Friday, July 5, 2013

Eurocco: Fez Week 2, Monday-Thursday

Monday: This was the first day of Cait's school and we were finally done infringing on Kyle and Vareena's hospitality. Looking back though, we probably should have waited another day before trying to move out, as it was pretty busy that first day of her school to get things done. It's important going forward to know that unlike most of the Middle East, Fez (and maybe all of Morocco?) is on a Saturday, Sunday weekend schedule, whereas most of the Middle East takes of Friday and Saturday, because Friday is the day of the big community noon prayers. Apparently the French colonists didn't want to be bothered with cultural sensitivity (although I'm not really sure of the history of the weekend decision). That's why Cait's first day of school was a Monday, not a Sunday, like it would have been elsewhere in the Middle East.


So, on Monday, Cait went to school early in the morning. She wasn't sure what time her classes were going to be and was under the impression that there was some flexibility. Nope. She was assigned 8-10 a.m. and 2-4 p.m. as her class times. This has worked out fairly well, allowing her time to come home between classes. After her first class, she had the mission of finding a hotel to stay in, as well as hunting for the rumored but unseen playground that was supposed to be fairly near her school

She succeeded on both fronts, but by the time she got back, it was almost time for her to go back to school soon. So she hopped on a bus and we (the two kids and I with stroller and baby backpack) tried to get a taxi (remember that they have a limit of 3 persons, not that we ever really talked with a taxi driver to confirm this). Apparently it was a key taxi taking time, because the competition at the edge of the traffic circle serving as a taxi stop was fierce. As usual (unfair stereotype warning) there wasn't much of a feeling of deferring to whoever had been waiting the longest, instead the taxi went to whoever was most aggressive in going after the taxis as they pulled up. I consistently lost out to other people unencumbered with two children and carrying apparatus. I even got some kids to try to flag down a taxi for me (or rather, they began trying the instant I confirmed that I was indeed waiting for a taxi, not needing any sort of confirmation from me that I wanted their help). Even with this unsolicited assistance, I couldn't find a taxi to pick me up. I think it was a combination of 1) most of the taxis looking to add passengers going the same directions as the one or two that were already in the taxi 2) a lack of desire to deal with all the baggage I had along with two kids 3) I probably didn't look like a good tipper, which I am not.

So, after twenty minutes or so of trying, I decided just to take a bust into town and go from there. Unfortunately, I had no real idea where the the hotel was, only a vague idea from how Cait had described it. I got off at what I thought might be close to the hotel, but I, of course, wasn't even close. I asked around, and while most people seemed to have no idea (I knew it was a pretty small hotel) I found a few that made it sound close, but I kept moving further and further back towards Cait's school, and I eventually got pushed down so far that I ended up just going down into Cait's school, hoping to hook up with her there. Here's what I should have done: realized that I had Cait's phone and that she had looked up the location of the hotel in Google maps (which has the great feature of working even without 3g or wifi using the GPS location service), or made sure that I had a better idea of where the hotel was before we started. Also, I should have cleared up where we actually meeting, as Cait was waiting for me at the hotel and I thought she was at her school. Anyway, we cleared it up and I now have spent way too long describing how I got lost in downtown Fez. We ended up meeting at her school, she went to class and I took the kids to the hotel, where she had already reserved a room and dropped off our large backpack full of stuff (mostly clothes).

In what would quickly become a pattern, I gave Tallulah a nap while Atticus played on the iPad and then we spent the rest of the afternoon distracting the kids until bedtime. We made our first trip to the playground, which was abandoned but not too hot. The kids loved the merry-go-round with horses to ride on, the multiple jungle gyms and the space to play soccer. I was worried that we were supposed to pay someone, but no one ever asked us for anything and the man who was working there seemed happy to see us. I later learned that it is nice, but not required to tip the grounds crew (who clean up the trash and water the grass and plants, as well as clean the bathrooms) who seem to be there pretty much all day. So we've done that most times we've gone since.

These girls were walking by the park when they spotted Lulah and had to come in and maul her
Atticus was fascinate with the work of this gardner

We met back up with Cait for dinner after she was done with school. Looking for a place to eat where our kids wouldn't destroy things, we took our first trip to the Central Park Cafe. It resides in the middle of a park, which is mostly a stoned plaza with some legitimately beautiful fauna surrounding it. It is well kept up and, amazingly to me, never crowded. Parks just aren't a big thing here I guess, or maybe there is some hidden one somewhere in the city that is swarming with people and so obviously superior to Central Park (which has an official Arabic name that I have never bother to learn) as to render it useless. Maybe.

The nice thing about Central Park is, is that the restaurant takes up one large corner of the park and looks out on every other bit of the fenced in area. This allows our kids to roam and play in an enclosed area, mostly within our view, hidden occasionally by trees or monuments. The food there is okay and reasonably priced for a restaurant in a park, but for some reason the waiters don't seem to like us, and we always seemed to get charged extra for unwanted items, like bottled water that is almost definitely just tap water poured into an old bottle. Not that we haven't been back four or five times.

This is Lulah's "it's so hot" face.

I also took a few minutes out to go and talk to a boy who had shown us the apartment that we had almost moved into to, but ended up reneging because it was so high and the windows didn't have bars, and the apartment we were waiting for instead was just overall nicer for the same price.

We then went to the playground again at night, when it was a lot cooler and, consequently, a lot busier. The kids enjoyed it more with a lot of other kids to play with, and we ate yogurt and cheap cookies until it was time to go home.


The next few days went pretty much like this. Lounging around our surprisingly comfortable hotel room. Making consistent trips out to the playground, Central Park and Cait's school, along with a trip down to McDonald's and Burj Fez. Pretty much we just lived the vacationers life for a few days, living in a hotel, eating out, seeing some sites and walking our kids to sleep at night. We were very glad not to have to make the bus trip and longish walk into Kyle and Vareena's house every night, even if living in a hotel got old pretty quick. We almost immediately felt the desire to be settled into our own house, with a fridge and washing machine, but we continued in our determination to wait for the nicer apartment that a student from the school, and his wife and child, would be emptying in less than ten days to return to Switzerland. Even with the anxiety of waiting, we had a good time these few days.

We particularly enjoyed familiarizing ourselves with another portion of the city. We like exploring around at the shops that were mainly geared towards non-tourists, because our hotel wasn't really in a touristy part of town. We found some books for Atticus, as well as school supplies for Cait at a local bookstore, we bought a lot of fruit off of the vendors that wandered around, we brought some toiletries from the pharmacy, which is where you buy toiletries here, and explored different places to eat. The best find was definitely the pastry shop down the road with cheap and delicious pastries. I'm a huge pastry fan.

Also, the second day, we found a corner near our hotel that had four restaurants that apparently all served the exact same thing, whole, halved or quartered chicken and rice, and maybe fries. We went to the one that was closest to our home and asked the price. They replied in English with what sounded like eighty dirham, which was really expensive, especially since I'd seen lots of working-class Arabs eating there for lunch. We talked some more and realized that it was eighteen dirham. If they had just used Arabic, we would have figured it out, because tamantasher sounds a lot more different from tamaneen than eighty from eighteen. Oh well. So, eighteen was really cheap, like $2.25 to be precise, for enough chicken and rice to feel up our family. This was, of course, great, and we ate there several times, but it was also not so great, because it lowered the bottom level price of food in our mind, so that paying seventy dirham for a meal at Central Park Cafe or 100dh at McDonalds seemed much more overpriced than it used to, even though McDonalds is the same price as in America, i.e. cheap for American food, and Central Park Cafe is even cheaper. First world problem: Moroccans eat so cheap that we feel guilty spending money that we can afford to spend to eat a little bit nicer. Anyway, we ate there enough to get sick of it and then started going to nicer places again.

We eventually decided to move out of the hotel into a cheaper hostel that was fully booked when we had first checked, but now had some space. Partly, the growing realization that our hotel served as a pretty frequent center of prostitution made us uncomfortable, but more than that, it was just getting expensive to stay there every night (something like $40 a night, which added up quickly). So we began to plan the transition to another home away from home on Friday.

Shots of the hotel:



  1. 1. What is the fruit selection like in Fez?
    2. Tell me more about these pastries.

    1. The fruit selection here is good, if a little lacking in variety. A lot of peaches, nectarines, whatever the tiny tiny peach things are that we call "mishmish," melons, cherries, banana. We are lacking in berries but that's about it. Our main problem is finding a reliable source for fruit. The best that we have found so far are the fruit vendors that come for a half-hour or so outside of the local mosque at prayer time, but it can be hard to make sure we hit them at the right time, even with the calls to prayer. Or we get it at the supermarket, where the selection is not as good, but still very cheap and we assume, rather local.

      The pastries here are good, not outstanding. When the rest of the world discovers Dulce de Leche as the best pastry filling ever, it will be a happier place. I feel like the pastries themselves are very good, but the fillings and toppings leave something to be desired.

  2. This typo gave me a good laugh:
    "...enough chicken and rice to feel up our family."