Monday, July 21, 2014

Dr. Plotnick's Moroccan Cat Adventure - Day 6 - Full Day in Fes

Morocco Day 6 - Full Day in Fes (Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5)

After last night’s foray into the hectic maze that is Fes, I was ready to tackle it head on.  Take a look at this map

Your best bet is to make your way to the main entry gate to the medina, Bab Boujeloud, which is depicted as an arch in the lower left corner.

Lots of signs pointing to it, so finding it wasn’t too tough.  From there, the road splits into the two main road in the medina, Tala’a Kebira, which meanders north, and Tala’a Sghira, which runs sorta parallel to the south of Tala’a Kebira, before eventually heading north and intersecting with it.  Tala’a Kebira is the road with most of the good stuff. 

We headed to just outside the medina, and started our first full day in Fes. 

There’s the entry to the medina, Bab Boujeloud. 

This Moorish-style gate is considered to be the most beautiful of the many entry gates to Fes. It’s 1000 years younger than the other gates, built only in 1913. If you look through the gate, you can see the green tile tower of the Bou Inania Medersa.  We were headed there soon.  The front of Bab Boujeloud is tiled in blue; when you go in and turn around, you see the back of the gate is tiled in green.

As I mentioned above, two main arteries emerge from Bab Boujeloud.  We stayed left and went onto Tala’a Kebira.   You start inside a covered market.  There are lots of butcher stalls, and not surprisingly, there are cats hovering nearby, hoping to be tossed a few pieces of meat.  

This brightly lit stall shows a cat waiting patiently while the butcher fills this man’s order.  

Well, maybe not so patiently. 

The market sells everything; vegetables and fruits, live chickens,

and plenty of fresh herbs, including lots of mint for the mint tea.

As you emerge from the covered market, you soon encounter the Bou Inania Medersa. 

The carved cedar,

zellij tile work, and stucco design is a revelation.   In the large courtyard, well-preserved decorations cover nearly every surface. 

There’s beautiful calligraphy on the stucco,

and on the tiles below. 

Check out the amazing stucco and cedar.

Here’s the prayer hall (off limits to non-Muslims). 

In this view, you can see all three – the intricate tilework, stucco, and wood carving.  If you zoom in, you can see a man inside studying the Koran. 

Definitely an amazing piece of architecture.

We exited the medersa and continued up Tala’a Kebira, the medina’s principle thoroughfare.  This street is a real barrage of sights, sounds, and smells. I came upon a cute calico kitten,  

and a store selling famous Moroccan Argan oil.

I loved the colorful tassels hanging from the top.  We passed by some picturesque alleys,

and saw donkeys carrying their cargo to the nearby market.  

We hit a colorful stretch of road where carpets were the main item on display.   

The next stretch of Tala’a Kebira was called Souk Attarine, the “souk of the spice vendors”. 

One stall was particularly appealing   The proprietor was more than willing to give us a smell (or taste) of his spices.

Mark spent $20 on saffron, which he said would cost about $200 here in the U.S., and Mark, being a major cook, couldn’t resist loading up on spices to bring back home.

We then passed a few old fondouks, the most interesting of them being the fondouk Qa’at Smen. 

It used to be a prison, but is now used as a place to buy smen (salted butter), olive oil, and a dozen types of honey.

We continued up the street and a young calico was sleeping peacefully on a comfy cushion.

It’s clear that cats are a normal part of the Fes community, and it was nice to see them so integrated into everyday life here. 

Just off Souk Attarine, accessed through an arch opposite the Dar Saada restaurant, is the Souk el Henna. 

This little henna market is one of the medina’s most picturesque squares, with a huge, gnarled fig tree in the center,

and rows of spices, hennas, ceramics, and aphrodisiacs for sale in the little surrounding stalls.

A few yards away, was Nejjarine Complex,

which consists of Place Nejjarine (a small plaza) and the Nejjarine Fountain.

The fountain is beautiful.  Like most of the monuments here, there’s carved cedar, stucco, and tile.  This is a working fountain; you can see a woman here getting a drink from it. The ceiling of the fountain was particularly striking.  

Next to the fountain is a museum, which the guidebooks don’t really recommend.  I didn’t go in, but I did enjoy playing with a kitten hanging out just outside the museum.

We continued our walk and soon arrived at one of the most important mosques in the Western Muslim world, the Kairouine Mosque.

The mosque is immense, at 10,760 sq feet.  Unfortunately, non-Muslims cannot go in, but they let you peek inside the door. 

 If you lean into the entryway and aim your camera skyward, you get to see the fantastic tile ceiling.  

Right next door is the Café Boutouail,

where they sell desserts, their specialty being panache, a mixture of milk, almond milk, and raisins, with a blob of ice-cream on top, for 5 dirhams (about 60 cents). Of course, I got one.  It was great. 

Down the road, we hit my favorite part of the walk, the Place Seffarine.

This is a wide, triangular souk of coppersmiths.

It’s a nice open space, which was a nice change from the narrow alleys of the medina. You can tell you’re approaching by the sound of the metalworkers hammering away at the huge iron and copper cauldrons.

At one of the nearby stalls, there was a nice orange cat.  I went over to pat her, and the owner of the stall said that her name was Zara.

She was a real sweetie.  (The next day, I saw the cat again and called out her name, and the other owner of the stall, who didn’t know that I had met the cat before, was stunned that I knew the cat’s name.  It was fun freaking him out like that.)
After a long day of sightseeing, it was finally time to head back to our riad.  We hadn’t been up to the riad’s rooftop, so we checked it out.  It was very serene,

and being the only people in the riad, we had it all to ourselves.  The view was pretty nice, with all the satellite dishes atop the riads. 

I wonder if they all face Mecca. 

After chilling for a while, we headed back out to the famous Café Clock. 

This place is a favorite for tourists and expats, due to the laid-back vibe and hip, English menu. 

 It’s named for the extraordinary water clock right above it. 

It was removed about a decade ago for research and restoration.  The woodwork has been restored, but the metal parts have yet to be replaced.  It’s been a curiosity for ages.  Nobody has yet been able to discover exactly how it functioned, although one account says that at every hour, one of the 13 windows would open, dropping a weight down into a brass bowl below.  In the café, Mark got a bowl of harira soup and an iced mint tea.

We would return to Café Clock twice more during the trip.  It was such a relaxed and friendly place, with young, hipster waiters. It really felt like we were in the east village in Manhattan.  Granted, we didn’t travel to Morocco to get a taste of the east village, but after day of being pestered for money by beggars and merchants, it was a welcome respite to sit in an Americanized café and chill. 

We ended the evening at the spectacular Dar Roumana.  This riad is said to serve some of the best food in Fes.  The décor is also amazing.   Reservations are a must, and we made them online, weeks ago.  The menu was more French than Moroccan, and the food was excellent.  It was the ambiance that was really the star here.  The courtyard in the riad is the site of the restaurant.

The walls and floors were beautiful, and the tables were nicely set. 

The ceilings were high, and the lanterns and windows were impressive. 

As part of the reservation, a porter from the restaurant came to our riad and escorted us to and from the restaurant, because the streets in Fes are so labyrinthine that there would be no way to find it, or find our way back. 

Tomorrow:  no agenda!  The plan is to just wander the streets of Fes and go wherever our eyes and feet take us.  Should be fun!

Day 7
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