Er, actually these words were never uttered in the classic film Casablanca made in 1942 and set in the Moroccan city of the same name. The leading lady, Ingrid Bergman, says both “Play it once, Sam, for old times’ sake.” And “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By’”, but never “Play it again, Sam”. So, you can probably guess where I’ve been on my latest trip. I’ve been in Morocco visiting the capital, Rabat, and the main port city of Casablanca. The cities are only 100 kilometres or so apart and I actually landed at Casablanca’s main airport and took a taxi to Rabat rather than fly direct to its small airport.
Morocco, only 15 kilometres across the Strait of Gibraltar from the Spanish mainland, is well and truly on the African tourist map and as such has a decent infrastructure and has a very different feel to many of the sub-Saharan countries I’ve visited in recent years. Rabat, though, is usually left off the tourist trail as most visitors tend to head to Casablanca, Marrakech and Fez. The capital is home to over a million people, however, and also where all of the foreign embassies are located. As such, there is a large expatriate population and, free from tourist traps, the city has a pleasant, laid back feel to it. Indeed, a stroll around the embassy area of Souissi was serenity itself.
The ‘tea saga’ continued in Rabat. My suitcase didn’t arrive back in London after my trip to Djibouti the previous week and so I had to buy more milk powder and teabags, as well as everything else in the suitcase! My Rabat hotel had no tea making facilities at all so it was a good job I brought another recent purchase with me, a trusty travel kettle. However, I forgot a mug and teaspoon! Fortunately the supermarkets were well stocked and so now my tea making set is complete with a capacious Moroccan-style Christmas themed mug.
Although Rabat is the capital it has not become a huge commercial centre like Casablanca due to the coastal waters not being deep enough to construct a port of significant size. Casablanca, on the other hand, has the largest port in North Africa and one of the largest artificial ports in the world. The city is the largest in Morocco and home to over 3.5 million people. It is also, with Rabat, ranked by ECA International in the top five mainland African cities (outside of South Africa) for expatriate quality of life.
Casablanca’s most noted expatriate was not even real! The fictional character Rick Blaine, famously played by Humphrey Bogart in the film, was the American proprietor of the swanky Rick’s Café. Although fictional, there is actually a Rick’s Café now in the city and it is frequented by tourists and expats alike. Another big draw for foreign assignees in the city is the vast Morocco Mall, the largest shopping mall in Africa. Opened at the end of 2011 it is everything (and perhaps more) you would expect from a mall in Western Europe or the USA. If you’re missing your local Prada shop in Milan or Louis Vuitton in Paris then you’ll feel at home in the Morocco Mall.
As well as having the largest artificial port in the world and the largest shopping mall in Africa, Casablanca is also home to the tallest mosque in the world, the rather spectacular King Hassan II mosque. The city is also where I had my first ever Big Mac. Yes, in all these years I’ve stuck to ordering Chicken McNuggets every time I visit McDonalds (which is quite often when you need a quick feed in the middle of a long day of data collection). On a whim, though, I tried a Big Mac and it filled a hole, but the pizzas back at my hotel were far superior.
There’s no rest for the wicked and in a couple of hours I’m heading to the airport for my first visit to the small central African nation of Rwanda. But before I go I’ll leave you with a teaser.
In 2005 the American Film Institute published a list of the 100 most memorable movie quotes of all time. Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz both feature three quotes on the list but Casablanca trumped them with six entries. Apart from “Play it Sam, play ‘As Time Goes By’”, can you name the other five from Casablanca?