Monday, 13 January 2014

On to Casablanca


Casablanca was chosen as a destination because it was on the train line from Fes, the name sounded better than the capital, Rabat and it has a long beach parade on the Atlantic coast with a few affordable hotels.  Maybe the inner Aussie came out in a sudden desire for a long beach walk instead of Museums? After the hotel was booked I discovered that the last King - Hassan II had built the third largest Mosque on the planet on that same bit of coast. Lucky us - the best of both worlds.

"Here's looking at you kid' was voted the fifth most memorable line in cinema by the American Film Institute. Rick(Bogart) says it to Ilsa(Bergman) in the 1942 film - Casablanca. Both taxi drivers we had were very keen to show us Rick's Cafe, the setting for nearly the whole screenplay and encouraged us to go in for a drink. The fact that the cast and crew never left the USA to make the movie doesn't get in the way of a good tourist trap! This entrepreneurial attitude is a good representation of Morocco's largest city and commerce giant. The population is just over 4 million, about the same as Sydney. I'm not sure if that includes the shanty towns because the taxi driver said over 6 mill.
snipped from - http://www.rome2rio.com  Marrakesh is another 3 hrs southeast of Casablanca
To get to Casablanca from Fes we took a comfortable train trip of just over 4hrs. Our first class tickets were about £10 each and provided assigned seating in an air conditioned compartment. It was a great way to see a little of Morocco's countryside.
The extra time allowed for disaster while getting to the train
on time wasn't needed so we ordered from the station's
Venezia Ice franchise in the sun. The menu was in French so
Willow's help was in demand. Great Hot Choc! The "Moroccan
company for Dessert and Food" has shops 
all over Northern
Morocco and is one of its business success 
stories. I'm not sure
what they use to make their 'cream' but it 
is heavy on the
'mock' side. Beautifully presented but very sweet. 
A melting
point of cultures - Italian name, French menu, Moroccan pride.

Not the ideal breakfast!
The first store was opened in Downtown Casablanca in 2000, now they have over 30, fluke to have had it in Fes
Taken from the aisle inside the train running along the compartments.  M and I had the seats opposite the girls
No Health and safety regulations for renderers?

The other passengers eventually stopped whinging about the guy's boss and the heat from the sun (even though they had the heater on full) and opened the curtains so we could see out both sides. Either they or we were in the wrong carriage but the people with tickets for their seats went to the mirrored ones in coach 2.
Willow did not believe us when we told them not to use the toilet when the train was stopped at the stations because the waste just dropped right out on to the sleepers. Her face was a picture of horror when she came back from her wee trip because she thought we'd been tricking.
The next lot of photos were taken from the moving train - apologies for reflections and fuzzies.

Miles and miles of Olive plantations - a silvery sheen similar to Eucalypt but worth a lot more. Fes in the distance

Gotta love a country that colour coordinates it's signage and landscape design.

A huge rural fair with many horses and mules

Very surprised to see Eucalypt plantations - goats and sheep grazing freely

Eucalypt trees used to make the poles(rear right) used to hold up ceilings as the walls are built
Many of the apartment blocks we saw here were off square - sometimes significantly and poorly maintained
Lots of building going on along the rail line.
 We arrived at Casablanca and hired a taxi to take us to our hotel.  It was lovely and sunny so we wanted to soak some of it up. The driver took us to a white Mercedes that was so ancient it was turning yellow in various degrees, the boot had rusted out holes but none of our bags were small enough to fall through.  Abdul was very polite and informative with easily understood English.  We all held on as he tore across the city from Casa Voyageurs to Boulevard de la Corniche.
Soaking up some vitamin D
It was Jan 1 so it seemed everyone was down at the beach, the roads to and from were full of taxis and expensive cars. We rattled by and were stared at as much as we were staring out. We counted three MacDonalds and lots of resort type hotels and restaurants down the Boulevard. One was called Tahiti and another Miami ours was a little more sedate in its 3 star consciousness - Hotel Bellerive. The Taxi driver said that la Corniche was a very expensive part of town. We saw a few shanties pushed up to the sides of expensive restaurants though where many families walk along way to get water.
Although the paint work and interiors were shabby, it had unlimited hot water with great pressure and no suspicious smells and a balcony looking straight down the beach.  Being winter, the giant water park, which needed serious attention to its paint work, between us and the beach was empty and silent. The waves were enormous and seemed to have three different breaking points as they rolled in. We decided to sit in the sun until it had completely disappeared before heading out for dinner.

The tide came in quickly and the families suddenly evaporated around 5pm. 
The coast curved around to a point with the first mosque of the little village on it. The Spanish called the village Casa(house)blanca(white) because the Mosque was white washed.  The name stuck and the village grew thanks to the big shipping port somewhere between our hotel and the Hassan II Mosque.
Street lights show the way to the biggest 'Shopper' (word for shopping mall - the way the guide said it we thought
it was Champagne).  An IMAX theatre had massive outdoor advertising screen next to it which is the last bright light visible down the coast in this photo. 
 Casablanca is growing very fast but the gap between the rich and the poor is very obvious. KMVI is trying to get the slums cleaned up to avoid another surge of extremist Muslims suicide bombers like in 2003. 12 terrorists and 33 citizens died in attacks on Jewish and European targets. The ring leader was finally caught after his involvement in the Madrid bombs of 2004. 

The food in Casablanca was a mix of French and Moroccan with many Italian and Spanish restaurants sprinkled around. The menus would be called 'fusion' to charge a bit more in Europe. The dinner at the hotel was a little weird with us the only people in the whole complex. The mushroom sauce on the steaks was great, Willow's French burger(no buns) was cold and raw in the middle but Petal's pizza was a winner. Tea the next night down the boulevard was highlighted by the restaurant cat sitting with us the whole time and happily munching down the anchovies off our salad and chicken that accidentally made it to the floor. The threat of ring worm was the only thing that stopped Petal putting it on her knee and feeding it by hand.

We went for a walk on the beach after a Maccas breakfast - very expensive but the proper cup of tea was worth it. (See my last blog for the teabag celebration photo). There was a lot more water spray in the air and the waves seemed to be crashing even harder, probably connected to the ongoing storms washing across the Atlantic and into poor old England.
The beach turned out to be a lot nicer from a distance, a far cry form the manicured beaches at home. It was littered with broken down bits of plastic and bottle tops, a dead and bloating goat lay at the high tide mark, a sewage out let poured fluids down to the ocean right where people have been swimming the day before although the walls marking this hideous exit where painted beautifully. We were all a bit upset too at the treatment of the horses for hire.  They weren't groomed but looked as if they'd had enough to eat, whipping them to canter for the customers and the brutal yanking on their bits were sickening.  I had to keep reminding myself that if they couldn't earn money for their owners they would have no life at all.
Window at Maccas

Looking out to the Americas

Watching the locals ride the hire horses and play football. Hotel B is the Blue and white building in the center
No shells only broken down plastic

For hire, a very sorry looking bunch
The Phare d'el Hank was built in 1905 to guide ships into port safely. Some on Trip Advisor have said that by rocking up at the bottom and giving a few Dh to the keeper you'll be allowed up the 250 odd steps to get a fabulous view of the city. We didn 't try.
We had only booked one night in Casablanca, the plan was to spend the next night on a sleeper train up to Tangiers ready to catch a ferry to Spain the next morning.  When we booked our tickets we discovered that the sleeper compartments no longer ran between C and T so we booked 1st class again for the late train.  This meant we had to be out of the hotel by noon and cart our bags around until 00:45.  We had noticed no lockers at the train station or comfortable sitting area and I thought that we'd be pushing our luck to eat really slowly at restaurant between 5 and 11:30 so headed off to reception hoping they were good at charades.

Willow refused to come and help because my attempt at communicating with people who speak languages other than English is apparently 'totes génant!' One of the concierges had a little English so I was able to help get him to understand that we wanted to book one of our rooms for another night even though we would be checking out at 11:30.  With a few locomotion actions he understood why we would want to check out at such an insane time.  With that all sorted we moved the girls stuff into our room and met the taxi guide we had booked for a comfortable zoom around the city.  It was a white Merc. again but a much later model.
Five star residences close to one of three
royal palaces in the city.

Entrance to Rick's Café
opposite the one of the Port entrances

Poor Petal had a headache and actually asked to wear
my fuddy-duddy glasses!

A top the 'fort', that looked a little short and easily scaleable - restaurant through the fetching blue doors.

Last stall down a road in the city, one of many others all side by side, they were fresh fragrant and beautiful.
Hassan II Mosque facing the city
We only got out at a couple of places which seemed to confuse the guide somewhat. The Medina looked a bigger, busier, dirtier version of Fes. He drove us around to a friends 'pharmacy' so we felt obliged to get out and take a look - ' no obligation, no obligation' he said as we got out. We bought a few packets of the black tea and dried mint mix to have a crack at making the mint tea when fresh mint is available again in the UK. I also got a pot of their Ras el hanout, which is arabic for Top of the Shop, meaning the best spice mix for cous cous and tagines. Each store and cook has their own mix. I've had the beef marinating over night and will try it in cous cous for dinner. The driver pointed to another place and we shook our heads still feeling shopped out from Fes. We used Petal's headache as an excuse to get back to the hotel for another sunbath on the balcony.

One of the places we got out at was The Hassan II Mosque. Because of its Goliath Minaret, square as all North African ones are after the style of the Karaouine at Fes; it is the tallest religious building in the world. Taller than the Great pyramid and St Peter's. It is smaller in area only to the Mosques at Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Probably more importantly, apart from the Italian chandeliers, all the materials are sourced from Morocco even if the architect was a Frenchman.

I think M put this one on his FBk page - It was built on the sea to reflect the verse 11:7 in the Quran that says,
"His throne was over the waters," It is one of the many creation verses.
The back windows were covered in sea salt from recent high tides and storms.
The platform on the minaret that the Muezzin
makes the call for prayer (adhan).
Can't help but imagine Scar calling down to
his followers in The Lion King.
Our driver dropped us off and said he would be back in an hour as that is how long the tour took. Walked across the massive courtyard that can hold 25 000 worshippers on Holy days and downstairs to buy our tickets. There are set tour times  for non-muslims each day except Friday and Holy days. All teh entry fees went towards the upkeep of the building and staff wages we were told. Our tour started at 2pm and thank fully they had guides for many different languages.  Our English group was quite large.
On entering the Mosque we had to take our shoes
off but were not asked to cover heads.
The Mezzanine floor for women: these are both sides of the main area below.

Back to the Mirab, the doors open out towards where we are standing in the photo above.
The roof slides open soundlessly on dry days, the two doors are 5m thick and take 3mins to open and 2 to close.
This gives the Mosque the element of air, earth in the building materials, they pour water in the plastic channels
visible in this photo. They have clear bottoms making the ablutions room below visible.

The Mirab, door like hollow facing Mecca that the Imman prays into, acoustics designed to amplify the prayer.
They are usually highly ornate. The stairs to a chair on the right is the Minbar that sermons are delivered from.
The  Ayat Al-Kursi is a verse from the Quran recited after prayer it is often referred to as the Verse of the Throne.
The English translation of the meaning is:

Allah! There is no god but He, the Living, the Self-Subsisting, Supporter of all. No slumber can seize Him, nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is it that can intercede in His presence, except as He permits? He knows what appears to His creatures before, or after, or behind them. They shall not compass any of His knowledge except as He wills. His Throne/dominion extends over the heavens and the earth, and He feels no fatigue in guarding and persevering them. For He is the Most High, the Supreme in glory.
French Chandeliers

Floor mosaics in granite and marble.
Really cold - prayer mats are a good idea.

Public pools designed for inter faith socialising.
These are the women's, the men's are on the other side.
They have never been used!

The fountains for washing before prayers
Fess brass lamp above one of 50 odd
alabaster fountains. Women's in a
separate location. The pillars are coated
in a egg, lime, clay and olive mix that
absorbs water to reduce humidity?!

Back at the hotel we packed, washed hair, up dated Bk until it was dinner time.  Eventually it was 11:30 and the Taxi driver was back again to take us to the train station. Willow had arranged the fee and time with this guy who had very little English and could not believe that he was understanding what M was asking. His first language was Arabic and second French so Willow was finally able to persuade him that yes we wanted to be picked up at 11:30 pm to catch a train to Tangiers.  The fee of 250Dh (£18 approx) was agreed upon and he turned up!
The train station was bulging with people, mainly young guys who started singing to pass the time - and yes they sang harmonies.  Probably filthy football songs but in Arabic they sounded pretty good. A hippy looking grandad was 'teaching' a young French backpacker how to play a new card game that kept Petal entertained trying to work out the rules, but he cheated so much that it became impossible.
When the train arrived we were let out one person at a time onto the platform with two people checking our tickets.  We discovered that they had hooked the wrong cars on and there was no first class! Ugh - not news you want to hear with a 6 hr train trip ahead in the middle of the night.  The tourist class seats were comfy enough but without the leg room. My seat number didn't even exist so I just grabbed one and hoped no one tried to commandeer it during the trip. People got on and off, audio advertisments were aired every 20 mins or so in Arabic then French. The conductor refused to turn off the lights and a trickstery 20 something girl kept trying to sneak a seat in our compartment instead of sitting on the beautiful orange vinyl benches in 3rd class. This meant wooshing doors every time the conductor was out of sight and wooshing doors every time he found her again. Very little sleep no matter what positions we tried to curl into.

All by himself and he didn't even snore.
We arrived in Tangiers right on time at 7:20 just as the sun was beginning to rise.  M and I had woken up and noticed that the train went nowhere for about 40mins then started going back where we'd come from - first thought - no one told us it was time to get off. We think that we had gone in to pick up carriages from the Marrekesh train and had to double back on ourselves a little.  When we got off there were four carriages with sleeping compartments that certainly weren't attached in Casablanca! I tried not to look.

A stop into the public loos was a bad decision.  In both Morocco and Spain there was a real issue with toilet paper - most people carried their own.  If you didn't, you had to pay the bathroom attendant for a few carefully measured out squares.  If there wasn't anyone there you had to hope there was a serviette or tissue in your bag. Even in the Moroccan Hotels the loo rolls were very small to discourage use. At Tangiers the toilets looked like someone very ill had exploded and the attendant had no paper. The other gross thing in all the public inconveniences was that they each had an open waste paper bin for feminine hygiene items and non poo paper.  They smelt like the kid's loos at school during a month long cleaners strike and looked much worse. Really makes you appreciate good pipes.

We found that the cheapest and quickest way to the Ferry terminal (Tang Med) - 45 miles up the coast from the train station, was by Taxi. So for 250Dh(£18) we zoomed off.  A beautiful double rainbow followed us down the coast as the sun came up but didn't like being photographed across Petals lolling sleeping head (none in the train).  The scariest bit of our whole time in Morocco for me was when we crept across a two laned bridge, about 3m above a gentle looking river. I looked around to see why the driver was going so slowly and suddenly realised that there was a huge crack in the bridge - about 5cm wide as I looked down while crossing it. I looked up to see a massive truck coming in the opposite direction and was very glad to get off it.

We booked the first Ferry to cross that morning but they wouldn't take the last of our Dihrams and the money change place wasn't open. The bank in Cambridge had warned me that no one would exchange them outside of Morocco so we have about £35 worth as souvenirs. The Ferry took just over an hour - it was drizzling over the Mediterranean the first time I have ever been near it. They served tea and coffee but wouldn't take the Dh! We had more of the mandarins bought from Casablanca which had become our staple snack food while in Morocco.
Reversing out of the port: we had our passports checked as we left the terminal and after getting off the shuttle bus before walking onto the boat via the car deck.  It would seem that Spain wants to keep their Moroccan neighbours out



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