December 26-27, 2006

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Fez (or Fes) was the second imperial city we visited. Fes is only a few hours drive from Menkes. Founded in 800 A.D., Fes grew to a large city by 1170. The city today is split into two parts: the large old town (medina) and the "ville nouvelle", built in 1912.

Fes is a large and complex city of over a million people. As we drive in, we find ourselves hopelessly lost. A motorcyclist knocks on our window, asks our destination and tells us to follow him. He takes us to our hotel in about 15 minutes, asked for a tip and tries to become our guide for the next day.

This becomes a common Morocco experience: people offering to "help" for a tip ($1-5 USD) and then try to upsell you. "la, shukran" ("no, thank you") quickly becomes part of our vocabulary.

We had planned to stay in Fes for three days. We find that we have seen everything we want to see in two days. We take "petit taxis" from the McDonald's near our hotel to get to the medina entrance.

The Fez medina is the largest in Morocco - it has over 9,500 little alleys. On the first day we get ourselves hopelessly lost, spending two hours to return to a familiar landmark.

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We stay at a "top rated" hotel, as rated by both our guide books and various web sites. The Hotel Menzeh Zalagh is in the Ville Nouvelle. It had some interesting features:

  • Guests are not trusted with the thermostat of their room - so the knob has been removed (see picture)
  • Despite a double-locked door and a "do not disturb" sign, the maid came into our room at 8:00AM to pick up the towels to wash them and return them to us that evening. We are still jet lagged and in bed and she just walks in
  • To conserve electricity, the hallways have lights in the "normally off" position with a timer. We walk out of the elevator and have to find our room in the dark
  • Our floor shook from the first floor disco until 1:00AM.
  • We quickly learn that "top rated" hotels were all "passť" and we found "mid-range" and "budget" rated hotels much cleaner and often better.

    The medina is surrounded by walls and grand gates.
    Coming through the Bab Bou Jeloud door, you see a number of restaurants and the wall. We have lunch in the Kasbah -where a girl and her friends tell me that she's looking for a husband. She keeps telling me how I should marry her. Later, one of the waiters offers me hashish which seems quite prevalent there.
    As with Meknes, streets are quite small and tight.
    ... donkey power!

    You always have to listen to the word "balek" - this means "get out of the way" or "watch out" (more donkeys coming)

    You can buy pretty much everything in the medina.... camel head included!
    ... all sorts of pasta (left)... and vegetables (right)....
    ... charcoal ...
    ... clothing ...
    ... brass "stuff" ...
    ... and junk!
    This medina also has highly decorated doors. The decorations keep spirits (genies) out of the buildings!
    ... more doors!....
    We were able to get into one of the many mosques (unusual & lucky). This mosque was quite pretty and ornate. Nice door!
    The mosque's walls were highly decorated
    ... along with the windows and door frames ...
    ... and an amazing ceiling ....
    ... and very nice inner wooden door ....
    Fez is famous for its tanneries. Leather from sheep and camel is cleaned, dried and dyed in these large vats.
    The lighter vats are filled with guano (bird poop) and used to clean the hides. Hides are left in these for 3-6 days.
    The darker vats are used to die the hides. They are left in there for 5-7 days.
    Red dye!
    Dried hides - yellow is from saffron
    It seems that most people have access to television....
    The real toilets of Morocco.
    These are hard to find in the medina - we have to ask around. Often we were told that there are no "toilets" in the medina. It's true- there are only "real toilets" (as pictured and called in Morocco)
    Much like in Thailand, we found sidewalks often unfinished
    ... or just very "holy"
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