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Marrakech, Day Four

10th November 2007

I was up and breakfasted by nine this morning, and caught the bus to the Koutoubia - I learnt from my mistake yesterday, and got on through the front door and payed my 3.5 dihrams to the driver. Today's plan was to visit the Southern Medina, taken up largely by the Kasbah - fortified area - and the Royal Palace - which is not open to the public. I walked south from the Koutoubia, through the Bab Agnaou, and found myself outside the Saadin Tombs. Amazingly the tombs were blocked off and forgotten about from the 17th century until 1917 when the French rediscovered them from the air. I played dodge-the-tour-groups whilst snapping away at the burial chambers. You cannot get into the most intricately carved rooms, but have to make do with viewing from the barrier.

Saadin Tombs, Marrakech, MoroccoSaadin Tombs, Marrakech, MoroccoSaadin Tombs, Marrakech, Morocco

There were a couple of palaces and other attractions that I wanted to visit, but I first decided to have a sit down and a mint tea. I sat at a table outside a small, non-tourist cafe and watched the world go by for half an hour. I wandered away in the vague direction of El Badi Palace, and found it after a while. I had forgotten to take into account the three-hour lunch breaks that the attractions and many shops close for in the middle of the day. El Badi closed quite early, at 1145, but I still had twenty minutes to explore. The palace is mostly in ruins, but covers a large area and has enough walls and foundations remaining for you to get a general idea of the scale of the place. The thing that impressed me most were the storks nesting atop the walls, snapping their beaks shut rhythmically like my favourite monster in Hellraiser (was the thing that sprang to my mind!). I have vowed to return with my long lens, and also want to revisit the Ben Youssef Madersa and take some sneaky people shots in Jemaa el Fna. Happily entrance fees here are very reasonable - just a pound or two - so I have no qualms about paying twice. Residential Streets, Marrakech, Morocco

On leaving the palace I had very little time before the other local attractions closed for lunch, but set off optimistically in what I hoped was the direction of Maison Tiskiwin - the latest to close at 1430. My optimism was misplaced, I soon realised, so instead settled for a feckless walk around the streets. At one stage I left the walled Medina via a Bab (gate/door) that was not marked on my map. I didn't know where I was, but realised that I was somewhere to the south of the city centre, & thought i wise to return. Tired of the exhaust fumes on the busy road, I turned left into the maze of residential lanes. It's surprising how quickly the noise is blocked by the buildings. I wonder whether there was ever a plan to building this city, or whether it evolved naturally. Were the lanes once wide, the space eaten up by further building, or did it begin with a cluster of tight-knit houses, and spread outwards gradually as more buildings huddled against those already there?

I bonjoured the few women and children I met, and received the same reply. I have mainly been Salam Alekam-ing, and trying to use Arabic rather than French wherever I can, but the Arabic greeting is rather lengthy for a quick hello. I am also curious as to whether French or Arabic is the dominant language; is one taught from childhood, say Arabic spoken in the home and French learnt at school? Is it a class thing; does everyone speak French or does that denote a "better" upbringing? (I specifically wonder this after my experience in a second-class train carriage in India, where I discovered that Middle Class Indians use the language of their one-time colonists to converse). Is Marrakech representative of the rest of Morroco as far as language goes - and indeed in other matters, such as liberal (for a Muslim country) dress and attitudes and a general lack of hassle. I shall return for longer one day and find out, Inshallah.

Anyway. I continued to walk, passing by the Royal Palace on Marrakech's equivalent to The Mall, covering my head to gain some respite from the sun beating down (it's not too hot; there's no such thing as too hot for me...I just got a little warm is all!), and began to tire. It was now past twelve, and I was happy to find myself back in more built-up streets, where the buildings afforded some shade (I do like it hot, I do! I'm not complaining, honest!) The streets got busier, and I found myself in a general goods market - fruit and veg, ladies bras, offal - and then emerged into a familiar looking road. To my amusement and slight dismay, I had emerged right next to the cafe where I had sat more than two hours before, having done very little in the interim time but get lost!

It would be a further two hours before the local attractions opened for the afternoon, and frankly I felt I had killed enough time, so I figured I'd return to Jemaa el Fna, maybe even do a bit of shopping. I asked directions and set off, getting increasingly tired in the next half an hour...and maybe, maybe just a tad hot and bothered (loath though I am to admit it!). Imagine my frustration when I ended up at El Badi Palace - the one other place I had successfully managed to visit this morning. Enough was enough, I figured, chasing your tail is only fun when you're in the mood for it. I negotiated a reasonably priced taxi and returned to the hotel. I may venture out again later - maybe to the Majorelle Gardens - they're not far, and I've already found them once, so surely I can make it there again...can't I? Off to catch some rays on the roof now, and chill out for a while.

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