Morocco Day 11 – Marrakesh to Leicester

Before heading home I’d got one last morning of sightseeing to do. There were only two items left on my list and a morning to get them done in. It was a later start than I’d planned, but I’d changed my alarm so that I’d get more sleep ahead of what would be a late drive home in the evening. I suspected I wouldn’t need quite as much time as I’d predicted to get the sightseeing done anyway.

I was down for breakfast at 08:00 and checked out of the hotel about forty minutes later. Thankfully I could leave my bags there and go back for them later.

I found a very quick and simple route from the hotel to Jemaa el-Fna, and continued on to Bahia Palace. When I’d been to the El Badi Palace previously I’d been so close, yet had missed it. Along the way I tried my best to stay out of the sun, though between the hotel and where I came across some camels, there was little shade.

This palace is far newer than El Badi – it was built in the 1860s by Grand Vizier Si Moussa. He took advantage of the best craftsmen that Morocco had to offer in order to create this palace with zouak roofs (painted cedar wood), and carved stucco coated walls combined with mosaic tiles.

The entrance to this palace is ten dirhams, so again very cheap. I took my time getting the shots I wanted, and found it had taken under an hour. There weren’t that many people already there when I arrived, so it wasn’t that difficult. I guess it pays to arrive not too long after the opening time.

The main courtyard was the only place where I had to linger whilst other tourists moved on. Eventually it was, for the most part, clear of people so could get the photograph I wanted.

On my way out I decided I’d go through the Mellah – the old Jewish area that is nearby. The style of alleyways differ greatly to those in the medina; I guess it’s because this area is predominantly for living in and maybe not as commonly visited by tourists. This area felt older as well.

It was a bit of a mission to find Ali Ben Youssef Madrasa, an old college that had closed but had interesting architecture. Even though it was tough to find, I only went down one dead end alleyway as I knew the rough direction I needed to be travelling in.

This theological college was founded in the fourteenth century and remained open until 1960. It’s eventual closure was due to it losing students to a rival college that had opened in Fez. Now it is open to the public, and seems to get a lot of tourists.

The school was quite crowded, and made the main courtyard almost impossible to photograph. At least in the way I wanted to – my best chance was to take several photographs and remove people from them later in post processing. Even this though wasn’t enough.

There are many rooms centred around the large courtyard – some of which were dormitories, and some of which were classrooms. The courtyard has an empty pond in its centre, and at the time I visited had a calligrapher sitting in one corner of the courtyard whilst the opposite side was lined with photographs.

When I left, I decided with over two hours remaining I’d got plenty of time to see the Jewish cemetery as well. This was easy to find, though the place I found first was a different cemetery I wasn’t permitted to enter. The one I wanted was next door.

On my way there I went through what I’d been told were the rougher parts of the city. I had people trying to tell me “the main square is that way,” assuming that was what I was trying to find. This was frequently followed by “there’s nothing here,” but to me there was – a shortcut, and possibly more photographic opportunities. It was also a way to stay in the shade. There was no trouble here though.

I’d read that this cemetery is possible to look around, and usually requires giving the guard a tip; but in this case it was a fixed amount of ten dirhams. It’s likely that things have changed since the guidebook was written.

Most of the graves are bright white mounds of plaster, though there were also some that were the colour of sand, and were crumbling. These ones allowed you to see how these graves were constructed – a rectangular arrangement of bricks with a layer of plaster rounding them off to create a slight dome.

I thought perhaps the white ones might be restored ones, and sure enough when I saw someone applying a fresh coat of plaster to one of them, I realised I was correct. In addition to this they had been wheeling materials around the cemetery for what seemed to be some other type of restoration work that was taking place. The entrance fee would be essential to keeping this work going.

Getting from there back to the square in front of Bahia Palace was easy, and it took seemingly no time at all. Instead of taking the easy route back to the hotel, I decided to go through the medina one last time. I saw more cobras with snake charmers, and chained up monkeys. These are things they charge tourists for photographing, but I wasn’t interested in supporting their animal cruelty.

When I got to Jemaa el-Fna I was clipped from behind by a cyclist, but wasn’t injured, nor was the cyclist affected. I was getting hungry though so decided as it was midday I’d find some shade, and somewhere to sit down. The first place that sprung to mind was the park next to the Koutoubia mosque.

I sat for a time and had something to eat, though not much as I’d not bought anything to replace the rotten sandwich. When I left there I started in the direction of the hotel, but had the idea of taking a diversion to the supermarket for an ice cream as I realised it was nearby.

Even with this diversion and walking slowly I got to the hotel earlier than planned. I was once again ahead of schedule. I wasted some time in the hotel browsing the internet before collecting my bags and getting changed. Whilst I was doing this there was some commotion outside that seemed to involve one of the hotel guests and someone from the outside with police watching them.

I shared the taxi ride from the hotel with another, and even though the hotel is not that far it was still 100 dirhams. Apparently from Jemaa el-Fna it’s usually about 90.

At the entrance to the airport my bags were scanned, and they once again required me to open my camera bag to prove I didn’t have a drone. I don’t know what their obsession with them is, but this time I didn’t need to open my other pack which is harder to close.

I’d arrived so early that there were no desks for British Airways so couldn’t yet check my luggage or get a boarding pass. I sat and waited, hoping it wouldn’t be long. The departure process is a very repetitive one.

You start by filling out at embarkation card, and then join a queue to have your boarding pass checked, and then it’s checked again. You then go through security and passport control, before having your passport checked again to ensure it was stamped, and then have your boarding pass checked one last time.

On the other side there are quite a few places to get food, but not really any decent souvenirs. I had researched the business lounge beforehand and found they didn’t do food so bought a sandwich beforehand to try and use up some dirhams. After this I’d still got 88 dirhams left, and nowhere to change them back to Sterling.

The business lounge serves a few light snacks, and many drinks such as tea, coffee, and fizzy soft drinks. If at this point you’ve still not had enough Berber tea, then there’s always that too. There’s also Wi-Fi for the lounge, though I couldn’t get that to work. The airport Wi-Fi was working well enough for me anyway.

At the gate your boarding pass and passport are checked again, and then additional security checks due to it being a UK flight. Before embarking they check your boarding pass and passport one final time. It’s incredible how often those two items are checked; almost to the point of being obsessive. I’m not sure why they need checking so frequently.

When I booked the flights, it had been scheduled to land in London at 21:45, but the arrival time had changed to 22:00 and then 22:11. Somehow they thought it was still on time. I guess if you reschedule knowing it’ll arrive later, then things are going according to plan.

On the flight I went for the vegetarian option as I really didn’t feel like having a Thai green curry. It was nice to have a decent cup of tea though; a very British sentiment. This was accompanied by a long conversation with the airline attendant about travel, and the places I’ve seen after being asked about it.

Arrivals in the UK was as expected – quick and easy. I was at baggage collection before they’d even announced which carousel the bags would be on, and my bag was one of the first to appear due to being in business class. I collected my car keys, and and was finally in my car for the long journey home.

After fifty miles of hiking in the High Atlas Mountains, and then exploring two cities, it was over. It had gone better than I expected, and I got to use a lot of what I’d learned from previous trips whilst also learning new lessons along the way. It proves that even after ten years there are still things to learn about travelling.

Now whenever I’m asked, “how was your holiday?” I reply with, “it wasn’t a holiday, it was an adventure.”

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