What a super place for a budget traveller (that would be US). We found a lovely, well-run, clean and tidy pension: Pension Iberia (www.travelwolf.com), which rents clean decent rooms at 100 Moroccan dirhams a night – about US 12.50. This pension, which is located in an auspicious spot on the Plaza Moulay al Mehdi, is near everything you would want to see. This traffic circle, attractively planted with palms, including a nice fountain, is just a few blocks away from the royal palace located in this imperial city. Near the palace is a small architectural museum (small fee) that has some great artifacts of the Roman occupation of Morocco near the time of Christ.
The royal palace, in turn, fronts the old part of the city, or the medina, where there are TONS of little shops for the shopaholic. In addition, the streets all around in every direction are filled with great little shops and inexpensive restaurants, all accessible within a block or two, so you don’t need a car or a taxi.
And the best part: the streets come alive in the afternoon with entrepreneurs who fill the area with street stalls including every single thing under the sun that you might want to purchase, all at bargain prices, if you don’t mind a little haggling; including snail soup, my husband’s new favorite! These soup sellers have a wheeled cart with a huge pot of soup. For just a few dirhams (usually less than eight, which is less than one US dollar) you get a whole bowlfull of snails in the shell, cooked in a tasty, spiced, sweetish broth. The snail seller usually has a lemon-half, studded with pins that you can use to pull the tasty tidbits out of the shell for eating. When you are done with the empty shell, you leave it on the cart, and finally the snail seller will spoon up a full bowl of the spiced broth for you to drink. OR, you can just buy a bowl of the broth instead, for even fewer dirhams than the snails cost. YUM! The baked, spiced fava beans and chickpeas are also superb, but they are gaseous, so you might want not to indulge if you have a return flight coming up soon.
Most Moroccan shops don’t have the prices posted. That is so prices are set at the rate the shop owner *thinks* the traffic will bear. That means, often, that if you speak French or Arabic or Berber, and you look like you could be Moroccan, you get a better price than you do if you look like one of US – obviously English-speaking and American (or European). Unless you know what you are doing and are familiar with prices, offer HALF what you are quoted, or at least one-third less. And be prepared to walk off – usually you will be called back, and things will suddenly become reasonable. If not – keep walking! There will be another vendor soon who will catch your eye with their wares. You can get A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G. Just enjoy the looking!!
We like the candy sellers who are located to the right of the king’s palace. They have peanut-brittle candy in chunks, and sesame seed candy and caramels with all sorts of nuts (your choice) and other delicious, colorful treats, all at reasonable prices. Also, if there is a big crowd of Moroccans sorting through a vendor’s wares, that generally means the prices being asked are VERY reasonable: knock-off perfumes for 5 dirhams (60 cents), new sweaters in the package for 10 dirhams (1.25), or shoes for 10 dirhams. You might want to take a look! The other Moroccan desirables are handmade wool rugs. These are colorful, well-made, and lovely, with geometric patterns, and are available for very reasonable prices. A small rug (two feet by three feet) should cost less than 500 dirham (less than 63 US). Small rugs are easier to pack in your luggage, too!
Everyone cautions you to watch out for pickpockets, but we have not had any trouble with that. We HAVE had trouble with men (women generally do NOT approach you) who will approach you in a friendly, chatty way, who end up wanting to be your “guide” to the “berber market” (you can find your own way to the medina quite well, thank you) or who will simply ask you for money. The Arabic word that usually works to get rid of them is SAFIE (SA-fee), which means: enough! Mothers use that word to unruly children, too, so it is effective.
While you are wandering around the town, enjoying the sights, don’t be surprised if you spot a donkey. Moroccans who are not exceptionally wealthy still need transportation, and many of them choose this sturdy, mischievous animal to carry their shopping loads home. You will often see them “parked” outside of a shop, waiting for their owners. They are adorable, since they are usually less than waist-high, and are surprisingly strong! They will be saddled with a cushy blanket and panniers for all the shopping they will be carrying home. It is common in the medina’s narrow streets for one to come walking down behind or in front of its owner with a full load, so watch out for the donkey “trucks!”