New Year's at Rick's Cafe
12.31.2015 - 01.02.2016 75 °F
Our Moroccan travels started in Casablanca. Our tickets had all North African flights routing first through Casablanca, so we figured we would check it out for a couple of days and spend New Year's eve there. Kurt found a great hotel of art deco design and wonderful service. They out us in their Hemingway suite named after the author. It had wood paneling and a beautiful wood art deco bureau as well as hunting paraphernalia and photos of Hemingway hunting. We arrived at 6pm, and they were quite concerned about us having an expensive dinner having reserved a table for us at their hotel. Kurt and I were confused why they were so adamant about us having a nice dinner until we realized it was New Year's eve. We had made reservations for a famous Casablanca restaurant for New Year's eve, but we thought that New Year's was the following day and had planned a low key evening...whoops!
So we rushed to get ready for our New Year's celebration. We had reserved a table at Rick's Cafe paying homage to the Humphrey Bogart World War II film, Casablanca. Many years after the movie, an American expat decided to renovate a waterfront building in the style of the cafe featured inn the film as a welcoming Moroccan respite for tourists and locals alike. In the film, Humphrey Bogart plays a character named Rick who owns a restaurant that is the epicenter for debauchery, corruption, and good ole fashioned fun. The actual Rick's cafe isn't quite as eccentric, but is quite charming and exotic. We had all sorts of different Moroccan tastes and bites. The food was alright, and likely better when not cooking for such a large event. They had a roulette table as well as live music all throughout the evening. At midnight they had African drummers in local costumes signing a lively chant in Arabic. It was quite fun.
Everywhere we went we were offered Moroccan mint tea and almond cookies. Kurt especially liked the ones shaped like crescents. For breakfast many Moroccans have these almost savory doughnuts. It's not really sweet and closer to a deep fried bagel. They also take smoked salmon, quiche, and/or croissants for breakfast as well.
Casablanca is really a financial and trade center for Morocco and has a much more commercial vibe than other Moroccan cities. The call to prayer rings through the town throughout the day. In fact, the biggest mosque in Morocco and seventh biggest in the world, Hassan II Mosque, sits along the coast in Casablanca. It's expansive and stunning with modern touches. It was completed in the 1990s and has features such as a retracting ceiling and prayer room with a glass floor over the sea, so one can pray looking over and physically on top of the water. We did not schedule or take the tour, but imagine it would be pretty cool. Note that the mosque is only open to Muslims for general admission not during the scheduled tours. Women do not shoe their bare legs or really much bare skin. Muslim women are often seen wearing these light-weight and often colorful robes with hoods having tassels at the apex. They generally didn't have the hoods up covering their hair and head with a simple head scarf instead.
We read online that a small museum near our hotel, Musee Abderrahman Slaoui, was pretty good. It's the private collection of a Moroccan art collector that is now open to the public for less than US $ 5. There are painted glass boxes, jeweled tiaras and pieces with Moroccan stones, small steel fish sculptures and other eclectic pieces, and a large collection of original art deco posters mostly depicting North Africa. We bought a print of one of his collection for a reasonable price to hang on our travel wall.
Casablanca was a nice introduction to Morocco. There probably isn't enough to do in the city for many days. One full day is probably good. The Hassan II Mosque is a must. Rick's cafe is fun and the museum is cool if you can squeeze it in. We decided to take the train to Marrakesh from Casablanca. You cannot buy train tickets outside of Morocco, but it was very easy to get a train ticket once there. There are train between Casablanca and Marrakesh about every two hours, and for first class it costs about US $ 15. You may share a cabin with up to five other people, and the train ride is about three hours. It's a quite ride mostly of rough desert like terrain with dots of a few buildings here and there. We probably passed fifty mosques on the way which are easy to spot with their defining architecture and towers for the call to prayer. Highly recommend Morocco and Casablanca if you can fit it in. Marrakesh is a must, and we didn't have a chance to get to Fez this trip. We would probably go back to Morocco many years down the road to explore more if it works out.