Casablanca, Morocco – “Of all the gin joints in the world, she walks into mine.”

25 03 2020

Rod Cannon resized

For several years Morocco has been right at the top of my travel list! Many years ago I spent a month in Turkey. The people, food, history and varied topography impressed me so much, and I’ve been wanting to visit another Muslim Mediterranean country ever since. Morocco, with its coast, Roman ruins, labyrinthine medinas, riads, Sahara Desert, kasbahs, 13,600ft Atlas Mountains and Atlantic beaches, plus a reputation for friendly people certainly checks all those boxes. But for several years I was held back by 40-hour airline flight itineraries. In the fall of 2019, I was able to book a non-stop flight from Portland to Europe with one connection to Casablanca. With that, I was IN!

On Black Friday I signed up with Intrepid Travel for their “Best of Morocco” tour. It hit all the varied spots I was looking for. Even better, with credit card points, I paid for the flight and most of the tour. We had 13 people total.

The 1st day of the tour started with a 6 p.m. meeting. That was the only time spent in Casablanca, and I wanted a chance to see it. So, I arrived the night before and booked a day tour of the city. I arrived at the Al Walid Hotel with enough daylight to walk around the square where it’s located. Across the square is the Casablanca Voyageurs train station. It’s a modern station blended with a French colonial building. Along the square, a Light Rail system shuttled passengers. I immediately noted the relaxed nature of the people. Nobody was rushing around like in some 3rd World cities. The traffic was not dense. There was a lack of the din of horns heard in many cities.

In fact, that evening I slept with my hotel window open all night. After 11 p.m., it was very quiet inside the city! One thing was an immediate delightful surprise – I could hear and understand people speaking French! This was my first night and I ordered dinner, purchased a train ticket, and later spoke to the hotel attendant in French! WTF! I studied French for 7 years but hadn’t used it much. And all of the sudden it came out of my brain from nowhere! It was like automatic. And super fun! I had loaded a French/English language app before I left which helped fill in gaps. But not in French was the Imam prayer call at about 5:45 a.m.! Breakfasted, I snagged a “Petits Taxi” and set off to our joining place, Rick’s Cafe.

Casablanca, population 3.6 million, lies on the Atlantic coast and is the commercial capital of Morocco. Its name is synonymous with the 1942 film noir namesake film – considered by some to be the best of the 20th Century. With that, of course, the day tour met at Rick’s Cafe! The interior of the cafe is an exact replica of the movie set. The morning had typical coastal clouds but they’d burn off.

Ricks-Cafe-resized

The irony is that none of the film was made in Morocco at all. The whole production was done in Hollywood. Nonetheless, it endowed the city with a romantic and mysterious reputation.

Joining me were Stephanie of Washington, D.C., Chevon of the Virgin Islands, and Oliver of Melbourne, Australia.

We introduced ourselves and then Bennie, our guide, led us on a three hour walking tour. Two highlights were the Old Medina followed by the New Medina. A medina is a distinct section of a city (or quarter) often highlighted by narrow walled lanes – lanes with doors or shops on the sides. One can find themselves fascinated and, sometimes, lost for hours in a medina. Sometimes a seemingly ordinary door, when opened, will lead to something completely unimaginable, such as garden surrounded by a multi-tiered lodge – or Riad.

On the walk to the Medinas, we passed through some examples of Spanish-inspired architecture, and the classic form of Minaret found in Morocco.

It was just barely opening time at the medinas. The shops were opening up one by one, each specializing in a type of good for sale. Products included seafood, chicken, leather, textiles, olives, nuts, grains, timepieces, produce, glassware, metals, spices, and even a pet store.

More images of things one can get at the medina!

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Trotting around medinas can be a bit exhausting for for anyone. Not the least travelers that are jet lagged, with tired legs and minds. So we saw more, stretched our legs, and then, had tea and lunch. Casablanca definitely has a laid-back cafe lifestyle. The weather was turning out superb – dry and warm. We had an outside table by a town square, perfect for people watching. And I continued using French, which was super fun.

Later, Chevon and I headed to one of Casablanca’s seaside attractions – the Hassan II Mosque. Hassan 2 resized

The seaside mosque looms over the city skyline – visible from almost everywhere. It is the largest mosque in Africa.

It was finished in 1993 at a cost of about $750 million, much of which was donated by worshipers and the King. It can hold 25,000 worshipers inside, and 80,000 outside.

It is very intricate and has a roof which can be opened to the sky. Down below is a mammoth area where worshipers can wash before the services.

From outside, near the edge of the property, the city gives way to the Atlantic.

Hassan 2 waterfront resized

It was a full day sightseeing in Casablanca. A good way to begin the trip.

I’d meet our group about 6 p.m. and then we’d go out for drinks and getting to know one another.

Looked like it was going to be a good vacation!