A London Stopover
I was staying in a tiny flat in North London with my youngest daughter, Alice. I mean tiny. A house savagely sliced into pieces leaving rooms appearing taller than they were wide. She lived there with Chris, her boyfriend. Their bedroom was a thoroughfare, you couldn’t access the loo from anywhere without going through it.
Mum we'll just cuddle up and watch TV
I slept on the sofa-bed and Alice insisted she and I watch the entire series of Downton Abbey - all fifty-two episodes within three nights viewing - well that’s how it felt. I enjoyed the first few but now have a facial tick that manifests whenever anyone mentions the Abbey.
I Wanted Some Alice Time
I wanted to take Alice for a holiday and we settled on Southern Turkey.
“So you’ll go to the travel agent tomorrow?”
“No way, I’ll book everything on the internet,” I said.
“Oh, you’re such a switched on Mum,” said Alice and I purred.
As Alice disappeared to the kitchen to cook supper she hissed Chris had a limited Internet plan. Chris was extraordinarily forbearing; deprived of Alice and his TV, subject to my nighttime excursions through his bedroom, he now gave up his final bastion and let me onto his computer.
Come Fly With Me
It was mighty stressful as I scanned the bucket-shop sites for flights and hostels in Antalya or Alanya, the kilobytes, megabytes and gigabytes flying by. Alice would come in to see how I was going and top up my red wine. She offered helpful alternative dates which further complicated the breathless combination of flights and hostels which ebbed and flowed before me, seats filling before my eyes, so when I finally got the combo right, I wasn’t going to muck about, booked and went to help Alice with cooking and the red wine.
So Mum... aaaaaaaa
“So were do we fly into Mum?” asked Alice.
“Antalya,” I said, but as the words came out my mouth, my whole body did a kind of wiggly cringe. Intuition isn’t called gut feeling for nothing. It’s also our innate wisdom. Ha, bloody ha, let me repeat that: johnny come-late wisdom.
I made some excuse, got Chris to re-fire his computer and checked the confirmation.
Ryanair were so pleased we were going to Alicante on the Costa Blanca, Spain.
“I really can’t believe you did that,” said Alice, a spatula raised in one hand.
“I’m sorry, just too many aaaa’s - I can’t believe it either. Never mind, Alicante‘ll be nice.”
“Mum, I don’t want to go to Spain again!”
I shuffled off back to the computer, simpered to Chris who was checking his emails.
Ryanair would only let me change tickets for another flight on the same day and the only place left was Fez.
“Mum, where the fes is Fez?”
To make up for it, I booked a guesthouse beyond my normal budget to about the power of five. An additional incentive being that reviews of my normal nightly outlay left others itchy, wanting for hot water or in some cases, any water at all.
On arrival at Dar El Hana in Fez Medina, we were welcomed by Josephine. My intuition had looked after me after all, if not my bank balance. It was perfect.
Josephine's Dar El Hana
Josephine had drifted into Fes some years before on the start of a world adventure, never got further, instead bought a dar, an Arab house in the Medina, and started taking in guests.
Jammed together, without windows, dar rooms face inward and, from upstairs, have balconies that look down to a central patio. It may be a garden or just a table and chairs; a gorgeous riot of tiles, carpets, cushions, cedar wood and greenery.
Buying a Dar in Fez
When a property is purchased in Fez, everything above the outline of the house at ground level is yours, but the houses have evolved in such an organic way that a winding stair-case or a burrowed cellar may well go beyond your footprint or you may find your neighbour in yours.
That was what happened to Josephine as she told me when I admired the little coloured tiles on the kitchen floor.
“Most of them are original, I cleaned and sorted them myself. When we lifted the tiles, the floor gave way and we peered down into the kitchen of our neighbours whom I’d greeted outside only shortly before. It was a great surprise for both of us!”
So she had to buy and sell pieces of the house to establish her final footprint.
My journeys are always fascinating but often vaguely uncomfortable; an incentive to keep moving.
In Fez with Alice I could have settled down for months and it was an effort to tear us away to backpack travel.
Alice acquiesced with a certain stoicism, adopting the dress of an avant-garde Berber tribeswoman with a voluminous scarf round her head and lower jaw and enormous sunglasses to keep the sun off her fair skin.
Together we explored the Medina in Meknes, the Kasbah in Rabat and holy marvellous Moulay Idriss. At Roman Volubilis, Alice sat in the shade for an hour while I haggled with a dozen taxi drivers in non-existent French and I embarrassed her dreadfully when I eventually hijacked some American tourists for a lift.
Together we enjoyed a riot of colour and donkeys, camels and cats, great food, naughty boys, friendly Moroccans, and more colour.
An Ideal Travel Companion...
Alice has a phenomenal sense of humour and a nose for a bottle of red wine. She used both when we found ourselves on a windswept Atlantic beach where Lonely Planet’s, “Little visited idyllic seaside fishing village,” wasn’t the description we’d have given and where Alice woke me in the middle of the night to show me the carcass of a bedbug wrapped in a tissue and her lines of bites.
“Move over Mum - me and my mates are coming to join you.”
Alice Knows About the Finer Things in Life
Back in Fez for the last two nights before Alice departed for London, she took control. She rebooked us into the Dar El Hana, found a modern hammam for the most amazing full-body ex-foliation on hot marble slabs and on our last evening, she followed Josephine’s recommendation and a small boy fetched us and spirited us through the Medina at night to the Tourina Restaurant which was out of this world in ambiance, flavours and delightful service.
Next time I go travelling with Alice, I am going to leave all the arrangements up to her. I’ll just have to save up first.