The greeting you’ll receive at the Hotel Hivernage is pure charm, but it requires patience. Instead of tapping your toe at the front desk while the guy in front of you spills his life story, you’ll be invited to sit in the lobby while you complete your check-in forms. The staff is not in a rush, so set aside your New York-sculpted expectations. This first taste will set the tone for your stay: relaxed, luxurious and high-tough.
When you visit Marrakech, you’ll be tempted to stay in the medina (i.e., inside the city’s walls). Trade proximity for comfort with the Hivernage. It’s a short walk to the medina, though a taxi is prudent (and cheap) depending on where you want to go. Being able to retreat from the craziness of the narrow alleys at the end of the day will be worth the seeming inconvenience. While the action inside the walls is fast and the environs confined, the Hivernage is spacious and clean.
No detail is overlooked, from the melon juice cocktail served at check-in to the rose petals scattered in your room’s sink and bathtub. Stretch out on the king-sized bed at the end of the day, or sip a glass of wine out on your private balcony.
Hivernage offers several dining options, including a bar, full-service restaurant and café (which is great for breakfast). Menus are available in both English and French, and the waitstaff can accommodate both languages (and Arabic), as well. The food is tasty, but neither adventurous nor exotic. Both local and western dishes are provided.
Be sure to block a day off to spend in the hotel’s spa. You can take advantage of a variety of treatments, including several traditional therapies. The contrast to the souks – the shops in the medina – is profound, but you’ll be too subdued to care when the stress of haggling with the medina’s merchants is kneaded from your back and shoulders.
This touch of luxury is not as expensive as you would expect. A comparable hotel in New York or Paris would cost you at least $500 a night. I spent just under $150 a night for the Hivernage … expensive by local standards but absolutely worth it.
Bras with flashing lights, transparent g-strings, underwear that is made from little more than fake butterflies and plastic flower petals. No, it is not the dressing room of a Las Vegas gentleman’s club, it’s a shop in a Damascus souk. BBC correspondent Martin Asser recently uncovered some unexpected retail spaces in the Syrian capital. It turns out that, despite the penchant for non-form-flattering outdoor apparel, there is a market in this Levantine country for so called “indoor apparel.”
According to one of the country’s most successful undergarment tailors, religion and sex are not at all at odds, as long as marriage is also involved:
“Our work is all about igniting the desires of a husband for his wife, so he doesn’t go looking elsewhere. It’s a good thing and there’s nothing wrong it.”
Asser also mentions that sexual dissatisfaction is a legit reason for divorce in the Islamic faith.
See the related video here. There is even a book featuring some of the more outlandish designs found in Syrian souks (pictured above).
Bombings in public spaces are fewer than before in Baghdad, but still not uncommon. However, the threat doesn’t seem to be stopping local residents from shopping at the city’s markets. Vendors at these retail meccas are staying open later and stocking more goods in their market stalls than before. The city’s central market district could be considered “bustling” for the first time in a long time.
Just how much has the situation improved? It’s hard to tell, because Iraq is still a largely cash based society so there is no way to track sales numbers. A man with a clothing stall in Souk al-Araby Market explained the reason behind the apparent surge in retail to a Reuters reporter: “Iraqis have got used to [the violence]. Till when are we supposed to stay at home? We Iraqis are used to war by now.” The proprietor of a nearby shoe stall mentioned the success he was having with higher priced footwear: “We didn’t sell Mizuno trainers last year. There was little demand as they were expensive, but more people have money and decent salaries.”
So while tourists won’t be rushing to book a shopping junket to Baghdad anytime soon, there is plenty of evidence that things are looking up.