Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Dear Diary.....Casablanca (Morocco)

Streets of Casablanca!

Dear Diary,

It was after a period of deliberation that my husband and I decided to take the plunge and signed up for a 1 week guided tour to Morocco. As mentioned in my previous post, we usually prefer the free-and-easy style for our travels but we decided to do things differently for this trip (more on the reasons and main take-away for this decision in a later post :))!

Our journey began in the wee hours of the morning...

Being night owls, it was a struggle for my husband and I to wake up at the ungodly hour of 4am! Barely awake, we moved in a zombie-like manner to wash up and get ready to hop onto the taxi to the airport. Everything was a blur and I could hardly recall how I made it through the customs in such a drowsy state - my mind must have been a blank throughout! The short nap on the plane to Casablanca was much needed and we were totally concussed until the delicious smell of the on-board meal seduced us to leave the rosy dreamland and to open our eyes to reality. Hungrily, we devoured the food in seconds (it was after all breakfast time and we have not had anything to eat since 4am!). Satisfied in terms of sleep and satiety, we soon found ourselves becoming very excited for this trip - stepping foot on the African continent was never part of the plan of our Europe tour this time round but somehow we managed to squeeze this trip in :)

It was not long before we arrived at Casablanca and while on the way to the baggage carousel to retrieve our luggage, both of us could hardly contain our excitement - exclaiming and laughing like school children being all hyped up for excursion trips! However, upon seeing the currency exchange offices lining the walkway, we were soon thrown back to reality. As the Moroccan dirham is a closed currency, there was no way we could get hold of it outside of Morocco. I was certainly very uncomfortable with not having any local currency on hand at that point in time. While contemplating whether to exchange for some of the Moroccan dirham, I realized that I could access the airport’s WIFI! Thank God for modern technologies! After a quick search on the forums and checking with our guide (who was waiting for us outside the airport), we decided not to worry about money for now and happily we exited the airport to meet with our guide, a pleasant Moroccan lady.

The air was crisp and cooling and my husband and I were just soaking in the Moroccan atmosphere as we waited for our other tour mates to arrive. We were told that our group consisted of 16 people, with a few of them flying in from other parts of Europe and would join us at a later time. Excitedly, we boarded the minivan and was on our way to Casablanca! Aware of our needs to get hold of the Moroccan dirham and other essentials like water and snacks, our guide communicated with the local driver who swiftly drove to one of the random streets along the way which has a bank and supermarket located. Some of us waited in the van while the rest proceeded on to get what they needed. Soon, armed with everything that we needed, we made our way to our first destination - the Miami beach of Casablanca!

Lovely view of the lighthouse and the sea..

It was a scenic stretch and our tour guide led us to one of the restaurant along the street facing the beach where we all sat down to have lunch. My husband and I tried to explore the place after a quick lunch and were rather disappointed when we realized there was nothing much to do here. It was a further letdown when we saw that there was quite a bit of construction works being done at the other end of the street. This stopover was perhaps fitted into the itinerary just so that we can have somewhere to go for lunch. Nevertheless, it was quite therapeutic to just watch the waves hitting the shores of the beach :)

After lunch, we took a short drive to Hassan II mosque, the only mosque in Morocco that is opened to non-Muslim visitors. Our excitement to visit the mosque was dampened by a slight sense of annoyance when our guide mentioned that our itinerary only covered a visit to the exterior of the mosque and there would be a need to pay to enter it. We were annoyed not because we had to pay to enter the mosque but rather it should have been pointed out much earlier so that we could have exchanged for more Moroccan dirham for such expenses. Nonetheless, my husband and I decided to visit the interior of the mosque and to be more prudent with our remaining cash along the way till we locate another currency exchange office.

Hassan II mosque

Slowly exploring the exterior facade of the mosque..

Beautiful Mosiac

Hassan II mosque was already quite impressive from afar but it was only when we walked closer that we became aware of its majestic scale. However, there was some chaos just before entering the mosque as some of our tour mates had wandered off on their own and our young and perhaps slightly inexperienced guide was having a hard time keeping all of us together. Hence, about half of us entered the mosque first while our guide went on to find those who had wandered away. Wandering about aimlessly inside the mosque, my husband and I decided to stand near to a group with an english-speaking guide. According to this guide (and later on supplemented by our own guide), we realized that this mosque is the largest mosque in Morocco and second largest in size to the mosque in Mecca, an ambitious structure to be built in Morocco, commissioned by King Hassan II. It was also interesting to note that majority of the locals actually contributed to the construction funds of this mosque when the government lacked the funds for such a major project. Some unique features of the mosque include: the tower part of the mosque (minaret) is the tallest in the world at 210 metres; the building is built partially on land and partially over the Atlantic Ocean and the roof of the prayer hall is retractable (which illuminates the hall with daytime sunlight and allows worshippers to pray under the stars on clear nights). Most of the construction materials for this mosque was extracted from all over Morocco, with the exception of the Italian white granite columns and the 56 glass chandeliers and its grand interior is a matching fit to its magnificent exterior appearance and aura! A visit to Hassan II mosque was definitely the highlight of our stay in Casablanca and a walk inside this majestic mosque did us good in forgetting all the chaos and anguish felt prior to this!

Interior of the mosque (prayer hall)

The other end of the prayer hall..

Look at all the details!

The washing area located at the basement..

Still in awe of the awesomeness of the mosque, we soon found ourselves making a quick stop at the Mohammed V square. The square was, in my personal opinion, just a bustling square with LOTS of pigeons - certainly not a place we would want to stay for long as my husband has this fear of being whacked by an on-coming flying pigeon (it is still a mystery to me as to why he has such a fear in the first place...). Some of our tour mates were having quite a bit of fun posing and taking photos with the pigeons though and after they have had enough fun, we proceeded on to our hotel for a short rest.

Tons of pigeons at Mohammed V square..

Being the inquisitive type, my husband and I were not contented to just laze around in the hotel room and decided to head out to do some exploration of our own. Lo and behold, just as we stepped out of the hotel, we spotted a currency exchange office with rather decent rates. Hence, we decided to exchange for a bit more Moroccan dirham just in case we had other unexpected expenses like the one we had earlier in the day. We continued to wander about on the streets of Casablanca where we spotted a bustling street behind the city wall - it was the old town of Casablanca! Much as we were tempted to explore this part of the city, the fear of getting lost, the chaotic main road that we absolutely have no idea how to go about crossing it and the fears of not being able to rejoin the group in time resulted in us turning away from it. Now, thinking of it, we should have been more adventurous and at least take a quick peek so as not to have any regrets later on - definitely something for us to take note for our next trip to Morocco!

Spotted this lovely street art while roaming around the streets of Casablanca..

After the short rest, our group headed off to the final destination for the day - Rick’s cafe, a place made famous by the American black and white movie “Casablanca”. To be honest, the interior of this cafe is very nice and it was absolutely a great place to take beautiful instagram photos! But like any other famous cafes, the drinks were not cheap and there was a greater selection of alcoholic drinks than non-alcoholic ones (pretty ironic for a muslim country and a bummer for non-drinkers like me!). My husband and I were both coffee-lovers and we were quite disappointed when we were told that coffee and tea were not served at the time of our visit. It was pretty anticlimactic because it would have been such a wonderful experience sipping our much needed coffee in such a beautiful place! Oh well, we just had to make do with soda for now... It was not long after when people soon started pouring into the cafe and we could see that the waiter were quite overwhelmed with the crowd as they struggled to juggle between settling the bills for existing diners and taking orders from those who had just arrived at the cafe. It was at this point that we all decided it was time for us to call it a day and leave this chaotic place.

Spotted a rainbow on the way to Rick's cafe...

Here we the famous Rick's cafe..

Interior of Rick's cafe...where there is the showing of the film "Casablanca"

Look at the variety of alcoholic drinks available at the cafe...

After leaving the chaotic cafe, we headed back to the hotel for dinner (included as part of the package tour). It was a modest buffet spread and we were tucking into our food when one of the hotel restaurant staff asked us for our beverage choices. With no mention from the staff that these beverages would incur additional cost and us thinking that it was part of dinner, we randomly pointed to two bottles of drinks that they had on their trolley. After dinner, we went back to our room to rest for the night when suddenly we heard someone banging on our room door. Upon opening the door, my poor husband was instantly yelled at by the restaurant manager for not paying for the drinks that we had consumed. Bewildered and with no chance to explain ourselves amidst the angry yells of the manager, my husband had to raise his voice before the manager calmed down and accepted that it was all a big miscommunication. We were finally able to rest after settling the bill, with fingers crossed that no other “mishaps” will occur for the rest of the night.

Overall, it was a long and eventful day in Casablanca. Things certainly did not go as well as we had hope it would be with quite a fair share of chaos and random mishaps occurring throughout the day. To us, it certainly did not paint a rosy picture for this trip but it was after all just the first day - we can only hope that things will get better as the day goes by.....

Yours Truly,

Related post:
Guided tours or free-and-easy style of travelling?


  1. I have heard so much about Morocco recently that I am really inspired and interested to visit this country as soon as possible. Nevertheless, most travellers actually head down to Marrakech and Fes, while Casablanca seems to be neglected by visitors to the country, so it's really interesting to know more about the attractions and sights available to see in this less-visited part of Morocco!

    1. Hi Nathan! Thanks for stopping by! I had also realised that Morocco is increasingly becoming a popular traveling destination and I could really see why when I set foot on this beautiful country. Apart from its beautiful landscape, each city in Morocco has its unqiue and distinct characteristics and charms - which just make the trip so much more interesting and exciting!! Casablanca, like all the other cities in Morocco, also has its own distinctive charm and I am glad that I had the chance to explore its grounds on this trip :)
      Do look out for my upcoming posts detailing my adventures in the other parts of Morocco. :)

  2. We too prefer slow travel and not taking a "package:, but sometimes it does work out more easier with less hassles.Morocco of course is a destination which is the stuff that dreams are made of. The Hassan Mosque looks so exquisite and loved the street art too. A special mention of Ricks's Cafe, it looks so fascinating. Hope we get to Morocco soon.

    1. Hi Sandy and Vyjay, thanks for reading and I am glad that you enjoyed this post! Yup, free-and-easy traveling provides more flexibility but sometimes a package tour (especially to places where traveling by public transport can get quite complicated) can make things much easier for the traveller :)
      Hope you will get the chance to explore Morocco soon! :)


  3. Casablanca is such a romantic city. I really enjoyed your narrative style which brought the romance of the city alive. I'm bookmarking this post for future reference.

    1. Hi Denny, thanks for reading and I am glad you enjoyed the narrative style of this post :)
      Do look out for my up-coming posts on the other places that I had visited in Morocco.