Walking in Circles, Part 1: Fes

by Michael

We arrived in Fes and did our usual walk to find a hotel. The problem with Fes (and many Moroccan cities) is that the hotels in the medinas (old walled cities) are on narrow streets behind nondescript doors. Even when we can find them, we can’t figure out if they are in our price range. And once you find a place, you must sit down and have some mint tea before you do anything else, then you can see the room, and maybe after that you can learn the price.

After visiting a couple places that were booked, we saw (and had mint tea) a place that we could have booked for about $35 per night. But we didn’t think it was a good value and wasn’t quite in the location that we wanted to be in, so we kept on. We went across the Fes Medina to find a better neighborhood but didn’t find the right type of doors. Many Moroccans tried to lead us to the “Funky Fes” (a cheap hostel) but we thought that wouldn’t be a good idea.

After at least an hour (we got so lost — literally going around the narrow winding streets in circles without seeing another hotel option), we found Dar Bensouda. The centuries-old building with a restored courtyard was gorgeous. We had to stay for the mint tea. And two nights.

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This place is gorgeous (now say it again with a British accent — it will seem even better)

The rooms surrounded the 17th century courtyard (the age is what we think were told; we have no other basis), and the pool and chairs were in the rebuilt side area.

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It’s so cool, in my pool!  There’s no school, in my pool!

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They only had a suite available the first night — roughly triple the price we would have paid at the cheaper place — but we had struggled to find any other options and it was beautiful. So this was it (and we moved into an ordinary room for the next night, cutting the price by 1/3).

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The ceilings in our room were tall.

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Our door was short.

We had planned to splurge on a nice Riad somewhere in Morocco. While this wasn’t a Riad (Ryad) because it didn’t have a garden, it was nice and we enjoyed it very much. It was a great place for me to sit and work on some writing.

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The manager was very helpful, giving us good advice on how to navigate the Fes Medina, what was open at certain times of day, and to ignore the Moroccans who will tell us that the route back to our hotel “is closed” (and those men did say that — that’s how we knew we were close).

We went to Kasbah Cafe, recommended by my friend Katy. The food was good and the free starter of Zaalouk — the eggplant and tomato dish we learned to make at our cooking class in Essaouira — was tasty.

The next morning we set out on our next adventure in the Fes Medina. We ran into our fellow Sahara travelers from Switzerland, who had hired a private guide. Their guide directed us to a man who claimed to be from New Jersey, and given the mustache and accent he might have been. Our new non-guide took us to a leather shop where we could see the tanneries, though the pits were empty while we were there. That was probably better since I hear it smells extremely bad when it is in use (the use of pigeon poo and cow urine probably contribute).

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Not in use 😦

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And now for something completely different: Elizabeth, at a bank, with the bank mascot wearing a fes, in the Fes medina.

Although we didn’t buy any leather goods at the multi-floor shop, it seems we had made our way into a guided shopping tour. Mr. New Jersey wanted to direct us to a seller of Argan oil, but when we said carpet, he knew which friend to send us to.

So we did the carpet buying experience (more detail to come in a later post). Mint tea and a dozen carpets later, we didn’t like any. We were on our way our the door too quickly to be redirected to another salesperson.

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In front of the centuries-old Torah in the synagogue in Fes.  The overseer (who insisted on taking our photo) told us that the Torah was written on gazelle hide.

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Satellite TV is very popular.

After this we walked towards the new town, had lunch at an amazing hole in the wall shop (one of our best lunches of the trip so far and costing about $2 total), and made our way back to our beautiful hotel. We enjoyed a swim in the cold pool.

Fes was tough to navigate (on several occasions we accidentally found ourselves back where we had come from), but for the most part we found what we were looking for.

Next we were off to Moulay Idriss and some nearby Roman ruins at Volubilis.

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