Monday, December 5, 2016

New Old Fes

So we wandered a bit around the “new” city, more than we wanted to, but we were in no mood to walk further. We had gotten an intentional late start anyway, and I had insisted on taking Chris to the Costa to get a good coffee. I had one so large that I had to lift the mug with two hands – it literally had two handles and I needed to use both of them. The Costa was in Bourj Fes, a mall like any other you’ve ever been to, with the same stores selling the same products made in the same sweatshops. It was close enough to our hotel in Ville Nouvelle that we could walk to it. After sitting for a while, we were close enough to the “new” city that we could walk to that, too, so we did.

Here are some things we saw:

Fes taxis are red and plentiful, and the drivers are pretty good about turning on the meters instead of ripping off tourists.

"new" city wall

Garden of the Alawites

royal palace lamps

Royal Palace

Our first encounter with storks

Then we needed a rest. And eventually we would need to eat. That coffee was enough to keep me running for a good portion of daylight, but the sun sinks quickly in November and considering we’d used up a good chunk of it in our hotel and at the Costa, we didn’t have much of it left. We found a rooftop café and had a couple of Cokes before proceeding into the old medina to a restaurant called 7.

Rooftop view from Clock Cafe

Restaurant 7 had been around for some time, but it had recently changed owners and had undergone renovations. In fact, it wasn’t technically open at all, but they let us in anyway. We had the whole place to ourselves the entire night and the attention of the American expat owner and his Moroccan business partner and chef. They had renamed the place Nur, but they knew it would always be Restaurant 7.

Inside Nur (Restaurant 7)

The commissioned painting is supposed to represent hope for women's future. The little girl looks pessimistic to me.

We are toasting camel milk. It tasted like...milk.

Charles sat with us for some of our time there, telling us about the restaurant and how he came to Fes. He and his partner ran Moroccan restaurants in the US – they did quite well. They did a White House gig and had pictures to prove it. She is, in fact, a friend of the White House pastry chef, who is in charge of all the desserts for White House dinners. With these credentials, we knew the fixed menu of harissa soup, camel meatballs, and assorted fruit would be fabulous. I highly recommend it to anyone who visits Fes. (They also have alcohol for those who are looking.) They’ve had their real opening since we’ve left. I know they will be successful, and if I ever return to Fes, I will return to 7.

Charles personally showed us the way out of the medina to catch a taxi back to our hotel. It wasn’t necessary, because I knew the way (and continue to be surprised by this), but it gave me a chance to ask questions about living in Fes. He pointed out some of the local people, some elders of the town, some unsavory characters, and it was then when the city became something more than a rundown Disneyland. It was a real place, with people like you’d read about in a Naguib Mahfouz novel. I realized you could never know Fes unless you lived there.

I suppose that is true for everywhere in the world…but I have been places where I felt I knew it almost immediately. Like Beirut. Like Dublin. Like Seville. Fes…it is something entirely different, like an onion, really, with so many layers that you don’t want to bite into without cooking it for a bit. What we tasted was raw.

That experience in 7 made our trip. The next day we had a take-it-easy day where we went to an Italian restaurant near our hotel (by this time we were getting tired of tajine and couscous), returning to chill for a bit before going out later to a place called Isla Blanca or other that claimed to be “Mediterranean” but still served the same Moroccan food. I had some more Moroccan wine, which is quite good. It’s a shame most of the population won’t enjoy it. We followed it up by hanging out with the locals at Cala Iris and were only disappointed by the fact that we couldn’t talk to anyone because our language skills are sorely lacking. But we felt welcome anyway.

More mint tea!

I wrote about it before, but the reason I am having trouble with the languages is that my brain can’t decide which to use. I want to use French because I am better with it but that’s not the first language Moroccans use. Then I want to use Arabic but I only know classical Arabic and Moroccan Arabic is really its own language. We haven’t gotten to talk to people here as we would in other countries where English is widely spoken. It’s a shame. It’s one of my favorite parts about traveling and it’s my own fault I haven’t kept up my language skills. A task for winter…

Because Chris is not getting around very well, I contacted a travel agency that arranges accessible tours for those with mobility issues to arrange our trip to the desert. Neither of us knew the difficulty he would face, with all the walking and especially the hills of Tangier and Fes. The agency, Moroccan Accessible Tours, was able to quickly arrange a driver for us who would understand that there was a passenger who couldn’t do all the walking. They have personally travelled all over Morocco to find hotels, restaurants, and other services that are friendly to people with mobility issues. Americans take for granted ramps and elevators for the disabled, measures made possible by governmental regulations. Most countries in the world don’t have this luxury. If you are disabled in many countries, you don’t leave your house because there is no way to get around. Curbs are eight inches high here in Morocco without ramps, so you can’t even travel down the sidewalk in a wheelchair. Things are slowly changing, and Morocco IS becoming accessible. Moroccan Accessible Tours goes out of its way to show that you CAN travel to Morocco if you have mobility issues.

Then we began our long, long car ride.

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