Visiting Morocco: Memories of Fez

Visiting Morocco was always on the cards, but the timing had to be right.  Once I decided that the time had come, the big question of where to stay took much longer than it normally does for my kind of holiday.  After scrutinizing numerous hotels in Casablanca,  I found myself unable to choose . This made me shift my glance to Rabat, the nation’s capital, a smaller city with less choice and in the end an easier route to making a decision. I chose a familiar route, a French Accor hotel (Sofitel), in a country which was overflowing with French influence.  This visit took place years ago, but I thought  I would like to share it with you.

The change from Casablanca to Rabat as a base, meant that I had to reorganize my itinerary somewhat, but that was easily done. At the top of my list was Fez, a city that had always fascinated me as a youngster.  The new plans meant that I will arrive at Casablanca Airport, take a taxi to the train station, and travel by the next available train to Rabat. In practice, the plan worked fine, the train was slightly delayed, but I was impressed with the standard of the carriages.

Rabat worked perfectly, allowing easy access to all the places I wanted to go. From here, I organized my trip to Fez, which was via ONCF train system. The journey took more two hours passing through Sidi Kacem and Meknes, and was very unusual because of the open countryside in between.   Arriving at Fez station, I was able to walk to the downtown area which was far more modern than I expected. I had a look around, had something to eat, and hailed Petit Taxi, and headed for the Medina, which in Morocco was the place to visit to get a pulse of the city

It was still early morning when I arrived, and the souk was not very crowded.  I had planned to do it on my own, but changed my mind when approached by a young lady, casually dressed, but speaking perfect English and who appeared to be a university student. The Medinas are never disappointing, because of the potpourri of traditions laced with cultural and commercial icons. Here, it was much the same. Housed in an antiquated walled enclosure, it demonstrated the best example of the Arab marketplace. Leather goods seemed quite prominent, followed by brassware and ceramics, but there were lots of everything else to be had.

I had decided not to do any serious shopping, as I found the bidding system quite difficult. My intention was to collect only a few souvenirs to take back with me. Yet I still engaged a few of the traders simply to amuse myself. I greatly appreciated, though, the artists present who were practically demonstrating their trade.  My attitude to buying serious goods like carpets, blankets, etc, is you need to spend a full day to suss out the trade items or bargains; and then return the following day to do the actual purchases, or else you would simply be taken for a ride.

I was able to see one of the tanneries in operation, and was able to appreciate how the skins of animals became leather. Unsurprisingly, it was not a smooth factory styled operation, but it achieved what it set out to do and I was quite impressed. Like everywhere in Morocco, even here in the Medina you were never far from a mosque, and yet all around it, you were in a shopper’s paradise, catering to locals and the special visitors.

At the end of the tour, having exhausted all my visual sensibilities, I offered my guide a fee which I thought was adequate. She didn’t, and I was taken aback that after a tour of humble politeness, she suggested that I double the amount. I got it, even the intended fee was up for negotiation. I offered half of the extra, and with some reluctance she accepted.

For the rest of the afternoon, I embraced an unguided tour of the city which took me to the outer limits, looking at the way old and new ideas were moving forward especially in terms of architecture.  Altogether, the city was far more modern that I expected, but there was still more than enough of the old to keep me focused. By five o’clock, it was time to head back to the station having had my day’s fill, and board the train back to Rabat.

Winston

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