16th August 2017
We seemed to spend most of our first day trying to work out where Salé railway station is. Google maps thinks it is somewhere it certainly isn’t, and the signage is woefully inadequate. So, with no data roaming available, there was only one thing for it… a trip to the American Embassy.
I never thought the sight of McDonald’s would conjure up images of a desert oasis, but in the scorching midday heat of Salé it certainly did. The promise of air conditioning and a cooling drink was too much of a lure for us weakened souls, so in we went. And there we stayed until we had cooled down enough to engage our addled brains – using the free wifi to find out where the train station really is.
The truth was found in the ONCF Trafic app. And Google – you are way out.
Temporarily recovered, off we sweated to the station, arriving there with a combined weight loss of several kilos and a combined IQ of around 10. This state of idiocy made communication with the ticket folks difficult at best. And my burbling French resulted in us getting two tickets for Casablanca leaving immediately rather than for tomorrow. This was quickly resolved though and we were set to go.
We ventured into the medina on the way back to the marina. Although small in comparison with some, I believe, the main souk is completely hassle-free and a great place to just wander around. There’s almost everything for sale here from spices to shoes or meat to mattresses.
Google maps redeemed itself by helping us find our way out of the medina and in the general direction of Marina Bouregreg. On arrival, we gave Lady Jane a cooling freshwater rinse. And as a testament to motivation over brain power – finally, after two years, we worked out how to fit the over-boom cover so that we can get shelter from the sun.
17th August 2017
The train to Casa Port departed exactly on time, thankfully with us on it installed in a first class carriage enjoying air conditioned comfort. Although that may seem very grand, the cost of train travel here is very low compared with the UK. A first class train ticket here is around 1/10th the price of one in the south of England. And if we use the Big Mac index to level set the purchasing power between Morocco and Blighty (not much difference), train travellers in the UK are being well and truly shafted.
The mission for Casablanca was to visit the Hassan II mosque, have a general wander around medina, and finish the day at Rick’s Cafe.
This we did.
The souk was wonderful and a another near hassle-free experience. Someone latched on to Maria – perhaps she looks like a spender – and stayed with us for five minutes or so. But this was hassle-light. The guy was very pleasant and not too persistent and gave up when he realised that we are true to our word – just looking – not buying.
Despite the souk being so busy, I can’t understand how these folks make a living. There are a lot of people milling around, but there didn’t seem to be much buying happening except at the meat stalls where – and this is not for the faint-hearted – you can buy a chicken as fresh as it can possibly be. And have it plucked as you wait.
After 20 minutes of wandering, somehow we accidentally found our way out and, also accidentally, found ourselves on the right street to the mosque.
Hassan II Mosque
The Hassan II mosque is spectacular… the largest in Morocco and the 13th largest in the world. It can accommodate 25,000 inside and another 80,000 in the grounds. And boasts the worlds tallest minaret, which apparently hosts a laser light that beams the path to Mecca. This modern twist possibly exposes it’s relative youth. It was built in 1993.
But the streets around it need more than a little tidying to take care of all the rubbish littering the streets. This was especially evident along the promenade we walked along after leaving the mosque, with it’s discarded bottles and papers – and the odd cluster of fish guts left by the fishermen. It seems a shame that it is left this way.
As a result of an incorrect assumption that the seafront walk from the mosque would lead us back to the main streets, and having to double back… by the time we arrived at Rick’s doorstep we had accumulated more sweat and dust than a road sweeper at the end of his shift. Frankly we didn’t think the doormen would let us in, but the sight of our wilted carcasses probably triggered some sympathy. As we entered, the maitre de discretely advised, without any prompting from us, the location of the washrooms and we were shown to our table – tucked away to the side of the restaurant where the usual undesirables are kept.
Actually I am exaggerating a tad here, but we did vastly underestimate the poshness of the place. It’s kind of a Casablancan equivalent of Raffles and we did feel somewhat underdressed and overheated for the occasion.
Rick’s Cafe, of course, features in the classic film Casablanca with Humphrey Bogart and Sophia Loren. Although the setting of the film was as the title suggests, it was actually filmed exclusively in Burbank. So the Rick’s in Casablanca is the merely an interpretation of the film version, put together by Kathy Kriger in 2004.
However true to the film version it is, the place makes great theatre in its own right. And we had a great time. The service was excellent and the atmosphere more than one could hope for.
Then, thoroughly stuffed and cooled, off we wobbled to catch our train back to Salé.