Kat’s Morocco – Fifth in a continuing series…
The cab driver and his friend, who I found and hired upon my arrival at the Fes train station were friendly and fun. They filled me in on the local surroundings and provided me a brief tour along our route to the Zalagh Parc Palace Hotel. Ten minutes and 40 MAD later (around $3.50) plus tip, I was finally checking in! I made it and except for being very tired and having to hit the ladies room, was none the worse for wear!
What a beautiful hotel. After passing through tall iron gates, I entered the lobby to see hand woven Moroccan carpets covering the cool, white marble tile floors. An ebony colored baby grand piano adorned one corner of the large lobby and a huge brass tea set acted as the lobby centerpiece. There were large plush chairs and settees for lounging, elaborately carved wood screens and two lovely gift shops. There will be time for exploring later. For now, I need to check in to this five star hotel and rest up for my meeting with the Tour Director later in the evening. The tour had not yet arrived but I stayed in contact with the travel agency while stranded in New York, so the tour company had been advised of the situation and knew to expect me in Fes. I went up to my room.
The room was small and beautifully appointed with a large bed and a bright, airy sitting alcove that looked out onto a lovely garden courtyard, complete with fountain and view of the pool in the distance. Rich brocade fabric covered pillows that lined the bench seats on either side of the sitting area. The bathroom was clean and comfortable with a nice size tub and hand held shower attachment, a large sink with a nicely etched mirror along with all the countertop toiletries and a bidet. Where was the toilet? All I could do was start from the doorway to my room and investigate every possible cubbyhole for a toilet. After getting through two clothes closets and a linen type closet, I came to the “water closet”. It was tiny and one of those deals where straddling the toilet was the only way to make room to close the door. I took care of business and made plans for the remainder of the afternoon. By now, it was about 4:00pm and I had received word dinner would be at 7:30, so I had time to freshen up and wander around. For as tired as I was, I was too excited to nap.
I made my way to the dining area at the appointed time to introduce myself to the Tour Director. I didn’t take long for me to spot Mohamed who was running around like a crazy man, taking care of his passengers. I saw him stop and speak to another couple so made my way over. Seems they were late arrivals too. I introduced myself and as recognition of the name and situation set in, I saw his face brighten with a big mustachioed smile and he said, “Oh, you’re from California, you’re cool!” Oh great, another reputation to have to deal with! In my experience, I have found of all tourists I have traveled with, the Americans tend to have a reputation for being the least tolerant of their new surroundings. I regularly spend the first couple of days on tour trying to dispel that impression. (As a side note, Australians’ are the most fun!)
I later learned, Mohamed or SiMo (an Arabic contraction of sorts of Mister Mohamed,) meant the comment as a most sincere complement. He has had a very good experience with California tourists in particular and was happy I was able to find my way to Fes. As a female traveling alone, apparently he felt it was quite the accomplishment that I made it.
Once fed and watered, I felt the end of the evening closing in fast, I was ready to drop. (A quick note here, the water is not safe to drink. Bottled water is widely available in local shopettes and for purchase in the hotels.) The next day was a full tour day and I wanted to be ready for the 8:30am departure. I made it back to my room, to my comfy bed and slept through the night.
The next morning was overcast and cool for the city tour of Fes. Here, we are in the city known for its artisans and craftsmen and as we traveled by coach around the city, it was easy to see the areas designated as the old city or medina. As I looked upon the people walking the ancient streets, I felt I was truly in a special and exotic place. Most people were wearing colorful jellabas, many women covering their head with the traditional Muslim hijab. Donkeys were being driven with various kinds of cargo secured to their strong backs along the same road as were horse carts, bicycles, cars, trucks and motor coaches. It was a flurry of quiet and subdued activity this early in the day.
The medina of Fes is situated in a shallow valley surrounded by low hills and is one of the largest living medieval cities in the world. The view from the upper rim of the valley affords an amazing and breathtaking panoramic view of the ancient city. From this vantage point, it is easy to look down into the concentrated area of living and working space. Along the ancient streets that meander between buildings is where we would soon find the souk or markets and from our stopping point at the rim of the valley, we could see the pathways with various colors of fabric and other materials forming makeshift coverings from the heat and other weather related conditions. It is a site to behold from above, but I couldn’t wait to get right into it! The coach took us down to one of the of the most well known entrances to old Fes, the Bab Bou Jeloud, a beautifully tiled key hole shaped gate leading to the Fes el-Bali area of the medina. The intricate tiles are a cobalt blue on the side leading into the medina and a medium green on the side leading out. While it is a modern gate built in 1913, it is still easy to see the craftsmanship used in the construction. We all got off the coach and headed immediately to the ATM for the MAD we needed to get us through the cultural and shopping experience of the Fes medina!