We were looking forward to a fairly easy start, so had a sumptuous breakfast at the buffet at the Tangier Hilton, and headed to the airport without rushing. We were helped, coming and going, by VIP Flights and Swissport, (thank you) and had a very short 46-minute flight to Casablanca.
We were welcomed royally! Julian P. of Jetex and his team were attentive and gracious, and good grief! the sweets and pastries! I must tell you too, that I had the best cup of tea of my life there! (and I'm a big tea drinker). We saw the plans for the new Jetex FBO to open this Fall in Casablanca, and the design possibilities for the FBO planned for Marrakesh. Beautiful.
After a while, Yasmine and Imane, two bloggers in Casablanca, photographer Guy, and Nabil arrived. We talked about the trip, their blogs, Casablanca, and feasted on treats and tea together...it was great fun. Then we all drove out to the plane to explore the HondaJet and to take photographs. Through it all Julian P. and the Jetex folks were encouraging, hospitable, and kind.
The drive through the countryside to the hotel didn’t prepare us for the modern city of Casablanca. It is a commerce driven spot on the sea, and while bustling, it is very different than Tangier. We arrived at the elegant Four Seasons on the water, settled in quickly and grabbed a cab to the Hasan II Mosque. Idris was our driver, who we saw throughout the day, (but more about him later). I had read somewhere that the last tour for the interior of the mosque was at 3:00. We arrived at 2:50 and seamlessly joined the line waiting for tickets. The tour is organized well, with signs for queuing in 8 different languages. Our guide was Moussa (the Arabic version of Moses) and he was skilled, funny and full of information. (Greetings Moussa, we hope you are reading this!)
The Hasan II Mosque is magnificent! We were keen to go there because it is one of the few mosques that is open to non-Muslims, the only one in Morocco to do so, and only by guided tour. I was looking forward to feeling the differences and similarities with other houses of worship, especially having visited the Seville Cathedral. We believe that all religions come from the same Source, and part of this trip is to experience, as much as possible, a sense of the sacred in many different cultures. Like the Cathedral, there is a feeling of awe when you enter this Mosque. The space both vertically and horizontally calls on you to feel humility and your own proportion in the scheme of things. The Mosque is a place for communal prayer, and I could only imagine the 25,000 worshipers on the inside, and the 80,000 outside on the terraces feeling a connection to Allah and to each other.
It is the third largest (some say second) in the world, smaller only than the ones in Mecca and Medina, and most likely has the tallest minaret in the world (over 650 feet tall). It sits firmly on land but juts out over the water as well. The ablution room downstairs has 41 fountains from which to wash hands, arms, face and feet (the ritual of Wudu in Islam) before formal prayer.
After walking over the massive area outside, we met up again with Idris, who was waiting patiently during the tour. Our time with him was one of the highlights of our trip to Morocco! From proud Berber lineage, he was keen to share the city and to converse as much as possible in his perfectly good “French as a second language”, and my very broken French. He put “Hotel California” and other music on, and we all sang together...loudly! We talked and laughed throughout the day. We had several encounters with people throughout the trip so far that felt a bit mechanized, or not thoroughly genuine. But I tell you, genuine was Idris’ middle name...and if you ever see this Idris, you made our stay in your city complete!
We went then for a “quick” look at Casablanca’s souk, where we came upon the perfect caftan shop and, you know, bought a couple of things. Casablanca has the most beautiful souk, with wide walkways, easy going shopkeepers, and quite famous pastry shops.
You might remember that while we were in Tangier, John Davison, the Executive Director of the American Legation recommended a restaurant owned by a friend, Kathy Kriger. He had called her, and we had been in touch, so thought we were ready for Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca. But we weren’t. Modeled after the famous cafe in the movie (Casablanca, of course) the feeling and the details put you right “in the scene”. Julian, Travis and I had a wonderful meal surrounded by lots of ambiance, music, and then thoroughly enjoyed a visit with Kathy. She described the process of finding the venue, building it out and searching for the added touches that make the place look and feel like Rick’s. Here is the website with some photos to give you an idea of what we saw. Kathy also had some great suggestions on where to stay along the rest of our trip. Again thank you to John and Kathy for your generosity -- we had a wonderful time.
And then? Sweet, sweet sleep!