Jeff and I haven’t been on a trip since Christmas. I realize how crazy that sounds, but considering all of the traveling we did last year, and the fact that he still has days from work to carry over, we jumped at the chance to plan our next adventure. When discussions began with Morocco, it was settled. That was our next destination. We were a little apprehensive at first, and never in a million years did I think Africa was in the realm of possibility to travel. But we are just four short hours away from stepping foot in another continent. And our first stop was Casablanca. Now, I am fully aware that the film Casablanca was actually shot on a sound stage in Los Angeles and the whole premise of the film was about people wanting to get out, but I still wanted to see this famed city that was a hub in the second world war…according to Hollywood. And if I had anything to say about the city of Casablanca it’s this: the place is just as run down and poor as it was portrayed 73 years ago. No wonder they all wanted to leave on the next plane. We arrived in the mid afternoon, and after reading about the steep prices and lack of trust for taxis, we decided we would walk the quick mile to our hotel. Well, we took a left turn to Albuquerque and wound up walking through what looked like the back alleys behind a string of Home Depots and gas stations. We got several looks since we stuck out like sore thumbs being American with a suitcase, but no one hassled us. The hotel was a sight for bleary eyes since the trek had us also consume an incredible amount of carbon monoxide from the emissions on the roadways. In all of our research for going to Morocco, we learned all about how to avoid being harassed, bring toilet paper since some restrooms do not come with, and when a man doesn’t address me, it’s not out of disrespect to me but out of respect to my husband. What we did not learn was that 50% of residents in Casablanca suffer from pollution-borne diseases. We got that education first hand. It was unbelievable how thick the smog in the air was and the amount of trash scattered around the broken sidewalks. It was a shame to see the city in such a state. That night, we walked around the port expecting a nice, sea-side stroll toward the famed Rick’s Cafe. The port had a pungent fish smell mixed with the diesel gas that made breathing a challenge. But we made our way past the cranes and shipping containers, past a random transistor radio that was delicately placed in a bus bench, and found our restaurant. In 2004, Rick’s Cafe opened in Casablanca to emulate the famous Humphrey Bogart business. I was expecting a full-on tourist trap complete with souvenir shop and general kitschy-ness. What we got instead was a very classy restaurant with an incredible menu and polite waiters. Reservations are mandatory as is a certain dress code, but we walked in the dim, Moroccan lighting, and sat near a piano that was to start around 9p. We were impressed by the menu and also the prices. For something that was high end and obviously a tourist hub, it was not outrageous. I had seen on a blog post from a while ago that the film is put on repeat in the cafe. I was a little sad this was not the case, but the music was classic Sinatra, Garland, and Crosby, so who was I to complain. We had figs with goat cheese and lavender for our starters and then each had a variation on Moroccan lamb with mint pesto and orange artichokes. It was simply divine. Then, as we sipped our nightcaps, the piano began and we got to hear “As Time Goes By” before we bid adieu to Rick’s Cafe. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vThuwa5RZU The next morning, we headed out to see the Hassan II Mosque. Positioned right on the edge of the water, this massive mosque can house 20,000 people inside to pray with an additional 80,000 outside. Only open for tour groups and at certain times of the day, we hustled over for our guided walk. This mosque is one of the very few that allows non-Muslims to come in. We have been blown away from churches and cathedrals all over Europe so far with Westminster still being Jeff’s favorite, but the Hassan II Mosque has quickly become a serious rival. The space is not only incredibly massive and open, but it’s all incredibly ornate and beautiful. At 90,000 square meters, it is the third largest mosque in the world after Mecca and the Medina in Saudi Arabia. The floor was all local marble with Italian chandeliers and Italian marble framing the Imam’s chair at the front. The building took six years to build with 10,000 craftsmen and 3,000 workers constructing around the clock. The King gave a third of the cost for building leaving the Moroccan citizens to pay the rest, but considering this building cost more than an estimated $800 million, it seems like that sort of money could be allocated for building a new economy. When you stare at this structure, you’re immediately astounded by the beauty, but when you turn around, it looks like a shell has gone off in the surrounding areas. Our tour took us underneath the worship space to the wash rooms. Each time you pray, you wash your hands, wrists, ankles and feet three times. The room itself resembled the Turkish or Roman baths we have seen in Bath, UK and Budapest, Hungary. The plaster columns absorb the humidity while providing a stark and cold environment. We left the mosque and walked toward the water front to see what we could. The day was so grey and misty, we could barely make out the massive waves crashing on the rocks. But after just a few moments, we felt like we were unwelcome in this part of the town, so we made our way back to our hotel to grab our things and head to the Marrakesh train. Continue reading about our Sahara Desert tour and our final day in Marrakesh with the “sukes” and hasslers.