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Published: February 4th 2014
The Bab Boujloung Gate
There's a copy of this gate at Epcot's world showcase.
Financially bloodied but unbowed we slipped out of Germany via RyanAir. For those of you unfamiliar with this airline it is the European equivalent of the US based carrier; Spirit Air, in that they have great teaser rates to get you on-board their planes and then nickle-dime you to death on every little thing like overweight luggage and too large carry-ons and half a can of Coke for $3.50 and on and on and on. Karen and I have always traveled light so we were unphased by Ryans' profit making machinery. Others aboard our flight were not so lucky.
Ryan uses the Frankfurt/ Hahn airport which sounds like it's in Frankfurt but, in fact, it is a 2-hour drive West of the city proper. There are buses running to the airport from all major train stations in the area. From Mainz we paid 13.50 Euros each and watched 2 episodes of the Big Bang Theory along the way on our laptop. Sitting on the site of an old USAF base,the airport is a bare-bones operation. Besides a small fleet of Ryan jets we saw a single 747 operated by China Yangtze Airways!? No jet-ways here. Everybody walks to their plane
Karen Arrives In Africa
Look how excited she is.....
and climbs up the roll-out stairs. Very 1950's! We paid about $175 each for the one way ride.
The cabin interior felt like a souk on market day. A babble of French, German, Arabic and English. Stewardess pushing $7 hot dogs, duty free goods and beverages. Pack some snacks if you're smart. We landed in the dark 3 hours later. It felt like home when we deplaned. Palm trees and tolerable temperatures. I had arranged for a driver to meet us. His name is Mustafa and while he drove us into town I asked him every question I could think of regarding Fes and its people. A really affable guy. Very open and gracious. He answered every query I had with a kind smile. Motown's greatest hits oozed from the mini-van stereo. I wondered what he played for German visitors. A basic principal of Islamic culture is hospitality to all guests. Mustafa being a case in point of fact. Having the driver take us into town cost us 19 Euros. We were stopped by police roadblocks at 2 junctures so they could make sure that our vehicle's license tags were current. Young South African men panhandled along the roadside.
And The Winner Is....
RyanAir of course. Sizeable extra charges for over-sized carry-ons
There are quite a few of them about, waiting to find a way to get to Europe and a job.
Mustaffa dropped us in the parking lot just outside the north wall of the old city. Kibir, the Dar Drissi hotel manager, met us there to show us the way to our room. (Dar Drissi room rates run from 39 Euros to 61 Euros/ nite) The old city, known as the Medina, was built in the 8th century. We trundled along behind Kibir through a labyrinth of ancient, winding lanes lined with sellers of spices, handicrafts, rugs and leather goods. Berber men draped in hooded Djellabas, stood talking in small groups looking like Star Wars sand people. Surreal. We ducked down a few dark alleys and found ourselves in front of an ancient, heavy wooden door. Kibir opened it and we entered a brand new/ old world. The hotel is in a 'Riad', a private home. The four story building is wrapped around a square, central courtyard with a fountain at its center. Blue and white tiles laid in intricate patterns cover the floors and walls. While we filled out our hotel forms, Kibir served us glasses of hot
mint tea to take the chill off. Our room was something out of the middle ages. 25-foot beamed ceilings. The door to the room is 15-feet high. Tiled floors. Amazing, molded plaster porticoes. Separate toilet and shower rooms. Berber carpets and a big comfortable bed covered in heavy blankets. It was late. We were tired. We slept like the dead after Kibir bid us a smiling goodnight and tip-toed away.
We woke early and cruised the nearly empty streets. Donkeys and horses cruised over the cobblestones delivering loads of LPG (liquid propane gas) bottles to households and goat hides to the leather dye vats deep in the old city. No trucks or automobiles are allowed within the ancient walls. The scene would have made our friend Karen Agramonte cry but this is the reality of life here. The average wage in Morocco is eighty cents US an hour. Human labor is cheap in Morocco. Animal laborers even cheaper. Everywhere you look you see men pushing carts of goods from place to place. Women wash laundry in small public fountains and yet they all smile. They are among the most gracious people I have ever met on the road. I
Entrance To Our Room
Were folks just taller back then?
was led to believe that little English is spoken here but that is untrue. They are a receptive and outgoing culture and our being American has caused no issues whatsoever. In fact, the shopkeepers tell us that we are the only Americans they have seen in weeks. Most of the visitors here are German, French and Japanese and they tend to favor the modern hotels near the airport from which they are bused in daily to the old town.
There are cats everywhere but we have only seen one dog. In the meat markets; Live chickens and ducks crowd wire cages in the poultry area while butchers make short work of whole cows. Felines lurk under the counters waiting to snag a snack or two or three. Bakery shelves groan under heavy platters of honey glazed sweets and breads. A huge Tangine meal of beef or chicken or lamb with vegetables costs 40 Dirham. (about $5) Our favorite place to eat is the Kasbah of Fes just inside the Bab Boujloud. (The Western Gate) A friendly staff of cooks and waiters. Have your supper at the outside tables and enjoy the passing show. Last night we were entertained by
At $70 a night it was still a hundred cheaper for lesser lodgings in Heidelberg
a one-man Berber band performing Marley's 'No Woman/ No Cry'. Under the table a trio of cats waited patiently for our leftovers. We did not disappoint.
Tomorrow we're headin' north to Chefchaouen. Spanish speaking North African oddity that specializes in the cultivation of Cannabis and dreamy Rif Mountain treks. I booked a taxi for the trip at the train station. After we had agreed on a price the driver, Hassan (5 kids, 53 years-old, devout Muslim) took me to a cafe where we had a tiny cup of strong, sugary coffee to seal the deal. The coffee is non-negotiable as tradition requires a beverage of some sort after business is concluded. I'll be up all night.
Shout-outs to Tom (you're right Tom. It is the same place. I cut the hell out of my hands getting away from the police who were chasing me over the rooftops) Jerry; Let us know what's up with Bree and yourself. Karen A; Tell the horses that I'll be back to ruin their day. My Mom; All is well. No probs here and we feel great. My Bro Dave; Let me know via April wuzzup. Noah; You'd love this place
but you'd have to lose the hat! Isabell and Kim; Keep practicing. Exams when I return. Remember: A bite of the elephant every day.
Tips for travelers. Stay in the Medina if you can. Getting into the old city can be a hassle during the day depending on where you are lodged. Rooms in the Medina can be had for $30. There is no train to Chefchaouen so buses and 'Gran' Taxis are your only choices. To book a Gran Taxi one needs to go to either the bus or the train station. Only Gran Taxis are allowed by law to travel further than 50 kilometers outside any Moroccan town. Buses run 9 Euros and take 8 hours to get there no matter what the schedule says. Taxis run $100 US but they'll take up to 6 people and arrive 4 hours after departure. Hard alcohol is nearly impossible to find here so stock up in the Duty Free if you can't live without it. This is a cash based economy so credit cards are of little use and ATM's will charge a 5% 'convenience' fee. Ouch!
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