Sunday, July 21, 2019

Morocco 2019 - Day 1 (7/14/2019) - Casablanca

I should mention that a week prior to the trip I had flared up an injury to my left shoulder.  This had been somewhat of a lingering thing, but hadn't been bad enough to really affect daily activities (or even lifting weights) until the re-injury.  The symptoms were still mostly in the range of persistent discomfort, but I was now having pain when making some normal movements, and couldn't sleep on my left side.  Well, the activities of the day of travel resulted in the worst morning yet with the shoulder; though thankfully still not awful pain.  Fran was a sweetheart, and insisted that I not carry a backpack during our days of exploration - leaving her to lug one around for the two of us.

We were woken up by a housekeeper around 10am, though we (obviously) refused the service.  We lay around for a little while longer before getting dressed.  He headed out a little before noon, with the first order of business being to get some cash.  We found an ATM, picked up a bottle of water, then walked back to a bakery we had passed to get some pastries for breakfast.  We ate them on a nearby bench, and then walked over to the Place des Nations Unies square.  We spent a short time there and then headed south to the more impressive Mohammed V Square.  It's interesting to see what street vendors do in different places; in Casablanca one thing that they do in the big squares is offer miniature cars for little children to "drive" around in.

After the squares, we headed back north and into the Old Medina, where many of the streets near the entrances are completely lined with shops.  We wound our way northwest through the medina, into the more residential streets, and also passing through produce markets that were geared toward locals instead of tourists.

After coming out the north side of the medina, we headed west to Hassan II Mosque, one of the largest in the world.  The building was a lot more impressive than I expected, and there were a lot more people gathered around in the area (and along the water) than I expected.  We overheard some other tourists asking a security guard about tours of the mosque (we didn't know that we could go in) and found out that there were tours at 3 and 4pm.  It was 2:45pm at the time, so we hustled over to the museum to buy tickets for entry to the tour and the museum.  After a waiting in line, we bought the tickets right as the 3pm tour was departing, a few minutes late.

The tour lasted less than an hour, and took us through the gigantic prayer hall (where you have to remove your shoes) and then down into the ablution room below.  The inside of the building was just as impressive as the outside.  A couple of interesting facts we learned are that the mosque holds up to 25,000 people during Ramadan (with up to 80,000 gathering on the grounds), and that the roof of the prayer hall can open up.

After leaving the mosque we walked over to the sea wall to watch the people and activities, including waiting for some young men to jump off the high wall of the mosque grounds and into the ocean.  Next we headed back to the museum to use the restrooms and look around it briefly - it wasn't very impressive, but there was enough worthwhile in there that I won't complain about paying 10 Dirham extra.  After that we walked out toward the street to grab a bit of street snacks before walking along the sea wall in the eastern direction, where we hit a dead end and had to double back.

Our next mission was to find some food, as we hadn't really had a substantial meal all day.  The weather had been pleasant, and especially so in the shade; I would have guessed around 80 °F, though Fran thought it felt warmer in the sun.  We walked over to the mall, but didn't find anything appealing in the food court; though we were able to buy another bottle of water in the Marjane supermarket there.  From there we walked back to the hotel, briefly cutting trough part of the medina again.  We asked at the front desk for a restaurant recommendation, and they gave us one a couple blocks away.

We ended up not eating at the recommended Spanish restaurant, and instead ate at a Moroccan place down the street called Etoille Central (or Etoile du Maroc).  I ordered the vegetable couscous (which was pretty solid) and Fran the vegetable tagine (though she later added couscous in order to get more filling grains).  In addition to a bottle of water, I also ordered a delicious freshly squeezed orange juice, and she had some Moroccan mint tea.

After eating we made it back to the hotel around 8pm.  The WiFi was still not working in the rooms, but was working on the first floor, so we lounged in the hotel bar for a couple of hours.  We typed up journal updates with the African Cup of Nations match between Nigeria and Algeria playing in the background (Algeria won 2-1 on a 90th minute free kick by Riyad Mahrez), and then called it a night.



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