I have been trying to get to Morocco for a while now. It’s been on my list for a couple of years and the pandemic was the reason that I haven’t been able to get here until now.
When I was looking at Morocco, I had Casablanca, Marrakesh, and Rabat on the list and I settled on going to Marrakesh as it looked the easiest to get to and the easiest to get around from the airport and around the city. It also helped that it appeared to be the cheapest to fly to out of the three.
I booked for December 2021 (and it was only £15.98 return) and as it got to about 4 weeks to go I got an email from Ryanair to say they had to cancel the flight. I was gutted. I had my hostel booked out and some walking tours booked and a plan of what I was going to do.
I quickly looked for when I could travel again and booked for January this year (2022) and rebooked the hostel and the walking tours. It got closer again and the flights got cancelled. This time because of the government. They decided that due to the Omicron variant of Covid several EU countries would no longer be permitted to fly to the country. The UK was one of those given our high rate of cases.
The thing that was weird to me about this was that I could fly to somewhere like Spain and then fly to Morocco and be allowed in. The Moroccan government didn’t base it on where a person was from, but on where the flight was coming from. It made 0 sense to me. Come from the UK direct = Hell Nah. Coming from the UK via Spain (or another allowed country) = Welcome, tourist! 0 sense AT ALL. Anyway, enough of trying to figure that out.
I kept looking for cheap flights and I found some for Fes/Fez and decided I would book them and keep my eyes, toes, fingers, arms, legs and attitude crossed that it would go ahead. Truth be told, I was expecting it to be cancelled. I was really hoping it wasn’t. I’m a “Hope for the best, expect the worst” kind of person.
The fact I am writing this should give you a massive clue that it didn’t go ahead. Ha, jokes. It did go ahead and I lived to also tell the tale.
I booked a half-day off so I could get the train and head to the airport. The tickets I originally booked were part of CrossCountryTicketGate (or the GreatCrossCountryTicket Scandal of 2022) where the app booked a bunch of tickets as child tickets instead of adults (despite every ticket bought before the app update being adult tickets). That ticket was direct to Stansted but since realising and having to repurchase, the railway booked in some engineering works so direct was no longer possible. I had to travel via London instead. I had to go Peterborough to Kings Cross, tube to Tottenham Hale and then train to Stansted. The only thing I minded was the extra travel time it would take. I didn’t mind going to London and then back up. It was different from the usual routes I would take.
Before I forget: the trip was in jeopardy because the RMT union called a rail strike and one of the strike days was Thursday 23rd June when I was due to travel back. Due to the time I arrived back from Fes, the only train I could get home was 05:27 on Thursday morning. I was starting to wonder if it was worth going (see, expect the worst) due to not being able to get back home and I didn’t really want to sit in the airport until Friday afternoon when the next train would be going from Stansted to Peterborough. Luckily for me, Ken offered to pick me up from Stansted when I landed.
I did speak with the train company on Twitter and moaned and was told no replacement transport and no ticket acceptance would be available. I called my insurance company to see what my options were and I was told because the strikes were on the news it wasn’t unforeseen and I wouldn’t be covered. I did tell them when I booked that my crystal ball was broken and I couldn’t see into the future to predict. That didn’t go down too well. Oh well. I had an alternative option and I was able to get a refund on my train ticket.
Anyway, back to being at Stansted. I got off the train and it was an absolute nightmare to try and get to the terminal. They decided to shut down the escalators and have two-way traffic where it used to just be one way and this caused a massive queue. I gave up standing in it and went to the lift and used that and got to security quicker.
Security was busy but moving quite quickly. I don’t think I spent more than about 20 minutes in security. It was a welcome relief to get through and then get some food and go sit down. I usually do BK, but didn’t because there was a queue of about 60/70 people just to use the order screens. I got a sandwich instead and headed to the gate that the Ryanair app said. This was against my better judgement too. I was going to go to the gates where you could overlook the runway. I thought better of it. I sat at the gate and then thought that not enough people are here. I checked the Stansted website and it showed a different gate. The thing that annoyed me: it was a gate where I was going to sit and overlook the runway. Grrrr.
I got to my window seat and settled in for the flight. I was tired and just wanted to sleep. That’s pretty much what I did until we hit some turbulence around the Bay of Biscay and then I slept again until we were descending and going through turbulence by the airport. I was so happy to be off the flight.
The airport in Fes was really nice. Bright, big, open, lots of symmetry. I had to show my locator form before I was allowed at passport control. I got to passport control and I seemed to pick the wrong queue. I had to email the hostel and tell them I was going to be late for the driver (the flight was also delayed by about 30 minutes) and now this. Once I had gotten through passport control, I picked up a SIM card for €10 for 10GB (or jiggabytes as they said it there). I wasn’t going to do this but figured I would need a map for the Medina. I got all this done and found the driver (not very often do I have a person waiting with my name on a board. Novel) and then he pointed me to an ATM.
HUGE WARNING: the ATM at the airport is expensive to use. It cost me 35 Dirham (about £3 at the time of writing) and then 4% of the transaction in fees. I believe in the city it’s not as expensive. I needed cash though. Morocco is very much a cash society. The only places that really take cards without huge fees are the airport and the high-end branded shops and hotels.
Finally done with everything I needed, we headed to the hostel. One thing I did note on the drive was the abundance of people out and about at 22:00 and the number of people just wandering in the road to cross it without a care in the world. It reminded me of Amman. I loved it.
I finally got to the hostel and I was super impressed with how it looked. I checked in and headed to bed. I was so happy to be able to lie down and have a sleep. I got everything out for the next day so I could get some decent sleep before heading out for the tour. The tour I had booked decided to cancel on me that night because I said I wouldn’t pay his extortionate fee for doing so.
You can see some of the hostel pics below.
As I had mentioned, my walking tour was no more. I wanted to do a walking tour so I could get an insight into the city and some tips on where I should visit on the other days.
One of the girls in the hostel had said she had talked to the hostel workers and they gave her a site to use to book a tour and I did that. I managed to find a similar tour that has spaces and I booked that. The tour started at 10 so I didn’t have time for breakfast at the hostel.
I went to the local convenience store (of which there are plenty. There were about 7 within about 60 seconds walk of the hostel) and bought some drinks and some snacks to keep me going throughout the day. There wasn’t any McDonald’s near to where the hostel was so the convenience store was really my only option. The stuff in the shops is really cheap here. I got a 1-litre bottle of Sprite, a 500ml bottle of Pepsi Max, a 1.5-litre bottle of water, some crisps and some chocolate for 22 MAD. In old money, that equates to just under £2. Bargain.
As I was headed to find the meeting point, I had time to go look for souvenirs and that’s what I did. I got the map out (trust me when I say you will need it if you want to get out of the medina in a timely manner) and headed towards the souvenir shop (the one by the hostel was closed).
As I was walking, some local came up to me and told me was the tour guide I had booked and he had seen me at the hostel. Yeah, nothing dubious about that like. I told him he wasn’t and he kept showing me his tour guide badge and that he was the guide I was looking for. I kept telling him that I was going to find what I needed and then head to the meeting point. He stuck to me like glue and I couldn’t shift him whatever I tried. Walk fast – he walked equally as fast. Slow down – he walked equally as slow. Stop – he would stop just ahead of me keeping an eye on where I was going. I kept telling him to leave me alone.
It got to the point where I asked him to send me a message on the app to prove he was the guide I was meeting. He said he only had wifi and there was no wifi in the medina. I carried on walking not listening to what he was trying to tell me. At this point, I had 20 minutes to find souvenirs, take some pictures and meet the guide.
I got some souvenirs and tried to lose the guide but no such luck. He had the guy at the shop vouch for him. I then asked the guy what his number was and it was different to the guide on the app. I think he realised at this point that I wasn’t going to use his services.
You need to be wary of these guys as they will offer their services and guide you and then at the end demand money from you and if you don’t have any they will try and get you to go to an ATM to get them some money.
I headed to meet the real guide where I thought he was waiting and I couldn’t see him. Thankfully I got a SIM card so I could message him. No longer had I messaged than he appeared where I was and pointed out the meeting point. I looked for more souvenirs here. I had magnets already. I wanted a flag and lanyards and a Fez. I found none of those here.
We started the tour and the guide give us quite an in-depth history of the founding of Fez (don’t ask me to recount it all – I will try my best to write what I remember). The city was founded in the 700s by King Idris. The city was settled by people from Tunisia and people from Andalucia. They were separated by the river. To this day, each side is known as the Tunisian side and the Andalucian side.
The city is situated in a valley of the Atlas mountains – makes for very pretty views even today.
The city was quite advanced for its time. They had 2 rivers of fresh water and lots of open wells and spas. The settlers decided that one river would bring in fresh water and the other river would be used to take out the waste. Very clever. One of the reasons the city was able to flourish.
The city is a Unesco world heritage site. The medina of Fes is supposed to be the largest traffic-free zone in the world. Once you get right to the heart of it, no vehicles are allowed. The further up you go, you will see motorcycles and as you near the exit of the medina, you will see cars.
The medina has 14 gates – very ornate they are too – to protect it. The medina is a huge maze of streets. There are said to be in the region of 9,700 streets inside. You can now see why you need a map to navigate. An offline map is of no use as it will only give you driving directions.
We carried on walking and as we did, the guide pointed out some of the quirks of the streets. The streets have gates and you can see where they were by the holes where they would be held in place. Each street had these to protect itself from potential invasions. In the streets, there are fountains that provide fresh water. A lot of these are being renovated to continue to provide this. In the stone above the gate, you will see some mosaics and this will tell you whether or not the street has a fountain.
You are also able to tell if the street is a through street or a dead-end private street (not that the streets are private anymore) by the shape of the sign. The rectangular/square ones are through streets and the hexagonal ones are dead-end/private streets. On some of the streets, the walls have rectangles painted on them so political parties could paint the logo so people would know who was standing in the election. This also helped those unable to read as they could see who to vote for from the logo. The street signs are in Arabic, Berber and French. The French colonised Morocco from 1912 until about 1956.
We carried on further into the medina and the guide pointed out some of the mosques and madrassas (schools) and hammams (spas) and then he took us through some of the Souks (markets). These were really ornate. He advised just to take general pictures as people would demand money if you took pictures directly of them. It was amazing to see all of this work still being carried out by hand – masonry work, fabric dying, you name it. Very impressive.
Our next stop was the tannery. When I say it smells so bad, I mean it’s worse than what you can imagine bearing in mind it’s all animal hides. When we went in, the owners gave us some mint to smell due to the smell. The views of it were impressive. I have nothing but respect for the workers that are in there working. It’s hot, it’s stifling, it’s back-breaking, it’s smelly. They have large vats of white liquid where they take the fat off the hide using pigeon dung.
They have other vats of dies that they use to colour the leather. Then it’s hung out to dry. The smell was just something else. Truly awful. I felt sick and had to keep the mint to my nose so I wasn’t. I went back downstairs and sat by the fan to get cool.
Once we were done here, we went through another Souk and then headed back up the medina (all well and going this far in – not so much when you have to climb back out) and then headed to the Blue Gate where the tour ended. I had an idea of places I wanted to go back and see. Once the tour was done, I headed back to the hostel to chill and I sat on the terrace to catch the breeze and cool down – it was needed. My feet were starting to hurt so they were happy too. I stopped by the shop for some more liquids. I didn’t realise how much I was drinking and how little I was peeing. I realised I was sweating it all out.
I got back to the hostel and chilled on the terrace for a couple of hours. I was mesmerised by the views and I was looking for places to go tomorrow. I already had an idea of where I wanted to go once I left the hostel again. You can look through my pics to see the views from the hostel. You’ll like them too – you better like them too!!!
I went back out and headed towards the cemetery so I could go in and have a look around. I got some more cheap sustenance and walked through the souk and got accosted by some guy shouting “Hello brother from another mother” and wanting me to go to his restaurant and view the tours he had on offer. I politely declined but bought some bread and then headed towards Bab Marouk to sit and people watch before heading to the cemetery. Below is a video of how crazy the drivers are here. No lane discipline. Stopping wherever and whenever. The pedestrians too!
After I was done here, I headed towards the cemetery. I had a look in at Place Boujloud and then headed to where I could see a door. I crossed the street (like a local) and walked into the cemetery. I was told I wasn’t allowed in to look around. Apparently, this was because I am not Muslim. Seems a weird rule for a cemetery but I respected it and left and carried on walking until I came to a roundabout and I crossed the road and decided to walk down the street and to the right to see what was there. I had a feeling I was going further away from the hostel but this is what exploring is all about.
I got to where the Semmarin Medina started and decided to get some pictures. All of a sudden I could hear whistles being blown and realised the guards blowing them were pointing at me. I am still unable to figure out what they were not wanting me to take photos of. Oh well. I walked into the medina and wandered around – sometimes looking at the map to see where the hostel was. As much as my feet were hurting, I was enjoying taking in the surroundings and wandering around. I headed out of the medina and towards the hostel as I was getting tired and hungry and wanted some hot food.
The place I was at I recognised and was easily able to find my way back to the hostel. I knew there was a little place that served food so I went there and just got some fries. After this, I went back to the hostel and sat on the terrace for a couple of hours. I wanted to watch the sunset and see what the view was like after dark. The sunset was pretty cool, the view not so much as a lot of the medina didn’t have lights.
I then headed to bed to plan what I was going to do tomorrow. I had seen some views from the tannery and from the hostel terrace. I looked at the map and saw the way I needed to go and it was fairly close.
Total steps: 17,304
Total miles: 8.2
Below are some pics from today
We landed early and I was confident I would be off the plane and through security in about 20 minutes. Yeah… what a pipe dream. It was 20 minutes before we were off the plane. After 10 minutes the pilot said we were waiting for buses to get us to the terminal. We were parked in a remote stand. So not fun. The buses finally arrived and we deplaned and headed to the terminal.
Everyone was in a rush and people were trying to get one ahead of the other. I was pushed into a wall and caught my arm on a door release panel so I tripped the person that did it. I looked up and saw how long the queue was and was quite frustrated. Ken had come to pick me up and I was conscious it was super late and tried my best to get out quickly. It turned out we were being marshalled to prevent overcrowding in arrivals.
I got upstairs and the queue was huge. There must have been 800/900 people queuing to get across the border. People were trying to get ahead. I wasn’t letting anyone ahead of me. No ta, I’m in the queue waiting so you are going to be waiting too. Part way round, someone opened one of the straps on the barriers and cut through so I closed it and told them to wait just like the rest of us. They didn’t like it. Shame that!
Some guy behind me was trying to get past me to get to his friend right in front of me. Every time he tried I moved and I eventually put my arms out so he couldn’t. I turned around and told him to wait his turn like everyone else. I hate queue jumping.
I felt so bad for Ken waiting outside. I wanted to just push my way through so I could get out. I got right up to the gate and a gate was open but the guy in front of me just stood there so I moved him out the way and went into the gate so I could get the hell out of there and to the car. I walked as fast as I could and met Ken. I was so relieved to be out of the airport and in the car.
A massive THANK YOU to Ken for helping me get home and for not having to abandon this trip.
Morocco: JUST. GO.
Total steps: 37,127
Total miles: 18
You can view all of my Fes pics here