From Meknes to Fes, and a Day in the Fes Medina

We left Meknes by mid-morning, because we wanted to have time to explore the Fes Medina, to see which area had the best cafes and restaurants, before we began looking for a Riad to serve as our home for the next three nights.  

Within about an hour, we entered La Nouvelle Cite de Fes, and spotted a French-style cafe along our route to the medina – a perfect place for a tea and coffee break! This cafe felt so clean and airy, very global in style, so different than the rather dingy haunts in Meknes!

After our refreshing break,  we quickly drove to a secure parking lot close to Bab Boujeloud, the main gateway into the medina, enticingly lined with open air cafes and small restaurants. This gateway, even though it was built recently (1913 is considered “recent” by comparison to the largely medieval medina), has blue ceramic tiles on the outside (blue is the color of Fes), and on the inside, green ceramic tiles, the color of Islam.  

Our plan, conceived by Tali, who is a master of spontaneity, with MUCH more experience than I do in traveling without reservations, was to leave our big backpacks in the car until the end of the day, once we had decided on a place to stay, and to spend the day exploring with just our small and light daypacks.  Sounded good to me…  So I will leave it to her in her journal entry to describe her process…

So we entered the medina through Bab Boujeloud, and began climbing, as the medina gates are all at the bottom of a hill – what we wanted to do was to walk throughout the ancient city, and this was relatively easy to do, as there are signposts, organized by color, for various walking routes between mosques, mederasas, and souks.  Not that we didn’t get lost…but it was fairly easy to regain our bearings by using the signposts.  

It seems to me that the medinas in Morocco are like a series of musical themes and variations, some in minor keys and some in major keys.  Each one we have seen so far on our journey, from the smallest, in Assilah and Chefchaouen, to the largest, here in Fes, and in Casablanca or Tangier, share certain features, such as narrow, winding alleys, fountains, mederasas, mosques, hammams, and community bakeries, for example.  But each is also intriguingly different, from the predominant language heard (Spanish in Tetouan, French in Assilah, Djelibi in Chefchaouen) to the items sold in the shops, to the number and types of artisans seen, and some of the joys of travel in Morocco is to see, smell, and hear what makes each place different. 

The big-city medinas, like Fes’, are an intense experience, that can easily be quite exhausting – in the heat of an early October day, like today, frequent breaks make exploring much more bearable.  There is a very high standard of craftsmanship in the objects being displayed in the shops…but, on the other hand…it seems that whenever we stand still for more than a quarter of a minute, we are immediately and often aggressively approached by someone looking to become our unofficial guide, or by someone peppering us with questions (“Tell me, precisely where are you looking to go?”), with their next question always the same (“Where are you from?  England?  France?  Australia?”,  and their next always the same, too (the tanneries are right next to my family’s shop…why don’t you go in?).  And then, “Why are you so paranoid?  I don’t like paranoid people!”

They’re not, for the most part offering any help at all.  They are hungry for the tourist dollar, and they don’t mind being really pushy to try and get it.  Most of the smaller shopkeepers allow you to approach them, and then they simply answer your questions before the bargaining begins…no problem at all…It’s the guys and kids hanging out on almost every alley-corner that are the issue here in Fes.  In the small, rural medinas like those in Chefchaouen or Assilah, it was possible for us to stand around and chat for quite a while without being approached.  Here, we are aware of not standing around for too long, to keep moving…this experience can be a bit overwhelming, especially at first.  Still, we are not really shopping for anything…except for photographs…new adventures and experiences…and, of course, JOY…so we want to travel with a positive, loving attitude toward our brothers and sisters, not with a fearful or anxious frame of mind.

We saw an incredible amount on our first day of touring the Fes medina, precisely because we didn’t stand around much…and we didn’t photograph at all, because we decided to save that for Sunday, after we were settled in.  We found a very amiable cafe and restaurant, Cafe Clock, with a global menu, so we will have a few days’ respite from our daily diet of tagine and couscous…and then we found the wonderful Riad Ahlam, just a few hundred meters from the Cafe.  

Riad Ahlam is the first example we’ve encountered so far during our trip of a renovation of an old building where the owners did NOT run out of money before the renovation was complete.  Every detail, every finish, every bit of mosaic, carving, and ornamentation is beautifully done, and the whole place is maintained in  spotless condition – the overall effect is very different from the places we’ve stayed in which are not quite finished, or not quite maintained perfectly.  It’s a wonderful Riad, and we’re happy to spend our nights in Fes here.




About juleslandsman

I live, when not traveling, in Sweetwater, Colorado, located in between Vail and Aspen, and in Kohukohu, a small town on the Hokianga Harbour in New Zealand. I write travelogues, memoirs, and reflections when I'm not skiing, biking, or otherwise outdoors. I retired recently from a career in the financial services industry that spanned more than twenty-five years.
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