Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Winter Holiday - Casablanca, Morocco

This is my first time in Morocco. I wasn't really sure what to expect of the culture. There are a few things you can count on being different from home, local cuisine and traffic.

Lets just say I made it back alive.

Casablanca is a busy city, it has a big port and once dropped off by the shuttle, map in hand we just start walking. Traffic is busy and once we come to the first major intersection I make the observation that there doesn't seem to be any pedestrian signals or anything that closely resembles a cross walk. That's not too bad if you're just dealing with a quiet 2 or even 4 lane road. But how about 6 lanes of traffic in each direction, a round-about and 5 or 6 streets converging together. Safety in numbers is my strategy, or follow a Mother pushing a stroller.

First stop is the Sacre Coeur Cathedral, yes there is one in Casablanca.

What an amazing space! White painted interior, beautiful coloured stained glass that seemed to glow. Extremely high roof line, your eye is drawn up immediately. Interesting art exhibit inside that seemed to revolve around woodwork (no English translation so I'm not sure, will have to look it up when I get home). The man at the entrance spoke no English but we managed to communicate with my extremely limited French. He was very friendly, big smiles and made sure we noticed all the important details. Like how behind the main alter all the stained glass were the flags of different countries. Couldn't find Canada but not sure when the windows were constructed as it could have been prior to Canada being it's own country.

Once I thought we were done, the nice man then came out from behind his table and motioned for us to follow him. He lead us to one of the towers and told us we could climb all the way to the top to view all of Casablanca.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

What started out as nice wide concrete steps quickly got narrower and narrower as I went higher. The pigeons were nested inside the window recesses and as the steps narrowed the pigeon droppings increased (insert bad smell here). I got up as high as the first roof line and I stepped out to take a few shots of the city.

I started up the next level but then decided against it as the steps got even more narrow, more pigeons (swooping this time), more pigeon droppings and my knees began to wobble as the vertigo kicked in. Time to head back down the stairs I think.

Back on solid ground we said thank you to the nice man and I asked if I could take his photo and he jumped up immediately and stood at the entrance to the cathedral sanctuary and made sure it was in the shot he was so proud of it. He then put his arm around C and had a huge smile. He introduced himself as Mustapha. He just cracked me up with his enthusiasm :)

Once back outside I took a few shots of the exterior (ok, more than a few) as it's such an interesting design.

Almost kind of an art deco take on the Parisian Sacre Couer. Again I'll have to look up more info on the internet once I get home.

Next we make our way to the Church of Notre-Dame de Lourdes. Completed in the 1950's it doesn't look like much from the outside but inside the stained glass is overwhelming. Usually the windows are way up high and you can't appreciate all the detail. This is the reverse. All the glass starts at the ground level and is the length of both sides of the sanctuary.

Absolutely fabulous, and with the sun shining in and the place to ourselves it was a wonder to behold.

Last stop before heading back to the ship is the Old Medina or market. We went in one of the side entrances and as bad timing would have it the service at the Mosque just finished and we seem to be walking in the wrong direction as everyone else. But we manage to wiggle through like salmon swimming up stream. The market itself reminds me a bit of the barras in Glasgow in that much of what is for sale is just a bunch of dodgy cheap merchandise. Sneakers, clothing, electronic gadgets of questionable origin and strangely enough more than a few hair salons and barber shops.

The layout is fascinating. Its a labyrinth of lanes, none of which seem to follow in a straight line for very long before veering left or right. We seem to hit their version of siesta and many of the shop fronts are closed. Eventually we come across the food stalls and this is what I imagined the area to look like. Tables stacked high with fresh oranges, spices, breads and thankfully not a cobra to be seen.

We don't venture too far into the market for fear of not being able to find our way back out again but it was enough just to get a taste of it.

Next port - Agadir, Morocco

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