“You’re going to love Fes,” Rachid tells us, “all Americans do. Europeans like Marrakech, Americans like Fes, they say it’s what they imagined Morocco to look like.” We smile, and agree, everyone who has visited before us told us Fes was their favorite. The winding, tiny alleyways in the labyrinth of the Medina are hard not to love. In the old part of Fes, where most tourists stay, you can feel the history of the city. Walking through the crowded souks and markets, the hammams, the ancient University, it feels remarkably untouched. And maybe that’s why Americans like it so much, since we have such a limited history in our country, we’re drawn to places that feel particularly ancient. We also like places that are evocative of images we’ve created in our minds. Fes checks both of those boxes.
We stayed in gorgeous guesthouse on the outer edge of the medina, overlooking the city. The open courtyard of the Riad held the restaurant where arguably the best food in Fes is served. While the food after we left Marrakech was generally good, we had reached a bit of a tagine saturation point, so the modern take on Moroccan food served up at Dar Roumana was exactly what we needed. And indeed, our few days spent in Fes would revolve around food. It was the perfect way to end our trip.
Before the food, was the city tour. Our guide took us all around the Medina, and beyond. The medina is absolutely enormous, and according to our guide, over 9,500 alleys throughout. We spent the day wandering a few of them, by the early afternoon we had walked over six miles, visiting the tanneries, the markets, mosques, and museums.
We also visited a rug store. Initially, we had no intentions of buying a rug, assuming they were expensive and generally wary of scams and over charging. But, along the walk our guide told us there was an option to go to one that was vetted by Truffle Pig (and indeed, by later research, it was featured on NYT). As we drank mint tea we found one vintage rug we particularly loved. And decided to buy it. As we walked away we looked at the receipt and realized we had calculated the exchange rate incorrectly. The very small rug we had just purchased was not €150, but €1500-which explained why the merchant suggested these cost €8,000 in Europe. We felt immediately so, incredibly, embarrassed. It was an error by one zero, a novice mistake. And really, that was indeed FAR too cheap for a Moroccan rug. We told our guide what had happened, and he immediately took care of it. Surprisingly, the store owners were very gracious and immediately refunded our credit card. Our guide then proceeded to make fun of us for the rest of the day, while assuring it was no big deal. Basically, he made us feel a lot better about it. And as it turned out, it was the “one thing that went wrong” the entire trip, so in that regard, we were very lucky indeed.
The highlight of the trip, aside from the Sahara, was our food tour in Fes. True to Truffle Pig’s history, they set us up with a great guide, Merriam, a young, shy woman who took us all around Fes to eat and shop. We sampled a plethora of street stall goods; various breads, olives, vats of honey, preserved meats, teas, and soups. We also shopped for ingredients to cook that afternoon.
At the soup stall, as well as the tea stall, our guide tells us that the only reason she and I are allowed to sit in is because Alex and I are tourists, normally women do not eat at these places. When pressed, she wouldn’t answer if she went alone if they would kick her out or just make the men uncomfortable by just saying “it isn’t done.” Those we ate and drank with however, seemed completely unperturbed by our presence, likely they use the same stalls and the income from tours like these placates any anxiety regarding this apparent social faux pas. Still, it was a glimpse into the sexist trends still very prominent in the country. Similarly, a male “guide” followed us around the entire time, though I could not figure out what his purpose was, as he generally just stayed behind us and carried extra water bottles for us. Our guess was he was there because our guide was a young woman.
Another oddity was procuring chicken. As we stepped up to the stall, our guide informs us we would choose a chicken (live) to be slaughtered and then return later to pick it up. After she chooses a chicken appropriate for the pastilla we would make later, the butcher immediately slits its throat and inverts into a cone to drain the blood, feet still furiously knocking around the plastic cone. I’ve never seen an animal slaughtered (harvested?) before, which actually used to make me feel guilty. I felt, if I couldn’t watch how my food ended up on my plate, I shouldn’t ethically be consuming it. I actually still believe that, but not enough to switch to vegetarianism, clearly. But, I was not at all impacted by it. It was fast, and humane. I felt nothing. But mostly, I was surprised that was featured on a tour that caters to westerners whose sensibilities could likely be offended. It made sense though, the whole process seemed so natural, like picking out fruit. Really, how it should be, we shouldn’t be ignorant or sheltered from the realities of where our food comes from.
After collecting all our ingredients we headed to the home of a local Woman and her family where we’d prepare dinner. She didn’t speak english, so our guide translated for us. It was a lovely afternoon, we sat around a low table chopping vegetables and making dough to be fired off at the local bakery. Our host was an amicable young woman, around our age. She was the sort of person that, despite a language barrier, her personality was very apparent. She was outgoing and easy-going, quickly getting to know us, and soon was teasing Alex about his attempts to make dough. During a lull in the preparations, the sisters in the house discovered we were newlyweds and conspired in a corner for a few minutes, before sending Alex on an errand. Merriam approached me and asked if I’d let them do something while she took Alex out to the bakery to pick up the bread we dropped off earlier. I agreed. And after she left, the sisters brought out a traditional Moroccan wedding dress they wanted me to wear. After they put it on me, sans verbal communication, with a lot of pointing and pulling me in various directions. They then fixed my hair and makeup, while giggling together. They stepped back and examined their word, one took a clip out of her hair, spun me around and put my hair up. The both clasp their hands together and smile at me. Merriam returns with Alex and the three of them spend the next twenty minutes having Alex and I pose in the traditional ways a Moroccan bride and groom would (in several outfits she informs us). They laugh hysterically at our obvious confusion and insist on taking pictures with us. After, one of the sisters hugs me, clasping my arms and tells Merriam she’s so glad I agreed to do this, and that she had a wonderful time. Though there was a fair amount of laughter, it was clear the entire time it was with us, not in anyway at us. And that brief connection I held with those women is one of my favorite memories of the trip.
After, we ate the meal we prepared with the family. Pastilla, and a variety of side salads. A perfect dinner to end an absolutely fantastic day.
After dinner we went back to our hotel to pack and head to the airport and back to Dublin. It was a whirlwind of a trip, still riding the emotional high from the wedding. We didn’t have many expectations for our trip, but in the end, it was fantastic. And while in the future we might tend to travel a bit more independently, it was perfect for our honeymoon. And, most importantly, a fabulous way to spend our first few weeks as a married couple, celebrating the beginning to a whole new adventure.