Marrakech Express

I think our summer is officially over, not that we seemed to have one if we go by the weather, it's been almost relentlessly wet. I had quite high hopes for a warm September, but that seems to have been pretty optimistic and I think we've seen the last of the sun until next year.

The seed we threw down in front of the house has sprouted really quickly so we've got a luscious looking lawn that's already had one mow! How exciting.

We've always had a certain aesthetic in mind for the two units, as we've gone along some things have changed as we've realised that maybe certain ideas aren't feasible or there are things that would be more effective- we've found ways to reuse a lot of the original beams from the stable so that it retains some of it's old character. One idea that we've been pretty unmoving on however is for a copper bath.
From the very beginning of the process we've fancied having a free standing copper bath to sit in the chapel and the last year has been a fruitless search for a reasonably priced bath that has enough character for what we're looking for.
Until we stumbled across Mandy and Simo of Souk Tiles.
They make bespoke baths to your own design specifications and dimensions, the baths themselves are handmade in Marrakech by local craftsmen before being packed up and driven straight to your door- an offer we couldn't refuse.

Now, Jake and I can't justify the time off or the money to take a holiday but one thing I definitely can justify is travelling to Morocco to see our bath being made- so of course we booked our flights the moment we put the order in.
After liaising with Mandy who patiently and helpfully worked through all my many moithering emails checking and double checking on the bath order, we booked a riad (essentially what we would call a B&B) and flight that would place us in Morocco the same time as them, making viewing the bath much simpler because as it turns out Marrakech is a maze.
It honestly is not the city for anyone with a poor sense of direction, or even with a sense of direction for that matter!
It was gloriously hot, hectic and vibrant, quite a feast for all the senses and overwhelming at times.

We met Mandy and Simo at the airport who we immediately put in the "friends forever" column, then set off for the hotel.
We arrived in in the riad; scampered upstairs to the rooftop to take in the view; changed into something much cooler, because we left the UK dressed for the great flood, and then went to explore the city.

We were staying down a narrow street in the medina which is the old part of the city, a short walk around a few corners and we were onto a street that lead down into the souks which then twisted and turned towards Jemaa el-Fnaa the main market square and world heritage site.
Our first trip to the square was chaperoned by Mandy and Simo, and for the remainder of our time in Marrakech we utterly failed to repeat the route they took us through the souk!
It's essentially a warren of seemingly endless canopied streets that are brimming with stalls and carts and very persuasive sellers! Sometimes they open out into little squares where there are even more sellers. There is something of a system to it if you can work it out with certain areas that sell certain things, there is a spice square for instance, but mainly there is everything everywhere and trying to remember to take a left turn by the stall with the woollen slippers is impossible because there are usually three other left turns next to a woolly slipper stall!

Then there's the square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, where there are even more stalls and sellers, intermingled with snake charmers, performing monkeys and musicians. It's busy during the day but it's when the sun goes down that it really becomes an experience like no other. Everyone and their cat (there are hundreds of cats wandering about Marrakech) seems to appear in the square, and the stalls that were empty during the day fill up to become the food stalls, with open grills and fires cooking all manner of things. Large groups gather in between the snake charmers, dancers and selfie stick sellers where they roll dice and play different gambling games. It's just a riot of noise and people and food.

One thing you just have to do in Marrakech is have some orange juice. One section of Jmaa el-Fnaa is covered with orange juice vendors who all sell it by the glass, freshly squeezed and it is completely different to anything you've ever tried before. I do not joke.
Now, I'm not saying I'm an orange juice expert but I like a glass of fresh OJ as much as the next guy, and the orange juice in Morocco is something else.
Here's Jake enjoying a glass. (Also, those aren't limes they're lemons! Who knew?)

On the Monday of our stay we were scheduled to see the bath, so again we joined Mandy, Simo and their man on the ground in Marrakech, Aziz. They took us on another walk through streets that we would have no hope of ever finding on purpose to a part of the city full of workshops. First we stopped and admired some handmade tiles in every colour and pattern you can imagine, made with cement, coloured sand and a hammered metal mould, also made by hand of course. 

We then trooped off, walking in some direction somewhere to see the bath.

The bath was in a little workshop where a local craftsman had hand hammered it from a big sheet of copper.
When I first spoke to Mandy in ordering the bath she mentioned that it was possible to have initials or a date engraved into the bath and so of course we took complete advantage, because I'm a cheeky sod, and used it as an opportunity to create an even more unique feature for the chapel.

When we left it, it still had the plinth to be fitted and a finish to bring out the copper and the engraving in the side. We've also ordered a matching copper sink which must get made in the blink of an eye if the speed with which they've crafted the bath is anything to go by!

With our viewing of the bath under our belt we had the remainder of our time in Marrakech to enjoy the city at our leisure. My favourite sight was El Badi Palace, the ruins of a medieval castle just around the corner from the square- you can take the girl out of Wales!
It's a large square surrounded by the same ochre walls that make up the most of Marrakech, with bright, coloured tiles remaining in parts. These turquoise steps lead up onto a terrace where you have a panoramic view of the city and the Atlas mountains to the South. Along one wall leading away from the terrace large nests are dotted along where the storks stand around and click their beaks.

I think just before our visit there was still a large pool in the middle of the ruins, but by the time we landed there was some construction work going on and the pool had been drained- we still saw what we felt were quite extensive and imposing ruins though.

Another destination for most tourists seemed to be the painted Jardin Majorelle. We walked to see it and it was a fair trek! But our walk did take us on a little detour through the more modern part of the city where you could find a H&M and a McDonalds, so we could at least say we'd ventured away from the souks briefly.
The gardens are known for being owned Yves St Laurent which I imagine is why people seem to flock there, in all honestly it was a little underwhelming but still very pretty so of course I'm glad to have seen them, I hate missing out on a photo opportunity and blue is my colour!

Another of our favourite spots was just a stones throw from the Koutoubia mosque, which itself is quite stunning. Koutoubia is a landmark of Marrakech and I think I read somewhere that no other building around it can be taller than a palm tree so it's easy to spot to guide you back to the square when you get a little lost and it even has it's own discrete rose garden where you can sit and distance yourself from the hubbub of the square the other side.

A little way down the road from the mosque is the cyber garden- Marrakech loves its gardens, and so do we when they have free wi-fi! The gardens in Marrakech all grow orange trees, a novel sight for us welsh mountain folk! And they always seem to have people working in them, the gardens in El Badi had gardners busy working while we were there and even the shrubbery and trees along the streets and roads usually had workmen trimming and brushing them so everything is well pruned.

We were a big fan of the technique they used when a tree started leaning dubiously, and I think it's definitely something we're going to start implementing here- if a tree starts leaning, just get another tree to hold it up. Easy.

The Jardins de la Menara, more gardens that we stumbled upon in looking for the Marjorelle gardens. The astute will note that these gardens are no where near each other, and walking to the Menara gardens leaves you hot, sweaty and really far away from your intended destination. They have a lovely pavillion and artificial lake though, so still worth the detour!

All in all we had a whirlwind six days in Marrakech, we didn't get around to venturing any further, Essaouira did pique our fancy but we had to leave it for the next time.
We found a restaurant that did some properly swanky food, where again we were able to sit up on the roof to dine without even a whiff of rain!

I got the hang of haggling, and even managed to persuade the seller for a photograph! (at no extra charge)
I don't reckon my local shop would be too impressed if I started negotiating on price when I popped down for some eggs though, so I think I'll keep my technique under wraps.

And I found a building with most of my name on it!

Marrakech is definitely a city worth the visit. I would recommend staying in the medina if you want a genuine experience of the city, be prepared for some serious heat and practice your firmest shake of the head and "No" to avoid getting drawn into any long sales pitches by the overly keen vendors! Acknowledge before you go that you will 100% get lost at least once regardless of your preparation and sense of direction and just embrace it, because it leads you to gorgeous places to sit and see that you probably wouldn't have found if you were deliberately looking for it.

Thanks Mandy, Simo and Aziz for guiding us through the souks, for allowing us a sneak preview of our bath and for being such wonderful company during our stay.

Find them at where you can design a bath to your own specifications, plus an array of handmade authentic Moroccan tiles to go with it! Bargain.


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