Saturday, October 13, 2007

Another Surprise Detour

We were lucky in Casablanca because we were able to stay for two nights with a host from couchsurfing. Very nice woman with two young daughters in a cool apartment. Casablanca is the commercial heart of Morocco (Fes the religious, Marrakesh the tourist and Rabat the capital) and is by far the largest and most modern of the cities here. There isn't much for tourists to see but there is a fair amount of art deco style built in the 1920's and 30's by the French. It's not much by we walked around a bit anyway. The main attraction though is the Hassan II mosque completed in 1993. It is the 3rd largest mosque in the world, capable of holding 25,000 worshippers inside and 80,000 outside. It's a huge, solid structure with a really tall roof and a massive minaret. All minarets in Morocco are square and much less ornate and interesting compared to those in Cairo. The mosque sits on a piece of reclaimed land right on the shore and has apparently had a few problems settling. It's also brought it's share of controversy with a total cost of $1/2 billion when there are so many shanty towns all around Casablanca. It's actually much more run down and dirty than the rest of Morocco that we've seen. Probably not too surprising when this is the city that the poor are flocking to looking for jobs. It has grown considerably in the last couple decades, from just over 1/2 million after WWII to nearly 4 million now. The city just can't keep up with the influx and the poor often have nowhere to live. Of course it is still nothing compared to the problems of Cairo....
We'd decided about a week before to go on another one of our characteristic detours so we flew to Madrid for a day in transit. We had a 24hr layover and we slept in the airport, since we arrived in the evening and couldn't get a host, (heaven forbid we start paying to sleep in Europe, that's way over budget). I don't think dad was too keen on his first airport floor but the rest of us are old hats at this. The following morning we stashed our bags and head into the centre for a quick look. Wow. Talk about huge ornate buildings. You can definitely tell that Madrid was once a capital of a once rich and powerful European empire. I was surprised to see such wide streets and organized traffic. Brussels is a village compared to Madrid :)
We didn't have time to do any more than just walk around the old centre admiring the buildings, fountains and squares. I think the highlight for dad and I was taking a picture with the Don Quixote statue. Great book, great character. Funny but we all thought that Madrid didn't look "Spanish" enough. Obviously it's not going to have Mexican villas but it's funny the things you expect. That evening we caught our next flight to our surprise destination. Hint: We are looking for Leprechauns! Yep. Dublin, Ireland. The flight up was cheap and Bre's friend Brittany (who joined us in Nepal 2 years ago) offered us a place to stay so here we are trying to stay warm and dry (so far successfully). We're still working on a plan for here though. We'll see what happens.
Ammon

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