Category Archives: Fez

This Adventure Made Possible By…

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Anna Maria Esposita for finding us on the side of the road in Salerno, putting up with our feeble attempts at Italian, and magically making our luggage appear out of nowhere.  Maya, for introducing us to AirBnB in the first place…our travels will never be the same.  Our barista in Vietri Sul Mare (thank you for the doughnuts, we hope you made it to Australia!), and our wildly flirtatious maitre d’ (that wine was impressively strong!).  Fernando, for the ride to the Tiber (we’re sorry if we gave the impression that we wanted to boat back to Rome).  Pope Francis for instilling humanity into our visit to the Vatican.  University of Manitoba College of Medicine for changing the direction of our lives while sitting in a Roman burlap tent!  Jamie Pierce, for pointing us in the direction of Cinque Terre in the first place.  Kaya and Aeden for being the best roommates we could have asked for, and Sarah, Alicia, and Stacey for getting lost with us in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  And for the calamari cones.  Genius.  The Lemon Man, for delicious homemade wine with a side of really disgusting jokes, and the Pizza Man for abusing/believing in your employees (either way, you made a pizza in record time, well done!).  Pak Kashmir Doner Kebab for starting a 3-month-long love affair with kebab…and for not judging us when we came back twice in one day.  The Sprachcaffe receptionist for helping two confused travelers find a place to sleep in a language school.  Pietro for being a (very charming) walking encyclopedia of Florentine espionage.  All’antico Vinaio for your legendary sandwiches and free wine refills (no, seriously, it’s for real!).  The lovely couple who shared coffee with us on the train to Venice.  Archie & sons…your front hall will forever evoke in us a sense of oriental mystery.  The kiosco girl (and all of Vienna, for that matter) for your patience as we realized we knew literally NO Deutsch (“Card!…48?”).  The Musikverien Usher for engaging us in a Viennese musical intrigue and, therefore, much better seats!  Our Bulgarian/Brazillian (Bulgrillian?) cellist hostel roommate.  We tried to find you on iTunes but alas we were…so far…but…so close.  The Heinrich and Kress families for welcoming us so generously into your homes (and travel snacks that nearly broke the bus tables!).  Artur & Irina, we feel like we have a real home in Germany thanks to you.  Robert, Christian, and Erwin, we hope we can jam and play Dutch Blitz again one day!  Johannes for an unexpected evening of German tango (we’ll bring our dancing shoes next time).  Julia & your roommate for making us feel so at home in Köln.  Viel Glück to both of you in your new jobs!  Oma for always talking about your home country and inspiring us to retrace your Sunday walks down the Rhine.  Maybe one day we can go back with you!  Linda, dankjewel for your bikes, your lovely attic, and taking a chance on us as your first AirBnBers!  Edwin and Farah, for taking the time to hang out with us even with your wedding being a week away.  Once a WOOFer, always a WOOFer (ps come to Manitoba, we’ll take you to the snake pits!)  The stars, for aligning so perfectly as to allow us to have a lovely lunch with Dorien.  The Alma Dixons for getting us to and from Europe in the first place (Mom, your axiom of ‘would you rather have stuff or memories?’ has successfully stuck with me into adulthood) and for showing us all the places you always talk about.  The Farnham Dixons for a lovely afternoon and some authentically British fish’n’chips (sans mushy peas, thank-you!).  Wendy for taking this whole motley crew into your home and showing us around Glastonbury. Elly for introducing us to your family (I cannot imagine a more adorable kid to blow bubbles with than your granddaughter) and an evening of reminiscing about icebergs and penguins.  Pete & Patricia for the most incredible Welsh hospitality, and for driving us all over the country at all hours of the night.  Mark Hanford for keeping us simultaneously amused and not dead as we threw ourselves off cliffs into the sea (still waiting for those carpets!).  The disembodied Welsh couple whose voices helped us find our way out of the mist and back to the path somewhere on Mount Snowdon.  Jack Johnson, for being you, and for entirely coincidentally being in Paris at the same time as us.  Andréanne, for showing us around your beautiful new Swiss home.  Irene and Martin for sharing so many things with us: your inspiring work and outlook on life and faith, the truly breathtaking landscapes, and yes, the little bears :P.  Andreas and Simone, also for sharing so many things with us (like mother like son, eh?): your friends, your family, your food, your car, your bike…. That night with the giant map (and the many road trips that ensued) is still a memory that we talk about regularly!  Aric and Gabriel, for being as excited about the high-ropes garden as we were and never judging us on our (lack of) Swiss German. Joël for sharing your beautiful pays et famille. Yannick for the best duck I’ve ever tasted, and Hélène for showing us the work you’re doing to help new immigrants become self-sufficient in Toulouse.  Ron, Nicole, Aimée, Sean (and yes, Cougar) for making us recognize the name Carcassonne, even if we’ll never pronounce it properly.  Les Cabys des Taillades (et oui, de Paris aussi!) for sharing your passion for history, many hours of games (we now have our own Möllky set!), French puns, and more wine and cheese than any North American could comprehend.  Mami Caby, for a beautiful afternoon in St. Jean du Gard, and the silk scarf that’s currently on display in our living room.  Isaac and Sylvia of JUCUM Barcelona for the generous hospitality, the 2AM tour of your majestic city, and showing us what we truly believe is the best beach in Europe.  Hind, Nour, and Adam for helping us finish off the bag of snails and confirming everything we’d heard about the welcoming nature of Moroccans.  Nour, of Sahara Desert Crew, for an unforgettable few days of sights and culture unlike anything else we’ve ever seen (also, your mad photography skills. ‘Nuff said.).  Cafe Restaurant Nora, for providing a literal oasis in the desert (Nothing tastes as good as Berber pizza and Berber whiskey at +50C!) The Samnoun family for taking us in when our hostel was suddenly infested with bedbugs, and Bousha for introducing us to the madness of the Medina (and many, many friends ;)…)

And of course, contributions from VIEWERS LIKE YOU!

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And now for something completely different

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As we planned for this trip so many months ago, a thought crossed our minds; the same thought that crossed the minds of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, the early Arabs in the eighth century, and The Clash during a cocaine-trip in the early 1980s: wow, it’s really not that far from Spain to Morocco!

1.5 hours by ferry, in fact (though I’m sure it took a little longer for the Romans), was all it took to get our feet on African soil. Now, some will say that Morocco is not the ‘real’ Africa, which is the equivalent of saying that Mexico is not the ‘real’ Latin America. Yes, parts have been tamed into resorts teeming with tourists, but most areas remain unscathed as very hot, very hospitable, and very African.

From the port in Tangiers, we sweated our way to the train station, where we had two hours to wait before our train. I went on a scouting mission for food, only to find that this train station was located in the utter middle of nowhere. The only signs of human activity within eyesight was, in Douglas Adams non-sequitur fashion, a carnival. Tilt-a-whirls tilted and whirled while carnies tried guessing people’s ages for money. Surely, I thought, there must be food in this peculiar desert oasis.

It was here that I got my first sudden awakening to the linguistic reality of Morocco. Despite French being one of two official languages and despite being spitting distance from Spain, many Moroccans only speak Arabic. I gestured helplessly, using the only Arabic word I knew (‘shukran’, taught to me by the Pakistani lady working at the corner store by our apartment in Winnipeg) to hunt and gather a good meal. The result: two boiling orders of snails deep-fried in cardamom (the word for escargot seems universal, fun fact!) in a plastic grocery bag which I watched melt to oblivion before my eyes. Fortunately the snail-chef managed to get a couple reinforcement bags over it just in time, and I carried the loot back to Sara, who was waiting patiently with our backpacks.

The train from Tangiers to Fez, with our boiling bag o’ snails, serendipitously shared with the friendliest family we could’ve imagined sitting with. Hind, Nourd, and their son Adam made us feel incredibly welcome in Morocco, and even insisted that we visit them back in Tangiers the next week. Alas it didn’t work out, but la prochaine fois!
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We arrived at our riad in Fez late at night, where we were informed that they had no room for us, despite having made reservations. Any annoyance we felt at having to move was immediately assuaged when they said it was because the previous guests had left bedbugs, and we agreed to follow one of the employees to what we vaguely understood to be the home of some relatives of his.

And so, keeping our safe-traveller wits about us, we followed the riad employee into the Fez Medina: the old walled-in city, built by Arab settlers moving west in the eighth century, which consists of 9,400 snaking alleyways and remains to this day the largest car-free urban center in the world. Eventually, and with no recollection of the route we had taken, we arrived at the home of the Samnoun family. Dehmo and her children Boshi and Carmina welcomed us with the traditional mint tea, and we found we had nothing to worry about.

An ordinary family home in Fez. Amazing what a little colour and simple Arabesques can do to a place!
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The street of the Medina immediately outside our front door.
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For two full days we did not leave the Medina. Eventually we learned a few key routes, using particular meat vendors, nougat makers, and random carvings as landmarks. The Medina is almost entirely self-sufficient, with artisans creating and selling carpets, leatherware, furniture, produce, babouches (Moroccan colourful pointy shoes), and much more. It is filled with both women and men whose garb exists anywhere on a spectrum from American Eagle to full body-and-head coverings (and, regardless, colourful pointy shoes). It is impossible to capture the Medina experience in photos, since photos do not communicate the taste of mint tea, the sound of mules slowly shoving their way through the crowd, and the smell of chickens, both living and dead, being sold by the handful. Nevertheless, we will try:

A man wearing a fez…in Fez.
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One of our landmarks: the goat brain shop.
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Kittens and cats are plentiful in the Medina, staying nourished on bits of gizzard dropped by various butchers.
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Though a few folks try to carry their goods by motorbike, the crowds and random staircases make mules a much more viable means of transport.
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The tanneries, where locally sourced cattle hides are washed and dyed in huge, earthen pits following 1200-year old traditions.
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A tannery worker explaining the whole natural process to Sara, while she holds a complementary sprig of mint (which valiantly attempts to distract the viewer from the stench of pigeon caca, whose natural ammonia is used to bleach impurities from the hides).
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A carpet-weaving co-op, where Berber women bring their handwoven pieces to sell. The carpets were not remotely within our price range (nor the airline’s weight restrictions!), but that didn’t stop them from making an impressive attempt to sell us not one but THREE beautiful pieces, which we could then ‘sell for thousands of dollars in Canada! People do it all the time!’
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A curtain-weaving co-op, slightly lighter and more affordable than the carpets and, coincidentally, something we were actually looking for for our bedroom!
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One of the more entertaining spice shops (this story is better told in person) where we loaded up on all kinds of things we had never heard of before, and hope we don’t have to declare at customs.
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And Grandpa, if the Mexican dental job ever proves faulty, we’ve got the place for you!
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Ancient tombs of bygone sultans that keep watch over Fez.
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The pristine clay walls that barely contain the bustling labyrinth within. We walked a beautiful quarter of the way around, before the blistering sun drove us back into the (well-shaded) bedlam. Truly an incredible place to spend three chaotic yet schedule-free days.
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One last story for the road. Most of our meals were eaten in the restaurants that form the ‘dining district’ of the Medina, which, despite the majority of cooking utensils being shared between the many establishments, do seem to resemble what we might call a restaurant (complete with chairs, menus, and beverages that come in cups). For our last supper, however, we were intrigued by a scruffy young chap who called to us from behind a glass case of condiments, “My friends, come eat!”. Though we could not tell what it was he was serving in his four-foot-by-four-foot kiosk, we agreed.

He seated us on a bench behind the condiment case and immediately slapped his coffee cup, of which he had already drunk half, on the wooden table in front of us, saying “Welcome!”. He procured some eggs out of nowhere and began whipping together two omelettes on a propane grill in the corner. When asked what we wanted to drink, Sara said tea, which was a simple enough request. My Coke, however, required a few extra steps. Our chef extraordinaire called to his buddy outside, handed him a used glass Coke bottle, and said something in Arabic. The buddy ran off with the bottle, returning a few minutes later with the same bottle, now full of Coke, and with a cap that had somehow been squeezed back onto it. Lacking a bottle opener, I employed Uncle Jim’s edge-of-the-table strategy. A slight corner of the table broke off, but the management didn’t seem to mind.

Overall a memorable dining experience. The coffee was thick and Turkish-style, the omelettes delicious, and the service extraordinary. Highly recommended, if you can possibly find it.
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Afterword: Finally, a taste of home. Well, kinda.
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