Fés – Atlas – Chefchaouen
If I work a lot, but the result is less and less, that is usually an unmistakable sign that I need a vacation. And this I did now. First I thought of Italy or Greece but that’s too dangerous. Both countries are known for their good wines 🙂 It’s already too cold for swimming there anyway. And since my body is making it clearer and clearer that the time for adventure vacations will be over all too soon, I wanted to take the opportunity once again.
“Adventure vacation” is of course a flexible term and hardly possible in our time of booming tourism industry. As a compromise, Morocco seemed to me to be a pretty good solution. It actually was more an “adventure holiday light”-thing, for an old sod with one or the other ailment who appreciates the amenities of a good hotel. And above all with a large pool. And a good cup of coffee in the morning. And of course wifi and good room service 🙂 (So I have stayed in a 5-star hotel that has all the amenities one would want and that is not a contradiction in my thinking).
Traveling to large western cities has long since lost its attraction for me. And my point of view was confirmed not long ago when I heard an interview with a well-known writer who said: “Why would I want to fly somewhere that looks just like my home”. She was talking about fast food chains, the “standardized” hotel rooms, the marketing of sights…
I came across the city of Fès as a child and since then I have had an image or two in the back of my mind. I just wanted to see it and have no regrets about the choice. (I’ve been to the Maghreb several times before (Tunisia 5-6 times and Egypt 4 times), but never to Morocco which has preserved a lot of its original cultural heritage).
There is a certain danger in having certain images and expectations of your travel destination in advance. Since today, with our technical possibilities, we already know what our bathroom in our hotel will look like there even before we travel, this danger has become even greater as the providers are adapting to the changed circumstances. This is even more true of vacation packages, which are often tailored to a specific audience. So I prefer individual trips to get halfway away from it. Adventures, if you are looking for them, cannot be planned, they will find you if you are open and ready for them.
(Of course, there are organized trips and they are a lot cheaper. But traveling alone has its advantages: no tourists standing in your way when you want to take a photo, sightseeing according to personal preferences, and something I’m most proud of: I brought no rugs, no brass jugs, and no 5-year supply of oriental spices). That gave me the idea of a new business model: “outfluencer”. Someone who saves others from buying lots of useless stuff.
So this time, too, I undertook my excursions alone. Well, not really alone, because I had a local guide who showed me what was of interest to me in the medina of Fez. It’s easy to spend a lot of time there and still miss a lot. So I made a rough pre-selection first. My guide was an elderly gentleman, calm and sympathetic, and very educated, and he really enjoys his work, especially when he recognized my genuine interest in the history, culture, and special features of his city. I learned a lot from him. For example, why the streets in the medina are so narrow.
As early as 7-800 years ago, Fès, being a wealthy town, was often attacked by gangs of robbers. So the streets were made narrow then, that only one man could get through. And I learned that the local people since they usually live in extremely small apartments and hardly have a kitchen, knead the dough themselves and then take it to “bakers” who then bake the bread. And then, around noon, a fantastic scent wafts through the narrow streets. Many alleys of the medina smell fine at all, since certain shops are located in certain alleys.
And also new for me was that the medina of Fez is also home to al-Qarawīyīn University, which according to the Guinness Book of Records is the oldest surviving educational institution in the world.
And yet the most beautiful palaces are often hidden behind the simplest of walls. Some can be recognized by the fact that there are 2 knockers on the doors: one for family members and relatives, one for others.
And he told me how much these wonderful columns and basins from the 13th century (Carrara marble) cost: they were weighed with Moroccan sugar.
The gap between rich and poor has not stopped in Morocco either. Lots of poverty in the medina, the old town, and occasional luxury in the new part of town.
After a day in the medina, where poverty is the most striking thing, it might be surprising to find a restaurant like this in a nearby part of the city, which does not need to shy away from comparison with an upscale restaurant in a western metropolis. Stylish, cool elegance, and exquisite food and wine.
My favorite dish: A kind of pie with pigeon meat and lamb shoulder, dates, nuts, a couple of chickpeas, and finely chopped Bergamot blossoms. We know these as flavorings for Earl Gray tea.
I was very lucky with the weather, hot enough to get a sunburn but partly cloudy for 2 days. I used one of them for a trip to the Atlas Mountains to visit my brothers and sisters. (Based on the habits of the monkeys in the Atlas Mountains, it is easy to observe how climate change is also changing their behavior. In search of food, they now come to villages where they had not dared to go years ago.)
There are also lions in the wild in the Atlas Mountains, but rarely in the part where I was.
Chefchaouen, The Blue City
Above all, I always wanted to go to Chefchaouen and the place was even more beautiful than I thought. What a lovely idea to paint an entire city in blue!
For centuries, Chefchaouen was considered a holy city, closed to foreigners under the pain of death; this has helped preserve medieval architecture. Today it is still legal to smoke hashish in this area, which is one reason some younger people are drawn to it.
Of course, Marrakesh would have appealed to me as well, but I didn’t want to miss out on the relaxing part of the trip – maybe there will be another adventure holiday – but then “extra light” 😊
Extra: For the painters and animal lovers
Fés and Chefchaouen are cities for painters, I think. Even if there is no modern art to be taken seriously, one is overwhelmed by the splendor of color, which surprises one again and again.
One or the other little kitten is the dot on the “i”.