Travel time again. For those of you counting, this is trip number two since the launch of DJG and Katy’s implementation of a temporary travel ban. Clearly her need to travel is stronger than her fear that we’ll starve with me making a startup income instead of a corporate paycheque. That, or her confidence in the eventual success of DJG is growing 😉
This time, we’re off to Morocco. It’s a short trip, relatively speaking, so we won’t see all the highlights of the country, but it should be a nice appetizer.
Getting to Morocco from Toronto is a relatively painless process. While there aren’t many direct flights from Toronto there are from Montreal. We started with a flight from the Toronto island airport to Montreal. When you take into account traffic and lines at Pearson, it probably didn’t take us much longer to get to the gate for our flight in Montreal than it would have at Pearson.
In a weird way the weather helped make that comparison a fair one. With high winds passing through eastern Ontario (a tornado touched down outside Ottawa) we were a little worried about our flight to Montreal. By the time we got to the island our flight was already listed as delayed. Fortunately, we arrived at the airport early enough that a kind gate agent was able to put us on an earlier flight.
When the flight attendant made her usual pre-flight announcements she added a new twist. She mentioned that this would probably be the fastest flight to Montreal in her 20 year career thanks to the tailwinds. Total flight time: 40 min. Who needs hyperloop, we’ve got climate change!
This same weather system was not as helpful with our second flight. We had delays boarding the plane and a 30 minute wait on the tarmac in the line of planes waiting for clearance to take off. All in all, we were about 1.5 hours behind schedule, which isn’t that bad.
I hate overnight flights because I can’t sleep. That said, they do offer a chance to catch-up on popular movies and tv. A few quick reviews:
- Red Sparrow: Good, but not great. Helps if you like spy/cold war stories.
- Deadpool 2: Funny, but not as good as the first one. Mostly, I think this comes down to the shock of the humour having worn off.
- Succession: (HBO tv show): Good so far, 2.5 episodes in. Might have been better earlier in the flight, before the sleep deprivation started to set in.
After landing in Casablanca we grabbed our bags and headed to catch a train downtown. The trains run hourly from the airport with the downtown station about a 10 minute walk from our hotel, the Sheraton Casablanca Hotel and Towers.
Luckily our hotel room was available when we arrived around noon so we were able to drop our luggage off and head straight out to visit the mosque. All we had to do was fight the temptation to climb into bed for nap.
Research (Katy’s not mine, I just get on the plane when I’m told) suggested there wasn’t much to see in Casablanca other than the Hassan II Mosque so our plan was visit that, stay the night, and catch a morning train to Marrakech.
How many eggs does it take to build a great Mosque
Our first impression of the mosque was that it is a) huge b) beautiful. Our second impression is that they could use a little design thinking for the tourist experience. I know, tourists are a secondary audience but mosques don’t come cheap.
When our taxi dropped us off, we did what seemed like the logical thing and walked toward the mosque. However, we hadn’t been dropped off at the main entry to the complex so we didn’t pass the museum where, it turns out, you buy tickets if you want to join one of the tours to go inside. A well placed sign or two could have saved us a lot of wandering through the expansive courtyard in the sun and oppressive heat.
The mosque itself is certainly impressive. The third largest in the world, after those in Mecca and Medina, construction of the mosque cost an estimated $800 million USD. Tickets are pretty reasonably priced so they should make that back in about 40 million visitors.
Walking around inside it’s hard not to be impressed by the scale. The mosque can hold 25,000 worshippers (20,000 men on the main floor and 5,000 women on the balcony). During Ramadan, those inside are joined by around 80,000 outside.
Completed in 1993, it is, as our guide pointed out a few times, a “high tech mosque”. There are small examples like the loudspeakers cleverly integrated into the design of the ceiling carvings and columns along the wall. Then there are the big examples like the ceiling that splits open to reveal a giant skylight. This is done to release heat when it’s full and to generally refresh the air occasionally. Essentially this is the Sky Dome of the religious world.
I’ll leave you with an oddly interesting tidbit. The stucco covering many of the walls in the mosque, including the special moisture absorbing stuck in the room for ablutions, includes egg yoke in the mixture. When I picture people toiling away to build a giant mosque, that mental image did not include people cracking eggs. Until now. Sadly, nobody has put together an estimate of the number of eggs required to make a giant mosque… I asked.
With our one required stop in Casablanca complete, we headed back to the hotel for a quick dinner and sleep. I managed to make it all the way to 8pm. Up next, an early train ride to Marrakech.