Monday, February 9, 2015

The continuing adventure in Fès

More contrasting experiences in this fascinating country... I'm trying to be diplomatic. It's a minefield of differing cultural expectations, and I suppose that is a good reason to travel, rather than having a holiday in a safe all-inclusive resort. At least that's what I keep telling myself...that these experiences make me a better person! I understand that just by our very presence we announce our richness and privilege, let alone by how we dress or choose to spend money. Unfortunately we are viewed by many as walking ATMs. And it hasn't helped that we've had big challenges with getting cash from the real ATMs...last night we made the attempt but were denied due to "insufficient funds" only to discover that our account has actually been debited!! So we are still trying to get resolution on that from the local bank, and we're leaving tomorrow...Okay, so you get the picture about some of the "lows". There have been some "highs"as well, and it's those experiences I will now elaborate on! As I said in my opening, this is a fascinating country, and I plan to be better prepared next time! (Speak better French, have a thicker skin, know when and how much to tip...)

We had made arrangements with Hassane, our medina guide on Thursday, for a car and driver to take us to Volubilis on Friday. He also arranged for a guide to meet us at the entrance so that we wouldn't have to negotiate for one ourselves. Our driver, Yusseff, picked us up at 10 AM and off we went. Yusseff is a proud Moroccan and in quite good English proceeded to educate us about Moroccan history and culture. We drove through very attractive rolling farmland in the foothills of the Rif mountains...

And also stopped at a lake (a dammed river for agricultural irrigation as well as hydroelectric power)

Meanwhile the weather worsened, and by the time we arrived at Volubilis (around noon) it was drizzling. Volubilis was the western most Roman city in North Africa, and was abandoned at the fall of the Roman Empire. Over the subsequent centuries it was ransacked for the marble and pillars and other cut stone, many of them being incorporated into the fabulous buildings in the nearby towns of Moulay Idriss and Meknes in the 1600's. It was rediscovered in the 18th C but serious excavations didn't start until 100 years ago. The production of olive oil was very important. Here's a view of a reconstructed oil press.

And a Roman millstone for pressing olives...

Lots of floor mosaics...

The Triumphal Arch erected in AD 217 (reconstructed in 1933):

And a view of the Tangier Gate at the far end:

The Basilica...The only building still visible before the surrounding area was excavated...

Our guide spoke excellent English and had obviously given this tour many times. We felt a little rushed, although he answered all our questions and stopped whenever we got our cameras out. His demeanour fit the day...cold and unenthusiastic. Within an hour we were back at the main entrance, and he suddenly became charming, saying he hoped the tour had been good. When Lloyd handed over a tip, the look on his face was one of disgust at the amount, and he turned and stalked off. We were dismayed to say the least. (So that was a definite low point. We talked this over with an Australian woman who lives here, and she said that the amount was quite appropriate, and he was trying to guilt us into giving him more--that this is a common tactic amongst guides.)

We returned to Fès at a sedate pace, stopping for a picnic lunch and very expensive mint tea (quadrupled) at a service centre on the highway. (Another low point which didn't help our mood!). As well as pay toilets where we as tourists are expected to pay way more... There's nothing like having a woman frown at the coin and refuse to take it... I was so irritated I just walked right in and left the coin on the counter. And I had my own toilet paper...

Back in Fès, Yusseff took us to a ceramic cooperative where they make the blue and white pottery that Fès is famous for as well as the geometric mosaics in the old style (cutting and chipping the tiles to fit specific patterns). These men were making the back of a fountain which I believe is being shipped to the US.

We did buy one very small little dish. We were treated with great courtesy here in spite of not buying very much!

That night we treated ourselves to dinner at the Clock Cafe, a cross-cultural cafe where I enjoyed a fabulous hot sweet milk with roasted almond flavouring, and a goat cheese & aubergine quiche. Yum! Tasted like home! Nothing like familiar food to improve one's mood!

On Saturday we visited the splendid Musée Dar el-Batha nearby, and strolled around in a beautiful park, Jardins de Bou Jeloud. 

There were lots of families out enjoying the weather, and many students sitting with papers in their laps, appearing to be memorizing or studying. It was a nice diversion from the hectic souks. We then treated ourselves to a leisurely lunch at "The Ruined Gardens", owned and operated by an ex-pat Australian woman. We shared vegetarian tapas (goat cheese, pea/bean purée, smoked aubergine pâté, some deep fried potato balls, and bread...another yummy meal!) We're going back there for supper tonight because she assured me that her vegetable cous cous is not overcooked!

This is a view of the Main Street in the Mellah, the former Jewish quarter where many of the buildings are reminiscent of Andalusia. When the Jews and Moors were expelled from Spain (1492 and beyond) many of them came here. We'll be there on Thursday so we'll be able to see the similarities for ourselves.

This is Bab Boujeloud, or blue gate, built about 100 years ago as the principal entrance into Fès el-Bali, the historic medina. 

Beyond this gate are several restaurants, all with touts out front eager to attract the tourists. The menus are very similar if not the same, with the same prices. The only difference is the approach by these young men. I was charmed by one the first night, and we have been back there two more times. I have also made friends with the women behind the counter, well as much a "friend" as possible in this situation...smiles, "Bon jour! Comment ca va?" And thanking her for her good food. She makes one of the best Hairira soups, a Moroccan soup widely available and which is like minestrone with chickpeas. Last night we went back there for supper, first escorting 5 fellow guests from the riad (Italian women here for a 3 day weekend) to the area. Lloyd stood with them, arm-waving the choices available, saying we were going back to our current favourite. The menu touts had surrounded all of us. The Italians left to make their own decisions, we walked into La Palmeria, and the woman behind the counter raised her arms, saying "yes!" We were greeted like old friends, given mint tea and a complimentary dessert of orange and banana slices. When we left, the menu touts surrounded Lloyd in the street basically accusing him of favouritism and of discouraging the Italians from trying their places. This was another low, but a great example of the fierce competition for the precious tourist income.

One of the delights of Moroccan cities are the multiple calls to prayer. These happen 5 times a day and not necessarily at exactly the same time. I love being on the roof top at sunset...Note the stork flying over the city...

First one voice starts, then another, then more...not the same notes--often as much as an octave apart--and not the same rhythm. Sometimes it sounds chaotic to my ear and sometimes melodious, all in the same five minutes! There are over 150 mosques in the Fès medina.

To finish on a high note, here's the current status of my knitting project! I was able to spend yesterday afternoon on the rooftop terrace (note our laundry as well as the riad's) in the sunshine. 

Next challenge is to decide on how the edges will be finished. Fortunately I have my double knitting project to work on while I think about that!

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