jackisback-3

Jack is Back and Bar L’Escale — Eating and Drinking in Marrakesh’s Gueliz

While the Medina is where most of the action is in Marrakesh, outside the walls feels less confined, more wide-open, but still a bit loud with construction. The city is falling under the spell of other modern Muslim metropolises where expansion and more modern facilities are springing up. Just inside the main gates of the Medina as bright and obnoxious mega-mall and entertainment complex.

With new business, there needs to be restaurants that cater to an upscale clientèle and the French glitterati. On the other hand, the old school eateries and cafes need to be appreciated. I made sure to visit one of both.

Located a few minutes walk from the Place du 16 Novembre, Jack is Back was a much needed reprieve from the traditional Moroccan food eaten among hectic settings. I just wanted a damn drink! Thankfully, they had a great cocktail menu. It was my last night in the city and needed something calming to wash down all the dust I was inhaling. Food wise, they offer bistro fair and pizzas. Yeah, I went with the pizza. As it turns out, you need two because they are tiny. When I ordered one, I had to say, “I’m probably going to need another one.”

The place has a cool, hip vibe with an eclectic mix for music of soul, funk, R&B and triphop. The crowd was mostly French business people and the well-to-do, even though the place is reasonable by my budget standards. I was amused by a large group that came in, all tall French women and one old, short French dude like the World’s Most Interesting Man. I tip my hat to you sir.

The staff was wonderful, and because I’d like to think I’m the Most Interesting Man in the World, I took a Polaroid with them to post on their guest wall. They probably thought I was John Cusack.

jackisback-4 jackisback-2 jackisback-1

Located off Avenue Mohammed V on Rue de Mauritanie, Bar L’Escale is as old school as you can get in the area. It’s where retirees and old timers go to talk the day away over grilled meats like lemon chicken and sausages. It’s folding chairs, plastic covered tables and a rickety wood bar with staff who’s probably been there since Morocco was a French colony. The menu is simple and the beer is cold, cheap and tastes cheap.

My big amusement was watching the local TV with commercials that were just bizarre and Arabic rap and pop music videos. What I noticed was the rap guys (who looked like Moroccan versions of Pauly D from Jersey Shore) all had big cars, splashy houses and big old chains while throwing money in the club. The one thing they were missing was women. Then, in the pop videos, all of them, both male and female singers, were singing to their bride or grooms on their wedding day. No kissing involved at all.

cafe-clock-4

Cafe Clock is the Lone Legitimately Hip Hangout in the Marrakesh Medina — with an Amazing Camel Burger

As I’ve mentioned a few times, you won’t find much to do in the Marrakesh Medina post-dinner. Bars are few and not populated by anyone beyond trying to find free WiFi. The Jemaa El-Fna is a moshpit of humanity that dies down after 9pm. Visitors retreat to their riad to chill and the locals hangout at their doorsteps.

My research noted that the Marrakesh location of Cafe Clock is where you’ll find great food, entertainment and an international vibe, I ventured (and survived) to the Casbah to see for myself. I ended up going three times.

Sunday night is music night so you’ll bill will come with a small performance free. You can expect vibrant traditional Moroccan music sung in Arabic and spontaneous dancing. The night I went, I had to crawl over a few people to get the lone empty stool in the back, which was perfect because I think I was the only Jersey guy there. Eventually, a few young chaps who thought I was French asked where I was from and wanted to know everything about New York.

As for the food, I had to get their signature dish — the camel burger, no toe with extra slobber. I’m joking, but it is a tasty camel burger with spicy ketchup and fries. No, it doesn’t taste like chicken, but it’s a lean beef and not unusual tasting at all. I’ve had alligator, kangaroo, caribou, koala and chupacabra, so I like to go beyond the hamburger.

Here’s a little taste of the musical performance:

cafe-clock-1 cafe-clock-2

When I was settling my bill, the lovely waitress invited me back the next night for storytelling in English. “Let me check my social calendar … yeah, I can do that.”

Thus, I showed up the next night for some dessert and storytelling action. This time, I didn’t have a crowd surf to find a seat. On Mondays, it’s mostly French tourists, students and friends of the storytellers. When the waitress saw me return, she was ecstatic. This shows if you are invited to a foreign place, just showing up is a big deal.

As promised, it was storytelling in English. The waitress told a story about a king trying to find the best court jester in all the land. To note, it’s rare for women in Morocco to do public storytelling.

cafe-clock-8

After another English-language story, it was time for famed local storyteller Haj Ahmed Ezzarghani to perform … in Arabic. I’m sitting there with an awkward smile on face fighting the urge to check my phone. In the end, he gave a little musical performance.

cafe-clock-9

My third time was in the mid-afternoon to get a refreshing smoothie. I was sucking in dust and exhaust all day from my bike tour through the new city and Medina.

cafe-clock-3

Cafe Clock also runs cooking classes and belly-dancing performances. There’s a rooftop terrace for those who want a quiet space away from the excitement downstairs. The original location is in Fez, but original chef Tariq Hadine is located in the Marrakesh location.

While you there, enjoy these fun movie posters.

cafe-clock-5 cafe-clock-6 cafe-clock-7

Real-Alcazar-09

Inside the Game of Thrones Location Real Alcázar of Sevilla

As internet banner ads and Facebook feeds alerts us, Game of Thrones returns for its sixth season tonight.  I call it HBO’s Boobs & Dragons Happy Fun Hour.

With most popular shows and movies, a travel industry spawns where you can take tours of filming locations. You got Kramer’s Seinfeld tour, a Sopranos tour of New Jersey and countless Los Angeles movie tours.

For Game of Thrones, there are curated tours in Northern Ireland and Croatia, where I suppose you can throw produce at a naked women and yell “SHAME!” When I was in Belfast, my guide was quick to point out the quarry that serves as the Castle Black location. From a half a mile away and being blocked by a barrier to keep the place secret, it was underwhelming.

In Sevilla, the Real Alcázar serves as a major location from Season 5 for the Water Gardens of Dorne of the House of Martell. I’ve seen all episodes of the show and I still can’t tell you what that means.

Having previously visited the Alhambra the week before, I saw lot of the same styles and themes in both sites — the fountains, gardens, tilework, arches and Moorish influences. Built in the 10th Century as a royal palace, it’s the city’s other most popular destination besides the Cathedral.

With that in mind, that massive queue can get easily avoided by buying a timed entry ticket online. Show up at your planned time and dance pass the tourists who don’t bother researching such things.

You should carve out two to three hours to explore the rooms, courtyards and gardens. You’ll see many artifacts and painting from when Columbus set off on his voyage. The most impressive area is the Mercury Pound that show figure from mythology.

Real-Alcazar-14

Real-Alcazar-01 Real-Alcazar-02 Real-Alcazar-03 Real-Alcazar-04 Real-Alcazar-05 Real-Alcazar-06 Real-Alcazar-08Real-Alcazar-10 Real-Alcazar-11 Real-Alcazar-13  Real-Alcazar-15 Real-Alcazar-16 Real-Alcazar-17 Real-Alcazar-07

Jardin-Majorelle-08

Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh Works As A Memorial To Yves Saint-Laurent

When you’re visiting Marrakesh, you’ll spend most of your time in the Medina. The new city outside the walls seems like another city and country. While it’s a manageable walk, it just feels like a hassle to get there on foot or by sketchy taxi. When you walk outside the walls, you’ll walking through a whole lot of nothing interesting, unless you think construction sites and office buildings are fun.

Jardin Majorelle is the best known destination outside the city and popular with French tourists. It was designed in 1924 by Jacques Majorelle, who created his own shade of blue which was named after him — Majorelle Blue. In 1980, it was bought be beloved French fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé.

The layout is minimal with tiny splashes of that Majorelle Blue, stone gardens with cacti, narrow pathways, small fountains and dense bamboo forests. On a hot day, it provides ample shade. You then make your way to the Yves Saint-Laurent memorial, where his ashes were spread after his death in 2008.

In the center is the Islamic Art Museum which houses an extensive collection berber art. It requires a combo ticket to enter.

Since it’s a popular site and Marrakesh isn’t known for embracing modern technology like a reservation system, WiFi and credit card machines, you can expect a long line of 30-40 minutes to get a ticket to get in. There was one person working the ticket window the day I went. There’s no way around it besides getting there early at 8am. Same inside to get into the museum. After your visit, you exit through the ridiculous priced YSL gift shop.

Now, botanical gardens are often peaceful places to explore beauty, listen to water flowing, birds chirping and the wind going through the trees. This was not my experience as you’ll see in this quick video below. This was going for the whole 90 minutes while I was there.

Jardin-Majorelle-02 Jardin-Majorelle-03 Jardin-Majorelle-04 Jardin-Majorelle-05 Jardin-Majorelle-06 Jardin-Majorelle-07 Jardin-Majorelle-09 Jardin-Majorelle-10 Jardin-Majorelle-11 Jardin-Majorelle-12 Jardin-Majorelle-13 Jardin-Majorelle-01

Museum-of-marrakesh-07

Visit Museum of Marrakesh for Modern Art and an Eye-Popping Atrium

Continuing my post from yesterday on what to do in Marrakesh beyond eating street meat, buying things you don’t need and getting a rub down with your partner, the Museum of Marrakesh is right around the corner from Ben Youssef Medersa. Just follow the signs from there.

Museum of Marrakesh is a much more structured museum then BYM in that there are installations, descriptions in French of art and a small cafe and gift shop. Although, I don’t think any actually works there beyond the person up front who takes your money.

The big attraction is the atrium bathed in golden sunlight where you admire the Islamic tile work. It’s the same geometric patterns I found in my visit to Granada and Sevilla in Spain.

After you explore the tiny rooms that feature traditional artwork, some historic drawings and a few modern sculptures, you can wander around the atrium for an hour just to soak in the colors. It reminded me of my first visit to atrium at the Frick Collection in NYC. It’s a comforting space.

According to Wikipedia, the structure dates back the 1800s when it was a palace and turned into a museum in 1997.

Museum-of-marrakesh-02 Museum-of-marrakesh-03 Museum-of-marrakesh-04 Museum-of-marrakesh-05 Museum-of-marrakesh-06 Museum-of-marrakesh-08 Museum-of-marrakesh-09 Museum-of-marrakesh-10 Museum-of-marrakesh-11

 

 

Ben-Youssef-Medersa-9

Ben Youssef Medersa in Marrakesh is a Beautiful Historic Site

Visitors come to Marrakesh for three things — to shop, eat and relax at a spa. In the Medina, spas are like pubs in Dublin, there’s one every 50 feet. In terms of attractions, there’s not much beyond the souks and Jamaa el Fna.

One of the few places to go for a bit of history and admiring design is the Ben Youssef Medersa. It’s Marrakesh’s top destination in terms of being a “museum”. I put that in quotes because the site has no traditional demarcations like placards describing what is what, no video presentations and no gift shop. This is either done on purpose to preserve the site or to create a cottage industry of locals harassing you to be your guide.

Easy tip: avoid hiring a guide at all costs. Starting the second you leave your riad, you’ll be followed by many people telling you where the Ben Youssef Medersa is and how they can help. Just a simple shake of the head and stern “no” will ward them off until the next person tries the same thing. There are signs that point to the museum.

A guide-book or a web search will tell you everything you need to know. The site was an Islamic college with dorm rooms that dates back to the 1500s. As with most Islamic structures, there’s no artwork that resembles human or animals, just geometric shapes. The center pool, as you’ll find in other courtyards, stimulates air circulation and coolness. On the doorway to the center, the writing translates into English as “You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded”.

The site is great space to study the detail in the marble work and wood. As you can see in the pictures, it’s what you think a historic Marrakesh is like.

With that in mind, don’t get suckered into a getting a guide. The tourists who I saw that hired a guide looked like they were in a long awkward conversation they couldn’t get out of. Then, as I learned, once you’re done, they will up sell you into being your guide through the souks. Yup, it’s a big scam that you should avoid.

Ben-Youssef-Medersa-1 Ben-Youssef-Medersa-2 Ben-Youssef-Medersa-3 Ben-Youssef-Medersa-4 Ben-Youssef-Medersa-5 Ben-Youssef-Medersa-6 Ben-Youssef-Medersa-7 Ben-Youssef-Medersa-8 Ben-Youssef-Medersa-10 Ben-Youssef-Medersa-11 Ben-Youssef-Medersa-12

 

plaza-de-espana-at-night-4

Photos of Plaza de Espana at Night

Day time, magic hour, sunset, night time and dawn — no matter what time of the day, Plaza de Espana is stunning any time of day.

Thus, I made sure to see my favorite place in Spain right after sunset as the lights were turned on. These photos are the reason I’ll take cities over the beach any day.

plaza-de-espana-at-night-1 plaza-de-espana-at-night-2 plaza-de-espana-at-night-3 plaza-de-espana-at-night-5 plaza-de-espana-at-night-6 plaza-de-espana-at-night-7