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Oct
25

Flights to Casablanca-an expat’s guide to Morocco

morocco

morocco

When locals  think of Casablanca, they think of  strong, dark coffee served in thimble-sized glasses, sweet mint tea. They think of  fresh fish at the port, strolls to the local market and stock up on fresh oranges for juice, melons, mangoes, peaches and plums, heaps of avocados, asparagus, tomatoes, and great bunches of herbs.

fruits

fruits

Everything’s grown locally, odd-shaped and available only when in season. People here are gentle and the sound of donkeys braying in the night never is far.

laden donkeys

laden donkeys

Casablanca has always lured foreigners from their cities, artists and designers in particular have moved here to avoid sexual repression at home. Which is odd if you think about it. After all, one would think that Muslim countries would have less tolerance for homosexuals and drug addicts than say New York or Paris, but people like Saint Laurent and Paul Bowles, a hero of mine, flourished here in their grand villas smoking opium, writing and having harems of young boys.

Paul Bowles 1975

Paul Bowles 1975

But I, as usual, digress.

Before booking flights to Casablanca, learn about the customs. Most Moroccans are Muslim, and some follow the daily schedule of praying five times per day. The weekends are Thursday and Friday, and almost everything is closed on Fridays.

During Ramadan, expats are not required to participate in the fasting, but should not eat, drink, smoke or chew gum in public. So its good to know when Ramadan is (Ramadan in 2012 will start on Friday, the 20th of July and continues for 30 days until Saturday, the 18th of August) because you may find a plethora of cheap flights to Casablanca but it’s not a good time to go. It  cuts out on the pleasure of ordering a huge meal when you know everyone around you is abstaining for spiritual reasons.

ramadan

ramadan

For Moroccans honor and pride are important. You can feel their sense of dignity no matter what social rung they happen to come from. Honor is maintained at all costs and they seem to care greatly what others think of them, which is not great when you happen to be one of their daughters just trying to have a little fun.   This is reflected in the way that other people see them, so they make sure to keep a respectable reputation. They avoid “hshuma,” which is a guilty feeling after they know they have done something bad. They will often refrain from certain activities in public in order to not face this.

henna hands

henna hands

The center of the Moroccan social life is one’s family. People are close with their extended families, and their individual interests come after the interests of the greater family. They have a lot of respect for the elder members of the family, and will put great emphasis in their opinions.

When Moroccans greet each other, they will usually shake hands with members of the same sex. Moroccans who know each other will spend some time talking about people they know and other topics. Westerners may find Moroccan handshakes to be rather weak. When people start to know each other, members of the same sex will kiss each other on both cheeks. If a man and woman happen to greet each other, the woman usually extends her hand first, or the man must bow to her. If you are meeting a bunch of people at once, you should shake hands with the person to your right, and then go around the room from right to left. When you leave, say bye to everyone individually.

women in casablanca

women in casablanca

If you are invited to stay at a Moroccan house, pack a gift from home and bring it with you on your flight to Casablanca. Or if you forgot,  a gift of pastries, figs, dates or just flowers. As it is a Muslim society, many people don’t drink, so don’t bring wine unless you know for sure that the hosts drink.  Gifts are not opened when received. Dress conservatively, take off your shoes before you go into the house. Don’t assume that you can bring your spouse along, as some Moroccans will only hold single-gender parties.

traditional handwashing

traditional handwashing

Moroccan table manners are different from Western ones. When you eat, the food will usually go on a knee-high round table. Moroccans will usually pass around a washing basin to clean your hands before you start your meal, and will give you with a towel to dry them off. Don’t start eating until the host does. Food bowls are communal, but you should eat from the section that is in front of you. You should scoop up food with a piece of bread, which is actually trickier than it sounds. Only use the right hand for eating, the left is considered unclean. Drinking water is served in a communal glass as well. At the end of the meal, they will bring out the washing basin again.

And now for the cities of Morocco

casablanca on the water

casablanca on the water

Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco, and is located on the Atlantic Ocean, as the country’s biggest port. Casablanca has a population of over 3.6 million people. They call this city “Caza.” It  is considered to be the economic and industrial center of Morocco. A metro and a tram are both under construction, but will not be finished for at least another few years. There is a scenic old town of Casablanca that has lots of mosques, historic landmarks, open air markets and other activities. Some nice neighborhoods in Casablanca are Gauthier and Anfa. This city is always warm.

passagiata

passagiata

The newly renovated Hyatt Hotel is a stone’s throw from the heart of the city and has a fantastic pool.

check the pool

check the pool

If you want to eat out for lunch there are so many great places.   And standards are high.  Chez Paul  with outdoor dining, attentive service and spectacular pastries. La Toscana for fabulous pizzas, and Sqala in a former Portuguese fortress, which serves amazing Moroccan dishes.

Other districts like Habbous, where the Royal Palace is located and the gigantic Mosque of Hassan II also the central market to explore on foot and soak up the atmosphere of 1930s Morocco.

And then there’s Rabat

rabat parliament

rabat parliament

The capital city of the kingdom of Morocco, it’s situated on the Atlantic ocean as well as the river Bou Regreg. About 2 million people live in Rabat. This is where the foreign embassies are as well as the factories.

With no international airport, it makes do with Casablanca’s, but that is 70 miles away.

rabat

rabat

But you know what? There’s a silver lining here Rabat’s shortfall of travelers and factories has many compensating advantages. Rabat is orderly, the city is free of Casablanca’s sticky traffic  and the importunate touts and faux guides that plague Fez and Marrakesh. Rabat’s jostling markets stock all the same fine handicrafts, from thick-piled Tazenakht carpets to polished wooden boxes. From the backstreet workshops that make such things comes the shuttlecocking of looms and tapping of hammers. But here, goods for the tourist trade mingle with everyday stuff: barrels of glistening olives and sticky pyramids of sweets, pots and pans, cafĂ©s Internet. And here, unique in Morocco, prices are pretty much fixed. Merchants roll their eyes if you push for a bargain. “Mais monsieur,” they will say, “nos prix sont corrects.”

tangiers

tangiers

Tangier

is located in Northern Morocco, near the Strait of Gibraltar, which is where the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean connect. Spain is only 20 miles away from Tangier. About 700,000 people live in Tangier. This city is diverse in heritage and cultures, like the Berbers and Phoenicians, and has become a place for many Europeans, Americans and Indians to visit and live. It also has much Spanish and French influence. Several famous Western artists, from William S Burroughs to Tennessee Williams to the Rolling Stones, have spent time in Tangiers.  Five star hotels, a business district, a new airport terminal and soccer stadium are all in the works. This is likely to change the city a good deal in the future. After Casablanca, Tangiers is the second most important industrial center of Morocco.

stunning hotels

stunning hotels

Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen

A beautiful mountain village in northwest Morocco, noted for its buildings which are almost all painted in shades of blue. Located just inland from Tangier and Tetouan, Chefchaouen is close to major international cities but still with all the charm of small culture and eccentric local looks.

Tourists make a point of coming here  because really this town is the embodiment of almost every Moroccan cliché. Set against the dramatic backdrop of the Rif Mountains,  the call to prayer seems to echo in serene chorus out of several mosques around the town. If you’re looking for somewhere to relax from the rigors of life, this is a good place to do it.

The mellow atmosphere here is also aided by the fact that Chefchaouen is at the center of the marijuana plantations region in North Morocco. Drugs are widespread in the town, but also widely tolerated. It could be said that this is the Moroccan version of Amsterdam.

perfect backdrop

perfect backdrop

Chefchaouen has great native handicrafts that are not available elsewhere in Morocco, such as wool garments and woven blankets. The goat cheese native to the area is fantastic.

Hit the medina, which is the focal point of interest for most visitors to Chefchaouen, but also check out the waterfall  to the east of the medina – it’s a meeting point for local residents who come to cool off, chat and do their laundry.

chefchaouen-medina

chefchaouen-medina

Of course, just walking around the town with its whitewashed walls, originally decorated in this style by Jewish immigrants, can be a nice way to forget all else. You could even roll up a joint and pretend you’re Paul Bowles.

Eine spezielle vakuumröhre, so ghostwriter zeit wie sie in bild 1 dargestellt ist

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