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Published: February 14th 2019
Sara's knee swelled up nicely yesterday due to the serious amount of walking we did. We were going to visit the Musee Archaeologique but some more research reveals it is underwhelming and not worth the effort of getting there. We decide to go out of the medina and venture south into the ville nouvelle, built by the French during their occupation from 1912 to 1956. We negotiate our way through the medina much better this morning. The streets are less crowded as most of the shops and stalls have yet to open. Only the little corner shops selling the ubiquitous small single portion loaves and the juice and sandwich shops are open, and a few stalls selling fruit and veg. Parents are hauling small children to school, and the beggars are already out. The ville nouvelle is totally different, with its wide boulevards and white art deco style buildings and looks slightly eerie in the heavy fog which has descended on the city and shows no sign of lifting. There is nothing much to admire as we make our way to the all white cathedral of St Pierre built in 1930. It is striking from the outside and incredibly plain on
the inside. We walk to the main train station then turn left onto the main avenue. There are police everywhere, closing off side roads and moving people on. We ask a friendly gendarme who tells us the King of Spain is visiting Morocco today. Before long we’re back at the medina, and we walk back up a road which turns out to be home to all the cafes we could not find yesterday. We enjoy a very tasty and exceptionally good value shawarma and chips with Coke for a mere £2.50 each, in a little cafe that is otherwise full of young women. It’s always good to eat where the locals go.
We head into the Kasbah, which is supposed to be beautiful and to offer great views out onto the water. Sadly, the mist has not eased one little bit. The narrow alleys painted blue would be a lot more scenic if we could see them clearly, and as for the view over the river, it is literally non existent. Disheartened, we retreat back to the riad for a couple of hours. In our absence, our luggage has been moved to a suite, which offers much more space
than our previous garret, and is also far more welcoming in its decoration. When we venture out again, it’s finally sunny and the place looks completely different. We stroll round the Andalusian garden, which is small, peaceful and very pretty, and enjoy the view of the river.
In the evening, we decide to eat at a different restaurant. David has now cracked finding his way round the medina and we get there in under five minutes. We enjoy briouats - filo pastry stuffed with spiced minced meat followed by chicken pastillas. These are a Moroccan version of a Cornish pasty – wafer thin pastry thinner than filo instead of shortcrust, minced chicken and chopped nuts with lashings of cinnamon instead of meat and potato, presented in a perfect circle and dusted with icing sugar. They are very tasty but a bit dry.
Next morning it’s time to pack up once more and move on to the last stop of our trip, El Jadida. We stop at Casablanca on the drive down, to visit the Hassan II mosque. This is the third biggest mosque in the world, after Mecca and Medina. Construction started in 1993 after King Hassan II
decided Casablanca required a splendid mosque to reflect the glory of Islam – and what better way to do that than to modestly name the mosque after himself so everyone remembers who built it? It cost a fortune and was funded by a “voluntary” donation by every Moroccan citizen. The minaret is over 600ft high, so the height of the BT Tower in London. It can hold 25,000 worshippers inside and 80,000 in the courtyard outside. You can go around inside on a guided tour but they are run on the hour, and the timing does not work for us, so we content ourselves with a walk round and viewing from outside. Apparently there is beautiful ornate work inside, but it is our experience that mosques inside generally disappoint and we decide to press on to El Jadida. We can report though that the ablutions hall – where you can also use the toilets – is the biggest and cleanest public convenience you are ever likely to encounter.
Casablanca itself is a big city with a population of c. 4.5million, with masses of new social housing built to house people moved on slum clearance, and it is one massive
building site, clearly a city hell bent on expansion, with lots of French companies having massive warehouses, IKEA etc. It is also apparently a city devoid of architectural merit, so there is no reason to hang around.
The extensive coastal plain on the littoral between Rabat and Casablanca and beyond is the bread basket of Morocco, growing much wheat and barley. And very boring it is to drive across too. Anyway, we are soon at El Jedida. We were expecting a quaint fishing port but in fact it is a lively town, quite prosperous, with an extensive and pleasant Corniche. There is also a medina wherein our riad is situated, and an old Portuguese citadel and town. All very pleasant and laid back and very local. Our riad is very nice, but run by a rather grumpy Frenchman who looks a bit like Eric Clapton. Still, there is a nice roof terrace allowing the Thomases to relax and take the afternoon sun. This was supposed to be a relaxing end to the trip and is shaping up to be so.
Evening time, having consumed our Stork beer (£1 for a 500ml can in Carrefour) we venture into town
for dinner. In fact buying beer is something we know has to be done in Carrefour (there are places in every town where seemingly you can buy the stuff, but only the locals know where they are, so foreigners have to go to Carrefour). You go in and it is not on display. The first staff member I asked shrugged her shoulders at me, though she understood perfectly and clearly disapproved of the decadent foreigner who was clearly a drunkard needing his fix. The second girl tutted at her colleague and pointed us to “le cave” where the booze is sold out of sight of the devout. In we go, four cans for £4, and a demi-bouteille of Volubilia Gris which is allegedly the best wine in Morocco.
Dinner time. We wander down the main street, and find a limited selection of places. There is the usual range of ‘old man cafes’, or their slightly younger equivalent, the ‘henpecked husband cafe’ which feature a row of men (only men) who sit in the shade facing onto the street nursing a mint tea and looking glum. There are some sandwich bars and, because we’re on the coast, there are lots
of seafood restaurants, all offering pretty much identical fare of fried fish, chip and salad. We dine in one of them, which is doing a roaring trade. We’re the only foreigners. Not the hautest cuisine but excellent fried calamari and chips. On the way back, we walk through the market where the locals shop in the evening. This is the real thing. We ask a man smoking Gauloise what his weird looking product of the sea is. “Moreilles”, he says, or something like that, a weird fat sort of eel we reckon, and ugly as sin. Every sort of vegetable, spice, nut etc is on show, and oh dear, the poulterer. A bunch of unhappy looking chickens are in a pen in the front of the shop. You come along, point out which one you want, it is lifted squawking and flapping and put in a basket on the scales. A price is agreed and the chicken is taken about 15 feet back in the shop. Behind a bin a large knife flashes in the light and the squawking stops. The chicken is then seemingly hung upside down in a concrete sort of bunker to bleed out for a few minutes before it is handed to the customer. Oh well, at least you know the meat around here is fresh.
Up the dark alleys all sorts of tiny shops have opened. The man who mends shoes, the man who mends electrical appliances, the man who sells charcoal, the bearded fellow in a robe who appears to sell brown robes to other bearded fellows, the man who seems to have a mountain of junk in his little shop but presumably does some sort of trade......quite fascinating, and all this in a little medina where tourists would never really go as they would not be taken there.
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