Being woken at 4:30am by the first call to prayer of the day is something that is destined to be an eternal memory of this trip. But after continuing to doze until 7, and enjoying a hearty Moroccan breakfast, my first full day in Morocco began.
First stop, Volubilis. For those of you who, like me, hadn’t heard of it, it’s somewhere between the Roman ruins of Caerleon and the Roman Forum. Only partially excavated, but what we could see was interesting. Particularly enjoyed the explanations of the bathing and sunning rooms, and even more so the ‘vomitarium’ (I joke you not), where hearty eaters and drinkers could empty their guts then return to the dinner table to refill… ad nauseum 😂
From Volubilis on to Meknes, one of the four imperial cities of Morocco. A guided tour of the medina and a visit to a museum of music. Lunch was camel burger… yes, really… and quite tasty actually!
After lunch it was onward to Fes by train and check in to a hotel that would be our base for two nights. Some much needed down time to shower and chill before a group dinner in the evening. And what an experience that was! We were hosted by a local family for a traditional dinner plus entertainment. We were fed on harira (Moroccan chickpea soup) with dates and honey cake, followed by pastilla – a chicken pie flavoured with cinnamon, turmeric, ground peanuts and brown sugar. Delicious! Fresh oranges, banana and strawberry in olive oil and cinnamon to finish.
We were then treated to traditional music and singing by the family. We were lent djellubas (kaftans) and invited to dance with our hosts. What a way to experience the culture of this fabulous country!
Back to the hotel and could barely keep my eyes open past 9pm!
I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the next day. If I use the phrase ‘sensory overload’, it just sounds clichéd… but that is exactly what it was. The sun shone and our guide for the day, Hakima, took us on a tour of the sights, sounds and smells of her home city. Fes is much bigger than I expected- almost like a series of mini-cities making up a very big one, with the ancient medina at its heart. A veritable labyrinth of over 1000 streets where people live and work… and have done for hundreds of years. No cars or motorised vehicles in the medina – just handcarts, horses and mules and plenty of pedestrians. It was amazing how Hakima navigated those streets, some of which were ridiculously narrow. I don’t think I’d ever have found my way from one part to another, or more importantly back out again!
The highlights for me were the food market, where we saw herbs, fruits, dates and olives, breads being made and all manner of meats being sold (think tails, hooves, offal and even camel head…); the leather market, including the medieval tanneries, still operating much as they always have, where we learned about the different natural pigments used to colour the leather; and the weavers market, where we tried on scarves made from wool, cactus and agave (and may have bought one). Add to this the breathtaking architecture and fabulous carvings and mosaic walls/ floors of the mosques, madrasas and museums… and suffice to say my camera took a battering that day.
Sunset on a rooftop terrace with a cold beer, back to the hotel, and I was asleep almost before my head hit the pillow. Just a brilliant day.