Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fez: the big adventure

Trains to Fez run about every two hours, so we picked the one that put us at our destination around noon for check-in at our guesthouse at 1300. It’s an approximately two-and-a-half hour trip, but it took us more like four hours. We never did find out what the problem was, but the locals in our second-class car were also getting impatient with all the delays. Second class, we decided, is OK for short trips, but here wasn’t any air conditioning, and the seats were pretty hard. We booked first class for the return.

We were very pleased with our guesthouse (or riad), Riad Damia Fez. Riads are the traditional Moroccan house built around a courtyard. The floors, walls and ceilings of ours were covered with ornate woodwork, plaster and mosaics, truly a showcase of Moroccan artistry. Our room, a suite actually, also had beautiful handmade rugs, blankets, pillow and bedspreads. It was quite spectacular.

Courtyard—covered in our riad—as seen from our balcony

Our suite

Once we’d dropped off our backpacks, we used the map and directions the innkeeper had provided to head for the heart of the medina and the blue gate, Bab Boujloud. If we’d had a magnifying glass, maybe we could have read the map. We made several wrong turns, and even had lunch, before we asked directions close enough to the gate to be able to find it. None of the streets are straight, and many don’t look like streets at all since building go right over the top of them. It was kind of fun looking for the gate, though, and I bargained for a beautiful caftan and we had that wonderful tangine lunch on the way.

Our tangines: one meat and vegetables and the other chicken with almonds and lemon

The blue gate

Still, once we found the gate and confirmed that we had been in the medina the whole time, we were ready for a guided tour. Fortunately for us, a young Canadian couple (Mike and Jennifer from Ottawa) we spoke to had a guide for the afternoon (four hours) and invited us to tag along and share the cost. It was great! We got to see everything and learned our way around a little in the process.

One of the must-see sights in Fez is the tannery quarter. I’d been planning to miss it because of the smell (they use pigeon poo to bleach and soften the hides), but our tour took us there, and the next day we could tell the hustlers that we had already seen it. The smell wasn’t too overwhelming because they thoughtfully provide fresh mint to crush and hold under your nose to block the other odor. I used it a lot. The guide also took us into a medersa (alternate spelling of madrasa) and an herbal pharmacy and showed us the mosque and mausoleum of Moulay Idriss and the Al Qaraouiyin University, among many other sights. It was definitely worth the 100 dirhams, equivalent to about $12.50 USD, that was our share.

One of many mosques. The balls on the top, we learned, stand for Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.

Tannery work area. Open air is important.

Tannery co-op store with Mike bargaining for a pouf

A view of the interior of the university

John’ has written a post to tell the rest of the story of our Fez adventure, so stay tuned. It will be posted in short order.

No comments: