Travel in Morocco: Fez and the Blue City of Chefchaouen

Salaam Aleikum and greetings from Morocco! 😀

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Salaam Aleikum means “peace be upon you” in Arabic. 📷: Chefchaouen

Morocco is a country located in northern Africa. It’s known as al-Magrib al-Aqsa, or “the extreme west”, because it’s the westernmost country of the Arab world.

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rooftop view of the mosque in Fez
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rooftop view of the Kairaouine Mosque in Fez

Originally, the inhabitants of Morocco were Berbers, a nomadic people, who made their living by trading goods and spices, and by off farming the land. Throughout history though, the Romans, Spaniards, Muslims and the French all attempted to conquered Morocco, which has influenced their art, architecture, music, literature, and cuisine. That being said, 60% of the people still speak Berber here, which is a testament to their strength at retaining cultural heritage. Additionally, the country’s predominant religion is Islam, the official languages are Arabic and Berber, and their flag is red with a green pentacle, representing the five pillars of Islam. 🇲🇦

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Arabic writing at the Kairaouine Mosque
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Kairaouine Mosque in Fez

I had the opportunity to spend one week traveling through Morocco. I’ve broken the trip down into two posts, where I include helpful tips, what went wrong, and what went better than expected. Hope you enjoy! 😀

Travel in Morocco: Fez and Chefchaouen

On Saturday evening I flew into Fez with Ryanair.
Ryanair travel tip: Always remember to check in online and if you’re not an EU member, print off your boarding pass to avoid 60 Euros in charges. 

I also exchanged my Euros to Moroccan Dirham at the airport; however, I found that every place I went to in Morocco accepted Euros as well.

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Moroccan currency called “Dirham”

My accommodation in Fez was Dar Rabha. I arranged for an airport transfer there, which cost 15 Euros. Public transportation is an option during the day, but the last public bus departed at 7 pm, and my flight arrived after 8 pm. My driver’s name was Mohammad, and he had a sign with my name on it, waiting for me on time. As well, I only saw private drivers waiting at the airport exit, so I’d suggest arranging a transfer if you plan to arrive at night. After 40 minutes of driving we arrived in the city center. The guesthouse worker named Hamza came to get me from the car and walk me to the door, which was very courteous. 

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photo courtesy of Dar Rabha’s website

My guesthouse had dorm beds, complimentary WiFi and a rooftop terrace. They also organized excursions. Drinking water is potable in most of the country, so free water was not provided.

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public drinking fountain in Fez

In general, Dar Rabha took extra steps to ensure everyone’s safety during their stay. When a group of us wanted to go out at night to eat or shop, they had someone walk us there. Don’t get the wrong impression, I felt very safe walking around Fez, but it was easy to get lost, so it was nice to have someone lead you in the right direction. 🙂
Cost: 6 Euros per night
After some shut eye I awoke the next morning to the trickle of raindrops on the roof. As such, instead of venturing out right away, I decided to stick around for breakfast. During breakfast at the hostel, where they offered bread with jam, fresh butter, coffee and tea, I met a group of Australians who were studying in Europe, and on holiday here as well. We all decided to explore the medina together, which is the oldest and largest Arab market in the world.

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Aussies and a local salesman wearing the tarboosh, a traditional Moroccan hat. 😀

The Medina of Fez

The Medina of Fez originated in the 9th century. It’s now considered the most extensive and well-preserved area of the Muslim world, since the majority of the space here still serves its original function as a marketplace. As well, the architecture here has both African and Oriental influence.27304184558_59fd70a52c_z
27304184528_85d17845ed_zWandering the market was a real shock to the senses. I saw gorgeous fabrics and fragrant spices next to stalls with live and dead animals, and heard melodic Arabic music playing alongside men screeching out a sales pitch to hawk their cheap goods. Here are some shots to capture my experience.

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note the camel head 😮

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fresh goat cheese
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marinated olives

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‘babbouche’ or snail soup is a popular dish here
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local rummage sale
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goods for sale

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loose leaf teas and spices
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So many dried fruits! ❤
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donkeys are used here to transport most goods through the city
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colorful taffy-like candy and granola bars called ‘sellou’, made with sesame seeds, almonds, and honey
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Muslims praise cats, since they were beloved by the Prophet Mohammad 🙏 🐱

I felt like the clothes, jewelry, and furniture here looked very lavish, with lots of sparkly bling and gemstones. 💍40464969194_6823dacb4d_z
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what a contrast between the dilapidated room and the lavish furniture

While wandering the market, one Aussie girl bought a scarf for 6 Euro and another bought a bracelet for 3 Euro. 41177794811_a1c365c6fc_zWe also sampled some fresh dates, pita bread, and fresh-squeezed orange juice. We also tried these sweets called shebakia that were folded like flowers, deep fried, and covered in honey and sesame seeds.27304025298_24eb25864b_z
27304025438_a5a868749f_zI thought it was strange that this dessert was in the same display case as the preserved camel meat, sitting in congealed fat, so I decided to pass on both! One of the Aussies said he would try anything, and immediately asked for a spoon. 🤢27304025568_9327a61743_zI also saw some more unique street food, like these sandwiches filled with hard boiled eggs, lunch meat, goat cheese, chick peas, and spices.26300067387_80c583a934_zNow the Medina of Fez has over 12,000 streets, and it was easy to spend the greater part of my day wandering around here.

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1 of 12,000! 😮
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boutique in the Medina
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cute father and daughter in the Medina

Just an FYI, women dress quite conservatively here, with either pants or a long skirt. Personally, I always wore a long skirt with leggings, and a sweater to cover my shoulders.27304184758_03f2e99082_zMany local women here also wear a head covering, but not all, considering it’s a personal choice. I read that in 2004 they reformed women’s rights here with a code called the Moudawana, which gave women the right to have custody over their children and the right to refuse their husband’s choice of a second wife.

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street art in the Medina

Anyway, while wandering we also came across the oldest university in the world, Al-Karaouine, as well as, Kairaouine Mosque, the second largest mosque in Morocco.

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non-Muslims are not allowed to enter, so I just took some pictures from the door

One of the Aussie guys was quite a chatterbox, so when we visited a school for handicrafts, he began talking with the security guard there. The guard was 46 and had four children. He said he had been married for 25 years. He told us that when he brought his first girlfriend home to his parents, his mother didn’t like her. She said that it wasn’t the right girl for him. Since harmony in the family is so important in their culture, he then let his parents go out and choose his wife instead. He said he was very happy with their choice.

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traditional textile machinery
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the school for handicrafts empowers women by teaching them new skills to start their own business

Anyway, in the afternoon, I ventured out on my own to the largest shopping mall here, Borj Fez. I wanted to see the newer district of the city, and see how it was for ordinary people going about their lives here. I found it to be quite relaxing and similar to the West. The mall also had many modern shops, like Adidas, The Body Shop, Swatch, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut.40282761655_6c65271799_zSince the rain was really coming down at that point, I headed back to the hostel to hang out with the guests. While there, I met a group of Canadians who were teaching in Spain, and one who was studying in London to become a doctor. We decided to book a tour together through our hostel to visit Chefcheouan, also known as the “Blue Pearl of Morocco.”27304415888_acdf3eebe9_z

Chefcheouan

On Monday, at 8 AM, we were picked up by a private driver and driven four hours to Chefcheouan, a picturesque village nestled next to the Rif Mountains.40465150744_3a4a9ee746_zThe buildings here are painted in varying shades of blue, which makes it one of the most photogenic cities in the world. 💙41178334191_2a3e2605f2_z
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41178270421_921741f886_zNow there are many theories as to why this city is painted blue. One of the most popular being that this area saw an influx of Jews fleeing here from Hitler in the 1940s, and they painted the city blue, because blue represents the sky, and reminds people of returning to heaven and God. 41133937072_c2f13af966_zThis was seen as a place of refuge, and a literal heaven on Earth. Another popular theory was that the blue helped deter mosquitoes, which seemed to make sense, although I found the first theory to be more interesting and complex.DSC_1849Anyway, the girls I was with were dressed very stylish, since they considered today to be like one long Instagram photo shoot. Hah! 👗 📸

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Strike a pose!

Anyway spent around three hours wandering around here, taking photos of the beautiful doors, stairs and alleyways.27304238728_32d70d55cb_z
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40282047105_8bc4cb8e8f_zNot all the doors were blue, but still gorgeous nonetheless! ❤
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41178334001_d5e4f2ab18_zWe also perused the local market and a public park, where they had fresh fruits, veggies, and spices on display.27304226818_e2218a9947_z
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41133867732_7e3e8b4473_zOne interesting thing I noticed were the cloaks that men wear here. 40282035675_24da9f9832_zThese hooded woolen robes are very traditional and common dress among the Berbers, and they are known as ‘djellaba’.40282215145_a90ceb74fd_zThey also had many souvenirs for sale, and one of the girls bought a white scarf to look like Audrey Hepburn.

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souvenir magnet of a blue door
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souvenir shops and restaurants in the main square

40282208155_037a56ce13_zTo keep our hunger at bay while shopping, we had some fried pancakes called ‘meloui’, which had onions mixed into the dough. It very tasty and cost only .40 cents!41178334861_c71cb7c933_zIn the afternoon we headed back to Fez on another four-hour journey. As a side note, our driver only spoke French and Arabic. Luckily the girls were from Montreal, and could communicate with him as to when we wanted to be picked up. We also took two nice photo stops to check out the beautiful landscape! ❤41133937142_9a366a6f26_zJust wow! I had imagined Morocco to be mostly a flat desert, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how green the country was, with many mountains, and lakes. ❤41133937242_f677a9cb5a_zCost: 30 Euro per person for the private driver (public bus tickets can be purchased for 15 Euros round-trip, but this was much more convenient, since the bus departure times are limited)

The Medina of Fez Cont…

The next day, I headed back into the Medina of Fez with one of the Canadian girls and a guy from Spain.
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rooftop restaurants near the medina

We stopped first for some avocado juice, which seemed to be quite popular here. Basically, they blend milk, avocado and sugar altogether, which seems more like a milkshake, but they call it ‘jus’, which is French for juice. Speaking of languages, so far I’ve heard mostly French and Arabic, although since they are so close to Spain, many people speak Spanish here as well. Oh yeah, and English is pretty common too, especially among the salesman in the markets.41178371561_59078357ef_z
41178371841_23e476dd23_zWhile in the Medina this time around, I also visited the local tannery.

Leather goods are a hot commodity in Fez, and the tannery here uses traditional methods to produce these goods, by drying and dying animal skin. When they first get the hides of either camel, goat, sheep or cow, they soak the skin in cow urine, pigeon feces, quicklime and salt. This makes the skin more malleable and soft, as well as, increasing its ability to absorb the natural dyes. After drying, the hides are then plunged into deep vats to absorb the natural dye. Substances including indigo, saffron, poppies, and pomegranate are all used to give the hides such vibrant colors.
40282215325_faeb7a7baa_zWhen visiting the tannery you have the option of going to the rooftop to see the action from above. They give you a mint leaf to hold against your nose to distract you from the foul smell of the hides. After you can browse the shops to admire the final leather products, including jackets, purses, wallets, shoes and rugs.
41178371451_48a073838a_zTannery side note: They say the rooftop is free to visit, but they usually want a tip.

Where to Eat in Fez:

In the afternoon we went to Cafe Clock, one of the restaurants recommended by our guesthouse. I had a falafel and hummus platter, while the others had chicken tagine with vegetables, and a camel burger with fries. Tagine is a rich stew of meat and veggies named after the clay pot that it’s cooked in. The camel burger had ketchup mixed with cinnamon and honey. Very tasty!41178334811_278ea04261_z
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27299049548_e89898d994_zCost: 5-10 Euros per entree
Anyway, I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out in the beautiful Jardin Jnan Sbil, a palace garden created in the 19th century by Sultan Moulay Hassan. This garden is open to the public, free to enter, and was a lovely place to relax. The birds were singing, families were out walking and sitting on the park benches, and the garden was full of beautiful flowers and cacti.26305775157_bcf38dba02_z
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41133983532_d87cfeaabf_zWell that concludes part one of my Moroccan adventure. In the evening I took an overnight bus to Marrakech with CTM. Stay tuned to hear all about my experience in Marrakech and the Sahara Desert! Until then! 😀

Cost: 17 Euros for the 8-hour bus journey (no WiFi or chargers)

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