Monday, September 24, 2012

Marrakech {Guided Tour}

In Marrakech, we didn't just wander the streets of the Medina aimlessly, taking it all in and taking a million 900 pictures. Although we enjoyed getting a little lost, not sure of exactly where we were going, then using the main square as a landmark to find our way back, we had also heard that hiring a tour guide was a great way to see parts of the city that you normally wouldn't. When we travel, we normally try to get around by ourselves, relying on a guidebook, Meghann's iPhone, and our Graham's keen sense of direction, but in a place like Marrakech taking a guided tour turned out to be a good idea. Not only did our guide know how to quickly navigate the tangle of streets, he also knew the area personally since he was born in the Medina. Our half-day tour was the perfect way to see some of the tourist highlights along with the everyday life of families living in the old city center.

Our first stop was the Mellah, the old Jewish quarter of the city, which has seen better days, but retains character in its narrow streets. 

Although most of the Jewish families have moved away, an active synagogue remains.

 The courtyard of the synagogue.

Our tour guide remembered coming to the Mellah for the colorful meringues that are made and sold there. 

 He also pointed out a street in the Medina that specialized in ornate boxes for the bride, which are presented by the groom and filled with traditional gifts, including dates.

We stopped at the lovely, 15th century Dar Cherifa to cool off and grab a drink.

View from the roof of the dar.

 We peeked into few of the old courtyards, including this one that had a giant set of scales.

Prickly pear fruit was in season and for sale everywhere - we each shelled out a dirham (12 cents!) to try one. 

Our tour guide's grade school.

The neighborhood bakery. Women make the bread and deliver it, or have their small children drop it off, to be baked in a community oven. 

We saw one of the furnaces that heats water for a hammam. 

And the man who keeps the fire going. 

 Turns out that he's also a musician. He played this guitar-like
stringed instrument and hand cymbals for us.

 He rocked. And the music sounded like an early version of the blues.

Then we visited the historic Ben Youssef Madrassa. 

 The intricate engraving and tiles reminded us of the Alhambra. In fact, a lot of the architectural elements were similar to those we see in southern Spain - makes sense, since the Moors were there for hundreds of years.

Our last stop was the Museum of Marrakech, which has a modest collection housed in an enormous traditional riad.

Ever done a guided tour? Was it worth it? 

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