Casablanca

We flew into Casablanca Wednesday, arriving mid-afternoon. We were met at the airport by Ali, who manages the Airbnb. It was a long drive into the city, through very congested traffic.

The apartment is on the 14th floor, overlooking the harbor and the train station and lots of construction. This is the vacation home of Alexandre, who lives in Paris. Unlike most Airbnbs, which are furnished with the owner’s cast-off stuff supplemented by thrift shop finds, Alexandre’s furnishings have been carefully selected. A kitchy-chic melange of oddball antiques, like an old barber’s chair, a lamp that is a life-size statue of an African princess, a walk/don’t walk sign… Lots of Coca Cola, a Coke sign from a bar, Coke cans on the wall holding chalk for a blackboard. The bathroom floor is paved with old French coins.

Where there was a choice to be made, Alexandre selected appearance over functionality, so the bathtub, on a 3 foot tall platform, accessible by steep, narrow steps, is unusable (we tried, and at the end felt lucky we survived the climb and decent).

Thursday, we had a cooking class with Chamsi Dib, half Algerian, half Quebecoise who has lived in Casablanca for 5 years with her husband and small son. First, we went to the market where we got some shrimp, a cuttlefish, a chicken, vegetables, and some ras al hanout for us to bring home. Next, off to a bakery, Moroccan on one side, French on the other. At the front door, a woman was stacking little bite-size goodies of filo dough soaked in honey into a little mountain. The place smelled great. We got bread for dinner along with some sweets for dessert.

Back at Chamsi’s house, we started chopping: cilantro, parsley, eggplant, fennel and the seafood. The eggplant went on a steamer. Had some nice Moroccan red wine, very dry and delicious. Meanwhile, the seafood went into cooked rice noodles, we added a bunch of spices, mixed then all together and let them marinade. Next, a wet rub for the chicken, which went into the tagine pot and onto a wood fire.

We wrapped the seafood mixture with filo dough in various shapes and into the oven. Had some wine while Maria learned how to post to Instagram.

We mixed the steamed eggplant with herbs and spices then into a frying pan to cook down. Let it cool.

Set the table and had a wonderful Moroccan dinner. The best day of the trip so far.

Today, Friday, we’re on the train to Rabat to meet the OAT group. Maria’s surprise is now fully exposed. We’re a little sad that we’re no longer on our own, but the group will go places we’d never be able to arrange ourselves.

Saturday
So… We arrived at the Rabat train station and took a taxi to the hotel without incident. The hotel is a “5 star” businessman hotel. It sucks. The boss is obviously an asshole, everyone who works here is kind of sullen, no smiles and cheerful greetings here. No coffee/tea station in the room, even the rustic little farmhouse in Bhutan had that. We sent out some clothes for expensive laundering and they delivered them to us at 11:00pm, waking us to do so, even though we said tomorrow would be fine.

First stop was the restaurant, where we had salads, which were okay when they finally arrived at the table. Then we met Zak, our trip leader, and four other travelers who had arrived early. We got on a tram for a little walk around Rabat. As we walked, I started feeling hot and dizzy, then realized I’d better get off the main street. I made it to a corner, ducked into a side street and threw up the sucky hotel lunch as my new traveling companions looked on. That relieved the pressure, and I continued the walk, but on the tram back, I had to jump off at a stop and hurled again, this time in a planter on the platform, as drivers on the adjacent street looked on. I felt like a wino. Back to the hotel and bed.

Zak went to a pharmacy and got me some anti-nausea medicine.

This morning I was shaky and Maria wasn’t doing too well either. After an afternoon nap interrupted by screaming American teenagers at the pool, we felt better.

Dinner tonight was at a Riad, an old Moroccan home built around a courtyard. The food was really good and several of the dishes were the same as we made in the cooking class, so we could show off our new Moroccan cuisine expertise. Maria even remembered the Moroccan name of one of the dishes.

Tomorrow we’re off to Fez and the real tour begins.