Hello Morocco – 9/9/2014

I did comment on the tough driving in Spain, but oh how I jumped the gun. In retrospect it was a probably a good idea because it helped me prepare for what is the unabashed chaos of Moroccan motoring. Signage means nothing, lane markers even less and meshed into the motorbikes, buses, trucks, donkey carts and taxis is a constant flow of pedestrians. ‘just a little extra excitement in our day.

Food in the south of Spain was wonderful and the street show that accompanied the alfresco beverage breaks in Granada was the best!

While refueling on our way to Gibraltar, the convenience mart at the station was offering a liter of Spanish olives for the same price (€1.79) as a small bag of Lay’s chips. I should have opted for the olives.

Gibraltar was a mix. This British protectorate is very compact and very densely populated. Short of using the Google to find out, I’ll assume they’re mostly retired folks from the motherland. Other than tourism, I didn’t see a lot else to drive the economy. Update: Laurel informs me only 17% of the population is 65 and over. I have no idea what all these people do for a living.

Laurel's special guide

Laurel’s special Tangier guide

The Rock is a spectacular piece of geology/geography. After a tram ride up, we hiked the six, sunny, hot kilometers back down and the views on the trail are wonderful. Beyond that, it was colonies of Barbary macaques, the small apes that are quite adept at mugging tourists for food and a rather amateurish collection of “exhibits.” The mugging part is quite true. As we exited the tram, an ape leapt onto the back of lady a few feet in front of me and relieved her of a plastic-wrapped mint. Obviously, she was terrified for a few seconds; the critter left as quickly as it arrived. Not cool.

With Tangier being just a 30-minute ferry ride from Spain, it’s a popular spot for tourists on day trips—what I believe Rick Steves’ refers to as “cultural voyeurism.” We made a quick pass through the medina here and now it’s onto the drive to the relatively small town of Chefchaouen, best known for its blue walls and buildings.

Another travel day “ruined.”

SevillaLaurel has a fondness for ruins of the Roman variety. We’ve hit many of the biggies; Rome, Pompeii, Arles, but also several smaller, less-known empirical remnants. Leaving Zagreb a couple of years ago, we zigzagged over a series of two-lane suburban roads until, just across from the Croat equivalent of a 7-11, was this cool little collection ancient foundations, ovens & gristmills. Friday, just north of Sevilla, we added Italica to our list of ruin sites. Nice mosaics, huge amphitheater, all under an incredibly blue Andalusian sky.

The exit from Sevilla was interesting.  I’ve driven in busy big city traffic in a lot of the world, but getting out of this little burb was the toughest I’ve been through and the GPS seems to have gotten quite unable to differentiate between a corner and a traffic circle. The trip into Cordoba wasn’t a lot better. Maybe I’m not cut out for Spanish motoring.

Can’t we all just get along?

It’s hard to believe we’ve been on the road for over a week. We’re on our second day in Sevilla in the Andalucía region of Spain.

DSCN0336Sevilla is filled with reminders of how, at some points in the past, people of different religious ideologies really did get along. Granted, at times blood was spilled, tribes were banished, etc., etc. Our Thursday visit to the Seville Cathedral provided a pretty cool look at a structure that began as a mosque in the 1184 and was consecrated as a cathedral in 1248 and after a few hundred years of build-out, grew into the behemoth it is today—third-largest gothic structure in the world. Lots of wealth concentrated in one place. See, things really haven’t changed.

Monday of this week began with a quick drive from Lisbon to very picturesque and incredibly tourist-laden town of Sintra. Sintra is palaces, gardens, castles, but mostly very steep hills. We walked for miles and I’m pretty sure 95% of the slopes were in the up direction. At the end of the day, the dogs were shot; another reminder we’re just not as young…

On Tuesday’s drive to Faro, on Portugal’s south coast, we got peek at just how many giga-hectors of grapes and olive trees there are in this Indiana-size country.

Dining on Euro+ 2014 has been fantastic and thus far, very economical. A modest tapas dinner around tenish fits the L&R lifestyle very nicely.

Off to Cordoba! Pictures are partially up-to-date. Link is above (next to the search thing).

Noted:

Two cameras, two toothbrushes, razor, iPhone, iPad all charged up. Lithium Ion heaven.

Bus trip from Faro to Sevilla was not nearly as comfortable, or fun, as last year’s shotgun-riding dash from Riga to Tallinn.

365 Ways

Of the thirty or so diners in our restaurant of choice Sunday evening, I think there were only two not speaking Portuguese. This was definitely a local ‘family’ spot and most certainly our kind of travel eatery.

Evening in LisbonOrdering was accomplished with lots of gesturing and pointing and not too many words The result was a delightful grilled cod drizzled with olive oil for two, accompanied by a mix onions, fingerling potatoes, broccoli and a chilled carafe of vinho verde, a young local wine with just a hint of bubbles.

This completed another fine day in Lisbon, including a quick trip to cemetery, a trolley ride to St. George castle and a stroll around the Ribeira district (Laurel snagged some river bank sand for her collection).

Tomorrow we pick up the car and head just west of Lisbon to Sintra.

Portuguese will tell you there are 365 ways to fix cod; one for each day of the year. Tonight, we sampled one of them.

Hello Porto

I’ll admit it. We’re (at least I’m) getting old and concerns re my ability to handle the rigors of long distance travel do arise. On Wednesday, we were on deck at 6:45 AM local time, arriving at our hotel in Porto, PT, around 5:30 PM on Thursday. That works out to roughly 26 hours in transit with three flights, a metro ride and a couple of hours on a train. After hotel check-in, though, it was a pleasant surprise that the idea of a sit-down with a glass of wine in a nearby street café sounded wonderful.

It turned into a couple of wines, a couple of beers, a little food and bed by 10:00. Nothing like hay hitting on a local schedule to help kill the jetlag blahs.

Anyway, Porto is gorgeous—terracotta-roofed buildings climbing the hills on either side of the Douro River, cobblestone streets, churches, towers and, as one would expect, a lot of Port wine. Our first full day in country was spent in 100 percent tourist mode, with tickets for the “hop on, hop off” providing quick transport to a large portion of the north bank.

The port wine cellars seem to be on everyone’s “must see” list in Porto, but we skipped them. Compensating for this shortcoming, we have been drinking our share of this luscious fortified wine.

Porto is where the Douro River reaches the Atlantic and the beaches along area are busy with locals catching rays and cooling off. The surf today was probably running 3-4 feet, but judging by warning signs, sea walls and piers, I suspect the waves get a LOT bigger. When someone says “beach,” I’m inclined to think Kamaole, Waimanalo or Sandy’s. Here on the Atlantic, water temperature’s probably in the upper 60’s and instead of that fine, white sand you find more of a gravely mixture. Still, it’s a beach.

Enough blah, blah… Today, Friday, we’re back on a train to Lisbon for a couple of days.

All the raw, un-edited pix are here.

Noted:

Portuguese Sausage has been on the breakfast menu, but in wafer-thin slices. They just wouldn’t cut it on platter at the Likelike.

Salt and pepper don’t seem to be found on Portuguese dining tables.

The garlic sauce on Thursday’s dinner should make us vampire proof for about a month. Ono!

Very pleased our bags made the tight ATL and CDG connections.

In route, I think I wore the same outfit as Euro 2013. #nofashionsense.

Out the door

Out the door

DSCN0147

Lots of docs

Travel docsLaurel builds wonderful travel books that really help to make our trekking smooth and easy.

In what may be a bit of hyper-preparation, I hit the local Triple-A yesterday and acquired an International Driving Permit. Many travel books tell you these are a must for international motoring, but over a span of many years and dozens of international rentals I’ve never been asked for one. I drove close to a thousand kilometers in Croatia in 2012; got nabbed in speed trap and was never asked for an IDP. The speed gun toting Croat cops, while kindly asking for 700 Kuna, never requested anything other than my DL.

On the other hand, we’ve got four car rentals covering about half of the travel days booked for this trip, so I guess it’s best to grease this skid. I must be getting old.

T-10 days to Euro 2014!

With Morocco in the mix, maybe we should call it “Euro+2014.”

Anyway, we made one little plan update this past week (staying in Sintra for a night, one less night in Faro).

In a nutshell, Euro 2014 is:

  • The Iberian peninsula from Lisbon to Barcelona and from Gibraltar to Andorra
  • Morocco
  • French Basque country (Bayonne, Pau, etc.)
  • Paris

Lots of driving plus a little train, plane and air.

I can’t wait.

Transportation plan is pau!

Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen

At 56 days to departure, Euro 2014 is starting to take shape. With the exception of the train between Lisbon and Porto and the bus from Faro in Portugal to Seville, ES, all the transport reservations are done. There’s lots of driving in this year’s plan including Lisbon to Faro, Seville to Gibraltar via Cordoba and Granada, Madrid to Barcelona via Spanish and French Basque country and Tangier to Marrakech via Chefchaouen, Fez and Casablanca.

No doubt about it, Morocco is pushing our comfort zone a bit, but I’m really looking forward to it. The town of Chefchaouen, located in the Rif Mountains in the northern part of the country is known for a couple of the things. One is it’s blue-washed walls and buildings the other is it’s prodigious supply of hashish. It should be interesting.