Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: American Double 2014

Play it (again), Sam

Bruce got up ten minutes ahead of the alarm at 0550, and I followed quickly behind. It felt weird having to rise at such an hour, yet I had to remind myself that this was no worse than my normal weekday practice had been for the 15-month duration of my last contract. Morning routines, final packing and hotel formalities all in due course completed, we made our way to Terminal 5 Departures, dropped our bags at one of the First Class check-in desks, passed through South Security and followed the familiar, ludicrously circuitous route to the lounge - a path cynically designed, I felt quite sure, to force passengers past as many retail outlets as possible.

We each assembled a cooked breakfast from the buffet in Galleries First. The food wasn't too bad, except for the unfortunate fact that everything was just one step removed from being cold.   Time passed quickly and when some kind of qualifier finally appeared against our flight on the display screens, it was the word 'Closing'. We urgently made our way to Gate A10, the unloved bus departures area.

(Link to flight log in side panel)

ABOVE: Layover in Madrid Barajas, Terminal 4

The cold, dark London morning already seemed far away as we strode up the air bridge in bright sunshine and on into the strikingly modern surroundings of Barajas Airport's Terminal 4. I took an instant liking to this building, which to me had been conceived on a scale reminiscent of the best new Asian airports, rather than mimicking anything I had previously seen in Europe. This was no claustrophobic, overcrowded shopping mall. I loved the flamboyant abandon of its undulating high ceiling, with its bamboo-strip lining and boldly painted supports in the colours of the rainbow. I admired the degree to which natural daylight and fresh air seemed to permeate and cleanse the interior, helping to soothe the stressed-out traveller. Most of all, I adored the sheer sense of uncluttered spaciousness. Quite simply, I thought, this place rocks!

We passed through Security as transit passengers without drama or stress and quickly found our way to the Iberia lounge, which had also been built on a large scale. It was an easy matter to put together a reasonably appealing light lunch from the various offerings on display.

(Link to flight log in side panel)

The relatively short hop, my first experience of Iberia, had brought us to Africa and to my second and last new country for 2014: Morocco. Immigration at Casablanca was an absolute nightmare: there were fewer than ten people in front of us and it took nearly an hour to reach the front of the queue. Some people were led away for further processing, which was a little disconcerting, but when our turn came each of us was at the desk for only a few seconds. Luckily our booked driver had not given up and we were soon on our way to the Sheraton. The general standard of driving seemed remarkably civilised on the open road and in the ritzy outer suburbs, but deteriorated rapidly as we approached the city centre.

ABOVE: Casablanca Station and an ambitious new waterfront development that seemed to be at a very early stage of construction

After checking in and briefly settling into our accommodation for the night (which, incidentally, seemed to be well past its prime), we set out for an introductory stroll with the daylight already beginning to fade. We quickly found the Royal Mansour hotel (the former Le Méridien with which we had made our original booking) and a swish, modern Sofitel. Soon thereafter, we found ourselves outside the city's busy, modern railway station and the site of a proposed new waterfront development. As far as the latter was concerned, the pictures looked impressive, but peeping through a hole in the fence suggested that there was no visible progress at all.

ABOVE: As Time Goes By (ahem), we stumble upon the 18th-century Sqala Bastion

The port area that we were wandering into seemed vaguely dodgy and we felt a little bit uncomfortable until we realised that there were other tourists wandering around as well. We saw a building bearing a sign for Rick's Cafe - I don't think they were seriously claiming it to be the one in the movie, but who knows! - and the somewhat neglected-looking Sqala Bastion, an 18th-century historic monument. Things became much more characterful and interesting when we turned into the Medina, a network of busy, narrow streets filled with every kind of merchant imaginable, and their customers. Haggling men, gossiping women, playful children and observant tourists all rubbed shoulders in the confined spaces. Unfortunately the failing daylight was particularly poor in the area, so you'll have to wait until the next day's diary entry to see any pictures.

RIGHT: Sheraton lobby birdcage

We returned to the hotel by walking along a short part of the brand new tram line. The trams themselves were sleek and modern, and fitted with exactly the same electronic bell that had become such a familiar sound in Edinburgh during the last six months.

Cocktails in the Sheraton lobby seemed an appropriate and enjoyable way to celebrate our arrival in this new destination. Plate after plate of complimentary canapés were presented and we ended up consuming far too much of the stuff. Undaunted, we went on to order a Moroccan soup each (served with lemon and dates on the side!) and compounded the over-indulgence by deciding to split a club sandwich, which we couldn't even finish. Oh well, this was a holiday, after all!