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Published: October 26th 2011
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Morocco ……it has a very alluring sound to it. It is known for many things, including its many colorful images, culinary delights and fascinating history. For us, the chance to visit this exotic locale was an opportunity that could not be passed up.
Before this trip we had been very busy with work and school, so we worked with a travel agent and the itinerary was set: San Francisco to Paris and then to Casablanca, where we would begin our two-week adventure in this most fascinating country. On this journey we will be celebrating both of our birthdays, so we decided to upgrade the voyage just a bit. Travel within Morocco is relatively inexpensive so we were able to hire a driver guide to accompany us around the country. The advantage of doing this is that you have a guide providing the history of the country. Driving from city to city allows us hours of conversation about politics, religion, health care, food, education and more. One truly gains a better
understanding of the issues the country is facing when speaking with a noble citizen and we feel that Mustafa will provide us with just such knowledge. We hope to share this information as we travel throughout this enchanted land.
First impressions of a city are often made on the drive through the city from the airport. As in many large cities we have visited around the world, the traffic seemed a bit chaotic and the lines in the road are a mere suggestion to most drivers. Moroccan drivers are not as “spirited” as say drivers in Greece or Italy, but it’s best to be on guard nonetheless. Casablanca is both large and historic, and also incapable of dealing with modern day traffic. This problem is shared with multiple other nations; too many cars and not enough roads.
Everyone has heard of Casablanca, even Americans, thanks to Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Peter Lorre, but there is so much more in this Moroccan land of 32 million. We will first take you to the cities of Casablanca and Rabat. Rabat is named the “capital city” and is also considered the political capital of the country. Casablanca is informally known
as the financial center or financial capital of Morocco.
Casablanca is a very large city of over six million denizens and of course looks nothing like the movie, which of course was shot on a Hollywood back lot in the 1940’s. It is a bustling city filled with energy, business deals, a hope for a cosmopolitan setting, all the while steeped deeply in the traditions of a nation whose history extends well past the comprehension of most Americans, a strong Muslim faith, a powerful French influence and cuisine that sends a normal person’s taste buds into overdrive, utilizing the rich spices of cumin, coriander, saffron, chilies, dried ginger, cinnamon and paprika just for starters.
Looking at the map we knew Casablanca was on the water but didn’t realize it would feel surrounded by water. The location is mesmerizing, the views astounding. There are several “medinas” in this city. Medina is the Arabic word for city. We liken the term to indicate an old neighborhood. Each medina has a mosque, a bakery, a public bath and a fountain.
The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca is quite impressive and rightly so, as it is the third largest in the
$300- $1US = $8 Dirham
world and is an absolutely amazing architectural structure. Within the walls of the structure 25,000 can worship and outside 150,000. The minaret is 200 meters high and is the highest minaret in the world. It took six years of labor and craftsmanship to complete. The ceiling has amazing cedar carvings. More marble and granite than one can imagine. When you stand inside this edifice, it is more than 100 meters end to end.
While in Casablanca, we toured the markets, took a quick drive by the United Nations Square and strolled along the coastal boardwalk. We enjoyed drinks and appetizers after dark from the rooftop bar at our hotel called Sky 28. Even at night the city is alive and vibrant. We only spent one full day, as there was so much more to see in the rest of the country.
Morocco is often referred to as the culinary star of North Africa and in our first few days in the country we have embraced this concept. Any time you plan a trip to a country that has been influenced by the French, you can be guaranteed of having wonderful breads and pastries. In the past we’ve enjoyed
View from hotel bar
Casablanca at night
meals in a couple of Moroccan restaurants and were eager to experience the flavors of this country. The tangine is the name of a pot used for cooking, and we believe it steams the foods and blends the flavors. It is also the name of the dish prepared in the tangine. Tangines are available at every evening meal and we have found the flavors rich and tantalizing. We have found that lamb is the principal meat but chicken is a close second. With either, you can’t lose.
Our hotel in Casablanca sent us to a traditional Moroccan restaurant less than a ten-minute walk away. Central to Moroccan cuisine is couscous, which is served with your entrée or as an entrée. We enjoyed the most amazing couscous we’ve ever tasted. The memory continues to linger and we hope it will for a long time. The lamb was tender and falling off the bone. This particular tangine was served with apricots and created a rich sauce that cannot be described. In our reading before the trip we have read that foods were often topped with raisin and onion sauces or apricot puree. Before this trip our imaginations could not provide the
magnificent flavors that would be encountered.
Our next stop was Rabat also known as the Imperial Garden City, population less than two million. We really enjoyed wandering the in the medina or and exploring the Kashbah of Oudayas.
The current king of Morocco is 47 years old and has been in power since 1999. It seems as he has made many improvements to highways and schools in the past few years that his father did not make in his approximately 50 years. We’ve been in the country a few days and have already seen a half a dozen palaces belonging to the Royal family. It seems a shame for so much waste when those tax dollars could go to education, city improvements and health care. Morocco suffers from a 19 percent unemployment rate. We’re figuring it is good to be the king.
It will help you to know when looking at our pictures that a souk is a market or part of a market. These markets consist of many shops and vendors. A ryad is a house similar to a bed and breakfast in the U.S.
We would point out for those who know us that
this particular trip almost didn’t happen because we were fascinated by a voyage to the north of Canada to see the polar bears! Many conversations and phone calls later, we were still stymied regarding a decision as the trip was for one week only, required more clothing than we wanted to carry with us, was rather pricey and we knew we would require a weather warm up after this type of trip. We simply couldn’t pull the trigger on this trip, at least not this year. So where to go? Then, one day out of the blue, Merry Jo suggested Morocco. After a brief period of reflection, the trip was on!! We are very happy with our decision and look forward to exploring the rest of this country. Game on!!
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