Sunday, November 2, 2008
Pics: olives, silk thread merchant, tannery baths
It's 4:45 am. Do you know where your mosque is? Both Mom and I were awake at this hour, as the call to prayer droned on and on. With no offense to anyone, it sounded like a dying cow. Our guide had previously explained to us that the first call to prayer of the day (5 total) is the longest, because they are trying to get people up. Also, the first call is somehow related to sunrise, but in this part of the world, at this time of year, sunrise isn't until around 6:30 am.... So we have early morning prayer calls to look forward to for the next 2 day. Goody.
When we intentionally got up around 7 am, it was rather a disappointment to see that it was raining, and that clouds & fog completely covered the hillside. You could barely see the hotel's swimming pool which is directly below us. A couple hours later, as we set off for the medina, it wasn't much better. We went first to the gates of the Royal Palace; quite an impressive set of engraved brass doors and mosaic tile work. From there, it was into the medina itself, which is closed to cars. Not so much that they're not allowed, they simply wouldn't fit. The structure of the medina hasn't changed much since it was originally constructed around the 9th century. It's a medieval labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys, accessible by foot and donkey, and not much else. Labyrinth may be a bit of an understatement. Most of the walkways aren't much more than 8 feet wide, and many of them around 4 feet wide. Roof tops overlap with one another, making a view of the sky near impossible. But even if you could see it, it probably wouldn't give you much clue to what direction you were going in. You need a guide. (Or as my Fodor's book says: pay a small child a little bit to escort you out.) And with a group of 18 people, our guide, who grew up in these quarters, also hired a guide to bring up the rear, a very wise move.
So it's raining, mid 50s, and we descend into the maze. Each area of the medina specializes in something. We hoofed it through: the vegetable stands, meat & fish, desserts like halvah, shoes, silk thread, cloth, kaftans & djeballas, brass, silver, ceramics, woodworking, leather tanning, weaving.... saw the mosque, the building that holds the tomb of a long-deceased emperor, a museum of old enthographic artifacts, rug co-op, weaving workshop, tannery, all while dodging raindrops, donkeys full of wares, and donkey dung. As if the donkey dung didn't smell good enough in the rain, you know you are approaching the tanning areas, because the smell of somewhat rotting flesh nearly overwhelms you. Would have loved more time to wander a bit, look more at some of the wares, etc. Definitely opportunities for buying things, and local entrepreneurs who can spot the tourists coming from down a dark passage way, sporting their umbrellas (useful today, though I haven't caved in yet), Fes hats (the red felt ones like what Shriners wear), and trinkets galore. I am sure there are some great areas of the souk that we didn't see.... I saw some spices, but not tons... our guide says in Marrakech we will have some free time in the medina, but that may not be the case here.
Lunch was at a touristy spot in the depths of the maze; totally looks like a hole in the wall from the outside, but the inside was quite elaborately decorated with mosaics, wooden carved arches, and fabric draped ceilings. The meal consisted of plates of cooked veggies, and these were some of the better we've had – beets, carrots with a bit of clove, eggplant/ baba ganoush, potatoes; good bread too, but we asked for olive oil, and what came had something else mixed in with it, and I couldn't identify it. Dinner was back at the hotel, and we were served a Western meal – potato soup (like a vichyssoise), veal with a mushroom sauce (kinda chewy), potatoes, and cauliflower florets w peas & carrots. While not stellar, a nice change from not stellar tagines. The dessert though was lovely – an apple tart tatin, with a raspberry sauce. Not the chocolate cake I was suddenly craving, but you could taste the butter in the crust. :)