Now in Color!

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This blog entry about the events of Wednesday, June 16, 2004 was originally posted on June 18, 2004.

DAY 242:  Casablanca, the Moroccan oceanside city made popular by movie quotes from the 1942 Humphrey Bogart movie, has come a long way since then.  For one, it’s no longer in black and white.

With the sun out and people about, it was a much safer environment to explore than the late night I had arrived before.  My first order of business in big modern metropolis — Casablanca is Morocco’s largest city with a population of five million — was to switch to a cheaper hotel in a livelier section of town.  Using my Lonely Planet map and more than a smattering of high school French (Morocco is a former French colony), I checked out the two other hotels the driver wouldn’t take me to the night before.  Both seemed fine — the airport taxi driver was obviously out for a commission at one of his hotels — and I ended up moving my bags to the Hotel Colbert in the center of the city, a neighborhood of internet cafes, restaurants, a cinema playing Van Helsing and various shops.

Of course that meant a KFC and McDonald’s was down the road; I checked out the latter to see how Ronald the clown did things in Morocco.  Basically, the menu was the same (just in Arabic and French), except for a sandwich called “Le 280”, which is a mouthful to say as much as it is to eat. 

“Le deux cent quatre-vingt menu, s’il vous plaît.”

Le 280 describes the 280-gram weight of the halal meat patty — “They have the metric system, they wouldn’t know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is” — served with lettuce, tomatoes and lots of onions in a dense square roll.


I SPENT MOST OF THE DAY exploring the streets of Casablanca by foot and “petit taxi” (cheap little red Fiat Unos that zip around town), from the traditional Moroccan drum band playing in front of a crowd at the modern-looking Hyatt Hotel, to the Moorish architecture of the governmental Place Mohammed V, named in honor of 20th century sultan-turned-king Mohammed V.  I walked from the wide-open sights of the deep blue Atlantic Ocean, to the store-lined narrow streets and alleyways of the medina, the old city.  (The Hostelling International youth hostel did exist there, on a car-accessible road even, despite what the airport taxi driver told me the night before.) 

But of all the colorful things Casablanca had to offer, nothing matched the grandeur of its latest architectural masterpiece, the Hassan II Mosque, the third largest house of religious worship in the world, after the mosques of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.  However, a Turkish tourist told me that he had seen all three mosques, and Casablanca’s Hassan II was definitely the most beautiful, with its colorfully decorated walls and shiny marble floors.


CONSTRUCTED OVER A PERIOD OF SIX YEARS between 1987 and 1993 on a 24/7 work schedule, the Hassan II Mosque was built under order of King Hassan II, successor to Mohammed V at a hefty construction price tag of about $800 million (USD).  King Hassan II was a progressive modern-day thinking ruler because he actually commissioned non-Muslim, non-Moroccan French architect Michel Pinceau to design it.  Pinceau was also an out-of-the-box thinker; instead of the usual round domes of traditional mosques, his roof was rectangular and flat, with an electric-powered retractable sunroof.

“You are lucky,” tour guide Ilham told me and the three dozen American, Dutch, French and Turkish tourists behind me.  “The roof is open.  Normally it’s closed.”

Ilham, a friendly trilingual Moroccan woman took us on the 2 p.m. Thursday guided tour (the last one before the Friday holy day), which was also an unorthodox thing to do; all the other mosques in Morocco didn’t permit non-Muslims inside.  Ilham took us around the mosque, an incredible religious facility with a capacity of 25,000 — 20,000 men on the floor, 5,000 women in the cedarwood-fenced platforms above.  She pointed out the 200-meter tall minaret (picture above), the impressive Italian chandeliers and the underground ablutions area where Muslims performed the traditional daily bathing customs.  Nearby was a Turkish hammam (bath), which would be available to non-Muslims too — that is, as soon as the mosque’s management found a private company to run and maintain it. 

Above all, Ilham pointed out again and again the bright colors of the elaborate decorations all over the walls and the floor.  It was just another example that modern day Casablanca had come a long way since those old black and white days.  For my first day in Morocco, it looked like it was the beginning of a colorful friendship.






Next entry: Next Train to Marrakesh

Previous entry: Into The Arabian West




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Comments for “Now in Color!”

  • First!

    Posted by Alyson  on  06/17  at  10:45 PM


  • First!

    Posted by Alyson  on  06/17  at  10:45 PM


  • awesome pics of the Mosque, great job!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/17  at  11:06 PM


  • Hey Erik,
    My fiance’ and I will be in Morocco next year during that leg of our RTW trip, can you tell me more about Hotel Colbert? Price? Comments?
    Thanks

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/17  at  11:09 PM


  • you’re my only friend, abu…whoooooooooo….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/18  at  12:51 AM


  • Hi Erik,
    Maia here from Mayoka Village…Malawi. Just dropping you a line to say hi and that I enjoyed reading your bit about that time and your sneeky pic of my cabin!  Am enjoying reading your travels since!  By any chance…do you have the address/ e-mail address of mayoka village?  I am tring to send something to Collins and Martha…
    Take care, Maia x

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/18  at  12:58 AM


  • Hi Erik,
    Maia here from Mayoka Village…Malawi. Just dropping you a line to say hi and that I enjoyed reading your bit about that time and your sneeky pic of my cabin!  Am enjoying reading your travels since!  By any chance…do you have the address/ e-mail address of mayoka village?  I am tring to send something to Collins and Martha…
    Take care, Maia x

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/18  at  12:58 AM


  • ERIK: Great pics…as usual. Keep them coming. I guess France is where “royal avec frommage” comes into play.

    MARKYT: BAISSEZ-VOUS! LES GAZEEBOS EN DELAWARIE SONT TRES SPECTACULAIRES.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/18  at  01:10 AM


  • MAIA:  HEY!  What a surprise… glad you’re following along too!  All I have is Davie’s email… .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/18  at  01:23 AM


  • SZLACTA:  Hey there… welcome aboard to The Blog.  Hotel Colbert, like most of the places I’ve stayed on this trip, is pretty basic, although definitely not on the bottom of the barrel in all the places I’ve stayed.  I paid eight bucks for a room with a fullsize bed, washing sink, and terrace—$15 gets you a room with a private bath.

    When you get to Marrakesch… Stay at the Hotel Ali… its right near all the action and its roof terrace overlooks the main plaza in the medina…  For $14, I get my own room with private bath, a desk, A/C, breakfast and (the kicker) unlimited internet access in the cafe downstairs.  (I’m writing this comment there right now.)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/18  at  01:30 AM


  • Sure do like looking at pictures! Esp. ones in color!
    have a good weekend blog readers!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/18  at  01:58 AM


  • Hey Erik!

    Been a while.. great pix of Hassan II.  Enjoy Morocco!  We sure had a great time there.  Hope you’re going to the desert and to the Atlas Mountains.  Marrakech is certainly the place to go too!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/18  at  02:28 AM


  • Erik - can you give us some more accomodation pics? smile  I’m taking notes too about places to stay for my RTW!

    Posted by Liz  on  06/18  at  03:19 AM


  • Okay, the last picture on here - what is that? Is it a hole in the floor?
    The whole place is really cool - thanks for the pics. I was going to ask, “wow, they let you in there?” And then you mentioned that this one actually did. Awesome pics, as usual, thanks.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/18  at  05:09 AM


  • ESTER AND DEREK:  Yeah, Morocco ROCKS!  They should spell it MorROCKo…  Anyway, yeah, I’m headed to the mountains and the desert soon…  I’ll be taking photos of the Gladiator set like the one Derek has on his wall!

    G’day!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/18  at  02:26 PM


  • NOELLE:  That last pict… it’s the floor design in the main prayer room…  really ingenious architectural design…  the sections that look like pools of water are actually thick slabs of glass to represent water… they are windows that look down into the underground bathing area where real water flows…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/18  at  02:28 PM


  • That is SO neat - thanks for the pics. Wow. You’re right - ingenious architecture.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/19  at  07:39 PM


  • That place is so beautiful. Amazing design, so much light—thanks to the open roof. It’s massive, but with delicate details. A treat to see, thanks for the pics!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/24  at  02:49 AM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.


Next entry:
Next Train to Marrakesh

Previous entry:
Into The Arabian West




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