Wednesday, 10 November 2010

No way out of Casablanca

I never ever want to hear anyone complaining about driving to Dublin, London, New York  ever again. Do you know why? Well they have rules of the road, non suicidal motorcyclists and em ... SIGN POSTS.
Yep a few sign posts dotted around that help you figure out:
1. where exactly you are and 2. where you are going.

It is always the little things we take for granted and while driving around Casablanca in a tiny blue Suzuki Alto trying to figure out how to get out, as cars and motorcycles and pedestrians came flying at us, it was sign posts we missed the most.
We had discussed at length putting Casablanca on our itinerary, as we had an inkling it could be outside of our driving realm but in the end we deemed it important enough for a one day trip.
And now looking back on the trip, I don't regret that decision – but after 2.5 hours driving around this crazy city looking for ONE sign out, I really wished we had bypassed this strange corner of Morocco.
But if you do decide that you want to put your life and the lives of your passengers at risk of death or  the very least a whole lot of arguing by venturing to this famous city – what can you expect to see and do?
Once you pass the shanty towns of Casablanca and creep further in to the city which boasts a population of 5.5 million you begin to see modernity at every turn. High rise buildings, shiny glass fronted offices, expensive cars and high street shops and as is inevitable you see poverty.
After making our way to a small train station we parked up for the night and got a taxi to Hotel Central, Casablanca. Located just on the edge of the old Medina it was sufficient for a brief one night stay. By the time we arrived we were hungry so we set off with some directions for the only restaurant we wanted to dine in: Rick's Cafe.
What we didn't expect was fancy bouncers on the door and a grilling about reservations, but we did get a lovely seat by the famous piano and enjoyed a much needed alcoholic drink before we sampled the menu. The meal was good, but not great and  it wasn't expensive by European standards but by Moroccan standards (which you quickly get used to) it was too much.
Aside from the Rick's Cafe and crazy driving (which if you are not bang in the middle of it is kind of a tourist attraction) the ONLY other reason to visit Casablanca, in my opinion is the extraordinary Hassan II Mosque.
The third biggest mosque in the world, holding 25,000 worshippers, with the world's  largest minaret and most importantly one of a very few mosques open to non-Muslims.
It sits over looking the powerful Atlantic which you can see through a glass floor inside. The mosque built for the Moroccan King Hassan II's 60th birthday and cost around $800m. From outside the Mosque and it's spacious grounds are more than impressive, but to truly appreciate it you need to do one of the many tours inside. You learn about Muslim worship and you can marvel at the mosque's elegant design. Though be warned it is very difficult to photograph the interior.
A fascinating place that makes the hassle of Casablanca well worth the effort.
Now all you have to do is try and find you way of the city.
Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca 
Photo by Ewa 

Casablanca (1942)
Captain Lois Renault: “What in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?”
Rick Blaine: “My health, I came to Casablanca for the waters.”
Captain Lois Renault: The waters? What waters? We're in the desert!
Rick Blaine: “I was misinformed.”

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