Friday, July 17, 2009

Morocco - Casablanca

So I want to take a break from writing about food and write about my recent travel to Morocco. My trip started in Casablanca, the largest city in Morocco. What I thought interesting about Morocco is the fact that it's located in the African continent, it is a Muslim country, has a deep Berber root, but bears a heavy French influence due to French Protectorate. It seems like with all these contradicting elements, this country will be conflicted with its identity, but my impression of Morocco is that it is a country of peace, of cultural richness and is blessed with its beautiful & diverse natural landscape.

Anyway, back to Casablanca. You are thinking Humphrey Bogart & Ingrid Bergman, oh-so-romantic city? In reality, Casablanca has no significant characteristics and is merely trying to be a functional city. We arrived in the late morning, exhausted, hopped into a petite taxi and got to Novotel (picture below), we wanted to check in an hour earlier than the usual noon check-in time but was told that we would have to pay for half a day's room fee, f*ck no! So instead, my stomach was growling and with the trusted Frommer's Guide, we found a little restaurant and I had my first meal in Morocco. I tried my first Harissa soup, which is essentially lentil & tomato, heavily spiced. It was surprisingly a little bland but perfect for my tired body. I also ordered a Moroccon tea, which was way to sweet. After lunch, not seeing anything particularly interesting in the old town area, we checked into the hotel and passed out.

In the evening, after a very refreshing nap, we took a petite taxi to Le Corniche, which was once a glitzy resort area, with restaurants, hotels & clubs along Boulevard de la Corniche, facing the ocean. Some of the houses we saw around the neighborhood reminded of Beverly Hills, but a lot of the hotels & restaurants looked like they desperately needed a facelift. We had dinner at seafood restaurant, fried seafood is a specialty in Casablanca, the fried calamari in particular was delicious.

The next morning, we woke up and went to the Hassan II Mosque, the third largest mosque in the world and one of the few in Morocco that is open to non-Muslims. It is a fairly recent addition to the city, with contruction completed in 1993. The structure is massive, and apparently the minaret is the tallest in the world. We took a tour inside the mosque, I thought the fountains underneath the mosque for worshippers to wash their hands & feet before they pray were pretty cool. This mosque was commission by the former King, Hassan II and cost something like $800 million to built, all from public donation. Just wondering, wouldn't it be more beneficial building schools & improving the education system with that money, considering the illiteracy rate is 50% in Morocco...I don't know, just my 2 cents.

After Hassan II Mosque, we hopped on a taxi to the train station for our train to Marrakesh. Btw, just a tip if you ever go to Morocco, always insist on the taxi drivers using the meter instead of negotiating the price, the latter only cause unnecessary aggravation. :)

All Casablanca photos here.

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