From Meknes we went on to Fez, the oldest of Morocco’s imperial cities, for two nights! The Hotel Menzeh was a super hotel with very pleasant, helpful staff, good food and roof top bar, glass lift and easy access to all the amenities of the city! I could see Carrefour and MacDonalds within easy reach; these provided a point of reference because all taxis drivers knew these places and we could find our hotel from there. My room with its draped curtains was reminiscent of a Bedouin tent; three walls had heavily cushioned settees and the balcony provided a clear view of this town.
By now we had become a group and mixed very easily with each other: joining together at dining tables and chatting as we got on and off the coach and moved around the various points of interest; I was no longer a lone traveller but a group member, an acquaintance. We began exchanging information about each other, our homes and families.
Our guide Mohammed -1 in 4 males is called Mohammed – was waiting, and we began an exhausting but extremely interesting tour. First we visited the Mullar, the Jewish quarter – no Jews live there now but do own most of the properties. The gate was very ornate and as we arrived so did three storks, a lucky omen.
We strolled across to the King’s Palace with severe warnings not to take photographs of the soldiers/police/ Palace guards! We peeped through the tiny gap in the door and could see the Palace Garden; the Princess was in residence and had been seen in the local market the previous day.
Then we had a visit to a ceramic factory where they made the various pieces from larger tiles to fit into the mosaic – working conditions set us back in time as we watched men sitting crossed legged on a cushion, tapping away with a chisel to produce a variety of shapes. On to a panoramic view of the Medina, 8,500 streets which were so narrow sometimes it was difficult for two people to pass and the surface underfoot was a veritable hazard – cobbles, potholes, raised manhole covers, steps; there was no refrigeration, so flies had a great time settling on the raw and the cooked food (enough to set a health and safety officer into a frenzy!) Souks for one type of produce were grouped together, so firstly we passed fruit and veg, then spices, on into leather – a visit to the tannery necessitated a sprig of mint under the nostrils – sweets and cakes, bridal wear plus exotic white leather, jewelled bridal furniture, and lastly a carpet factory where the most beautiful carpets were rolled out for us as we sipped mint tea. There were 7 Madrassa within the Medina, all state schools run for the instruction of the Koran.
A tiring day, but we felt that we had seen really traditional Moroccan life with all the produce it had to offer; photography was limited as sometimes we were stopped by the locals, unless we paid for taking shots – no photography at all in the bridal area where all the bridal chairs, heavily decorative, large tagines for favours and carriages were displayed.
An evening out took us to a Riad (town house) where we had traditional food for dinner followed by a variety of entertainment – a magician, a belly dancer, a drum beating group and a belly dancer who also ate fire! A full evening finished off by the youngest lady in our group being dressed in traditional bridal wear and “married” to our tour director! Dull it was not.
Back to our hotel, to relax and mingle with fellow passengers, then off to bed with “alarm, cases, coach leaves” firmly ringing in our ears.