Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Little Chateau in Moliets, France

Marleen, the lady we stayed with in San Sebastian, listened as we talked about how expensive France was going to be. We told her about spending several hours trying to find cheap accommodation, but there was nothing. Hostels were few and far between, bed and breakfasts were expensive, and we hadn’t heard back from any hosts on couchsurfers. At the moment of deciding we could only go to Paris for a night or two and would not be able to see any other part of France, Marleen said “I have a house in the South of France if you want to stay there.”

Yes, please.
Sometimes, things work out in our favor, and we headed to the South of France to a little town called Moliets with Marleen and her son.
After driving for a couple hours and going through about five tolls, we stopped at a small pizza place for lunch. It was nice spending quality time with Marleen and her sweet and thoughtful son, Carlo.
We arrived to the house and it was wonderful. It was small but perfect for Bryan and me. There were two small bedrooms, a kitchen and dining room, one bathroom, a living room, and most importantly, a TV for the France vs Sweden European Cup match. Marleen was about to take a nap and Carlo had grabbed his bike. Marleen just about asked Carlo to take us and show us the beach, but he looked like he was on a mission, so we said we could find it ourselves. Carlo sped off.
Bryan and I explored a little of the resort type city. It reminded me a little of the Pacific Northwest as it had just rained and there was the smell of pine needles everywhere. It was nice to be home for a bit. :) The house was next to a lake, golf course, and of course a wonderful sandy beach.
We grabbed our traditional dinner of meat, cheese, fruit and bread on the way back. It was a small French town, so we weren’t expecting much in the way of options from the little grocery store. There were two kinds of sausage (one being Spanish) and a limited fruit selection. On the flip side there were a few dozen different types of cheese and a little stall with a half dozen fresh-baked kinds of baguettes. Every culture has their own priorities.
We got back to the house a few minutes after Carlo and together we’d accidentally woken up Marleen.
Carlo had a big smile on his face, and shared with us the fruits of his mission . . . beignets. Begniets are deep-fried pieces of dough about half again the size of a golfball and reminded me a bit of a donut. Carlo had grabbed four different kinds from a local bakery: strawberry, apricot, apple and chocolate. They were fresh fried and had been put in pieces of paper wrapped into a cone.
Marleen and Carlo left later that evening and it was kind of sad to say goodbye. Marleen commented on how fun it was to have us (Bryan, me, and the Portland couple) stay with them and how we sort of became one big family. We agreed.
The next morning we basically spent the day at the beach relaxing. Later we had a great idea and walked to the lake to hang out for awhile. We stayed for about ten minutes before realizing I was being bit by a million mosquitoes. In case you haven’t heard, I am Bryan’s repellent. We then went back to the house. The mosquitoes ended up being a blessing in disguise as a thunder and lightning storm rolled in rather quickly. We went back to the house where Bryan made his famous mac and cheese. It was a perfect night.
Having someone drive you to a destination means you’re not quite sure how to get back on pubic transportation. In our situation, there was no public transportation at all. Oops.
When we first arrived to Moliets, we met Marleen’s neighbor who is French but speaks English well. She helps take care of the house for Marleen and offered to help us figure out the best way to reach the train station which was about 45 minutes away. She originally told us there was a bus stop about 15 minutes and she could take us there before work. However, the day before we left she knocked on our door told us due to the fact it was not quite high season, the buses weren’t running until the beginning of July. She was very sweet and helpful and eventually told us our only option was a taxi as the train station was the other direction of her work.
We paid 60 Euros to take a 45 minute taxi ride to the train station. Sometimes, things don’t work out in our favor.
Next stop, Paris.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized on  by lesie

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Best and Worst of Month 2 Awards

As of June 17th, we will have been traveling for two months. To recap, here’s where we’ve been in month 2. Seville, Spain – Marrakesh, Morocco – Sahara Desert, Morocco – Essouaria, Morocco – Chefchouan, Morocco – Barcelona, Spain – Lisbon, Portugal – San Sebastian, Spain


The Garden – Seville, Spain

We’ve stayed in some nice places, but this was the best. By far. Hands down. Ranked #8 in the world by and for a very good reason. The moment we got there we were welcomed by name by Valentina at the front desk. The rooms were nice, air-conditioned and secure. There was a garden out back and a rooftop terrace. Free sangria every night at 8 was usually followed by some sort of entertainment. There was quiz night, a great flamenco guitarist, and they ran free walking tours. Marvelous place.

Honorable Mention Trip and Friends – Marrakesh, Morocco

Show up and they sit you down in the common room with the sickeningly sweet Moroccan tea and free hookah. If you’re in the common room when someone else shows up, free tea! Both Omar and Mehdi were wonderful, friendly hosts and provided great information about the towns. The only downside was all the beds were laid out around the room touching each other and a bit short. So if Bryan laid out straight his feet were slightly into the next persons bed. On day 1 he woke up to a Chinese woman using his foot as a pillow. We met a lot of good people here.


Equity Point – Barcelona, Spain

It’s only €17 for a bed in downtown Barcelona! But you want a sheet? That’s €2. A blanket? €2. The lockers are non-standard and you need to buy a lock from them? €4. The facilities were great, but the hospitality was atrocious. These guys squeezed all the character out of their hostel for an extra euro. We thought it might just be us as we generally don’t like really big hostels, but after we met some of the other people in our room we learned that everyone felt this way. We did not go so far as actually stealing silverware out of spite. I can’t say the same for our bunkmates.


Kota 31 – San Sebastien, Spain

Pintxos! The Basque-style tapas restaurant served up the best food of the month. Jamon Iberica (Spanish spiced and aged ham) was cooked into a bechamel sauce and fried. Risotto with crunchy bits, mushrooms and truffle oil. Heaping mounds of fresh peppers fried in olive oil and spiced. In short, it was incredibly decadent food served in a non-pretentious environment. When ordering hot pintxos they’d take your name and call it from behind the bar when your food was ready. The woman actually remembered my name the second time we went there… and the third.

Honorable Mention “The Place with the Ladies” – Seville, Spain

Most of the people who served us tapas were male. The exception was in Seville where a thirty-something woman spent her days carving the massive dried and spiced pig leg known as jamon Iberica (Iberian ham). It was also the only one where jamon iberica was available as a tapa. Most places only served it as a racion. They had an omelet filled with Gorgonzola and Iberian ham cream sauce and a rice dish made with white truffle oil which was our favorite tapa before San Sebastian.


Overnight in the Sahara Desert

We overnighted in the Sahara in a Berber tent. It was awesome!

Honorable Mention Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

Goudi’s unfinished masterpiece! This church was designed by the famous architect and has been under-construction since 1880. It’s currently planned to be completed in 2020. There’s a tendency to see lots of old castles and cathedrals throughout the world, which made me wonder what a landmark cathedral would look like if built with modern sensibilities and design techniques. The answer? Sagrada Familia.


Nicknamed by Bryan, ?2 Evil flimsy danger sandals of danger.

Leslie needed some shoes for hostel showers in Brighon, England, so we purchased these for two pounds. It seemed like a good deal during month 1. In month 2, she almost broke her back falling down the stairs in Chefchouen, Morocco. She almost repeated the incident in San Sebastian and Bryan ripped them apart.


Camels in the Sahara

Bryan named his Space Ghost.


Van to the Sahara, Morocco

Leslie had two figs that tasted great, then a third that didn’t taste so good. An hour later she was doubled over in the front seat of the van with the dreaded traveler’s diarrhea and we still had five hours in the van. Oog. We ended up leaving our group at the hotel and catching on with the next one while cipro (antibiotics) did it’s job.


The Tapas Bar by the Hostel, Barclona, Spain

Pig ears. Uck.


Marrakech, Morocco to Essouaria, Morocco

We shared this one with our buddy Javier from Valencia, Spain whom we met on the Sahara trip. It started with a run across Marrakech to the bus station. We made it with a minute to spare. We then took the journey and got dropped off in a medina where we could not get the “Where you going?” brigade to leave us alone.


Train door doesn’t open – Spain

So this wasn’t really our fault, but when the train stops in Spain you need to push a little green button to open the door. We did, but the door didn’t open. We tried again. The door didn’t open. The Kiwis (New Zealanders) we were standing next to tried. The door didn’t open and the train was off. They soon learned I spoke a little Spanish, so we explained what happened to a conductor. “You need to push the green button!” he said. I tried explaining what happened again, so he repeated himself louder. We got off on the next stop and split a taxi to go back on train station to catch the connecting flight.


Sahara Desert, waking up

CLAP, CLAP, CLAP! It was 5:00am and Leslie sat bolt upright. She looked to her left and saw a wall of carpet. She looked to her right and saw the same. “It’s okay!” said Bryan. “We rode a camel into the Sahara, we’re in a tent in the Berber village. Ali is clapping to wake us up.” Everything was okay again.


The Football Pub – Seville, Spain

Champions League Final! Chelsea vs. Bayern Munich and we were directed to a local football pub in Seville, Spain by one of the guys at The Garden Hostel. The place was absolutely slammed. We got there about ten minutes before kickoff and it was already standing room only. Two minutes before kickoff people started sitting on the floor. To top it off, it was one of the few places in town you could order a pint of normal beer instead of a 1/3 of a pint of Cruzcampo in a plastic cup. It ended up going to penalty kicks and for once, the Germans missed.


Festival of San Antonio – Lisbon, Portugal

San Antonio is the patron saint of Lisbon. The day we showed up there was an all-night, city-wide party that started when somebody put green wigs on our heads. Exactly what we were all celebrating was never quite clear, but it was summed up best by somebody who barely spoke English, “Tonight we party, tomorrow we rest.”


Marrakesh, Morocco

Madrid, Spain was the odds on favorite for this award going into month 2. We didn’t really want to go to Madrid, preferring other parts of Spain. Marrakesh on the other hand turned into a great place and a central hub. It was the cheapest flight from Seville to Morocco. We then went into the Sahara, and back to Marrakesh. Then, we were off to Essouaria on the Moroccan coast and back to Marrakesh. The main train line connecting the south of Morocco to the north runs from Marrakesh to Tangier. Top that off with an excellent, reliable hostel in Trip and Friends and we found ourselves checking into a hostel in Marrakesh 3 separate times, rivaling London for most times we’ve ended up in the same city.


San Sebastian, Spain

Three picture-perfect beaches, mountains a short distance away and a population that loves eating and socializing makes San Sebastian, Spain our month 2 “Best Place in the World” nominee. There’s three hills surrounding the city, with one being a massive park right next to a beach, the marina and the old part of the city. There’s a huge Napoleonic battery on top that looks out over the city with a 20 foot statue of Christ in the middle. You can get to the top and get amazing views of the city in about an hour. To top it off the place has more Michelin Stars per capita than any other place on the planet, giving it a legitimate claim to be the home of the best food on earth.

BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD NOMINEE (Month 1 – We didn’t pick one last month)

Isle of Skye, Scottish Highlands

The Isle of Skye was named because the mist makes it look like the island is floating in the clouds. There’s not a lot of people, but the entire island is covered with highland sheep, making the whole thing look like a golf green. Every restaurant we went to there were people striking up conversations and singing songs. Lochs, whiskey distilleries, local ales and of course, the Highlands themselves. Neist Point is a massive structure jutting straight up out of the ocean that you can climb. It’s very easy, but a LOOOONG way down. Fairy Glen is a perfect hiking trail for some wee fairies, who will bless you with luck if you run naked through the Glen during a full moon. This was a great place, and remember, if it’s not “highlandy” enough, then walk up!

Friday, June 15, 2012

San Sebastian, Spain – Beaches, Farmhouses and Pintxos!

“Why can’t we ever just get off the train and be at the hostel?” asked Leslie as we walked down the dirt road that we were hoping was Errekalde, Auzoa in Lezo, a small city in the Basque Country of Spain. At this point, we’d been looking for “Bed and Breakfast Marleen” for the last six hours.

The night train had dropped us off at 6:45am and we’d spent the last three hours trying to remain connected to the ‘net to find an email from Marleen. The first place had coffee, no food. The second place had food, no electrical outlet. The third was just right.
Eventually, we found the train stop “Gaintxurizketako-Garalekua” deep in the bowels of and hopped on the local “Eusko” train to head out towards the Bed and Breakfast.
The stop was fairly easy to find, but there was no sign and we spent the next three hours touring the rural neighborhood of Errekalde trying to find the B&B. We met about 2/3 of the neighborhood and while everyone was friendly and trying to be helpful, nobody knew where the B&B was and nobody spoke English. We did confirm that Spanish chickens, sheep and horses look like US chickens, sheep and horses.
Eventually we got tired of lugging the backpacks around so we sat by a small stream in the shade and took turns exploring. Leslie found a young woman who looked up the address, confirmed we were in the right spot and helped us figure out house numbers so we knew which end of the street to be on. We headed towards what we thought was #8 and found a huge gate. We opened the gate to be greeted by two barking dogs running down the driveway followed by a man with a hoe. We shut the gate.
“Bryan!” we heard from behind us. “You found us yourself!” It was Marleen.
Marleen led us into her house and gave us some olives and some tea. It was literally next door to the train station. There house was a mini-UN. Marleen was from Belgium, her husband was Spanish, their son Carlo was adopted from Hungary and their daughter was Basque.
After a short nap we headed out into San Sebastian proper, which was the main attraction, even if we were staying outside in the town of Lezo. We’d heard good things about the town from other travellers, but for me, the main attraction is the food.
A “Michelin Star” is an award of excellence given by the French. Restaurants must pass stringent tests in order to receive a Michelin Star, but when they do, it’s a mark of high quality. San Sebastian has more Michelin Stars per capita than any place on earth. We might not be hitting the €150 per plate places of the celebrity chefs, but our expectations were pretty high.
Tapas are called “Pintxos” in the Basque Country. The “tx” in Basque sounds like the “ch” in English, so it sounds like “pEEnt-chos”. They are prepared in advance and piled high on plates, which are then placed on the bar. You can point and they’ll serve you or hand you a plate and you can fill it yourself. There’s usually a couple more hot pintxos on the menu that are cooked fresh. In the more popular places you cannot eat at the bar because it’s covered in pintxos. Most cost €2-3 but it’ll take 3-4 to make a meal.
We got lucky though and ended up being there during Pintxos Week, sponsored by the local lager, “Keler 18”. (No relation to former Seattle Sounders and USA goalkeeper Kasey Keller, #18) Marleen had given us a map of the participating Pintxos bars which would give you 4 Pintxos and 2 Keler 18s for €10. There was some sort of card you’d fill out to rank your favorites.
We ended up going to a bunch of different pintxos bars during our time in San Sebastien, but our favorite was a place called Kota 31, which we ended up at 3 separate times. Their 4 pintxos offering for the Pintxos week was: tempura fried prawns served with a pimento mayonnaise oxtail pie served with a sweet tomato jelly mushroom, cheese sauce and crunchy-thing risotto spanish-ham bechamel croquettes (our favorite)
We also ended up getting some mild local peppers that were fried in olive oil. Well… most were mild. One out of every 20 was a doozy.
Our three days flew by in San Sebastien. There were three picture-perfect white-sand beaches that we never really managed to make it to. Day 1 was beautiful, but we didn’t bring beach stuff. Day 2 we brought beach stuff, but it rained. Day 3 we brought raincoats… and it was gorgeous. Oh well.
San Sebastian is in a quite strategic location as the road from Paris to Madrid runs right through it. Franco knew it, Napoleon knew it and now you know it! There’s a large hill sitting off to one side of the city right on the ocean that has a castle on top. Napoleon used it to hold the city although at one point a large chunk of it was destroyed as a lightning bolt struck the cache of gunpowder. Oops. A fifteen foot tall statue of Jesus Christ looks over the city from the center of the battery.
Our second day in the B&B saw Ben and Lindsay from Portland arrive, which were a fun couple to hang out with. In order to keep down costs, they made food every day. It was some of the weirdest food that Carlo had ever seen though. The 18 year old Spaniard got up his nerve though and managed to try that weird American food . . . the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He took one bite and will probably never take another.
The third day saw us figuring out what our next stop was going to be and trying to figure out how to get into France. Unfortunately, it looks like the French don’t have many hostels. Our solution… one more day in Lezo.
In fact, the local train that takes us from San Sebastien to our B&B is about fifteen minutes. If you take the train ten minutes the other way, you cross the Spain-France border into the small town of Hendaye.
As a result, our first day in France saw us stay in the same place as our last few days in Spain. Hendaye was a fun little beach town. We took about a twenty minute walk along the water an around the port. Probably the highlight of the day was a ferry from one side of the river to the other. The “ferry” sat about twenty people and could hold 5 bikes, no cars. We got some fun pictures of both sides of the river from the middle.
We got off the other side and I looked at Leslie, “Wait, what country are we in again?” It turns out we had crossed back into Spain, but soon went back to France as the food was very expensive. Lunch was actually quite interesting.
A Rick Steeves French/Italian/German language guide has been bouncing around my backpack for the last few months and is about to become invaluable. That said, I asked if the waitress at the little cafe spoke Spanish and after confirmation, the American and the Frenchwoman spoke Spanish to get through the ordering process. We ordered “hamburgers”, but they were nothing like burgers in the USA.
Eight inch long baguettes showed up with chopped up grilled onions spread across the bun. Three very skinny hamburger patties were laid across the top with tomatoes, a piece of lettuce and a piece of ham. Leslie’s had gorgonzola cheeze while mine had Chevremont. It was nothing like home, but quite good.
That night, we met Marleen and the family as well as the Oregonians back at the B&B to watch Spain defeat Croatia in Euro Cup 2012. Carlo is in English class while I’m learning Spanish so it was quite helpful for both of us. I taught him the word “cool” while he taught me a plethora.
We told Marleen about our problem with the cost of the hostels in France and that we were probably heading straight to Paris for a night or two before getting out of France entirely. She said that there was much more to France than Paris and we agreed, telling her that we were more excited about getting into the southwest of the country, but it was really expensive.
Fortunately, she had a solution.
Next stop, Marleen’s vacation home in Morietz. A little chateau in the south of France.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Lisbon, Portugal – It’s Party Time!

The overnight train from Madrid to Lisbon meant I did not sleep. I always try so hard, but I always seem to fail at sleeping all night while sitting up. This specific train prohibited me from laying on Bryan as there was a big arm rest in the middle which would not move. Never the less, it is always cheaper to do this than buy a sleeper coach, and when it comes down to it, we seem to always choose cheaper.

We arrived in Lisbon around 8am the following morning and I swore I would never take another night train. We met an Australian girl who was also staying at the same hostel as us. We all took the local bus and finally made it to a place called People’s Hostel about 15 minutes outside downtown Lisbon.
Bryan and I slept for a good chunk of the day and then decided to see what Lisbon was all about.
Before arriving in Lisbon we had many people tell us it was one of their favorite cities in Europe. I quickly realized why many thought this. Many of the sidewalks, alleys, and roads were covered with off white/brownish square tiles which was a local stone from Lisbon. It was amazing to see how much time and effort it must have taken to cover the majority of the city with this.
After arriving in downtown via the local bus, we noticed a bar/restaurant next to the water with a huge variety of colorful bean bag chairs, and I immediately knew this was going to be a cool city.
We were not planning on staying out late, as we were still pretty warn out, but plans change sometimes. As we were walking around the relatively small city we noticed many booths being set up on the roads and sidewalks. We had no idea what this meant, so I asked a man who was selling 1 Euro Sangria. He didn’t quite know how to explain in English, but he said “tonight we drink and tomorrow we sleep”. Later, another guy said it was the festival of St. Antonio and was arguably the biggest day in Lisbon. He also said something similar to the previous guy, emphasizing that it was an excuse to drink and eat all night and have a holiday the next day. We felt pretty lucky to have arrived on the biggest day in Lisbon and could not justify going to bed early.
The majority of our time at the festival was spent walking around a neighborhood called Alfama which was sort of medina like with narrow alleys, apartments, and cafes.
The festival was filled with a vast array of food and drinks, including local sardines, meat sticks, farturas (like churros but softer and better), and 1 euro sangria and beer. Bryan was in heaven. There was music, people dancing, colorful streamers, and people everywhere. The streets were packed.
After awhile we found another hostel in the middle of the action. Out of curiosity, we wanted to know how much it was. After about 2 minutes into the conversation, the guy running the hostel invited us in and sent us up to the communal kitchen to hang out with friends from his university. Soon after, we were surrounded by local medical students. We were offered free food, beer, and sangria. Again, Bryan was in heaven.
We did not make it all night, like many did. At about 1am I looked at Bryan and said “It’s time for me to go to bed.”
The following morning we did laundry. It is surprising how much time is dedicated to a couple loads of laundry while traveling, but it has to be done, especially when you’re married to Bryan. Love you, honey.
A couple days before arriving in Lisbon, we met a couple from Portugal on who were interested in meeting up and showing us a bit of the city. We were supposed to meet them at 6pm but were about 15 minutes late after accidentally hopping on a bus that went an hour out of our way.
We both hate being late and felt so bad, but they were sweet and understood. They took us to a local bar for food, showed us a wonderful view of the castle and Lisbon, took us to a library in an architecturally brilliant building, and then we all made our way to a bar to watch Germany vs. Holland. Overall, it was a good night and it also showed us all the many wonderful people we could meet by using couchsurfers.
The next day we woke up thinking we weren’t leaving Lisbon until 10pm until we went to buy our train tickets and realized we could go directly from Portugal to San Sebastian on the night train. We left Lisbon at 4pm and arrived in San Sebastian, Spain at 6am the following morning. Again, I got little to no sleep.
I will never take another night train.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized on  by leslie

Friday, June 8, 2012

Barcelona – Catalunya

We woke up in Chefchaouen to learn that the taxi driver strike had been joined by the van drivers. In short, there was no way of getting from the hostel to the bus station, and we had to walk a relatively long distance in the heat with backpacks. Not a good way to start an intercontinental travel day.

For those who haven’t heard, our credit card had been stolen out of a computer system. No money was missing, but the bank canceled the card. As a result, my parents mailed the card to a hostel we already knew to be trustworthy in Seville, Spain. (Thanks, guys!) Our goal was to make it from Chefchaouen, Morocco to Seville in a day, but alas, it was not to be. We ended up spending a night in Algeciras, Spain and caught the train the next day.
We spent two nights in Seville taking care of housekeeping issues. Our malfunctioning 1.5 terabyte external hard-drive was replaced by a 500GB “rugged” drive, I picked up books 3 and 4 of the Game of Thrones series (in English), collected the aforementioned card, found a 78 cent bottle of red and basically took care of things that can only be done once you know a city pretty well.
Finally, we took the AVE (pronounced ah-vay) to Madrid, and caught the connection to Barcelona.
When I was younger I would daydream that Benjamin Franklin would time-travel to this era and I’d get to show him all the cool new things. Cars, computers, there’s a whole new world! The AVE made me feel like he would have.
The Spanish country-side flew by at 200mph as we made our way from the Andalusia region in the south to Madrid. We actually thought we were going to Lisbon, Portugal, but there was a strike, so we changed plans at the last minute and went to Barcelona. The amount of businessmen commuting on the train came as a surprise to me. Imagine living in Seattle and commuting to Portland. On the other hand, if the train’s fast enough, why not?
The Garden Hostel in Seville had given us a recommendation in Barcelona, but when we got there they were renting beds for €37 a night, which was way too much. We later found a terrible hostel for €17, which we stayed at for one night before finding another hostel called “The Garden” that was about 15 minutes outside of city-center on the subway. We ended up really enjoying being a bit outside, as the pubs were full of locals, the prices were halved and we had a chance to blend into a real community as opposed to a place populated by other foreigners.
The best part about that place was the friendly people who were staying there. In fact, on the first night, we heard a story from our friend Dan about a nearby tapas bar that was quite good. €1 wine, tapas under €3, and some unique dishes. He had tried the pig’s ears. He didn’t like them.
Leslie immediately looked at me, “I’m NOT eating pig’s ears!” she said.
The next day we went to the Gaudi park. Gaudi is a famous architect in Barcelona and had been given carte blanche to design and build a park. There were almost no right angles, with fun curves and angles all over the place. The central building was a museum that looked like it could have come directly out of a Dr. Seuss book. That said, it was the most crowded attraction we’ve seen so far on this whole trip. Getting your picture by the central lizard sculpture was a five minute wait in line. We also spent a chunk of time exploring “Ramblas”, which is the central tourist district as well as a place with lots of clothes. Most importantly, there was a sports bar, entitled “Sports Bar” where we got to watch Poland v. Greece.
The next day we explored the beach a bit before making our way to the Gracia neighborhood, which is outside of the tourist zone and a hotbed of activity for local 20 and 30 year olds. We had gotten off the subway in a place that looked pretty dead, but thankfully after a few blocks we found the district. Tapas bars, wine and donor kebab abounded while people drank beer in the many plazas as they didn’t have the money to go inside.
The whole plaza atmosphere has been a lot of fun. Entire city blocks are dedicated to small play areas and brick, so the community has a place to come together to hang out. They’ve become a common eating spot for lunch as we get a baguette, cheese, a lunch meat and some fruit to share from a grocery store.
We returned to the hostel this day and as Leslie wrote the Chefchaouen blog, Bryan snuck off down the street to the tapas bar to catch the last half of Netherlands vs. Denmark. Denmark pulled off a huge upset, but when I returned the only question was, “Did you get the pig’s ears?” No, I didn’t get the pig’s ears
The plan was originally to leave the following day, but we decided to stay one more day in order to see Spain vs. Italy in the Euro Cup in Barcelona. In fact, the entire day turned into a football day as we spent the morning visiting the Nou Camp, which is the home of FC Barcelona. They are arguably the best soccer team in the past 30 years. That night, we headed back to the Gracia district to watch the match, which saw a 1-1 draw between Spain and Italy. We had a tapa called Dad’s Peppers that was a collection of barbequed peppers that were quite good. Most were surprisingly mild. The last one was a doozy. It was a lot of fun, but ended up being a bit more expensive than we wanted so we went back to the tapas place by our hostel for cheap food.
Now this was a very nice little place, but they didn’t speak much English and there was no English menu available. We started with the papas bravas, which was a local dish and the thing we recognized. It was cubed potatoes served with a spiced, garlic mayo and was quite good. I then went to get some more and said, “what do you recommend?” She then spoke very quickly, and I said okay.
Five minutes later the pig’s ears showed up next to some spiced pork chunks.
The pork chunks were great.
Now there wasn’t a bunch of pig’s ears on the plate. They were cut up into bite-sized pieces. The skin of the ear looked like a piece of leather. Next to it was a bit of meat that was actually pretty good, followed by a large layer of fat that tasted like . . . a large layer of fat. We never did figure out which parts we were supposed to eat and which we weren’t, but I was going to try and finish the plate. Leslie saw I wasn’t liking it though, and covered the pig’s ears with the plate from the finished pork chunks so I would stop eating it.
The following day we actually paid an admission fee, which was the cover price to get into Sagalda Familia, which is Gaudi’s masterpiece.
The Sagalda Familia is a church. Construction started in the late 19th century and they are planning on completing the project in 2020. The four exterior facades will have four different architectural styles, although only two are complete as of now. The attention to detail is stunning as every external structure is covered with statues. Internally, there are no plain columns as all of them have been built to resemble trees, with stained glass windows representing different elements letting in light. There is currently one organ inside of the church, though it will have four once completed. We have some pics above.
As it was our last day, we returned from Sagalda Familia to the hostel and realized we had a very long overnight train ahead of us we, so decided we should probably have a meal so we didn’t need to eat on the train. Back to the little tapas place on the corner we went.
We did not order the pig’s ears.
Next stop, Lisbon.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Chefchouen – Moroccan Mountains

I  thought we’d have no problem getting a taxi in Chefchaouen since we were so used to the hustling taxi drivers in Marrakesh. I was wrong.

We haven’t needed needed a taxi on our travels yet since we have been accustomed to taking local buses and other cheaper forms of transportation. However, Chefchaouen is located in the mountains, and we were staying pretty high up at a place called Rif-for-Anyone. Their website said to ask the taxi-drivers for “dar Scotlandee”, which apparently means, “those Scottish people” and they’ll know where to go.
After an overnight train and a two hour bus ride, we finally arrived. We got off the bus, expecting a million taxi drivers, and there was no one. A couple locals kept saying “taxi problemo,” but there was no other explanation. Finally, after walking straight up hill for twenty minutes or so, a local man helped and let us use his phone in order to contact Terry. Terry and Suzanne are the owners of the bed and breakfast and he finally told us the taxis were on strike. He told us to find the little Honda cars which look equivalent to a small VW van and they should be able to give us a ride.
Apparently, the little vans are not officially registered. Later we learned the taxis were upset because the vans, making 120 dirham ($13) a day, were taking business from the taxis. The taxis were making 600 dirham ($70) a day. For comparison, the guy who was mixing and pouring cement in the hot sun all day was making 60 dirham a day ($6.50). We had little sympathy for the taxi drivers.
An hour after getting off the bus, we finally made it. It was heaven. We were instantly welcomed by a wonderful Scottish couple and their son with coffee, OJ, cheese and omelets. Their home was four floors, the fourth being the terrace looking over the mountains and town, the third being the living area and kitchen. Terry later told us they started the bed and breakfast because they needed to have some sort of business in order to have a home and live in Morocco.
Chefchaouen was peaceful and quiet compared to Marrakesh and was my favorite city in Morocco. It was originally a stone settlement. Later, cement was laid over the entire town, making the whole thing look bulbous, bulky; as if it was swelling. The entire thing was painted blue and white. We heard the houses and buildings were painted that way because of the Jewish roots of the town. We also heard those colors kept the evil spirits away. Pick your legend. The streets were comparable to Seville, Spain as they were quite narrow and easy to get lost in. There weren’t many hustlers which was a breath of fresh air.
Bryan and I basically spent our time in Chefchaouen relaxing and enjoying the private room and bathroom, which we had not had in long time. We figured a cheap private room in Europe won’t be available, so we took advantage of it in Chefchaouen for four nights.
We enjoyed many nights on the Terrace watching sunsets, walking down to the Medina and back up on stone steps, and reading.
Next, dorm rooms in Barcelona, Spain.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized on  by leslie.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Essaouira – My Favorite Meal in Morocco

The Surf and Chill Hostel was a typical Moroccan Riad, which means a central, open-air courtyard with rings of rooms around the outside. The center of the courtyard was some 15 foot tall palm trees growing out of a 10ft by 10ft planter they shared with a little tortoise named Jeff.

The hostel was relatively small and run by a host named Semo. He was about 25 and spoke fluent English, Spanish, Arabic and probably some other languanges. Semo rallied the entire hostel together at eight o’clock to take us “out to dinner”. Four Australians, Leslie and I, our English roommate Paul and our Spanish buddy Javier all met up to go out to dinner.
We knew Paul a bit, but had become pretty good friends with Javier. He’d been in our group for the trip to the Sahara desert and we’d shared a mad dash to catch the bus from Marrakesh to Essouaria together as well as the hectic journey to the hostel. In fact, he’d loaned me his jacket because I left my Sounders jacket in the bus coming back from the Sahara.
Javier was the last to join as he’d run back to the room to grab me his jacket and the nine of us were off into the medina.
“Medina” is a term that means old-style central shopping district. Almost every Morroccan town has one. They’re often surrounded by walls and contain a central plaza. The plaza may have a Kasbah, which is a sort of castle. They can contain markets, houses, hotels and other bits generally thought of as the “old city”. The streets are usually too small for cars and too many donkey-carts can create a traffic jam. There’s no McDonalds in the medina. (Mickey-Ds is usually outside the medina in the “new city”).
The hostel was in a narrower alley a block inside the northern wall. Mounted cannons on the wall had once been used to defend the city against ships attacking from the Atlantic but are now used for picture opportunities. Immediately to our left were a half-dozen workmen who had picked up and stacked the cobblestone and then dug five feet down to repair a leaking pipe. We had to be careful getting around these guys for our entire stay in the sleepy little beach town.
Semo was very well educated, with a degree in Hotel Management although after about two minutes after leaving the hostel I thought he’d make a great summer camp councilor.
He ducked down little alleys, weaving in and out of tiny alleys, ducking around plentiful alley cats and warning the group not to slip into the holes the workmen had dug. After about a minute, we’d reached the fish market.
It hadn’t been a good day for the fisherman, he told us. There were about fifteen different tables all selling fish. Semo told us to look at the eyes. If they’re clear, then it’s good fish. If not, than leave it alone. We ended up getting some calimari and some shrimp. There wasn’t enough good fish for dinner though, said Semo. We needed some chicken.
Back through the alleys, ducking this way and that we followed the bouncing head of our fearless leader until we reached a main throughfare. Fruit, vegetables, baked goods and hanging sides of lamb and beef lined the dirt street. Flies buzzed around everything, donkey carts hauled goods up and down the street and two guys tried to sell me hash.
I had gotten caught up looking at the vast array of marinated olives for sale as I saw our group head down a side alley, so I followed.
Now, I’ve become quite accustomed to seeing hunks of red meat sitting in the open, especially in the developing world. It’s rarely an issue, as long as you cook the heck out of it, spice and age it properly or take some other appropriate step to make sure that bacteria doesn’t grow. Poultry’s another story.
I came up to the group gathered around a stall and looked in the back. About two dozen stark white chickens were running around the back of the cage and eating grain out of a central feeder. The butcher had grabbed one and was holding its wings back as he weighed it on the scale. Semo said something in Arabic and the butcher put that chicken back and picked up another one. Semo nodded approval and they began chatting about something.
The butcher grabbed the chicken’s head in one hand, neck in another and I heard a crack as half the group looked away. He then slit the chicken’s throat and drained the blood, never losing his train of thought in his conversation. Two minutes later, the bird had been cleaned, skinned, chopped up and we were following Semo back into the market.
Next we stopped for olives, with a plethora of samples for all. We got some onions, raisins, potatos, tomatoes and some other veggies before hitting up one of the spice shops to purchase bulk cumin, tumeric and other spices. Finally, we went to the “restaurant”.
It turns out that many people work in the Medina, but it’s quite expensive to live there. For shop keepers, bakers, butchers and whatnot it can be difficult to get a meal. This is especially true for the specialist shops. If one guy is making the shoes, and selling the shoes, he doesn’t have anyone to cover his lunch break. He doesn’t want to have to take down all his displays and lock up his shop, so the solution is the same “restaurant” we went to.
Instead of ordering food off the menu, you bring your own food from outside and they cook it up for you. Semo handed over all the raw ingredients and explained to the guy behind the counter how he wanted them. Then he took us to the pub.
Drinking is quite interesting in Morocco as Muslims do not drink. I’ve heard that a Moroccan with a bottle of wine in Essouria will have the bottle confiscated if he’s caught by the police. However, they like tourists, so liquor stores and bars exist. Restaurants will not sell you alcohol. Some will provide you with a corkscrew and glasses if you bring a bottle of wine… if you know where to go.
After an hour or so, we headed back to the restaurant.
They had made two tajines for us. A “tajine” is technically the clay dish the food is baked in, but usually refers to the food as well. One was a chicken and potato tajine and the other a sort of calamari and shrimp medley. Both were served communally in 16″ tajines. In this case, “communally” means no plates and you eat straight out of the tajine.
Bread is served with every meal. To eat properly, rip off a piece of the bread then use it to pick up food. Use your right hand only as the left is used after the meal. Even though it’s communal, there are still standards. Your section is in front of you and you should eat from your section. a.k.a. don’t put your greasy mitts all over my food!
The eight of us polished off the entire chicken, a half dozen squid and a couple dozen shrimp. It was the best thing I’d eaten in Morocco.