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Morocco

I’ve arrived in Fez, the start of my brief Moroccan adventure – and the first time back in the continent of Africa since I left Nigeria at the end of 1971.

My journey yesterday was uneventful, in a half empty plane. I stepped out to that dry heat I remember from northern Nigeria.

My taxi drive to Fez reminded me of so many other non-European arrivals: the dry landscape, in this case interspersed with olive plantations, and the growing scruffy scrawl of new buildings along the road.

Suddenly the wide boulevards narrowed into congested streets, with the odd glimpse of city walls and old buildings.

My Riad was a couple of hundred metres down a narrow street or alley. Through its door I was suddenly in another world (pictures to follow). A Riad is a traditional house for an extended family, with one entrance door from the street, in a blank wall with no windows, as all the rooms face into the central courtyard.

You step inside and you enter another, magical world. Riad Tizwa is a three storey building with tiles, tiles, tiles everywhere and elaborate ‘windows’ (no glass, just ornate iron grids.

After I had booked this particular Riad I discovered on its site that it had been developed into a guesthouse, as so many of them are, and is still owned by someone who was in the year below Kate at primary school! Small world.

I was welcomed by the manageress, Merieme, who is proving incredibly efficient, helpful and friendly. (She was intrigued by the Edinburgh link and Whats—apped Daniel, currently in New York on business, who confirmed that he remembered Kate).

My room is small, but comfortable. LIke all the rooms it is noisy as all the activity in the courtyard echoes round. Here is its window onto the courtyard.

After a brief rest I went out to explore – and of course overdid it.

The Riad is in a quartier called Batha. It turns out to be a practical place to stay: near a ‘petit taxi’ rank, a bank and pharmacy, and yet – for most people – little more than ten minutes walk from the medina.

For this first explore I headed towards the nearest gate (‘bab’ – a word I remembered from my unsatisfactory Arabic classes). The French were responsible for building the new western entrance to the old city, but although built in 1913, Bab Boujeloud is very much in an old Moorish tradition.

That was the point at which I should have turned back – but I didn’t. I strolled up a busy street (the French ‘chemin’ is a better word for the alleys which make up the city of old Fez. The only transport I saw was the ubiquitous two-wheeled hand-cart.).

At one point, needing a rest I responded to an old woman beckoning me to join her in a plate of beans. She was hilarious, the beans were tasty and the seat was welcome. We had no language in common, but this did not stop her interrogating me on where I came from. She was wearing a fetching ensemble with matching mauve headscarf and straw hat, but sadly she was not keen on a photo. The stall keeper was equally friendly, solicitously making sure that my camera was secure from passing pickpockets.

I said goodbye – and got lost for the first of many times in a maze of cul de sacs. I was finally rescued by a woman who spoke French and said the only way out was to retrace my steps, past the first enticing mosque I had come across (too bad that only one in Fez is open to non-muslims).

Then I limped my way home (by now I had become reconciled to the fact that I needed to accept my physio’s advice and use a stick. Both the right knee and left ankle are making walking difficult.

Not content with this expedition I ventured out in the evening in search of the Cafe Fez recommended by Merieme, and of course got lost again. This time a series of helpful passers by put me right. The Cafe Fez is clearly catering for foreign visitors but nonetheless I enjoyed the exotic ambience, eating in a garden with olives and palms lit by the ornate but inefficient lanterns loved by the Moroccans.

Then back to Riad Tizwa, to collapse on my (rather hard) bed. Phew.

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