Memories of Morocco: Casablanca & Rabat

At a recent dinner party, my friend’s daughter asked me about my long-ago trip to Morocco. I promised to bring along my giant photo album (yes, in 2001 I still made up giant photo albums) to the next dinner, so I dug it out of the shelf yesterday. So many memories…

I embarked on the trip with my two friends, A and K. We set off from Toronto to Amsterdam – and had a whirlwind 18 hours of trying to stay awake and see as much of that city as possible before our flight – to Casablanca, and my first trip to Africa.

Our route was circular. Casablanca – Rabat – Meknes – Fes. Then, a drive through the Atlas mountains (where we encountered snow) and Errachidia to the desert at Erfoud and Merzouga, near the Algerian border. Then we turned westward, travelling through Ouarzazate to Marrakesh, and out to the coast to Essaouira and north to Casablanca.

Casablanca (2001)

Casablanca (2001) – view of medina and local minaret

Casablanca. Just the word evokes all kinds of mystery and romance. A really good movie, and a whole bunch of not so memorable ones about the French Foreign Legion. Oppressive colonialism.

The names of the various hotels we stayed at are lost to time (or at least, to my memory). Oddly enough, I believe the first one was a Best Western. We didn’t stay long in Casablanca because, in the end, it’s a city like many others. We went to Rick’s Cafe, where we had some very decent cocktails. We visited the medina, which wasn’t all that big, yet still mildly intimidating (it’s difficult to find your way around an area you’re a stranger in when there are no street signs). I also have a strange memory of a visit to a weird Casablanca Pizza Hut at the tail end of our three-week adventure – mostly to get an ice-cold Coke.

Some of the architecture in Casablanca was interesting. The tiling, the wrought iron detail. So wonderful. This stairwell below, for instance, was in one of our hotels:

Casablanca stairwell (2001)

Casablanca hotel stairwell (2001)

A couple of days later, we headed up to the official capital, Rabat. From the plethora of lovely old administrative buildings, you can tell it’s the capital.

Rabat coastline

Rabat coastline

Rabat also has the amazing Hassan Tower, a 12th century unfinished mosque and minaret that would have (at the time) been the highest in the world. Construction was halted in 1199 when the Sultan died. It’s a serene and beautiful place, and the red-orange of the minaret and the walls against that gorgeous blue sky… just stunning:

One of the things I really noticed when we got to Rabat – because it’s a smaller city than Casablanca – was the hauntingly lovely sound of the call to prayer coming out over loudspeakers in the city a few times a day. Check out this video this tourist made at Hassan Tower with the call to prayer in the background:

There’s more Memories of Morocco coming soon – stay tuned for Fes, the desert and the coast!


Vacation versus Travel

To me, travel is all about exploring. It’s new sights and sounds. New foods, new people and having to count your cash out really carefully because you don’t have a clue what the foreign currency in your wallet is worth.

Travelling often requires me to learn critical words in foreign languages. Words like “please” and “thank you” and “bathroom” and “water.” Travelling generally involves some kind of effort from me. Navigating a foreign subway system, or getting to the train station on time without resorting to the ungodly expense of a taxi. Or deciphering the oral history of a hand-woven Berber carpet told to you in French (when you’re rather far from bilingual). Better yet, keeping your sense of humour when you’ve just spent the first day of a three-day hike walking uphill, in the pouring rain, with a 30-pound pack on your back.

It’s hard work. Sometimes arduous. Always interesting. And it’s how you get the best after-the-fact stories to tell.

“Vacations,” on the other hand, I equate with beaches. Relaxation. Turning my brain off. I’ve done a couple of those, but I’m just not a sit-on-the-beach kind of gal.

Not that I don’t like beaches. ‘Course I do. The photos above prove just how much I like to wander along beaches and shorelines. I like how they look, how they smell, and how they sound. I especially like them when they’re all moody and atmospheric. But I can’t sit on a beach for a week, or even a weekend. I either get sunburned or bored.