Casablanca might lend its name to some of the most quotable moments in film history but it was Crosby, Stills & Nash's song, Marrakech Express, that filled my mind when I started out on my journey at the ornate terminus building in the "Red City". On arrival at Gare Casa Voyageurs in the "White City", an altogether more modern terminus with intricately patterned angled roof awaited my inspection before I set off on foot to find my lodgings.
The city's hispanic name and moniker are reflected by predominantly white buildings with both architecture and city layout making Casablanca instantly distinguishable as a modern business centre. Neat multi storey character edifices and tree lined main avenues make up much of the aesthetic appeal along arterial traffic routes and, having checked in and rested, I slung my trusty Nikon over my shoulder and set out on what became a 10 mile roundtrip to the coastline and back. Before long I found myself in United Nations Square where a large festival stage had been errected for Jazzablanca 2022. I loitered a while to listen to an excellent Jazz fushion band working their way through a sound check but I had limited time for my planned walk so soon set off again, through the Medina Market and down towards my target location at the El Hank Lighthouse.
Even at distance, the 210 metre high minaret of the Hassan II Mosque dominated the vistas towards the coastline and ever more so as I got nearer. Its beautifully intricate architectural detail attracted the eye at every turn and on reaching the coastline I headed west along the neat, wide promenade which runs the length of the bay. It was Monday but it felt like a weekend as locals took pleasurable afternoon strolls, jogged or sat enjoying the views towards the mosque. People gathered with their families and friends to enjoy the cloudless skies and warm weather but the demographic changed almost in sympathy to the rugged peninsula at El Hank, where bikers and young people enjoyed a beer while chilling or smoking whatever the usual leaf is in these parts.
A lone cyclist perched himself at the edge of the cliff and looked out to sea, a response I found unavoidable as the sun glisted on the expanse of water before us and I spent a little time to enjoy the late afternoon ambience as the shallow angle of the sun's elevation gave texture to the landscape and decrepit coastal buildings around me. When I started back I was aware that I would now have a 180 degree perspective on the scenes I had passed along the way and, changing my route slightly, I came across several enticing street art elevations on tenement buildings displaying colourful cultural images, often celebrateing women and which now reflected the beautiful saturated tones from the sinking summer sun.
I eventually arrived back at United Nations Square where a crowd were standing patiently in expectation of the sights and sounds to come. The waxing crescent moon seemed to watch on from a lofty height as the sun had become conspicuous only by its absence and a palpable sense of expectation ran through the crowd as silhouettes of palm trees became screen printed against tangerine dream skies. Musicians entered the stage some fifteen minutes later to check levels before taking up their positions. Eerie keyboards underpinned distant familiar cries of "I want my own TV" which preluded the famous staccato guitar riff of what would turn into a well polished version of Dire Strait's Money For Nothing as the first song in an energetic set list. Conversely, the warm evening light turned through phases of nautical and astronomical dusk towards the still night but, although I wanted to stay longer, I'd had a tiring day and had the prospect of a three hour train journey in the morning. I listened to a handful of songs and captured some of the changing ambience through the lens before leaving, albeit with a slight sense of unfulfilled pleasure, but that feeling soon subsided when my feet reminded me that I had another kilometre to walk before I could take a shower and sink weary bones into a clean, comfortable hotel bed.
Casablanca is a major port and transport hub which many air and rail routes across the country have to pass through and I'm sure it has far more to offer than what I experienced in the twenty four hours I had to explore it, but my focus was to engage with as classic a Moroccan experience as I had done in Marrakech so my stay was deliberately brief. So it was that, following a good night's rest and breakfast, I made my way back to Casa Voyageurs to catch the train to the "Yellow City", Fes, which was soon to enchant me with its labyrinthine Medina, relaxed but vibrant souks and historic tannery.
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