From Marrakech, we took the seven hour train ride up to Fes, the spiritual capital of Morocco. Our driver picked us up from the station and brought us to the edge of the medina, where our new porter came to scoop us. A handful of stairs and the most friendly greeting we had felt yet in the country and we had arrived at our paradise for the next few days. The doors opened to the riad and we were transported to this luxury haven in the middle of the chaos of the city.
That evening, in the middle of the garden courtyard, next to the fountain, we enjoyed a secluded dinner amidst the intricate tile work. Topped with the most amazing fudge mousse dessert. We’d find out later that it makes a big difference traveling in the middle of the week versus having to share all of your newly accustomed-to spoils with the weekend, party guests. Either way, here is where we discovered Morocco has vineyards! Which only means that we had to support them by tasting, right? Seemed as much as so.
Our daily routine was lovely. Venture out, get lost, chat up some locals, make it back to the riad. Five pm tea time delivery to our room – when we figured out this was a thing, we made it a point to be in our rooms when he came round. He’d laugh at how excited I’d get and I’d respond with a, ‘see ya upstairs.’ After the cookies were devoured (always with those cookies!), we’d head up to the rooftop patio to get our cocktail hour on before dinner.
Fes introduced us to the friendly side of Morocco. When the children playing in the streets noticed us, they wanted our attention, not our change. In Marrakech, I was ‘oh Madame.’ with hands out. In Fes, I was ‘bonjour Mademoiselle!’ and when I’d wave, all the girls would giggle in excitement and then wave back. So, you know, I never wanted to leave.
We walked along the layers of whites on whites, dribbled in the most ornate tile work. The water fountains (like this one below..it’s that beauty on the right) were scattered about for drinking and washing up. I walked up to one and hesitated, not knowing if it was just for locals or a ritual or something cultural I hadn’t yet learned. A man yelled from across the square in Arabic, gesturing me to go ahead. A girl about my age came over and showed me how.
There was a gathering of amazement outside a large mosque entrance. A peak inside a prayer hour had been a rarity before that, so we joined in with our facial expressions. It was a beautiful sight. The men go to the mosques for community. They wash their hands, feet, and face to cleanse before they pray.
It left us with a longing to know more. This is the most incredible thing about traveling. I wish it upon everyone.
On this hot day in June, we could smell the tanneries filling the air. They, yeah they, said you could find it by the smell, but I’m assuming they had been to Fes before and had their bearings. Thankfully, there were signs. We were approached by many an offer to see the ‘best tannery view’ but we still had our thick skins. Until Mohamed asked nicely, un-aggressively, we let our guard down. He led us through a tea house, covered in pillows and throws, up five or so flights of steep stairs to a rooftop. A 360 view of Fes from the center. He pointed out the notable mosques and Fes University. He explained how the leather starts with a cleaning process (on the right side of our terrace) and moves over to the dying process (we walked over to the left side of our terrace).
And then there was Abraham.
One morning, we were standing outside on the outskirts of the medina hopelessly trying to figure out our map, when Abraham walks up and flips our map to the other side, “This is the medina. That was the new city.” He was manning the front gate at one of the hotels nearby. He offered to bring us to the tannery, but we declined. He chuckled and waved when we found ourselves back at our map spot again by accident and decided to try another tiny road that didn’t look like the line on the paper.
We thought it’d be nice to have dinner on his patio, but when we revisited that night, Abraham said they only served drinks. We were disappointed until he walked us through the narrow walls, chatting all the while, to one of his buddies’ homes. It was turned into a restaurant and he made a big show of how legit the sign looked so that we felt comfortable. He invited us for tea after we ate. Eating out isn’t a big practice in Morocco. Instead, they cook home meals and invite friends over. So, the restaurants we did make it to were dining rooms with lots of tables along the couches. All very decadent.
After dinner, the server sprinkled rose-water on our hands and led us back through the streets until we knew where we were. We joined Abraham for that glass of mint tea as he told us about growing up in Southern Morocco. He had always dreamed of seeing Fes and being a part of the spiritual culture there. When he finally arrived, he set up this hotel at this bustling entrance of the medina so he could watch the crowd and welcome visitors. We left with this feeling that if we returned in years to come, he’d undoubtedly recognize us, as he would with all of his friends.
And after the hot days of getting lost in the medina, there were the cool evenings within the oasis of the riad. We quickly got used to being spoiled. Ten year anniversary locale – think we could recreate that shindig, friends? Justin says twenty.. always with the doubling.
Oh! And then there was the hammam experience where we spent half a day being scrubbed and pampered at the spa. Shout out to my lady who got up and personal and made me laugh the whole time while we figured out how to communicate between our Arabic and English. I’m ready to learn it. Actually, everyone at our riad. Palais Amani got it right. Sooo nice. Especially my Fez hat friend, Mohamed. Forever friends, bro. I miss you.
I have so many thoughts and memories that I want to document. This trip was unreal. So, I’m making myself stop, but if you’re a PhD in Islamic studies, can I take you to lunch and let you talk at me? I wanna know it all. And then go back.
But wait! There’s more! The Blue City comin atcha – prochaine..