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Blue City, Roman Ruins, a Holy City and on to Fesj

March 8.

After breakfast at our riad, we spend a morning exploring Chefchouan, the blue city. For starters, we see how the city got its name

sneak photos of picture-shy inhabitants

and spend time looking for carpet runners with Ahmed in his store near an olive tree. Ahmed spent time at Fordham, living in the Bronx, and very good naturedly hauled out many runners, none of which fit the bill for us. We sought out Ahmed at Ahdina, our travel agent’s, suggestion.

Around 10:30, we depart Chefchaouen for Fes. Note: although you can see the city spelled Fez or Fes, Younes is adamant that the latter is correct. Fes refers to “pick axe” with which the city was built. There is also a legend that a pick axe made of gold was found buried in Fes. Fez refers to a hat, which has no connection to the city.

Random thoughts on Morocco. Many olives. Many donkeys. Many sheep. Good roads. Very comfortable vehicle, a Mercedes SUV. Cloudy weather, but no rain today, comfortable, but coolish.

You may recall from my first post, that Rick is the son of Chicago friend, Judy Gaynor, who I ran into at a lecture in Chicago and planted the idea of a trip to Morocco in my mind. Rick is a lawyer who I met even before I knew his parents because probably 35 years ago he was a young associate at a San Francisco law firm that I did some consulting work for. He is a free spirit, we hit it off and have stayed loosely in touch over the years. He has traveled a great deal, and lived in places around the world, so I’ve occasionally sought his advice.

Rick currently works for Millenium Challenge Corporation, a US governmental organization that funds economic development projects in stabile countries around the world in five year substantial, non-renewable grants. Rick is currently finishing the second year of a 3-year commitment he made in Rabat, Morocco, working on the portion of a $900 million grant that deals with reformation of real estate records and land ownership in Morocco, a delicate and highly political project. Anna works on development projects for Germany.

After a delightful lunch with Rick and Anna, the four of us visit a photography exhibit Anna knew about across the street from the restaurant, of works by Daoud Aoulad-Shad. The photography is good, but not great.

Carol and I are then driven approximately 3 1/2 hours up the coast and then north-east towards the Rif Mountains and its rich agriculture of lush produce, both legal and less so (it’s a huge producer of hashish), but both beautifully nurtured. We head to the once sleepy town of Chefchaouen, which has become something of a must for visitors to the North of Morocco.

Lovely countryside. Though landscape photography is not my thing, here are a few attempts.

Our first stop is Moulay Idriss, one of Morocco’s most venerated Muslim sites. It was said that for Moroccans who couldn’t afford the trip to Mecca, then to travel five times in one’s life to Moulay Idriss was of equal merit. We have lunch at a local restaurant, then walk around a bit, sneaking a few more photos of locals.

Next we stop at the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis, where we find beautiful mosaic floors, uncovered and brought to light by the archaeologists that still work on this partly excavated site. It was developed from the 3rd century BC onwards as a Phoenician and later a Carthaginian settlement. The town fell to local tribesmen in 285 and was never recovered by the Roman Empire. Constantly uncovering this city beneath the sands of time is now exclusively a Moroccan project organized by Moroccan archaeologists.

This stop is a great example of the unexpected joys of travel. Our guide was an elderly gentleman and, with the combination of my being challenged in hearing to begin with and the difficulty of understanding him, I was about to tune him out entirely. I mean, who really gives much of a shit about the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians and the Romans and who ruled when and built what. I’m more interested in real people today. Still, the site was very impressive, his knowledge extensive and his enthusiasm palpable. So, gradually, I warmed to Khalid, especially when he talked about himself.

Khalid was from a nearby town and at age 14 was in a movie about Jesus of Nazareth, directed by Franco Zeferreli and starring Anthony Quinn and Robert Powell. This changed his life. He became intensely interested in, and studied, history, began working on the excavation of the site in the 1980s, and has guided at the site for many years. Here is Khalid as he appeared in the movie at age 14 (he emailed the photo to me), and here he is with Carol today.

Here are multiple photos of the site.

And, oh, by the way, Khalid, the old man, is twenty years younger than we are.

From Volubilis, we drove on to Fes, about an hour and a half away. We check in to our luxurious Riad, Palais Amani, a 17th century palace rebuilt in the 1920’s and then restored some years ago to become the beautiful 18 bedroom hotel, restaurant and spa it is today. Known as ‘Fes’ best kept secret’ it is a true oasis of calm in the bustling medina with a courtyard and gardens in the traditional Islamic design.

Rooms combine the traditional with modern and luxurious comfort with an atmosphere that makes one feel like this is your palatial home. We’re given a tour of the riad and take an ELEVATOR, praise the Lord, to the roof, which affords lovely views of the Medina.

The Zunkels have surprised us by arranging for us to have a hamam at the riad spa tonight. This was an extremely kind and generous gesture on their part. When Carol heard what it was, she declined and had a massage instead. I allowed the woman who spoke only Arabic to knead me, pour hot water over me and scrub my skin off with a sandpaper like glove. Then, on top of it, the guy who took me down and took our room key did not come back for me, so I was locked out of the room and reduced to calling down to the courtyard for help in my bathrobe. Half an hour later, Carol has still not shown up. Probably she will, though. Check to tomorrow’s blog, if you’re curious.

I’m sure these have been going on for centuries and that many people love them, but this will be my last hammam. If I need to make a choice, next time I’ll opt for water boarding. I’m sure there’d be a kinder way to say this, maybe that hammam is not my cup of tea. But I’m not a cup-of-tea kinda guy. I want the Zunkels, who I know will read this, to know two things. First, I really do appreciate their gesture. And, second, I definitely will remember this part of the trip.

P.S. Carol just showed up.

8 comments to Blue City, Roman Ruins, a Holy City and on to Fesj

  • jeanzunkel@gmail.com

    You have made me laugh this morning. We knew this would give you fodder for your blog and experiences that are different are what its all about!!!
    By the way, I only have had one and also don’t plan on another one!
    Glad you both survived.
    Love your photos Arnie..

  • jeanzunkel@gmail.com

    You have made me laugh this morning. We knew this would give you fodder for your blog and experiences that are different are what its all about!!!
    By the way, I only have had one and also don’t plan on another one!
    Glad you both survived.
    Love your photos Arnie..
    You are saved….for some reason, it won’t let me post this.

  • Julie heifetz

    Arnie,

    The photos are gorgeous and make me want to visit Morocco. I like goats, thought I’m like warm about olives. And I have loved the Moroccan food I’ve had. Glad you didn’t lose Carol.

    Julie

  • leslie paul

    glad you have not lost your sense of humor . this is the first thing i read this morning and started my day with a good laugh.. this is bringing back great memories of my trip.. really loved Morocco .. glad you are enjoying it. pictures are great.. surely many photo opportunities… les

  • Kay Osborne

    Another great experience, Arnie. I loved the photo of your guide when he was in the movie, good stuff, K

  • Cornfield

    It’s amazing that with our deversity we all live on this speck in the universe. The pictures of the blue city and the people are surreal. Strange the way the woman combine near total body coverage with bright colors and design.
    The photo at Volubilis showing a stairway, a stone arch and the sky through the arch reminded Noreen of Magritte’s paintings.

    Thanks, Gil and Noreen.

  • Sharon Silverman

    Ah a hammam! The one I had in Tunis was amazing and reminded me of being bathed as a baby. I do, however, see how it may not be for everyone. Arnie, your description made me smile. I applaud you for giving it a try. You found out for yourself. I think Carol missed a real experience that she may have liked. The joys of travel giving us opportunities we may never have otherwise. The Blue City photos are beautiful!

  • Wendy

    Gorgeous photos. Somehow, the fact that Maz had the good sense to go get a massage during your torture session makes this tale all the better. So, while Sharon applauds you, I applaud Maz!

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