After a not so great sleep thanks to the mosque next door; we had a very nice breakfast on the terrace of the Riad Diamante, settled the bill, and walked to the car parked at Bab Marrakech. Plan was to drive to Casablanca and stop at a few places along the beach
Below are some scenes in Essaouira as we left, and along the way to Safi
We took a National Highway which was simply a normal 2 lane road up to Sebt Gzoula, where we branched off to a smaller road for the remaining 20kms to Safi.
Safi is one of the oldest cities in Morocco, founded by Carthagians and later fortified by the Portuguese, to become one of the safest and biggest ports in Morocco, before finally losing this status to Essaouira after the Sultan of the time decreed that all port traffic had to go through Essaouira.
We stopped in Safi to get some fruits before heading to the waterfront old town area to check it out
Then drove to the seafront area to check this place out; some pics below
Mid-day prayer time, full mosque; the faithful overflowing into the street
We then went back inland and found the A5 Tollway Autoroute just outside Safi. However, we were simply flagged down by the staff at the Autoroute entrance gate, and told to go on, but we were not required to pick up a toll ticket so we could get charged correctly. The Tollroad was excellent and soon, we arrived in El Jadida. Surprisingly, at the exit of the tollroad, the barrier was left up and nobody asked for any money 🙂
El Jadida, is another old city that was taken over and fortified by the Portuguese, to such an extent, that it does not look Moorish at all. We headed to the Cite Portuguese, which is the well preserved original Portuguese walled city and bastion; small but compact and well protected. This had its own original sea-gate (Bab el-Bahr) where ships loaded and unloaded in relative safety. When the Portuguese were driven out, they destroyed parts of the City; and a few years after the Sultan took over, her had the city rebuilt and named is El Jadida, new New
Another place in the Cite Portuguese that is famous, as parts of Orson Wells film, Othello, was filmed here, is the Portuguese Cistern, which is a subterranean space that was previously a vault or armory with 5 rows of 5 pillars, and now has a pool of standing water that is lit by a single shaft of light; which gives interesting reflections underground depending on the light; see pics below
We then headed to Casablanca by catching the A5 autoroute; again the gates were raised and nobody stopped us to give us a ticket. We drove the short ~100kms to the outskirts of Casablanca, and exited the Autoroute as we were staying on the outskirts of Casablanca, in an AirBnB. Again, the toll booths were open, and nobody asked for money. Maybe, this being Friday, they make the Tollroads free?
We found the house we had rented, and called Adnane, the owner, for how we could gain entry. He normally leaves the key with a guard in the area, but the guard was not present. Since it was dinner time, he suggested a few fish places (this area was on the coast) nearby, and in the meantime, he would arrange for the guard to come with the key.
So off we went and found some very fancy restaurants by the sea which were empty, so opted for a local seafood place, which was much more busy with locals. We had our fill once again of fresh fish, fries, salad, and harissa; and then made our way back to the AirBnB, as it was getting dark. When we got back, the guard was present with the key. The house looked nice and new from the outside, but inside, it was sparsely furnished, and then we saw a couple of cockroaches. After some screaming from Nolly, we re-loaded the car, gave the key back to the guard after letting Adnane know the poor condition of the house, and started driving into Casablanca to find a Wifi spot where we could search for and book a more suitable hotel. We stopped at a couple of coffee shops in Casablanca but they had no Wifi. That is the only time I have wished I could find a Starbucks 🙁
We kept driving and came to a Sheraton hotel in the busy, westernized part of Casablanca. Went in and asked about rates etc. and in the meantime, used their Wifi to find very good rates for a 4 star local chain hotel, called the Kenzi hotels. Their rate was much better than the Sheraton, and it was only 10 minutes away, according to my offline GPS. So off we went to the Kenzi Sidi Maarouf, driving into the thick of busy Casablanca. Arrived at the Sidi Maarouf hotel, and this was a pleasant surprise; a newish and very nice hotel with all the conveniences we wanted, and no cockroaches 🙂
So after a very nice and quiet night, we woke up and were surprised that breakfast was included, and the breakfast spread was very good, the best so far in Morocco. After breakfast, the plan was to visit the one memorable place Casablanca has to offer, the Hassan II mosque. We drove back towards the coast, parked on a side street, and went to the mosque; and bought tickets to a tour to show us the mosque, as this is the grandest mosque in Morocco. This mosque is build right over the sea, and is built on a grand scale, and able to hold 20,000 worshippers inside, and 80,000 worshippers outside. This place was huge and grand; check out the images below
It was now time to head to the airport, return the car, and catch the flight to Madrid, stay overnight, and then back to Dallas next day. All this went without incident, which was pleasant. So we said our goodbyes to Morocco, and boarded our flight
The Air Maroc flight from Casablanca to Madrid was very nice, and a full meal was served on this short flight. In Madrid, we took an Uber to a nearby Holiday Inn, which happened to be near a subway station. We inquired about going downtown Madrid, and were informed that it would take 50 mins subway ride each way, and that there was a major soccer match being played in town, which would complicate things. So we decided to stay local and walked to an area the hotel staff had recommended; about 15 mins walk away. The area had many restaurants and patios, with many families and kids enjoying the great weather and the outdoors. We settled for a gourmet burger place and had a very nice meal with wine and beer. Walked back, went to sleep. Next day, after breakfast (included); we took another Uber to the MAD airport, and back to reality in Dallas.
Some musings: Morocco is definitely worth visiting, and the trip we took showed us many different parts and natural beauty of Morocco, from the dense old Medina’s to busy Souks, the Sufi Music Festival, the Sahara Desert, the Gorges, Castles, Oasis, Palmeries, villages, mosques, High and Middle Atlas mountains, the Atlantic coast, old ports with great fresh seafood markets Portuguese settlements; and exposed us to much history from the original Amazir (Berbers) to the Arabs, and Europeans. The people of Morocco are very friendly and helpful and we never felt unsafe. The only change I would make is to avoid Marrakech, if I had planned on visiting Fes and Meknes. Marrakech appeared to be too pushy and aggressive; Fes and Meknes were much more relaxed cities.
I hope this inspires you to visit Morocco; please let me know if I can help you in any way. Thanks for staying with me on this journeyAfrica, Morocco, Morocco May 2017