Sarah and Eitan arrived to Casablanca a day earlier. The hotel for the night was by far the best hotel of the whole trip, very luxurious like nothing we stayed before. Perfect for a change in pace, especially after the terrible night sleep we had in Italy the night before.
Casablanca does not offer much, and we were going to go sightseeing when Dan and Elly arrived the next day, so we just relaxed in the super ridiculously comfy bed. At night, we just walked to a recommended traditional restaurant where we enjoyed an amazing first taste of Moroccan food. On the way back, there was a concert in the middle of the street where we were invited to sit in the front row to drink some mint tea and enjoy the music (Moroccans are great hosts!)… unfortunately I forgot my camera that night as it was a very neat cultural experience! Luckily the restaurant was so amazing that we chose to return with Dan and Elly the next night so the restaurant was photographed.
And now, on the WhereIsNoodle saga, two become four.
Elly and Dan Wolf, the parental people related to the Wandering Noodles, landed at Casablanca airport at 8:30am, where they were met by the young Berber (more on that later) Moroccan, Hassan Outla, who was to be our guide for the next eventful 11 days.
Elly and Dan were very excited to be in this intriguing new land, but at this exact moment, Morocco was actually secondary. Let’s see, how should we put this? Well, basically, Elly was sh–ting in her pants. She hadn’t seen Sarah (and, oh right, Eitan) in five months and couldn’t get our driver Mohammed to speed fast enough to our hotel.
We finally made it. In the big lobby, breakfast was being served … and there, at a table, was SARAH! (and Eitan) Elly sped to her daughter and, with everyone else in the lobby staring at the mad woman was, the grand reunion took place.
Once everyone’s pulses returned to normal, we all had breakfast together and began what was to essentially be a two and a-half week conversation.
The new care package was delivered to Sarah and Eitan with some nice fresh clothes and toiletries. Dan secretly wants Eitan to dress like him, maybe he just wants to feel young once again.
Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco, as well as one of the largest and most important cities in Africa, both economically and demographically. Casablanca is considered the economic and business center of Morocco, although the national political capital is Rabat.
After dropping off the bags, we went for a walk through the open market, which seemed very exotic, but was like a Safeway supermarket compared to what we were to experience in the days ahead.
This market had stands selling everything imaginable: clothes, shoes, leather articles, souvenirs, etc…
Moroccan shoes are a famous souvenir.
It didn’t take long for the girls to start buying all Morocco. Sarah had discovered hippie pants early in the trip, for like $3 per pants, these things only last a couple months of use.
We found the Casablanca Cathedral (church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus) is a former Roman Catholic church that was built in 1930. It ceased its religious function in 1956, after the independence of Morocco, and became a cultural centre which is open to visitors.
The church was designed by French architect Paul Tournon, using the Neo-Gothic style. It is commonly referred to as a cathedral although in reality it has never technically been one as it was never the seat of a bishop.
We found a synagogue and were surprised that we were welcomed in after just ringing the doorbell. Morocco has never had the hostility toward Jews of other Arab Muslim countries and Moroccans are very proud of the fact that their nation was the very first to recognize the United States, actually before it was called the United States – in 1777.
While the city boasts more than 30 synagogues, the synagogue Beth-El is often considered the center-piece of a once vibrant Jewish community. Don’t worry, the whole Moroccan trip will have many more synagogues and Jewish cementeries, just in case you think one is not enough!
Back at the hotel, Elly took a nap and Dan went with Sarah and Eitan (hereafter to be known as “the kids”) to lunch.
We stopped at a small restaurant in the middle of the city to enjoy some Fatush salad and a couple other kebab-looking dishes. All delicious!
We walked to a hookah bar. Hookahs (or large metal objects according to Dan) are hard to find in Morocco due to a recent government crackdown on these establishments because they used the hookahs to smoke illegal drugs instead of tobocco. Eitan got Dan to take his first and last puff from such a thing, and then the two fellows got into a debate about God and religion, with the magnitude of the discussion starting to overwhelm Dan’s jet-lagged brain.
After a great hookah and mint tea session, we picked up Elly from her nap and we all walked to dinner. We went to a lovely Casablanca-esque courtyard restaurant, where for a time Dan was about 92% asleep.
The food was absolutely amazing. We tried the traditional Moroccan dish called Tagine accompanied by many small dishes which Sarah absolutely loves.
The restaurant had live traditional music!
We got some amazing desert made out of filo, almonds and cream. Delicious!
Our final mission was to walk to Rick’s Café, which the kids had been told on their drive from the airport was the “real” Rick’s Café featured in the 1942 film “Casablanca.” Eitan was convinced this must be so, but Dan assured him that the real Rick’s was in Burbank, California on a soundstage at Warner Bros. Well, score one for wise old Dan, since we were told that this Rick’s opened in 2002.
This victory revived Dan enough to energize him back to the hotel, where he and Elly collapsed.
The next morning we were picked up by Hasan and Mohammed in order to visit the incredible Hassan II mosque!
It is the largest mosque in Morocco and the 13th largest in the world. At 689 feet, the Great Mosque’s minaret is the tallest structure in Morocco and the tallest minaret in the world. At night, lasers shine a beam from the top of the minaret toward Mecca, “to point the way to God.”
The project is estimated to have cost as much as $800 million, funds that were remarkably raised entirely from public subscription. International reports have suggested both local resentment and less-than-voluntary donations to the project, but Moroccans seem to be genuinely proud of their monument. The massive fundraising also had a positive side-effect: it temporarily reduced Morocco’s money supply and brought down inflation.
The walls are of hand-crafted marble and the roof is retractable. A maximum of 105,000 worshippers can gather together for prayer: 25,000 inside the mosque hall and another 80,000 on the mosque’s outside grounds
Downstairs are Turkish-style baths and fountains for washing with strong Moorish influences, bringing to mind the Alhambra and Mezquita in Spain.
And so, The Final Noodle Adventure begins with an addition of two Wolfs! (please note, blog writing may have some different vocabulary as Eitan and Dan are collaborating in the writing!_
Bonus Pic Of The Day: The original name of the city was Anfa, in Berber language, by at least the seventh century BC. After the Portuguese took control of Anfa in the 15th century AD, they rebuilt it, changing the name to Casa Branca. It derives from the Portuguese word combination meaning “White House” (branca “white”, casa “house”). The present name, which is the Spanish version, came when the Portuguese kingdom was integrated to the Spanish kingdom. It is no coincidence that most buildings in the city are indeed painted white.