Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Taking It Easy In Tangier - Morocco (Africa, Not Europe!)

Our next stop on our Costa cruise was Tangier, Morocco. Tangier is situated on the Strait of Gibraltar.

When we strolled off the boat in Tangier, we were greeted with rain. And because it is the North African desert, it wasn't raining cats and dogs. It was raining camels and dingoes (I know that dingoes are in Australia, I just thought it sounded good).

Tangier Morocco

Tangier Morocco

Because it was raining, we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

Tangier Morocco

Tangier was freshly washed and clean. The streets reflected back the buildings.

Tangier Morocco

We wandered around the deserted maze-like little alley ways, finding gems like this arch-way that led to a courtyard beyond it.

We really enjoyed having the streets of Tangier to ourselves. We were able to walk freely and take pictures of whatever we wanted. No snake charmers or enforcers messed with us.

Tangier Tree

Tangier was founded in the 5th century B.C. Some of the trees were so big they looked original.

Tangier Morocco

After awhile, the rain let up and we were able to wander around Tangier without getting soaked.

We could wander around without getting soaked now, but that also meant that all the locals started coming out too. Around every corner someone would walk up to us and offer to give us a "guided tour," for a price of course. You have to be quite forceful with them. We would tell them flat out that we didn't want a tour and they would still continue to follow us and when we stopped they would tell us some tidbit about the street. I finally yelled at one young man who had been attached to us for 20 minutes, "I'm not going to pay you!" He finally got the message and scuttled away.

Tangier fort

Up on the hill above the city of Tangier stands this old, crumbling medieval fort. It was great place to get some views of the beach. And judging from the garbage in it, it is also a great place to drink, have sex, and for homeless men to sleep.

Tangier Morocco

The sun started to come out and we could see blue sky. The ground dried up and we took in views.

Strait of Gibraltar

When it is clear enough, you can see all the way across the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain. At its narrowest point, Europe and Africa are only 8.9 miles or 14.3 kilometers apart.

Strait of Gibraltar

Standing on a hill in the sun looking out over the Mediterranean is a great way to spend an afternoon. Trust me on this.

Tangier Morocco

After a (mostly because of the dang "tour guides") relaxing day we found our way back to the boat.

Tangier Morocco

On our way back we still had time to find beautiful little corners of Tangier.

Strait of Gibraltar

I feel like I really didn't have anything interesting to write about our time in Tangier. But maybe that's a good thing. Maybe it's okay to have easy (read somewhat boring). All the drama from the Mr. Snake Charmer in Marrakech almost ruined the whole day. Yeah, easy days are okay.

Want to read about our first stop in Morocco? Click HERE to read about our time in Marrakech.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Making The Best Of Marrakech - Morocco (Africa, Not Europe!)

Our next stop on the great Western Mediterranean cruise of 2013 was Casablanca, Morocco. We were very excited to go here. After all, it's Africa! Not lions and elephants and safaris, but still, we were on the continent of Africa.

Want to read about where we were before? We were in Barcelona and then Seville.

Our boat docked in Casablanca. We chartered a van to drive us the two hours south to Marrakech so we could shop, eat, and explore. 

Right between those green and pink arrows is a whole lotta desert. Not very exciting. Unless you're a camel or a sheik, I guess.

Right as we got off the boat we were happy and all smiles. We were excited. We had no idea how long of a day lay ahead of us. 

Arabic Stop sign

On a happy note, I saw my first stop sign outside of America that actually said STOP in a  language other than English. At least I assume it said stop. It was the right shape and the right color but for all I know it could have said 'free milk' or 'bears ahead.' Yeah, I don't really know any Arabic. 

It was at this point in our trip that things began to head south. We couldn't find the driver and the van who we had prepaid to take us to Marrakech. He had very explicit instructions to meet us at the port gate. No one to be found. Mrs. Point wasn't going to have any of this so she ran down past the port gates with our other travel partner, Mrs. Bulgaria (she really is from Bulgaria). Finally, after two hours we found our driver, Hamid. (No joke. His name really was Hamid.) We all piled in the large van and took off through the crowded streets of Casablanca. 

As we drove, Mrs. Point and Mrs. Bulgaria were very mad that Hamid was nowhere to be found. Mrs. Bulgaria was yelling at him from the back, "Where were you, Hamid?!" in her cute Bulgarian accent. (Actually, she can be pretty scary.) Hamid just smiled and turned up the Arabic music of sitars and women wailing a throaty song. No one was going to bring Hamid down. 

One hour into the drive, the youngest Point family member threw up in the van. One and a half hours into the drive, Mrs. Bulgaria's one year old daughter threw up in the van. And it was the really gross stinky throw up of curdled milk. So there I am, riding in this van in the warm Moroccan desert and sun with crazy music playing and vomit dripping off the windows. I was having so much fun. (In the poor children's defense, the youngest Point was sick and Mrs. Bulgaria's daughter gagged on an apple piece. It all got cleaned up. Well, as good as you can clean up vomit in a moving van in Africa.)

Marrakech Morocco

After driving through the desert for what seemed like forever, we started to arrive in Marrakech.

Marrakech Morocco

The first thing I noticed was the juxtaposition of the living situation. Wealthy walled off and protected from the poor right next door.

Marrakech Morocco

The streets of Marrakech.

This tower is part of the walled section of the medina or the old section of town. A medina is usually walled and contains maze like streets that host vendors.

Snake charmer in Morocco

Within five minutes of our arrival in the shopping area, we were accosted by this gentleman here. Meet Mr. Snake Charmer.

Snake charmer in Morocco

Mr. Snake Charmer saw me and my little boys standing off on the side just watching the snakes. He approached me and said, "You like?" 

Snake charmer in Morocco

I replied, "No, not really."
Mr. Snake Charmer - "Your boys! Your boys! They like!"
Which they did. They are after all, little boys. 

Snake charmer in Morocco

So see if you can follow me through this exchange...
Mr. Snake Charmer - "Take a picture of your boys with the snakes! You come! You do it!"
Me - "No, thank you. I have no money." (Which I didn't. We hadn't even gone to the ATM yet.)
Mr. Snake Charmer - "No! No money! Just come! Take picture!"
I've been around the block with my travels so I knew better. That's what really gets me about this whole situation. I KNEW better. I should have left.
Me - "No. It's okay..." I am walking away. But my little boys are standing by with rapt attention. He starts to put his hat on their heads.
Me - "No. No. No."
Mr. Snake Charmer - "It's okay. No money. It's gift. For you. For you coming to Morocco." And that is where he got me. I didn't want to seem rude and refuse a gift. (Deep down inside, I still knew better.)

Snake charmer in Morocco

Mr. Snake Charmer starts draping snakes all over my boys. "Picture! Picture! Take picture! For you!"

Every time I tried to leave he insisted I take more pictures.

Snake charmer in Morocco

Mr. Snake Charmer even grabbed Matt and shoved a snake in his hands. Finally, I had had enough and told him I was going to leave. Matt had already drifted off and disappeared in a crowd. I gathered Aidan and Andre, who were still being charmed themselves by the snakes, and we started to leave. Mr. Snake Charmer at this point grabbed my arm (very hard, I might add) from behind and yelled, "You pay!"
Me - Totally surprised, "I'm not going to pay." He still is holding my arm.
Mr. Snake Charmer - "You take picture! You pay!"
I scan the crowds for Matt. He is nowhere to be seen. All I can see is the fear in my young son's faces.
Me - "I told you. I have no money. I can't pay!"
At this point he calls over his enforcer. 
Mr. Snake Charmer - "She won't pay!" Mr. Enforcer comes running out of nowhere and grabs my other arm.
Mr. Enforcer - "The rule is if you take picture, you pay!"
Me - "I told him I have no money! I told him that!" Mr. Enforcer then lets go of my arm and grabs my camera which is around my neck and jerks it.
Mr. Enforcer - "Then you must delete pictures!"
Me - "I will delete them! Let me go!" Let me remind you I am in a busy shopping square with people all around. I keep scanning the crowds for my husband or my friends. Nobody.
Mr. Enforcer - "I will watch you delete! Do it!"

At this point, I had had enough. I started to get angry. Like really angry.

I wrenched my arm (very painfully) out of Mr. Snake Charmer's grip. Mr. Enforcer still has my camera strap.

Me - (yelling at the top of my voice) "I told you I had NO MONEY! YOU said it was a gift! You said no money! No money, it's okay!" All the time pointing at Mr. Snake Charmer while getting ready to kick some shins and run.

Mr. Enforcer gets a defeated look on his face and starts yelling at Mr. Snake Charmer in Arabic. He drops my camera and I grab my boys and walk as fast as I can into the crowds. As you can see, I didn't delete any pictures. Ha ha, Mr. Snake Charmer and Mr. Enforcer. 

I find Matt and the first thing out of my mouth is, "You jerk." I went from screaming at some snake charmer men to screaming at my husband. I accused him of abandoning me. I may have been projecting my fear and frustration over the situation on him. But. I vowed not to let the morning's events ruin my whole day. Just part of the day. I rocked an awesome bad mood till lunch.

We got some lunch and I mellowed out a bit. Yes, what happened was unfortunate, but in a way, a little bit my fault. I should have just kept walking. We had some traditional Moroccan tea which is fresh mint tea steeped with mint leaves and sweetened with honey. It was so sweet it actually tasted like hot honey with a little bit of tea. But still good.

Marrakech henna

Something similar happened to Andre. He was standing by the Point family when they were getting some henna done when one of the henna-weilding ladies grabbed Andre and started decorating his arm all on her own. Mrs. Point informed her she that she didn't ask for it and wasn't going to pay for it. 

I was beginning to see a pattern here. I heard stories from Mr. Point about how vendors would shove toys in the youngest Point's hands and say, "See? He likes it! You buy!" Mr. Point would have to take it out his the child's hands and hand it back. Sometimes they would not take it and he would have to put it down on something and tell them that he was not going to buy it. So, keep your traveler wits about you here.

After a great Moroccan lunch and hot honey tea, we went out to explore. (A funny side note here is that all the Moroccan men that Mr. Point came into contact with kept calling him Ali Baba. We don't know if it was the beard or what, but the name stuck and now we call him that too.)

Marrakech Souks

We wandered around the souks or souqs, depending on your spelling desires. We saw spice markets.

Marrakech souk

Marrakech souk

And carts pulled by donkeys and monkeys on leashes. 

Marrakech souk

The medina was full of tourists. But as touristy as it was, it was also filled with locals doing their daily shopping. Picking up fruits, sweet breads, spices, dried meats, and other various things.

Marrakech souk

In addition to fruits, breads, spices, and dried meats, you can also pick up spare teeth and denture sets. Yes, it is one stop shopping here.

Black henna, Marrakech

Ashlenne got some black henna done on her arm.

Black henna, Marrakech

Here is what it looked like all dry. The darkest spots lasted almost a month. But lighter places started to face in two weeks.

Brown henna Marrakech

My beautiful sister-in-law, Leslie, got the brown henna. 

Brown henna Marrakech

It dried and stained her skin this fabulous tangerine shade. Lovely!

Marrakech medina

Some of the souks were in these tiny, twisting streets. The whole place smelled of leather, dried spices, and a thousand years of history. (Believe it or not, history is kind of stinky. Think a combination of dirt, urine, sweat, and animals.)

Marrakech rug shops

We went shopping for rugs. It was all a very stressful experience. Shopping and paying for things is all done with haggling. It's something I don't like. I like to walk into a store, see a price tag, know what I have to pay, and be done with it. I don't like being told, "Oh, best price for you!" I don't like having to refuse to buy something and then walk out then be chased down the street with a new deal when they see you leaving. It's a real pain in the neck. Literally.

Marrakech medina

My younger brother mastered some haggling and scored himself this wonderful carved cane inlaid with silver. He severely broke his leg when we were kids and all this traveling really wears him down. But at least now, he can be dapper and limp in style.

Marrakech medina

After the long vomit filled drive, the almost assault by Mr. Snake Charmer, the stressful haggling, I finally really started to enjoy Marrakech. I even bought a beautiful scarf. People have asked me after hearing about our day if I would go back. "In a heartbeat," I answer. Why? Because traveling isn't supposed to be easy. The whole goal of traveling is to see, experience, taste, and do things that are different. Things that take you out of your comfort zone. Things that push the limits of normal for you. Check, check, and check on all those things in Marrakech.

I rode back on the long vomitless drive to Casablanca, tired, but oh so glad I had seen Marrakech.

Until next time.

Stay tuned for my next visit to Morocco. Tangier!!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Seeking Seville - Spain

Next Stop, Cadiz and Seville! Where were we last? Click Barcelona to read about our first stop.

Our next stop on our Western Mediterranean cruise was Cadiz, Spain. (Pronounced ca-dith. Sounds like everybody has a lithsp.) We really weren't into seeing Cadiz/Cadith so we rented a plethora of little cars to transport everybody up to Seville. Who is everybody? Oh, I forgot to tell you. We were with the Point Family and their four children and we had dragged along my brother, my brother's pregnant wife, and their toddler. 

We raced up the autopista from Cadiz to Seville. Isn't autopista the coolest word ever? It's what they call their freeways in Spain. So much better than auto-BAHN. I feel so much more sophisticated when I say autopista.

Flamenco dancers, Seville Spain

Upon arrival in Seville, we were greeted with flamenco dancers on the street. Flamenco dancing is native to this part of Spain.

Seville Cathedral

Our first stop was the Seville Cathedral, built in the 1500's. Before there was a cathedral here, there was a Mosque here that dates to the 1100's when this area of Spain was under Muslim control. 

Here is another shot of the cathedral. It was outside this cathedral that I was duped by my first street person selling/hocking/pushing whatever it is they are trying to give you. My family was walking past the cathedral when I stopped a couple of paces back to take some pictures. The gypsy women saw their chance. They ran up to me and grabbed my arms and started touching my face, my arms, my stomach, touching me almost everywhere with sprigs of rosemary saying they were giving me a blessing. I held still and waited for them to finish. They started smiling and demanding that I give them Euros. I shook my head no, and told them I didn't have any money. They then got very mad that they had blessed me and now they weren't going to get paid. So what do they do? They spit at me. So my advice to you is say "no money," before people touch you with herbs. Remember that phrase. "No money!" And decline all blessings. (It gets worse. In a couple of days from now in Morocco I was practically assaulted. Just wait!)

Giralda Seville, Spain

This fabulous tower is the Giralda. It was started when the cathedral was still a Mosque, but finished after the Christians moved back in. 

After taking some pictures I turned around and discovered that Matt had actually freaking paid the spitting gypsy women to give Andre a hocus-pocus rosemary blessing. Great. Just great.

Seville pottery

On our walk through Seville, we passed stores like this one that sold gorgeous pottery and fans.

Tapas in Seville

Soon it was time for lunch so we decided on tapas for a traditional Spanish meal. Tapas are basically appetizers like dried meats or crackers. They started out as something to cover your wine glass to keep fruit flies out and those crafty Spaniards thought, "Hey, if we are going to cover our wine with something, let's cover it with something we can eat! Like salty meat and crackers!" Boom. Tapas were invented. Luckily we had Mr. Point with us. Mr. Point is fluent in Spanish. To which I say "muy bueno!"

And here they are, the famous Point Family! (Look how the youngest Point has both his hands tucked in Mr. Point's shirt. That cracks me up.) 

After tapas it was time to head to the Alcázar of Seville. It is a wonderful palace that started as a Moorish fort hundreds of years ago. 

Alcazar of Seville

The Alcázar was amazing and definitely one of the best things we saw in Spain.

Alcazar of Seville, Spain

Me and my girl, Ashlenne.

Alcazar of Seville, Spain

As we turned corners and wandered around the Alcázar, we were surprised by lush gardens and gorgeous courtyards.

Alcazar of Seville, Spain

Marigolds remind me of home. My mom always planted them in our front yard when I was little. I found it strange, disheartening, and wonderful all at the same time that such little things like marigolds could remind me so strongly of home and make me miss it so much that it feels like a part of me fell out right on the pavement. 

Luckily for me that I have this guy right here to give me a big hug whenever I miss something from back home too much. 

Alcazar of Seville, Spain

The gardens and outlying courtyards of the Alcázar wind and twist and turn creating hidden and beautiful corners, like this gem of an outdoor hallway where the green vines shade everything in a beautiful cool hue.

Alcazar Seville Spain

Alcazar Seville Spain

This is the Patio de las Doncellas, or Courtyard of the Maidens. Legend has it that the Moors who used to rule from here would demand 100 virgin maidens every year as tribute. I can tell you that there are things I would like a lot more as a tribute than 100 virgins. How about 100 new cars? Or 100 pairs of shoes?

Alcazar Seville Spain

Here is a section of the courtyard where intricate tile patterns are inlaid in the walls. Gorgeous.

Alcazar Seville Spain

But not as gorgeous as this. There is just something about palm trees and blue skies at the end of November that really makes my heart sing out!

Mercury fountain Alcazar Spain

Or as gorgeous as this! This is the Mercury Fountain.

Mercury fountain Alcazar Spain

Right now I am smacking myself for not writing about this earlier. As we stood here, Mr. Point (who had the Rick Steves' Spain book) was telling me all about this fountain and the aqueduct that supplied it. It was really cool stuff. Fast forward six months and I've forgotten everything he told me. Except the part that I thought it was really cool. I looked up the fountain online and could only find pictures. So all I can do is show you this beautiful picture but tell you nothing about it. Sorry. (Bad blogger!)

Alcazar Seville Spain

I must now soothe myself, and you, by posting another picture of the spectacular gardens. It was at this point that I wandered off in the gardens by myself, taking a moment to relax and really let how special this place was sink in. Spanish sky...

But no matter how far I go or wander, I always find my way back.

Alcazar Seville Spain

After my garden wanderings we went down in the basement where it is nice and cool. They had tubs down here for the royalty to relax in in the blazing Spanish summer heat.

Seville bullfighting ring

This impressive guy is built outside the... are you ready for this? Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla. Or you can just call it the oldest bullfighting ring in the world.

Seville bullfighting ring

I thought it was interesting that there were chains going around the outside of this building. Normally chains are used to keep something in, keep something out, or to keep something from moving. Maybe this bullfighting ring has to be chained down to keep it from doing the flamenco.

After looking at the bullfighting ring, we got back in our three little compact cars and raced back to Cadiz/Cadith. This was our day in Seville. One of the most beautiful cities in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Thank you Seville.

Up next, our time in Morocco! (Yep, I've been to Africa.)

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