We almost never do one-night stops, but given the way our schedule worked and the sense from Lonely Planet that there wasn’t much to see in Casablanca, it seemed to make sense. As it was, we had a great little stop there. It’s less than 90 minutes by train from Rabat to Casablanca and the train station was a quick five-minute walk from our hotel, so we had time to get out and see a few things.Casablanca was, of course, made famous by the 1942 film but it is a city that very much stands on its own. It is by far the largest city in Morroco and is the country’s economic and business center as well as the major port. It’s the largest city in the Magreb and one of the major cities in Africa. So you could expect something nice there.
First on the list was visiting the Hassan II Mosque. A modern mosque that was finished in 1993, the mosque was built as a mausoleum for King Mohammed V (who died in 1961) and was intended as a landmark monument for the city. The mosque is big. It’s the largest mosque in Morocco and one of the largest in the world; it can hold 25,000 people for services with room for another 80,000 in the surrounding courtyard. Particularly striking is the minaret, a beautiful 700-foot tall tower that is the tallest minaret in the world.
Unfortunately, while we could admire the building from the outside, we weren’t allowed in. Lonely Planet indicates that non-Moslems in proper dress are allowed in, but there was someone at the door who made it clear we were not getting in. It looked pretty fabulous, but all we could do is peek in.The other highlight, to our surprise and delight, was Rick’s Café. Rick’s, of course, is where much of Casablanca takes place. Keep in mind that the movie was filmed entirely on a lot in Los Angeles and there was no real Rick’s In Casablanca. A enterprising developer, though, shortly after the turn of the century decided to create an authentic replica of the bar from the movie in the real Casablanca which today is a real tourist draw.
Now, generally we would avoid something like that; you could count on it being cheesy, tacky, touristy, low quality, and expensive. Mark & I once went to Raffles in Singapore, home of the original Singapore Sling, and we were permanently scarred by the experience. Surprisingly, though, the drinks at Rick’s are great, the food is good, the music was perfect, the lighting is elegant, the atmosphere is very cool, and the prices are entirely reasonable. It had that special ruling class colonial vibe to it that’s entertaining as long as you’re on the colonizer side. Thus we had a great time and in fact plan to return next Saturday when we again have one night in Casablanca between Marrakech and our flight to Senegal.
For now, though, it’s on to the Marrakech Express. I have a feeling that song will be playing in my head the whole time!