Monday, March 18, 2019

Morocco: Casablanca more than the Classic Hollywood Film

Casablanca Morocco Travel Guide Blog

It was not the Morocco I imagined it to be. There were hardly any colorful tiles and magical lamps that I’ve seen a number of times on travel magazines. It was our third day in Casablanca and I wasn’t even thrilled on waking up as I didn’t feel safe when we go around especially with our cameras in tow. Apparently, Casablanca that was made famous by a movie with the same title (that wasn’t even shot there) is not a usual stop for first-time travelers in the country. 

Casablanca Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Casablanca's local tram
Morocco is included on SEA 2 Africa 2018, our annual two-month backpacking trip. Having been to Bali, East Timor and Singapore for the first leg of this trip, we specifically allotted one month for the second leg and planned on going around seven Moroccan cities. We ended up adding more places along the way and went to Casablanca, Rabat, Agadir, Asilah, Chefchaouene, Fes, Merzouga (Sahara Desert), Tinghir, Tetouan, Ouarzazate, Marrakech, and Essaouira. 

▶️ Where to stay in Morocco - Click below to see room rates and discounts.

This trip is somewhat a gift from my buddy (or should I say hubby as we got hitched on a simple forest wedding three months prior this trip) as he knew that it was my all-time dream destination. As usual, my buddy plotted our itinerary but during the course of the trip, we deviated from the original plan and went to wherever we felt interesting along the way. 

Casablanca Morocco Travel Guide Blog

I’ve read horror stories from some online sources for solo female travelers who felt abused from the cat-calling and inappropriate touching from the locals. As for me and my buddy, we didn’t have any problems like that as we’re always closely together. I also made sure that I dress appropriately given that Morocco is dominantly an Islam country. 



Casablanca was our first stop on our Moroccan adventure ‘coz it’s where we flew in. After exchanging a few dollars to Moroccan Dirhams at the airport, we took a local train from Mohammed V International Airport and arrived at Casablanca Port Station after an hour and a half (MAD43.00 / USD4.50 per person). Our first impression of Morocco was that it wasn't that warm as we expected it to be. It was around 16 degrees at high noon and coming from 30-degree weather in Southeast Asia, we were definitely surprised (we failed to check the weather condition beforehand, big mistake). 

Casablanca Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Afternoon on a public square
Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco and a former French colonial post thus, French is widely spoken here. It is also a principal port of the country located on the North African Atlantic seaboard.

We bought a month’s worth of data connection through a local sim card (MAD50.00 / USD5.25) and grabbed some burgers, fries and soda from a famous fastfood joint.

We didn’t have prior bookings on any hotel and checked out some reviews on travel websites about the cheapest places to stay at. Our online search led us to Casablanca Youth Hostel which is located inside the old medina (check here for discounted room rates). 

Casablanca Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Our modest room in Casablnaca Youth Hostel
It was around noontime when we arrived at the hostel. We booked the cheapest private room for two with shared toilet and bath. We were assigned on a room without windows—prison-like, I thought. My buddy was starting to fix his stuff while I slumped into my bed and slept for sixteen solid hours straight—probably the best sleep I had during our two-month trip. 

We woke up to a much chilly morning, we weren’t prepared for this kind of weather as we though Africa would have a tropical climate like the Philippines (we’re the best travel researchers in the world, haha) so we thought of buying some warm clothes. 

We took our complimentary breakfast of toast, jam, juice and coffee at the hostel and prepped for our first full day in Casablanca. We didn’t have a particular place to visit so we went around town to have a sense of what’s in store for us in this city. 

Casablanca Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Square of Mohammed V
Our first stop for the day was a licensed money changer somewhere in downtown. We checked with our reliable online currency exchange facility and the rates posted were quite okay. We always bring US Dollars with us and exchange it every time we need as opposed to doing numerous atm withdrawals (me too scared of captured atm cards). 

Our aimless saunter brought us to the Royal Palace and the Mahkama du Pacha. We were apprehended when we took some snaps of the palace’s gate from a far. I dunno if they were mad that we took photos with them in it without their knowledge or that it’s totally forbidden to do so. After inspecting our cameras, they asked us to delete some pictures and shoot once more, this time, without them. Whew. What a hassle. 

Casablanca Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Quarter Des Habous (Casablanca's New Medina)
We went further and ended up inside Casablanca’s new medina or Quartier Des Habous. Built in the 1930’s by the French, there were souks, craft shops, wet market, cafés, and mosques on this touristy area.

Casablanca Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Morocco has some of the world's best olives.
After our half-day of getting-lost-adventures, we treaded back to where we first came and discovered the main bab (gate) of the old medina

A medina is literally a city within a city. Usually found in North African and Maltese cities, the old town is the old Arab quarter or non-European part of the town. The walled medina consists of almost endless maze of narrow alleys with souks (shops), restaurants, mosques, and residential houses. 

Casablanca Morocco Travel Guide Blog
One of the main gates of Casablanca's Old Medina
Walking around the labyrinth of alleys at the medina felt scary, even in the afternoon. I dunno why but we didn’t feel safe inside although we haven’t encountered any untoward incident. We figured out that we felt that way because of those people who were idling on the streets with no obvious reason to do so. And taking photos of street scenes always feel illicit as people would deliberately stop you from doing so when they felt that they’re included on the photo. 

Casablanca Morocco Travel Guide Blog

Casablanca Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Narrow streets and alleys
We bought some jackets after enduring the spring weather for two days. We also felt that we'd definitely need it for the rest of the trip as Sahara Desert, for example, will be way much cooler than Casablanca.

Casablanca Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Casablanca's Seaside Boulevard
It was late in the afternoon when we visited the most famous landmark in the city, the Hassan II Mosque. Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, this towering marvel is the fifth largest mosque in the world and its minaret (a type of tower usually found in mosques used for the Muslim call to prayer) is the world's tallest religious structure. If there’s one thing that’s worth visiting on the city, it’s definitely this one. 

Casablanca Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Hassan II Mosque
A number of tourists from the U.S. (I could tell by their accent) alighted from a bus and checked out the mosque. After some time, they were all herded back to the bus and off they went to their next destination. I was envious at that time as they have all the convenience to travel around Morocco without the scare of being mobbed or robbed especially with the way they dress (they're wearing summer outfits). But then I realized that me and my buddy are fans of the local’s way-of-life and would always choose to experience everything as D-I-Y as possible. Maybe if we get older we’ll do the same kind of travel as theirs though. I digress. 

Casablanca Morocco Travel Guide Blog

Casablanca Morocco Travel Guide Blog

Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the mosque (or any religious structure in Morocco) so we just sat somewhere and stared at Casablanca’s greatest pride. 

Casablanca Morocco Travel Guide Blog

It was our third day in Casablanca and we were contemplating on whether we’ll move to our next destination or stay one more night. Honestly, I wanna move out right away as our room with no windows was quite depressing. 

My buddy suggested that we should try and stay on a nearby hotel that provides a nice view of the city which sparked hope for me. 

And so we did. 

Casablanca Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Hotel Central
We arrived at Hotel Central at two in the afternoon, the check-in time (check here for discounted room rates). It was literally just twenty steps away from our first hostel. We specifically asked for a room with a view so the guy at the reception assigned us on third level of the hotel. Small hotels, riads (a traditional Moroccan house with a central courtyard) and guesthouses in Morocco usually don’t have elevators and it would be challenging to bring up your stuff. Good thing we only had backpacks with us. 

Casablanca Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Classic Moroccan Style
Billeted on a corner room, we had a wrap-around window which provided a panoramic view of the city. The chilly wind started to brush against my face as I opened our huge window. The en suite toilet and bath was also a relief to see that I started to get all our soiled clothes and did our laundry. 

Casablanca Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Chilly morning
We watched the local news on the TV while munching on some take-away food when my buddy thought of checking out a nearby beach which was accessible through the local tramway for MAD14.00 (USD1.50). The one-hour ride from United Nations Square Station allowed us to check out the local scenes on the outskirts of the city.

Casablanca Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Some of the hotels still have  that old school staircase
Ain Diab Beach (Plage Ain Diab) is the famous getaway for locals who want to escape the bustles of city life. The long stretch of ivory-colored sand is filled with cabanas, beach parasols, beach mats, chairs and tables. 

Casablanca Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Ain Diab Beach
It was early in the afternoon and the beach was filled with a number of kids who were enjoying an afternoon dip which got me weirded out because I could imagine how cold the water was, there were also some countless men who were playing soccer endlessly on the shore, and horses for rent that went around to get one or two riders.

Casablanca Morocco Travel Guide Blog

I’m a beach person but I didn’t feel the urge to take a dip at Ain Diab Beach. I dunno why but I wasn’t enticed to swim at all. Maybe the cold bothered me that much or probably the strict dress code for women.

Casablanca Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Mausolee Sidi Abderrahmane on an islet
It was our last brekkie in Casablanca and we sought the refuge of a nearby roadside bread shop. We had a traditional Moroccan breakfast of freshly-baked breads and eggs with mint tea. At day four, we’re not that tensed anymore as we started to loosen up and gave out smiles to locals. At that point, we knew that we're so ready to conquer Morocco for the next 26 days.

Casablanca Morocco Travel Guide Blog
Traditional Moroccan Brekkie

**********

After a month of going around Morocco, we finally headed back to Casablanca and decided to have an overnight stay on an airport hotel because of our early morning flight back home. We stayed at Hotel Relax Airport in which we experienced the most unpleasant hotel customer service in the whole of the country. 

We arrived at around three in the afternoon and the guy who helped us with our bags stayed longer than expected inside our room as if waiting for a tip. You see, we already got tired of the hungry-for-money scammers everywhere in Morocco that we just stared at him in disgust. 

Casablanca Morocco Travel Guide Blog

We also asked the hotel for a weighing scale for our bags but they didn't have a portable one. A staff helped us to go to the hotel’s kitchen for us to use their industrial scale. As expected, the guy waited longer than ever when he brought us back to our room. Morning came and our driver on the complimentary airport shuttle didn’t lift a finger in helping us with our baggage as we didn't give him any tip. The only pleasing experience we had was when we had dinner at one of the restaurants and we were gladly assisted by the dining staff with all our requests. The breakfast staff were a different story though and could be classified on the worst customer service group. 

If I could choose a least favorite city or a place that you could skip when you’re in Morocco, it would probably be Casablanca. We felt unsafe during the first few days and people aren’t really that nice, well, the ones that we encountered I guess.






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