Uncommon advice for visiting Marrakech

My wife and I went to Marrakech this August, where we spent six nights. Despite not knowing what to expect (neither of us had ever been to a Muslim country, let alone during Ramadan) we had a fantastic time, and would recommend it to anybody looking to holiday somewhere a little different. Most information available online about Marrakech tends to be repeated in several places (“dress modestly”, “don’t get the black henna”, “haggle in the souks” etc) so I thought I’d share some less well-worn insights for the prospective visitor.

A souk in Marrakech

Get your Moroccan money in Morocco

Banknote 20 Moroccan Dirham Obverse 300x150

The bureau de change at London Gatwick sold Dirhams for 11 DH per pound and bought them back for 15 DH per pound. At Marrakech airport’s bureau de change, you got 13 DH per pound whether buying or selling. I wish I’d known about this before I spent £170 on dirhams at Gatwick. Also, there are ATMs all over Marrakech where your UK bankcard will work fine. Just because you can buy Dirhams before you land in Morocco doesn’t mean you should.

44C/110F isn’t as bad as it sounds

Marrakech is extremely hot, but it’s a dry heat, so it’s not as awful as you might think. I much preferred Marrakech’s weather over Erie’s humid summer, even if northwest Pennsylvania is a lot cooler than northwest Africa. My wife completely disagrees though oh well.

Bring a compass

This sounds weird, but it’s extremely easy to get lost on the narrow streets of the Medina, and a compass would be very useful. The souks are particularly bad, as there are very few landmarks, the signs are no help, and no shopkeeper will give you directions unless you buy something. If you have a compass you can at least be assured that you’re going in the general direction of your destination.

Pedestrians beware

Maroc03

In the Medina, there are very few sidewalks - you’ll be sharing the street with bicycles, cars, mopeds, and even the occasional donkey. This would be fine if they were coming past you at a gentle pace, but as it turns out, they’ll be whizzing at breakneck speed (well, maybe not the donkeys) through whatever space they can find. There are barely any traffic lights or pedestrian crossings, so by the usual European standards, just walking around can be somewhat of an ordeal. It’s a little scary, but if you stick to the side of the street, and diligently peer around corners if you think cars might be approaching, you’ll probably be fine.

Don’t be a sucker

We lost track of how many times we were offered completely wrong directions we never asked for - on one occasion, somebody told us the souk was behind us even though it was clearly right in front of us. Such absurd attempts at misdirection are extremely common in Marrakech and the best thing to do is simply to ignore anybody who approaches you uninvited. Likewise, while you should pay for photos with people in the Djemaa El Fna square, be sure to arrange a price beforehand to avoid any misunderstandings later. We got our pictures taken with a snake charmer, who then very aggressively tried to shake us down for 100 DH. Even though we got some cool photos, and even though I only ended up giving him 35 DH, the experience was pretty uncomfortable and I’d rather have avoided it.

Eating and drinking

It turns out Jamie Oliver has been to Marrakech recently, so I thought I’d follow a little of the advice on his website and “start with a lovely orange juice from stall 40” in Djemaa El Fna - this proved to be a terrible idea, they tried to sell me a non-fresh glass of juice for £4! Thanks for nothing, Jamie. The hot meals from Djema El Fna’s food stalls aren’t the most flavourful, but they are very cheap, so don’t be afraid to try them out. Don’t restrict yourself to eating there, though at restaurants the tajines are cooked in the eponymous clay pots and are much tastier than at the stalls, so definitely have at least one real tajine before you go. For me, the highlight of Djemaa El Fna was stall 172, where alongside various sweets they sell a spicy cinnamon/ginger tea concoction called “galanga”. It’s strong, but seriously delicious - I hope the Moroccan deli on my street sells it.

Be careful buying leather goods

Terri bought a leather purse from a shop in the souks, and has had nothing but trouble with it since. The colour rubs off easily, and it smells terrible - like a rotten carcass. Before buying leather goods, make sure it doesn’t smell (this is very difficult to do in the shop) and bring tissues to see if the colour comes off.

Finally, if you only see one thing

Jardin Majorelle

… go to the Jardin Majorelle - it’s a stunning sanctuary from the mayhem on the streets.

Thanks for reading! Marrakech is a lot of fun - I hope you have a great time.

Problems with my HTC Desire

Htcboot

I like my HTC Desire a lot (see my review), but it’s currently giving me a very hard time. When I turn it on, it stays on the boot screen (shown right) for hours and hours normally it disappears after less than a minute. In other words, the phone’s unusable. This issue’s not addressed on HTC’s support website, and restoring it to the factory settings hasn’t helped at least there were no precious photos on it.

This isn’t the only issue I’ve faced with the Desire. If I tried to use it while charging the battery, it would unexpectedly reboot, followed by an endless cycle of reboots, only stoppable by removing the battery. Apparently this is a fairly common complaint.

Because the phone is still under warranty (I never rooted it, or did anything out of the ordinary) my network (Orange) are sending me a replacement tomorrow. I’m hopeful that the new phone will function trouble-free, but it’s annoying that I’ve had any issues in the first place.

Review: HTC Desire

Update: I’m having some difficulty with my phone - see here for details.

Despite my avowed geekdom, I’ve never owned a smartphone. I’ve admired other peoples’ iPhones for years now, but the combination of high price and the draconian app ecosystem proved major obstacles to me buying one. Android’s developer-friendly reputation and cheaper cost of ownership made it a really appealing option, so three weeks ago I got an HTC Desire.

Htc Desire

The first thing that struck me about Android is how easy it was to set up. I gave it my Google account details, and in seconds I was synced with my Google Calendar and GMail. I’m a big Google fan, so I was very pleased that the apps I rely on were running straight away.

Much like with the iPhone there are thousands of Android apps available, many free. I haven’t downloaded many, but I’d particularly recommend gStrings - I used it to tune my guitar while I was restringing it, and it did as good a job as my Korg GA-30.

The above points are general to the Android software, so what about the Desire’s hardware itself? I’m pleased to say that the phone is an excellent size - neither too big in my pocket nor too small for comfortable on-screen typing (crucial considering the lack of a physical keyboard). The camera is good quality, especially compared to the other (cheaper) phones I’ve owned.

I have a few complaints. It’s impossible to copy text from the included GMail app, which is a big nuisance. The inbuilt Facebook app is not very good compared to the iPhone’s - links from the newsfeed open in the browser rather than the app, and photo albums aren’t as nice to navigate. Copy and pasting, as well as organizing music, are not as easy as on iPhone. Hardware complaints: the optical sensor pad is insensitive to the point of being frustrating, and I have to charge the battery every night, though I hear this is generally the case with smartphones.

All in all, I’m very happy with the HTC Desire, and I’d recommend one without hesitation. Out of the box it’s a very functional phone and does everything I want very well. It’s powerful and will be easily be able to support future Android OSes. The few gripes are with the software, but these ought to improve as development continues. If you’re in the market for an Android, you can’t do much better than the Desire.

The advertisements I saw while watching "Philadelphia" on Crackle.com

Phila

  1. Oscar Mayer “Deli Creations” pre-assembled microwaveable sandwiches
  2. Ritz Crackers (Wyclef Jean performs at a block party, and crackers come out of his guitar)
  3. DiGiorno pizza and breadsticks (as good as delivery, apparently)
  4. ad #1 repeated
  5. Slim Jim meat snacks (after eating some Slim Jims, two kids fight ninjas and become champion wrestlers)
  6. ad #5 repeated
  7. Oreo Cakesters (boy sets up a Facebook group about how great it is to dunk Cakesters into milk, his father tries to set up an opposing group. “do you sign up for this, or are you just on it already?”)
  8. Verizon FIOS internet (you can get the weather on your TV without changing the channel, as long as it’s not the weather on the moon!)
  9. 8 repeated

I’d like to extend my gratitude to the aforementioned companies who not only enabled me to watch the film free of charge, but who also lightened the sombre, emotional mood of the film with their charming and wacky ads for junk food and broadband. Let’s do this again soon!