Fez - Not Just a Hat!
Trip Start Oct 12, 2010
84Trip End Mar 24, 2011
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Where I stayed
Royal Mirage Hotel, Fez, Morocco
We had a fantastic city guide for the day who was informative and entertaining and quite the charmer. He offered himself in marriage to a few of the group's young ladies and he had a kind word for so many locals that we met in the Medina. He also bought us all cookies from a little bakery in an alleyway of the Medina this morning as a treat - very nice.
I've never experienced anything quite like the Medina in Fez before. You can buy just about anything in this market city and certain areas of the Medina are designated for particular goods - there is a food market, tannery, weaving factory, shoe area, jewelry market, metal/copper market, candle shops, ceramics vendors and stalls with gorgeous robes, hats and so much more
The 'streets' are more like paths and are either irregular cobblestone or packed dirt. There are incredibly narrow alleys that you can barely fit through walking in single file and dark dead-end laneways. Many people live over the stalls and shops and you see small, low doors leading into what seem like dark entryways, but many apparently open up into bright inner courtyards. The crowds in the laneways are unbelieveable in many areas and it was really important that our group stuck together with our city guide leading us and our overall tour guide, Yancine, following us to make sure we didn't get separated or left behind. This was a real possibility as we often got separated by locals zipping through the crowds or vendors leading donkeys and carts through the narrow alleys or others carrying large loads on their own backs. At times, motorbikes buzzed by, scattering everyone in their way. We had to listen carefully for shouts of 'Attention'! because it usually meant a donkey was going to walk right into us.
The food stalls were enthralling - bright and colorful fruits like pomegranates, lychees and fresh oranges as well as large baskets of green or black olives, mounds of fresh goat cheese, flat round breads and tables of nougat desserts. The meat vendors' wares were a bit disconcerting - especially the sheep or goat heads on display
The tannery, pottery factory and weaving shop were fascinating. Listening to how leather is made and looking out over a rooftop balcony to the tannery yards below were interesting and somewhat nauseating with the strong smells of animal hides wafting up around us. We were given sprigs of mint to hold and smell in case the odor was too off-putting. Watching the labour intensive work of the pottery artisans made you appreciate the mosaic tile fountains, tables and walls that surround us in this country. The blue and white ceramic patterns particular to Fez are beautiful and the tajines on display were tempting. I may have to pick one up and ship it home before I leave Morocco.
After a few hours of wandering through the Medina, our guides arranged for an authentic Moroccan meal for us at a restaurant that you would never find in this labrynth without assistance. From the outside, it was another hole in the wall, but once inside, it was ornately decorated with mosaics, bright curtains, hanging metal lamps, singing birds in cages and beautiful sofas and cushions. For 120 Dirhams (about $12), we each had an incredible 3 course meal that started with several shared Moroccan salad dishes (shredded cabbage, beans in a tomato sauce, cucumbers, spiced cauliflower, aubergines, diced and dressed potatoes) - all excellent and delicious with local flat baked bread. I had a 7 vegetable couscous main meal - hearty and filling with various spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg and topped with plump cooked raisins - yum. As a dessert, we were served a communal plate of sliced fruit - bananas, apples, oranges - simple and refreshing. It was a fantastic 2 hour lunch.
I'm looking forward to an early night as today was so wonderfully overwhelming - I want to digest it all again as I relax and ruminate about the day. Over the next few days, we will be travelling over the Atlas Mountains and also into the Sahara desert so I am suspecting I will be out of internet reach for at least 3 days until we reach Marrakech. Stay tuned for an update - it promises to be quite a ride this week!