Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Back to Casablanca.

It was a bright and early rise for us. We had a 9am train to catch but first we had to get to the train station. Everyone met back up in the dining room at 7:45a and headed out the riad back to the place where we caught our taxi two days ago. This time, we got two Petit taxis for 50 dirhams each to take us to the Marrakesh train station. Soon and I piled into one and Aaron and Mildred into the other.  The two drivers followed each other through the streets of the medina.









"Last train ride in Morocco " It was Tuesday morning and considering it's rush hour, the traffic wasn't bad at all.  We arrived at the train barely 15 minutes after we had left the riad.











We headed inside the station and first things first, stood in line and got our tickets.   90 dirhams for each ticket from Marrakesh to the Casa Voyageurs station in Casablanca.  It would be about a 3 1/2 hour ride.  I have loved traveling on the trains in Morocco.  Cheap and easy to take!



We had about an hour to kill.  While Mildred and I waited inside, the guys went in search of a place for us to get a bit of breakfast.  Aside from the little cafe that Mildred and I were standing next to, nothing else was opened....surprisingly, not even the McDonald's that was inside the station!

The train arrived on time and it was an uneventful ride to Casablanca. As with our previous train rides, our thanks to our fellow passengers who would kindly point out to us that we had arrived at our destination.  As with the streets in Morocco, the train stations don't have much signage so it would be easy to miss a station, especially if you're not sitting on the *right* side of the train.

"Last time at an Ibis Hotel " I had again booked us into an Ibis Hotel and as with the one near the Casa Port station, this one was not hard to find.  It was literally right next door to the station!

For some reason, it took us a while to get checked in but we eventually did.  We all met up outside the front door of the hotel.  Soon and I were the first two down and while we waited for Aaron and Mildred to appear, I quickly went back to the train station to check on the departure times to the Mohammed V Airport since we were going to be taking the train back to the airport tomorrow.   Our flight was scheduled to leave at 12:25pm so I told Soon that we were going to have to take the 9:07a train so we be certain to arrive in plenty of time, even if there was a delay with the train, to catch the plane.

Once Aaron and Mildred joined us, we had to decide what direction to head in.  None of us had a map.   There was a lot of road construction going on in front of the train station and the hotel so we ended up taking a route that bypassed the construction.

"Last Moroccan lunch " We found ourselves walking in a small commercial area and the sight of a restaurant got us thinking that it was a good time for a lunch break.  As we were checking out a restaurant, a man came up to us and tried to point us in the direction of a restaurant.  He didn't look like he was trying to make money off of us so we walked in the direction he was suggesting we go in.  I don't he had faith that we would actually get to where he wanted us to go so he walked with us.

A short block walk later and we arrived a small restaurant that was packed to the max with locals eating lunch.  It looked like a decent place so we thanked the man who hung around for a few seconds talking with the wait staff.  By the way he was talking with them, it looked like this was place that been to many times before....a regular patron.

The waitress seated us a small pair of tables located at the front of the restaurant which was next to the sidewalk.  It was a good spot to watch the world go by.

From the menu, we could tell this was a sandwich shop that also served pizzas and salad.  There was something for each of the four of us so that was good.

After lunch, we headed back towards the Ibis Hotel.  A good part of the street was being torn up to construct what look like would be train or tram tracks.  With no idea which direction to walk in, we decided a good plan of attack would be to follow the tracks.

"Last time getting lost on a street with no name " Eventually, the tracks ran through cement pavement.  Looks like what was once a street where vehicular traffic was allowed was being redone to be a pedestrian only thoroughfare.  I think it will be nice when it's all finished.  I can see stores and street side cafes flanking the path and on a beautiful day like today, people would be out and about enjoying the area.


Though we had no idea where we were going or when the tracks would come to an end, we just kept walking. Then, lo and behold we found ourselves back at the Place des Nations Unies (United Nations Square)!  One look at the ancient clock and we immediately recognized where we were.

As we were standing, reminiscing about having been here just two weeks earlier, a European walked up to us to ask for directions to Boulevard Hassan II.  I knew exactly where she was going - she was headed to Place Mohammed V where the Justice Palace is located.  Exactly the same place Soon and I headed to two weeks earlier.  At first I thought it was weird that she was asking us for directions as obviously do not look like locals.  I figured she probably approached us because she did not speak French and therefore, could not ask for directions from locals; she was hoping we would speak English.  It was her lucky because we pointed in the right direction.







Since neither Aaron or Mildred had been to Place Mohammed V, we decided we would also head there. 









It was a short walk from Place des Nations Unies to Place Mohammed V.  It was a familiar view to Soon and I and in fact, Soon turned into tour leader guiding the rest of us across the streets that intersect in front of Place Mohammed V.


We had only been at Place Mohammed V for a few minutes when Aaron walked up to us to tell us that he and Mildred were heading back to the hotel.   She was getting tired.  Poor thing.  Despite the fact that her ankle had still not healed up, she had trekked all the way from the Ibis to where were standing.....it was a very long walk.  So we bid them goodbye.

It was much too early for Soon and I to call it day but where to next?  Across the street from the Justice Palace was a small Information kiosk.  Two weeks, it was closed when we passed by it.  Today, the door was open. We decided to go there to get some ideas of where to go and what to see.

"Last time looking for the Royal Palace and we finally found it!" There was young man behind the counter.  We walked up and asked him for a map as well suggestions on what to see.  He pulled out a small booklet that had a map of the city on middle pages.  As he was getting ready to point out a few highlights for us, I remembered that we had tried but failed to get to the Royal Palace.   He marked the location of the Royal Palace on the map.  The palace is located in a neighborhood called, Quartier Habbous which he said was very nice and that it was a good place to pick up items that are of better quality than what you would find in the souk.  Having just come from the largest souk in Marrakesh, it was hard to believe that I would do better here but what the heck, no harm checking it out.

We told him that we had gotten lost the last time we tried to go to the palace.  His advice was not to walk but to take a taxi instead because the palace was quite some distance away.

We thanked him and went on our way.  Curbside, I flagged down a taxi and we got in for what turned out to be quite a long ride. The guide at the Information kiosk was right.  We would have never made it on foot....at least not without getting lost and possibly not before sunset :-)

We got dropped off on a street corner.  As I handed over our fare money, the driver pointed straight ahead and told me that was the direction the palace was in.  Okay.

As we stood on the street corner, to our right we caught view of a minaret and we decided to head in that direction.

The street ended at a small garden square that fronted the mosque.  My guess is that we were in the Quartier Habbous.  It was pretty little place, very much a neighborhood.  All around us were white buildings with green tiled roofs. 



"Last view of a minaret " The street sign indicated that the mosque was the Moulay Youssef mosque.   Moulay Youssef was the father of Mohammed V and ruled during the early part of the 20th century so the mosque is a relatively modern one.

We stood around for a few minutes and took in the view while trying to decide where to walk to.  I don't know why we had to think about.  There was a minaret staring at us in the face.  So....we took the obvious route even though we knew perfectly well that we could not go inside the mosque.

To the right of the mosque was a small Bab.  Curious as always, I walked to the other side only to see nothing interesting so back towards the minaret I came.

In front of the mosque was a pretty little neighborhood park.  Teenagers were out and about as teenagers do....giggling and chatting up a storm.


"Last shot at souvenirs "
We ended up back at the intersection and headed down another street that was flanked on both sides by shops that were tucked at the back of a long arched walkway.  Item wise, they pretty much sold the same things that we had seen in the souks in Fes and Marrakesh....just not as cluttered.  Maybe these were the high end versions but my eyes couldn't tell the difference.  Besides, we had already bought all our stuff so we just walked on by.

 There was a small row of shops that did catch my attention.  They were tailors and they one and only set of tailors that I had seen on my trip.  Here, the was men's wear that was the focus.  Djellaba Soon?? :-)

"Last time asking, "Où est le palais royale?" " The street we were on eventually wound its way to the Royal Palace.  Finally, we made it.  Too bad, we couldn't get any closer than about 30 feet away.  There were guards patrolling to make sure we didn't step beyond our bounds.   And too bad that the angle was crappy for photos.   For all the effort we made to get here, it all seemed a bit anti-climatic.  Oh well.


"Last ride in a Petit Taxi....thank God! " After the palace, there didn't seem to be anything else to see or do....no royal gardens or museums to wander through so we decided to head back to the hotel.  We stood curbside to flag down a taxi. None came by so we moved up the block.  We stood curbside to flag down a taxi. None came by so we move up the block again.   And again, we stood but this time we were patient.  And patience eventually paid off.  A Petit Taxi stopped and we got in. All I said was, "Casa Voyageurs" and away we went.

A short distance later, the driver pulled over and rolled down the passenger side window.  A young boy leaned and they both had a conversation in Arabic.  Next thing you know, the young boy was sitting in the passenger side seat.  We had a companion.  Soon and I were in no rush to go anywhere so we didn't mind.  Besides, he's just a kid.

Our driver turned out to be a very aggressive driver though for some odd reason, we found him entertaining.  He did a lot of gesturing and talking aloud to other drivers....especially, it seemed like, to ones who pissed him off.   It didn't seem like he was mad at them but he just felt the need to say something out loud and to gesture to show his displeasure.   Every now and again, he would turn back to us and say something in Arabic.  We would politely listen, not having a clue what he was saying.  After he turned around to face the windshield, Soon and I would just shrug our shoulders and smile at each other.

A short ride later and he deposited the boy on a street corner.   From the conversation that took place, Soon and I guessed that he dropped the boy off a ways from where the boy wanted to be.  Had I been able to speak Arabic, I would have told the driver to take the boy to his destination; that Soon and I would be glad to go along for the ride.  But, no Arabic so the kid got booted out of the car.

"Last hunt for Kit Kats " We arrived back at Casa Voyageurs in one piece.  Whew!  It was too early to go back to the hotel so we headed back to the area that we ate lunch at.  I spotted a small grocery store and we decided to check it out.  Soon had wanted to pick up some Kit Kats. I know that sounds odd but apparently,.....and I did not know this, you can actually buy dark chocolate Kit Kats.   They're not commonly available in the US where we only get the milk chocolate kind but you can often find the dark chocolate version in stores overseas.  I never knew that Soon was a Kit Kat aficionado :-) So, we were on mini mission to find dark chocolate Kit Kats.   We walked up and down the aisles looking for candies/chocolates and found them next to the cash register....so obvious a location but we didn't figure that out until we had strolled through all the aisles.  No Kit Kats but they did have large bars of dark chocolate made in Morocco.  Soon decided to buy a few.

"Last Moroccan dinner :-( "
Next stop was just a couple of doors down from the grocery shop.  It was small restaurant with a rotisserie grill positioned on the sidewalk.  Yep....the smell of chickens grilling on the rotisserie was enough to lure us in and sit down a table.  W both ordered the same thing from the menu....not really what we were ordering but it sounded good at least I hope it would be good because I had to translate from French to English.  What came was about 1/2  chicken served with yellow rice and two dishes of sauces - one tasted like a mild curry and the other was lentils.  Surprisingly, the chicken was moist and tasty.  I wasn't hungry so I just picked at my meal.   Soon, on the other hand, ate his plate and two bowls clean and I mean clean

After dinner, we headed back to the Ibis....all of a five minute walk.  Tomorrow morning, we would be catching the 9am train to the airport.  I needed to shower and repack my bag so that everything would fit in nicely.  I ended my last night in Morocco by watching a bit of TV and writing this posting.

I'm ready to go home but at the same time, I'm sad to be leaving Morocco because I know there is still more to see and experience.  As they would say here, insha'Allah, maybe someday I will be back.

Goodnight Casablanca, it's been a fun!