For our final day in Fez we felt confident enough to look after ourselves and manage without the services of a guide so after breakfast we left the Riad and walked in the direction (or what we thought was the direction) of the souk where our plan was to see the sights that we hadn’t seen a couple of days before when Hussein had taken us on the unexpected shopping tour.
It was a beautiful morning again, the sky was crisp and clear and the sun was rising rapidly scattering the shadows and bringing a welcome glow to the streets which were surprisingly clean today after a lot of overnight street sweeping activity.
Being so obviously without a guide we attracted a lot of attention from the groups of young men who were looking for tourists like us to try and sell their chaperoning services to and some of them took some serious shaking off. I have found that although it seems rude it is best to blatantly ignore them because if you mention a destination they suddenly attach themselves and try to provide the directions. We ill-advisedly told one that we were looking for the City’s Blue Gate and he immediately stuck to like a limpet. We eventually shook him off and he went away but it was a bit of a sticky moment.
We were fairly sure of where the Blue Gate was anyway and sure enough after a few minutes we arrived at the busy junction on the traffic side of the walls of the Medina and we walked through the elegant arch and into the busy Souk. Immediately we were under assault from the traders inside, first the cafés and the food stalls and then the clothes shops, the men selling Fez hats and then the handicraft shops.
The layout of the Souks was interesting because it was set out in sections where every shop sells the same produce. A whole Souk selling silver, another selling silks and so on which would be a bit like all of the jewellers shops in a UK shopping mall being organised side by side which I think we would find unusual but here the competing shop keepers seemed quite comfortable with the arrangement.
The place was murderously busy with a stream of people oozing past the shops like a flow of molten human lava and progress was so slow we could only shuffle awkwardly as though our shoe laces were tied together and it was quite impossible to walk with any kind of normal rhythm.
Soon we were the only tourists amongst the crowds of men and women in their traditional Arab clothing, the men in long gowns called djellabas and the women in colourful kaftans, head scarves tied around the hair, some with face veils and a small minority with a full burqa. We were in unfamiliar territory now and although there was no danger and we felt perfectly safe there were no street signs to help with navigation so mindful of the risk of getting hopelessly lost we stayed on the main street running through the souk and if we ventured down a side street we were careful always to return the same way and resist the temptation to explore too deeply into the warren of confusing alleyways without being fairy confident of the way back out.
About half way through we stopped and showed some interest in an old palace, now a restaurant, and a man on the door invited us in and showed us around the interior and then took us up the stairs for a high level view of the city which was good but there was a price to pay for this and on the way down he asked for ten dirhams or about £2 each which seemed rather a lot for a skyline view of the city which was no different from that at our Riad.
Almost immediately there was another incident when a young man approached us and asked us if could take us to a tannery, or a silversmiths or a carpet shop or just about anywhere where he could earn a commission on a sale and Micky told him firmly no to all the options he offered. This seemed to displease him and his friendly demeanour reversed immediately and he spat out the words’ If there is nothing here that you want why don’t you go back to your own country?’ Or words to that effect– charming!
As we approached the main Mosque down this perpetually busy street there were more shops selling robes, kaftans, carpets and antiques, men serving snail soup from cauldrons of steaming liquid and with an enticing warren of alleys all with tiny shops and kiosks packed in behind. We were near the tannery now and there were offers to go inside the leather shops for a high level view but after the lucky escape two days before we declined the invitations to repeat the viewing.
We had been walking for an hour and a half now and agreed that this was as far as we would go and as the return journey was all uphill we turned around and made our way back in the direction of the Blue Gate. On the way Kim spotted a henna souk so went to investigate and to arrange a temporary tattoo on her hand.
It was in a little square off the main street crammed in by overstocked shops which had merchandise spread across the street and it occurred to me what a daily chore it must be to prepare for a day of trading, every morning transferring stock outside onto the pavements where it would stay for twelve hours or so collecting dust and grime, fading in the dappled sunlight leaking through the bamboo and wooden roofs of the streets before the displays would be dismantled again and taken back inside overnight. Some of the items on display looked as though they had been making the same trip back and forth for many weeks, perhaps even months.
Getting back to the Blue Gate didn’t take nearly as long and we had paid attention well because we didn’t get lost once as we negotiated our way back to the city gate stopping only once for Micky to buy a Fez. It was around about lunchtime now and the waiters in the cafés were in full pestering mode, thrusting stained and dog-eared menus under our noses and imploring us to eat in their establishment but Kim was working on a sort of vague recommendation, actually an overheard conversation on the flight here, and we were looking for somewhere specific which we calculated was close by.