Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Travel Tuesday : Casablanca, Morocco

After a long train ride yesterday from Fez, we arrived here in Casablanca. Got off the train and stepped into a (relatively) cool breeze -- since we're back at the coast. Got to our hotel (the Guynemer), which LP raves about, but it's nothing special. I mean, it's a small room in a dingy hotel, but it does have a friendly staff and wi-fi. It's all we wanted in a place to crash for a night before flying to Egypt.

Walked around Casa a bit yesterday -- there are some grand old facades in this town -- but it's all dirty and poorly maintained. It's not a poor city -- there's lots of international business here -- but perhaps the lack of rain keeps everything coated with dust.

We were most saddened by the ruined Hotel Lincoln. It was built in 1919 as the Bessonneau building, designed by French architect Hubert Bride. The huge structure was featured in old postcards, dominating the former Boulevard de la Gare.

Varying reports say that after the owner attempted to get permission to tear down the building, the authorities responded by giving the building protected status. So the building was abandoned and squatters were allowed to move in -- in the hopes that they would slowly but surely destroy the structure from within.

Here was the status of the exterior when we saw it in 2009:

The strategy seemed to work -- with a partial  collapse of the building in 1989 that killed two people, another in 2004 that killed one more, and yet another in 2015 that killed another man. At the same time the area was being revitalized. Note the tram line on a newly pedestrianized section of Morocco running immediately in front of the ruined hotel in this 2018 photo:

photo from L'Economiste
Meanwhile calls for proposals on how to save at least the facade and renovate the structure went out three times between 2015 and 2018. The last report I could find stated that a proposal from the REALITES group had been accepted and they planned to build out a 5-star hotel to open in 2022.

Made the trek (skirting the medina and inadvertently passing through some dodgy areas, but in broad daylight) to Rick's Cafe -- modelled on the bar in the film... which was, of course, actually modelled on the Caid's Bar in Tangier. But we figured we'd be bummed, later, if we didn't at least have a drink there.

Not very imposing on the outside (why on earth didn't they invest in a neon sign?)...

... but it is beautiful inside, even if it doesn't look anything like Rick's.

Had a drink in the upstairs bar; the drink was stiff if expensive, the service non-existent... but it was the first time we had had a service charge applied. Happy to have our one drink, beg someone to give us the bill, wait 5 minutes to pay them, and then skedaddle.

On the way to Rick's we came across the Hassan II mosque, the third-largest mosque in the world. It's so big you can scarcely believe it -- it's set a bit apart from other buildings so you don't get a sense of how big it is. But it can house 25,000 worshippers at once, along with another 80,000 in the surrounding squares and halls. Beautiful, but not open to non-Muslims. (fair enough).

After Rick's we decided to get some food, and followed LP's recommendation for Al-Mounia -- which was gorgeous and classy in a way that Rick's will never be. Stepping through a guarded door into an amazing fairy-lit courtyard with a huge tree providing shade.

Were seated quickly, and then not long after we arrived the crowds came. We told them we were vegetarian and they brought out a 6-plate salad to share as a starter -- huge thing... an eggplant salad, two different pepper salads, the tomato and onion salad, a cucumber salad, and... oddest of all... ground carrot with sugar. Honest.

They were all delicious (well, the carrot was odd but still tasty) and very filling, so when our vegetable couscous came we weren't very hungry. The waiter was funny and charming and pretended to be sad that we didn't finish our couscous (or our "dessert couscous" that came with walnuts, dates, and a liberal coating of powdered sugar). But it was relatively inexpensive and absolutely Moroccan.

Up next: Egypt!

No comments:

Post a Comment