For 5 days we have had little or no internet, so this is a long delayed--and very long--post.  Keep checking if only parts show up. 

And no, we have not been waiting for one last beer or cup of mint tea.  The "bar is closed" means the waves

Fun with scarves in the souk
Our trip to Fes really outstripped our expectations. Everyone said it was well worth a visit, and we began serious planning after reading the account of a trip to Fes in the blog published by Balvenie – fellow cruisers who left Rabat on their way to the Canaries as we were arriving. They had stayed at a small B&B in the medina called Dar Fes Medina, and raved about it, so we emailed with our choice of dates, only to find that they were full on Monday and Tuesday.  But we were able to book Tuesday and Wednesday nights, which worked out just as well, given the fact that the bar (entrance from the sea to the river leading to the marina) would still be closed and we couldn’t leave. The train station in Salé ville on our side of the river is very close to us, and we bought our tickets the day before – first-class, to make sure we had a seat and non-smoking conditions, and the price was very reasonable: roughly $25 each round trip, for a 3 hour journey.

                We left on the 11:25 train, arriving at the very new and spiffy train station in Fes at 2:30. Jane asked an English woman whom we met in Salé train station, who runs a guesthouse here, what we should expect to pay for a taxi to the Dar, and the response was “oh, around 50 dirhams” so when one of the taxi drivers out front said 40 dirham to take us to the Bab Ziat (the Ziat Gate into the medina), we agreed with pleasure. Naturally, as we were preparing to return to Rabat we asked our host at the Dar about taxi prices, and he was horrified at what we had paid – so on the return taxi ride to the train station we took a taxi with the meter engaged and were charged a little over 8 dirhams! Oh well, you learn all the time.  Since a dirham is about 12 cents US, we can just average the two prices and still come out with an inexpensive taxi.

neighborhood baker, Fes
Our taxi let us out at the gate, and then we had to make our way on foot into the medina to the Dar, which was just inside the gate. We had a map, but this is the largest medina in the world, our guide told us, with something like 6000 streets and a population of 400,000 living inside the walls. Behind a breathtakingly beautiful carved wooden door, we found our dar. We were ushered in and seated in a comfortable anteroom and provided with mint tea and cookies, after which host/owner Mohammed arrived to welcome us and help us plan our visit.  We arranged a dinner in a house/restaurant for that evening, and a full day tour with a guide for the next day--at a cost of only $36 US.

Our dinner was wonderful. Fuad, the owner of the restaurant, came to pick us up in his car and also drove us home – otherwise we’d never have found the place and certainly wouldn’t have been able to get home in the dark.  Since cars and motorbikes are allowed only on the very fringes of the medina, we were driven  around the medina, inside another gate, and then  Fuad walked us to the restaurant.  Fuad’s wife and mother were the primary cooks, and it was soon obvious that Madame Fuad, a delightful plump young woman who clearly loved what she did, played a major role. The first course was “vegetables” which turned out to be  a large number of individual plates of wonderful stuff, including carrots with cumin, an eggplant mix, something with zucchini, olives, lentils, potatoes, spicy cauliflour, rice, three large flat rounds of bread, and several other dishes. The lamb arrived steamed, with cumin and salt for us to add as we liked, and with a side dish of rice with nuts and cinnamon sugar. Once we were happily sated, we got the tour of the house, which is 500 years old, and has been in Fuad’s family for  100 years. It is also a dar, which means “house”, specifically one built with several stories of balcony rooms around a central space which soars to a rooftop skylight.  It is not an open courtyard garden.  The other kind of residence is called a riad, and those are usually larger and have a garden.

                It’s a good thing we had that long and filling dinner on our first night in Fes, because by the end of our medina tour the next day we didn’t have the energy left for such a feast.  Our guide Hakim picked us up at 9:30 and we didn’t get back to the Dar until at least 5 pm – what was supposed to be a five-hour tour lasted much longer, with out any extra charage, and was superb. We saw several medersas (Koranic schools), including al-Karouine, which is the oldest university in the world, dating from the 9th century. Among others, Ibn Khaldun and Moses Maimonides studied and taught there. We weren’t allowed far inside these, because they were still functioning, but we could see the beautiful tile, woodwork, fountains, and carved plaster decorations that characterize the architecture here. We visited the tanneries (think Moroccan leather), a souk full of woodworkers and stalls where they were building large ornate wedding furniture which one rents for the occasion – a big palanquin in which the bride is carried, and a huge wedding throne, etc. We visited a carpet cooperative and had a wonderful time learning about Berber carpets. Just as we were getting to the point in the discussions where Jane and I were expecting Harry to take over with the final reiteration of “we love carpets but of course we cannot buy anything as we live on a boat, Harry said of the carpet Jane liked best “is that your best price?” Jane’s face registered total shock when she realized Harry also loved the carpet, which the showing expert called a Berber Picasso because of the way it uses color and design.  It’s indescribable – and beautiful.

Tanneries at Fes
When it came time for lunch we made it clear that we didn’t want anything heavy, just something like a sandwich. Hakim sat us down at a little shop that sold nothing but fruit drinks and water (including individual cups of water that locals came by and purchased by leaving a coin, pouring a little water from a big bottleof spring water into the common metal cup, drinking it, and leaving the cup for the next person). Hakim asked us what we wanted and went off to buy us and himself a sandwich of kofte (which was delicious) for a tiny price, 15 dirhams each (about $1.50 US)

11/2/2011 04:17:37 pm

Oh Harry & Jane you are having such a great time aren't you. Your trip to Fes is inspiring us to plan a trip across there early next year. Glad you gave the detail of the dal etc and the info on costs because we will follow in your footsteps if at all possible. Keep up the postings. We are following you with interest.


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