After a quick minibus to the Casablanca train station we took a nice train to Rabat. Wait, are we in first class? Yes we are, and the tickets say second class. Is that a problem?
Well the train conductor certainly thought so, and he didn't seem at all impressed with the tour guide's explanation, leaving and returning a couple of times to make unhappy faces. We started to wonder if our tour guide had just tried to get us a free upgrade, or if as the cynics in the group thought, if he was supposed to have bought us first-class tickets and just pocketed the difference… Clearly opinions of Moroccan business ethics were already sinking :).
We arrived in Rabat and decamped for lunch. Not thrilled by the prices at the suggested place, a group of us went for a walk. Not finding the kind of thing we really wanted, and realising we were quickly running out of the allotted time, we ended up going to a place and getting omelettes (we had been thoroughly warned off salads). None of us spoke French; what are crevettes? I decided to brave finding out by ordering that one… Turned out to be shrimp.
Oh well, we're by the sea, probably fresh enough, how bad can it be? Hmm, omelette is undercooked. Hmmmm.
Erm, oh well, gave it a go. Mint tea! Mint tea good. They serve it after dinner, which is crazy for me – mint tea is tea plus mint (and sugar), not tea made from mint, so it still has full caffeine. Lunchtime seems good, though I don't know, they probably look upon us having it then like I do when Sarah has curry for breakfast.
We rejoined the group and went for a walk through the market streets to get to the Kasbah. The market was an experience – most of it was your usual, but one stall was selling random parts of pigs… with an attendant swarm of flies. Don't think the stalls next to it would be worth so much. Lots of stalls selling dates, others pastries – all looked good, except maybe for the flies crawling on them.
The kasbah (castle) was by the sea, and being slowly restored. There's an old graveyard in the grassy patch in front of it. There's a densely packed more modern graveyard across the road too, and we could see a third across the other side of the bay. It seemed odd to place graveyards by the sea – I guess it must not be too stormy – but then there's no real reason we should put them on top of hills either.
It's certainly peaceful there by the sea – Rabat is the capital of Morocco and although it's on the tourist loop it wasn't too in your face, and the big block buildings by the sea are very scenic in the sun. I could hear the call to prayer wafting from the minaret across the bay – just like I would have imagined.
Inside the kasbah there's a nice gardens we wandered around, and a jewellery museum talking about the styles of different parts. It sort of breaks up into houses on the back end, which we wandered around – a few painted almost like Chefchaouen in blue. Saw some interesting stencil graffiti art on a dusty wall – three-headed monsters, desert caravans, what looked like a Portuguese galleon.
We wandered around the coast to get to the Mausoleum of Mohammed V (Sultan, then exile from, and finally King, of Morocco), which is on a site including the incomplete Hassan Tower, the built half of what was intended to be the 12th century's biggest minaret. There are some column sections and fragments of the original wall of the incomplete mosque too, though it crumbled quickly.
The mausoleum itself has, aside from the coffin, decorations inside and out, and national guards, a Koran reader.
It's a shame the grounds weren't a little better kept, the fountains were dry and some broken, lying uprooted in a pile. The garden had some amazingly colored bird-of-paradise flowers though, and there's a nice row of trees beside the complex.
We had stopped there before we went in as we ran into a nice ex-Iraqi couple that we had seen at our hotel in Casablanca. They had both moved to the US decades ago, later meeting and marrying (he had been fortunate enough to be out of the country on a technical training course when war broke out and simply didn't return!).
They talked at length about what was they thought wrong with Iraq (quite scathing of the politicians and so on left in the country – they said everyone with a brain left years ago and that everything right down to the language had gone downhill since then!) and how things had played out there, about why Melissa should learn classical standard Arabic instead of Moroccan (which of course she was, already), but also about the merits of Spanish and Moroccan oranges – which they kindly bestowed on us! Smaller than ours, but very fragrant.
It is great to have random encounters and hear people's stories. It was a little sad to hear they could never go back to visit relatives still in the country though – too tempting a kidnapping/ransom target.
Anyway, after talking to them, going through the mosque/mausoleum, and wandering around we were running short for time to get back and meet the group before the train. We tried and completely failed to get a taxi back and after walking for a bit realised we would be way late, so ran and ran – and didn't get even close before realising we hadn't gone a very direct route (which of those two mosques were we supposed to turn off at again?) and were now late! We managed at last to find a taxi and scrambled back to meet the group and catch our train on to Meknes, hot and a bit unkempt. We are usually so punctual!
I enjoyed this day – it had a nice pace otherwise.
The train was a bit trying – very late, and packed so full that we could hardly get our bags in the door, standing in the corridors and contorting around to let people on and off. After a couple of hours it thinned out a bit and we progressively got seats.
Our hotel in Meknes seemed nice enough. But it did have amusingly tiny towels. I imagine this is what Luther feels like all the time.