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!

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