Barcelona and Toledo

We’re into the last leg of our travels.  Having finished Portugal we’re now journeying our way back to where we started two months ago, to Madrid, from where we will travel home to Sydney.

But before we head to Madrid we are taking in two more cities in Spain, Barcelona and Toledo. Our first destination, Barcelona, is over 1000 km from Porto, so we had to make a decision on how to get there.  Sanford wanted to get there via a 20-hour bus ride, I wanted to fly.  Thankfully he relented and we flew.

Barcelona is located on the northeast coast of Spain facing the Mediterranean Sea. The best part about it’s location, between the sea and the mountains, is that it is basically flat, a welcome relief after our last few stops! Barcelona has a population of 1.6 million and is known for its art and architecture.

Number one on my “must see” list here was the Segrada Familia church designed by Antoni Gaudi. This church is considered the symbol of Barcelona even though it is yet to be finished. It was started in 1882 as a Neo-Gothic church and in 1883, architect Antoni Gaudi was given the task to completing it.  Gaudi transformed it with his architectural and engineering style, combining Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms.  It became his life’s work and he lived like a recluse on the site for the last few years of his life until his death at the age of 73 in 1926.  At the time of his death, less than a quarter of the project was completed.  Construction progressed slowly, more being done in recent years, following Gaudi’s original plans and in 2010 passed the midpoint.  Despite some of the project’s greatest challenges remaining, there is an anticipated completion date of 2026, the centenary of Gaudi’s death.  I loved this church!!!  Most iconic churches are filled with artworks and lots of gold and tend to be dark. The Segrada Familia was full of light! Huge stained glass windows, yellow and oranges on one side and blues and greens on the other, large open areas, and impossibly tall tree-themed columns holding the ceiling arches.  Truly magnificent!  Unfortunately my pictures below do not do it justice.


Number two on my “must see” list was Park Guell, a park designed by Gaudi and designated a UNESCO world heritage site. We made it to the park but we didn’t get to go into the section created by Gaudi as there were “designated time” tickets to enter that section and the first available were about seven hours from the time we were there. Unfortunately that just didn’t work for us.

Instead, we did a couple of self-guided walking tours and enjoyed the ambience of the streets and the markets.

 

From Barcelona we set out to Toledo. There is no train direct to Toledo, so we had to travel first 625 km west to Madrid and then transfer to another train to take us 74 km southwest of Madrid to our destination.  Toledo is situated on a hill above the Tagus River.  We’re back to hills….sigh.

Toledo is another pleasant “holiday-type” place, reminiscent of Sintra or Chefchaouen, full of narrow lanes with long overhead awnings, shops, restaurants and Madrid day-trippers.  I love places like that. The only problem was the weather. It was hot! We were here for three days and it was 37, 39 and 39 degrees! Thank goodness our hostel had air conditioning; that allowed us to wander around for awhile then come back to the room to cool down and then head out again.  It made the heat quite tolerable.

Toledo is known for marzipan. Marzipan is a Spanish sweet made from sugar, honey and almond paste. There are many shops here dedicated to this confection that sell marzipan cookies, paste and liqueurs. Stories about the origins of marzipan abound.  Some believe it came from Persia, some from Sicily, and some from Toledo.  The Toledo legend credits the nuns of Convento de San Clemente with inventing marzipan in 1212.  It was during a time of famine and battle.  There was no wheat stored in the city, but because almonds grow here in abundance, the nuns made an almond paste with the only ingredients that were available – almond flour, sugar and water – which they fed to the undernourished people of the city. The nuns of this convent still make marzipan to this day.

 

The tourist attraction to see in Toledo is Alcazar, a fortress which also houses a National Army Museum.  I have to admit that this attraction was not for me.  It is huge and has an overwhelming amount of information about Spain’s military past, something that holds no interest to me.  So I decided to leave Sanford there and opted to take the very touristy choo-choo train tour around the city (something which Sanford had no interest in).  I totally enjoyed it, it was lots of fun!

Being a popular tourist area, buskers abound.  Most often, people will make a wide sweep around the busker to avoid feeling guilty of not putting money in their hat.  I did notice one busker that stood out amongst all the rest in that he always had a crowd around and people were dropping money in his hat, including me.  He was a puppeteer.  He had a wonderful concert piano piece playing in the background and moved his puppet to play the baby grand with lots of rapture and expression.  Totally delightful!

Busker

That sums up our highlights for Barcelona and Toledo.

As I write this, we are back to where we started in Madrid.  We are here for two nights and leave tomorrow for Sydney.

 

Coimbra and Porto

We left Sintra on Saturday, May 13th, to head to Coimbra. Our hostel in Coimbra advised us to buy our train tickets far in advance because we were traveling the same day the Pope was coming to Fatima, a place located between Sintra and Coimbra, and travel was expected to be difficult. We followed that advice and, thankfully, had no difficulties and didn’t actually notice any extra “chaos” due to the Pope being in Portugal.

Of all the cities we visited during this trip I really didn’t care for Coimbra.  I found it to be  grubby, lots of graffiti everywhere, and not all that much to see. I do have to admit that I was actually quite tired at this point in the trip and Coimbra is built on steep hills that made it exhausting to walk around and this may have affected my opinion.

 

Coimbra is known as a University town.  The University of Coimbra was established in 1290 in Lisbon and went through a number of relocations until it was permanently moved to Coimbra in 1537.   It is the oldest university in continuous operation in the world, the oldest university in Portugal, and one of the country’s largest higher education and research institutions.  There are over 25,000 students with one of the largest number of international students in Portugal.  The university is also a tourist attraction.  The old part of the university has a large courtyard enclosed on three sides.  Fronting onto the courtyard is a very old and ornate library, a chapel, a clock tower and a great hall (used for ceremonies) with adjoining rooms.

 

For me, the most interesting thing we did was take in another Fado performance. The Fado in Coimbra is different than the fado in Lisbon. Here it was created among the university students. It is sung exclusively by men and has a strict dress code demanding they wear their university black capes. Fado ballads are themed on serenades to loved ones, graduation ceremonies, and on “honour”.   I found the music more lyrical and upbeat than the music in Lisbon. I was also surprised that many of the songs they sang were well known to much of the audience and they often sang along.

 

That’s all I will write about Coimbra but I have included below a few pictures of the city.

From Coimbra we travelled by train to Porto, our final destination in Portugal.  I had a mishap getting on the train.  I have no idea how I managed this, but I missed the step into the train and fell between the train and the platform!  I didn’t even think there was enough room for a person to fit there.  Amazingly, I landed on my feet but now the train entrance was about at my chest level.  A fellow behind me lifted me all the way up and into the train.  Everything was so quick; I fell and I was up.  The only “damage” was a scraped leg and a small tear in my pants.  I felt very fortunate because these days, any tug in the wrong direction with my body often means months of physiotherapy to get things sorted out.  I got a lot of attention afterwards, several train employees came by to check on me and they asked for all my particulars.  The fellow looking over my passport noted I was from Winnipeg and mentioned that just last week he was talking to the President of the University of Winnipeg!  Hmmm, I wonder if he/she also fell between the train and platform?  Maybe it’s a Winnipeg thing?

Leg

I really liked Porto; lots of sites to see and although still hilly, not as challenging to walk around as in Coimbra.  One of the best sites was the spectacular azulejo (tile) panels in the Sao Bento train station.  Completed in 1915, it is considered one of the world’s most beautiful train stations.  The atrium is covered with 20,000 azulejos painted by Jorge Colaco and depicts history and folk scenes from this region of Portugal.

Believe it or not, there is a list of the world’s greatest bookshops to visit and one of them is right here in Porto!  Livraria Lello opened in 1906 and houses more than 60,000 books. This shop is famous for its unique intersecting staircases that locals maintain helped inspire J. K. Rowlings, who dreamed up Harry Potter, while living in Porto.   To be honest, I was a little underwhelmed by this site.  The bookshop is extremely small with the staircase taking up almost the whole interior.

While in Porto we took a river cruise along the Douro River.  This river originates in Spain and flows 895km across Spain and northern Portugal and then spills into the Atlantic Ocean at Porto.  The seven hour cruise passed us through two sets of locks, the first, Crestuma/Lever Dam raised us 14 metres, and the second, Carrapatelo Dam, raised us 35 metres, one of the highest in Europe.  It was interesting to see how the system works from the “inside”.  The landscape in the Douro Valley was very scenic throughout and changing  from forests to lush green pastures to olive groves and pretty villages and finally to beautiful steeped slopes of wine terraces used for Port wine.   We got served breakfast and lunch on the boat.  The cruise ended in the small town of Peso da Regua and from there we took an almost two hour train ride back to Porto.  It was a very relaxing day!

Porto marks the end of our Portugal leg of the trip.  Next stop will be Barcelona, Spain.

 

 

Lisbon, Sintra, and still more Bird Poop!

The last week has been a whirlwind of sightseeing and activity. Between the two cities of Lisbon and Sintra, we have seen three castles, one museum, countless churches, several squares, many vantage view points, three gardens, one monastery, one tower, and many monuments, plus climbed a mountain, saw a fado performance, and had yet another poop encounter with a bird. It’s exhausting just writing all that out!

Not to worry, I won’t go into all the details of everything we did, just some of the highlights.

To begin, we left Lagos, located on the southern coast, and travelled 302 km inland north to Portugal’s capital, Lisbon. Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world, and the oldest in Western Europe, predating other European capitals, such as London, Paris and Rome, by centuries. It is a port city at the mouth of the Tagus River and spread over seven hills and crowned by a castle.

Of all the sites we saw here, two stand out for me; the National Azulejo Museum and the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos.

The word azulejo means tiles, and they are found everywhere throughout Portugal; on the interior and exterior of churches, palaces, ordinary homes, schools, restaurants, bars, railway and subway stations.  The National Azulejo Museum traces tile making from its introduction by the Moors through the Spanish influence and finally to the development of Portugal’s own style.  Originally tiles were made with geometric designs but over time other subjects such as religious art, major historical events, etc. were introduced.

Homes with tiles on exterior
Home with tiles on exterior

I did a lot of reading about the places we were seeing before coming on this trip and one of the things I really wanted to see was a style of architecture known as Manueline. It is unique to Portugal and is named after its patron, King Manuel I (1495 – 1521). Manueline Architecture is said to symbolize the zest for discovery of that era and is hugely flamboyant, characterized by fantastic spiralling columns and elaborate carvings and ornamentation. Carvings can be of anchors, seaweed, and rigging mingling with exotic animals. The Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, is a monastery built in Manueline style and is also a Unesco World Heritage Site. I was not disappointed, I loved it! After seeing so many monstrously large churches with an abundance of paintings and gold gilded everything, it was refreshing to see a more Spartan interior with essentially the architecture being the centrepiece.

Besides sightseeing, we also went out to a Fado House to enjoy a dinner and fado music. Fado music, unique to Portugal, originated from troubadour and slave songs and conveys an expression of longing and sorrow, literally meaning “fate”. The music can be sung by women or men and is accompanied by the guitarra (a flat backed instrument shaped like a mandolin with paired strings) and the viola (acoustic Spanish guitar).  I enjoyed the music, definitely better than traditional Spanish music (in my opinion).

After five nights in Lisbon, we went to Sintra, located 30 km northwest of Lisbon. Sintra is much smaller than Lisbon with a population of 25,000. I loved Sintra!! We only spent two nights there but could have spent more time as there was so much to see.

Traveling with Sanford, there is always a mountain somewhere to be climbed, and that mountain on this trip was in Sintra. Note – Sanford refers to it as a massive hill, but I beg to differ. There was a reason to climb the mountain and that was because there were two castles up there, Palacio de Pena and the ruins of a Moorish Castle. There was a walking trail and I have to say it didn’t take us all that long, maybe an hour and a half and we were on top. Both were interesting castles, but two other sites stood out more for me, so I won’t go into detail about these, I’ll just include a picture of the mountain.

Mountain
Despite my complaining about climbing mountains, it only took about 1 1/2 hours to climb from where this picture was taken.

Like Lisbon, there were two sites that really stood out for me here.  The first sight, the National Palace of Sintra, which surprisingly didn’t involve climbing a mountain, is located in the historic centre of Sintra. It is visible from afar by its two massive white conical kitchen chimneys. This palace began life as a primitive Moorish fort, and was extended and improved from 1281 to about the 16th Century.  Of particular note are the distinctive and ornate ceiling paintings on many of the rooms, from which said rooms derive their names, e.g. Crown, Mermaid, Magpie, Swan and Galley. The most famous of these rooms is the magpie room, which has paintings of magpies representing the gossiping and scheming of the queen’s ladies in- waiting. It was because of the description of the ceilings that I wanted to see this palace. I was not disappointed.

The second site I would like to mention is the elaborate and extensive gardens surrounding the Quinta da Regaleira, an extravagant 19th century gothic mansion. The gardens are filled with decorative fortifications, wells, grottoes, mystic religious symbols and a series of secrete passages and caves. The central feature of the gardens is an “initiation well”, a 27 metre deep subterranean well down which one could descend via a monumental spiral stairway. It is said that this well was at one time used for some type of cult ceremonies.  It was an amazing journey to the bottom.

And finally, my bird encounter.  I have lived the first sixty years of my life without ever being pooped on by a bird, and now, just over 1 month past my 60th birthday, I have been pooped on twice! While in Sintra, as we were about to go into a restaurant when I felt a large drop hit my head. It was raining at the time but this felt a little more substantial than just rain. I touched my head where it had hit and when I looked at my hand I saw the now all-to-familiar green colour on my fingers. I had been pooped on!! I’m hoping that was my last encounter with bird poop, but they say bad things happen in threes…….

Next stop is Coimbra and Porto.

 

 

We’re in Portugal!!

We’re off again!  We left Seville Spain around 7am by bus and travelled through rolling farmland and low hills to the Portuguese border. Border Control officers boarded the bus and did a quick passport check and then the bus carried on alongside the southern coast towards Lagos, our first destination, and we arrived about 12:30 pm. 

Lagos is quite small with a population of around 16,000 and is one of the most visited cities in Portugal and I can see why. It has wonderful Atlantic beaches set amongst amazing rock cliff formations, a walking trail along the coast, historic city walls, a fort over the shore, a few other historical sites, and lots of shops, souvenir stands, restaurants and bars.

Some of the sites we took in included the Municipal Museum which had a jumble of displays showcasing the local and regional history of Lagos.  They had prehistoric and historic artefacts to religious artworks, to modern art and photographic exhibitions, to antique firearms and model ships. Also attached to the museum is the small ornate Church of Santa Antonio.  This church is considered one of the best Baroque churches in Portugal and is dedicated to the patron saint of the military, Antonio. The church contains a gilded altar and paintings of Antonio’s life.

A little more interesting to me was the Slave Market Museum.  Lagos established a slave market for Europe.  During the 15th century, slaves were captured and transported from Africa, brought here and sold.  The museum is situated in the very building that housed the slave market and deals with the history of the slave trade from the 15th to 19th centuries.

Of all the sites we visited,  the one I liked the best was a small fort built overlooking the ocean in the 17th century called Fortress Lagos. I was expecting it to be the usual prison cell, armory, sleeping quarters, etc. but instead, they used it to showcase artwork. Totally enjoyed it, especially the weather vanes on top.

With all the site seeing done, we spent a couple of hours on the beach.

Shopping was interesting. A popular item here is cork veneer handbags, purses, wallets, hats, etc. It is odd seeing cork used as a “fabric”.  They look neat but I wondered how they could make a fabric out of tree bark, so I did a little research on it and this is what I found out:

  • Cork fabric is harvested from the Cork Oak tree, a tree that grows primarily in Spain, Portugal and France. When the Cork Oak has reached 20 years of age, the bark is stripped from the tree with a machete. That tree is then marked with a number so that it will not be harvested again for ten years.
  • Unlike other trees, the Cork Oak is the only tree in the world that can be stripped of its bark and not die — thus making the harvesting of cork 100% sustainable. In fact, the same tree can be harvested every 10 years for over 200 years!
  • Once the cork bark arrives in the factory, it is boiled in water to make the cork cells expand and make it easier to work with.
  • Then, it is shaved down into very thin sheets — about the same thickness as tissue paper. To make the cork durable, the sheets are then glued to a cotton/polyester or polyurethane backing.  The pieces of cork are sometimes glued onto the backing like patchwork, sometimes in thin lines — it all depends on the design.
  • And while cork is naturally water- and dust-resistant, a coating of sealant is applied to the cork in the final step of production to keep it from getting dirty.
  • Once the cork fabric is complete, it is stain-resistant, water-resistant, scratch-proof and incredibly soft. It can be used in the same applications as leather and upholstery-grade fabric.
Cork Wallet
I bought a cork change purse for my sister.

While here, I decided to get my hair cut again. The fellow in Morocco really did a poor job on my hair. I had just wanted a trim and the first thing he did was cut away all the hair around my ears (I’ve never had “naked” ears before and it has been weird) and then he hardly cut the rest of my hair. So I have been feeling like a mop lately with a thick patch of hair up top. When I went to the hairdresser here, she just kind of looked quizzically at my hair as one side around my ears was much shorter than the other side and my hair was uneven all over. With a language barrier, I couldn’t really say too much other than I wanted my hair shorter. Well, it’s really short now. I don’t hate my hair, I just don’t think I’ll keep it this way, but it’s okay for now. I also had some waxing done to remove the hair on my lip and chin, something I have done regularly for years. The waxing was funny because the esthetician asked if I wanted the rest of my face done, and since I know I have a lot of fine hairs where sideburns would be, I said yes. Well she worked on my face for a whole half hour! She did my cheeks, my forehead, my neck, partly inside my nose; it was amazing. I wondered just how hairy I was!

That pretty much sums up Lagos, next stop is Lisbon, the capital of Portugal.

Southern Spain – Cordoba and Seville

We had quite the adventure traveling from Chefchaouen in Morocco to Codoba in southern Spain. It was a long journey with many legs. We started the day by getting up at 5:30 am, finished our packing, and then set out by foot in the dark for the 20-minute walk to the bus station. The bus departed at 7am and took us slowly along winding roads down out of the mountains and eventually, after a three-hour journey, into the Tangier bus station. The next leg was to take a ferry across to Algeciras Spain. There are several locations from which to take a ferry and for our destination we discovered the previous night, we needed to be 42 km east of Tangier, at the Tangier med port.

Luckily, just outside the bus station were “share taxis” and the route to Tangier med port was a common one. We were able to be the last two passengers in one that was heading to our ferry port immediately. The taxi got us there in about 30 minutes and we made it to the terminal by 10:35. At this point all was looking good. We planned to get the next ferry at noon and then take a train which would get us to Cordoba by about 6pm. However, that was when everything started to unravel.

The noon ferry we booked had “rotor problems” and we weren’t able to board until 1:30. By the time the ferry was fully boarded, sailed across the straight, deboarded, and we got through border control, plus had a time change of a loss of one hour, it was 5pm and we had missed our Cordoba train.

We really didn’t know what to do from here. It was getting on in the day and we weren’t sure of connections. Should we stay in Algeciras for the night and catch the train in the morning? On exiting the ferry terminal, there was a bus sitting there that said Seville. Seville is on the way to Cordoba. We decided to take the bus and see just how far we could get. A passenger on the bus was able to help us. He informed us that once we get to Seville we could take a taxi from the bus station to the train station and that there were many trains that went to Cordoba from there. The bus left at 5:30pm and took us 160 km through rolling pastures and croplands and arrived in Seville at 8pm.

It was rainy here. We took a taxi to the train station and got tickets for the fast train that would get us to Cordoba in 30 minutes and it was leaving imminently…we missed it by 1 minute (sigh). Back to the ticket office and got the cheaper “slower” train, boarded at 9pm, and arrived in Cordoba at 9:45pm. Still raining, we got another taxi from Cordoba station to our Hostel and arrived at 10pm. Walk, bus, share taxi, ferry, bus, taxi, train, taxi; we were tired but felt great, we had made it!!

Our time in Cordoba was marked by rain, from light drizzle to pouring buckets. It was raining when we arrived and the sun didn’t come out until the last few hours before we left. Despite that, we still got out and about. We took in a couple of museums and the “must see” site of the vast Islamic/Christian Mesquita Cathedral. The cathedral is a massively proportioned edifice taking up a large block amongst the tangle of small streets. It was a mosque before being converted to a cathedral after the Islamic period. It is noted for its impressive array of hundreds of red/white striped columns topped by Roman-inspired double arches, a central cathedral, ceiling paintings and designs, and many naves around the outside with Christian paintings, reliefs and tapestries. Outside is an impressive bell tower and an orange-grove garden. It took a good couple of hours to get around and soak it all in.

While in Cordoba, I went on line to book an accommodation for further on in the trip and in the process I discovered my credit card was not working. I called my provider and was redirected to their security investigation officer and discovered that someone had hacked my credit card and took $7500 cash advance in Vancouver the previous day. Yikes!! That meant my card was now cancelled and I can’t get a new card until I return to Canada, four months from now, because you have to go to the bank in person to pick it up. Very upsetting, particularly since I keep my card in an RFID folder and when I do on-line money transactions I use a VPN server. I just don’t know how someone could have got my info. Luckily I have my trusty President’s Choice debit card with me and I have found that works anywhere in the world, so I was able to get money from an ATM machine.

After three nights in Cordoba, it was time to move on to Seville. Unlike our last journey, this one was easy. A 45-minute train ride and we were there, yeah!! Seville was sunny and warm, a welcome reprieve.

Seville seemed so much more alive than Cordoba, but I think that had more to do with the weather than the people. While here, it was the start of Feria de Abril (Seville’s April Fair) when women walk around in beautiful flamenco dresses and men in their traditional suits known as “el traje corto”. It was wonderful wandering around and seeing these beautiful dresses everywhere we went. Speaking of flamenco, southern Spain is the birthplace of this style of dance and one of the fun things we did while here was take in a performance. I loved the dancing, it is simply amazing how fast they can tap their feet. I have to admit though that I don’t care for the traditional singing. I found it harsh and not very musical. That being said, a Flamenco performance was on my bucket list for the trip and I can now check that off.

We did a fair bit of walking around through parks, the old city and shopping areas. We came across one interesting site called the Mirador Mushrooms Seville. It’s a giant wooden multi-mushroom structure, located in the old quarter of the city and which people could ascend for a view of the city. It is the largest wooden structure in the world with dimensions of 150 by 70 metres and a height of 26 metres. It looked odd amongst the surrounding architecture and I really wondered how the tenants facing that square felt when it was erected, not happy, I presume.

Seville's mushrooms

The two major sites to see in Seville are the Cathedral and the Royal Palace (Real Alcazar). Of the two, my favourite was the cathedral.  It is a huge Gothic structure with a Moorish bell tower and is Seville’s most popular site. It is the highest and largest cathedral in Spain, the largest Gothic building in the world and the world’s third-largest church, after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London. Originally a mosque that was started in 1171, when the Spanish recaptured Seville from the Moors in 1248, it was reconsecrated to the Virgin Mary and used as a Christian Cathedral.  On the grounds is a bell tower that is affectionately called La Giralda, meaning “she who turns” which refers to the weathervane on top which is of a statue representing faith called El Giraldillo.  Also of interest, the remains of Christopher Columbus are housed here.  His coffin is borne aloft by the four kings representing the medieval kingdoms of Spain: Castile, Leon, Aragon, and Navarra.

We are now leaving Spain, for the time being, and moving on to Portugal, with the first stop being Lagos.

Chefchaouen and the Rif Mountains

Today is our last full day in Morocco and we are in Chefchaouen, a city in the Rif Mountains in the northwest of Morocco.  It was a long journey to get here from Essaouira, which was our last stop.  To make the travel slightly easier, we traveled back to Marrakesh where we spent a night and then the following day made the ten-hour (575km) trip involving two trains and a bus.  Travel here is relatively cheap and the cost of our trip, including first class tickets for the train, was an amazing $40 each!

We originally did not have this city on our list but so many people told us it was a “must see” that we changed our minds about going to Tangier at the end and chose here instead, and I’m glad we did.

Chefchaouen is known as the “Blue City” as many buildings are awash in various shades of blue and this fact is a popular subject of interest. There are several theories as to why the walls were painted blue. One is that the blue keeps mosquitos away; I can however tell you that is not true as I have had several mosquito bites since being here, the only ones I have gotten in Morocco!   Another theory is that in 1492, when Chefchaouen received a large influx of Jews escaping the Spanish inquisition, they brought the tradition of painting buildings blue.  The blue is said to symbolize the sky and heaven, and serve as a reminder to lead a spiritual life.  Whatever the reason, it is beautiful to walk around and see all the shades of blue.

The one main site to see is the casbah, a fortress where the local leader used to live and a defence when the city was under attack.  The casbah is from the 15th century and contains a dungeon and ethnographic and art exhibits.

Chefchaouen is at the base of the Rif Mountains.  There are abundant natural springs, wildflowers and low lying clouds hovering above the surrounding mountains.  For our last day, we spent time walking a trail in the mountains; it was peaceful with birds singing, and we occasionally passed locals who were tending to sheep or goats that were grazing up there. We finished off with a stop at our favourite orange juice stand.  The owner keeps the oranges cold by putting them in a bucket that has a continuous stream of mountain water running over them.  It was a nice way to spend our last day.

We are about to go out for our last dinner.  I know I have said how much I loved the food here but after about two weeks of tagines, I could no longer eat them.  We have actually been eating a fair amount of pizza and panini lately.  Tonight, however, we are going to have a very traditional dinner with tagine, couscous, and mint tea.

Mint tea
I love the mint tea – green tea served over fresh mint – yum!!

Tomorrow night we will be in Cordoba, Spain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Essauoira and more bird poo!

From Marrakesh, we travelled west 200km to the Atlantic coast and the small port city of Essauoira. This is a laid-back, friendly, beach town that became famed as a hippie hangout for surfers and expat artists in the 20th century.

Essaouira is known for its strong “Alizée” trade winds, making it the go to spot for surfers, wind surfers and kite surfers. There is a beautiful long beach for all the sporting activity and for people to just enjoy the sun and sand. Even though, at this time of year, the water is still a bit cool there were still lots of people on the beach, from fully clothed Muslims to Europeans with normal beach wear.

Essaouira is also known for its connection to the pop legend, Jimi Hendrix. There is a lot of myth surrounding a visit he made here in 1969 and out of that, a whole cottage industry formed. People love to tell you about him and there are many tales and fictitious stories about what he did here. Allegedly he stayed at particular riads, which he didn’t, ate in restaurants that did not even exist at the time, and jammed with local musicians with a guitar he never traveled with. There is a café in Diabat, a short biking distance from Essaouira, dedicated to him. With not a lot of sites in Essaoira and lots of time, we rented bikes one day and found the restaurant.

The most impressive thing about the medina here is that it is protected by 18th century seafront ramparts called the Skala de la Kasbah, which were designed by European engineers. Old brass cannons line the walls, and there are wonderful views fishing harbor and surrounding sites.

What was special about Essauoira for us, was the time we spent with our hosts. On arriving, there was one another traveller from Spain and one of our hosts, Elena, took us to the main square to sit and have tea and chat. Another day, Pierre, the other host, took us to see the new Riad they are renovating and also took us to an area of the medina with great food that only the locals go. In the evening, they often entertained with friends and jammed with guitars and singing. We were always included. It was quite wonderful.

And what about the bird poo? Well, while wandering with Pierre one day, he and I got “showered” from above. He got the worst of it with most of it landing on his head, I just got a bit on my shirt and hand. Pierre says it’s a sign of luck. I’m not so sure about that.  I think it’s something you say to make yourself feel better about being pooped on by a bird!

Bird
I’m not so sure I like birds as much as I used to!