After two weeks in Holland in the middle of wettest and coldest spring they had had in “106 years”, carrying my death of cold, I was ready for dry hot desert air. Morocco was just the place.
As is our norm, we flew Qatar Airways. There are certain advantages to staying loyal to an airline. We could have taken AirArabia, a low-cost, no frill but excellent airline, from the airport 2 miles from our house. We could have taken Emirates out of Dubai. But we stayed loyal to Qatar to accumulate more points and FF miles. This time we realized we had made a mistake.
All Qatar flights start or end in Doha. That means you change planes in Doha. Changing planes in Doha is a bit of a hassle. Their new airport is not finished yet, and all the aircraft park a very long distance from the terminal. You take a bus from the plane to the terminal, check in for your connecting flight, then take another bus out to the new plane. We are used to it, so we put up with it for the FF miles. However our flight out of Dubai was delayed more than an hour, and our connecting flight, Doha/Tunis/Casablanca would be gone when we got to Doha.
Of course we were not the only people inconvenienced by this. There was a large group of Africans who missed the only daily flight to Entebbe. They started raising a kerfuffle. Very loudly and phrenetic. I mean they almost did a war dance. I cannot really blame them, they were not getting out of Doha until the next night. None of them were Silver or Gold status flyers like my wife and I are, so they would not even get into the lounge.
When my turn at the counter finally came up a woman started helping me but was paying more attention to the tribal uprising than she was to me. I did something I rarely ever do. I turned into an ESThole. Being a graduate of EST means you never really forget what you learn there. The conversation with this woman went something like this;
“Hey, are you here to help me?”
“Then stop paying attention to that group raising the hoo-hah and look me in the eye when I talk to you”
She was immediately under my control, we both knew it.
“You are here to help me. That is your job. Correct?”
A rather demure “Yes”
“You made a commitment to Qatar, your boss and by extension to me, to satisfy my requirements. Correct?”
A very concerned “Yes”.
“So here is what you are going to do. You are going to get my wife and I, who by the way are both privilege club members and loyal to your airline, on the next possible flight or flights that get us to Casablanca. Not only that, you are going to upgrade us to first class”.
“I will need to talk to my manager about the upgrade”
“You do not want to do that because if you do, I will also talk to him and it will look like you forgot about your commitment to your customers and your job”.
“And you will let me use your cell phone to call our tour agency to let them know our new arrival time”
I mean it was like Jedi mind control. She printed us upgraded boarding passes and pointed to the lounge.
The next flight out, with a connect to Casablanca (on Royal Moroc air) went thru Istanbul, and wasn’t for 6 hours, but it WAS the best she could do. We hung out in the lounge. We watched the Entebbe people try to get into the lounge. They never took EST, had no idea how to mess with the minds of others, so they had to go sit in the terminal for I am not sure how many hours. They were watched closely by the Doha Airport police.
I was nervous about our luggage, but I had bought travel insurance so at least I could get fresh underwear in Casablanca.
End of this story is we arrived in Casablanca a day late. But the folks at our agency (Kensingtontours.com, highly recommended) were Johnny on the spot, and we had no more glitches.
We spent the first night in a big hotel in Casablanca instead of taking a night train to our first destination, Fez
Some people spell it Fes, but I think that is French, So I’m sticking with Fez.
We stayed in a Riad which is what a bed and breakfast is called in Morocco. They are refurbished Moroc homes. Mostly bought and reworked by French people. The entire Medina is a World Heritage site, which carries with that designation some important rules. Two of these rules that affect a person who wants to refurbish an old Moroc home are, no power tools and only locally made materials.
The Medina we stayed in was the old Medina. There is a new Medina, which is only 1000 years old! Medinas have very narrow paths, like the photo above depicts. They were built for donkey traffic. No cars. The paths twist and turn. A few actually lead somewhere. The rest are dead ends or twist back to where you were. You need to drop bread crumbs to find your way home.
When we decided to go to Morocco, I did a little research. I found myself interested in the Berbers. They came out of the Sahara and were the first settlers in the Atlas mountains and other areas of Morocco. Berber is the mother tounge of most Moroccans. Arabic and French are taught in schools. English is a distant 4th. If you decide to travel to Morocco, your high school French will do you more good than English.
One thing about the Berbers is they make marvelous carpets. I knew I could not come home without one. Fez, being our first stop, did not seem like the place to buy one. I wanted to buy one in a Berber village and cut out the middleman. Our guide had a different idea. “I will take you to the best carpet store in all Morocco. No pressure. You do not like, you walk out.” We know better than that. Carpet salesmen are slick. Just like buying a carpet here in the UAE, or on the subcontinent, as soon as you walk into the store they bring out the tea. I am fairly convinced the tea is spiked with a buy drug. The salesman gets nice and friendly and his staff starts whipping out carpets faster than a sand storm across the desert.
The salesman watches your reactions. He knows in minutes what you like or do not like and he barks orders at the hardworking staff to take some away and bring out more that he thinks you like.
Maybe he had a sale, maybe not. I was just a spectator. Then the afternoon call to prayer happened. I sort of wanted some time alone so Mary Ann and I could talk more. I told the saleman and the guide (who would get a commision if we bought something, good on him) “hey, don’t y’all gotta go pray?’ The guide said “I am already praying that you buy something”. I am not sure if it was the will of Allah, or the damn tea, but Mary Ann bought us a beautiful Berber carpet that now graces our living room.
We also took a cooking class from the Clock Cooking School. They are located in the middle of the market area in the Medina. We went out with the instructor to purchase everything we would need to cook.
We were truly impressed with how fresh all the vegetables were, all grown in Morocco. The fruits were great also. The peaches were just plain peachy good. The chickens get killed right in front of you if you insist on the freshest. The butchers all had a cadre of cats sitting in front of them, hoping for a handout.
They are territorial, a group of cats does not allow a new cat to occupy their space. These cats are all feral, and you see feral cats all over Morocco.
That is it for Fez. We saw other interesting things, as you will when (I hope) make your own visit.
Next? The Marrakech Express!