Fez - Not Just a Hat!

Trip Start Oct 12, 2010
Trip End Mar 24, 2011

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Where I stayed
Royal Mirage Hotel, Fez, Morocco

Flag of Morocco  ,
Monday, November 8, 2010

Today was a market day for us in Fez - we spent almost the entire day in the Old Medina, a sprawling ancient market area that contains hundreds of lanes and alleyways and an unimaginable number of souks (shops or stalls), mosques and factories.  A quarter of the city's population lives in the Old Medina, which has been designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site.  

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!

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Alan Brown on

Find any Tommy Cooper hats ?

Sue on

Love the pictures Albertine. We can really feel we are on the trip with you-almost. Can't wait to hear about the camel ride!

John&Jean on

Dear Albertine,There is no doubt in my mind that after reading the accounts of your travels so far& looking at your snapshots with the odd comments that for years you have kept the secret from all of us that you are really a profesional journalist if i am wrong Albertine then all i can say is that you are in the wrong profesion. Once again i would just like to say take care.L.O.L. Jean&John.

Amber on

Oh Albertine, reading this blog entry has brought back so many wonderful memories of the Old Medina! The narrow streets, the beautiful goods for sale, the tannery, the sheep heads! So glad you you are blogging it all- I have the travel bug just from reading this! Wishing you many more fun adventures!!

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