4 Hours in Casablanca

Hassan-minaret

Towering over me, I felt very small, its minaret standing 210 meters (700 ft) tall, the tallest in the world, in fact. Half of its enormous structure sits on land, and the other over the sea on reclaimed land.

hassan-II-mosque-tour

I walked barefoot inside, awed by its intricate beauty and incredible size.

“I can show you around town tomorrow”, our reliable grand taxi driver offered before he dropped us at the hotel the night before.  For 550 Dirham, Aziz endeavored to introduce us to his Casablanca in 4 hours.  First off the agenda was his and the rest of Casa’s pride.  The Grand Hassan II Mosque.

hassan-II-mosque

It is the largest in Morocco and the second largest in the world, the brainchild of the late King Hassan II when he felt that Casablanca was somewhat lacking in traditional sight.

Hassan-grandeur

It was not only built to withstand earthquake, but the grand mosque also comes with a sliding roof and a heated floor – a beautiful blend of traditional Moorish Architecture and modern innovation.

hassan-intricate-ceiling

hassan-intricate-ceiling-design

The Hassan II Mosque glistened in the morning light;

zelij

intricate-woodwork

hemmed in beautiful wood carvings, stucco works and ornate traditional Moroccan tile work called zellij.

Aziz wanted to show an old part of Casablanca; he dropped us off at the Marrakech gate of the Old Medina with its imposing clock tower.

Old-medina

We wandered through the labyrinth of narrow streets of the walled city, which includes an 18th century fortress, a jewelry market and a kaleidoscope of other stores – souvenirs, handicrafts, leather goods – all requiring more than a little skill in bargaining.

old-medina-fruit-cart

Carts laden with oranges peppered the streets, and a medley of Moorish and Portuguese architectures reflecting its own personality and charm.

old-medina-3

There were children playing and old women filling up at the water station or just sitting at the doorway.

old-medina-2

Not as bustling and quite run down compared to the glories of Fes and Marrakech, the “Ancienne Medina” is a place Moroccans venture to only if there is a need to do so.  It is a part of Casa that predates the French Protectorate, and in many ways, a closed quarter where bikes and cars are restricted.

In the 1930s, the French created the Habous neighborhood just a short ride away from the old walled city, wanting to build a nicer, cleaner medina.

moroccan-ceramics

Also known as the Quartier Habous, the New Medina is home to some excellent shopping opportunities at the Joutiya market, a handicraft market selling top artisan product.

New-medina

Capped with arches, its shops surround a pretty square that lead to a nearby Muslim courthouse, Pasha’s Makhama and on the opposite side of the square is the Mohammed V Mosque

Moulay-Youssef-Mosque

and the Moulay Youssef Mosque.  A pleasant place to while away time.

We weaved through the neighborhood until it was time to be reunited with our luggage and say goodbye to Casa.  A setback that ended in a good way, at the very least it was a delightful introduction to Morocco, a country that can be overwhelming at first.

Useful Info:

Hassan II Mosque
Sour Djedid
Boulevard Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdaliah
Tours:  Guided tours are offered throughout the day to non-muslim visitors.  Be sure to dress modestly and remove your shoes before entering.
 
Old Medina (Ancienne Medina)
Between Boulevard des Almoliades & Place Mohammed V
 
New Medina (Al Habous)
Near Boulevard Victor Hugo

Casablanca: Not the Usual Welcome

Welcome-to-exotic-MoroccoCredits:  4EVER Bloghop Quickpage by Kelly Mobley

Mohamed V International Airport – “No more luggage, finish”, said the porter. “What do you mean? We still don’t have our luggage!” I yelled in frustration. “No anglaise”, he looked at me and shrugged.  A lady, also missing her luggage, told me that the guy is only a porter, and he doesn’t understand me.  I should talk to the people at the baggage service counter.  Valid point.   But not exactly the welcome I expected.

Casablanca.  The bustling port city whose name mean “white house” and made famous by the Humphrey Bogart 1942 classic.  It may not echo the same romantic air the 1942 film brings to mind, but a trip through the city’s swanky lounge and bars can still evoke the spirit of the café from the movie.

Colonial-architecture

Casablanca was a jewel of the French Colonial empire, famous for luscious art deco, neo-classic and a blend of Moorish architecture that is unique to the city.  An architectural style known as Maurasque with trademarks such as wrought iron balconies, staircase and windows; carved facades and exterior corners; floral and geometric design on stuccoed walls.  Boulevard Mohammed V and Place Mohammed V still retains a trace of its unique colonial architecture heritage.

With our luggage arriving on Emirate’s next flight the same time tomorrow, we gained half a day, allowing us to explore more of “Casa” as the locals call it.

“Grand taxi?” a guy approached us as we stepped out of the Gare Casablanca Voyager after purchasing train tickets for tomorrow.  We said no, we wanted a metered taxi. “You’ll need 2”, he said. “A petite taxi can only sit 3, at the most”, he added.

garden-and-train-station-view-from-Ibis

In Ibis Casa Voyageurs next door and our home for a night, the guy at the reception confirmed that the taxi driver was correct and gave us an idea on how much it would cost.  And so our negotiations with Aziz began.  We shook hands at 100 Dirham (US $13).  He would take us to Corniche d’Ain Diab,

corniche-boardwalk

where high-end bars and trendy nightclubs line the area.  “ It’s overlooking the water, where the yuppies go”, the guy on the train from the airport told us.

overlooking-the-water

He suggested that we might want to dine there, but the movie buff in us, out of curiosity, had our eyes set on Rick’s Café,

moroccan-mint-tea

so instead, we walked around the boardwalk and took shelter sipping  “Whiskey Morocco” (Moroccan mint tea)  

outdoor-cafe-by-the-water

in a café when it got too windy.

Dinner, though not our cheapest in Morocco, did not disappoint.

goat-cheese-in-honey

While we found the goat cheese balls drizzled in honey starter and chicken with lemon and olives tagine quite enjoyable,

lamb-chops

and particularly liked the lamb chops with mint pesto, it is the ambience — down to the piano and the sax player named Issam (close enough to Sam) — that made it one of the best “gin joints” in town.

jazz-music

Founded by a former US diplomat, Kathy Kriger, Rick’s Café opened in 2004.

ornate-moorish-design

With potted palms, ceiling fans, whitewashed walls, low archways, ornate lamps casting shadows everywhere, traditional Moroccan carved and inlaid woodwork, balconies and balustrades, antique brass… all provided the right atmosphere and feel of the 1942 cult classic.

archway

The nostalgia alone is reason enough to come for a visit.

Useful Info:

Rick’s Cafe
248 Bd Sour Jdid, Place du Jardin
Acienne Medina
For Reservations:  +212 522 27 42 07 / +212 522 27 42 08
 
Hotel Ibis Casa Voyageur
Boulevard Bahmad
Place de la Gare Casa-Voyageur
+212 0520 48 00 00