Fes with a stop at Volubilis

Trip Start Apr 04, 2006
Trip End Oct 23, 2006

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Flag of Morocco  ,
Tuesday, April 11, 2006

As much as we had 1/2 day to explore Meknes, I chose not to do it. Needed some alone time. Instead, I re-packed my whole bag to re-distribute weight. De blasted ting heavy ... lol & I can't discard anything! Seriously, I only have necessary things.

On a private minibus, we headed off to Volubilis - an ancient Roman city. It is best that I use the description given by the tour itinerary:

"The site of Volubilis was originally settled by Carthaginian traders in the 3rd century BC. In about 40 AD, it was annexed to the Roman Empire and thus became one of its most remote outposts. The most impressive monuments were built in the 2nd & 3rd century. At it's peak, the city housed 20,000 people. The Romans abandoned the city at about 280 AD due to the increasing presence of the Berbers in the surrounding countryside. The city remained inhabited until the 18th century when its marble was plundered by Moulay Ismail to build his palaces and monuments in Meknes. Volubilis is situated in a fertile plain some 33km north of Meknes."

My impressions were scattered:

- Some awe behind touching marble that have been there for 2000 years. I am privileged to be in it's presence.

- Viewing floor mosaics where the tile is so tiny that it's a wonder that it has not disintegrated!

- Cool flowers on the paths including the one that is native here - Volubilis flower

We got back to the hotel with enough time to grab our stuff & board another private minibus to Fes. It was pleasant ride thru spectacular countryside.

Seeing Fes for the 1st time was a shock - but this was due to amnesia on my part. I forgot that this city was one the capital of Maghreb (arabic word for Morocco). Therefore, it is quite a large city.

That evening, after checking into the Hotel de la Paix, we cleaned up and headed off to the Palais Jamais - a very posh hotel that looks like an oasis - for a couple of glasses of red wine & to watch the sunset over the medina. At the same time, there were at least a dozen, simultaneous calls to prayer. It was all around us like Dolby surround sound. Each call was competing with the next. I am not likely to forget it!

The rest of the night was so awesome that I don't think that the following words could adequately describe the experience. Please use the photos to aid the description of the place where we had dinner.

The group chose to participate in a very traditional Moroccan feast at a renovated riad (traditional home) - DAS MASMOUDI! It costs about 900 Dirhams (Dh) which is about $102 USD or $120 CAD for SIX persons!!! That's within $20 per person! The reservations were made in Meknes because all preparations must be made on the day of dinner. You cannot just show up for this.

The ambiance & SEVEN (7) courses are:

- Sitting in a room surrounded by cushioned seats complete with cushions for your back; nice carpets on the floor (I promptly took off my shoes); & 2 low, round tables on either side of the rectangle room - there was no more than 6 feet between tables.

- Requests were made of us to wash our hands when our server appeared with a water jug, brass basin, & a towel. Our culinary journey begins:

1st Course: Harira (Moroccan soup that tastes very different than the one in Toronto restaurant, The Sultan's Tent. A chickpea broth - not heavy - that is slightly spicy. It is served with dates and figs on the side which are consumed as you have the soup.

2nd Course: Pastilla - this is absolutely the BEST thing that you can ever eat in Morocco! Even the poorest quality one tastes good, but this one, in this place, was the BEST!!! It is the perfect combination of sweet, savory, texture, and richness. It is layers of phyllo pastry, butter, ground almonds, ground chicken that is seasoned with ginger, onions, cilantro, parsley, black pepper, turmeric, & cinnamon. After all the layers are assembled (there is even a technique to that) & baked, it is sprinkled with confectioner's sugar & cinnamon. We would have been happy to stop eating at this point and go home!

3rd Course: Assortment of hot & cold salads in small portion plates
- stewed lentils with cumin
- melt-in-your-mouth (literally) zucchini which was steamed in butter
- stewed green peppers with tomatoes
- assortment of olives
- potatoes

4th Course: Fall-off-the-bone chicken quarters in a tangy sauce

5th Course: Couscous - the most fluffy, buttery, light-as-a-cloud, couscous (topped with steamed vegetables) that I have ever tasted. It takes a 3-hour process to achieve this perfection of couscous. Needless to say, for the remainder of the journey, there is no need to have couscous for fear of disappointment when this standard is not met. The whole dish is served in a giant tajine (tagine) which is a round casserole dish with a cone-shaped cover.

At this point, I was sinking deeper into the cushions and wishing someone could be there to rub my belly ... LOL!

6th Course: The first of 2 Dessert courses; The famous Moroccan mint tea accompanied by an assortment of the tiniest cookies. The mint aids with digestion (thank goodness) & the cookies are just nice with tea.

7th Course: Sweet, sweet, sweet juice-down-the-elbows orange slices sprinkled with cinnamon & chunks of strawberries. The reaction to this dessert by the group for the remainder of our tour was similar to the fight for fried plantain in Bequia - remember, girls?

Oh my goodness ... you have no idea how sated we felt in this most exotically decorated riad. The few photos gives you a tiny taste. Naturally, the riad provides accommodations so gather a group, rent out the place, & eat like Kings! Here is the info:

Dar Masmoudi
3, Derb El Meter Zenjfour
(à coté de Palais Jamai)
Tel: +212 55638495
Email: darmasmoudi@ménara.ma OR darmasmoudi@yahoo.fr
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