Fez - Being Born

Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
Trip End Aug 27, 2010

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Flag of Morocco  ,
Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Unfortunately, our second Moroccan train experience wasn't as good as the first and when the train arrived about fifteen minutes late it was already crammed. By the time we’d boarded, it seemed to be standing room only and so we stood in the rather warm corridor with all of our bags wondering just how this was going to work for four hours? Luckily after a few stops, we managed to find a cabin with enough space for all of us and settled in for a rather long, and increasingly hot journey. Despite the cabin being air-conditioned, it seems that the a/c had great difficulty keeping up with the scorching external heat (mid 40’s) and we were all sweating heavily for much of the trip, as were the locals.

It was a relief to finally arrive in Fez, although the temperatures outside was almost as bad as on the train.

We already had a tentative reservation at a riad in the old town, but Derek was keen to see if we could track down the riad in which U2 had stayed in 2007 and recorded some of the subsequent "No Line on the Horizon" album. Riads are traditional Moroccan accommodation and usually have all of their rooms opening out onto a central open courtyard. Being Derek, he had of course done the research the day before and had a map of where the riad was. With all of our bags we set off walking to find Riad El Yacout. Once we thought we were in the general area, we asked several people for directions, but alas no one seemed to know where it was. Feeling defeated, we tried to return to the train station to find a taxi to the other riad, but were given directions into the old city and told it was ok to walk since the other direction had robbers! About an hour later, rather hot and bedraggled looking, we stumbled quite by chance upon Riad El Yacout and rang the doorbell. The doorman was very well dressed and seemed rather surprised to see the likes of us standing on the doorstep. While quite friendly, he asked if we knew how much the rooms were before he let us in! (We didn’t expect to be able to afford it, but thought it was worth a try and a peek inside at how the other half lives). The riad itself was nothing special from the outside, but inside it was absolutely spectacular. While Sarah and the kids sat listening to the tweeting of the birds Derek managed to negotiate a 66% discount on the room price and so we decided to stay there for our two nights in Fez. Side note for U2/music fans: While it’s unlikely (though possible) that we stared up at the same bedroom ceiling and peed in the same toilet as Bono (he was there for 17 days), this was definitely the right place. The manageress showed us her photos of the band setup in the courtyard, the whole band had signed the visitors book (along with the Queen of Monaco who popped in to see Bono for a day) and coolest of all the bird chorus that serenaded us was the self same one which accidentally made it onto the actual recording of the “Unknown caller” song on the aforementioned album. They liked it and left it on the final version, so for big fans it was a great novelty and well worth the detour.

It was dark by the time we left the riad the first night and so we decided to have dinner in the first restaurant we came across, a small place called Omars … as these things usually turn out we had fantastic food and despite only ordering three meals were all totally stuffed for about $15! After breakfast we set out to explore Fez only to discover that it was really too warm to achieve much.

Having walked all the way from “ville-nouvelle” via the royal palace, though the new city to the old city to find the riad all that was really left was to explore the souks (market). Despite the ever building heat of the day, we had a great time strolling through the maze of tiny passages, browsing the stores and avoiding the various carts and animals meandering up and down the streets! Lauren was quite taken with many of the thousands of stray cats, though was less than impressed with the vendors selling fresh meat……and by fresh I mean still living…. The chickens were cooped up right next to the butchering stations. The array of meats was quite startling, with many offerings that we didn’t recognize, though the furry camel’s head on one stall was quite apparent!

As the heat intensified, we made our way back to the riad for a cooling swim before heading out to dinner. Finding another small restaurant we again had a very good dinner for about $15 and have come to the conclusion that perhaps a Lonely Planet recommendation has the same inflationary affect on the price in Morocco as it did in India.

Fez is a wonderful, intriguing city full of interesting smells, sights and hidden delights; it has definitely been our favourite city in Morocco and is well worth a visit. Our final morning found us strolling back into the souks for one last souvenir before taking a taxi to the airport.

Next stop Alicante aboard our favourite airline….I wonder what surprises they have in store for us this time……
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