Have you ever heard of the Moroccan city named Fes? This city boasts some impressive facts and figures so hopefully by the end of the post, you’ll have learnt some memorable things about Fes making it not just another city, and certainly not just another city to forget.
For starters, with over a 1 million population count, it’s Morocco’s second most populated city.
Getting to Fes
My options were either a bus journey through the night and into the early, early morning or a standard daytime train ride. Not really a difficult decision that one; infact, it was the deliberation over 1st or 2nd class that required more processing time on my part. In the end, and having found out how long the journey actually was, I paid for 1st class which was an extra 10 euros (£7 GBP) over the standard £17 GBP 2nd class ticket.
Consider for a moment how far a £24 train journey would get you in the UK riding 1st class. Certainly not anywhere close to this duration.
Gulp. Yep, that’s around 7.5 hours! I can so imagine my Mother’s face right now.
But a lengthy duration don’t necessarily have to mean an unpleasant journey and today was proved that.
Take my comparably shorter Sarajevo to Mostar train ride last year with my Singaporean friend Edmund as an example. These old images give you an idea of what that journey was like:
Whereas this time round, and more that double the duration, the experience was much better! I had a decent window seat, it was sunny outside (which always lifts the mood) and I had brought along some food. Oh, and not forgetting I had a completely empty cabin to myself for the first two hours which was great and so I got my mini sound-system out and had a party for one.
Hours into the journey I had a mixture of all sorts of people come and go but one distinct and unusual character is worthy of a mention and even a photograph.
Folks, I can assure you that Tina is not half owl but a pure-breed Persian cat. What a beauty – in a slightly strange looking way lol.
After my first full day in Fes, I can tell you that I really didn’t enjoy it. Yes, I know you don’t hear that from me often. I was annoyed with myself for taking the ‘Funky Fes’ hostel up on their ‘buy 3 nights and get 1 more free’ offer. In fact, if I’m honest, after my first day here I was fully happy to move on and so it then became clear to me as to why the hostel tries to incentive longer stays – it’s not a place travellers tend to stay for long. Surprisingly, by the end of my time here, I had made peace with the city and through my own perseverance of wanting to see more than what Fes is best known for, my opinion of the place managed to both soften and even improve.
The reason for my initial dislike of Fes? Ironically it’s for the main reason travellers tend to come here – the mad medina. Hang on, a medina? But I’ve seen several of those including one from mayhem-Marrakech so what didn’t I like about this one!? Well, I’m glad you asked :–)
You see, it’s big, really big. In fact, a few statistics are probably the best way to convey this, starting with: It’s one of the most populated car free districts in the entire World and not forgetting it supposedly has 9000 streets! Remember those 1 million people I mentioned at the beginning? Over 500,000 supposedly live in the crowded medina itself!
On my first day of wandering the medina, I got lost (which is somewhat guaranteed and supposedly part of the appeal) and found it all too much, especially as I was constantly approached by people therefore I default to being on-guard, suspicious and not really approachable which can offend even the most pleasant of Moroccan’s. You see, no longer do you have to just contend with the relenting ‘shop-sellers’, exploitation methods have evolved to simply taking advantage of the complexity and confusion of the maze that is the medina. They will follow you (even when you say you’re not interested), and jump back on you offering directional support as soon as you look lost again, which won’t take long.
To be fair, parting with a few euros for some help isn’t the worst thing in the world but the relentlessness of it all makes it feel so. Imagine the intensity, in many parts of the medina, people shifting along tight streets bidirectionally but along with motorbikes, cats, dogs, horses and whatever else too. Just mental.
What’s there to see in Fes?
I managed to find something different to do each day so I can comfortably say I felt fulfilled by my time in Fes and that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.
There was the Royal Palace which you can’t actually enter! I protested and said I was from a Regal bloodline but they weren’t having any of it :–) Walking around it you get to grasp its size and grandeur though.
On route you’ll find several gardens which offer a welcome vision of beauty and green – things that you can’t really describe the medina as.
The medina walls are really well preserved in many areas and there are really plenty of ‘babs’ (gates) around the vast walled perimeter.
I had some time in the Jewish quarter, ‘Le Mellah’, and went into an old Synagogue but pictures didn’t turn out well enough to upload.
My hostel friends and I also visited the leather tannery (possibly the oldest in the world) but were gutted to not be able to see it (the people) in action with the full, vibrant and explosive colours of the leather mixing dye etc… The structure was under restoration and would be complete in the next two weeks. Grrrrr.
This is how it looked for us – empty.
This is how it looks at other times of the year
Though we later informed there was supposedly another in the medina, somewhere.
Finally, we made it to the Kasbar and to other high-view points up-high and outside of the medina.
Sadly my camera phone pictures can’t do the scale of the medina proper justice as the image just looks like a mash of pixels but this would be one half of what the medina looks like from up here. Stitch two of these together for a more realistic size comparison of the medina.
Despite my Fes-experience concluding with me feeling much greater warmth towards the city, Fes continues to confuse me – which really shouldn’t surprise me I guess. Sadly this confusion is in the form of a darker side. Thinking back, I recall being surprised when I entered my hostel and noticed operational CCTV camera monitors. Additionally, some fellow travellers suggested it might be wise to stay in at night as a few tourists were been attacked with knifes in the last six months. (A quick Google search of ‘Fes knife crime’ confirmed this). That’s the first time in nearly three weeks I’ve heard anything negative about this lovely country and it’s people and I have to admit, this deeply saddened me. As such, naturally I find myself conflicted as to whether I can give this place my usual seal of approval. Perhaps then, and unlike my more reckless cliff jump those weeks back, it’s best to err on the side of caution this time round and consider one of the many other places I’ve visited for your Moroccan adventure.