Calipau for the first time was like walking into paradise. It was cool inside, whereas outside it had been really hot and the sounds of bikes and street banter were replaced with the sound of running water. The turquoise the pool was still. It was calm here and so lovely. Big lanterns hung from vaulted ceilings, lush velvet sofas lay hidden thin net curtains. It was here that we received our complimentary mint tea served on a gold tray and yum scrum biscuits on our arrival.

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Our room was extremely large and was on the first floor. It wasn’t the best one, but wasn’t the smallest one either. The air con made our stay even more bearable as at night without it, it would have become quite hot. I loved the ceiling and the blue of the bathroom. Everything was new, from the fluffy feather pillows to the TV and the safe in the walk in wardrobe. The water was always hot and it felt really safe. In fact I wish my room at home was that nice and I came to refer to our Riad not as “our hotel” but “home”, which was quite awkward as it kept requiring clarification every time I made the error. The only slight criticism, if any, would be say that there was no mini-bar in the room and no dressing gown/slippers provided. There was however shampoo and soap stocked up daily and both the room and the bathroom were very clean.

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The hotel staff were really kind. They booked for us a Hamman & Massage spa treatment at the famous Les Bains de Marrakech, our taxi to the Majorelle Gardens, Agadir Gardens  and airport – with our taxi driver being so friendly and honest that he would charge us “only what we wanted to pay” even though he gave us some great info about the city as he drove us round. We didn’t have time for tours, but other guests we spoke to really enjoyed their day trips organized by the hotel to the Atlas Mountains, Essaouira and the desert. In fact I can’t wait to go back to do them!

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The breakfast was plentiful, with pancakes, jam, honey, omelet, yoghurt, fruit salad, as much fresh orange juice as you could drink and great coffee. We saw Moroccan families eat similar foods for their Ramadan breakfast in the evening and every time we walked passed seller’s of our morning feast, we noted with excitement “that’s what we had for breakfast”! In this respect the Riad really felt as if I was staying with a friend or a wealthy Moroccan family which really added a great experience to our fantastic holiday.

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I loved sitting down at night by the edge of the pool and gazing upwards at the open sky surrounded by candles and orange trees. After a long day bartering in the souks there was nothing better than to take a refreshing plunge after and a spot of relaxation on the roof terrace in the waning afternoon sun.  Hotel Calipau was the perfect location – close enough to the action but far enough removed to feel like an oasis of calm and a great place to relax and recharge. I really can not recommend it enough and as I had such a great time, my sixty year old parents have also decided to go and stay at Hotel Calipau for their visit Marrakesh next year!

I booked this gem through Expedia (flights included) for a great price, so make sure you check out Riad Palais Calipau’s website but also Expedia for some great last minute deals!

Maxi Dress and Mosaic Pattern Play

Maxi Dress and Mosaic Pattern Play

One of the most beautiful features of Moroccan architecture and design has got to be the incredible use of tiles of all patterns, colors  and shapes to decorate tombs, palaces, doorways, walls and courtyards. It is difficult, combining many different patterns together and yet here in Marrakesh, builders have made it seem as it if was the easiest, most natural thing in the world to do. I really found it fascinating to see plain geometric shapes create such rich and ornate decoration and the important place which mosaics hold in Moorish art.

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When I went shopping for some appropriately long summer clothes, I noticed that pattern prints were definitely in vogue at the moment and so I just couldn’t help but buy a dress that would match and blend right into my surroundings.  I opted for a maxi dress as this would be right for local sensitivities but also would take up very little space in my suitcase. Now I usually avoid this look as long dresses I feel seem to have the dreaded tent effect on me, but this I just loved how the fabric of this dress molded to my body and how the overlapping top made my waist look thinner. The geometric patterns of the dress merged with the beautiful buildings around me and even the colors were in harmony with all the surrounding greens and blues. It was comfortable and cool as it has a low cut back. Let me know what you think! 🙂

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WEARING

Flounce Geo Print Maxi Dress – FOREVER 21

Pink Sunglasses  – H &M

Evil Eye Jewellery (Ring, Bracelet and Earrings) – ALI EXPRESS

Silver Bracelet – AFGHAN CONNECTION – charity supporting education

Eclipse Thong Sandals – GUESS (Sold Out)

Snakes, Monkeys and Spicy Sunsets at Place de Jemaa el Fnaa

Snakes, Monkeys and Spicy Sunsets at Place de Jemaa el Fnaa

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I will never forget the first time that I saw a monkey wearing a nappy or the weathered man who lifted up a large basket to reveal a big fat python. Women offered to draw henna on our hands and glided under billowing dark blue robes, following us like large phantoms with piercing eyes, across the wide expanse of dryness. The acrobats, the pipe sounds and the mounds of dried fruit being sold off the burrow must be considered the most “normal” of activities conducted at Place Jemaa el Fnaa, with the rest essentially being a real mine field of weirdness. The square is wide and the punters are strategically placed, or at least it feels this way. Place Jemaa el Fnaa makes you stop and gaze but you must do so at your own peril. Everything ugly is but a large trap and you will have to shell out to try to extrapolate yourself. The beauty of the atmosphere, the stalls of perfumes and wicker baskets, the men waving and gesturing to you behind the rows fruit juice stands, the horses and carts gracefully clip clopping over the warm wide expanse of Africa’s biggest square will all, if you gaze too intently, hypnotize you much like a flute hypnotizes a cobra.

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It took us a while to get there even though we weren’t too far away. Having dropped our bags off we stepped back into the heat of the day. We left the comforts of our beautiful hotel and made our way into the heart of the Medina. Crafts, jewels, pottery and leather goods poured out it seemed from cracks in the walls. Carpets and clothes lined the yellow walls of the Mosque and apothecaries decorated their shops with piles of saffron and pigment.”Where do you come from?” “Come and have a look!” We were greeted and encouraged to browse by all. Men pointed us towards Tombs and Palaces and some told us they were closed, helpful information, although our destination wasn’t to be there that day. We continued our journey onwards, thanking as we went, politely refusing advances from all sides. It wasn’t threatening but it was quite tiring. We got out our map and having refused instructions from a number of people we were befriended and eventually followed a kind young boy who took us rather a long way round through the Jewish quarter and via his father’s shop, where we got to smell fantastic natural perfumes, teas and spices. It wasn’t part of the plan but it was fun.

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As the day grew long and the sun began descending low into the sky we sat down at a local restaurant opposite Cafe de France. Local Moroccan families sat patiently next to us, their food delivered to their tables but left untouched for what seemed like hours. Little boys ran back to their mums with full bottles of freshly squeezed orange juice and women with sun glasses and gold earrings produced pastries including pancakes and french pains aux chocolat for their families. The shadows grew longer and the blue sky became stained red and the market was engulfed in an orange glow.

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More people were now out, and mopeds sped up and down the main square. The whole sound of the beeping vehicles, the ephemeral pipes of the charmers and the cries of the sellers rose higher and higher and merged with the buzz of the sun. Then a cry rang out, a chant on a tanoy, the Call to Pray – this one although sounding like all the others we had heard throughout the day was particularly special as it marked the end of the first day of Ramadan, where devout Muslims of all ages go without food or water for 17 hours. Bottles were opened, tea was poured and glasses were downed. We wished our neighbors “bon appetite” and with smiles on all of our faces we ate our tagine in the glowing evening, side by side with those families breaking their daily fast with their Ramadan breakfast, a very spiritually powerful moment which we had the privilege of witnessing.

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As night descended upon the square, Place de Jemaa el Fnaa came to life. We walked through throngs of people and passed the many food stalls which had been assembled quickly just before the Call to Prayer. Music played, shops which had been until then closed, opened and so it was then under the gaze of the moon that we set off into the souks of Marrakesh. But that I’m afraid, is another story 😉

Boohoo Kaftan for Marrakech Sultan

Boohoo Kaftan for Marrakech Sultan

For our trip to Marrakech, we went cheap skate style and flew with only hand luggage. Indeed as much as nothing gets me more in the holiday spirit than spending excessive amounts of money in Boots, buying mini deodorants and conditioners, face wipes, Iboprophene and razors (because although I can’t take them with me on the plane I usually haven’t used one for a while), the thought of choosing 3-4 outfits that fit into a Barbie Doll sized bag on the contrary simply fills me with dread.

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Going for just under a week to a destination with just hand luggage is really like taking up the ultimate fashion gauntlet, the one which Ryanair merrily throws down to the vast majority of UK travelers. Concentrate the mind and get this one right and you could have not just 3 outfits but 9 (where all items can be mix matched together). Get this wrong and you could end up two odd wooly socks, a pair of shorts that are too tight, a see through Kimono and some cow boy boots that seemed like a good idea at the time.

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Morocco is a religious place and although one of the most liberal Muslim countries I would advise that out of respect for local beliefs and sensitivities (whilst in no way compulsory) to wear non revealing clothes – that is dresses or shorts which are over the knee and tops which cover at least the shoulders. It is very hot, so really if you can’t face covering up completely then that is fair enough, but the majority local women wear long floaty dresses and trousers and head scarves so you will stand out more if you don’t try a bit more conservatively than if on a girls weekend break to Ibiza.

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Being British I tend to like to get legs and arms out in the sun at the first opportunity so all my summer clothes were rather shorts and skimpy. I therefore trawled the shops and the internet for some maxi dresses, which would be perfect in the heat and for the environment to which I was heading. My most appropriate and favorite purchase of them all has got to be the £18 Kaftan which I bought from Boohoo.com It comes in a variety of colors and I opted on the more spicy green one. The long part of the dress is sheer and so goes right down to the ground although ties up at the waist to give it some great shape. It has an under dress (which could even double as a separate dress in its own right) which is shorter and so seen through sun light, the garment is long but still sexy. This was so perfect for my trip to Marrakesh I wore it on two consecutive days and the hotel manager told me how Moroccan my dress looked which I loved! 😉 I combined it with evil eye jewellery and a large solid silver bracelet. Let me know what you think?

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WEARING

Una V Neck Paisley Neon Kaftan Maxi Dress – BOOHOO.COM

EVIL EYE RING AND BRACELET – ALI EXPRESS

SILVER BANGLE – AFGHAN CONNECTION – charity supporting education

Eclipse Thong Sandals- GUESS (sold out)

 

The Red City and the Heart of Africa, the Heart of Life

The Red City and the Heart of Africa, the Heart of Life

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 We reveled in our success at bartering with the taxi driver at the airport, lowering our fare down from 150 Dhs to 120 Dhs. Was it really worth ten minutes in the backing sun to save 3 euros (1.50 per person) and risking heat stroke even though this car was almost the only one available? Probably not…but hey we were in Marrakesh and we were here to do business local style!

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The earth was dry and the houses and walls red. Palm trees lined boulevards, everything looked really smart. New mansions and apartments were being erected next to lush green gardens and new roads. We laughed and joked and exclaimed that really people had exaggerated. It sounds condescending but we felt that things looks better than we had imagined. Marrakesh we mused after all does have its own film festival now reaching the heights of Cannes itself and is being described my many as the new St Tropez. We passed Mamounia Hotel where the King himself stays when he comes to the city, its massive grounds sprawling out into the distance. Other Golf Courses, large hotels and Beach Clubs all loomed ahead. Had we flown 3 1/2 hours to see a slightly shabbier version of the South of Spain? Had we come too late? Has globalization, tourism and the property boom managed to finally sanitize even the wildest of mythical cities? We tried to ask the driver a good place to eat, but he mumbled 120 not 150 and remained silent :/ Perhaps bartering was now a thing of the passed? Anyway whatever what is done is done! We had arriiiiived and I wasn’t that hungry anyway so he could just sulk and go away.

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Impressive large red walls loomed up ahead. The rich colors of the houses really made the architecture that much more special. I felt like I was in a desert city and in this respect things started to differ from Europe. We passed through a large ornate door, one of the many separating the new town from the Medina and it was then that the world turned upside down.

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The car slowed down as vendors and people filled the narrow lanes. Donkey carts laden with melons, shops with spices piled up high in pointed mounds. Baskets spilled out of shops, jewellery and carpets adorned the ocher walls. Women covered from head to toe and young men exchanging banter, mopes, more people and cars blocked our path until we crawled along at snails pace. Then came the sounds, metal against metal from a tiny crack in the wall: a man crouching low in a cave under hundreds of broken bicycle parts, his hammer working furiously working away. A beautiful tower loomed up ahead, yellow stone with an ornate design. It was tall so I thought it must be the Koutoubia and I pointed to it and gazed in awe. But then in the distance I saw the peak of another Mosque this one higher and I realized that this was just one of the many that sprang up around the old town. Clang, Clang, Clang went the hammer. It felt medieval with so many artisans, animals and what seemed like so little order.

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Just a few minutes later the car stopped and we were directed down a side street, the name of which was written in Arabic. It was narrow and this was as far as the car could go. We were out of the tiny vehicle, out of the protective shell which separated us from this crazy outside world. From in there it has seemed so wonderful, but now it was a bit scary and the tiny weaving streets disorientating. The taxi left and we looked around us and had no idea if having not paid the full price we hadn’t been taken the full way.

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We were already walking down the little alleyway that the taxi driver had hastily instructed us to go down before leaving, when a group of young kids passed us and waved us on in encouragement. We had found the right way, but they would take the credit and the money for leading us there. Round a few bends we were hot and somewhat ruffled, not to the point of panic or intimidation but because to show hesitation in our navigation meant intervention – perhaps friendly but perhaps not, we couldn’t tell yet. A few more twists and turns and like wide eyed gazelle we gaped with relief when we arrived at the ornate door in the side of a normal red walled house. Hotel Calipau 5* the sign read. We had arrived at our destination. The big thick doors creaked open and beyond the shadows we saw the oasis.  A wave of calm, serenity and protection washed over us as we passed out of the sun and into the cool shade of the Riad. From the crazy world which we had just briefly entered into into very sumptuous surroundings with the sound of motorbikes replaced with that of birds chirping and the light trickling of water, like a babbling brook.

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We walked under vaulted ceilings and melted into the purple arm chairs. Mint tea was served on a gold tray and as I took the first sip of the sweet fragrant drink all I could do was think about that crazy buzz which I had just experienced and like a drug I couldn’t wait to put our bags down to get back out there in the heart of Africa, at the heart of life.