Landed in Casablanca….
First impression of Morocco?
Wow, what a mess!
It’s labelled as a developing country, but it’s more like they developed something beautiful and then changed their minds about it. If you squint you can see the city’s heyday. Stunning Art Deco shapes on every wall, Arabic text etched into intricate archways and ornate entrances… but it’s all filthy, or broken. It’s quite sad to see a city which obviously gleamed in the past, so destroyed now.
The jewel in Casablanca’s crown is definitely the Hassan II mosque. The second largest in the world, it was completed in 1993 and apparently only took 7 years to build. It sits on the waterfront, actually built partially over the water and seems to be surrounded by big open skies and space, a welcome oasis of quiet after the cramped madness of the medina. It’s a beautiful complex to explore om the outside with every detail intricately decorated in Moroccan motif. From the titanium doors to the mosaic tiles and painted plaster, not a surface is left without a detailed pattern. Tourists are only allowed in on tour (120 dhr) at set times. You can join a big organized group or just turn up at the times quoted at the door. These change in accordance to prayer times so it’s worth doing your research ahead – or just read the sign and come back later. There is the odd staff member that will take you on a ‘private’ tour for the same price…if you missed the times, have a good story, and the boss is in a good mood, but beware you will only see other parts of the building, not inside the mosque. If you go with this option, ensure you ask to see the absolution/bathing areas and the fountains. There is cavernous room downstairs, that has an almost ethereal feel and is full of varied sizes of flower-shaped fountains. Quite spectacular and some great photo opportunities. (Read more at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hassan_II_Mosque )
Depending on your energy levels you might want to check out the medina before or after the mosque, it’s a little of an assault on the senses and the patience! If you are traveling to other cities in Morocco and can hold out, you may want to do that too. The medina in Casablanca was one of the dirtiest, least interesting and friendly I encountered. Particularly if you get a rainy day, it also turns into a very slippery mud bath as it isn’t paved!
The culinary highlight of Casablanca is definitely Rick’s. Yes, THE Rick’s of the movie “Casablanca” fame!!! Ok so for the most part the movie was filmed in studios in LA but this establishment does a fantastic job recreating it. The ambiance is very different from the rest of town from the moment you stand on the front steps. A doorman and maitre de greet you, with access to what seems every language. Dark wood, leather couches, polished lanterns, carpets, tapestries and not a detail left aside is just the start of it. The service is impeccable, including a welcome, check-in on the food and goodbye to every guest from the owner, who sits and observes each night from the bar with a glass of wine. The impressive cocktail list is warmly welcomed by those of us missing a beverage in a Muslim country. Al your classics are there and shaken to perfection. The wine list is tricky to navigate unless you are a well versed wine buff. My companions and I didn’t have a clue for the most part, perhaps do your research on a few local drops that MIT be to your taste before you hit town. There are actually some great locally made wines in Morocco, it just takes some hunting to find them! Then the food…wow. A French menu with some local flavors, from your foie gras to a tagging or a pasta. All cooked to perfection. And leave room for desert! Be Warned, taxi drivers MAY have a hard time getting you to Rick’s so be armed with a good map! (Maps and more at: http://www.rickscafe.ma/ )
Ricks was a lovely way to finish off a hectic couple of days in Casablanca and my introduction to Morocco. Next stop, Rabat!
You can check out my favorite photos from Casablanca here: http://campl.us/mknd