Thursday, July 10, 2014

African Adventure: Morocco - Casablanca, Rabat, And Fes

Our travels this year would take us to three countries in Africa.  The first of these was Morocco.

We were dropped off at the airport by the Wife's brother and we had a fairly smooth trip from Omaha to Casablanca via Chicago and Frankfurt.  The longest layover was in Frankfurt which gave us time to handle our check in (we had to collect our luggage and recheck it for some reason) and we relaxed in the very comfortable lounge recliners with a pretzel for the Wife and a chocolate croissant for me.

We arrived in Casablanca late on the 7th of June.  We missed the tour of Casablanca that had been scheduled for the first day but our guide set up a private tour of city for the next morning.  We went to bed on a very comfortable bed ... that is as soon as we could figure out the weird switch setup and turned off all the lights.

June 8th

We were picked up by our driver (Yf) and our guide (Nd) and we headed for our first stop of the day, the Hassan II Mosque.  The mosque is the largest in Africa and the 7th largest in the world.  We took a tour of the very impressive structure.  The mosque was designed by a french architect and built using predominantly Moroccan materials and labor.  The mosque is built on the Atlantic Ocean coast and partially hangs out over the water.  The roof, like some stadiums in the US, opens to allow open air prayer.

Interior of the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca.
After the mosque we stopped at a beach festival where Moroccan youth were cleaning the beach and celebrating.  We met an artist friend of our guide.  I have to admit that the Wife and I weren't sure why we were here.  I imagine our guide was showing off the progressiveness of Moroccan youth and the art of his friend.  This was not my idea of a normal tour stop but we didn't stop for long.

Our next stop was the downtown area of Casablanca.  Before the mosque was built this part of the city was the main attraction in Casablanca.  The central square was surrounded with old colonial buildings.  My impression was it was very run down.

We returned to our hotel and picked up the rest of our group which consisted of one person.  There was another family that opted to form their own private tour group, figuring that they would overwhelm other tour members.  We would see them all along the tour as we were traveling the same itinerary.  They seemed nice and I think we all would have gotten along nicely.  In the end, though, our group of three made it easy to travel with and our travel companion, Ac, turned out to be a good travel companion.

Together as a group we left Casablanca.  The city didn't leave me with much of an impression.  The one thing we had not done was visit Rick's Cafe (famous from the movie "Casablanca").  Ac went there the night before and said the staff was rude and the food was underwhelming so we didn't really miss anything there.   I think I was expecting more from Casablanca.

A gate of the royal palace and the Moroccan flag.
There is one soldier representing each of the branches of the military and police.
We drove to the capital city of Rabat.  Our first stop was the royal palace.  There were no public tours so we just saw the outside but the architecture was interesting. As a royal palace it was understated but this is true for a lot of the architecture I saw in Morocco - plain on the outside and incredibly beautiful on the inside.

The mausoleum of Mohammed V.
Next we stopped at the Mausoleum of Mohammed V.  The impressive tomb holds the remains of Mohammed V, the king of Morocco who negotiated independence from the French, and his son King Hassan II.  The architectural artistry of the mausoleum was very impressive.  There were elaborately uniformed guards and an Imam reading the Koran.

It was lunch time when we left the mausoleum so we stopped at a seaside restaurant.  Rabat is known for its seafood ... unfortunately none of us were fans of seafood but the buffet at the restaurant had a good variety of foods.  We ate at a table overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and the ocean breeze felt good.  It was not hot here but it would be much hotter later in the week.

Cat-A-Pillar.
We walked off our lunch with a stroll along the beach to the nearby kasbah.  The kasbah is a walled area of the city with narrow, almost maze like streets.  It was interesting walking through the narrow streets and seeing how people lived.  We stopped at a cafe with a view of the Bou Regreg river before walking back to our car.

The Kasbah wall overlooking the Bou Regreg river.
We left Rabat and drove on to the city of Fes - with a pit stop where I had a magnum bar.  Our hotel in Fes, the Riad Fes, was located in the medina - a maze like district of narrow streets similar to the kasbah we'd visited earlier in the day.  The car could not enter the narrow streets so we were dropped off as close as possible and we followed our guide through the narrow canyon-like avenues to the entrance of our hotel.  Not sure if I could ever find that place on my own.  The hotel was magnificent.  A Riad is a Moroccan home with a courtyard.  The hotel was a combination of three Riad and, like the streets outside, was a maze of corridors and staircases.

We rested the remainder of the afternoon in the hotel with a substantial time spent at the terrace bar located on the top floor of the Riad.  The city view was nearly 360° - magnificent - and the breeze felt wonderful.  Dinner was in the hotel restaurant, a rather famous restaurant people travel to to eat at.  The food was really good including the chocolate lava cake with ice cream.

The night skyline of Fes from the terrace bar of our Riad.
Tomorrow we would explore the city of Fes.

Pictures of Casablanca, Rabat, and Fes can be found in my 2014-06 Morocco Google Photos album.

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