Day 1-2: Fez, Morocco

by - September 09, 2012

Ryad Salama

Day One: Arrival

The family holiday to Morocco started with a very painless flight from Stansted to the city of Fez in Morocco. Will has just got back from Vietnam, so will meet us later, leaving me, mum and dad to explore the cities of Fez, Meknes and Casablanca. We are now in Fez, in the Ryad Salama, a beautiful ryad in the old medina. We ate our dinner in the ryad courtyard and had an early night - exploring is starting tomorrow.

Day Two: The Medina

The medina in Fez is its main draw for tourists. The largest car-free urban area in the world, the sprawl of tightly-knit souqs, stalls and alleyways are home to around 150,000 people. We decided that we would roughly follow the map in our Lonely Planet guide, which in theory covered all of the main sights. To start with, we needed to get our bearings and the easiest way to do this was to head to one of the entrances to the medina, the western gate. A small river runs through the centre of the city and while it is now mostly underground, its past influence means that in general the ground slopes down towards it. Armed with this knowledge, we headed eastwards and downwards.

Henna souq, Fez
The main sight in the medina is the medina itself - its essential characteristics haven’t changed in the last thousand years and it feels like a real time capsule. Having now been to bazaars in Turkey, Egypt and Iraq, the Fez medina is the only one that has really stood up to the romantic image in my head. Having said that, it isn’t a particularly romantic place - we started by walking through the meat district where butchers openly display all of the bits and pieces of the chickens/cows/donkeys/camels that they happen to be dealing with. The smell is quite something. There were a few places that we had to pay to visit - a woodwork museum and a few historically or artistically significant riads, but on the whole we just wandered. This is the best way to do it I think, as you fight against your desire to not get lost and duck and dive around tour groups, donkeys (the main form of cargo transport), carts and kids. Unfortunately, there is scope to become TOO lost and around lunchtime frustration crept in as we couldn’t find any landmarks and we got tired of locals trying to pull us into their carpet shops.

We eventually managed to find a gate (which along with minarets are the best landmarks) and from there walked back towards out hotel. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant nearby - the “Clock Cafe” which is run by an Englishman who serves Moroccan fusion cuisine. I sampled the camel burger, which in all honesty wasn’t too different to a beef burger. Refreshed, we moved out of the medina into the ‘mellah’, the old Jewish quarter. This isn’t too dissimilar to the medina as it is a walled city, but the architectural style of the buildings is slightly different and the streets are slightly wider. Once a major Jewish centre, the majority of Jews have moved to Casablanca, Europe or the United States - leaving behind a few hundred. The royal palace is also in this district, but is out of bounds to tourist and local alike - only the grand gates are on show and these are manned by elaborately dressed armed guards who deter you from taking photos. There are a few sights in the mellah, but we were happy to just wander around and get the general feel - it was a bit calmer than the medina, but still not free of hassle.

View over Fez
Feeling a bit exhausted, we headed back to our riad to relax and wait for sunset. The best place to view the sunset is the Merenid tombs on the hills overlooking the city. The tombs are dramatic in their advanced state of disrepair and the views over the city are spectacular. The medina, viewed as a whole from up high is straight out of the Arabian nights as the sound of the evening call to prayer rises over the dust and smoke and chaos below. We walked back into town and had our dinner at one of the street vendors in the medina, finishing our meal with traditional mint tea while watching the world go by.

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