Morocco Mania Day 1: Casablanca, Rabat, Meknes, Volubilis & Moulay Idriss

As-salamu alaykum from Morocco! The adventure has officially begun. In fact, it started on the plane ride to Casablanca. During our flight, 2 things happened. First, I started reading “The Cadogan Guide to Morocco” by Barnaby Rogerson. This guide has a bit more color than usual guides. For instance, Mr. Rogerson says the following about sexual attitudes in Morocco, “Moroccans also tend to think of themselves as immeasurably more virile & potent than Western men. However chaste your intentions, why not pack some condoms beside the sun cream and romantic fiction?” Really, Barnaby? Stop it. Second, I noticed 2 young men taking pictures with an older gentleman who had just come out of the bathroom. I guess he is famous…kind of looks like the Dos Equis man. But I wasn’t sure and didn’t want to ask less the young men wanted to borrow my romantic fiction. And, it would be my luck that if I took a picture with this “celebrity”, he’d end up being the Moroccan Ron Jeremy.

My Mom and I are doing an 8 day tour through the Imperial cities of Morocco. I customized the trip thru Journey Beyond Travel (I will provide a detail review and rating of their services after the trip ends…but so far, it’s been a fabulous experience). The typical Morocco tour packages last a minimum of 10 days. But, I like to do “taster tours” of new places/countries before I commit a long period of time to touring. JBT and I crammed a lot of stuff into 8 days. Our first day consists of a stick-and-move approach to Casablanca, Rabat, Meknes, Volubilis and Moulay Idriss. I will tell you now that this is not for the faint of heart. It’s a very long day (11 hours from the time we left the airport).


Our driver, El Haj (known as Haji) is waiting for us at the airport to drive us around Morocco for 8 magnificent days. The Casablanca airport is an experience…and a test of patience. Allow at least a couple of hours to get your bags and clear customs. Also be aware that people will try to “help” you with your bags (even if you are at the car…they will just want to put the bag into the trunk) for a tip. Do not allow this to happen if you don’t have any Dirhams. Trust me. They will demand that you provide them with some money…to the point of getting belligerent. Either politely decline their help up front or be prepared to pay 10-20 Dirham for their assistance.

If you are itching to quote Humphrey Bogart and say, “Here’s looking at you, kid.”…do it while taking the first road out of town. Otherwise, it’s not a city you want to dwell in. Casablanca is gritty. I’d describe it as a mixture of Cairo & Mexico City. It’s Morocco’s biggest city with a population of over 3 million people. In my opinion, the only thing worth seeing in this city is the Hassan II Mosque.

The Hassan II Mosque (named after King Hassan II) is the second largest mosque in the world (St. Peter’s Basilica can easily fit inside) and built partially on water. The largest mosque is in Mecca. It has the highest religious minaret in the world at 200 meters high. The mosque will fit up to 25,000 worshippers inside and another 80,000 in the courtyard. It is magnificent! This is also one of the very few mosques open for non-Muslims to visit. When you enter the mosque, you are given a plastic bag to store your shoes (as you are required to walk barefoot while visiting). As I stated above, the mosque is enormous with beautiful chandeliers and mosaics. In the center, you will see a glass floor that reveals the ocean below which is said to be a reminder of the Koran’s statement that God’s throne is upon the water. In the basement is an ablution room (where you cleanse yourself of your sins) and an absolutely beautiful hammam with a large pool.

Hassan II Mosque hammam

The ablution hall has 41 fountains

prayer hall


After leaving the mosque, Haji drives us to Rabat which is about 2.5 hours from Casablanca. Rabat is the capital of Morocco. We only spent 30 minutes here. Just enough time to visit the Mohammed V Mausoleum which houses the bodies of King Mohammed V and his sons King Hassan II and Moulay Abdellah.

Rabat mosque and library

Bab Mansour


Next stop…Meknes. A popular day trip from Fes, this city is home to the many creations of Moulay Ismail. The most popular one is called Bab Mansour…which is a great gate. Its name comes from its architect (who was a Christian that converted to Islam). The local story is that the sultan inspected the completed gate, then asked El Mansour whether he could do any better. Which is a Catch 22 because when he answered “yes”, he was immediately executed (source, The Rough Guide to Morocco).

Sultan Moulay Ismail had great achievements (conquering territories within Morocco so that they were all under government control for the first time in 5 centuries). However, he was also known as tyrannical and basically blood thirsty. He began his reign by displaying 400 heads (mostly captured chiefs) in Fes. Over the 5 decades he ruled, it is estimated that he was responsible for over 30,000 deaths (not including those killed in battle). He was known to kill indiscriminately in order to keep his subjects on their toes.

Moulay Idriss

If only Idris Elba were here. We didn’t really stop…just cruised right thru the town.


More Roman ruins. Seriously. If you have been to Italy…or really anyplace in Europe, you’ve seen ruins. These are no different. Volubilis was once the Roman Empire’s most remote base. Roman rule lasted just over 2 centuries. Most Roman cities follow the same layout (streets with stores & cafes, huge homes for the rich and brothels). Volubilis is probably most well-known for being the key location for Martin Scorsese’s film “The Last Temptation of Christ.”

As we were on the tour, the guide was telling us about the brothels. I started to tune out because it was hot and I was thirsty. Next thing I know, the guide asked me if I wanted to see the “pennies.” I thought he had moved on to telling us about currency. It was hard for me to understand his accent at times. So, I said, “sure.” Next thing I know, he has led me over to see this:

It was at that moment that I realized he had said, “penis”…not pennies. The best Roman ruins is in Pompeii. If you have been there, I would suggest you skip Volubilis.

Overall, the day was filled with a good mix of the highlights of Casablanca, Rabat, Meknes, Volubilis and Moulay Idriss. If I had to do it again, I’d probably spend more time in Rabat and skip Volubilis, Moulay Idriss and Meknes all together. Have you been to these cities? If so, what did I miss that is a definite “must see”?

What to Wear When Travelling Abroad

Coco1One of the most popular questions asked when getting ready for a trip overseas is “What should I wear?”  I always suggest researching what the locals are wearing (with a few exceptions notated below).  Not solely for aesthetic reasons, but also for safety.  Most pickpockets target tourists.  Looking like you belong goes a long way.  Here are a few suggestions to help you look like a local on your travels abroad.

1.       Dress for the Country/Culture.  Each country has its own style.  Some countries are more lax (the U.S., England, Ireland, Scotland) while others take their fashion seriously (France & Italy).  With the exceptions that I have noted below, you can usually get away with a nice pair of jeans/black pants/skirt and plain shirts/sweaters.  Don’t wear anything outrageous or loud (leave the catsuit at home).

  • Middle East/Egypt/Morocco (& other Islamic countries) = First and foremost, you want to respect the culture of the country you are visiting.  Which means no Daisy Dukes while visiting the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo (and, yes, I have seen it).  Make sure you dress conservatively (covering most of your skin).  Yeah, it may be hot, but you can find breathable and dry-wick fabrics pretty easily.  Trust me; you do not want to stand out in a conservative country.  Women from western countries are viewed as being “loose”, which can invite sexual harassment from the local male population.  By keeping your goodies covered up, you take the attention off of you (and your valuables).  In Morocco, most women (and quite a few men) wear djellabas (a hooded robe).  These can be either heavy or light weight in fabric (according to season).  I didn’t wear one when I was there, but it is definitely an option which will reduce the amount of stares you get.  I tend to buy breathable tunics from Old Navy (most are 3/4 length sleeves), long flowing skirts, loose capris and convertible cargo pants.
  • France/Italy = These 2 fabulous countries are homes to the most famous fashion houses around.  This means they take their fashion seriously.  While the Italians are a bit more accepting, the French will turn their nose up if you walk past them wearing any of the items listed below in #3.
  • You can never go wrong with basic black.  It’s easy to coordinate and you can interchange with stylish accessories (like a scarf or costume jewelry).
  • The French love black, navy and brown.  I suggest using those as your base colors.  You will notice that most of the French will pair up their dark wardrobe with a colorful scarf.  Don’t have one?  Buy one when you get there…it’s a souvenir & fashion accessory all in one.
  • The Italians love color and you can get away with a lot more.  Most of all, it is attitude.
  • Quick everyday tip = Get your clothes tailored.  I noticed that many people look better in clothes that are altered to fit their shape.  I picked this tip up while visiting Paris.  Everybody there looks like a million bucks (or euros) and it really is because their clothes fit impeccably.
  • Spain = The Spanish love color & flowing maxi dresses/skirts.  I also noticed some ladies wearing cowboy boots with shorts but we will pretend like I didn’t see that because I don’t think that’s a good look personally (I like to call that seasonal dyslexia).
  • England/Ireland/Scotland/Holland/Czech Republic/Switzerland/Scandinavia = Pretty much anything goes.  I can’t say that I have seen a huge difference in what they wear vs. the U.S. (with the exception of the “don’ts” listed below).  A popular look during the summer of 2011 was shorts with tights & Chuck Taylors (*shudders*).  Don’t emulate that.  Hopefully that was a 1 season only look.LBD

2.      Dress for the Season.  Be sure to check the weather before you go.  Weather Underground is a good resource.  I have typically found that you will need to dress in layers no matter when you travel abroad.  A light jacket, colorful scarves, stylish cardigans/sweater coats are a must for spring, summer & fall.  Going in the winter?  Bring along a warm coat, some snazzy boots & a cute hat/scarf/glove combo.   I had left my puffer coat at home during a winter trip to Milan…only to realize that everybody (and I do mean everybody) was wearing one.  First and foremost, you want to be warm.  Don’t take an unlined peacoat when visiting Finland in the dead of winter.  Your health trumps fashion.  Plus, you will stand out as not knowing how to dress properly for cold weather 🙂  ExOfficio is now offering a snazzy sweater jacket that doubles as a travel pillow when folded.  This jacket is so cozy & warm!  I recently wore it during a winter trip and fell in love with it.  The jacket packs very easily, is super soft AND rain-resistant as well as keeping you warm & toasty.  This is now my go-to jacket both here and abroad!


3.       DO NOT WEAR…

  • Baseball caps!  If you want to protect your head & face from the harsh sun, opt for a stylish wide-brimmed hat (during the summer) or cloche/fedora (during the winter). Baseball caps scream tourist. Don’t bring your favorite sporting team to France unless you are actually on the team, k?
  • Baseball/Football Jerseys, High School/College T-shirts, etc.  Do I really even to explain why wearing a baseball or football jersey is a no-no? Again, you don’t want to stand out as a tourist for pickpockets. T-shirts are fine if they are plain or have a cool graphic. Bottom line, you want to look nice…not like you are getting ready to workout. If you just don’t think you can survive without wearing sporting apparel, buy a soccer/rugby jersey. You can fit in and it will be a conversation starter.
  • Fanny-packs!  Seriously…just no.  It’s not cute.  Tell your mother to leave it at home with the rest of the 80’s attire.  I don’t even know how this item became popular.  Never carry your money and valuables in a waist contraption that is easily seen.  You are begging a pickpocket to take a knife, cut the strap and steal it from you.  Use a money belt instead.  It’s similar to your beloved fanny-pack; it just goes under your shirt/waist of your pants instead so it will not be seen.  This protects your valuables from curious onlookers.
  • Expensive jewelry/bags!  A pickpocket will tackle you to steal your Rolex or Louis Vuitton.  Leave your valuables at home.
  • White sneakers???  I have actually seen quite a few locals wearing sneakers (though not usually white) around London & Paris.  My preference is to bring a pair of running shoes (as I like to workout during my trips abroad…even running races like the Paris-Versailles 10K) as well as a comfortable & stylish walking shoe (i.e. Hush Puppies, Mephisto, Clarks) that can transition into an evening shoe. I highly recommend walking shoes that have a rubber sole to minimize the impact of walking on cobblestones.  I love the Hush Puppies Sonnet flat which you can buy at Macy’s for almost half of what it retails for at other locations as well as the Makena Ballerina shoe.  Bottom line is to wear a shoe that you will be comfortable walking in for hours at a time.


4.       Must Haves.

  • Light jacket/cardigan/wrap = If you plan to wear tanks or sleeveless tops during the summer, be sure to bring something to cover your shoulders when visiting a place of worship.  You will not be allowed to enter with shoulders (and sometimes legs) exposed.  I bought Magellan’s Sun Protection Wrap for my recent trip to Morocco and fell in love.  So soft and it provides the necessary protection (both arms and head) when you enter places of worship.  I even wear it around at home.
  • Secure purse/money belt = I have been using a PacSafe purse (stylish & secure) to carry around my valuables, guidebook, umbrella & bottled water for a couple of years now and it is awesome.  Highly recommend!  The shoulder straps are reinforced with steel so it cannot be cut and the zippers lock into place.  It will take a pickpocket a few minutes to figure out how to gain access to your valuables.
  • Comfortable walking shoes = As I stated above, cobblestones can be harsh on your feet.  A stylish rubber-soled shoe will save your tootsies!
  • Dark colored pants & skirt = Use these as your base pieces.  Dark colors camouflage stains & are great to pair with funky accessories.


5.     Handy resources.  Here are a few websites that focus on travel-related items:  While ExOfficio & Magellans offer stylish options, you can certainly find great travel clothing from cheaper stores (i.e. Old Navy, Target, etc.).

While these tips may not prevent you from being identified as a tourist, it will keep your bag lighter and you safer.  Hope it helps!  Safe travels.  Do you have any travel fashion tips?  If so, please comment as I’m always looking for a fresh perspective!

Also check out my posts on Nikki’s Favorite Things: Fashion Accessories and Essentials for Stress-Free Travel.