Some three hours after leaving Rabat last Friday, we were climbing out of a taxi and meeting the man who manages the guesthouse we’d found on AirBnB. Love that site. Our host recommended the Clock Café for dinner, a popular choice in our guidebook too. As it was a Friday night, the streets were shuttered and quiet except for a few men with nowhere better to be.
Fez has streets the same way Venice has street–the historic medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the oldest continuously inhabited city in Morocco, is pedestrian only, with the occasional cart and donkey to help move goods around.
Full from a yummy falafel dinner on the restaurant’s terrace, Colin and I returned to the train station to meet our SAIS and San Diego friend Bryan who had flown in from Madrid and successfully managed to transfer from the airport to the train station without speaking either of the languages of the country.
We had only Saturday to explore the city, so we didn’t mess around. Our guesthouse provided a lovely breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, baguette, jam and cheese, dates, mint tea and coffee. We had a hard day of wandering ahead of us and needed our fuel.
Fez is lovely because it is a city in which you can just wander, and you are bound to see interesting things, but the one thing that guidebooks insist you visit are the tanneries, where they work the skins of camels, cows, and sheep in vats of what Colin thought was urine mixed with natural dyes. Cumin, saffron, mint–a veritable spice bag of colors. Unfortunately, it didn’t smell as good as those spices might suggest—I’d been handed a sprig of mint to mask as much of the stench as possible. The man who’d led us to the tanneries encouraged us to peruse the merchandise, but luckily a tour of Germans came in and we were able to leave without too much pressure.
I don’t want to imagine what these guys smell like after marinating in those vats all day.
Our guide, who practiced the art of what we began calling front-following, led us to a textile maker next. I was talked into buying a scarf, something I wanted anyway, which is supposedly made out of cactus fibers and dyed with mint. I’m very happy with it, even if I did probably spend too much on it.
With rain threatening, we took a break for tea in the Mnebhi Palace, more a residence than a palace but still very charming. We found a rotisserie chicken place for lunch—very Moroccan, proven as the restaurant filled up around us with Moroccans while the cafes a few doors down spilled over with more German tourists and English-speaking waiters.
More wandering brought us to a madrasa, a religious school, that had intricately carved wood trim and colorful mosaic columns. Though not as opulent as many of the cathedrals in Italy, this religious space was certainly beautiful.
Finally we walked with purpose to the vegetable market we’d found sleeping the night before to show Bryan how Moroccans shop. A friendly olive vendor let us sample his different olives, and Bryan bought a single dirham’s worth (about 11 cents) of a bright yellow unknown spice while Colin and I picked out some dates.
We had our snacks back on our terrace as the day turned from dusk to night, then set out for dinner at a restaurant we’d passed earlier. We shared a lemon chicken tajine, preserved lemons and olives swimming around pieces of very tender chicken, and then, since Bryan had an early-morning train and Fez really doesn’t offer much by way of nightlife, we picked our way back through the narrow streets to our guesthouse for the night.
I took too many photos to put up on the blog, so you can see more of our trip by clicking here.