The thing about traveling with a tour group that I’m not over joyed about is that you only see little tidbits of the city. I’m thinking back on our day in Fes and re-reading my journal and we didn’t see that much of the city. Although we did see the entire city from a hill top, but what I mean is that by taking a tour there isn’t a lot of time to just browse around.
We kicked off the morning with a visit to the Royal Palace with fancy doors and a short look at the old Jewish quarter. I remember absolutely nothing about either of these places and my journal has not proved enlightening. My pictures are also not helpful as I appear to have taken only extreme close ups of the Palace. Below is pictured the handles of the doors to the Palace. If I recall correctly (I really should write these immediately after traveling, instead of waiting ten months), you can touch them for luck with money. Or getting husbands. Maybe both.
And then we were whisked off for a tour of a pottery studio. Which actually was really cool. We saw the pots being thrown and glazed, and learned about the kilns they use. And we learned about how they make the mosaics……it’s insane. They carefully hammer ceramic tiles into little pieces and them lay them UPSIDE DOWN in the desired pattern, then the whole back side gets coated in fiberglass. It was amazing to see them working on large scale mosaic patterns and everything looks the same because the colours are facing down. (See picture below). They also explained that they use a local grey clay from the Fes area that is lead free (unlike much of the pottery available in Morocco apparently), and that it is safe for electric stoves, ovens, gas, bbq, microwaves and dishwashers. I was impressed but it turned out this was part of an elaborate sales pitch and we exited the pottery studios through the gift shop. In fact, this set the scene for the rest of the day. The tour company has approved vendors that do demos and then urge you to buy, which I don’t think is terrible way to do things. You at least know that the vendors must be fairly reputable and the tour company can help you if you have any issues, but it does seem a little pushy. I will admit right now, that I bought a tagine from this pottery place and had it shipped home at what turned out to be a bit exorbitant but that was partially because we weren’t doing the money conversion correctly and we thought it was cheaper. The tagine arrived at my house a month later totally intact and I love it, so it all worked out in the end I think.
The rest of the day was spent in the old medina part of the city. There are thousands of little streets and alleys that are all pedestrian only. Our group got very firm instructions on the importance of staying together because there was a very real possibility of getting lost. If you are thinking of traveling around Fes on your own, I would definitely suggest engaging a guide for the medina. We got to see the famous dye pits of Fes where leather is dyed. Now, if you don’t know what the dye pits are, I would suggest you search on the internet right now for a picture. They look crazy, colourful and chaotic. But………it’s not quite what we saw. The pits were completely empty and pristine because we happened to be there just as they were finishing a major renovation and overhaul.
And of course, no trip to the famous leather dying area of Fes would be complete without visiting the BIGGEST leather goods store I’ve ever seen. I think it was four floors. The top was all jackets and the the next had shoes and bags and belts. We gave up after that point, it was so overwhelming, and unfortunately we were there for a while as quite a few people on our trip were interested in buying leather goods. Not only did they have hundreds of leather coats, but if you didn’t see one exactly like you wanted, they could alter/make (something like that) it they way you wanted and deliver it to the hotel later.
We also visited an old theology school which had the most amazing carvings and mosaic work, all hundreds of years old. I have to say, as a history major at university, I’m noticing a certain lack of history detail in my journal and in my memory. It’s a little bit worrisome. I feel like there are all sorts of important historical details that I should be sharing, but nope, sorry.
There was also a trip to see the tour sanctioned metal work shop, which had truly beautiful work. I just wasn’t sure what I would do it it. And at the end of the day we popped into a weaving place that made silk fabric from cactus fibers. I was interested in that because I wanted a scarf but I was so tired and everyone on the tour was grumpy and tired, so we didn’t stay long and I didn’t get a scarf.
So. Fes. There it was. Overall, I had a good day in Fes. It was certainly a busy and tiring day, and the sanctioned shopping was odd, but we did see some interesting things. I’m not sure what to say in conclusion. It was a whirlwind and exhausting day.