on journey: a roundabout route to casablanca

Thursday, April 4: What a long morning of waiting and wrapping up loose ends.  Mike came home from work early and drove me to the airport. I finally got through security at Washington-Dulles Airport at 3:00 for my 5:20 flight on United Airlines to Rome.  The flight would be 8 hours and 50 minutes. I boarded right on time for once in seat 24K, an aisle seat with slightly more leg room for which I paid extra.

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Waiting to board at Washington-Dulles

I sat beside Nayali, one of a group of 24 Mexican high school students from Chihuahua, Mexico.  The whole group and their three teachers sported black jackets with yellow stripes on the sleeves.  Passengers on the plane, including me, assumed initially they were from an athletic team.

Instead, they were going to Rome for a couple of days of sightseeing and then on to London for two weeks for a big international competition.  Each team of 12 students would be given a challenge to come up with a viable business idea.  They would have six days to create the business then would be given feedback and helpful suggestions about how to make it work.  It all sounded very interesting.  I wished I had been exposed to a program such as this.

For the first two hours of the flight, I watched A Star is Born, with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.  I felt the original with Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Streisand was much better. I didn’t sense much chemistry between the characters.

I had a pasta meal with salad and bread for dinner.  A red wine before dinner.  I passed on the lemon sorbet because I’d taken a Valium and felt I might be on my way to sleep.  I was uncomfortable under the thin blanket, hardly warm in the overly air-conditioned cabin. I forgot my neck pillow which would have helped but then I would have had to carry it all over Morocco and Italy.

The “No Smoking” and the “Fasten Seat Belt” sign came on a couple of times over the North Atlantic whenever we hit turbulence. The flight map showed us over the dark blue Atlantic forever, heading in the direction of Glasgow and London.

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endlessly over the Atlantic

One of the Mexican teachers sitting catty-corner across the aisle from me was watching Green Book with subtitles and I was distracted by it. I’d already seen it so kept recognizing scenes. Nayali curled up sleeping beside me. They had flown from Chihuahua to Houston to Washington, then were going on to Rome.  I imagined they were all beat.

The interior of the plane was so neat and tidy in the beginning, but before long blankets and trash and electronic devices and pillows were all akimbo. Stewardesses kept coming by on trash pickup.

A sheer navy curtain hung between first class and economy, a reminder that mere gossamer separated the upper class from the rest of us.

A constant rush of cool air tried fruitlessly to dissipate the body odors that developed as the night wore on.  Unpleasant odors emanated from people and bathrooms, a general miasma of sourness.

I was wearing baggy black stretchy knit pants much like pajamas, a white long-sleeved knit top with a knot in the front, and a black & white infinity scarf with coral tassels on it. My stomach was feeling cramped since early afternoon.  Sometimes I wondered if it were just the nerves of traveling.

I was feeling a bit depressed because in a text conversation with my oldest son before I left, I mentioned I was heading to Morocco and I never heard a word back.  No “Be Safe!  Have fun!  I love you!” We also hadn’t heard from my youngest for two weeks and had no idea where he was or what he was doing.  I felt hopeless about the whole situation with him and often felt we were throwing him to the wolves. My eldest had threatened to quit his butchery job and do dog walking, which is not a career and simply another dead end job. There was no question we did a horrible job raising them, that we weren’t hard enough on them. We should have insisted they have jobs as soon as they were old enough to work.  I was trying not to let them drag me down because I wanted to enjoy my holiday.  I hoped I could let go.

I ate breakfast of Smooth Chobani Strawberry Yogurt and a warm croissant with strawberry jam as I watched the sunrise out the window.  About an hour and a half from Rome, we went over Limoges, France, with Bordeaux to the southwest and Paris to the north, then were over Marsiglia (Marseille) and then Nice.  Our altitude was 37,012 and time of arrival estimated at 7:59 a.m. Italy time. The outside air temp was -76°F and groundspeed 561 mph.

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Over France

Roma became a big yellow target on the map.

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heading into Rome

Friday, April 5: Once I arrived in Rome at 8:00 a.m., I got my boarding pass for Alitalia to depart at 1:20 p.m.  It would be a 3 hour 15 minute flight to Casablanca with arrival at 3:35 p.m. It was sunny in Rome, but was forecast to be raining in Casablanca.  Since I had a lot of time to kill, I spent the hours hopping from coffee shop to coffee shop, having a café Americano black and later a cappuccino.   I was tempted to eat because I had so much time but the flight included a cold meal, so I felt I should wait.

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coffee shop in Fiumicino Airport, Rome

I sat in various places to watch the world walk and roll by.  A girl with a guitar and backpack.  A Sikh. A woman with hijab and her husband with a skullcap. A lot of Asians – Koreans and Chinese.  Girls and women with wide baggy patterned pants, or leggings or jeans. A lot of frumpy people.  Asians carrying shopping bags from high end shops: Salvatore Ferragamo, Bvlgari, Tod’s, Gucci, Botega Vanetta.  White-haired folks hauling compact carry-ons. A person carrying a turquoise hard case with flowering cacti painted on. A young lady hauling a tiny white fluffy dog in a pet carrier.  Ladies pushing kids in strollers, and one in a wheel chair.  People all on their way to somewhere else.

I couldn’t even go to my gate because they didn’t put it on the board until 12:25.  So I walked around and found another seat.  I watched people wearing fuzzy slippers, sneakers, hiking boots, fancy gilded sneakers. Colors of Benetton popped. The food “street” upstairs had inviting options.  Asians always seemed to be buying stuff.  Folks spoke Italian into cell phones.  A woman’s voice, in a British accent, directed people to board certain flights at specific gates. People wore passport holders around their necks, making for easy access.

I was tired and wished I could get on the plane so I might sleep.

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Fiumicino Airport, Rome

The seats on the Alitalia flight from Rome to Casablanca were tight and uncomfortable. Luckily there were many empty seats.  A Moroccan man had the window seat and me the aisle. I ate a strange lunch of three small cold sandwiches: one hummus and shrimp, one turkey and pressed zucchini, and one with unidentifiable objects; there was a very strange salad with olives and something that looked like potatoes but wasn’t.  A thick yogurt with granola topping. A container of melons, apples and grapes. Peach juice.

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Alitalia into Casablanca

Late in the flight, the Moroccan guy got up to go to the bathroom and didn’t return to his seat. I put up the arm rests and stretched out across all three seats during the last half hour.  It felt so good to stretch out.

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Alitalia into Casablanca

I was surprised by the patchwork of farmland outside the window going into Casablanca.  I don’t know why I expected it to be a desert landscape.

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Alitalia into Casablanca

We arrived in Casablanca at 3:35. I had to wait over an hour in a long snaking and slow-moving line to get through immigration. The immigration guys were flirting with every young woman.  They didn’t bother with me when I finally got to the front. I talked to a young woman heading off for an Intrepid Tour with an itinerary similar to our G-Adventures tour.  They were to meet on Saturday night at 6:00; ours would start Monday night.

My driver, Youssef, was arranged by our Airbnb host, Myriam. He showed me photos of his family, a pretty wife and waladan (two boys). His sons were very young. I enjoyed practicing some Arabic with him, and even went through my French numbers.  It was rather silly, because he spoke French, Arabic, Spanish and a little English, while I am pathetic with languages.

I arrived at our 7th floor Airbnb apartment in Central Casablanca.  The building was a bit derelict, but the apartment was nice enough.  It had a beautiful outdoor patio but the weather wasn’t conducive to enjoying it: cold, rainy and windy.  My friend Susan had arrived earlier and had already walked around and figured out the lay of the land. We went out promptly to explore.  I didn’t bother to shower or change my clothes, only adding my gray hoodie and rain jacket.  I felt rather frumpy, gross and tired.

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rainbow in Casablanca

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rainbow in Casablanca

Oranges and melons beckoned from everywhere, piles of them neatly stacked.  But there was too much trash, marring the city streets.

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market in Casablanca

We walked by lots of cafés with gloomy looking, hen-pecked men staring out, past the Hyatt Regency, through the Old Medina, in search of a restaurant, La Sqala. We got lost, so ended up in a Petit Taxi with a guy who had lived in New York for a long time. The meter came to 9 dirhams, and I gave him 10 (~$1).

The restaurant had such a nice ambience, nestled in the ochre walls of the sqala, an 18th century fortified bastion north of the center. A fountain bubbled with pink flowers floating on the surface.  The rustic interior was bordered by Moroccan arches, with a garden and flower draped trellises.  It was a bit cold despite being wrapped in plastic, yet it was tranquil and atmospheric.

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La Sqala

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La Sqala

Susan ordered chicken tajine and we shared a goat cheese and honey on toast salad with an exotic flavor – maybe cardamom?  No wine or alcohol was available. We dipped warm bread in two red sauces, one mild and one spicy.  A bowl of Moroccan olives, black shriveled and green with pits. We didn’t know where to put the pits but when we asked, we were told to put them into what looked like an ash tray.  I ordered kofta sqala (meatballs) with three oval-shaped mashed potatoes.  The meal was artistically prepared on a rectangular plate.

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kofta sqala & mashed potatoes at La Sqala

When we came out of the restaurant a guy tried to charge us 100 dirhams for a ride back, 10 times what we’d paid earlier! We hopped right out of his taxi and went down the line to the next one; that one quoted us 40 dirhams, saying it was double because it was nighttime. Since we couldn’t identify the address of our Airbnb, we told him to take us to the Hyatt, and he kept saying “5 stars!!” No wonder they wanted to charge us so much; they seemed, mistakenly, to assume we were rich. 🙂

*Thursday & Friday, April 4-5, 2019*

Thursday: 12,492 steps, or 5.29 miles & Friday: 8,917 steps, or 3.78 miles

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“ON JOURNEY” INVITATION: I invite you to write a post on your own blog about the journey itself for a recently visited specific destination. You could write about the journey you hope to take in the year ahead.  If you don’t have a blog, I invite you to write in the comments.

One of my intentions was to use all five senses to describe an experience.

Include the link in the comments below by Tuesday, September 17 at 1:00 p.m. EST.  When I write my post in response to this challenge on Wednesday, September 18, I’ll include your links in that post.

This will be an ongoing invitation, once on the third Wednesday of each month. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂

I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!