Such regrets about not being able to spend more time in Fes – there’s so much to see there in terms of culture and history. We flew in from the Marrakesh airport, and was picked up by our driver, Hisham, who also bought us water bottles before touring the old town with our guide, Jamal. They are the dream team! Jamal is also married to a girl from Wisconsin, so he’s got the American mentality down to a science – big fans. First, we took a tour of the Medina of Fez, where no cars are allowed (or can even fit). There are many twists and turns, and really only a local would be able to get you around the area easily. There are a lot of goods to buy that are unique to Fez, such as stitch work, carpets, and leather (you can have a personalized leather jacket made for you within two hours, and delivered to your hotel). Our favorite part was meeting Ahmed at the leather market, who is featured in this Nas Daily video. They also hand you mint to smell while at the leather market, because it’s a little smelly (it really wasn’t bad in the winter though).
We were able to visit the University of Al Quaraouiyine (the worlds first university, founded by a Muslim female), which is a university where the Rambam was a professor; It is in Fes where the Rambam wrote the Mishne Torah. Currently a mosque as well, we were not able to enter the gates, and had to view from a distance.
We didn’t realize our hotel was within the Medina, and had to walk there with our suitcases – our concierge met us and walked with us. It was definitely quite the cultural experience staying in the Medina, and was pretty beautiful, old-school, and slightly scary. We didn’t really have blankets, or WiFi, or doors to the bathroom… but we had La Briute meals! We also didn’t realize our hotel was cash only, and we had to walk to an ATM before we left. The pictures speak for themselves.
The next morning, Jamal met us and we continued to tour the Mellah (the first in Morocco). Heads up, we looked a little disheveled because we didn’t have warm enough pajamas or a warm enough hotel for the winter. We first visited the Rambam’s house (now recently a Chinese restaurant), which also has a water clock he invented which cannot be repaired because scientists are unable to figure out how it works in order to restore it.
The Jewish cemetery has a small entrance fee, and includes the kever of Solica, who was a Jewish girl who refused to convert to Islam when the governor of Tangier wanted to marry her, as well as Rabbi Vidal Hasarfati. The golden gates to the kings palace are nearby, as well as many gates to the city.
The ancient Jewish homes in the area really stand out due to their architecture looking more Spanish/Portuguese, with balconies facing the street. We visited the Ibn Danon shul (descendants of the Rambam), which also had a small entrance fee – take note of the mikveh, which has a viewing area from the middle of the floor of the shul.
It was time to say goodbye to Jamal, as Hisham was going to take us on day long drive to Chefchaoun and then to Tangier. Hisham first took us to a beautiful lookout of the city called Borj Sud, an artisan house where we took a tour of how they create pottery and mosaics, as well as a stop on the highway that was just really pretty. We ate lots of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches along the way, as well as Stella D’Oro cookies and Dipsey Doodles (couldn’t leave Hisham hanging, we made sure to keep his American food culture top notch). It wouldn’t be a trip without being pulled over, naturally.
When we got to Chefchaoun, Hisham quickly got us a tour guide, which we were so grateful for because once again, no cars and very narrow random streets. *Note* Chefchaoun is kindav in the middle of nowhere, and was a little bit out of the way – driver most probably needed to get there. We first hiked up to the Spanish mosque, and walked around the town, which is painted completely blue (one reason they believe it to be blue is that it was a Jewish town and they used the color to create a distinction between them and the surrounding towns). It was really beautiful and unique! It happened to be raining, so it put a little damper on the photo shoot opportunities. Also, don’t forget to visit the ancient entrance to the blue city.
Hisham then continued to drive us to Tangier, where we would be sleeping for the night. It was really interesting to see how much we had in common with the people of Morocco, and how respectful we are of each other. As the sun was beginning to set, Hisham turned to us and asked if we needed to stop and pray – how cool is that?? Around shkiyah time, we heard a loud Arabic call coming from Hishams phone, and we noticed he began cleaning his face as he was driving… it was also his time to pray! We asked if he wanted to pull over, but he just prayed and drove. Muslim’s need a call to prayer before they pray, so Hisham has an app that automatically goes off at the times of prayer, and then he can begin to pray. Long story short, Tangier is quite interesting at night, and he got us safely to our hotel, also in the old city in Tangier.