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Published: September 10th 2018
We did make it to Rick’s Cafe, but there was no gin to be had, so not much of a gin joint! More on that later.
So, here we are finally in Casablanca! It was series of longish flights (Vancouver to Calgary, change plans in Calgary, short layover in Halifax, back on to the same plane, then on to Paris. We had to collect our bags and go through security again in Paris for our Royal Air Moroc flight to Casablanca. We arrived in Casablanca around 3:30 pm, got our Morocco SIM cards for our phones, exchanged some American into Moroccan Dirham, and found our driver who took us to our hotel, the Kenzi Basma. We weren’t that impressed with the hotel initially, our room is a bit tired and in need of a some maintenance. But it’ll do for our two nights here. (Plus the bathroom is nice and there is lots of hot water for the shower. Now that we have walked around the area I’m liking it more).
Back to our arrival, by the time we got to our rooms (and sorted out the room safe which of course wouldn‘t open, and cleaning up my toiletry
Completely different sign than in the movie where it was “Rick’s Cafe Americain”.
bag - something, I think the shampoo, leaked) it was about 5:30, which didn’t leave us much time for our 6:30 dinner reservation at Rick’s. Looking back, it probably wasn’t the best idea to schedule a nice dinner after flying all night. Neither of us is able to sleep much on planes, so we were pretty exhausted. But, we quickly changed, and off we went. I had previously thought we might walk (google maps said it was around a 20 min walk), but there is so much construction around this area, which really doesn’t lend itself to pleasant walking. That, plus the fact we were very tired, made the decision to take a petit taxi an easy one. Petit taxis are these small red taxis that zip all over Casablanca. Grand taxis go out to the suburbs. I had thought we had to agree on a price beforehand, but the driver said he had a meter. Hmmm, didn’t see a meter, and the driver picked up an additional passenger on the way, but the price turned out to be extremely cheap. (It turns out that yes, petit taxis have meters which the drivers are supposed to use, and it is
Continuous showing of Casablanca.
common practice to pick up several different passengers).
We got to Rick‘s a few minutes before it opened at 6:30, and the area was full of Asian women posing for pictures at the front door. We snapped a few photos too, before it opened. The big group of women went upstairs (where they have large tables for big groups) and we were led to a table for two in the centre of the restaurant. It’s very atmospheric inside. We had just watched the movie Casablanca, and the interior definitely evokes the feeling of the movie. Except for the lack of: constant cigarette smoke, the gambling room in the back, and unfortunately tonight, cocktails. We ordered champagne cocktails, only to be told they were not serving alcohol as a sign of respect as the owner of Rick’s had recently died. We were very sorry to hear of her death (she was an American woman, who had worked at the state department while in Casablanca, and who later decided to create the restaurant). However, the lack of cocktails really took away from the experience for us. There was just something about enjoying a cocktail at Rick‘s, that we just didn’t get
with sparkling water 😞. The food and service were excellent, but I guess the combination of jet lag, and the letdown of no drinks, made it kind of disappointing for us. We weren’t the only ones who were disappointed with the lack of drinks, I could hear all the surprised comments from diners at other tables. I’m definitely glad I went though. I had sole meunière and Susan had lamb shank.
We took another petit taxi back to the hotel, this time after an argument about the fare (why is taxi fare always a hassle when travelling?). I sorted out my clothes for the next day and started this blog entry.
Monday had our alarm going off at 6:30, and we lounged awhile before getting up. Breakfast was quite good, I had scrambled eggs, baguette, cheese, tomatoes, yogurt, and a mini chocolate croissant. The coffee was good but not as strong as we were expecting. The breakfast room was very busy when we got there. I think this hotel is used by various tour groups.
We hopped in another petit taxi and headed to the Hassan II mosque, where we were to meet our guide for an
Urban Adventures tour. The voucher said simply to meet at the mosque. Well, the mosque and area around it is VAST so they need to specify exactly where to meet. We were there early, so we wandered around and took photos, then tried to find our guide. No luck. We finally got through to Urban Adventures Casablanca (sure glad we got SIM cards so we can make phone calls) who texted us the guide’s cell number. We called her and eventually found each other. We were the only ones on the tour so it ended up being a private tour.
Hassan II mosque is the third largest mosque in the world (only Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia are larger). We learned about the mosque (we see it tomorrow so I‘ll save the description for tomorrow’s blog). We went to the mosque museum, which has examples of the tile work, the wood work, and the marble work that are inside the mosque, and information about the construction of the mosque. This was actually very interesting. Hasna explained about the Islamic patterns on the tiles (the shapes and colours all have meanings, and since Islam forbids images of animals or
Another view from the second floor
We were seated at one of these tables.
people the shapes can depict people or animals). Just the examples in the museum were incredible and I know we will be blown away from the interior of the actual mosque tomorrow.
We took pictures of the outside of the mosque, then walked to the Sqala, what remains of 18th C Portuguese fortifications. We popped into a very nice looking restaurant there and had a look at the making of some traditional pastries. Back when the Sqala was built the Atlantic was right alongside. Now it is some distance away. We then hopped in a car for a drive around the downtown area and eventually to the Habous (Nouvelle Medina) which was built by the French in the 1930s. We wandered through the Habous, stopping at a shop selling a vast selection of olives and spices (we bought saffron from southern Morocco and a few other spices). Locals, not tourists, shop at the Habous, so it is a good place to pick up traditional Moroccan goods. We visited a bakery where locals bring their bread for baking, and a pastry shop, where we bought a few delicous pastries, including the gazelle horn (a small almond filled cookie). We enjoyed
our pastries at a nearby coffee shop (we had Moroccan mint tea which was yummy and not sweet at all - I added a sugar cube). It was a very pleasant location and the place was full of locals. We were dropped off back at our hotel and then we wandered around the nearby streets for awhile. We now felt more oriented as to the location, and the positively enormous crane that was in front of the hotel yesterday is gone, giving the street a much nicer atmosphere.
The area is full of shabby Art Deco buildings, which I like a lot. The neighbourhood doesn’t feel touristy at all and is full of locals going about their day. There are lots of little restaurants and cafes and fast food places close by. We picked up some more water, and ran into a man who works at the hotel who showed us to what he called a Berber exhibition, but basically turned out to be a carpet shop. Not as bad as it sounds! The are a cooperative and the carpets do seem to be a very good price. We did see some we liked but they were too small
for the living room. The carpets come from Berbers in the Rif mountains, and each family has its own designs.
We are now resting in the room with a gin and tonic, ok two gin and tonics (we brought our own supplies, including tonic, from home) and a few snacks. I guess our room is the gin joint! I woke up very early this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep so I’m happy for a rest before we meet our group tonight (for our Highlights of Morocco
Tomorrow we visit the Hassan II mosque, then we are off to Rabat, finishing the day in Meknes, where we spend the night. See you again in a few weeks Casablanca! The city has definitely grown on me and I wish we had more time to get to know it better.
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