Fun date night in the souk…An attitude adjustment hatched…

This gorgeous rose was growing in one of the many flower beds in the restaurant where we dined last evening.

The souk and the Big Square of the Medina of Marrakech change at night. The energy level ramps up, the shopping crowds are less frenzied though crowded and the mood goes from “let’s rush” to “let’s have fun!”

Dining on the rooftop, we spotted this familiar Minaret Tower.

As we walked by a shop, a vendor yelled to Tom, “Hey, Grande Mustache! What you buy for the madam?” Tom returned, “She has it all!”

I giggled, as we women often do when our loved ones make assumptions that we already have everything we could possibly want.

When we asked for a dinner menu, the server brought this huge chalkboard for our review.

Yesterday afternoon, an attitude adjustment was born out of our magical way as a team, of making a conscious decision to “reframe our thinking” (words used by motivational speaker Tony Robbins from years passed) by returning to our usual cheerful and enthusiastic selves.

We’d been in a bit of a funk for this past month, mostly precipitated by one of us more than the other, looking for all that wasn’t right, as opposed to what was right, invariably sucking the other into the mood. As hard as the more positive one tried to stay upbeat, the at times more somber partner quietly refused to partake in rampant bouts of cheerfulness.

Plants, trees, bushes, and flowers were on display on the restaurant’s rooftop.

Without prodding, criticizing or any form of recrimination, the more cheerful one had an idea: Let’s start planning  our travels from May 15, 2015 into the future for the somber one’s first choice of the next stop along the way. And then, magic happened! We had a light bulb moment.

We have no home, no stuff and no idea where we’ll be in 13 months when on May 15, 2015 our last booked rental ends. Imagine that such a thought could be disconcerting. 

These tables were rather low suitable more for children than adults.  We sat in a corner managing to get comfortable.

Add the fact that present circumstances don’t necessarily keep us entertained and busy without the day to day responsibilities of managing a household to some extent; planning and shopping for meals, cooking and creating a familiar routine and ambiance, had left us both with too much idle time on our hands. As a result, idle time…la la la…idle mind (or whatever they say).

With the utmost excitement, we both began researching online with a greatly improved WiFi signal, thinking, discussing, and planning. An animated conversation ensued along with a renewed sense of “why we’re doing what we’re doing.” 

The views from the restaurant’s third-floor rooftop.

Over our next 30 days in Marrakech, we’ll enthusiastically continue our search, already with a decent plan in mind as we strive to make it affordable, exciting, and befitting our dreams of continuing on in our travels

Although much of the Medina is well maintained, the age of many of the buildings result in many distressed buildings.

Instead of dining during the day, as we often do, last night we walked the short distance from our door to the souk with a spring in our step, determination in our hearts on a mission to find a new restaurant serving mostly French or Italian cuisine and have a lovely evening.

The restaurant’s name was displayed in white stone in the backyard.

After a 20 minute walk through the souk, we discovered exactly what we were looking for, a three-story restaurant we’d noticed on prior walks, one which we’d never tried. We weren’t disappointed by the décor, the food, the service or the prices at Terrasse des Espices or, of course by the conversation. OK, their credit card machine battery was dead. No big deal. We paid in cash.

Here again, more old and worn buildings mostly unoccupied.

As I enthusiastically type fast and furiously while voraciously pounding on this uncooperative keyboard, once done here today, the search will continue. Over the next few weeks, we’ll book the remaining five flights for our family members for Hawaii, book a car and flight for Madeira, while we continue to research our options for future.

More rooftop views.

And, of course, once we start booking for the future, we share the details with our readers.

This Arabic symbol Hamsa, protection from the evil eye.

Once again, we’re our old (yes, old) cheerful selves filled with determination and enthusiasm for today, tomorrow, and times yet to come. 

“Hey, Grande Mustache,” I mutter with a huge grin on my face, “Thanks for sharing a great day, delightful date night and yes, you’re right..she does have it all!

Photo from one year ago on April 15, 2013:

Tom coming down the slide of the ship’s pool. For details for the post from that date, please click here.

Confusing evening out…Running in circles…Made a purchase in the souk…

To capture this photo I had to zoom through the restaurant’s railing when the customer sitting next to me grumbled when I tried to stand to take this photo. These trees were at least one mile, 1.61 km, away from our location, perhaps more accounting for the blur. But the color amazed us.

I often mention Tom’s superb sense of direction. When we’re driving or walking I always leave the navigation to him. As a result, I pay no attention to a path we’ve taken in the past and can never retrace our steps. That’s his job as “Chief Navigational Officer!”

The chair of the person sitting next to me in the restaurant prevented me from standing from my seat at the table.  I had no choice but to take this first shot of the sunset last night while seated with this railing obstructing the view.

However, his usual fine skills are left blowing in the wind when walking through the souks of Marrakech. It truly is a maze. Google Maps/Street has not sent their vehicles through the souk to create accurate navigation in which way to maneuver on foot from location to location in the maze of the souk. 

The sunset a few minutes later than above.

Also, the roofs in the souk may have an effect on the satellite images. (The assessment of this is not within my range of expertise so I apologize if I’ve stated this incorrectly).

And then, the sunset, creating this colorful backdrop;

Although a specific location may be illustrated on the map, from our experiences so far, the directions aren’t accurate. As a result, finding our way to the restaurant is challenging, especially when they’re off the beaten path, as was the case for a restaurant we searched last night, Café Clock, #3 on TripAdvisor.

Finding highly rated restaurants in itself is quite challenging when we no longer want to dine in Moroccan restaurants nor do we always want to take a taxi to go out for a casual meal.  International restaurants are in short supply inside the Medina, where any location can be reached on foot, if we can find it.

This little vehicle appeared to be an ice cream truck.

Late yesterday afternoon, with two things in mind, we took off on foot.  We’d carefully checked the map, able to spot the general location of the restaurant. One was to purchase a black leather belt for me and two, to find Café Clock where we’d have a leisurely dinner. 

Finding a location to purchase a belt was as easy as finding a casino on the Las Vegas Strip. There was one after another. We figured it was more practical if we waited until further away from the weekend crowds in the Jemma el Fna, the most popular area of the souk attached to where we live. With fewer crowds, we’d get better service and perhaps a better price.

At this point, is was approximately 6:00 pm in the Big Square.

Our guess was good of the service, not so much on the price. I wanted a belt similar to the one I had in my old life that I wore to its death, tossing it after many years of use. Knowing my preferred style made the shopping easier, a wide black belt, without sequins and jewels on it (I usually prefer simple as opposed to bejeweled items). 

Another criterion was that the belt would fit well enough that it wouldn’t have a long flapping tail, always an annoyance. The end result; a wide, woven leather black with an adjustable clasp in silver. 

The Big Square was beginning to fill with tourists as the festivities of Friday evening began. Fridays are holy days in Muslim countries and the souk is uncrowded during the day. As the afternoon wears on, the tourists arrive for the weekend, and once again, it’s packed.

Along the way to the restaurant (so we thought), we spotted a perfect shop in the souk, selling shoes and belts.  Preferring the shop owner not show me one belt after another, I showed him my preferred style.  He steered us to his backroom where I easily found what I wanted. 

Asking him the price, he said US $30.69, MAD 250. We settled at $ US 18.42, MAD 150. My former similar belt was US $25, MAD 203 when on sale at a local boutique in the US.

The pastry and cooking vendor carts always appeal to me. Tom, on the other hand, who could try some of these, won’t buy one cookie saying none of them appeal to him.

Sure, I could have purchased it for a few dollars less but based on the soft leather which he claimed was “camel leather” (which may or may not actually be camel leather) and the good construction, I felt the price was fair. Tom grumbled that I’d overpaid when the owner left to install the buckle that I was able to choose. I scoffed at him, saying I was content.

Yes, I’ve read all the online comments about not paying more than 50% of the asking price, and then it may be close to fair retail. But, thoughts ran through my head during this small transaction, that we may have been his only sale for the day in this more remote location in the souk. 

The smoke began to billow as the food vendors starting cooking for Friday night’s dinners under the tents.  The smells are amazing.

As a former business owner I can recall, only too well, all the times that clients asked me to lower my fees. It was a painful decision to make when the cost of doing business was so high. It was only after the market failed in 2008 that I had no choice but to coalesce in making the numbers work for clients, a factor that eventually inspired me to retire a few years earlier than I’d hoped.

When the shopkeeper hesitantly agreed to the MAD 150, I felt comfortable True to form, Tom let it go and we continued on in search of Café Clock which was supposed to be around the corner from Le Jardin, where we’ve dined on several occasions.

Still unable to stand freely with the people next to us, I shot this photo through the ornate railing. This vendor had four or five other men with him who would pick up the items while yelling, creating an atmosphere of a frenzy in order to attract buyers. Rather clever, isn’t it?

After walking down every alleyway in the area, after over an hour of searching, we gave up, deciding to go to the Big Square (in the center of the Medina) and find any restaurant whereby the outdoor menu gave us hope for an acceptable meal. As we’ve often mentioned, we prefer to avoid bashing local businesses unless we feel we were intentionally “ripped off.” 

A less than desirable meal could be a result of an off day, a cook being out sick, or the lack of ability of the owners and managers of what appeals to their public, a surprisingly common occurrence worldwide.

We had no idea on the final asking prices on these items that didn’t sell quickly during the frenzied activities over a period of one hour.

We chose a restaurant on a second level with excellent views of the Big Square. Many tourists chose this location for its good view and wine-drinking only as we noticed the waiter looked surprised when we asked for menus.

Tom ordered what was referred to as an “American” pizza and I ordered two entrees after showing the waiter my restrictions list which included grilled chicken chunks and tagine vegetables. I thought he fully understood:  no sugar, no starch, no rice, no potatoes, no wheat, and no grains, clearly illustrated on my food list on my phone. He didn’t.

A closer look at the pastry cart.  Yum…

My vegetable tagine arrived, half-filled with potatoes (which I removed) and my plate of chicken arrived with a side of rice (which I also removed) and chips (French fries) which I gave to Tom. 

Tom said his pizza tasted like frozen pizza which I’d never made for him in our 23 years together. Surely, they’ve improved over the years. But, he ate the chips, the bread, and the pizza (I kept my mouth shut over his carb-laden unhealthy meal) when he hardly likes any available foods in Marrakech. Who eats fries with pizza? 

Moroccan women are not involved in the aggressive selling techniques utilized by men. Most women selling products do so sitting on the ground in the Big Square, not inside the souk. We’ve only seen two women selling in the souk shops, neither of which attempted to get us to make a purchase.

After dinner, we headed to an ATM to get cash for the halfway mark tips for the staff which we’ll present to them today, explaining more will follow before we leave. 

Today, we’ll stay in while we continue to shop for airline tickets for our kids and grandchildren for Hawaii at Christmas time. So far, we’ve purchased five tickets with eight more to go which hopefully we’ll have completed over the next 60 days. Rates change several times a day as we continue to check back every few hours.

We have more good photos than we can share in one day. We’ll be back! BTW, this morning I received an email from Café Clock with their hours of operation which I’d requested yesterday before we tried to locate them.  They’re sending us a map. We’ll try it again!

Photo from one year ago today, April 5, 2013:

This photo is from of one of our last night’s out in Belize with Tom ready to tackle this giant Marguerita when we were out to dinner from our next-door neighbor Bill, a friend we’d made while in Belize who was also from the US, formerly living only about 35 from our old house. Small world. For the story from April 4, 2013, please click here
Note: My computer had the wrong date resulting in my mixing up the photos from the 4th and 5th. The above photo is from April 4, 2013. Tomorrow, we’ll correctly post the photo for April 6, 2013, and we’ll be back on track. Sorry for the confusion.

It’s a fairyland…Full of magical sights…If not for food and shopping…Why are we here?…

Out for an early dinner, we had a bird’s eye view of the Big Square.

As we walked through the Jemaa el Fna souk yesterday, we passed a carpet shop. The hip-looking well-dressed owner looked directly at us and said, “Want to go for a magic carpet ride?”

A wide variety of women’s clothing is displayed in both the souk and in the Big Square.

We chuckled aloud, along with another couple walking next to us. The old city isn’t as old as it appears.  Everywhere you look, young nicely dressed salesmen, rarely women, manage the shops in the souk, smartphones in hand, fingers flying in text or game mode. Times have changed.

A postcard and newspaper stand in the Big Square.

Modern looking clothing, similar in appearance to clothing one may find in their modern local mall, hang from neatly arranged displays. Oh yes, there is the expected belly dancer outfits that one may purchase for a flirty girlfriend or as an outfit to be worn to a costume party. 

Cats are respected and revered in the souk and the walled city. The shop owners feed and care for them and yet they don’t “belong” to anyone. We see them everywhere roaming about the streets with little fear of humans.
These four cats were on a rooftop.  Gingerly, they move from rooftop to rooftop.

Many of the shops contain the long robes worn as everyday clothing by the locals with matching scarves for the modesty required for women by the Muslim faith. 

The Medina and souks is guarded by local police. Overall, it feels safe in the walled city, although one must be careful of pickpockets as one would anywhere in the world.

Overall, the merchandise is geared toward the tourist anticipating negotiating the bargain of their lives for an excellent price from an owner. Most often, they may pay a similar price at the local mall, a short taxi ride outside the Medina. 

Locals commiserating in the Medina.

The owners may purchase the item for US $10, ask for US $40, and settle at US $25, a seeming win-win for everyone. It’s all part of the process that travelers experience in any country they visit. To buy or not to buy.  To stop and look, or not.

Playful interaction among the locals as they await their next “job.”

What often amazes us is the dedication and hard work of the vendors as they must continually procure new prospects to enter their shops, to hopefully make a purchase. Did any of us ever have to work at a job where we continually had to bark at passersby in an effort to attract them for a sale? 

It could have been a bake sale at a local church bazaar or at a flea market in an effort to sell homemade craft items we somehow believed that people would flock to, and yet they didn’t. We’ve all been there.

Ordering hot tea, this tray was delivered to me. The mint-flavored tea was delicious and the water stayed hot in a little silver pot, often seen for sale in the souk. Apparently, the locals utilize similar tea trays and pots when sipping on tea in the souk.

It goes against the grain of our humanity to pester potential shoppers to buy something. In a sad way, we equate it to begging. Our nature and desire is to simply display our hard gotten wares and buyers will come.  Not the case as any person with a job or a career in sales so well knows. You have to “be in their face” in order to get results.

These rolls are often served with meals as in this case for Tom’s dinner.  No butter is served at any of the establishments we’ve visited.  When asked, the waiters explain that buerre, French for butter, is not available.

I commend these hard-working people as we wander through the souks; the older generation selling peanuts in the shell, the middle-aged well-dressed man selling women’s modern-day dresses, the young man playing a game on his phone, frequently looking up to invite potential customers into his grandfather’s pottery store or the butcher behind the bright lights and his hanging slabs of meat, hoping locals and self-catering tourists will partake of his fresh meat. 

It appears that salad is my only “safe” meal when dining out. This Nicoise salad, a vegetable and egg salad with canned tuna had potatoes on it which I removed. Tom, good Irishman that he is, will eat a potato in any form.

It’s no job any of us would choose. And yet, generations of vendors line the souk and the Big Square as tourists from all over the world long to partake of the unique excitement and energy one only finds in faraway exotic places. Or, a Tom mentioned one day, “In a lot of ways, it’s not unlike the State Fair.” So true.

Amid the various satellite dishes, a common sight in the walled city, sits a local enjoying the view from his rooftop as darkness fell.

For us, making purchases, however, tempting is impractical. We don’t own a kitchen cabinet to hold the pretty plates or a wall on which to display a handmade tapestry either made locally or imported from India or China.

Back down on the street, we made our way back to or riad. Having failed to wear jackets, we headed back.  We’ve since learned that wearing jackets at night is a must, even on warm weather days as the nighttime temperature drops considerably.

Tourists come to Marrakesh to eat and to shop. For us, we must look deep inside the culture to discover the wonders it beholds beyond food and wares. Perhaps, in essence, that is a more interesting perspective for us to pursue as we strive to glean every possible treasure from this magical place for which we don’t need a carpet, as opposed to an open mind and heart.