Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Touring with Youssef - part 2

Youssef was promptly ready at 10am to take us on our day adventure. First we drove to the town of Safrou.

Sefrou is located about 35 km (22 mi) southeast of Fez. The town, much smaller than its tourist-filled counterparts, smaller, and perhaps more charming than towns visited by a majority of travelers. Sefrou, which stands at an altitude of nearly 1000 meters (3000 ft), has streets lined with trees and a cool breeze that tends to blow even in the summer (not the day we visited). The town is historical because it was a major stopping point for traders making their way from the Mediterranean to the Sahara Desert. And, the town was a melting pot of culture as Jewish Berber Moroccans and Algerians had been settling there since the 13th century. And, because so many people passed through this town that sits at the base of the Middle Atlas Mountains, business flourished.


First we visited yet another frien of Youssef. An 85 year old moroccan lady who lives basically in a cave, she lives here by herself and says her husband died a couple of years ago at the age of 113! She was lovely and very gracious serving us moroccan tea.

Showing us how she carries a full bucket of water on her head
Her home


We had an opportunity to watch the local ladies do there laundry - no machines here, they put the laundry in buckets of water and then stomp the laundry with their feet.
We visited beautiful waterfall and swimming hole in this area - I believe this water is used to provide electricity for safrou.

We drove to the middle Atlas Mountains and visited on of the few lakes in this area - hard to believe this is morocco, it looks like a scene from Canada.

Young boys were canoing and kayaking

Beautifully dressed horses - they are hoping to attract tourist for a ride!

We would have preferred to ride the donkey!


Youssef resting at our lunch spot in the middle Atlas Mountains


Another interesting place we visited was Ifrane, a ski town. It’s called Little Switzerland and the photos below show why is got this name. It looks like a small Swiss village. Mischliffen is nearby and is known as the Moroccan Aspen. This ski resort rivals the ski resorts in the Alps. There is also a private moroccan university located here but with an annual cost of 10,000 euro most Moroccans do not have an opportunity to attend

Views in mountain area

We went to a park where we had a chance to feed the monkeys

Not the morocco I expected???
A souk we stopped at on the way home - lots of great looking fruits and vegetables

Youssef invited us to share a meal with him again this night at 7:30 - off to the cafe again

Delicious couscous tangine - everyone shares out of the one dish
Mag wanted to taste the food at the next table - moroccans love to share food!

After dinner the men again smoked cigarettes with the wacky stuff! Then it was time for us to say goodbye to Youssef - in case you are wondering we gave Youssef equivalent of 100 euro each to thank him for the most fabulous couple of days - he was very appreciative and asked me to look him up on Facebook so we can keep in contact!

Tommorrow off to Rabat our last stop in morocco.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


First class train ticket to Fez about $35 for a 7 hour journey. We had to take our own food on the train , due to Ramadam none was being sold. For the most part the train ride was non- eventful and comfortable except when the air conditioning stopped working for a couple of hours it got a little uncomfortable.

There was a moroccan family with a 4 year old girl in our car. Her mum opened a laptop to let her watch a program - I immediately recognized the music. It was Caillou - the show my Hannah use to love. However this caillou was in French. The little girl was delighted when I showed her I had caillou on my iPad !

The housekeeper from the Riad met us at the train station. He had great difficulty negotiating a suitable price for the taxi ride to the Riad - lots of shouting in Arabic - better him than me. Morocco train stations are beautiful and have incredible ceilings and light fixtures.

The taxi dropped us off outside the medina as we walked in with our bags - I was glad we had the help of the housekeeper as there were so many people and not only is the medina another maze of alleyways (more difficult than marrakech) - it is hilly so there are lots of stairs! Our Riad was nice and we were the only guests for three nights - however they gave us the smallest room with the smallest single beds I have ever slept on.

Mosque next door (although you are never far from a mosque) notice the speakers - the first call to prayerisat 4:30 am! Muslims pray 5 times a day for about an hour or more (however not everyone is able to do this because they have to work)

The first night we opted to have dinner in the Riad

I have no idea what this was and the cook could only speak french - but it did taste good.

Fes or Fez is the third largest city of Morocco, with a population of approximately 1 million. Fes was the capital of Morocco until 1925. The modern Turkish name for Morocco, Fas, originally referred only to the capital city.

The city has two old medinas, the larger of which is Fes el Bali. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is believed to be one of the world's largest car-free urban areas (that is because most of the alleyways are not wide enough for vehicles and people. We had thought marrakech was a challenge but we were to find out it was child's play compared to fez medina. Most of these medinas were started in the 12th century and not that long ago some areas still had no plumbing nor electricity.

We were advised to hire a tour guide but we were reluctant to look online for one of the official tour guides as we did not want to visit any more family cooperatives. We found our way to the souk (market ) and thought we might find some information as how to get around (the Riad gave us a map but believe me it was not much help). Of course all the vendors are trying to get you to buy! One young man approached us and he had very good English. He said he would tour us around the medina the next day and if we did not like the tour we did not have to give him money otherwise we could give him what we thought was a good price (now there is a twist). Someone once said to me tourists take tours, travelers take a risk and try to get to know the locals. So we arranged to meet Youssef outside our Riad at 10 am the next day ( he had to be discreet as he is not an OFFICIAL tour guide).

The next morning Youssef was outside our Riad at 10 am and we walked for the next 7 hours throughout the Riad and had the most amazing day.

Mag and Youssef

Doors in medinaMetal on top left hand is symbol for health and happiness. To right hand door knocker is for upstairs family, door knocker in middle of door is for downstairs family

One of the several palaces we visited - these palaces are in poor condition and the hope is UNESCO funds will do restoration work

Kitchen of palace

Elaborate doors

We learned the colors of the tiles held significance - blue for Fez, yellow Sahara, black Agadir, brown Marrakech, green Islam, white welcome, casablanca and Rabat. The tile work is amazing considering these buildings date back to 17th century and earlier - all tile work has been done by hand. It is all still in relatively good shape - I wonder if tile work done today will last this long.

Tea anyone?
Apparently this was the first bathroom in the medina!


Another beautiful palace within the medina

Fabulous craftmanship on the ceilings


Outside palace - hard to believe there is such beauty inside

Views of Fez


Youssef took us to where his friend makes shoes for the market (basically a hole in the wall) - no this was not a family coop this guy only seeks to the market vendors.

It was extremely interesting to watch him make these traditional moroccan shoes but the smell of the glue mix with the heat of the day made it almost unbearable in such a small space.

Finished product

We visited another friend's small workshop where he crafts lamps for the market - this man uses a pattern and then cuts with a saw.

These pieces are then shaped into any number of lamp styles which he sells to market vendors

Because it is Ramadam and fez is not as touristy as marrakech it is hard to find a restaurant open before sunset. So Youssef called a friend and asked if she would make us lunch. We arrived at her home in the medina


And we were given the most delicious moroccan soup - Youssef went out and found us some great french bread to go with it (traditional moroccan Now keep in mind because it is Ramadam they are not eating! However, they have no problem with us eating and drinking
My kind of girls!

On the last Friday of Ramadam (prayer day) the children get all dressed up - hair, makeup, new clothes ready to celebrate the end of Ramadam. Everyone gets new clothes, visits family and eats lots of food when Ramadam ends. We asked if we could take this picture and she was quite happy to pose with her beautiful children.

Next we were off to the pottery factory where it takes up to 25 years to become a master craftsman.

Inside kiln where items are placed to be fired

These craftsmen chip all the tiles for the beautiful fountains and tables

Moulds for fountains


Finished products


Store- now this guy was really pushy and his prices were ridiculous (150 euro for a small candlestick) Youssef got very angry with him for being so pushy with us - yeah Youssef!

Off to the leather tannery

Vats of dy below

Apparently these guys end up with all sorts of health issues such as arthritis! No kidding

Youssef's uncle


Mag did purchase a leather jacket here - I had trouble finding shoes that would fit!
I did end up with 2 pairs of moroccan sandals (not purchased here)

We then visited a traditional weaver


More sites in the medina



Hundreds of stray cats throughout the medina - most do not look well fed or cared for

Views from a rooftop coffee shop - mid afternoon we felt like a rest and a coffee but nothing was opened. Youssef called a friend and he met us and led us to another friend's coffee shop that was closed but they opened it for us! At times even we started to think we must be crazy following these strangers around the medina!



Youssef and Mustapha

We could not go into a mosque because we are not Muslim - so Youssef went in and took pictures for me!

Both woman and me go to the mosque at different times or if they go at the same time they do. Not sit together

Children start going to the mosque and studying Islam at about 7 years of age


Coffee, orange juice and treats on a private rooftop - pretty special!

Youssef then invited us to share a meal with him and his friends at 7:30 pm when the sunset. We had such a great day with Youssef we felt we could not pass up this opportunity. So back to our Riad to freshen up and Youssef came to get us at 7:15 and we were off to the man cafe where everyone brings food and when the mosque alarms go off it is time to eat. We named it the man cafe because there are only men there - Muslim women prepare the food but they eat at home (we did see one woman with her husband). No one seemed to mind we were there - they recognize we are western woman so there does not seem to be any issues - everyone was extremely friendly.

Fish tagine - prepared by youssef's mother but cooked at the local bakery! It was good if you can get over the fish staring at you.
In the glass was beet root and orange mixed - sounds weird but delicious. Fresh olives and some kind of soup you dip bread in! What an experience!


After dinner all the men smoke but first they add a little hashish to their cigarette - they offered some to Mag and I. We declined telling them we do not need anything to make us more wacky! After that everyone referred to them as wacky wacky cigarettes!

This was no ordinary day! Before going back to our Riad Youssef asked if we would like to go see some sights around Fez tomorrow, outside the medina and up to the little Atlas Mountains - he promised it would be different than what we had seen in the big Atlas Mountains! Maybe the second hand smoke from the wacky wacky made us a little crazy because we said OK!

Stay tuned for day 2 with Youssef! You have to admit my travels are never boring!