Fes is so far away now that the memories are starting to shift about. I’ll try to stick to the true plot.
We arrived in Fes by bus from the blue city. We took a (shared) taxi from the bus terminal to the famous Blue Gate, and headed towards our hostel. By this stage it was pretty late and getting dark, but- unlike in Tangier – there were still people, including women, walking around. Point one to Fes!
In any case, we basically had to head down the main market street, and then only in the last few meters cut into some slightly less inviting looking alleys. When we got to the hotel, however, things got weird. The man in charge was unnerving in a way that I can only describe as ‘mobster’. We just wanted to get to our room, but he insisted on going through a very slow ceremony of drinking mint tea and talking about all the ways we could give him more money. Meanwhile, he was on the phone, and several other men came and went.
Finally, it was told that we would be taken to a different building by another man. We chose our first hotel on the basis of the high rating it received, so being taken to a ‘sister hotel’, which clearly had lower ratings, was not pleasing. Our room was pretty crappy- everything broken- there was literally a hole punched in the glass of the bathroom door (the ‘bathroom’ was a nightmare), and it was right on the ‘courtyard’, which meant that each morning we were woken at 6 am by people moving around this common area. As was pretty standard- we weren’t really told anything (how to get breakfast), and no ‘tourist information’ was provided. The staff were very friendly, but kept insisting that it was not possible for us to leave the hotel without a guide. We ignored them.
So if you go to Fes, don’t stay at Dar El Yasmine (or Dar Zohar). In order to be a bit more constructive I would add that you should try to stay in the medina at one point in your moroccan adventure. However, these buildings are all going to be old and poorly sound-proofed, with not many options for renovation due to the age and proximity of other establishments. Plus, you’re paying for this experience and location. Therefore, it might be worth staying somewhere near, but outside the medina- which will likely be both cheaper and more modern.
That’s the bad out of the way, and apart from that, Fes is pretty cool.
The medina is really a true rabbit warren filled with turbulence. The streets are narrow and windy, but there is a clear distinction between main streets- here you will get mown down by people running with carts full of goods, tourist can-cans and literal donkeys- and small streets- where you can basically take a break from the bustle.
This distinction makes it easier to navigate- but you’re still going to get lost a few hundred times per day.
Still, no place we wandered into ever felt unsafe- you just had to work out how to get back on the right track- part of which includes deciding if you wanted to lose a few euros by letting a kid show you the way.
What we noticed just before we left, was that there are signs around the medina that you can follow for an interesting self-guided walking tour of the place. This does mean however, that those signs are not necessarily helpful if you want to go to a place- they signify where you should next when heading towards a landmark, but may first take you on a scenic route going in completely the opposite direction.
Still, I would argue that half of the Fes experience is getting lost.
After a morning of fairly aimless wandering, we popped our head out of the medina, and exited to blue skies and an open square.
Just out of the blue gate….
past the square with vendors….
is a public garden. We sat, relaxed, and watched the sun set…
…before being called back to the old city for the evening.
|This is a sneaky view into what is arguably one of the oldest universities in the world. Unfortunately for us- it is also a Mosque, so we weren’t allowed to go in.
|Us, now with another new friend, getting lost again. This time we have the double power of Map+Smartphone.
|I think he knew I was taking a photo.
I have to say, if you’re heading to Morocco, you should probably check out Fes. It’s a little more daunting and much less tourist friendly than Marrakesh, and down in the medina is really quite crazy- but it feels like one of those cities you should get a glimpse of once in your life.
And that’s it from Fes. The next morning, very early, we set off for the desert, to see some monkeys, some camels and a whole lot of sand.