Marrakech the 2nd time around was so much more enjoyable. We had managed to reserve rooms by email at the Jnane Mogador Riad, we had had this riad recommended but it had been full on our previous visit. This time we had been lucky to get enough rooms and it was an excellent choice in just the best location, under 5 minutes walk down a pedestrian stall lined lane to the main square. On arrival back in Marrakech from our Sahara trip, Mohammed our driver had called the riad and they gave him directions to the closet road access and sent their “bell boy” (rather more like old chap pulling a cart!!) to meet us and take our bags. We checked in to our beautifully appointed rooms, and hit the town.
This time the madness of Marrakech didn’t seem so overwhelming, we wandered around the square which just buzzes at night. We took time to stop and watch the different street performers dancing – from all different parts of Morocco and Africa - showing off their local musical instruments and talents. We didn’t get too close to the snake charmers though, I definitely didn’t want a snake dangling around my neck!! We dined on a balcony overlooking the square from above, slightly removed from the hustle and bustle but still feeling very much part of Morocco.
Next morning we found a square side cafe for breakfast then I went walk-about and found the souq (covered market place), and what a find it was. An absolute Aladdins Cave of wonderful shops and stalls selling some of Morocco's most beautiful wares. This was not a place where you could rush, so after a mini board meeting while supping on fresh mint tea we decided to stay another night and do Marrakech justice. The skippers had checked the weather and we wouldn’t be able to leave Rabat before Friday so there was no need to hurry back to the boats. Unfortunately the Jnane Mogador Riad was again full and couldn’t accommodate us the extra night but they arranged accommodation at the nearby Riad Bahia Salam, for the same room rate. Their “bellboy” re-appeared, our packs went on the cart and off we went down yet another maze of alleys to our 3rd riah in Marrakech!!
This is a new property and I imagine they are promoting it - it was the deal of the year. The building has been entirely restored, and what was formally two adjoining properties with atriums has now become one large riad, with rooms and suites opening out onto one of the atriums and the dining rooms, sitting/lounging areas opening out on the other. There was a spa/hammam and massage facility and a very pleasant roof top terrace. It has been exquisitely refurbished with every attention to detail taken. Rooms had wi-fi and cable tv. The location wasn’t as good at the Jnane Mogador, but if you are looking for something really special the Riad Bahia Salam would take a lot of beating.
We spent the afternoon and evening just strolling through nooks and crannies and soaked up all Marrakech has to offer. It is another city of contrasts, there are large divides between the old town, souq and medina areas and the Nouvelle town, with wide palm lined streets, handsome French colonial architecture, upmarket sidewalk cafes and restaurants – they are poles apart but live side by side in harmony.
The bonus for Tony and Mark in staying another night was that they now had cable TV and were able to watch the first 2 quarter finals of the Rugby World Cup, sadly England got knocked out but for the best really, now Mark can concentrate fully on supporting the All Blacks!! (not so sure he agrees with that line of thinking!!!) We had both Australia (Tony is Australian) and NZ playing the following morning so finding a hotel in Casablanca with cable TV was a priority, we chose one recommended in the Lonely Planet, the riah phoned them for us, confirmed they had the right sports channel, then booked us two rooms. We checked out, taxied to the train station and headed to Casablanca.
Other cruiser friends had visited Casablanca and had not spoken highly of it, but we wanted to go to legendary Ricks Cafe for dinner and it broke our journey back to Rabat. Somehow Casablanca either didn’t have any wonderful old buildings to be converted into riahs or they just haven’t bothered, all the accommodation was in hotels and our choice of the Hotel Guynemer was one huge disappointment, if this had been the pick of the bunch for Lonely Planet I would not have even ventured in the front doors of the rest. It was an absolute disgrace; old, smelly, cracked hand basin, toilet bowl that leaked, mould under the window, threadbare towels, not very clean, NO RUGBY coverage, no wi-fi in our room and all for the same price we had paid for the exceptional quality in Marrakech. The only positives were that the bed linen was clean and we were only staying one night.
We checked with the helpful reception staff to see how long it would take us to walk to Ricks Cafe and were told around 3 hours or 30 mins by taxi, what??? Seriously doubting their answer we took to the filthy streets by foot, garbage lay rotting in piles everywhere, ‘fresh’ rubbish blew around in the wind, potholes the size of small cars were a definite hazard for the inattentive, homeless people squatted in doorways, beggars were everywhere, pollution, dust and dirt filled the air – what a dreadful place. We soldiered on and found Ricks Cafe after about 20 minutes of walking, but alas – it was closed!!! It was due to open for dinner shortly so we milled around, took some photos, looked at the menu and decided it had gone rather more upmarket than what we expected, certainly no burgers or tacos on the menu any longer, but the Filet Mignon looked very good!
Thankfully they let us in, even in our sandy Sahara clothes, and we secured one of the few unreserved tables that evening. We sat and watched Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman on the big screen, their Casablanca looked far more appealing and romantic than the one we had seen so far. We had an excellent meal in company with Tony in splendid surroundings, they have done a wonderful job of recreating the Ricks Cafe of the movie “Casablanca”, the pianist played in the background, the only thing that was missing was Humphrey himself. We stayed in comfort as long as we could but eventually we faced reality and caught a cab back to the horrible hotel.
Marks stomach started doing somersaults in the middle of the night, not a nice place to feel sick. Tony and I tried our best to get the rugby in the morning, even the wi-fi in the lobby was so poor that radio coverage was flaky too, but we got updates and both our teams won, so a good result for both the All Blacks and the Wallabies. We bunged up Mark with Imodium, cancelled any thoughts of visiting the 3rd largest Mosque in the world, got a cab to the train station and got the hell out of there!!