torrie's travels

WHERE WILL I GO NEXT?

It’s Mar-say not Mar-sigh October 31, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 4:40 am

Yes, all along I have thought it was Mar-sigh. And evidently so did most people, if the response this summer to the Bachelorette coming here was any indication. The blogs and sites I read were surprised that Andi and the guys kept referring to it as Mar-say. So hey, who says the Bachelor/ette isn’t educational?

Sorry it’s been a few days. The hotel here in Marseille only has wifi in the lobby. Which blows. It’s a nice-ish hotel, so I was surprised. But hey, I have an Ethernet cord in my room…so you know, 2002 and all. My room also has a BATHTUB! I am sleeping on a sofa bed (but it’s actually not uncomfortable…I’ve slept on worse on this trip), but still, bathtub! I have used the tub the past two nights and will likely use it tonight! Don’t know when I will come across another!

But to backup…on Wednesday I got up and checked out of the hostel in Barcelona, but didn’t need to leave town until after 5. So I planned to go see the beach and take the funicular up the hill to see Olympic Stadium. I made my way to the beach and it was amazing. I have officially been in the Mediterranean Sea now! But I realized what an incredible beach day it would’ve been. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before, but I am bummed that I didn’t make one of my Barcelona days a beach day. Ah, well. I did stay on the beach and read for an hour and a half. It was marvelous.

Then I walked over to where the funicular was and saw that there was a 45-60 min wait. It was 1pm and I needed to be back to the hostel and grab my things by 4:15. And eat lunch. So I didn’t chance it. Maybe it would’ve worked out, but I wasn’t going to count on it. I found a bench and read a bit more by the beach before finding lunch on the way back to the metro.

The train to Marseille was good. It was only 4.5 hours and it was direct. But I didn’t get in until 10, so I took a taxi instead of trying to figure out their metro and how to get to my hotel from the metro station that late at night.

Yesterday was my Marseille day. I went down to the port and it was really nice. There were still the fish market people selling what they had caught the day/night before. I saw live octopi that were trying to get out of their enclosure and squirting water. I got some video of that! It was definitely fresh seafood! Then I got my ferry ticket to go to If island and tour Chateau D’If (essentially Marseille’s Alcatraz). I had some time to kill, so I walked one length of the port and just enjoyed the water and the view. Then I saw the Cathedral. It wasn’t gothic, I’m not sure what style it was (lots of rounded corners…Romanesque?). It was nice, but not at all ornate. Very tall and cavernous. I liked it, but in a different way than I like the gothic Cathedrals.

Then I found some lunch and hopped on the ferry. It was a quick ride to If. Now, when I planned this trip, this was on my itinerary and I read that this prison was made famous by Alexandre Dumas in The Count of Monte Cristo. I haven’t read it. And I think I own it (in my classics collection), so I meant to read it before this trip. Whoops. I will read it when I get home! Anyway, the building was built in 1529 to act as a fortress to protect the port. I don’t remember when it started to act as a prison, but it was for sure in the 1700’s. It wasn’t very big, but the rooms/cells were actually pretty decent size. I didn’t know that Dumas’ father served as one of Napoleon’s right-hand men, along with another guy, Kleber. Napoleon didn’t entirely trust these guys, so Kleber was assassinated in Egypt in 1800 at the end of Napoleon’s expedition. His body lay in state, so to speak, in the prison for 18 years. Gross.

There were many stunning views from the Chateau, both of the sea and other islands and of Marseille. I went up onto the various levels and admired the view! I was finished looking around before the next ferry arrived, so I sat on a chair overlooking the water. It was quite peaceful! Which was good because the ferry back (first to another island and then back to port) was not. Too many school kids on board!

I got back and went to Starbucks. Hard to believe it had been two weeks since I had last been there! And then to H&M for a little shopping. After that I did a quick walking tour of Le Panier, the oldest part of Marseille, which used to be home to the Greek marketplace. You could tell it was quite old, and unfortunately not well-maintained. But it was really neat. Very narrow streets and different color houses/buildings and shutters. It appeared to be an artists’ quarter, as there were a lot of artisan shops.

Then I had dinner and came back to the hotel. It was a bit of an early night back, but I had to pay November bills and balance my checkbook. Such inane things, but it must be done! The internet here was acting up and not being friendly. It took so long to complete that task, that I didn’t have much time for anything else. I also had to look for a room in Sorrento, because the one I had booked got canceled (by the establishment) last week and my fight with hotels dot com was finally resolved (in my favor!).

 

Barthelona October 28, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 4:34 pm
Tags: , ,

What?  That’s how they say it!

Yesterday started off pretty horribly. First, my roommates decided to get up at 6:30am, make noise, and turn the lights on. (only to still be found here at 9am when the rest of us got out of bed…not cool.) I looked at my phone to see what time it was, but none of the updates on my phone caught my eye. And it was 6:24am, so I just wanted to go back to sleep. Two other roommates were packing up, so I woke up to that shortly before 8am (on a day I planned to sleep in). I looked at my phone again for the time when I saw an update about Selig’s response to Oscar Taveras’ accident. I thought, oh no, is Oscar hurt? I quickly clicked into Bleacher Report where the first thing I saw was “Taveras Remembered.” I was shocked. I read what I could, I saw friends’ posts on FB (which, thank you!), and I texted my brother (my dad does not have an iphone, so I couldn’t text him).

Anyway, I was slow to get up and get going, but then I made my way to La Sagrada Familia, probably the top attraction I wanted to see in Barcelona. And the line was ridiculous. I was (silently) bemoaning the line when an employee came down the line telling people that the next admission wasn’t until 2:30 (it was 11am), so we could stay in line and get tickets for that or we could go and buy tickets online. I left. I came back to my hostel and got tickets for today and then decided on a plan B.

That consisted of trying to find H&Ms (I have two coupons that Liz and I got in Madrid and there were ballet flats I desperately wanted…to no avail. They had the colors and my size in Lisbon, but I wanted to wait and use the coupon and now Barcelona has been a bust…but I’m holding out hope for Marseille) and do the La Rambla de Cataluyna.

What a great decision! It was gorgeous out and I had a great time. La Rambla is a pedestrian walkway (with cars on either side) and shops and restaurants flanking it. Toward the middle is a market called La Boqueria. It was amazing. So many vendors selling so many things!! I first just walked through the market, trying not to buy any food or anything. But I have been so lacking in fruits and there were loads of fruit vendors, that I couldn’t resist. I bought a large cup of sliced fruit. It was called the Macedonia mix and it was tasty. Then I bought some fresh coconut, which wasn’t as great. Oh well. Aside from fruits and veggies, people were selling all different kinds of meats, spices, chocolate, dried fruit, wine, and eggs. Then there are the restaurants. There were several. I decided to partake in a slice of pizza and some fried shrimp and some tuna thing. It was not good, but I tried it. I can’t even describe it and I don’t remember the Spanish name (I went blind into that one…trying something new!). I spent quite a bit of time there before selecting 4 chocolates, which amounted to 6 euros (yikes!), and a half-cup of fruit. (I really felt like I needed fruit!)

I finished walking La Rambla and saw the Christopher Columbus statue at the end. It was enormous. They really love him over here. Not like at home. I loved it! I then found a bench and just sat for a bit to relax. As I walked back up La Rambla, I found some wifi (thank you, Apple Store) and found out that my friend Jersey who is in town for a conference had time to hang out. So I met up with him and we walked around and ended up having a drink at the same restaurant that Liz and I found in Madrid and I that I went to in Seville. I think I’m a regular now. It was so great to recognize something! We had an awesome time hanging out, as he lives in Seattle, so we hardly ever get to see one another. And how random that we both happened to be in Barcelona the same week?!?!

Then I came back to the hostel and ate dinner here. I was planning on just resting a bit and going out to find something, but that just wasn’t happening. I also tried for an early bedtime, but that didn’t really happen either. Thankfully I wasn’t woken up until 8am this morning, but still. It’s Spain. I don’t know what you think you are going to do at 8am. Nothing is open. Whatever.

I got up and went to Barri Gotic, the Gothic neighborhood in Barcelona. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to just wander the neighborhood (maybe tomorrow), but I did go to the Catedral de Barcelona. The Gothic Cathedral. Outside of the Cathedral was Mercat Gotic. Basically an antique flea market. It was very interesting and I almost made some purchases, but a lot of it was too expensive.

So I went into the Cathedral and, again, it was quite beautiful. I especially love the main altar pieces. They are so beautiful and so ornate. I just love the architecture of these buildings and the artwork inside of them. In this church, you could take the elevator to the roof. They were doing construction (restoration), but it was a neat view of the city and the bell towers. But one of the coolest things about this church was an outside courtyard area that was only accessible from inside the church. There were lovely fountains, trees, and outdoor chapels. And geese. Lots of geese. So random! They were cute little guys and I got some great photos of them!

I spent so long in the church that I knew I had to go get lunch before my entrance to La Sagrada Familia (LSF), so I went to the Hard Rock Café. Because come on. I had to go there once on this trip! I then found the store C&A that I had found earlier on the trip and loved. Not as much luck this time. And I went to Sephora, as I’m trying to find a new makeup brush, but I think they have different brushes in Europe. Then I finally made my way back to LSF.

LSF is a church that began construction in 1882. The original architect left in 1883 and Antoni Gaudi took over. He worked on the plans and construction until his death in 1926. The church is still not finished! It has been worked on almost constantly, though there was a break during the Spanish Civil War and portions of the church were badly damaged during the war. After his death, his proteges took over and work continues. It was finally entirely roofed just before 2010, at which time Pope Benedict consecrated the church as a Basilica. They anticipate the church to be done between 2020-2040. That seems so far away, but 2020 is just over 5 years away. I have a feeling it will be closer to 2040. I definitely want to come back once it’s finished.

I want to come back because it is absolutely magnificent now, so I can’t even imagine what it will look like once it’s finished. The style is neo-Gothic and I think the outside and inside are very different from one another. Or at least I did not expect the inside to look as it did. The outside is very ornate. There are so many details carved into the stone that it’s impossible to notice them all. There are three facades: the Passion façade at the front, the Nativity façade at the rear, and the Glory façade on one of the sides. Gaudi completed almost all of the Nativity façade before his death. It is mostly all tannish colored stone, but then you notice there are some things in color (I noticed a lot with the help of the audio guide). There is a tree of life as part of the Nativity façade, but it is very high up. I went up in he towers on that side and it was right next to me as I looked out one of the windows on the way down.

The inside. It is very light and colorful. While it wasn’t what I was expecting, it was absolutely stunning. The stone is all a light grey and there are a lot of stained glass windows. The stained glass is very modern, as Gaudi was part of the Modernista movement. (I don’t usually like Modern Art and things like that, but I absolutely loved this church.) The stained glass was almost entirely red, orange, yellow, green, and blue. But it wasn’t depictions like you see in older churches. It was just abstract colors (from what I recall), but there were words or names in some of them. The large pillars were all meant to look like trees and they had branches at the ceiling (or just under). There were even palm fronds that were covering joints and things. Gaudi very much loved nature, so that played a huge element in this church. It is very hard to describe without seeing it, though. It was just so lovely.

After that I was beat (blister count: 7 toes and one heel…ugh), so I came back to my hostel to nap. I caught up on some internet and then laid down. Unfortunately, two minutes after I arrived back at the hostel two of my roommates did as well. Foiled. I put headphones in and tried to sleep, but at that point I couldn’t, so I just laid down for 45 mins. Then I went for dinner…I found a salad bar restaurant. Perfect!! Fruits yesterday, veggies today!

I leave Barcelona tomorrow, but not until late afternoon. So I really have an extra day that I hadn’t planned on having (which allowed me to be more laid back in my sightseeing, which was nice). I will go down to the water and officially put my feet in the Mediterranean, check out Olympic stadium (if I can…I really wished I had seen all Olympic stadiums?…stadia?…in the cities I visisted. Oh well.) I think I am also going to relax at Starbucks. I haven’t had that in almost 2 weeks! Then it’s off to Marseille!

 

Out of Africa October 26, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 2:23 pm
Tags:

That was all I wanted for about the first hour I was in Morocco. Out. If I have ever been that uncomfortable, I don’t remember. I felt so incredibly out of place and like some alien from outer space. Everyone staring at me. Which I didn’t understand because Tangier is a tourist destination. They have to be used to seeing foreign women in their city (i.e. not wearing head coverings, etc.). But they acted like they had never seen one before.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I had to get up early-ish, so I slept most of the ferry ride over. Africa is only 16km from Tarifa, so it was only supposed to take 35 minutes, but I think it took a little longer. We went through immigration before boarding the ferry (yay for a Spain stamp in my passport!), so when it was time to get off in Morocco, I did. I didn’t get very far, though. The Moroccan officer told me that I needed another stamp on the boat. I said I had already gotten a stamp in Tarifa and he said, no on the boat. So I went back on the boat and apologized to the guy. He was very nice and asked me a lot of questions. At first, I thought they were immigration-related questions and felt like I was really being interrogated. But then I realized he was just interested in my story. He kept saying, “you’re on your own? In Morocco?” And I said yes and he said, “do you have a car?” No. So he repeated, you’re on your own? And then looked at my slip and my passport and said, “so you are on your own from America to Spain and now Morocco?” I said I was on my own all throughout Europe and he replied, “you are hero!” Not sure I’d go that far, but it was funny.

So by the time I get back out there, the cars are coming off of the ferry and so I waited briefly and the officer then came over and asked was it all ok? I showed him the stamp and he waved me on. Another officer didn’t see this and immediately came running at me yelling, “passport! Passport!” I was surprised and kind of muttered, I just showed him. When the first officer saw and told the second officer that I was cleared. The second officer apologized and lunged at me to pat my arm in apology.

I was next accosted by an old man asking if I spoke English (mind you, I haven’t even made it to the ferry terminal yet). He then gave me a huge spiel about needing a guide and what was going on in Tangier that day. And then asked if I wanted to see the countryside. I kept saying no, I didn’t want a guide but he was persistent. Even taking “credentials” out of his pocket and repeating that he was an official tour guide. I finally got him to leave me alone and I went through the ferry terminal and through security. I came out of the building and was immediately asked by other men if I needed a taxi. I said no thank you and kept walking.

I was following a young couple that appeared to know what they were doing (and appeared to be local). As we crossed from the ferry side to the city side, another man ran across the street to meet me, again asking to escort me through town. I kept saying no, but he spoke such good English that he just kept walking with me and talking. Unlike with the first guy, I didn’t stop. I kept walking and repeating that I was fine on my own. He kept insisting I needed his help and that it wasn’t his real job, but he just liked practicing his languages. Uh-huh. And then he said that I could pay him $5 at the end if that’s all I wanted to pay him. I kept saying no and he finally went up ahead of me, but he had indicated that the market was that way. I wanted a DC, so I veered from the way he was going and I heard him call out, but pretended not to. There were restaurants and stores along the street, so I looked at them to see if they had DC. The next thing I know, the dude is beside me again. I finally said he should go back to where he started and find someone else because I did not want his help. This did the trick.

But now I was in Tangier without a map or a guide and no idea where I was going. I thought there would have been a tourism office or at least maps at or near the ferry terminal, but there weren’t. I knew that up (literally uphill…Tangier is a city on a hill) went to the market and down went to the water. So I just started walking up. And I was definitely out of my element and out of my comfort zone. I found an alley that had people setting up stalls to sell things (but this was not the main market, the medina) and I stopped at one that was selling beverages. The son spoke English and said they did not have DC so I asked for a water. He looked at this gallon jug of water and he said, what size? I laughed and said, not that big! He opened a refrigerator and grabbed a normal bottle of water. I asked if they accepted Euros, which they did. His father said “50 cents.” It appeared that there wasn’t a set price because he kind of thought about it before answering. But 50 cents? I’ll take it!

I then just kept walking up, up, up. I did not find the medina and was getting nervous. It wasn’t as if I ever really felt physically in danger (as I had to explain to the BF who I had texted how uncomfortable I was when I found wifi), but it’s hard to explain. I did not belong and everyone knew it. Eventually I found other streets with some vendor stalls and an old man said, “good morning.” It was the first time someone had spoken to me without wanting something from me. I feel like I did not respond as well as I should’ve, though I did say good morning in return, because I was so wary of everyone.

Below this area I found a square, so I wandered down there and on the square was a cinema. I thought that was interesting, so I took a photo of it. I then decided to keep going up. I eventually ran into a tour group that I blended in with for a bit before we diverged. Then I found a “normal” (read western-ish) restaurant. I hadn’t eaten and it was almost noon Spanish time, so I went in. And that’s where I found wifi. I had good food and it was clear that I wasn’t in Europe anymore. The meal was a chicken wrap, but unlike any I’ve had before. It came with fries and a “salad.” There was a cucumber slice, three tomato slices, some corn, white rice, three slices of yellow pepper, and some kind of dressing. It was actually quite good! And the fries came with a dish of mayo and something else. Half and half. It wasn’t ketchup and it was BBQ sauce, but it was along those lines. I mixed it up and it was great! The chicken wrap was a thicker tortilla and a two pieces of chicken in a style I more associate with the Middle East. But it was delicious!

I then was able to look up what I was looking for: Grand Socco and the Medina. Turns out I had been there. The square I was in was Grand Socco and the Medina was through a gate in the square. The cinema? Famous. I had no idea! I also read Tangier’s Wikipedia page, which talked a lot about the men that try to scam or con tourists like I had encountered. They are called “touts.” And it said that they will follow you and continue to hound you, then expecting money from you. Unless you firmly tell them to go away. I had. Several times. But I felt so much better about myself after reading that and knowing that I had stood my ground against scammers! I no longer wanted to go sit at the ferry terminal until it was time to go home (a thought I had to keep banishing because I am not a quitter. No matter how uncomfortable I am!)

I followed my memory back to the square and now it was much busier than when I had been there before. Perhaps if it had been busy when I was there the first time I would have realized it was significant. Oh well. I made my way through the gate into the medina, or the souk. That was more like it! Exactly what I had been looking for. I had also read that boys will come up to you and ask if you’re lost, lead you out of it, and then expect to be paid. So I was on alert for that, but for the most part, everyone I met and spoke to in the souk was genuinely nice (and some times funny!). I just walked around at first, taking things in, getting lost in the back alleys and narrow roads. I decided to try some dessert type food (not being brave enough to eat real Moroccan food!). The first thing I had was gross and not really Moroccan. So I threw it away. Then I saw a shop that had round, bread-y things. Not quite a doughnut, but similar. So I bought one. (I had paid for my lunch with Euros, but received Moroccan money as change. I used the only coin I was given for my first purchase and then had several other coins as change.) The man said it was one dirham. I pulled out on the coins and asked, is this one? He smiled and laughed and said yes. He was very nice. And the treat was very tasty. He put sugar on it, too. Definitely doughtnut-like. (I also kept seeing these other bread things…round pieces of bread that almost looked like whole pitas, but decided too late to try one, as I didn’t see anymore stands before I left.)

I then found the butchershop area/building. I am proud of myself for going through it, but holy cow, I think I’m scarred for life. At first it was just whole chickens (sans head) hanging up or hanging over the counter. Ok, I can deal. Lots of olive stands. I’ve never seen so many olives! There were also fruit and veggie stands here (despite also being out in the rest of the market) and flower stands. I then started getting into some of the beef. Seeing raw beef and even ground beef just slopped on the counter was giving me the willies. I then entered an addition to the building that was all seafood. Seriously, it was Pikes Fish Market on crack. Or whatever is worse than crack. It was crazy. All kinds of fish everywhere and in all states of being. There were also boys shelling (is that the right word?) shrimp. Wish more places served shrimp like that (Liz and I had more than our share of shrimp still in their “shell.”). I started taking some photos (and guys were throwing fish at each other, but not like in Seattle). I came to one stand where the guy saw me and gave me a look and a nod at his fish like, hey see?! I realized after the fact that I think he wanted me to take a photo of his fish!

I exited the seafood room onto another hallway of the butchershop building and first thing I saw was a sprice vendor. Piles and piles of spices. The man was talking to a customer or a friend, so I snapped a photo. The friend said hello and asked how I was, so I talked to them briefly. I said, “lots of spices!!” He laughed and agreed. Then I decided it was time to start trying to purchase things. I had Moroccan money burning a hole in my pocket, after all! Many stalls sell the traditional Moroccan shoes I had read about, but decided I didn’t have room to try to purchase any. So I saw the next best thing. Keychains of them! I asked one stall how much and he said 10 dirhams. I thought that was outrageous, but then saw that he had shot glasses, too. So I asked and he said 20 dirhams. I decided this was where I should try to barter, so I offered 15. He said no, it was too nice. So I left.

The next stall had the keychains and again said they were 10 dirhams, but then followed it with, or 1 Euro. I had already been making a move to leave when I heard 10, so I still left, but then realized that those prices were pretty reasonable. But first I went to the pashmina stand I had been eyeing. This is where I met the most colorful character! I started looking at the pashminas that were hanging up high and so he started taking the hangers down (there were several hung on each hanger) and was an overzealous salesman, but in a very friendly way. He took three hangers down and was talking a mile a minute about he would give me a discount if I bought 2-3. I was still looking and hadn’t committed to anything when he told me the price in dirhams, which he said was 13 Euros. Not bad. And if I saw more than one I liked, I would get a discount!

During this exchange he kept telling me how they were two-sided, which made them more expensive, but he had the one-sided less expensive ones as well. So I would look at the scarves on the hanger and find the other side, but he always grabbed them and took them off of the hanger, telling me I couldn’t properly see the colors and designs if I didn’t take them off of the hanger. I told him but then it was ruining his folding. He said, “I do this all day, all day! I am only happy when you are happy!” Then he asked me if I was American or Canadian and when I said American, he, very excitedly, asked “Are you from California??” I laughed and said, “no, I’m not from California!” He then asked where I was from, so I said Minnesota. He got very excited and said, “I have a friend who lives in Minnesota!” I couldn’t help but laugh out loud and I said, “you do not!” He said, “I do! His name is Mike! I’ve known him 35 years! Minnesota, you are by Canada!” Ok…dude that works at a pashmina stand in a souk in Tangier Morocco knows that Minnesota borders Canada, I will believe him that he has a friend Mike who lives in Minnesota!

So before I had even decided to purchase anything, the price lowered to 10 Euro. I’m sure I could’ve used Liz’s negotiation skills and bartered down, but I thought it was a fair enough price, so I took it! He then told the other gentleman working to get me a “pretty bag”, so they put the first plastic bag into a purple bag. And then he tried to get me to go to his brother’s stall. He sells leather goods! As I was “checking out” he told me to come back to Morocco one day. “We are democratic! And good friends!” It was a great time!

So I decided to go back and get that keychain and shot glass from the guy who told me that 10 dirhams equaled one Euro. It was another interesting interaction, as he was a young guy, but spoke less English than my pashmina friend. I forgot what their currency was called, so when I handed him money that required change and he didn’t appear to be giving me change, I was asking what the amount was in “your money”. He thought I was saying “Germany” and I said “your money” and we went back and forth a bit before he realized I was asking about dirhams. We had a good laugh.

I sat out in Grand Socco for awhile taking it all in. It was definitely a unique experience. It was all so chaotic. Narrow roads, cars everywhere, people (pedestrians) everywhere. I would totally have run someone over if I had tried to drive there! It was crazy.

But you know what else was everywhere? CATS. Seriously. Some stray dogs as well, but stray cats everywhere. I took pictures of the first two or three before I started noticing a trend. They were just hanging out, sleeping on the ground wherever. And they were left alone. I don’t know. Are cats to Morocco like cows are to India? It sure seemed like it. It was bizarre.

Eventually I made my way back down to the ferry. I was a little early, but wanted to make sure I had enough time to get down there and I knew I didn’t have time to try to see the Kasbah. Which was a huge bummer, but given the way my day started, I am just happy with what transpired. Having succeeded in the market like I did was worth missing the Kasbah. And who knows. I want to go back to southern Spain (maybe to Algeciras, a larger city between Tarifa and Gibraltar, which I think is less windy!), so maybe I will make it back to Morocco one day!

I relaxed in my room when I got back. I was going to take a nap, but I did that on the ferry. I slept 45 mins before we actually left Morocco! So I just did a bit of relaxing before heading back out to the beach to explore down another coast that I hadn’t explored previously. (Also, on FB, I noted that I was at the southern tip of Spain. Which is true, but Tarifa is also the southernmost tip of Europe. So I’ve been to the westernmost…Aran Islands, and now the southernmost. Must find north and east!) I found a beach bar and decided to have a mojito as the sunset on the beach. It was lovely. But the mojito was brown. It tasted very good and not too different. But it was brown.

Finally, I found some restaurants in the area that I hadn’t previously checked out, so I found one with a yummy looking seafood pasta. So I chose that one. It said it had mussels, clams, prawns, and courgettes. I had no idea what courgettes were and the server could only tell me it was a vegetable. So I went with it. When it came? I was frightened. The prawns were WHOLE!!! Not only in their “shells”, but tentacles and eyes and everything!!! GROSS!!! I picked them all off my plate. I don’t eat things that are looking back at me. So gross. The pasta was small round discs. No idea what kind of pasta it was, but it was very good. As was the rest of it (once I removed the scary prawns, and continued to pick tentacles out of my pasta). When I got home I googled courgette. Zucchini. Well, why didn’t you say so?!?! Ha!

All in all, a great trip to southern Spain. I am sad to be leaving Spain after Barcelona, but I know I will definitely come back!

 

Top of the Rock!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 1:50 pm
Tags:

No, not Rockefeller Center. Way better! The Rock of Gibraltar! I knew I wanted to come here when I decided to stay in Tarifa, but the plans for my time in Tarifa were not appearing to work out logistically. Originally, one day would be a day trip to Morocco, one afternoon at the Rock of Gibraltar, and two mornings taking kitesurfing lessons. Well, researching the times of the kitesurfing lessons before I left home made me realize that was not going to happen. I couldn’t take just one lesson, even though that was all I would theoretically have time for because you don’t even get in the water during the first lesson. What’s the point of that? So I scrapped those plans. Then I thought, I would get in around 12:30 and I could drop my stuff off and go to the Rock in order to have one whole day for laying on the beach (and the other for Morocco). But when I got to the bus station I saw the times that the bus comes to go to the Rock and the next one wasn’t until 5pm. I knew it was 45-60 mins away, so that didn’t seem like a good choice. So part of me was going to give up the idea of going to the Rock in favor of laying on the beach, as being this far into the trip, I could use some relaxation days! Then I found out how windy it was and the Rock was back on!

I tried to sleep in on Friday, but the people in the (cobblestone) streets, had other ideas. But I lounged for a good hour before actually getting up. I had a quick breakfast and bought my ferry ticket to Morocco for the next day before making my way back out to the bus station. I knew there was an 11:55 and a 12:25 bus. I got there in time for the 11:55, though my ticket said 12:00 and the bus didn’t arrive until closer to 12:15. Whatevs.

The bus drops you off in a town called La Linea de Concepcion and it’s a short walk to immigration (they couldn’t have cared less about my passport…barely looked at it). Once you pass through, you can either walk or take a bus into the city of Gibraltar. I opted for the bus because the machine selling maps was out of order and I didn’t know where I was going. I got out at the main square, got a map from information, and promptly had my first fish and chips of the trip!! I have resisted having it at other places because of my mantra, do the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it. Well, you’re supposed to have fish and chips in the UK (and Ireland), not in, say, France. Unfortunately, they were not the greatest fish and chips I’ve ever had. Oh well.

I should also mention the strange feeling to all of a sudden be in a place that has signs in and people speaking English. It was delight. Until I realized that my brain was still in Spain and my instinct was to speak Spanish to people. Of course it didn’t help that there are apparently a lot of Spanish people who work there. The switching of languages was messing with my head!

I walked through the main street, window shopping, on my way to the cable car to take me up the rock. I had decided that depending on the distance, my plan would be to take the cable car up and walk down. No way in hell was I walking UP! So the lady told me it was about an hour and a half walk down. But what is the distance? About 5km, she said. Perfect! I was supposed to do a 5km on Saturday (Monster Dash back home, but I wanted to feel like I earned the medal Janeanne was running to get me!), so I decided a 5km hike down a mountain would count!

The cable car ride up was no big deal. One lady was freaking out and all I could think of was how much I would not have wanted to be in the car with her going up or down Zugspitze! There was also a (very informal) bride and groom with us. This is important information for when we got to the top. Now you may or may not be aware that the Rock of Gibraltar has some interesting inhabitants. They are the Gibraltar Macaques. Apes. Small ones. But they are feisty and not afraid of humans! We got off of the cable car and one was sitting right there on the ledge. No big deal. I saw a few more up above us, but it wasn’t for a few minutes when a baby decided to jump down and land on a bridesmaid’s head that I realized I needed to be really vigilant! You are warned not to feed them, as they are apparently well-fed. But they want extra food, so you are also warned not to have any food visible (or plastic bags…not really sure what the deal is with plastic bags), because they will take it from you. I saw them do it on a Rick Steves video. They grabbed his backpack because they could smell an apple inside. Yikes.

I then watched as a few more came with the baby. The baby was quite cute.   V little! There was also a small fountain (if you could even call it that) that they would bend down and drink from. It was cute. They played around, but one of the macaques was real interested in the bride’s bouquet! He kept jumping from thing to thing trying to grab it. She was on the spiral staircase going up and he came flying out of nowhere. The more she tried to go up, the more he jumped around grabbing at it. It was hilarious and I caught some of it on video. Two adults then decided to lay around picking nits off one another. They did that a lot.

Eventually I decided to move on and take in the spectacular view. You could see the beautiful colors of the water (so gorgeous in the south of Spain), the Atlantic Ocean, the Strait of Gibraltar, and the Mediterranean Sea. As a water lover, I was in heaven! If only I could’ve went swimming! Oh and you could see Africa. I took lots of photos of that, too!

Then I began my descent. I didn’t realize I was going to encounter loads more macaques. There are TONS of them there. And a few more babies, too. One of the babies I saw tried to grab a stuffed animal out of a guy’s hand. Not sure what it thought the animal was. I knew I was going to take the long way down, but the lady at the top had told me that I would come to a staircase that I could take if I wanted a shortcut. Good thing I didn’t, because this was a gathering area of a lot of macaques! They even have a jungle gym built in this area for them. They are completely wild (no enclosures, etc), but they are so not afraid of humans. I guess they had to get used to them. But they are so comfortable that I almost stepped on them twice. They like to hang out in the shade and twice I turned around and came within inches of stepping on them because they were sitting on the ground in the shade and I didn’t see them! It about gave me a heart attack! I got the best photo of two of them, though. One guy just totally chillin’…sitting on the ground with his back against a stone wall, legs out and crossed, with his arms sitting in his lap. It was priceless. Not far from him was another little guy who was thirsty, so he was bent over lapping up liquid that was (slowly) running down the road. Too funny!

The descent was not easy on my knees or ankles. There were many parts where the grade was quite steep. At the end, I was practically running down because it was so steep! But I made it in about an hour, which included stopping to take pictures every so often. An hour and a half, my ass! I killed it! Ha!

I knew the next bus back to Tarifa wasn’t until 8pm, which at first I didn’t know how I was going to kill almost 7 hours in Gibraltar, but it wasn’t so bad. I did some shopping on my walk back into the main square. Bought a black fleece at Marks and Spencer (then I really felt like I was in the UK!) and saw a store called “Purple Rain”! Love it!

I then had dinner and made my way back to the border. I wanted to walk this time because you have to walk across the airport runway to get to immigration (and the “frontier”, as they call it). I can now say I have walked across a runway. That’s pretty cool. There was one plane on the tarmac, so I got a photo of that. It’s a weird runway, considering it’s flanked by water on both ends. Obviously it doesn’t get used too often, but still!

As much as I had wanted a beach day, I was so glad I was able to make it to Gibraltar. It was an awesome experience!

 

Holy Windy, Batman! October 25, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 10:56 am

I knew that Tarifa was the kitesurfing capital of the world or something. But I had no idea just how windy it was going to be here. On Thursday I took a 3-hour bus ride from Seville to Tarifa and planned on taking a taxi to my hotel. No taxis to be found at the bus station. Ok, I guess I’m hoofing it. There was a map at the bus station, which I apparently read wrong. I was trudging along and half the streets aren’t labeled, so I didn’t know if I had missed my turn or what. Eventually I stopped into a kitesurfing store and asked for directions. The guy working was super nice but said there are 100’s of little streets and so no one can know them all. He told me that my hotel “Pension Correo” must be by the post office, though, because Correo means post office. I did remember that from Madrid. So he whipped out a map and he showed me where we were and where the post office was, which was on the street that my hotel was on. Perfect.

I made it just fine, directions-wise, but was quite literally soaked in sweat by the time I got there. Between the bag, hills, and fighting the wind (which you would think would cool me off. It didn’t.), I was a goner. I got checked in and immediately asked “donde esta la playa?” The lady was impressed with my Spanish after we struggled with her broken English, so she says, “oh, hablas Espanol?” And we both, at the same time, said, “un pequito.” She proceeded to respond to me in Spanish, but I understood enough to know it was a 10-minuite walk in *that* direction.

I quickly pulled out my suit and cover-up, grabbed a towel, and made my way to the beach. I was also dying of thirst at the time, so I stopped at the beach restaurant for a diet coke. I realized then just how windy it was and that this was not really conducive to laying out and having a proper beach day. So I walked around (nay, got blown around) for awhile taking pictures. The color of the water here is really magnificent and it’s really too bad that the conditions weren’t conducive to relaxing on the beach. I needed it.

Instead I came back to my room (which is awesome, by the way…very Mediterranean…it’s a pension with maybe 10-ish rooms? Mine is upstairs and the only one off of the rooftop garden. I have my own little front door and everything. I totally utilized the clotheslines that they use to hang sheets and towels on for the laundry I did) to change and get something to eat. Then I took a short nap because this place definitely takes its siesta time seriously. Everything was closed. After the nap and relaxing a bit, I found some dinner. A very low-key day!

 

Wifi Issues October 24, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 2:29 pm

For some reason I can’t connect to wifi on my tablet in my room here in Tarifa. So blog posts are being written, but they will have to be posted later. (How can I post this, then? I can post from my phone but doing a long post like this is really untenable.)

 

So Hot. So Very Hot. October 22, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 4:32 pm

It was over 90 degrees today. And I did not like it. Not one bit. Seriously, this trip has been so much warmer than I anticipated. Seriously? 90 degrees in Spain at the end of October? Crazy. Looking forward to getting to some cooler climes, but not before a visit to the beach!

But I digress. I had to take a 6 hour bus ride to Seville from Lagos because there are no trains that run in southern Portugal (or southern Spain for that matter). It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I had my own seat(s) the whole time. I didn’t have breakfast and only slightly worried about being hungry, but I slept most of the first 4 hours (I woke up when I realized we had stopped and there were police officers on the bus requesting passports!), and then we stopped for 20 mins so we could eat. It was perfect.

I took a cab to my hostel and was initially disappointed that I could not buy my bus tickets to Tarifa at the same bus station (that bus leaves out of a different station), but then I found out that station was less than a 10-min walk from my hostel. Nice! Once I settled in I decided to walk to the bus station to figure out where it was and get my tickets. Then I walked through Prado de San Sebastian (a park) that was having a Festival of Nations (Christy!!). Unfortunately it wasn’t very happening. Lots of booths were closed, but I had a nice time just browsing.

Then I went to Plaza de Espana, which was just across the street from the park. I don’t know how this did not make it onto my itinerary, but holy cow. So beautiful. I mean, stunningly beautiful. It’s a large horseshoe-shaped building (that contains offices and military stuff now) that has tiles of all of the provinces of Spain. There were several stairways into the building, which were dedicated to different rulers over the years…I took a photo of the Aragon one. Ah, Catherine of Aragon!

On the front side (I came in from the back), is a large courtyard with a giant fountain in the middle. Also running in a horseshoe-shape is a canal (the lady at my hostel called it a lake. No. Just no.). There are decorative bridges over the canal at several locations and towers at each end of the building. And it’s all decorated in tile. I can’t do it justice. It’s so gorgeous!

I then just relaxed for awhile before trying to find dinner. At 7pm. My bad. I know Spanish people are on a later schedule than we are, we saw that in Madrid. But it’s even “worse” here. Most places weren’t even open. I was looking for some tapas, but couldn’t find many with an English tapas menu and the ones that did didn’t appeal to me. I walked for ages and ended up getting lost in a little neighborhood. I now know it was Barrio de Santa Cruz. It was so lovely! I got lost in there. It was tons of tiny lanes and alleys with lots of shops and restaurants and cafes. I loved it. But I was so hungry and couldn’t find my way out (its Wikipedia entry has a section called “The Labyrinth” and says it’s a labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys…yup!) that I forgot to take photos! Good thing I went back tonight! Apparently, this is the main tourist neighborhood, but I had no idea. It is also the former Jewish quarter.

Eventually, I made my way out and as I was about go home without dinner, I decided to walk in a different direction. I was still coming up empty, but I found a small place that worked.   I ordered what I thought was a chicken sandwich, but it was the weirdest chicken sandwich I’ve ever had. It was a weird kind of chicken, plus bacon, plus an egg. The menu said “egg mayonnaise” without a comma. I have seen some mayos referred to that way, so I assumed that was what they meant. Nope. A full on fried egg on my sandwich. Whatever, I ate it! Plus some real tasty sangria and a small ice cream cone!

I thought I was lucking out and getting a room to myself, but alas, after 10pm three girls came in. They’re from the Netherlands and couldn’t be nicer. They wanted to know what I did in Amsterdam. They were happy for this horrendous weather because they said it was cold and rainy in Holland. It was cold and rainy when I was in Holland, too!

This morning I got up and had churros for breakfast again. Much cheaper this time, but they’re just not growing on me. Then I went to the Cathedral and was bummed to see a long line.   But then a staff came around and said that it wasn’t opened yet, so it was the ticket line. I was about 10 mins early (from it opening…it didn’t open until 11…this is my kind of culture!) so once it opened the line moved quickly enough.

The Cathedral. Man, I just can’t describe this, either. It was ginormous, first of all. I am pretty sure I spent more time there than I did at Notre Dame last year (not counting Mass). It claims to be the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world and I think it just might be. 23,500 square meters. And it has a bell tower. I walked up 34 “ramps” and then 17 steps to the top. It was a great view of Sevilla, but I was so sweaty afterward!

The different chapels were amazing and gorgeous. But the high altar was probably the most decadent I have ever seen. It’s all gold. Just gold, gold, gold. There are gates in front of it, so I hope my photos turned out. It was difficult to get a good shot of it. It was unbelievable. There was a silver altar that was pretty, too, but couldn’t hold a candle to the high altar. So this Cathedral also has one big thing it’s famous for…Christopher Columbus is buried there. Or his tomb is there. They said it’s been verified or something. It’s enormous (like most things in this place), so they’re making a big deal out of it!

After the Cathedral I then toured the Real Alcazar, a Royal Palace. Unlike any palace I’ve ever seen. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (I’ve seen a lot of those on this trip!). It was built originally by the Moors as a fort and is considered one of the most beautiful in Spain. I’ll second that. It is also the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe.

The buildings themselves were great. Amazing tile work, lovely lovely ceilings (my favorite is actually featured on the Wikipedia page…yes, some info I get from there, some from guidebooks, some from pamphlets when they have them, and some from audioguides…but I generally only pay for audioguides if the entrance was free or cheap!). But the best best best part of this place? The gardens. Holy cow! They are enormous, first of all. I spent the vast majority of my time in the gardens. Seriously getting lost there. They just kept going and going and going!

The trees were amazing, so many different kinds. The flowers were so pretty and many of them still blooming. The air was so fragrant, you had no idea you were in a big city. There were ponds, fountains, and pools. It didn’t even feel so hot in the shade of the garden, but once in the sun, it was sweltering. So at one part there was water pouring out of a pipe above into a pool. I so wanted to jump in. It was gross water, I know, but I was so hot! And there were also peacocks. Everywhere. And they weren’t too afraid of humans. If you had food they came right up to you. Unfortunately, I did not get to see the feathers, though. Bummer. But to make up for it, I was sitting at a table by the café having a snack (it was taking much longer to get through this than I thought and so lunch was pushed off) and one of the peacocks came right to my table. Previous people had left plates there, one with a ham sandwich on it. The peacock grabbed the ham and dropped it on the ground. Pecked at it once or twice and then backed up and didn’t touch it again! He was not a fan.

After the Alcazar, I had lunch and made my way to the Bullfighting Ring and Museum. I had seen the one in Madrid, but I wanted to see this museum. It was a guided tour only and I had 30 mins to kill. I was parched and sweating, so I walked down the street straight into an Irish pub and got a big ol’ Magners. YES! Just what I needed. I didn’t have time to finish it though (reminding me why Loren and I switched to half pints when in Ireland!), so I set the glass on the bar and walked out. The server literally (and I mean that in the dictionary definition way) came running out of the pub after me asking if I wanted it to go. Yes. To go. She said they had plastic cups they could pour it into for me. Um, no brainer! The other server then poured it for me when we came back inside and she goes, It would be shame (to waste it). HA! My thoughts exactly!

The bullfighting museum was ok. I kind of liked the guided tour, as I learned more about bullfighting than I did in Madrid. But after having been to Madrid, Seville was kind of a letdown (the ring itself). The museum was interesting. They have the cow’s head stuffed on the wall that sired the bull that killed Manolete. Yep, they blamed the bull and therefore the cow that bore it. So they killed it and hung it as proof. Interesting!

I was definitely dragging by then, so I went back to my hostel to rest (and cool down). But not for long because I had to go find some Flamenco! I remembered seeing a place in the Barrio de Santa Cruz, so I went back and found it (right away, actually!). They were full for the 7pm show, but when she learned I was one person, she told me to come back in 20 mins and they would put me on the waiting list. She said as one person the chances were good I would get in at 7pm. And I did!

It wasn’t quite what I expected, but it was good. The female was amazing. They did a dance of the male and female together with the singer (cante) and the guitar player (toque). The female was not wearing the typical dress, though, so I was confused. But then the dancers and singer left and just the guitar player stayed. He did a solo. Then the three guys came out and sat down and the female came out and danced. This time she was in the typical dress and was, again, unbelievably good. It was so entertaining to watch. Then the dancers left and the singer got his solo (with the guitar accompaniment). That part was kind of weird. I don’t really understand what he’s singing and he actually made jokes about that. That the world doesn’t understand flamenco and then he “sang” something and goes, “comprende”? knowing the answer was no! Then the female came out and sat down and it was the man’s turn to dance solo. This was kind of weird, too, because it’s not like he has a fancy dress he can use as a prop. He used his jacket a bit and it was weird. But once he got going I have never seen someone’s legs move that fast before in my life!

I then went to the place where I had churros in the morning for dinner because it ended up being the same place that Liz and I had our last dinner in Madrid. With an a la carte menu, where everything was 1 euro today (Wednesdays). I then packed up a little and am getting ready to go to bed! I need to get up in the morning and get on another bus, this time only for about 3 hours, to Tarifa. So excited for the beach!!