After a full day exploring Fez I was keen to get moving and so I decided to head to Meknès. I was hanging out on the short 30 minute train ride with a Dutch girl from the hostel who I’d first run into at the airport. We said our goodbyes at Meknès station, though, as she was on a day trip and I needed to find a place for the night.
Not so many tourists seem to visit Meknès. In fact, It didn’t seem to have any hostels and so I would need to find a budget hotel. This took me to the rather amusingly titled Hotel Majestic. I can’t say it was particularly majestic. Maybe it once was but it was one of those places that had probably seen better days. It was, though, quite functional for my purposes – walkable from the train station and not so far from the medina, plus the staff were friendly. And given it was spitting with rain when I arrived, I was pleased that my tactic of turning up with nowhere booked had worked at the first place I went to.
When I came to walk over to the medina after lunch it was starting to rain quite hard. I had just made it to the edge when the rain got pretty biblical and I had to take shelter in a cafe. Once the rain relented I walked the short distance up to the main square, Place el-Hedim. I was feeling wet and cold and didn’t really have much motivation to explore (or get lost!). But when it turned out that the Dar Jamai Museum was shut for restoration for 10 months, there was of course only one thing for it which was to get walking!
Today I really did stand out in a crowd, with less tourists in Meknès than in Fez, and those that were here put off from venturing out by the rain. Predictably I soon got accosted in the street (this ended up with me parting with even more money than the day before in Fez!).
This Berber character in a light brown cape came on the approach and started chatting. He was trying to be helpful and was giving it the large that Meknès was so much better than Fez.
He explained that to the right was the main covered bit of the medina and that to the left was the Jewish medina. I decided to ignore his suggestions and walk straight on in the direction he hadn’t suggested. Bad move as this was the way he was going and he said that if I was coming this way then he would like to show me his shop. Apparently this was just around the corner (although that wasn’t quite the case!).
This time, though, I was OK with the idea of a random tour. The man showed me to his metalwork store on a street just off the main drag. The street was a hive of activity with similar stores and craftsmen busy at work. In his shop were the sorts of hand-crafted patterned ornaments that you would conceivably want to buy as a gift for the home.
My thought process by now was that I couldn’t not buy something. But what did I buy? A random metallic cymbal instrument-type thing! The man’s son demonstrated it to me in the shop. Apparently it is played as an accompaniment to the guitar in traditional Moroccan music. I was thinking more along the lines of sampling it to create some weird percussion FX on a techno record. Time will tell whether the thing actually gets used!
After leaving the shop we continued our tour and I was taken to bits of the medina that I wouldn’t otherwise have seen and got a flavour of some of the restoration work. For example, he showed me a mosque that had been restored after the minaret collapsed and killed a number of people in 2010.
As with Jacob the previous day in Fez, after I had paid him his guiding fee I didn’t get returned to the main drag. He said he was an old man and that his knees hurt. So we parted company and went our separate ways. I was nearly back at the main square – well at least I thought I was – when there was a fork in the alley and I decided to take a right turn (should have taken a left!). I walked for a while longer but pretty soon it became clear I was lost and I ended up going out of the medina on completely the opposite side. The only discernible landmark was a cemetery. I looked again at the guide book but there were a number of cemeteries surrounding the medina walls, so this wasn’t really helping me. Should I ask someone for directions? No, I had had my fill of random encounters for the day. I followed the outside wall around figuring that some other landmark would come into play soon enough and it did when I saw the Gare Routiere.
After walking some more I re-entered the medina and headed back up to the Bab Mansour gate by the main square. I took a few more photos as the atmosphere was a bit more bustling now than it had been two hours previously following the rain. I carried on walking and retraced my steps back to the hotel as I wanted to match the 15km of walking I had done in Fez the previous day. I didn’t quite make it as according to my phone I had only clocked up 14km by the time I was back at the Majestic.
I didn’t venture far for food in the evening, just frequenting a local place where I had a cheap – and rather dry – quarter chicken whilst watching Crystal Palace v Man United, marvelling at the commentator’s pronunciations of Jeff Schlupp and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
My original intention had been to spend a couple of days around Meknès and also visit the Roman remains at Volubilis and neighbouring town Moulay Idriss 30km to the north. But with the forecast again bad for the next day – like really bad, 100% rain all day – I had now decided that in the morning it would be time to move on once again.