At the end of February last year, we boarded a flight from Amsterdam to the Kingdom of Morocco, where we spent a week visiting six cities: Casablanca, Skhirat, Rabat, Volubilis, Fès, and Meknès. Since we visited so many places in such a short amount of time, I expect this story to be a bit on the long side, especially with as many photos as I was able to take of the beautiful sights we saw, so I will be breaking it up into two articles. Please do read through both to get the full impression of our entire trip.
Arriving in Casablanca, after grabbing our luggage, we caught a taxi to where we’d be staying for two nights: the Hyatt Regency in Casablanca. The hotel was the ideal place to stay, as it was right in the center of the historic town and right beside the Old Medina. We checked in and rested for a bit and had already decided that we were going to enjoy
dinner at the hotel’s restaurant Dar Beida downstairs, for some authentic Moroccan cuisine.
I loved the restaurant, which made me feel like I was eating inside an extremely luxurious Moroccan tent! The walls and ceiling were draped in a Moroccan print fabric and there were intricate Moroccan lamps that gave off soft light within the restaurant, giving the overall environment a romantic feel. All the tables were low to the ground with chairs made of cushions of the same fabric that graced the wall and ceiling. It was hard not to give in to leaning back in relaxation as we waited for our dinner to arrive. Of course, we ordered many local dishes and when they arrived with an extravagant platter that held a plethora of various houmous, olives and freshly baked pita breads, I thought for sure I’d already be too full by the time my main dish arrived. But, I did my best to do
my dinner justice when it arrived, since I ordered what turned out to be a delicious traditional chicken dish cooked in a tagine.
Aside from the atmosphere and the food, we also ate at this restaurant because we had heard that there was also entertainment provided. Since we had gone to eat a bit too early, the entertainment didn’t arrive until we were almost done with dinner. But, we stuck around to catch some of the performance, as the entertainment was a belly dancer. Though I had certainly seen belly dancers before on other trips I have made in the past, it was the first time my daughter got to see one perform and she seemed to like the way she danced, especially to the lively music that was playing. Once her dance was done, we went back to our room to rest for the night.
The next morning, after having breakfast, we grabbed a city map from the front desk as we normally do and went out to sight-see a bit. Jumping into a taxi, we went to see the Hassan II Mosque that stood quite tall and is located right beside the Atlantic Ocean. As
the largest mosque in Morocco, with its minaret which measures 210 meters, it became even more impressive the closer we got to it. Not only was the mosque tall, but more importantly, it was incredibly detailed in its Moorish architecture and design.
After buying tickets to enter and taking our shoes off in order to go in, I was impressed by the gorgeous patterns and details I saw carved and decorated in mosaic throughout the structure. The attention to detail was prevalent everywhere I looked. One of the most impressive things about this mosque is it’s very special ceiling inside the prayer hall, which is mobile, meaning that it opens up mechanically (within 5 minutes) to allow fresh air to enter the mosque (which I imagine is essential when the space is at full capacity). Aside from this, the beautiful, intricate detail on the walls, ceiling and even floor, as well as the many sparkling chandeliers that illuminated the place showed that much time, care, skill and money (3.8 billion Dirhams, according to the mosque’s website) was spent in making this mosque a treasured place of worship.
At the time that we were in Morocco, my daughter was very much obsessed with cats and we found quite a few cats just roaming around while we were visiting various places. While we were walking around outside the mosque, that day, one cat in particular kept coming up to my daughter, rubbing up against her leg wanting to be petted. So, she came up with a song about the “lovable cat” and how “everybody loves him back” and wouldn’t stop singing it. She sang it even more robustly when the cat sidled up to my husband (who is definitely not a cat person) and jumped on his lap looking for a cuddle. Though I got a good laugh, as I could see how unimpressed my husband was by the cat, that moment along with my daughter’s cat song is forever ingrained in my memory of our visit to this mosque!
After the mosque, we jumped into a taxi and went to the Morocco Mall. Two things stood out at the mall while we were there. First, there was a very big aquarium that held a glass elevator in the the middle of it that you could pay to ride so that you could be entirely surrounded by the fish within the aquarium. My daughter and I took a ride in it and enjoyed it. The elevator ride was slow to allow more
time enjoying the view. Second, we found that the mall had an indoor amusement park that had many rides and play area for kids to enjoy. After paying to get in, our daughter had fun on a few rides, spent quite some time in the soft, padded playground and even did some rock-climbing!
After the mall, we went back towards the hotel and went out early before dinnertime to walk around the old town of Casablanca itself. While out and about, we did see a movie theater with an old Casablana movie poster on its wall, so I had to take a photo of that! After exploring the town for a while, and taking a quick look in the Old Medina, we found a place to eat dinner and then went back to the hotel for our last night there.
The next morning, we checked out and rented a car to drive north to Skhirat where we stayed for two nights at L’ Amphitrite Palace Resort and Spa. While the resort was quite lovely, it was also fairly empty, as we were visiting during the non-tourist season. Walking around the resort, what I enjoyed the most were the white-washed buildings that really stood out against the rest of the environment, although my favorite thing, of course, was our view of the Atlantic Ocean. Some of the prettier photos I took were
taken by the poolside with a view of the Atlantic behind it. It was quite beautiful, especially at sunset!
The following day, we drove off further north just for the day to see Rabat, the capital of Morocco. The city is listed as World Heritage Site (WHS). One of the reasons for this
is because through its town-planning, it has carefully preserved historic
monuments and traditional housing. According to the WHS website, the town showcases its influence by “ancient, Islamic, Hispano-Maghrebian and European” cultures in its landscape. Another interesting fact is that during the 16th and 18th centuries, Barbary Pirates were active in Rabat’s harbor.
When we arrived, we first walked through the Old Medina. As we walked through it, my first impression was of how colorful it was, with wares and trinkets being sold everywhere I looked. And though it was not as crowded when we arrived, it did not take long for the throngs of people to eventually enter the Medina, so we held tight to our daughter’s hand because we certainly didn’t want to see her got lost in there! As we walked, I also was hit by various scents, more specifically the scent of spices permeating the air, as spices and other food were also being sold at
various stalls. I’ve walked through medinas before and while it can be exciting to go through with so much to see, we also made sure to keep our valuables safe and out of sight, as many years of traveling and hearing other people’s stories have taught us that any time you are in a crush of people, that is the time you are most vulnerable to pickpockets.
After walking through the medina without any problems, once we walked out of it we found that we were right where we wanted to be by the Kasbah des Oudaias, a city fortress that was built during the 12th century. Walking in through the gate, we strolled into an area with a very different atmosphere than we had walked through in the medina. Here, inside the fortress, we were pleasantly surprised to be walking past white-washed houses with bright blue borders. In the heat, these cool colors seemed to work their magic on me as I even started to feel cooler (though I imagine it also had something to do with the fact that we were right beside the Oued Bou Regreg river). I have a soft spot for white-washed towns. I’m not entirely sure why, but it just looks so pretty when everything is so uniform and it makes it look so very different from what I am used to seeing. Anyway, I greatly enjoyed exploring inside the fortress.
While we were in the fortress, we also walked through a doorway that led us into the Moorish style Andalusian Garden which we strolled through and rested in for a moment before exploring more of the town outside of the fortress and eventually going back through the Medina and back to our car. Right as we were about to leave the Medina, I noticed an elderly man selling water, I believe. He was covered from head to toe in very colorful garb. On his head, he wore a hat that seemed to be made of tassels and he was wearing a necklace of metal drinking glasses and cups. On one shoulder he carried a leather pouch adorned by metal brackets and in his other hand he carried something with a spigot. Though I wasn’t adventurous enough to buy a drink from him, I made sure
to take his picture, because even with as much as he was wearing, he seemed to fit right in to the background of the bustling medina.
After this, we drove back to our hotel in Skhirat and enjoyed a nice late lunch by the outdoor pool with a view of the Atlantic and then, some hours later on, swimming in the warmed pool inside the spa. Relaxing in the warm water, we were all enjoying the trip thus far and we looked forward to what the next day would bring!
To be continued in my next article, Morocco: A Week in the Kingdom – Part 2 (Volubilis, Fès, Meknès).