Fez, Morocco 2007

Day 6, Wed. March 28

We settled in for our seven hour drive to Fez.  Once again the scenery was stunning!  (Sorry, after we got to Fez, Stephen said, you know I didn’t take any pictures on our drive today).  Along the road we did stop for some nomads and gave them some bread and water we had brought from the auberge.  They also asked for money, but Zaid told them no.

We stopped in a small town called Zaida for lunch.  We were now in the middle of the Atlas Mountains and the weather had changed quite a bit since the morning when we left the desert and we were not quite prepared with our capris and sandals.  It was cold and windy.  Zaid took us to a restaurant that was quite large – clearly they cater to large tourist buses, but today they were only serving several Moroccan families.  There was no heat so it was really cold.

Zaid ordered Moroccan salad, pomme frites and brochette for all of us.  The Moroccan salad was one of the best we had on our trip and the brochette was excellent.

We got back in the car for the remaining three hour drive.  We started to rise in altitude and it began to snow – sometimes quite hard.  We had  planned to stop at one point to get out and see the monkeys but it was still snowing and we were NOT dressed properly, so we just watched them from the  car.

We arrived in Fez about 4:30 and went straight to our riad, Riad Norma.  We were served tea and pastries, and also were able to meet Ahmed, who would be our guide in Fez the next day. We got settled in, rested a bit, and then had a nice tangine dinner in the Riad.  The weather was still quite cold in Fez.  We had heat in our rooms but the common areas didn’t.  However, they had a fire where we were eating, as well as very large portable heaters that they kept by our table.


 Day 7, Thurs. March 29

We had a full day ahead of us with our guide Ahmed. He was excellent, full of information and willing to answer all our questions.  We covered a lot of ground this day.  Unfortunately, for most of the morning it was raining quite a bit.  Umbrellas were definitely required.  We first just starting wandering the streets.  As I mentioned, I think Fez is even more of a rabbit warren then Marakkech, plus there is no big sqaure (like Djemma El Fna) to sort of get your bearings in, and no motorized vehicles are allowed in the old medina – apparently it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  We first came upon an old woman carrying unbaked bread to be cooked by the baker.  Ahmed explained that they will make the bread, but then bring it to the baker so he can cook it for them and they don’t have to wait at home while it bakes, but can go do their shopping, etc.  He asked the woman if Stephen could bring her bread to the baker for her.  She gladly agreed, Ahmed walked us to the bakery, then told Stephen to go inside and hand the baker the bread.  He said he would know whose bread it was without even seeing her bring it in.

Then we went to see some hammam ovens, where we saw two men who work all day keeping the ovens warm that heat the local hammam.

We were able to see inside a mosque as well as take pictures – something we were unable to do in Marakkech.  We could not walk inside but were able to stand right outside the door.  This was a large mosque and apparently, a special one as pilgrims came here regularly from other parts of the country and would sleep inside.

We wandered the streets and souks.  We saw the entrance to University Al Karaouine.  The oldest university in the world.  Although after returning home and doing some internet research there is a university in Istanbul and one in Cairo that both make that claim – although the Guiness book of World Records recognizes Al Karaouine as the oldest.  Maimonides the great Jewish philsopher and physican studied here.  I just want to interject at this point, that both Ahmed our Fez guide and Latif, our Marakkech guide, independently mentioned to us that the Jews and Arabs in Morocco had always gotten along, and they considered themselves Moroccan brothers.  “Not like what is happening in other parts of the world today, ”  they said.   The Jews had acted as the middlemen between the Moroccans and the French during the time of the French protectorate.  However, apparently, in the early 1960’s when Israel called for Jews to populate Israel, many Moroccan Jews moved to Israel.  The majority of Jews in Morocco today live in Casablanca where most of the business is.  Latif actually said, “We wept when the Jews left Morocco”.  Ahmed also mentioned to us that Morocco was the first country in the world to recognize the independence of America from the British in 1776.  He said, “We helped you when you were in need, now America must help Morocco when it is in need.”  Perhaps buy another rug???

Well, next stop was a rug shop.  Ahmed said we did not have to go in, but it was still raining, not quite time for lunch and I did not mind sitting down and having some tea, so we went in.  They first took us up to the roof which had beautiful views of the city and surrounding countryside.  You can really see how beautiful the area is.  We did take several pictures, unfortunately it was pretty overcast.

From there we were served tea and shown several rugs.  I really was not all that interested in buying another rug, until one caught my eye – how do they do that??  Perfect colors for our family room.  Well this was our best job at bargaining yet.  We came up with our number, and then we said and we want you to ship it too.  They insisted  that they would bundle it up so we could just carry it home, but I said no way – we already have our basket of treasures.  They said, well we need to add more for shipping, and we said, nope then we don’t want it, but we finally got our way on that one.  By the way, all of our rugs arrived the week after we came home except for the rugs we bought in the desert, those came about a week later.

When we came out of the rug shop it had finally stopped raining.  Next we headed off to the tanneries.  I had really wanted to see them in Marakkech, but apparently they are about 15-20 minutes outside of the medina and we just didn’t have time.  The tanneries in Fez are located in the medina so it was easy to get to.  You first enter a huge leather goods store (surprise, surprise!!) and they hand you a sprig of mint before you walk upstairs to view the tannery.  Wow!!  The smell was strong but the sight incredible.  This is one of those places, where you have seen the pictures in the guidebook and now you actually get to see it for yourself.  Just incredible to watch them work down there.  I asked if they had been working when it was pouring rain and was told yes.

I bought a camel leather purse and Lauren bought some small purses for a few friends.  My bargaining skills were off here and when I was done, I was thinking – why did I pay so much??  Plus, my purse still has a strong tannery odor.

I told Ahmed I wanted to get a scarf and Lauren wanted an embroidered shirt, so he took us to another shop.  Stephen and Michael tried on jalabas and fez.  Stephen said it was really comfy, and he would love to walk around in it, but didn’t think he could get away with it at home.  We just got the fez for Michael and a scarf for me and one for Lauren.  Got a really good deal on those, so I was feeling better about my overpayment in the leather shop.  I digress for a moment, but several years ago we had gone to DisneyWorld for spring break.  In Epcot’s World Showcase there is Morocco.  While we were there I had considered buying Michael a fez, but then just thought, oh that’s really something you should only buy if you are actually in the real country.  At the time, I never would have thought I would actually end up going to Morocco!!!

Now it was lunch time so Ahmed dropped us off in a nice restaurant in the medina and we had a nice lunch.  They had pastille (the ground chicken with the pastry shell) on the menu so we all ordered that.

After lunch Zaid picked us all up and drove us outside of the medina to the pottery factory Art Naji.  We were given a guide who spoke very good English and gave us a tour of the factory.  It was really quite interesting.  How they crushed and dried the soil to make the clay. The fiery kilns with their big black smoke.  The men stoking the fires by throwing more fuel in with their feet.  They use crushed olive pits as they will burn the hottest.  We were able to stand in a kiln that had not been used for 10 days, when we walked inside it still felt like a sauna.

We saw the craftspeople drawing on the designs by hand and painting everything by hand.  They were mostly younger people in their early twenties.  But what was really incredible was seeing the men hand chip the tiles into intricate designs for different mosaics.


I did buy a few small pottery pieces.  This was the only place I had been to in Morocco where they had prices on things.  No bargaining here.  I’m sure I could have done better in the medina, but it was nearing the end of the day, and we were tired – actually, no bargaining seemed like a good idea.  I would have loved to order a mosaic table top – I have just the table outside for it – but will have to wait for the next trip!!

From here Zaid drove us to the Jewish Quarter and the Kings Palace.  We strolled around this interesting part of the city.

By this time it was almost 6:00 and we had to get back and start packing for our long journey home.  Zaid took us back to the riad and we said goodbye to Ahmed.  We had decided earlier to just have dinner in the riad again, which was a good idea as we were beat.

We loved Fez, and our only regret is that we only had one day there.  We were able to see quite a lot, but it would have been nice to have one more day to just leisurely walk the souks and shops.

Day 8, Friday March 30
Well, today we began our two day trek back home. I used frequent flier miles that only allow for a RT ticket so we had to fly home out of Barcelona. Zaid drove us the 3.5 hours from Fez to Casablanca. This drive was much less mountainous and more agricultural. Really very pretty, and we were also able to get glimpses of the Mediteranean. We had great conversation with Zaid, including one particular discussion about marriage.

Zaid explained that in Morocco, the muslim religion allows you to have up to four wives. Although, these days if you are going to have multiple wives most men only have two, as it is too expensive to provide equally if you have four wives. The husband must get permission from the first wife and if marrying a third wife would need to get permission from the first and second. He explained that this is most common if the first wife does not want or can not have kids, and the husband wants a family. I explained to him that this does not happen in America. That you can only have one wife at a time. He seemed genuinely surprised, “Even if the first wife doesn’t want kids??” he asked. Yes, I explained, got to divorce the first one, and I went on, I don’t think you would ever find an American woman allowing her husband to marry a second wife!!

We stopped on the outskirts of Casablanca in a small restaurant (where again the bathrooms were suspect, so I waited for the airport). Our last meal of bread and brochette!! Michael really wanted Zaid to take us to McDonald’s so he could get a hamburger but we said, no way, not for our last meal.

Zaid dropped us off at the Casablanca airport and we all said goodbye. Just a few notes about the airport – and I assume this is similar in all of Morocco. In order to even get inside the airport terminal you must go through a security check and have all your baggage screened. So, please allow extra time for this. Actually, it makes perfect sense to screen people before they even enter the terminal.

The second thing is about changing your money. I had read here that they do not want you taking dirhams out of the country, so I figured there would be obvious places to exchange your money. We asked at the ticket counter if there were places to exchange money after passport control. We thought she said yes, but apparently she must of misunderstood us, as it turned out to only be before passport control. I had wanted to keep a little bit of money as a souvenir, but we did not want to have to go back through passport control so we ended up with more money than we wanted. I guess we will have to spend it on a return trip!

We were all craving chocolate as it appeared to not be that prevalent in Morocco. We decided to buy some at the duty free store. I have never actually had the need to shop at the duty free and just want to know – why is everything they sell there so big?? We couldn’t get just a few small candy bars but had to buy this giant Toblerone, and unfortunately they wouldn’t take our extra dirhams only euros.

I stopped in a little bookstore as I wanted to buy a book with photographs of Morocco, and I figured it would be a good way to spend some dirhams. They had the DK Morocco book but it was equivalent to $48USD! Stephen said “why don’t you Berber bargain”, but I explained to him not in the airport, and I would just wait until we got home to buy it.

From Casablanca we flew straight to Barcelona.  By the time we landed, got our luggage, returned to the hotel and were ready to eat, it was after 10:00pm – lucky for us Barcelona eats dinner late, we were right on time for the dinner hour. Our plan was to head to Cerverseria Catalana for the tapas I had been daydreaming about. The guy at the front desk, mentioned that they had a sister restaurant several blocks closer called Ciudad Condal (Rambla Catlyuna, 18). The shorter walk sounded appealing so we went there for dinner. We had to wait about 45 minutes to get seated, but the food was worth it!! Our last good meal for a while as tomorrow would be limited to airplane and airport food.

Other than lugging our basket of treasures home, our three more flights home were uneventful and we arrived safely home about midnight Saturday night.

Read about the rest of our trip here:

Marrakech, Morocco

Ouarzazate, Merzouga, Sahara Camel Trek

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