Destination: Rabat & Casablanca, Morocco
Where we stayed: Crown Princess
Best restaurant: We didn't eat in town but we did have a great freshly squeezed OJ from this guy ($.10)!
Best of: Vegas style laser beam on top of world's largest minaret pointing to Mecca...need we say more?!?
Worst of: Dishonest taxi drivers.
The ship docked in Casablanca and we made our first steps onto African soil. Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco and second only to Cairo, Egypt in all of Africa. Busy, noisy and polluted, we decided to spend most of our day in the smaller and more historic town of Rabat.
After walking all over Casablanca to find the train station, we eventually made it and were on our way. Later, on the return, we realized that there was a train station right next to the dock that Princess had neglected to put on their map. Lesson learned...don't trust the kids maps they hand out.
After getting to Rabat, we were greeted by a seemingly friendly taxi guy and we negotiated to have him drive us to the three main sights in Rabat: The Chellah, the Casbah and the Mausoleum of King Mohammed V for three hours and 200 denier (roughly $25US).
The first stop was the Chellah, home of some Roman ruins. When you think of the Roman empire, Morocco does not really spring to mind but this site was an important town in terms of recruiting the local Berber population into the Roman army. Now all that is left is some rubble and one nice wall that extends down the hill. Now the ruins are home to thousands of sea birds which have built nests in the trees and on top of what's left of the Roman city.
Our next stop was to the stunning mausoleum of King Mohammad V. The design is modeled after Napoleon's tomb in Paris with the late King's body resting on a pedestal all alone in the middle of a vast room. Intricate details are carved or painted into the walls giving it a very Muslim style and look. The courtyard in front is filled with hundreds of minarets and the city's largest Mosque is next door.
Upon returning to the taxi, we were informed that what we had originally agreed upon was not going to work. While we had agreed to 3 hours for 200DH, he felt like changing the rules midstream of course and was at first saying that it was two hours for 200DH. After some yelling and some arguing, he in French, us in English, he started to say that price was 1 hour for 200DH! Back and forth we argued until after about 15 minutes he sped off down the highway. We had debated at just giving him 100DH and getting out right then, but some part of us, the stupid part, stayed in the car which was now speeding down the road swerving in and out of traffic with a pissed off taxi driver behind the wheel. After a few angry swerves and a few curses (we can only assume) we finally did get to the Casbah. Just thankful that he didn't take us to the middle of nowhere, he got out of the car and started to hunt down someone who could speak French and English. After pleading our case to the makeshift judge, a little more yelling on his part, a threat of the tourist police on our part, we threw 150 DH at him and got out of the car. After getting out, the guy who spoke English turned to us and said that he still wanted to take us to the train station after we were done at the Casbah! After debating this for all of zero seconds, we let out a laugh and continued into the Casbah thankful it was over. In the end our little to ended up costing us about $160 less than the same one the ship had...here's to independent travel, even on a cruise ship!
With its powdery blue and white walls, the Casbah is one of the oldest parts of Rabat. Narrow lanes stretching out in complete randomness allow you to get lost in amongst the shops and homes. It's a quiet reprieve to the noisy city outside the walls. Either we were here at the wrong time, or there simply are not that many shops here as we strolled up and down alleys and only found a couple of shops at the very beginning open. After "Rocking the Casbah" (complete cheese, I know) we made our way to the Medina (shopping quarter) which was located just across the street. Surprisingly, after wandering the seemingly endless rows of souks (shops) we wound up within walking distance of the train station. Taxi problem solved!
Tracy also found some more interesting Doorknocker's to go along with the growing collection, albeit this would be the first but not last time we saw a Phallic symbol gracing someone's door. No, these two were not next to each other!
We jumped on the train and headed back to Casablanca with a little more time to kill so we walked through their Medina (lots more shops filled with junk) making our way out to Hassan II Mosque. Second only to Medina (Mecca) in size, the mosque was completed just 15 years ago and is state of the art. With the world's largest minaret, retractable roof and a laser beam that shines at night pointing the way to Mecca this place has it all...concession stand (popcorn!) included.
We made our way back to the ship, looked over at Harry's Bar (built there in the 80's by an American to appease the "play it again Sam" crowd) and checked out the laser beam as we set sail for Gibraltar!