Adam Bird


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Saturday, 17 July 2010


A Morrocan Souk

Stood on the Rock of Gibraltar as a thirteen year old boy, looking out across the Mediterranean sea as it meets the Atlantic and gazing at the mass of land only thirty miles away trying to comprehend the shear size of the African continent ahead - five thousand miles from north to south and home to a billion people, numbers that are still mind boggling seventeen years later. I was hoping that we would be able to take a boat trip across so that I can say I have been to Africa, but we didn't quite make it. Now as a thirty year old man, the African continent lays in my path once again.

Marrakesh, a city at the heart of Morocco, the country you can see when stood upon "the Rock", is the sixth destination on a list of eight possibilities put forward by my parents, with the grand reveal awaiting Stephanie and I on our wedding day.

Marrakesh, the "Red City" is not the capital city, a fact which I have only just found out, (to my surprise) but a city of vast importance both culturally and historically to the Moroccan people. Since it was founded way back in 1070, like all of the places I have researched so far, has historical roots of strategic importance for early tradesman, and over the years it's background story is as colourful as the architecture in which it gets it's name.

The real vocal point of the city, is it's old town, the Medina, riddled with alleys and maze like streets which contain souks, selling everything from spices, carpets, leather and jewellery. Think of Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark where Marion is kidnapped and Indie races around the alley's looking for her. That's what I imagine the Medina to look like, which, considering it was filmed on location in Tunisia isn't going to be too far off.

At the centre, the real heartbeat of the old town is the market square, Djemaa el Fna. The largest of it's kind in Africa. By day the square is awash with artists, snake charmers, acrobats, healers and all sorts of other bohemian characters, which are replaced by night by food sellers, selling freshly cooked Moroccan fare. An experience which, if I'm honest, slightly scares me.

If Changing Rooms was responsible for many hideous conversions of the "Moroccan" theme, terracotta walls with terrible imitation upholstery, then the food has been imitated incessantly world over. We've all probably tried a Lamb Tagine, or cous-cous with sultanas. Aromatic spices and sweet flavours combined to give us a so called authentic cuisine experience, but there is only one way to taste the authentic, and that's to go where the food is supposed to be based upon.

On reading reviews of the street food sold by vendors at night within the Djemaa el Fna, many come with a cautionary warning. The name means literally "Assembly of the Dead", and instead of people who have been executed on display, sheep's heads are visible everywhere, as the contents of which are sold as casserole, or tagines to local people as a delicacy! One experience Stephanie and I may just pass on!

Again, with a city of historical importance, religion plays a key role and Marrakesh is home to mosques, and synagogues that vary from the ornate to the more traditional, but for me the sights that really inspire me about going to Marrakesh are a little further afield. To the southeast lies the great Atlas Mountain range, which spans the entire top part of continental Africa and at the foot of which, to the south, lies the great Sahara desert. Trekking isn't really a honeymoon activity and I am not suggesting for one minute that will be what we do, but an up close view is almost an essential experience.

Aside from that visit to the Atlas Mountains, it is possible to travel by train, to Casablanca which takes around three hours. It's not that I have a fondness for Humphrey Bogart, or a burning desire to see Casablanca, but to take a rail trip northwards across Morocco across the bright red, semi desert and across the coastal plain is surely one of those things that comes top of any Marrakesh "to do" list.

Each place that I have researched so far has been so full of contrast to the one before it, but amazingly the historical, religious and strategic similarities don't seem to have made a bit of difference, in fact each similarity has enhanced each place, given it further character and set it further apart from the other. Where I'm headed to next, to the penultimate destination is very different! I don't need to research this one very much we've all seen so much of it. Frank Sinatra even named it twice.


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