The Epicurious Wanderers!

Day 2: Meknes, time to Moroc’n’roll

Our first day in the road started with a visit to one of the most impressive sites in Casablanca – the massive edifice of the Mosque of Hassan II. Second only in size to the great mosque at Mecca.

This opulent mosque, built at enormous expense, is set on an outcrop jutting over the ocean with a 210m-tall minaret that’s a city landmark. It’s a showcase of the finest Moroccan artisanship: hand-carved stone and wood, intricate marble flooring and inlay, gilded cedar ceilings and exquisite zellige(geometric mosaic tilework) abound. It’s one of two Moroccan mosques open to non-Muslims; multilanguage guided tours are conducted outside prayer times for modestly clad visitors. There’s also a small museum showcasing the craftwork involved.

One of the largest mosques in Africa, it can hold 105,000 worshippers – 25,000 inside, the rest on the outside courtyards. Built and partially funded by King Hassan II (the remaining funds were gathered through a somewhat controversial public subscription process), the mosque complex was designed by French architect Michel Pinseau, took six years to build and was completed in 1993.

We were blessed to be the first group inside thanks to Intrepid Tours and our guide Adil. It is one of the most spiritual experiences I think I’ve ever had. We entered into the prayer hall first with it’s vast expanse of carved ceilings and intricate panelling before venturing below to the ablutions area with it’s mushroom like wash stands for men to cleanse themselves at before prayers. As with many things in Mulsim culture men and women are segregated in the mosque.

We then left Casablanca behind and drove north along the coast to Rabat, the elegant capital of Morocco and its first Imperial city. As we drove the countryside began to change, the wooded verges began to make way for cultivated farmlands and then became slightly arid as we traveled further.

Our first stop was to visit the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, a previous king of Morocco. It sits in the site of an unfinished mosque that was destroyed by the Lisbon Earthquake around 1700. The vast minaret of the Mosque of Hassan II stands as a reminder of the site while the mausoleum is a more recent addition. As with any site like this pictures just do capture the splendour or the atmosphere.

Next on our agenda was a walk through the medina and souks, then explore the lovely walled quarter known as the Kasbah des Oudaias. The meandering passages and alleys lead you through a different world. There are no cars, yet some of the apartments with their river and ocean views sell for in excess of 1 million according to Adil. Having seen the views I can understand why. After a wander we enjoyed some mint tea and pastries in a little treasure of a café overlooking the ocean and Bou Regreg river. This was a place we could have settled in to for a few hours, just add a gin and tonic or two and it would be sensational.

In the afternoon we continued on to Meknes, the former capital of Morocco, again the landscapes out the van window continued to morph around us. Entering Meknes the world changed, the van stopped next to a roadside market into the noise and bustle of everyday life. We thought at first it was a stroll through the market and a bit of sight seeing but no, this was our destination. Our bags were unloaded and placed onto old wheelbarrows. Then it was time to follow Adil into the median. Our accommodation for the night was tucked away in the maze that is a traditional Medina. Let’s hope we don’t get lost.

The Riad Ritaj is stunning, a traditional riad originally built in the 1100’s and then restored and renovated over time. The traditional courtyard has now been enclosed but their is a simply magnificent rooftop terrace and the most intricate carvings adorn the walls and ceilings.

After settling in we set out to explore the markets. If you can’t find what you want here, it probably doesn’t exist! While wandering we met up with a couple on the journey with us. Haydn was in need of a local sim, so off we set to see what we could do. We found a Maroc Telecom vendor, but he spoke little English. Enter the friendly shopkeeper over the other side of the alley. He translated and we’re in business. As it would take a few minutes Helen and Michelle went next door to get coffee. The barista told them to sit and then wandered away leaving them in charge, apparently he had no milk. As he returned I asked our initial translator where I could get large bottles of water for our journey. He didn’t give me directions, instead he said no problem, I come with you and promptly shut his shop. It the turns out the little stall we went to was only 50m down the alley to the left. Not only did he guide me, but he insisted on carrying the water back for me. When we got back to his shop I tipped him, he smiled and them slipped away into the crowd, not reopening his business. Hopefully he wasn’t afraid we’d ask him for more favours.

After a brief rest it was out for dinner, but not to a restaurant. Adil had arranged for us to dine with a local family at their house. We entered their modest dwelling were treated like royalty. Bowls of a special soup only served during Ramadan were paired with pastries and followed by meat and vegetable tagines with the most amazing flavours. Truly a wonderful meal.

If this is our first day on the road, we can’t wait to see what follows.

One thought on “Day 2: Meknes, time to Moroc’n’roll