Tuesday 4 November 2008

Culture Shock in Morocco (Day 2)

The first night in Morocco went by without anything special. The only thing bugging me was a mosquito, desperately trying to whisper something in my ear.

When we got up, we packed our stuff and walked to the CTM bus station. There are many bus companies operating in Morocco. CTM or Compagnie de Transports au Maroc is one of the better ones. We weren't expecting it but their buses are quite new and well kept. We could easily compare them to European ones.

At the station we bought two tickets and after ten minutes we were already on our way to Rabat. No, that wasn't part of a plan, we were just lucky.

Today Rabat is the capital of the Kingdom of Morocco. It has been like that since 1912, when French invaders moved the capital from Fes to Rabat. In the new part of the city there are many administrative buildings and foreign embassies. It is quite well kept and like Casablanca relatively hassle free.

That is one of the main reasons why we chose to visit this city in the beginning of our trip. We hoped that this time we would make it without any substantial culture-shock. After all we have been to Egypt only a year ago. Well, nevertheless it hit us.

We were over it in a couple of days, but while in Casablanca and Rabat at some times we felt a bit disoriented and confused. Luckily we didn't have any shopping plans during that time. Generally it is a good idea to save your shopping for the last days in whatever country you are. If you do that you won't have all that stuff to carry around for the rest of the trip and you also have time to figure out what is a good price for that bag of spices/oriental rug/trashy teapot you need so desperately.

When we arrived in Rabat we first had to get to the city center. Five kilometers was a bit far for us so we decided to try local city buses. It turned out to be a very cheap, moderately uncomfortable, quite crowded and dirty option.

We spent the rest of the first day in Rabat wandering around the Medina and admiring Kasbah des Oudaias.

On our way to the Kasbah we were approached several times by locals offering help or priceless advice we didn't really need. We got rid of the vultures quite easily and found our destination without any problems.

Once we got there, we were approached with a local again. He told us that it was not appropriate to walk around the Kasbah during the time of Ramadan. We didn't know whether to believe him or not, but after a bit of hesitation decided to carry on with our wandering around despite his warning.

It turned out to be the right thing to do - there were lots of other people around and the locals didn't seem to bother at all. We couldn't figure out what was that man up to. This thing really got to M. and she was grumbling about it for the rest of the day.

Besides that event we found the Kasbah with it's surroundings very interesting and picturesque.


Tuesday 28 October 2008

Casablanca - City of Contrast (Day 1)

When we arrived to Casablanca we were met by a driver from our first hotel (Oued-Dahab Hotel). Because of the time of arrival we chose to book a room for our first night in advance, preferably with an airport-pickup option.

There are other options to get from Casablanca airport to the city (the most reliable is the train line), but during the night the only one is taking a Grand Taxi. That is just fine, but when you are fresh in an environment like Morocco it is highly unlikely that you would find a ride like that for a reasonable price. Compared to the train price (35 MAD per person), the pickup was rather expensive (250 MAD for both of us). I think Grand Taxi would not come much cheaper, if at all.

Oh, and one more thing. Because booking in advance via email, the hotel even gave us a "Lonely Planet customer" discount.

The hotel itself is centrally located, reasonably cheap, quite basically furnished but clean. For those of you out there who are not traveling on such a tight budget, the same family also runs a bit more expensive hotel in the neighborhood which is supposed to be extra nice for the price. Check out Hotel Guynemer.

When exploring the city of Casablanca it is hard not to notice the extreme contrast. Various parts of the city look completely different.
You can find expensive shops in the city center. Locals walking around are clearly influenced by European style and fashion and a working woman in an European-like business outfit is not an uncommon sight at all.

When we walked from the better kept city center to the Hassan II Mosque, we also passed by some very poor suburbs. Those parts really look like slums. It seems residents mostly have to worry about getting enough food on the table on the day to day basis. Unemployment seems to be a huge problem.

Surprisingly just next to all that poverty stands the famous mosque. Not many mosques around the world are opened to non Muslims. Hassan II Mosque is one of them.

It is a remarkable sight, mostly made of marble and similar expensive materials. The amount of details and sheer size of the structure (it is the third largest mosque in the world) is simply amazing. It is speculated that some $800 million were spent on the project. It is not hard to imagine, why not everyone is happy with that.

It took us quite some time to take a good look at the mosque and its surroundings.

Afterwards we went to the nearby beach, which was quite a disappointment. There were loads of garbage to walk and swim amongst, but locals gathering there didn't seem to mind. We didn't like it much.

Our exploration of Casablanca was influenced heavily by the fact that it was the time of Ramadan (the ninth month of Muslim calendar marked with fasting).

During that month a good Muslim should eat and drink only before sunrise and after sunset. During the daytime nothing should pass his lips. Besides food, that also includes water and cigarette smoke. Not everyone we saw obeyed that last smoky part.

Well, as I was saying this meant that we had to put more effort in finding food. As we found out working hours also change during this time. Most shops, restaurants and offices stayed closed during daytime.

Immediately after sunset everything became alive again. With every hour streets were getting more and more packed with people. Quite a change compared to daytime.

We weren't too impressed with Casablanca, so we decided to move on in the morning.


Tuesday 21 October 2008

Around Morocco in three weeks

It has been more then three weeks now since my last post. In the meantime I was traveling around Morocco with M.

All in all we had a really great time. Of course there were also some gloomy moments, but there was just so much more good stuff. When looking back I usually like to think of those not-so-nice moments as a good story-telling material. A nice sunset usually doesn't make a very interesting story.

As I already mentioned before we were flying to Morocco from Venice, Italy with an Italian low cost airline called My Air. We have never heard of them before, so we didn't really know what to expect. The flight was actually quite uncomfortable (seats in My Air airplanes are obviously so much cramped up together, that even with my 175 centimeters, I had to endure some substantial knee pain), but the tickets were so cheap that it was kind of worth it.

There was no food served during the flight but I don't consider that a drawback. I must be really weird because I don't like crappy plastic sandwiches all that much.

We landed in Casablanca on 27th of September and flew back to Venice on 18th of October 2008.

Anyway besides flying there and back, during last three weeks we were quite busy jumping from one bus to another. Actually we have tried Moroccan buses, trains, 'petit' and 'grand' taxis, but we used buses to get to most of the desired locations.

I have calculated that within Morocco we traveled the distance of approximately 2360 kilometers. The whole trip can be seen on the map above.

In the future posts I intend to post some photos and describe the highlights of our trip.

So hang on tight on a journey through this extremely diverse country of lively medinas, pushy carpet vendors, crazy drivers, cockroaches, crowded buses, sandy beaches, snow-caped mountains and hot desert dunes. Yes, all that and much, much more you can find in Morocco.

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