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Thursday 20 March 2014

[Wednesday 19 March 2014]

Barceló Fès Medina

Day 79 Numbers 28; John 10
Today we will explore Fez, the oldest of the Imperial cities. We will walk some (but not all!) of the 9000 streets and alleyways of the Medina, where we'll see many artisans at work, especially at the tannery. We will return to the hotel mid-afternoon.[i]

This evening we will enjoy Moroccan cuisine in a traditional restaurant.[ii]

After dinner, for those of you who wish, we will return to the Medina for another short walking tour.[iii]
[i] This was moved from Friday, because if we’d done it on that day, many of the shops would have been shut and the artisans would have been having a day off (Friday: the Muslim holy day).
[ii] This remained on the Thursday schedule.
[iii] This also was moved from Friday.

Janet got up ca.7am, and I followed suit when she vacated the bathroom. The shower was in the bathtub, and when Janet had a shower yesterday evening she commented that it was too high for getting in and out of easily. Despite handicap — mainly sore feet that don’t want to be bearing weight alone or stepping up or down great distances — the bathtub didn’t present me with any great difficulty. Replaced the dressing on the right elbow. The one I put under the left heel (when?) had hardly any spotting on it, so I left it in place. While I shaved, showered, etc., Janet went out in search of a convenience store for supplies of cheap water, diet cola, etc. She didn’t find one on this brief outing, however. We went down for breakfast: I used the lift and she the stairs. The set-off time of 9am was far more achievable and welcome than yesterday’s 8.15am. We were introduced to our guide for the day, Mohammed. He’d lived in New York for a time and spoke “American”, he said, “not English.” Either way, he was easily intelligible. First stop was near a wide pavement along which we walked to the gold-looking bronze “horseshoe” gates of the royal palace — “The Mall,” I quipped, “leading to Buckingham Palace” — ornamented with intricately carved plaster and mosaics, and roofed with green glazed tiles — features typical of many buildings that we’d see.

09:19:44 Main gateway of the royal palace, Fez

09:19:44 — detail

The Sparrows that we saw were all the grey-headed types that we see back at home, not the brown-headed ones we saw in Italy and Lanzarote. We’ve tended not to see Common Starlings, which are abundant in the UK, on our travels, but we saw a few in Morocco. And we’ve tended not to see Carrion Crows on our travels — rather, they’ve been Hooded Crows — but again the crows we saw in Morocco were all-black Carrion Crows. There were some bird-songs and calls we didn’t recognise, but we did hear and see Blackbirds and Collared Doves just about everywhere.

09:27:08 View in the opposite direction to 09:19:44

From there we walked along the road that skirted the wall of the palace estate on its right, passing another gate, open but sentried, at the end of the wall, and proceeded along the street of shops that was the northern boundary of the Mellah (Jewish quarter), as far as one of the gates of the medina of Fez. Janet had started to feel very ill.

09:36:54 Sentried gate to the royal palace

09:37:46 Rue Bou Ksissat

09:46:08 Bab Semmarine

09:47:42 Storks’ nest on Bab Semmarine

We re-boarded the coach and were taken to a fort on a hill to the south of Fez, affording a panoramic view of the city.

10:00:24 Approaching Borj Sud in the coach

10:08:30 Views from Borj Sud

10:10:04 Views from Borj Sud

10:10:34 A pair of jackdaws on the Borj Sud battlement

10:12:34 Views from Borj Sud

10:12:42 Views from Borj Sud

10:13:46 Views from Borj Sud

10:15:36 Mohammed points out features of Fez from Borj Sud.

10:16:00 Views from Borj Sud

We re-boarded the coach and were taken back to the old city—

10:30:04 Medina ramparts, Fez, seen from the coach

—where we were led along many of the narrow streets of the labyrinthine medina. This walking tour was very well organised, with another local guy appointed so that there was always someone at the front, at the back, and part way along, to make sure everyone followed in the right direction and also to warn of any steps up or down that one might otherwise trip over. We were given prior warning that the most oft-heard cry was “Balak!”, and that meant that a laden donkey (or cart) was coming through — and donkeys wouldn’t stop! Actually, we heard the French “Attention!” more often.

10:39:50 Entering the medina of Fez

10:40:34 The medina of Fez

10:46:24 Perhaps the narrowest of the medina streets

10:49:36 The medina of Fez

Janet was still feeling unwell, and at one point felt so ill that she nearly had to take herself off to vomit. She rushed past the stall selling camel-meat with a camel’s head hanging there!

10:52:14 Stall selling camel-meat

10:59:56 Dyeing cloth

11:02:30 Donkey on a bridge over a narrow stream

We passed a number of ornate doors to religious establishments, but in the examples below (except one) I’ve forgotten which mosque, madrasa, or shrine they gave Muslims access to.

11:04:12 Ornate door

We walked down a narrow street where artisans were shaping brass articles with hammers, which opened into a small square with more of the same.


11:22:30 Interior of al-Karaouine Mosque and University, the world’s oldest university, founded by Fatima al-Fihri in 859

We were taken into a textile shop, where they wove silk-like cloth from the treated and dyed fibres of a cactus. Someone demonstrated to our party their products, calling for a male and a female volunteer each to have a strip of cloth wound as a head-dress. I largely missed that, because I was more interested in the guy behind the group actually doing the weaving, but I think the conclusion of the demonstration was the reason for the applause at the end of the movie-clip below.

11:34:28 Loom and, hanging in front, an example of the cactus from which the yarn is extracted


My feet were beginning to hurt with standing in there, and Janet still wasn’t feeling well, but we found some seats while others were still looking at the wares.

12:14:56 Mule with legs buckling under its load

12:28:06 Richly ornamented gateway — exterior

12:28:42 Richly ornamented gateway — just inside

12:32:02 Carved cedar doors on the medina street

12:35:26 Another richly ornamented gateway

We went on to a shop selling leather goods, which involved some more standing around, before we mounted several flights of stairs to a vantage point overlooking the tannery. They used only natural substances for the curing and dyeing of the cattle, sheep, goat and camel skins, e.g. pigeon shit for the former operation — hence the stink, for which we were each provided with a sprig of mint so we could crush the leaves beneath our nostrils.

12:43:34 Tannery shop

12:44:54 Tannery shop. The guy on the right handed each of us a sprig of mint from the bunch he was carrying, so we could mask the stink of the tannery when we went up to it.

12:49:36 Tannery

12:49:36 — detail

12:50:42 Tannery

12:51:26 Tannery

12:57:48 Tannery

Next stop was a restaurant, decorated very much in Moroccan style. Today on the coach I had put my hand up for one of the choices. Janet only had something to drink, but at least she started to feel better and was able to join me. She wrote: “I had two Diet Coke and started to recover rapidly.… [John] enjoyed local bread[iv], olives, spicy sliced carrots, and a ‘chicken and almond pie’ — a spicy fruity chicken filling in filo pastry.”

[iv] All the bread I had in Morocco was in the form of round, flattened cakes, an inch or less thick, but baked with some sort of raising agent, leaven or soda, moderately dense, with a somewhat chewy crust.

14:33:16 Lunch

14:50:32 Finding our way out of the labyrinth

On our way back to the coach, still in the medina, we passed a small classroom, and an old guy on the door beckoned me and someone else in. After I’d taken a photo, he rubbed thumb and fingers together, so I gave him a 20-dirham note. He then raised his finger in a “one more” gesture, but he didn’t get one!

14:58:58 Small classroom

Part of our group went to a pottery, but we figured that it would be like the one we visited in Selçuk so stayed on the coach with those who wished to be deposited at the hotel. We arrived back there, ca.3.30pm. “I had a quick wash-and-brush-up,” Janet wrote, “then headed out for supplies. I eventually found a huge supermarket in a shopping centre and bought a small bar of [Galaxy] chocolate for [John], two chilled medium-sized bottles of Coke Light (no Pepsi Diet or Max — again!) and a big bottle of water. All very cheap. The roads were chaotic, and it was hair-raising getting back to the hotel! Good job [John’s] feet were too sore for him to join me!” As for me, I copied photos and the movie from the camera to the WD Elements HDD (15:51–15:52). Edited the movie clip with Windows Movie Maker, cropping it to just after someone who got in the way to take a photo moved away (16:07).… Edited today’s photos with Photoshop (16:22–18:03). At 6.30pm we set off from the hotel in the coach to “enjoy Moroccan cuisine in a traditional restaurant” — palatial, almost! A robed guy wearing a fez played what looked like a lute[v] throughout the evening. “We had soup and bread rolls[vi],” Janet wrote. “The rolls were very[vii] dense. Similar to some of the bread I had in Egypt.… Then ‘nibbles’: spicy potatoes, tomatoes and peppers, and ‘aubergine puree’.… Then lamb tagine[viii].… The prunes had flavoured that and made it sweet and only mildly spicy.… Then we had sweetened sliced oranges with cinnamon.…” Janet particularly enjoyed this immensely.

[v] An oud: a fretless, small-necked, pear-shaped stringed instrument
[vi] Flattish cakes of bread that I’ve already described
[vii] I would say “moderately”.
[viii] i.e. cooked in a tagine: a flat, circular, low-sided earthenware pot with a cone-shaped cover, the shape of which promotes the return of condensate to the pot during cooking

19:11:38 Dinner

19:17:00 Dinner

21:08:38 Dinner, with musician playing the oud (fretless lute)

21:08:56 Dinner

21:11:24 Dinner

Copied the evening’s photos from Janet’s camera (22:07) and edited them (22:07–22:17). Janet wrote, “It’s 11pm. I’ll brush my teeth and get my head down. 8.30am pick-up tomorrow.” I perhaps similarly “got my head down” at the same time.

[Friday 21 March 2014]

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