Sunday, January 20, 2013

London for New Years

The contrast between Marrakech and London is huge, of course.   Marrakech is challenging and fascinating, but not an easy place to travel.  London is a world city, full of anything and everything you want or need, but I don't feel the need to write things up for posterity, because it's all quite well known and I wouldn't be writing up anything new.  

So, just a few quick notes.   We went to the HMS Belfast our first day in London, which was great though Eric and I got separated (each with one kid) and without working phones, it was hard to find one another again.  The next two days, Peter had diarrhea, so badly that I stayed at the hotel with him to get over it, and actually bought diapers when we ran out of clean underwear and the hand washed ones were wet.  I wondered where the diarrhea came from?  He had diarrhea in Marrakech, but that had been gone for 2 days by the time he got it again.  Was it a relapse of the Marrakech diarrhea, brought on by eating too much in London?  Or was it a new strain?  I was very grateful to be in a nice comfortable hotel room in London (with central heat, carpeted floors, lots of light) instead of being in the place were were at in Marrakech - interesting, unique, but not very comfortable.  

We took taxis a few times, but then switched to the subway system, which was fast and convenient (except for the first day we tried it, which was a holiday with restricted schedules).  The hands-on section of the science museum was a favorite, especially the dry ice table.

Marrakech for Christmas

I'd been to Marrakech about 25 years ago, when I was studying abroad in Seville.  It was fascinating, but definitely not stress free. This time, I wouldn't be staying in the micro-budget ($6 for a three person room, so $2 a night!) hotels that I stayed in then, though they were actually pretty comfortable.  I had booked for our family a what's called a riad, which is basically an old house in the Medina that's been converted to a small hotel.  

The Marrakech airport is impressive architecturally, and it was amazing to be stepping out into warm sunshine instead of freezing rain as we've had in Geneva for the past few weeks. The kids were very impressed by the newness and strangeness of it all - the flatness, the sun, people wearing the djellaba (long robes with hoods).

The next eye-opener, after the beautiful weather, was the moped accident we saw on the ride home from the airport.  The moped was carrying a husband and wife and young child, and it was knocked over.  I don't know if anyone was seriously injured - it didn't look like it.  The thing that was crazy, though, was that for whatever reason  there were about a dozen soldiers and also policemen right at that very intersection, not more than 20 feet away, and they didn't help at all.  Very strange.

Sunday - our first full day in Marrakech.  We had breakfast here at the riad, which was included in the stay.  Even though there's only 7 rooms, and it seems that just a few are occupied, there are multiple women working here - I've counted at least 3.  That's on top of the owner and her husband.  
Breakfast was a little skimpy, definitely not the buffet type breakfast that the kids look forward to at hotels.  It was the Moroccan style flat bread, plus these interesting pancakes that remind me a lot of the Ethiopian injera bread, but much smaller, with butter, jam, juice, and coffee.   All on a low table, which is traditional here, but really makes me realize why a standard height table is much more efficient.  There was incense and the works - very atmospheric.  

Rooftop of our hotel
Then we walked to the Marrakech Museum and the Ben Youssef Madrasa, quite close by and next to one another. Getting there was  basically a matter of asking people, and picking carefully who I chose to ask for directions - for instance, shop keepers.  We had good luck with everyone we asked for directions, they were very helpful. 

The museum, which I believe used to be a royal palace, was interesting enough, a decent sight to go see given that the real "sights" in Marrakech are the street life.  What little signage we saw was just in French and Arabic, but I managed to work my way through the French sometimes.  The Madrasa was much more interesting. It's an old school where boys used to study the Koran.  It's basically a collection of rabbit warren type little cells, many of them with no windows at all, where the boys studied and lived.  In two of the cells, there was a little layout of what life was like back then, and they showed a little study table, plus cooking pot.  Did they really cook for themselves?  Seems very inefficient in a school like this. Some of them had these really interesting lofts, with the ladder basically consisting of boards inserted into one of the corners, and a hole into which you crawled up into the loft.  Don't know if they slept up above but down below, but a very efficient use of space.

After the Madrassa we walked to the Jemaa el Fna.  The Jemaa el Fna is the main public square of Marrakech, very famous for its street performers and street life. It was pretty easy getting there, I asked directions and had no issues.  Walking in the narrow medina (old town) streets is a real experience.  There's a huge amount of moped, bicycles, and pedestrian going by, and also occasionally cars and trucks.  We made very sure that the kids were always holding hands with us on the building side, not the street side. Also little tiny stores/stalls all over the place.

baby turtles for sale

We walked around the square a bit - I tried to remember where I'd stayed 25 years ago when I was here (during the semester that I was studying in Seville).  I couldn't remember, though, other than it was very, very close to the actual square.  There was also a pastry/yogurt shop I was hoping to find, which I couldn't either.  The orange juice stands are still there, loads of them, and the water sellers (there only for photo opportunities) , the tooth pullers (also only for photo opps).  It's a little overwhelming, and also you feel like you need to be on guard at all times - which is true, you do need to be on guard at all times.

The walk home didn't go so well.  Our riad isn't close to anywhere very popular, it's kind of an out of the way neighborhood, and most people don't know where it is.  The way it's identified is by saying that it's close to a certain gate of the old city walls that encircle the medina.  We basically found our way there, but with some dead ends and wrong turns, plus running into a bunch of rowdy teenage soccer playing boys who told us a certain street was closed.  I had read (searching for "scams in Morocco") that this is the oldest trick in the book, but it turned out the street actually was closed, ha, ha, kind of humiliating going past those kids again.  Then they wanted to guide us back to our hotel, and one who was particularly persistent ended up going with us (we wouldn't have needed him, of course, I could easily have asked my way back) but we ended up paying him 5 dirhams anyway just to get rid of him and because we were chicken not to.  He loudly complained about this, saying in French, "What's this, my friend?".  Kenny was astounded, as the kid was only a few years older than him.

Monday - my 45 birthday!  
This morning we went to the Majorelle Garden, in the new town.  It's a decent place, pretty touristy, lots of interesting cactus plants that the kids and I had a fun time naming (like the "i need a haircut" cactus for one that had very long and hairy looking thorns). Today's main activity was to meet Malika, a Moroccan lady who babysat for our kids back in Geneva while she was visiting her sister there.   I had arranged via email to meet her at a restaurant - I asked her for suggestions but she wanted me to pick one, so i just picked someplace from my guidebook, supposedly on 10 Rue Loubnane. We walked there from the garden, and found what the map and some people said was Rue Loubnane, but no restaurant.  I asked a bunch of people on the street, a security guy, some guys just sitting around (there's tons and tons of people just sitting around in Morocco) and a pharmacist, and then walked into a furniture store store to ask.  The ladies in the store said they didn't know where the restaurant was but called the manager.  I ended up asking him if he could call Malika for us, and he had a conversation with her.  He arranged for us to meet her at a cafe across the street.  So we went to the cafe.  It was all dark and there were signs saying - no dancing, no taking photos - just what kind of cafe was this, anyway?  Plus there were hookas and ash everywhere.  Anyway Malika came and found us there.  it was great to talk to her, and be able to ask her all our questions about Morocco.  We did find the restaurant after all, turns out it was on another street that was actually rue loubnane (or maybe there were 2 streets with the same name?).  Anyway, it was closed!  So she drove us to another restaurant nearby that she knows, a very modern looking place.   We had a cafe style meal that you could have had at many places in the US.  She's about to start training (or maybe has started already) as a pharmaceutical sales rep. It was really great to see her, and feel like we have a little bit of an insider view on the country.

Later on she drove us back the the riad, which she said was on her way - I hope it really was!   We saw another accident, a bike got hit by a moped.  The bike rider (absolutely everyone here goes without helmets, bikes and mopeds both) hopped over to side of the road, gingerly touching one leg.
Then we hung out the hotel room and let the kids play on the ipad.  For dinner, we walked to the place
Jemaa el Fna again. That's where all the action is, so that's where we go.  We walked there through some crowded medina street with LOTS AND LOTS of moped traffic.  Oh my gosh, they drive by so close to us sometimes.  Peter was walking as usual quite slowly - at one point we stepped aside to let all the people lined up behind us go by.   We were definitely "slow moving vehicles"!  There's so many things that I would have liked to take to take photos of - tiny little stores, fruit and vegetable markets,  but I feel a little awkward.  Also for a long stretch, until we get close to the market, we're the only tourists around, so I didn't want to stand out too much.  One thing in particular I wanted to take a photo of but didn't - a bike with a bunch of about 20 cow hoofs tied to the rack on the back tire.  Little moped repair places were everywhere, with the work being done actually on the street, there were mobile gas stations for the mopeds.  There was actually no traffic in the streets we were walking on, except for the mopeds, but they were more than enough.  The exhaust was really foul, and pollution in general here is tremendous, and forms a brown haze over the city.

After dinner at the place Jemaa el Fna, negotiating the taxi ride home was (and always is) a bit stressful, though I'm getting used to it.  We've been paying 50 dirham every single time, even though the owner of our riad told us we should pay 20, or max 30 dirhams.    But we've never gotten anyone to accept less than 50 dirhams, even after walking away.    There's always a big group of men that crowd around and tell you why it should be more expensive.  Anyway, the guy leads us to the taxi (he was just the taxi pusher, not the actual taxi driver) and the driver starts heading towards our riad. 3 boys about Kenny's age start pushing the taxi - or pretending to push it - in any case, they then all 3 hopped up on the back of the car!  They were on only for a few minutes.  But my boys were very impressed.  I told Kenny if he ever tried anything like that I'd lock him up for a month.  He asks, "would I still get food?"

When we finally got to our riad, there was the opportunity for one last scam, which was that the taxi driver had no change.  It was completely untrue, of course, it's just one of the many tricks that are used to separate you from your money.  We managed to scrounge up the right change, finally. Oh yes, on this taxi drive, we saw yet another accident.  This one was a fender bender between 2 cars.  Man, the accident rate here must be horrendous if in 2 days we've seen 3 accidents, even though they've been pretty minor.

And then were were home.  Whew! Our riad, the Riad Rose de l'Orient, is okay.  If I had to do it over again, I would have chosen modern and efficient and central over authentic and interesting and in a non-touristy area.  But, there wasn't that many options left by the time I got around to making the booking.  There's no central heating, and though the days are very warm and beautiful and sunny, it gets darn cold at night, especially when walking with bare feet on the cold tile floor (no carpet).  There's a little space heater which were're using, but it doesn't prevent the floor and the toilet seat from being FREEZING!

I know I'm sounding a little negative, and honestly I wouldn't like to live in Morocco  for the long term.  But it's definitely a fascinating place, there's so much to see.  It's like going back in time a little bit, too, with all the haggling that's necessary.  Apparently in the US, back before the 1920s or so, one of the reasons that department stores became popular was that they had fixed prices.  Previously haggling was necessary for many items, even in the US.

In the
Jemaa el Fna there' s an area where they sell a few animals - mainly I saw lizards and turtles.  We saw a guy haggling over a little lizard for his son.  He took the lizard, and offered the seller 30 dirhams - put it in his hand, spoke coaxingly to him.  He did end up giving him 40 dirhams, though.  It was interesting to watch.  Haggling is such a way of life here.  It's not good for the introvert, really.  Or maybe there are no introverts here.

Right next to the ice cream stand that we always go to, there's always a blind guy standing there, bolt upright, selling little packages of tissues.  A lot of little kids sell packages of tissues, it's one step up from begging.  I eventually bought something from him - I was a little nervous about it, and uncertain how it would work.  I ended up just going up to him and asking for some tissues, and he asked for one dirham.  I gave him two, thinking to give him a bit of a donation, but he felt the coins in his finger, and felt that they were two one dirham coins, and said I should only have given him one dirham.  So I asked for some chewing gum as well.  But I think they were 2 dirham.  Anyway, the whole transaction was a little complicated.  It's a good thing people understand my primitive French.

It can be stressful walking around the Jemaa el Fna.  There's always vendors coming up to you, trying to sell something, or trying to get you to take their picture for a tip.  Also there were many people trying to go directly to the kids and get them to hold some toy, like these little wooden bending snakes.  I had told Kenny and Peter how to react - hold their hands straight down by their side, and just shake their heads.  They did well.  I found that the best way to deal with the vendors was to just give the faintest shake of the head instead of vigorously trying to get rid of them.  And definitely don't look at them, any kind of eye contact just encourages them.  It can be stressful, but it's also a very lively, interesting, invigorating area.  I did see a few comments on TripAdvisor on how very unpleasant it was to be accosted constantly by people trying to make money off you .  My guess is that the people who have very negative reactions to it are the ones who try to be polite and humane instead of just staring past them like I did.  Trying to be polite, saying, "No, thank you", only encourages them, and they get aggressive, thinking you're a chump.

In the Jemaa el Fna there are guys who stand around with monkeys (in diapers) on leashes, pouncing on anyone nearby who looks like they might want to get a picture.  I stayed away from them, because of the hassle of trying to negotiate a price.  But there was a Moroccan family who approached them, and got some great pictures of the kids laughing as the monkeys tried to pick nits out of their hair.  Mom and Dad, monkey guy, kids - everyone was smiling and having a fun time.  

So I decided to try as well.  With foreigners it's totally different, though.  I asked the monkey guy how much, and he says whatever you like.  I said  5 dirhams, he says too little, then I said 10, but he's already putting the monkey all over Peter, then another guy with a different monkey is putting his monkey on Peter's other shoulder, I'm telling him to go away but he doesn't.   Then when it came time to pay him the 10 dirhams they pulled the change trick on us - he said he had no change.  He took our money - I think it was 50 dirhams, then went around to other vendors,  supposedly asking people for change but came with a motley collection of different coins - including Euros! Obviously this was meant to confuse us.  It wasn't the right amount either, or even close. Then the other guy, that I told to go away,  comes around and asks for money as well.  You feel like you're totally a public resource, that it doesn't matter at all if you have a bad experience or feel stressed or cheated.  You can't post your bad reviews anywhere, there's no negative consequences for them at all for being complete assholes.

We had dinner in the same terrace restaurant.  It was okay, I've had the tajine now a couple times in a few restaunts now - it comes out incredibly hot and covered, so you can be quite sure it's safe to eat.

On Tuesday we went on a drive (with a driver and car, arranged through our riad).  Our driver Youssef was supposed to speak English, but I think because we arranged this so hastily (or maybe they just don't have many guides who speak English) his English was almost, but not quite, non-existent.  I'm pretty good at communicating with people whose English is poor, but my skills didn't work with him.  He would say something he thought was English, but it wasn't. Then we would try to ask him something, and he just didn't understand.  I don't even think his French was that great - there were a few things that I wasn't able to make understand, and usually people here understand my (admittedly kind of pigeon) French.

Youssef, our guide, kept on saying things like, "This is where they fabrik rugs", or this is where they fabrik Argan oil".  I tried to explain to him that it would be correct to say, "This is where they MAKE rugs".   He had a hard time getting it, then was telling me that he's heard people from England using the word the same way he was. Not very willing to learn.  

We drove up to the Ourika Valley, up to the supposedly famous 7 waterfalls.  What struck me most was how many people are just sitting on the side of the road, doing nothing.  Or maybe they were doing something, and I just couldn't figure it out.  A few times I did - for instance, I saw some men just standing at an overlook area, but it turns out they were waiting for tourists to come, and sell them necklaces.  But sometimes - really, I think they're just hanging out. Also - there's so many more men and boys about than there are women.  Where are all the women and girls?

Along the rural road we saw lots of sheep, goats, people harvesting olives, and cactus fruits.   Even though the cactus fruits were red, our driver told us they're not good now, and only ripe in summer.

In towns that we passed through, there were many school kids around on the street, all of them wearing short white jackets over their street clothing.  They get out of school at the weirdest times - for instance, at 10 AM the street in one town were crowded with kids.  I assume they go home for lunch, then head back to school.  Kind of like here in Geneva, but in Geneva it's a more reasonable lunch hour of 11:30 to 1:30.  Or maybe they were just out for recess, and didn't have to stay in a playground - or didn't have one?

There were many, many pedestrian bridges across the Ourika river.  Most of them were very makeshift looking things, rough planks across flimsy wires.  The funny thing was that in many places, you'd see 3 or 4 of these little bridges quite close together, one for each house.  Why wouldn't they collaborate, and make one good bridge?

At the end of the road, our driver said (and I had a very hard time understanding him) that we needed to hire a guide to actually walk up to the waterfall.  That was a unwelcome surprise.  We ended up paying a guide 100 dirhams to take us up to the first waterfall. We could easily have walked up ourselves, but felt pressured to take the guide.  The trail was packed with tourists like little ants, each little group with their own guide, crawling up this rough little trail, which could have been a very easy trail with very little bit of moving rocks around.  Maybe they didn't want to put the work into it, and then lose the guides their jobs.  Another thing about the trail was that - it was absolutely packed with little tiny shops on both sides until you got almost all the way up to the waterfall.  There were probably a few dozen shops, all along this little trail.  They sold all kinds of souvenirs, but what Kenny was most interested in was the geodes.  They were black on the outside, and really colorful inside, hot purple and incandescent orange.  It's a good thing we didn't buy any.  We did a little research on them later on the internet, it turns out they were all fakes.  Though apparently in some areas,  Morocco does have some interesting and unique rocks and gems.

Ourika valley was frankly kind of underwhelming, especially since the waterfall at the end could only be interesting in a place like Morocco, but certainly not if you come from the Pacific Northwest, waterfall capital of the world. If we had gone up further to the other waterfalls, maybe we would have gotten to some more interesting scenery.  

We stopped at a place where they sell Argan oil, which is from a tree that apparently only grows in Morocco.  They had a little demo there of how it was shelled (manually, of course), and ground down for the oil, which is then used for cooking and cosmetics.  
We didn't buy anything, but did tip the ladies that were doing the shelling and grinding because we took some photos.  It's a little stressful to always be needing to think of how much do you tip the various people.

We stopped at another place, which our guide told us was a typical Berber house.  We saw the kitchen - very primitive.

Then we climbed a ladder up to the roof, where I guess they dry things.  Kenny started walking around there - not close to the edge, but the guide told him to come back.  It looked like the roof was made up just of dirt and small rocks tossed on top of plastic, over some kind of framework, and he probably could have damaged it.

Today we did the Saadian Tombs.  They weren't all that interesting, but there was a guy there chipping out little shaped pieces of tile (either for repairing the tile they have, or just for giving to the tourists for a tip).  They must have those little tile cutters here, don't they?  But this guy was using a regular hammer and chisel.
Then we went to the El Badi Palace ruins.  Now that was impressive, I really enjoyed it.  We spent a long time there, wandering around and playing hide and seek among the ruins, listening to the storks, exploring around what were apparently huge pools.  

I have a memory from the other time I was in Marrakech, 25 years ago.  I could have sworn that back then there were women doing laundry in these same pools, which were then filled with water.  But maybe my memory is playing tricks on me.
For lunch we walked back to the Jemaa el Fna, and ate at the same place we've been to before, which is pretty reasonable.  A troupe of acrobats came by and did a bunch of flips, and made a human pyramid, then came through the restaurant and collected tips.  

After lots of walking through the souks (loads and loads of tourist shops, all selling things that look very similar) we bought the kids a few trinkets from a stand that had clearly marked prices, because we didn't want the hassle of bargaining.  Then we slowly found our way back to the Jemaa el Fna, and found a taxi (asking price for the trip was 100 dirham!  But another guy took 50 dirham, which is apparently already quite a bit more than what locals pay).  We went by this one intersection - the same one where we'd seen an accident when we drove here from the airport - and there was another accident!  This one looked worse, there was somebody laying on the pavement, with someone supporting their head.  No ambulance to be seen.  I commented to our taxi driver in French, "there's a lot of accidents here".  He said, "No, there's a lot of moped drivers that don't respect the law and drive too fast".  Okay then!

You get to see an incredible amount of street life here, walking around the Medina.  These two scenes stick out in my head:  a teenage boy was abusive to a kid in a wheelchair.   I think the wheelchair kid had asked for a cigarette.  I don't know what the teenager said, but it wasn't nice based on the wheelchair kid's reaction.  Then an older man gave a lightweight cuff to the teenager who was abusive, gave the boy in the wheelchair a cigarette, and patted him on the shoulder.  Also, just before we got into a taxi to come back to the riad I saw a similar scene - the son of a coconut cookie saleslady (they sell lots of these on the street) was crying, because a teenager walking by had just said something mean, to him I gathered.  Then of the next group of teenage boys walking by, two of them went up to the boy and gave him a kiss, and whispered something to him.

Just a few minutes before that, we'd see a women and man violently shouting.  I think the man was on a bike, and had hit the woman.

Yesterday evening we went to a pastry place.  It looked pretty nice, and the pastries were absolutely great - one in particular was a big fluffy delicious almond pastry for 6 dirham, about 75 cents.  So we were going to head there again today.  But as we walked in we saw that this time the inside of the glass pastry cases were absolutely covered with flies and wasps.  It seemed like a fairly high-class shop, too - how could they not do something about this?  Yech!  So no-go on the pastries for today.  Though I'm sure that what we ate yesterday also had plenty of fly footprints on it. Or maybe they had just sprayed them with insecticide...

Maybe that's why Peter was sick today.  He's had a cough since we got here, but this morning he had diarrhea twice, and didn't eat much for breakfast.  We hung out a bit here after breakfast, because I was wondering if Peter would have an accident if we went out.  Finally we decided to go out and take our chances.  I did take some extra clothes with for Peter.  

In a horse-drawn carriage - Peter wasn't feeling so well.

We went through the tannery (very close to our house, we gathered up a guide almost instantaneously who wanted to show us through.  We had the usual dithering about how much to pay him - we said 10 dirhams, and ended up paying him 20 at the end, though he didn't speak any English and wasn't really very good).  

What an awful place to work that would be - he told us a little about the steps of leather production (soak in lime then scrape the hairs off, soak in pigeon excrement for some reason, do something to it with wheat flour that I didn't quite get, then actually tan it).  I saw a lot of hides that were very poor quality looking, with holes in them, etc.

Pits in the tannery

After the tannery, we went towards the Jemaa el Fna, asking our way.   I like doing that - you ask directions (always being careful to ask people who look respectable), go whatever direction they tell you, then ask again whenever there's an intersection.  It can work quite well, because there's always someone around to ask.  Once we asked a group of teenage girls, they gave us directions, then gave Peter and Kenny a kiss!

I was carrying Peter most of the way, since he didn't feel so great.  Then all of a sudden he said, "Mom, I think I went poop!   What a dilemma, right on the road like that!  We whipped out the extra clothing, toilet paper and plastic bags that I had, and did a little changing.  It was over in a few minutes, but we were in a narrow road in the Medina, with cars and lots of mopeds and pedestrians going by, and by the time we finished there were quite a few people behind us waiting to get by.  A little bit further down the road, I asked  one of the shop owners of a tourist store where we could buy some diapers, and we were able to buy 3 individual diapers from a tiny stall just down the street in case of another accident.

After that, we had lunch at a little restaurant on the place, (both kids ate almost nothing), then went looking for a carriage ride.  The taxi driver from last night had said that it costs about 120 for an hour, and told us how expensive he thought that was.  The first carriage driver told us 600, then went down to 400, but wouldn't go lower than that.  Then we went to where there were lots of them, right across from the Club Med.  They told us 600 at first too, then went down, and we ended up paying 150.  It's pleasant going around in the carriage, you're up above the traffic and hustle.  But we did go along some roads that were far too busy and smelly for my taste.  The exhaust fumes here are really extreme.  

After the carriage ride, we took a taxi home - our last one, because we're having dinner at the riad tonight, and will be going to the airport tomorrow morning.  Bargaining over taxis has been quite an experience here.  The owner of the hotel told us it's maybe 20 or max 30 dirham to get from here to the Jemaa el Fna.  We've NEVER gotten that price, it seems like they have an agreement to charge the tourists 50 minimum.  I asked the owner of the hotel, she said perhaps because there's 4 of us, or because it's Christmas and there's lot of tourists around.  Or maybe my bargaining is not up to par.  I do all the bargaining, since Eric doesn't speak any French.  A few times also they've started out at 100, but we've always paid 50 so far.  Yesterday the driver asked for 100, and Eric thought they said 400.  He guffawed and said "400! No way!"  Then the driver says, no, not 400, just 100, not 400 my friend!  But after that point we weren't able to get him down to 50 anymore - I think it was because he thought our anchor price was 400, so 100 shouldn't be that bad.  We ended up getting another driver.  Our riad is in a little bit of an obscure location, it's close to a city gate that is not one of the famous ones.  The taxi drivers frequently have to ask the other drivers standing around for directions.

I wonder what the taxi drivers would try to charge if you didn't settle on a price beforehand?  Which is what they all try to get you to do, in any case.  

You ask "do you know where XYZ location is?", they say yes, then you say, "How much to go there?".  Then they ignore your question, and repeat, "yes, I know where it is, hop in".  They want to get you in the taxi before settling on a price.  Bargaining is fun and challenging for a while - it's a very intense way of living - but over the long run I would get more than a little tired of it.

Right now the kids and I are relaxing on the beautiful rooftop terrace of the riad.  You can hear all the sounds of the city (particularly the schools nearby, the kids are very loud!) but the air is very fresh, the sun is warm, and it feels very cozy.  They're busy playing games on the ipad (what would we do without ipads?) while I write.

We've definitely not gained weight here in Marrakesh.  Breakfast at the hotel has been fairly modest.  For lunch we've usually eaten at some of the restaurants at the Jemaa el Fna, and dinner was either at those restaurants or at the hotel.  Generally we've had either the tajines, or the kefta (grilled meat on a stick), which usually comes with rice and french fries.  Portions are on the small side.  

Normally when traveling we'd bring with lots of snacks on our daily excursions, like fruit and cookies, but we don't see much that's familiar here, and so haven't bought much.   I would have loved to go to a regular grocery store, and they do exist in the new town, but not in the Medina.  In the Medina, there's just tiny little storefronts that you don't even walk into, you just ask the guy standing there for what you want.  I wonder how much business they do in a day?  There's a very distinct demarcation between the tourist stores (souvenirs) and the non-tourist stores.  The non-tourist stores are either single purpose (like eggs, say, or meat) or more general stores that have all kinds of things, like candies, little packages of shampoo, etc.

I wonder how much more (if any) the tourist shops would sell if they had fixed prices?  It would be an interesting experiment, because I think lots of people are like me and are not really that interested in bargaining.