As time goes by: Casablanca to Rabat

Days: 460 (28 September 2015)

Total distance travelled: 123,001.5 kilometres (76,398.42 miles)

We were sat at a bland as all eatery, chowing down on overpriced Western fare in a city that inspires the imagination with all sorts of exotic thoughts through its name alone… Casablanca.

To tell you the truth, we three at least (Sarah, her mum Julie and I) were pretty pissed off with our predicament.

Our guide had dropped us along this characterless stretch of road, lined with faded resorts and tourist driven eateries, although with the tourists looking long gone, it left little more than faded, peeling paint, overpriced menus and a plethora of plastic chairs.

We’d baulked at the place recommended by our guide, unimpressed with any of its offerings, yet after wandering along the coastal road a little further, the only other options appeared to be either McDonalds or Burger King, so it was ultimately where we ended up.

They’d (the fast food chains) probably have been better value, and likely tastier fare than what was dished up.

At least we had the ocean…

Watching the Atlantic pound the walls of this soulless stretch of beach...

Watching the Atlantic pound the walls of this soulless stretch of beach…

Eventually, it was time to reconvene back at our transport, all efforts to actually reach the water and dip our feet in the waters on the African side of the Atlantic, thwarted by a shore that was completely given over to private beaches for the many hotels and restaurants clustered beside the sand.

We couldn’t help but feel there must have been a better location for us to stop for our lunch experience, however this was now something we could do little about (other than share our feedback).

A short ride in our van showed off a little more of the hazy city that is Casablanca (it didn’t look all that inspiring), before we were pulling up at possibly the city’s grandest site, the Hassan II Mosque.

In fact, our guide did his best to tell us it was the third largest mosque in the whole world, and its minaret was in fact the tallest.

Hassan II Mosque, the largest in Morocco (and seventh largest in the whole world)

Hassan II Mosque, the largest in Morocco (and seventh largest in the whole world)

True, its minaret is apparently the tallest, however internet research suggests it is now a long way from that coveted third place… still, it made a pretty decent first impression!

We milled about for a while, as Younes (our guide) made the necessary arrangements for our tour of the site. Waiting however, was not a painful task. After all, we had a stunning mosque to enjoy!

Stunning detail adorns this grand edifice

Stunning detail adorns this grand edifice

Incredibly, this place can host twenty five thousand within, and when required, there is room for an additional eighty thousand of the Muslim faithful to worship outside!

That’s one big joint, and as you’d expect possessing that information, the space within was cavernous!

The ceilings, though high, were well worth a look, and if I recall correctly our guide even suggested that some sections of the roof were actually retractable!

A space vast enough for thousands of worshippers (left) & Craning our necks to enjoy the ornate ceilings (right)

A space vast enough for thousands of worshipers (left) & Craning our necks to enjoy the ornate ceilings (right)

It wasn’t just this vast hall either, as Hassan II Mosque (named for the reigning monarch) had a few other surprises for us as well.

Beneath its floors, and partly visible below due to glass apertures which theoretically allow natural light, sits a vast series of pools which form the mosque’s baths, or hammam.

A palatial hamaam lies beneath the mosque (left) & An entrance fit for a king (right)

A palatial hammam lies beneath the mosque (left) & An entrance fit for a king (right)

With our time at the mosque done, we took a few moments to watch local boys dive into the Atlantic, efforts to then body surf their way back in to shore seeing them joined by all manner of floating trash and other debris.

A quick stop was made at Rick’s Cafe, an overpriced homage to the bar of the same name that never existed from that Bogart and Bergman classic, Casablanca (no attempts at entry were made, as reservations are required), before were were back on the road towards the Moroccan capital.

A scenic enough, but uneventful ride later and we were in Rabat, where the majority of our group were hell bent on tucking into dinner at a nearby chicken shop.

For Sarah and I however, the UNESCO listed old city was near enough that it seemed well worth a look, especially with the possible promise of some street food to mix things up a little after every eatery to date seemed to serve the same three tagines (chicken with lemon, lamb with prunes or beef with vegetables)!

Ten minutes later we were wandering the souk, admiring the hundreds of stalls which all sold pretty much the same thing.

The beauty of this place was, it was by locals, for locals.

None of that tourist shit… but sadly, there were none of those wafting food aromas we’d been hoping for either.

Eventually (it looks like they were all clustered in one area), like a beacon in the night we saw something that was showing potential.

It had the aromas, the sounds of sizzling meat, and minutes later we were tucking into something for which we have no name, the best information we can offer is that it was fried with onion and spices, served in bread and when we queried the animal we were told it was “like a big chicken”, whatever the hell that may mean.

Eyeing off a budget feed (left) & The joys of street food (right)

Eyeing off a budget feed (left) & A delicious change from the already repetitive tagines… (right)

Oh, and it was pretty damn tasty too!

A bag of popcorn came next, served by a man complete with cigarette in mouth.

Trailing ash wherever he turned (likely directly onto much of the popcorn as well), he was nonetheless very adept at serving handfuls (yep, his grubby mits were his tools, who needs gloves anyway) of his warm and slightly salty wares into a bag for us.

Ready for a final snack. Any cigarette ash is completely complementary!

Ready for a final snack. Any cigarette ash is completely complementary!

We thought we were done by now, ready to retire after our surprisingly tasty bag of popcorn, however on the brief walk back to our hotel, we still managed to share an orange gelato, as well as a small handful of the hottest ginger lollies we’ve ever popped into our mouths.

A delicious way to round out the first day on the road with our group!

 

Notes:

* Our flights from London Gatwick to Marrakesh (via Casablanca) with Royal Air Maroc cost us £88.09 per person.

* Our 15 night Morocco tour was booked through On-the-go travel, and usually costs around $2229 per person (I say usually, as we did not pay. This was a treat from Sarah’s mum).

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12 Responses to As time goes by: Casablanca to Rabat

  1. Chris, we visited Morocco years ago, and like you, we weren’t terribly impressed with Casablanca. But one thing I can say is that if you can find good quality local food in Morocco, it’s excellent. They use combinations of spices that are unusual and tasty. We particularly fell in love with tajine dishes. ~James

    • Chris says:

      See, we loved it as we’d expected initially, but it just became so repetitious. When we got into the Atlas mountains, or down to the coast, at least then there were a few fish/seafood options.

  2. J.D. Riso says:

    Street food inevitably becomes repetitious. It’s great for saving money or for a quick bite, but by the end of any trip I’m usually fed up, too.

  3. Casablanca might have not fulfilled all your expectations but it’s good to see that you’ve managed to bring out some silver linings. Loved reading about the Popcorn man.

  4. traciehowe says:

    It sounds like things turned around for you in the end. I’ve definitely had similar experiences! That mosque is lovely, just the thing to turn your frown upside down! 😉

  5. Too bad Casablanca is mostly disappointing. I can imagine the type of soul less restaurant you described. Sometimes McDonald’s is the best option. At least the Mosque was grand. So do you even recommend a visit to Casablanca?

    • Chris says:

      It’s worth it for the opportunity to visit on of the largest mosques in the world, but unless you flew in, I couldn’t see any real reason you’d need to stay

  6. Casablanca sounds amazing but I sometimes feel the same way when on a guided tour. Even if they are showing me cool stuff, I just want the freedom to go and see what I please. I don’t tend to book them anymore, but is it specifically recommend in Casablanca?

    • Chris says:

      We didn’t experience independently, so it’s hard to honestly say. As we were travelling with Sarah’s mother, and neither of us have a grasp of French or Arabic, this just seemed an easier option.

  7. Ami Bhat says:

    That mosque is really beautiful and very very interesting. Love the close up of the walls and the interiors in your pictures. Casablanca has always fascinated me as the White city. Glad to see a piece of it through your post.

  8. Neha Verma says:

    The minaret of this mosque does look tall, I have not seen one like this so far. Even the work is very intricate on the walls. Very beautiful!

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