You must remember this…but it ain’t necessarily so.
In the classic movie, Hollywood imagined Casablanca as a quaint village of whitewashed villas whose life seemed to revolve around a piano bar run by a dapper, worldly-wise American who had a steady wit but couldn’t keep a girl friend.
Nice fantasy, but it doesn’t have much to do with today’s reality.
In the golden light of the Moroccan sun as Crystal Serenity docked, it was clear that time’s raced by. Casablanca has turned into a teeming modern—and frankly homely—city. Its harbor has become a maze of docks loading dusty mountains of phosphate into freighters and the skyline is pierced by high-rise towers.
I was glad I’d signed up to take Crystal’s tour to the much more intact and historic city of Rabat, about 50 miles to the east. And as it turned out, our day-long tour did spend part of the morning giving us a look at some highlights of Casablanca.
Yes, there is a Rick’s Cafe. But our guide, Aziz, explained as we drove past that the restaurant actually only dates back to 2004. It was created by a former American diplomat Kathy Kriger, who renovated a mansion from the 1930s that does have some classic decor, but had nothing to do with a cafe or the famous movie.
Today’s menu includes American hamburgers and chili con carne and, of course, there’s a gift shop that hustles T-shirts and song books that include As Time Goes By. Round up the usual suspects.
Even Casablanca’s old walled Kasbah market area doesn’t have the charm of markets in other coastal cities like Rabat or Tangier. Tangier, we’re told, was the actual free city during the Second World War that would have been the logical place for the intrigue in Casablanca to have taken place. And we’ll always have Paris, too.
There is one attraction in Casablanca itself that’s so impressive that it’s a must-do even for tours headed out of town. It’s almost as new as Rick’s, but it was built for the ages.
The imposing Hassan II Mosque that dominates the skyline on Casablanca’s waterfront has the world’s tallest minaret and is dramatic and beautiful in every detail. Pictures speak to its exquisite detail and imposing scale scale better than words.
Then, we hit the road for an hour and a half ride to Rabat. For more on our tour there click here.