Wednesday, September 11, 2013

RTW Trip- Fes

Read previous post here.
Somehow we made it to a roundabout that our riad had told us to go to. We wouldn't be able to find our way from the roundabout to the riad, so we were told to contact them when we arrived. Our hotel, Riad Said, sent someone to lead us through the maze of cobblestoned alleys leading, but not before a number of boys had offered their services to help us -- for a few dirhams, of course.
Riad Said was a beautiful home converted into a guest house with six rooms. Like most riads you would never guess the opulence from the door off the street. It was managed by Yves, an older Frenchman who had spent most of his life in Morocco, and Samir, who was Moroccan. Yves spoke almost no English but still managed to convey warmth and friendliness. Somehow we were able to joke around with him using a combination of pidgin-Spanish and body gestures. Samir spoke English and was extremely helpful. On our arrival we were treated to the customary mint tea and biscuits.

Riad Said
By the time we got into our room dusk was approaching, and we thought it would be best to head out for dinner before it got too late -- navigating Fes during the day hours was going to be hard enough. With no trouble at all we were able to find a cute restaurant for dinner just a 10 minute walk away. We got salads, tagines, and drinks for two all for $13 USD before heading back to the riad.
Fes Medina at night

For Sale!
Our first full day in Fes was spent touring the medina with a guide that was arranged for us by our riad. Hassan, our guide, took us around for an incredible 6.5 hour tour full of information, food, and surprises around every corner.
Us and our guide, Hassan
We started at the Blue Gate entrance to the Medina, then walked along two streets whose Arabic names translate to “Little Street” and “Big Street,” respectively. Both were full of food and apparel vendors, live animals, and more people watching than this New Yorker knew what to do with.

Blue Gate, entrance to the medina
Typical amazing craftmanship.

A worker in the dye district.
The tanneries. Workers are in these pits year round which leads to lots of health issues.

Fes has lots of beautiful fountains, which were the only sources of running water historically.
View of Fes

Hassan took us to see Riad Mokria, an architectural school, and we also visited a carpet "co-op", a tannery co-op, and a weaving co-op. We learned that many places call themselves government co-ops to lure in tourists thinking its supporting women and the prices are all regulated and the women are well-paid, but from the research we did it appears to just be a sleazy sales tactic.

The visits were in theory just to educate us about the process of making rugs, or purses, or scarves, and all were interesting. But the sales pitch comes hard once you've been educated. In the carpet place we made the mistake of accepting the offer of mint tea. They kept pulling rugs (albeit beautiful rugs) out for us to look at and saying "The prices are so low they'll make you smile. You'll want to buy several!" The owner quipped that Adam was the "Minister of Finance" and I was the "Minister of the Interior". So much as indicating that a rug was pretty only increased the sales pressure. It's amazing that we walked out without any rugs.
When lunch finally rolled around Hassan took us to a small door somewhere in the medina where other guides were taking their clients. After all the traveling we’ve done we know a tourist trap when we see one and this was definitely one. But we were starving and didn’t want to make a fuss about it. After sitting down we quickly made bets on how much this was going to cost us, which after an amazing lunch, I won!
Just the starter salads!
We had an amazing time in Fes and if going to Morocco this is a city not to be missed. It's been designated a UNESCO world heritage site for good reason. Yes, there is a ton of amazing food, lots of shopping and more souks than you know what to do with but more importantly, it is full history, a vibrant culture, and lovely people like Sameed and Yves, the owners of our riad.

That being said, it is a tourist destination nonetheless and as a valued reader we would like to pass along some helpful tips for managing this city.
  • Your riad is a great source of information and most are very happy to set you up with a guide. I would advise against the ones that approach you in the street.
  • Regardless of what price your riad says, be upfront with your guide and establish a final price BEFORE you head out.
  • Tell your guide what time you hope to eat around and be firm on how much you would like to spend
  • Guides will most definitely be working the hard sell and try to get you to buy stuff throughout the day since they get kickbacks from shop owners. If you want to shop then this is great, however, if you do not plan on shopping then tell your guide early on so not to waste anyone's time.
Before we left Fes we made one more attempt to obtain a GPS from our car rental but unfortunately, we were unsuccessful and our second best option was a very detailed road map and lots of positive thoughts.

Now it was time for our longest driving leg of the trip! We were headed to Merzouga, land of the Atlas Mountains, the Sahara desert and beautiful sand dunes.

The road trip included pee stops, gas stops and a stop in the town of Midelt for a 90D lunch. It was here that we encountered our first of many Moroccan toilets. Also known as a hole in the ground. My best advice… embrace it! They are much easier to use than hovering over the Thai and Philippine versions.


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