December 15-16, 2015
São Paulo Airport:
After much research about how to get to the international airport in São Paulo, we decided to take an uber from our hotel. We would have loved to take public transit to save money but nothing was running at 4 in the morning. With new user discounts, the ride to airport, 25 miles away, cost us less than $10 USD.
We arrived at the airport much faster than we expected- there was no traffic on the road so early in the morning. With our extra time we decided to hunt for the elusive Amex Centurion Lounge for a free breakfast. People we asked in the airport all gave us different answers and pointed us in all different directions. We learned that the lounges were in another terminal a 15 minute walk away. With nothing else to do, we walked a mile through abounded hallways to terminal 3. There we found serval VIP lounges but no Centurion Lounge! Turns out it is was actually in terminal one. Darn!
We boarded our flight on Royal Air Maroc and noticed how slim and streamlined the seats were. Each seat had a personal TV. There was an Arabic feel to the plane with the intricate patterns on the walls and Arabic print. It was a large plane, 7 seats wide. The announcements on the plane were in Arabic and English.
I slept most of the flight while Scott watched movies. We were served two meals on the plane, a measly breakfast and lunch with a choice of fish or chicken. The 9 hour flight went by surprisingly quickly.
We Arrive in Casablanca:
In the Casablanca airport we noticed French, Arabic, and English writing on all of the signs. We passed through immigration, exchanged some money, and wandered outside in search of a taxi.
We were bombarded by several cab drivers outside and choose one that spoke a bit of english (and Spanish, Dutch, French and Arabic) his english wasn't great, so we communicated with him mostly in Spanish. We asked him to take us to the Hassan II Mosque- we were trying to cram in as many sights as possible with our limited time in Casablanca. We got stuck in horrible traffic for almost an hour and when we finally made it to the mosque it was closed. Our driver was kind enough to stop and wait while we took pictures, then he drove us to our hotel. He told us eagerly several times that he would take us around the following day, for a set price, as our personal driver taking us to all of the sights we wanted to see. We preferred to walk around the following day to see the city for ourselves. When we arrived at the hotel the taxi driver got out of the cab, escorted us to the hotel and optimistically gave us his number.
Our hotel was located in a cobble stone plaza, where several kids were playing soccer. The hotel was nice enough, but the man behind the desk was very grumpy and made it very clear that we were distracting him from a TV show he was engrossed in.
We set our bags down in our room and headed out to dinner at Dar Beida- a restaurant inside the Hyatt but with incredible reviews of authentic food, music and belly dancing. It was a quick walk from our hotel and we were able to see some of the street culture on the way there. We passed through a winding alley and on to the Main Street where we heard some traditional music playing faintly in the distance and saw women in traditional garb.
When we arrived at Dar Bedia, we learned that the entire restaurant had been booked by a company dinner for the entire evening. We asked at the reception desk for another restaurant recommendation and they suggested a place called Basmane, 20 minutes away by cab. They helped us even further by hailing us a taxi and negotiating the price of 100 dirhams round trip. The cab would take us to the restaurant and back. This driver, like the other was incredibly kind. He spoke great english and told us about the must see sights in Morocco. He also suggested that he drive us to all the sights we wanted to see the next day for a set price- it must be something all cab drivers push on tourists. He dropped us at the restaurant and insisted that we didn't pay until he took us back to the hotel later. We were shocked and impressed that he was so trusting.
We arrived at the restaurant just in time to see the belly dancing performance. Two belly dancers alternated between sections of the restaurant dancing to traditional music.
The restaurant was beautiful with colorful tiling from floor to ceiling. It was dimly light with a purple glow and intricate chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Oriental carpets lined the floors and all of the seating was plush and comfortable. We were surprised to see a couple people smoking in the restaurant. We noticed smoking inside other buildings as well.
We ordered a Moroccan wine, a Moroccan salad sampler platter, a pastry filled with almonds and chicken, and a lamb dish with vegetables for our entry. The variety of salads came out on about ten different small plates and filled our whole table. My favorite was the sweet potato purée salad with peanuts. Some of the others had cucumbers, eggplant, oranges, spinach- all with unique flavored and spices. We both agreed that the chicken and almond pastry was our favorite. Dinner cost around $60 USD, a bit of a splurge for us but justified because we only had one night in Morocco. We called our cab driver and he was back at the restaurant shortly.
3 Hours to See the City:
We woke up early to maximize the few hours we had left in Casablanca. Breakfast was provided by the hotel- hard boiled eggs, olives, coffe, orange juice, bread, jam, and cheese.
After breakfast we walked over to the train station. After talking with another tourist in the hotel we decided that a train was the fastest and most cost effective way to get to the airport. We checked out the train times at the station and then headed to see the open air central market, Marche Central. Unfortunately, it was so early that the stands were closed. The vendors were sweeping and clearing trash, getting ready to set up for the day.
We left the market and walked through and area of the city called Old Medina. This area of the city is comprised of small winding alleys, built before cars- no grid system and very easy to get lost in. We wandered through the maze of streets and saw some life, street venders getting their shops open, many small family owned shops selling different types of bread, corner stores, and people going about their daily routines. But because of the early morning hour it was still rather quiet. It's a largely residential area and we observed long narrow houses sandwiched between alleys. It was a run down area with lots of trash on the street but it had a lot of character. We navigated our way back to a Main Street and noticed the Hassan II Mosque not too far in the distance. With enough time to spare we figured we would check it out in the day light.
As we approached the mosque the rising sun illuminated it and it really was stunning. It sits right on the water. Delicate tile work covered arches surrounding the mosque. The mosque was huge with large arc shaped door ways. It was really beautiful. We stopped to take pictures and admire for a while.
We walked back toward our hotel back through the Old Medina part of town. the alley ways were getting more lively as it was getting later. Street venders were out and a larger crowd was wondering the streets. We found ourselves lost for a bit but eventually found our way back to the hotel.
We grabbed our bags and headed toward the train station. We bought two tickets for 80 dirham total for second class seats. We caught the train at 11, and it literally took us inside the airport. Much more convenient and faster than a cab. With the exception of the crying baby the entire train ride.
With an effortless pass through customs and security and a conversation with a friendly Polish tourist we found our gate and were ready to board the plane...Until Scott checked his phone and learned about a fraudulent charge on his credit card.
I (Scott) received an email from Barclay suggesting one of my charges may have been fraudulent. I check my credit cards, as well my credit score from 2 different agencies at least every 2 days. I hadn't checked in the last few days because of how much time we had spent running around. I called the credit card company and found out there were half a dozen unauthorized charges to my credit card. I was able to have the charges reversed, another card overnighted to me in Lisbon, and the existing card canceled all while I was inline to board. I think the ATM had scammed me in Rio...go figure. I had accidentally put in my credit card instead of my ATM card--one is purple and the other is dark blue. I'm crossing my fingers that nothing goes wrong with my ATM card.
On Another Note: Last week a collection hit my credit file. I compiled and sent in a dispute to 2 of the credit agencies. TransUnion has already rectified, and removed, the collection on my file. I'm not too worried about the other agency as when one agency updates its files they will relay the updated information to the other 2 within 30 days.