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Bou Inania at dusk (May 2017).

My adventures in Morocco came to an end in Fez (or “Fès”), located in the northeast and is considered the cultural capital of the country. Along with my friend with whom I was traveling since Marrakech, we spent three nights in the city exploring as much of the souks and notable landmarks that it had to offer, as well as eating to our heart’s content on delicious Moroccan food, both traditional and modern.

From Marrakech, we took a seven-and-a-half hour train north, which has been the longest train ride I’ve done so far…ever! It never occurred to me just how big Morocco was (actually the size of California!), to the point of spending a huge chunk of the day in-transit between the two cities. Any case, my friend and I purchased first-class seats since they were *very* reasonably-priced (311 dirham= 31 euros) and we wanted to be comfortable on the long journey over. I usually don’t pay for first-class, but that purchase turned out to be worth it: we got seats which were wide and spacious, tables on which we could eat lunch, and AC turned on for comfort, especially when it look absolutely boiling outside. With all these amenities and good company, the train ride to Fez went by faster and more pleasantly than I’d expected.

We arrived into the gare de Fès close to 19h00; we took a “petit taxi” (small, red taxi that fits up to three people) over to our hostel, where we checked in and got settled into our room. I would have to say that I liked our hostel in Fez way better than the one in Marrakesh; in fact, I was in love with it right when we came in! This isn’t to say that Marrakesh’s wasn’t good, but I found Fez’s much cleaner and well-maintained. Our room even had a bathroom inside, which made it less annoying to constantly go in and out; there was even air conditioning, which was absolutely heaven! Plus, you can’t go wrong with this stellar view of the city at sunset from the hostel’s terrace:

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View from the hostel terrace at sunset.

After getting settled into our bunks, my friend and I went out for dinner, as well as briefly checked out the atmosphere of the quarter and made mental note of where to head the following day. Our hostel was a five-minute walk from the Bab Bou Jeloud (“The Blue Gate”), which connects two quarters, the Fes el-Bali and Fes el-Jdid. We ended up getting dinner at one of the noisy cafes along the way to the Blue Gate, where we sat outside and had dinner in the middle of a bustling souk. I got a tagine d’agneau (“lamb tagine”) and split a pastilla (“pigeon pie”) with my friend. The latter isn’t actually made of pigeon, but rather beef or chicken that’s wrapped in a circular, layered pastry and topped with powdered sugar. At first, the concept of meat and sugar seemed really strange to us, but the flavors surprisingly worked out! We ended up polishing off the entire pastilla along with our food before rolling our bellies back to our hostel to rest after a long day of traveling.

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Tagine d’agneau for dinner.
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Pastilla, aka “pigeon pie.”

We had a lovely, balanced breakfast in our hostel before we began our visit of Fez the following morning. Just like the night before, we headed in the same direction towards the Blue Gate, before making a turn into one of the narrow passageways of the souks where we were swept into the noisy, claustrophobic line of stalls selling everything from lamps to slippers to Argan oil. What surprised me was that the merchants were less aggressive than those in Marrakesh; I could actually breathe and relax when making my way through the souks, which was a huge relief. As a result, it made me love Fez even more.

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Bab Bou Jeloud (“The Blue Gate”).
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Colorful alley of a carpet souk.

Our first stop for the day was at the Bou Inania madrasa, which like the Ben Youssef madrasa in Marrakech is reputed to be one of the best in all of Morocco. Cost to enter was 20 dirham (2 euros). I enjoyed the courtyard with its intricate carvings and designs all over: on the walls, ceilings, even arches. The place was beautiful, that’s for sure, but we couldn’t go onto the second floor, which could’ve taken our 20 dirham further. Any case, we got to visit the iconic madrasa of the city!

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Inside the Bou Inania.
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Arches inside the Bou Inania.

Pushing through the bustling crowd upon exiting, we continued winding our way through the narrow streets to the next madrasa, the al-Attarine. Once again, we paid another 20 dirhams to enter and while it was nice inside, we felt done at that point visiting madrasas. After all, they were adding up in cost when they all appeared to look the same, anyway, so we stopped after that.

Instead, we passed through the metalwork quarter of the medina before arriving at the tanneries where we got views above of the colorful buckets of chemicals used to treat animal hide to be made into leather. While not the most pleasant description (and the smell was left to be desired), the tanneries were something that we’d wanted to see, and it happened! What wasn’t cool, though, was that a man demanded money from us to see the tanneries, since we had to access the viewing terrace from a small leather shop, in which he’d also tried to sell us stuff. We didn’t pay him, of course (he did nothing for us, anyway), and we walked away quickly so he wouldn’t follow us. Even though Fez was less intense than Marrakesh in terms of harassment, it was still there, unfortunately…

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Tanneries.

It was absolutely broiling at midday, so having finished up what we’d wanted to see in the Fes el-Bali quarter, my friend and I decided to retreat back to the hostel for some respite from the heat. We headed out later that afternoon to visit the Fes el-Jdid, the other touristy quarter of Fez which contained the Mellah, or Jewish quarter. There were two places we wanted to check out– the Jardin Jnan Sbil (“Sbil Jnan Garden”) and the Golden Gates of the Royal Palace– so we slowly set out towards them, despite the still-blistering sun.

We first visited the Jardin Jnan Sbil, which is a botanical garden just right at the border between the Fes el-Bali and Fes el-Jdid. It’s known to be the “oasis of the Medina,” and after spending some time wandering through the lush, colorful vegetation and peering at the elegantly-designed fountains, I could see how it would be defined as paradise!

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Jardin Jnan Sbil.

Heading over to the Royal Palace, we passed through a smaller souk where, to my utter surprise, not one merchant stopped us to sell something. You could say that it was incredible, even better than in the Fes el-Bali, where there’s significantly more tourists. It made for a pleasant stroll without the fear of getting harassed, and soon enough, we made it to the Royal Palace, its gleaming Golden Gates in all its splendor. The doors were so bright that they were almost blinding: I’d read somewhere that they’re cleaned with lemon juice, which I supposed is how they can maintain their luster! I’d been meaning to see them in-person, and I was so glad that we made the trek all the way over.

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Palais Royale with the Golden Gates.

My friend and I returned to the Jardin Jnan Sbil, where we relaxed for a bit and enjoyed the outdoors. By then, temperatures were cooling off: the wide-sweeping palm trees provided plenty of shade, and the wind started to pick up speed as we sat on a bench to admire the garden and chat idly before returning to the hostel in the evening.

Arriving back, we met another hostel-goer in our room who’d just checked in and was settling in. We ended up striking up a conversation, getting to know each other before deciding to go out for dinner together. Having looked up restaurant suggestions, I proposed a modern, burger cafe as a break from the traditional places my friend and I had been going to so far. Not to say that I was tired of eating tagine and couscous, but what interested me about this cafe was that it served date milkshakes and…camel burgers?! Animal and vegetarian opinions aside, I was very curious about what camel burgers were all about; my friend and the hostel-goer were fine with it, so off we went!

The three of us took seats on the cafe’s terrace, which offered a stunning view of the Bou Inania minaret right up close (and personal). Granted, it was chilly that evening, but it was still a good time trying the date milkshake (wonderfully thick and creamy, with pieces of dates for added texture) and the camel burger (had a slightly gamy taste, but was tender and well-seasoned with herbs). There was plenty of food to go around, and I was satisfied in the end: never thought I would go to Morocco to eat burgers, especially those made from camel, but it turned out to be an adventurous decision that paid off!

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Camel burger and date milkshake for dinner.

We returned to our hostel afterwards, and after inviting the hostel-goer to join us for our trip to Chefchaouen (she said yes), we turned in for the night. The following day was spent in the “Blue Pearl of Morocco,” and we just had dinner in town upon returning to Fez before relaxing for the rest of the night. My friend and I had half the day the morning after to explore the last of Fez before we had to head to the airport for our flight back to France. We explored the souks again, purchasing last-minute gifts; I ended up buying a small box of figs (15 dirham= 1,50 euros) and a pair of Morocco’s signature pointed-toe slippers (25 dirham= 2,50 euros!). I gave the figs to my friend in Paris, who I was crashing his couch for a few nights before I headed home to the States; it was a way of thanking him for his hospitality. The slippers were for me, and I’ve been wearing them all the time back in Los Angeles- finding them for so cheap makes them even more precious (paradoxical as it sounds)!

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Purple slippers.

Alas, our time in Morocco came to an end shortly afterwards: we took a taxi around noon over to the airport, where we checked in and boarded our 14h30 flight to Beauvais. We got in around 17h00 and from there took the shuttle back to Paris. My friend and I parted on the metro, going separate ways after a week together in Morocco; I headed to my friend’s flat, arriving just past 21h00 tired, but glad to have returned.

Overall, I wouldn’t have asked for a better place to finish up my travels than in Fez, which again I found more pleasant than Marrakesh. This isn’t to say that I didn’t like the latter, but I found Fez to be less chaotic, less aggressive, and less hot (being up north, Fez is around five degrees cooler than Marrakesh). I felt more comfortable in Fez, and that was all it took to win me over in the end.

As for Morocco in general, I would have to say that it’d been a crazy, but fruitful week visiting the country. While I didn’t see a whole lot of cities (didn’t get to places like Casablanca, Rabat, Tangier), the ones I did see gave me a taste of what it was all about…and a good taste, it was! Sure, the constant cat-calling and harassment from Moroccan men was very off-putting, but I learned quickly just to ignore them; I tried not to let it affect what was to be a fun vacation and, for the most part, it worked. I admit, though, I plan to be more cautious (and conscious) of traveling there again in the future, especially as a female.

Thanks for reading up to this point, and I plan to write about my other travels in due time. À bientôt!

 

— Rebecca

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