Thursday, December 21, 2006


I’ve been to a few of UNESCO World Heritage Sites now; the places get on the list because of historical and cultural significance and uniqueness. There are too many for me to be able to collect all of them, but I have been to almost every state and major league ballpark, so visiting more UNESCO World Heritages sites might be fun…

The Fes medina is on the list and with good reason. It’s a thriving community and has been so for about a thousand years. Last weekend I met fellow PCVs Rose and Janeila in Fes, and this past weekend Orianna and Sherwin. I thought I’d combine the descriptions of both. Long story short – if you visit Morocco you must see Fes!

Rose, Janeila and I were all ready to treat ourselves to a little post-training splurge, and we stayed in the Royal Suite at the Riad Sheherazade (look on the web for it!). It actually wasn’t that expensive by real-people standards, but considering our Peace Corps living allowances, we all visited the ATM. And it was worth it – we spent a lot of time in the room talking (and enjoying the heat and hot showers). We also splurged on a dinner – more because it was the only place nearby at a point when we were really hungry than because we needed an expensive Moroccan meal, but it was nice that we were all okay with that. And the Riad’s breakfast the next day was excellent.

And we walked along Talaa Kbira, (big hill), the main street of the old medina. Little shop after little shop on this narrow street. Lots of people…no room for cars, but we’d all go off to the side when we heard the yell to move, meaning a donkey or horse laden with cargo was coming through. You pass food stalls and then shoe stalls and then a mixture of lamps, carpets, pottery, leather goods, fabric and other items, stores catering to tourists and stores with basics for locals. Off to the side are various specialty souks – henna, ceramics, the famous tanneries and more. We missed most of those, looking upon the weekend as a scouting trip warranting future exploration; we walked for hours and didn’t even make it to the end of the one street where we spent most of the time! I bought a little drum with a henna design on it – over the years I have kind of randomly acquired several musical instruments, and I think those would be fun things to get here. Rose bought an antique Hand of Fatima (with Hebrew writing!) to ward off the evil eye in her new home. Janeila bought a jellaba and a housecoat; her site is cold. We all bought shampoo or soap with argan oil, something unique to Morocco. I tried on a fez, but it felt like cardboard and it wasn’t even photo-worthy. And all too quickly it was time to go – we had to leave right after breakfast on Sunday because Rose and I had a meeting in her site, Sefrou, about the GLOW (Girls Leading our World – now Guys and Girls, except this camp is just girls) camp.

Sefrou is about the same size as Azrou and is known for its cherry festival and for being a former center of Morocco’s Jewish population. After the meeting we walked to her new house (she found one already! Can’t move in yet but she showed it off), part of a villa in the hills above the city, and then walked in the medina – it feels different from Azrou’s – older? More narrow and twisty-turny? More lively? Maybe just different,

The next weekend, since I got there before everyone else, I decided to walk from the grand taxi station to the train station, where Orianna was coming in – turned out that I happened to walk along the main street of the Ville Nouvelle, the French-built part, with a lot of cafes, patisseries and activity (it not exactly night life). We stayed in the medina in a Peace-Corps-budget pensione, but maybe would stay in the Ville Nouvelle next time. Orianna, Sherwin and I had a modest sidewalk lunch of pastilla ((chicken and almond paste in a pastry) and then set out on the Talaa Sgria (small hill). Great ceramics shop…for some day. No musical instrument – next time – but we did make it to the famous tanneries, which are open vats for the processing and dyeing of hides – they have been doing it that way for 1000 years. It wasn’t as malodorous as I had been led to believe – then again, they also have tales of people getting lost in the medina, but it is well-signed with routes of different colors depending on one’s interest. We didn’t make it to the artisana, I didn’t get a musical instrument (no major shopping for this bunch), and we didn’t go to Fes El-Jdid (the new old part, with the old Jewish quarter) or to any of the medersas (they’re in the tour books as points of interest) so there is still more to do! Sunday morning we went to the Musee Batha, a museum of antique crafts (some of the ones today look very similar) in an old Riad. We saw the exhibits and then sat in the sun in garden for a long time, talking and relaxing. It was about getting together, not about seeing a lot of Fes. Again, we’ll be back.

Saturday night we had dinner at an Italian restaurant in the Ville Nouvelle – the word pastilla had made Sherwin think it was pasta, and that power of suggestion was enough. I had spaghetti bolgonese, which was delicious! Sunday after the museum we went back to the Ville Nouvelle and found a café, had a juice and played Scrabble. Then we had pizza and frites (common eat-out food here!) and it was time to part ways.

When I go on my trips in the U.S., I love driving a rental car – getting there is part of the fun. Here, the grand taxis are not fun. On the way to Fes the first weekend, I got the “seat” between the front seat and the gear shift. From Sefrou to Immouzer, the driver kept drifting into the left-hand lane; I was in the front right and kept leaning to the right, willing the car back into the right lane – which somehow worked! At Immouzer it was hard to get a taxi – darkness was approaching and we’re not allowed to travel after dark…finally I had to text the Peace Corps office and just then a bus came and I got on the bus to Azrou. The next weekend’s travel was a little smoother, but being packed into the back seat with three other people isn’t comfortable either. These Saturday-night out-of-sites are a gift (not all countries get them) and I want to take advantage of them, but the transport makes me wonder how far and wide I want to roam. Then again, this is a developing country - that’s part of the package. I did have New Yorkers with me, and soon I will have books sent from home (inshallah). It’s definitely worth it to see friends and to see more of Morocco – but it’s also one of the things to overcome. Glad to live only a little over an hour away from both Fes and Meknes – I can also go just for the day to either of those imperial cities!

You gotta get musical instruments! At least photos...
sounds fun!
Thanks for the endorsement - that settles it - musical instruments it is! Then when people come over we can have a jam session. And you're right, I need photos too.

It was fun! In a way it was like Venice - no cars, very twisty, lots of people - but of course completely different! I hope you like it when you visit.
So glad to see that although we are "worlds apart" our minds are still in just so happens that I made Bolognese last weekend for the first time in many, many years ---- coincidence....I think not!!!
No - there are no coincidences! I noticed on the menu of my favorite restaurant here in Azrou that they too have spaghetti bolognese! So I don't have to wait to go back to Fes for it. Of course, when I start cooking for myself I could probably make it too!
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