I’m just going to shake up the way we write about our trips and travels in the blog. This time, for the Morocco entries, I’m not going to write entries per day. I’m writing them according to topics that are interesting (or might be interesting for you guys). I’ll be listing down Top Fives. Today, it’s about the five imperial cities we visited (it’s actually just four but the other one is their economic capital so it’s hard not to put it in here). Other entries in this series will include our Top 5 Unforgettable Experiences, Top 5 Must-Dos, and Top 5 Souvenirs You Have To Take Home With You. Sounds great? Yey! Haha! Okay, so here we go…
If you’re still looking for the details of our trip like the airfare, visa, etc. then you need to visit my entry on Planning for Morocco. All the details are there so please read it before anything else. Like what was mentioned there, we were on an 8 days/7 nights package tour with Memphis Tours in Morocco. It’s called the Imperial Cities Tour that started and ended in Casablanca. The “imperial cities” of Morocco are the historical capital cities of the country and they are Rabat, Meknes, Fes, and Marrakech. This is where dynasties had began and flourished in the old times. Today, these cities are worth visiting especially if you;re into history and culture. I’m adding Casablanca in the list to round up the five cities that we visited. So let’s get this “trip” started shall we?
Let’s start with Casablanca, not considered to be an imperial city but one of the most important cities in Morocco today. Casablanca is the largest city of Morocco and is also one of the most important cities in Africa. It’s easy to confuse it for the capital of Morocco (the real capital is Rabat, people!) because Casablanca serves as the financial and economical hub of the country. Most leading companies and brands, whether Moroccan or international, have their headquarters in this city. It’s also considered as the main industrial zone of Morocco.
We decided to start our journey with Casablanca because most airlines service the Riyadh-Casablanca route instead of the other major cities. That means direct flights and cheaper fares. We didn’t really know what to expect of Casablanca given that Morocco is an African country and this is the first time we’ll set foot in this continent. We were pleasantly surprised when we breezed through the Mohamed V Airport immigration counters. No questions asked, they stamped out passports right away. We even saw a Chris Evans-lookalike welcoming us to Morocco just after we got out of the plane. Wow, thank you very much! Lol, he was airport security and the girls felt totally secured already! Nyahaha! Okay, so we had to wait for our luggage and while doing so, we exchanged our money at the currency exchange kiosks near the baggage carousel. We thought we were dealing with Filipinas at first but turns out some Moroccans have features like ours. Coolio. Anyway, after getting our luggage, we went out of the arrival area looking for the guy bearing our names in his sign but we couldn’t find him at first. He found us instead when we were already loitering outside the airport. He took our details and sent us off in a van that took us to Movenpick Hotel, our first accommodation in this journey.
The check-in was fast and soon, we were in our triple room. We ate a late dinner in their restaurant and went to our rooms to catch some snooze.
So we didn’t have a real glimpse of Casablanca until we woke up the next day and met with our tour group. We already had our luggage with us because after a day tour in Casablanca we will head to Rabat next in the afternoon. Memphis Tours is in partnership with Monarch Travel in Morocco and so at first, we weren’t paying attention to the guy calling for the “Monarch” group. Good thing, he approached us and asked for our names. Turned out we were part of his tour group! Whoah, we nearly missed our tour! LOL. After sorting that out, we rode a bus and we met our tour guide, Mr. Mokthar. We will find out in this journey how patient and kind our tour guide is. Also, he speaks six languages. SIX languages! Amazing right! Our tour group was composed of around 25 people from Portugal, Spain, Brazil and Kuwait. Most of them speak Spanish and Portuguese. There were only five of us who speak English so our tour guide alternates between three languages. He explained in Portuguese and Spanish first then will speak in English last.
While going to our first tourist spot, we noticed that Moroccans like their taxis and they’re so cute! They’re called Petit Taxi and can carry 3-4 persons at most. And the nice thing is, it can stop for other people as long as those passengers will also go on the direction of the first passenger, or at least close to it. They also have a train that runs in the middle of the roads. The Casablanca Tramway in Casablanca has a route that’s 31 kilometers long with 49 stops. The main station was near our hotel. Casablanca reminded us of Manila, even the weather! It’s so far yet close to home.
Our first stop was Casablanca’s Central Market (Marche Central). It’s our first experience of a Moroccan market and truly, it is vibrant and the energy is palpable. We saw fruits, vegetables, and seafood. It’s your ordinary market only they have really plump apricots and watermelons and melons and plums! They also have huge and fresh fishes, lobsters, and oysters! OMG, if we can only get some and have them cook it immediately, yummy!
Again, this reminded us of our local wet markets in the Philippines. The market has art deco buildings too, some of them so old they almost look like a Unesco Heritage site. It’s amazing how they managed to preserve these buildings with great architecture.
Next stop is the Mohamed V Square. This is only interesting if you love pigeons and fountains. We got down the bus to just take pictures of the pigeons. When they fly at you all at the same time, it’s scary and fun all at the same time too. Lol.
We headed to the Habous Quarter, also known as the New Medina. Our next stop was the Royal Palace, or more like outside the Royal Palace. We could only walk on the outside grounds and take pictures of the doors. (I tell you, Morocco has a lot of beautiful doors and I’m planning to come up with an album just for them, haha!) The King’s Palace is grand, or so our tour guide said, but yes, we can definitely feel the grandeur just by looking at the enormous doors. The King has a palace in most of the cities and we can tell you, he wasn’t in the Royal Palace when we visited it, haha.
Our last stop in Casablanca was the Hassan II Mosque, known as the most beautiful mosque in the world. We don’t doubt that claim and we are thankful that even non-Muslims can go inside and see it for ourselves. Even though the mosque is huge, you can definitely feel the serenity and calmness of the place. Most of us tourists walk in reverence and respect for the holy ground and truly, seeing and walking through the Hassan II mosque is a must-do in Casablanca. I will write more about the mosque in the next entry.
For lunch, we went to the Ain Diab area where the nice beaches of Casablanca can be found. Our tour package doesn’t have lunch included. We’re free to join the others at a posh Moroccan restaurant but by this time, we want something different and decided to walk around the area. We found a… Chinatown restaurant! Lol. We’re so intrigued on how Chinese food will taste in Morocco that we sat down on their red chairs outdoors and ordered away! Here’s our food for lunch:
We enjoyed the food although we think they’re just cooked with oyster sauce and that made it Chinese. Hahaha! We loved the spicy chili oil though and we wanted to ran away with the saucer but it doesn’t have a cover. Haha! Our food was just around 200 dirhams. Compared to eating in the fancy restaurant which will cost us 170 dirhams per person, obviously we really saved a lot on food. After eating, we wanted some ice cream so we went to the nearest store and had small ice cream cones. While waiting for the others, we noticed that some guys were not wearing their shirts and were just on their board shorts. We saw them walking on a small street and we decided to follow (we’re just curious promise! lol). The bend opened us to this:
It was a Sunday and our tour guide told us that it’s a day for leisure for most Moroccans and they converge in their beach. There’s a long corniche and a beach shore a few kilometers long. This is where they go for picnics. They just have some beach umbrellas and they lounge under the glorious all day long! Their sea has really rough and huge waves but it looked like everyone was having fun!
It was time to resume our trip and journey on to our next destination:
Rabat is the political capital of Morocco. It has acquired the title of Ribatu l-Fath which means “stronghold of victory” because of its military importance. It’s a full-scale fortress that was used as a launching point for attacks in the olden days. Rabat is a smaller city compared to Casablanca and it has a more provincial feel to it. Our first stop was the Mechouar Palace. It’s a huge space with lots of greens and low-lying buildings. Again, we were only able to reach the plaza near the gate of the palace. We took pictures, listened to Mokhtar’s story on the history of the place, and moved on.
Next, we went to the Mausoleum of Mohammed V. Before I go ahead and share with your pictures of the place, let me tell you why you should just walk fast and not meet anyone’s eyes in this part of the tour. Haha! So before we went down, our tour guide Mokhtar told us not to listen to the touts who will be selling us a lot of stuff and don’t give in to those who will put henna in our arms. If ever we like the things and the henna that will be offered to us, make sure that we don’t pay a lot for them because these sellers will be adamant to be paid with a high price. Resist! So armed with that knowledge, we went down and just as we neared the gate we were bombarded with vendors and henna artists asking us to buy this, buy that, put henna, etc. Jamila and I were walking in the midst of the group so we easily evaded them. Reina, on the other hand, was busy with something when she was approached by a pregnant lady offering to put henna in her hand. The woman grabbed Reina’s hand and immediately whipped out her henna cone and began doodling on Reina’s skin. The henna they use in Morocco is different from the henna used here in Saudi Arabia. Theirs is more yellow brown and really thick that it looked like mud on the skin. The woman was forcing Reina to pay 20 Euros for a henna tattoo that doesn’t even look good. Whoah! The henna artists in Janadriyah here in Saudi Arabia are better when it comes to designs! Haha! R refused to give her 20 Euros and gave 20 dirhams instead. A few minutes after when R was able to catch up with us, her arm started to feel itchy. According to our guide, they put lemons on the henna and this is causing the itchiness. We immediately wiped the henna off R’s arm with wet tissues.
After that ordeal, we went to the mausoleum. It’s a historical building on the opposite side of the Hassan Tower. It contains the tombs of Mohammed V and his two sons, King Hassan II and Prince Abdallah. The property is an architectural wonder with its white silhouette topped by a typical green roof. The mausoleum was completed in 1971. We were able to go inside. It looks like a terrace and when you look down the balustrade, the tombs are below illuminated with warm lights and ornate designs. At first we were wondering where the tombs were. Turned out they were on the two corners and their tombs are smaller and thinner than Mohammed V’s tomb.
Outside the mausoleum was the plaza of the Hassan Tower. It’s an incomplete minaret intended to be the largest minaret of the supposedly world’s largest mosque. The 200 columns that were supposed to be the pillars of the mosque can be seen around it. The construction of the minaret and mosque started in 1199 but was stopped when Sultan Yacub Al-Mansour died. The site was granted World Heritage status by the UNESCO in 2012.
When we walked outside to the bus, we successfully evaded the henna artists, haha. Well come to think of it, they weren’t as aggressive with tourists coming out of the complex anymore.
One of the most memorable places in Rabat that we went to is the Kasbah of the Udayas (Qasbah des Oudaias). It is located at the mouth of the Bou Regreg river and from afar, it looked like a mini Santorini in Greece. It was built in the 12th century during the Almohad Caliphate and was deserted in AD 1199. The Kasbah is our first glimpse into a Moroccan city that successfully mixed the old and the new. The Kasbah is a flourishing city within a city. It has its own mosque, fountain, and communal bread oven which are staples in Moroccan town. We like the white houses with blue trims; it does pretty much resemble Santorini. The doors of the houses are beautiful too! They have their own unique design and characteristics. We loved walking in their narrow streets. Coffeeshops also dot the area and we went to one that offers a great view of the river. We had mint tea, water, and Moroccan sweets and pastries.
After this long but fulfilling day, we headed to our hotel in Rabat, the Golden Tulip Farah. It was an okay hotel. It’s not too fancy and not shabby. We like their lounge filled with bright orange sofas.
Up next, we travel to Meknes, Fes, and Marrakech! Part 2, coming up… after a few days! Haha!