A seven hour train trip to Fez and what a difference a day makes!!
We left a desert type environment where it looks a challenge to grow anything that a resembles a crop through to the softeness of Casablanca on the coast then inland again through far greener and more picturesque rolling hills. As always the trains seem to take you through some of the least attractive areas of a city, perhaps that's preparing you for the worst, but it never gives a great representation of a place. The images we've seen on google or pinterest never look like like this!!
But more to the point was the fun experience on the train north. We had learnt to be suspicious of everyone but sure enough a bright fit young man bounds into the spare seat in our compartment , having just qualified for a six month internment with Goldman Sachs in San Franscisco, was so excited that the four of us joined in the excitement and upshot of it all by the time we departed boosum buddies in Fez, we had accepted his invitation to dinner, meet his parents, sister and brother that night. Whats there to lose, a chance to meet some locals our age and try some home cooked food and there are four of us so its safety in numbers.We get to our riad, welcomed with open arms then our waiter come attendant, with law degree and honours , can't get a job sad, story, we tell him how excited we were about our dinner date and organised tour of all and sundry by a new train friend. He immediately goes into panic mode warning us to not take up the dinner offer. He described what will happen and how people do this on the trains, we ignored him, didn't trust him and went to dinner .
Now we trust no one.The best of all came as we trained out of Fez the next day, reading about touring Morocco and it explained in minute detail what had happened to us the previous day.
I don't know if you have read the Koran but according to that book there are a hell of a lot of Moroccans going to the bad place when they meet Allah.
Anyway it was more in the buildup than the event really.A guide and taxi driver meet us outside the riad and drove us across town for half an hour, luckily the house was very nice, and we had a fabulous pre dinner snack of sweets biscuits, macaroons, small chocolate type cup cakes, almond crescents, tiny curry flavoured savoury biscuits, nuts etc and delicious mint tea. Not quite what you would start a meal with but we were all enthusiastic and keen to indulge.
Then later a delicious meal of pastilla, tagine, and flat breads. No sign of father sadly, mother could not speak English and the two daughters were studying medicine at Oxford in the UK, our host says its easy to get to Oxford!! Luckily it was a pleasnt courteous atmosphere as there were a couple of cracks appearing in the story.
At nine o'clock we went home in the taxi and still no money changed hands, promised next morning we will meet our guide at nine thirty just a few metre around the corner from our Riad. A quick tour of the medina then to the carpet factory, a co-operative with 330 widows still making carpets by hand and selling through them. The mint tea arrived, we were placed in the usual fitting seats and the hard sell hit us from all sides, think they thought they would make at least 100k. The old sales guy, who'd been described to us as the history teacher, got so excited when close no. 43 didn't work he just about collapsed!!!!Then it was off at speed to the tannery with the mint leaves almost up the nose to stem the stench of the hides being soaked for days in water and urea (pigeon poop).We had a quick guided tour of Fez's famous tannery then ......they hunted the four of us to the "try on" room and round two started.
No success, nice leather, but not our style.
They tended to get very abrupt when they didn't sell anything especially five minutes after the big promise was made, buy or no buy no worries.
Then the guide made the mistake of letting us loose for lunch and we parted company minus €15 per couple. To cover taxi fares. We were too proud to admit our mistake to our house boy and it only really dawned on us how much effort they had gone to, if they get reported its a short spell in prison. But we got a good story to laugh at, no money lost and only our pride slightly bruised.
Our feelings about this wonderful city are mixed but you can't deny the years of colourful history that Fez holds. The former capital of Morocco and still the third largest city in the country. Fes el Bali, which is the oldest part of the walled city, was founded between 789 and 808 AD and is home to the oldest university in the world. The city is reviving some of its popularity within the country thanks to the King choosing a Berber wife from Fez.
The rabbit warren of tiny alleyways that form the Medina, of which there are actually two, is believed to be the largest car- free urban area in the world. It's considered the handicraft capital of Morocco but nowadays the quality and value of its wares are debatable. Probably because the Punto has no room in it and they don't make hand knotted Moroccan car floor mats small enough, our limited purchases brought out an undesirable thought pattern in a few of the merchants.
Our Riad was wonderful, clean spacious, very polite helpful host and hostess and the best part is the breakfast served up on the rooftop. Not only delicious fresh juice, pancakes, local breads and mint tea but the view of the city is magnificent. Easy to whittle away a few hours up here with great company, good food and a wonderful environment to enjoy.
Looking up, Fez has its share of Beauty, but down that maze of little streets, we were not so sure.