Yes! This was more like it. This was the Morocco my friend and I were anticipating when we were crossing the Strait of Gibraltar.
Fes, one of Morocco’s four “imperial cities,” is an absolutely charming place—so long as you don’t mind the heat, the smell, the donkeys. It features Morocco’s, indeed the world’s largest medina; a labyrinthine maze of cobble-stone alleyways, narrow roads and souks. And, lucky us, we were staying in an absolutely gorgeous riad smack dab in the center of the place.
We were only staying in the city for two days, so opted for an official guide to show us around. It was well worth it! In fact, I’d say it was probably one of the best decisions we have made thus far. (I really don’t know how we would have managed to see half the sites were we left to our own devices.)
In a little over a half a day, we visited one of Morocco’s most beautiful madrasas, which, much to our surprise, was modeled on Granada’s Alhambra. We also visited the University of Al-Karaouine, founded in 859 AD and an important center of theological study to this day.
However, without doubt, our most memorable moment came when we visited one of Fes’ many tanneries. I shall be forever grateful to the manager, who wisely suggested we take a generous handful of mint leaves with us during our tour. (The smell was beyond comprehension and, I later learned, due to the large vats of all-natural ammonia solution, made from a rich mixture of pigeon excrement and cow urine.)
Among the many leather goods on offer were the ubiquitous Moroccan slippers, which continue to mystify me. Despite the manager’s insistence to the contrary, the shoes simply do not fit properly. Regardless of one’s size, one’s heels are invariably left unprotected by the unusually short soles. Très bizarre.
Of course, as we did in Chefchaouen, we located a nearby hotel’s bar to unwind. On order: Fes’ own Spéciale Flag. Heavenly.
As much as we would have liked to stay in Fes for a day or two more (if for no other reason than to bask in the extraordinary hospitality of our guest house), we had to press on to Marrakech. And so, after two remarkable days in the heart of old Morocco, we boarded a train (at 2 a.m.!) to Marrakech. All aboard that train…