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A Visit to Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca Is Obvious, But Still Worth It

My two day passing through Casablanca hit on the highlights the city has to offer. I basically let the 36 Hours in Casablanca video from the New York Times tell me where to go. Heck, I’m paying for a subscription, might as well use it to its fullest capabilities.

Which brings me to Rick’s Cafe, the real restaurant based on a fake restaurant from a classic movie that never filmed in Casablanca. The movie buff in me wants to point out the name of the joint in the movie was actually called Rick’s Cafe Americain. Ah, those pesky copyright laws.

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I was expecting a place you’d find at Universal Studios or Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Quite the contrary, it’s a classy joint where you should wear something decent and leave the sneakers at your hotel room.

Casablanca is such a noisy, smoggy and traffic-congested city that an hour of relative calm where you can enjoy a classic cocktail in a quiet setting is welcome. A cheap Uber ride from where ever you are in the city is worth it.

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The cocktail menu sticks to the classics with a few of their own house specials. I went with their house special and a negroni, which is my go to when I’m unimpressed with the bottle selection. As with I mentioned with my previous post, don’t expect spectacular libations in a predominantly Muslim country.

I didn’t have dinner, which ranges from traditional Moroccan, seafood and continental. My excitement and interest in Rick’s Cafe lasted two cocktails and a conversation with an American couple on their honeymoon. Guess what her favorite movie was?

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You’re not going to Rick’s Cafe for a culinary experience. You’re going to soak in the atmosphere. There’s a piano where you can live out your dreams of being Sam and playing tunes from the movie. That’s not an exaggeration, you are welcome to play it when there’s no live music.

While the space is not an exact replica from the movie, it does borrow the highlights from the set like the arched pathways, palm trees, tiles and romantic lighting.

I have to admit, I really liked it. It’s a little bit of a cheesy idea, but they make it work. In the big picture, when will I ever be in Casablanca again? Might as well live the cliche.

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Don’t Expect Much of a Nightlife in Marrakesh’s Medina

There are three criteria for a city in which I give my 100% stamp of approval — public transportation, quality of food and nightlife. So let’s talk about Marrakesh.

  • Public transportation — there is a bus system for long distances, you don’t need it since everything of note is within walking distance and with taxis, you don’t want to take them.
  • Quality of food — never had a bad meal
  • Nightlife — you’ll find yourself back at your riad by 9-10pm because there’s not much of one

So go to Marrakesh!

The obvious reason is that Morocco is a predominantly Muslim and traditional country. There are bars and late-night restaurants, but they are near the new Almazar Centre Mall or in the new town. If you go, you’ll be spending most of your time within in walls of the Medina.

On my first night in town, after getting overwhelmed walking around the Jemaa el-Fnaa, I was looking for a drink. Heck, it’s Saturday night. That’s prime party-time. I wanted to see if I can meet fellow travelers.

My research showed that the rooftop bar, Rock-N-Kech was near the Jemaa el-Fnaa and a 20-minute walk from where I was staying. I love rooftop bars. Who doesn’t love rooftop bars?

I had to find it old school style with a trusty map from my Time Out guide since my global data plan doesn’t include Morocco. The cheesy party lights that you would buy at Spencer’s Gifts lighted my way to entrance. The guy out front was very excited to welcome me to the bar.

When I climbed up the flights of stairs to the bar, I can understand why the doorman was excited to see me. Here’s what I saw:

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I’m the only one there … at 9:30pm … on a Saturday night … and they are playing the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.

Eventually, two other loaner dudes like me came in to utilize the free WiFi. If anything, it’s a great place to be left alone and check your Facebook feed.

There is alcohol. The local Moroccan beer, Spéciale Flag and Casablanca, is gloriously unmemorable. There is Moroccan wine as well. I did not know the country produced wine. It was also unmemorable. Hey, at least you get olives and who doesn’t love olives and beer?

The ironic thing about my visit to Rock-N-Kech, I went the next night as well, just to use the WiFi so I could follow the NFL games and eat more olives.

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When Travel Becomes An Act of Defiance in the Face of Terrorism and Adversity

One of the best things to do to help the people of Paris is to plan a trip to Paris. This goes for any city that has suffered adversity either through unrest, acts of violence or natural disasters. I’m not saying to hop on a plane or Eurostar this very moment, but give it some good thought.

If you remember New York after 9/11, then mayor Rudy Giuliani urged the world to come to the city. I distinctly remember him saying that it was the best time to see The Producers on Broadway. It took a while but the tourists hoards came back. It became a time when the locals saw that things were returning to some normality. That might be hard now for the people of Paris or Beirut to wrap their head around, but they will hopefully get there with their collective strength and resilience.

Planning a trip to a city or not cancelling one that has suffered a tragedy is a bold move. I use the punchline often that if you do this or not that, “the terrorists win,” but in actuality, I don’t think terrorist groups care or is monitoring an asshole from Jersey who’s planning a trip.

If you want to send a message by your travels, that’s wonderful, but do it for yourself above everything.  I have the mentality that there’s plenty of things that can hurt or kill me back home, so might as well continue with my plans. I said that three weeks after 9/11 when I flew to Florida and nearly had a panic attack the night before due to fear.

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If you’re going to worry about your safety the whole time that it would ruin your experience, then don’t go or look for a refund. No one will think less of you and you can revisit it another time. There’s no handbook on this, just gut instinct and that first step.

I have had bad luck when I start planning trips. Tragedy usually proceeds my visit. London’s 7/7 bombing, Madrid attacks, the Japanese Tsunami, Istanbul unrest and Boston bombing — all of my visits were shortly after them. Did it give me pause and unease? Of course, I want these cities to be at their best. Eventually, by the time I arrived, things were back to normal.

In our social media era, it seems that hashtagging and charging colors on your Facebook profile page is either the least you can do or the most you are willing to do. Then we throw money at a cause only to find out that the money has been mismanaged.

I just feel that travel is a great way to show support to these cities. It shows that you cared enough to leave your safe life at home to spend money and time in their town despite the negativity. You’ll see results with your actions, rather than just joining a virtual chorus.

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Casa Vizcaíno Is The Most Glorious Dive Bar in Sevilla

Dive bars make the world go round. It makes being an alcoholic so enjoyable. Let me re-phrase that, it makes being an alcohol aficionado fun.

Thus, Casa Vizcaíno is such a place that you hopes survives well after we have left this earth. The decor is non-nondescript. The drink and food won’t impress anybody. If it changed in any way than we are screwed as a society.

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Located a tad off the beaten path in Plaza de Montesión, Casa Vizcaíno thrill is that there is no thrills. The boisterous crowd spills out onto the plaza, making it a perfect place to meet up with friends or to make new ones. You’re going for atmosphere and to mingle with the locals, not for a high-brow culinary experience.

Your options are limited, being that there’s no visible menu. There’s the house vermouth poured out of cloudy bottle with no label, white wine, red wine or the local mass-produced beer Cruzcampo on tap.

To eat, hope you like olives or lupines because that’s all they have. If there’s another secret menu, I didn’t see it.

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If you order two drinks, you’ll get the olives. Ask for a third, you’ll get the lupins. The bartenders will write your tally in chalk on the bar. If you go outside, there’s sort of an honor system that you’ll pay before you leave, so don’t be a jerk and pay up. It’s 1.20 euro for a beer.

I never had lupins before, which are pickled beans in a shell. You either pick them out with your fingers or in your mouth. And where do you places your shells? On the floor with your dirty napkins.

That’s right, it’s perfectly normal to throw your used items on the floor. Some places put buckets on or below the bar. Just look around to see if you see them.

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For Old School Tapas, Squeeze Into Bodegas Castañeda in Granada

It took me three visits, but on my last night I was able to muscle my way up to the bar at one of Granada’s most popular tapas bar, Bodegas Castañeda. Located a stone’s throw away from the Cathedral, the joint was consistently packed during the bank holiday weekend. That’s a sign it’s popular among the tourist groups.

With hanging jamon from the ceilings and wood casks piled behind the bar, you know you’re at a place that’s old school before old school was old school. Also, the average age of the all-male bar staff had to be about 50.

Don’t expect smiling or speedy service. These gentleman are crusty and have seen it all. That’s why knowing a little Spanish helps. There’s English menus around so if you can’t be bothered to look up phrases, just point at the menu.

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For drink, the house specialty is Vermouth or Vermut. Most of these old world tapas restaurants make their own or use a secret blend of wine. It’s cheap and good. That’s all that counts.

The food is fairly traditional tapas, lots of pork, seafood and croquettes. The people who sit outside or in the dining rooms are the tourists and old locals. It’s sacrilegious to stay at one place to eat all night, so standing at the bar and getting one of something is the best plan. I went with the bacon and cheese.

You’ll be struggling to keep your little real estate at the bar most of the time, so make it simple. Then, you can be on your way to the next tapas bar.

Beicon con queso. Bacon and cheese. #bacon #Granada #andalucia #cheese

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I Missed the UFO-Shaped Clouds in Cape Town By Two Weeks

Timing is something I pride myself on, but Acts of God I still can’t factor into my trip.

Over the weekend in Cape Town, an unusual weather pattern resulted into UFO-shaped clouds hovering over the city like the alien invaders from Independence Day or District 9. Table Mountain became prime viewing for this phenomenon called “stratocumulus standing lenticularis” according to CNN’s Derek Van Dam. “They form when conditions are just right. Air flows along the surface of the earth and reaches some sort of obstruction like a mountain or valley.”


Now I want my money back. I want saucer-like clouds cascading down the mountain, not some dry ice looking landslide, which is what I saw. How cool would my Instagram account be? It would be legit. I could have been embedded in a CNN article. Dammit all to hell!

Just take a bunch of hallucinogenics and between that these cloud picture I took were UFOs.

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Spanish Sidra in San Sebastian Puts All Other Ciders To Shame

spanish-sidraBefore I left on my trip, I had a conversation with some people about bringing an empty suitcase while traveling. This couple did it for all of the wine they bought in places like Spain, France, Italy, Argentina and South Africa. I like wine but not that much to drag it around in a suitcase for a month while paying the surcharges.

I thought about the empty suitcase when I was in the specialty food store Pantori in San Sebastian. I could have easily bought everything in the store from sauces, spreads, olive oils, canned fish, wine, craft beer, chocolate and cider.

Spanish Cider or Sidra was something I rediscovered in Bilbao and San Sebastian. I had it in a previous trip through Madrid, but neglected to introduce it back into my booze diet.

Sidra has a distinct flavor — a stinging, airy, vinegary first taste gives way to a slightly-sweet & sour and refreshing feeling on the palate. While American ciders are sweet beyond belief and British ciders can get downright nasty, Sidra and a few French-made ciders have interesting, wine-like complex flavors. They are not made for chugging.

Order a sidra in Northern Spain or Madrid and you get a little show called “throwing.” The bottle is topped with an escanciador or pourer to help with aerating the sidra. Then, your bartender with hold it over their head to pour it into a large, wide glass. This will gives your drink some more bubbles like sparkling wine and allow the sidra to breathe a bit.

I had one bartender put the glass between his legs so it looked like he was peeing into the glass. Others who are less-skilled will pour over a sink. While the glass is large, you’ll only get between two or three fingers deep.

While it was tempting to get a bottle for home, I figured I can get it here. Sure enough, my local shop had two Spanish sidra brands on hand.

This is why you should put some thought on your purchases abroad. Yes, it does make something a little special when it has traveled 5,000 miles to home. You have to way the hassle vs. just waiting when you come home and finding it online or locally.