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Published: March 6th 2008
Hassan II Mosque
Half a billion GBP!
The walk to the train station took no time at all and we bought the tickets with no problems. The train was comfortable even in second class; it puts England’s trains to shame. We arrived in Casablanca slightly early and were the absolute last people to get off the train.
We deliberately chose a hotel near the station so that we wouldn't waste the day looking for a place to stay. Unfortunately we walked around the block to get to Hotel Central but it was still worth it. It was cheaper than the price given in Lonely Planet and it was the first place in Morocco that actually felt like a hotel. The staff were really friendly and let us know that it was safe to walk to the mosque despite the warnings in the guidebook.
We are still attempting to keep contact with certain Moroccan foods to a minimum so we decided that we would have lunch at Rick's Place which is based on the film Casablanca. We got to the restaurant and around the bouncer who gave us a snooty look and asked to see the menu. The menu was lame and the actual place was dead
besides the staff that weren't exactly brimming with hospitality.
We were practically at Hassan 2 mosque so we continued on up there. Its minaret was visible from quite a distance away but other than its size it didn't look too special until we were up close. The houses around the vicinity of the mosque were ramshackle and there was a lot of rubbish etc lying around. The mosque complex was apparently responsible for the eviction of many residents in the surrounding slums.
We turned up just in time for the guided tour which is compulsory if you want to visit the interior. The prices were ridiculously high 30dh for Moroccan concessions, 60dh for foreign students or Moroccan adults and 120dh for foreign adults. Luckily when we asked for two student tickets we weren't questioned because I would not have paid £8 each to visit a relatively un-famous mosque.
The tours were divided by language groups with English being the second largest group. Our guide arrived and asked where everybody was from; we were the only English people in the group. The rest of the tour was in English but with Dutch and German translations. The mosque itself
is grand and lavish and as a concert hall or palace it would be just right, but to us it just didn't feel like a mosque. The tour was full of facts that we already knew like; the roof opens or that a part of the mosque looks down on the sea. What we did enjoy was the description of where each of the materials were from and being able to say we'd been to each place. Everything was built entirely with aesthetics in mind, the speakers were decorative pillars, the wash basins marble flowers and a beautiful hammam was built despite having no religious relevance.
When the tour had finished we rushed up the marble steps first to where we had spotted a lizard on the way down. It was stuck on the steps and Hiding in the tiniest spot of shade. I picked it up and took it outside and we sat and watched it for a bit.
Despite our decision to avoid Moroccan food etc, we were so hungry that we found a small café and went in for food. They said they could do a cheese omlete for me which we both ordered. It
arrived a fried egg in a baguette with dairy lea and lots of other goopy liquids. Not the nicest food, although Rob ate all of his.
During our walk up to the medina we walked past these tiny tin shacks that we initially dismissed but stopped to look at again once we realisEd the abundance of satellite dishes must mean that they were homes. We would have loved to have explored but it wasn’t a good area and a few people were taking a bit of interest in us. The medina itself wasn't much better even though we tried to stick to the main areas. We were glared at a lot in particular by younger guys and two of them even told us to F*ck off. We have been in enough towns/cities in Morocco to know that this isn't the norm, but we know about the anti western bombs etc and figured we should just leave.
We had been walking in what we thought was the correct direction, however the gate we stumbled out of was right next to Hassan 2 Mosque. Not wanting to go back into the medina, we walked around the outside of it till
we got back to the newer area of town. We had a look in a few shops and picked the best postcard out of a bad lot for mum's school.
We were just walking around the newer shops when Rob’s eager eyes spotted an ice cream palace. I didn't want one, but we went over to get Rob one and my eyes fell upon the flavour "Strumpf". I got hopelessly addicted to it during a German exchange and I hadn't had it since. Rob joined me with the Strumpf and also had bounty flavour that was delicious. Whilst we were eating, we found a shop that had a suit in the window that Rob liked. Once we had finished the ice creams we went inside and he tried it on, but the trousers just weren't right.
On our way back to the hotel we found ourselves wandering around souqs that were not too dissimilar to Rabat’s. We had a look around but most of the stalls were selling shoes and men’s clothes. They have a weird obsession with labels here; everything is a fake designer label, even the baby’s bibs. We didn’t buy anything and we got stuck,
unable to figure out how to leave.
The hotel actually has hot water that lasted long enough for us both to have nice long showers. We are aware that there is a water shortage in Morocco, but it has rained a lot, we haven’t had an abundance of showers and we see Moroccans throwing water on the floor all the time. After our showers we actually felt clean and almost smart so we decided to go somewhere a bit special for tea. We are still attempting to steer clear of Moroccan foods, so the Chinese around the corner seemed like a good option. We both had vegetarian meals which were both pretty scrumptious and loaded with vegetables that hadn’t been boiled to death. We even splurged and ordered half a litre of rose wine.
We have just spent some time reading The Mail which we bought from a stand over the road. We now know nothing extra about the news and important happenings, but we can tell you all the gossip about Prince Harry, what to wear this spring and other entirely useless things. Night night. Stob
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