The second stop on our Moroccan honeymoon was the city of Marrakesh, which has a reputation for being a busy, bustling, glamorous destination for wealthy vacationing Europeans. It’s very popular with the French, and several French movie stars have homes there. Marrakesh also has one of the biggest, most famous medinas (markets) packed with vendors selling anything you could imagine. We were very excited about visiting Marrakesh.
But first we had to get there.
For some reason that we never quite figured out, you can’t buy train tickets until you’re in Morocco. Which is to say you can’t go online from America, punch in your credit card number, buy a train ticket, and be guaranteed a seat. You have to wait until you’re on the ground in Morocco, physically go to the train station, navigate either talking to a ticket agent (in French or Arabic), or use the only slightly less confusing ticket machines in order to get a ticket (again in either French or Arabic). Every time we navigated buying tickets it was rather baffling as there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to how you had to pay and why (either with cash or credit card), although we did seem get slightly better at it with experience.
The train from Rabat to Marrakesh was supposed to take a little over four hours, but as we learned it can take much longer. Apparently there are only two or three tracks, total, that run across the mostly empty stretch between the two cities, so when trains want to pass each other they have to slow down and carefully navigate the tracks so there aren’t accidents. I’m all for avoiding train accidents across barren north Africa so that was fine with me. At some points we would stop completely, and a few people would jump off the train and walk around outside a bit. There was really nothing out there, only train tracks and a few desert shrubs, but no streets, or fences, or any other signs of civilization. Then the train would slowly chug back to life, they’d grab ahold and swing back onboard through the open doors, and we’d be off.
We bought first class tickets (which were still pretty inexpensive, I think around $20 total), which guaranteed us a cushioned seat in a dedicated first class compartment that had a little door that closed it off from the very cramped, hot corridor. The corridor was so narrow that only one person could fit through, and if you came upon someone going the opposite way one of you had to step into a nearby compartment to let the other pass. It was interesting trying to navigate it with huge backpacks on our shoulders when we first boarded the train. Every once in a while a man in a uniform would come around with a little cart that had cold drinks and snacks for purchase. The restroom on the train, in case you’re wondering, was a toilet that just emptied onto the tracks. If you looked down (which I don’t recommend doing), you could see the ground below.
After a five-hour journey, we finally arrived in Marrakesh. The gare (train station) in Marrakesh is very chic and modern, and absolutely huge. Another thing we finally noticed was that all the train stations we saw had a little prayer room in case you were waiting for your train when the call to prayer was broadcast. We stumbled outside with our heavy backpacks and found a cab, whose driver promised us he knew where we were going (we didn’t have an address, only the name of the riad and the name of the main gate it was supposedly near), and took off. And then stopped again, about a block away, to pick up a very stylishly dressed Moroccan woman who sat in the front seat, rode about two blocks, deposited a few coins in the driver’s hand, and then got out again. We later learned this is quite common.
The scene inside the medina walls in Marrakesh. Not much room for a car.We opted once again to stay in a riad, in the old city instead of the ville nouvelle (the newer, usually more expensive part of town), so when the cab driver pulled up to the old city walls, which were designed way before cars, we thought he would deposit us there and we’d be on our own like we were in Rabat. But instead he plowed right on through the very narrow gate entrance, which did not look like it was possible, and laid on his horn to clear the donkeys and motorbike riders out of his way. Alarmed, we assured him that we were good to go on our own, on foot, from there. He gave us a shrug, took our money, and roared into reverse. We had arrived in Marrakesh.