Monday, February 20, 2012

No More Francais!

as i told you in my last post, we are in Spain. right now i'm writing from the hostel computer in Madrid, but here's a condensed version of what i've been up to since crossing the strait...

aka the Aspen of the Mediterranean.
after arriving on the coast of Spain, we took a bus to Gibraltar. our original intention was to take a ferry to Gibraltar and thus arrive there like so many in history, but we couldn't do that due to 2 major factors, the ferry being broken and the chance of S St J getting seasick again. so we took a bus to the closest Spanish town and walked to last .5k to the Gibraltar border, where they did not even check our passports. Gibraltar itself is pretty packed, since the rock takes up so much of the landmass they really have to economize space. what i mean is, it's impossible not to get a parking ticket. luckily we don't have a car.
we climbed the rock and hung out with the monkeys, who you are not supposed to feed, even though we saw the park staff and some tour guides feed them. they are pretty cute but exteremly sneaky. i have lots of pictures, don't worry. we also went into the tunnels they dug into the rock during WWII, which allowed us some pretty awesome views, especially of the airport landing strip, which starts in the water and is intersected by a road AND a pedestrian footpath. like i said, they really have to economize space. let me tell you, even though there's pretty much no chance of air traffic control making a mistake, you do tend to pick up your pace when crossing a commerical airstrip on foot.

for those of you who don't know much about Gibraltar-i didn't-it is techinically an overseas British territory. they even vote in parilimentary elections. they have their own currency, the Gibraltar pound sterling, which is exactly like the British pound sterling only you can't use it anywhere else in the world. about 40 or so years ago the people of Gibraltar were given a chance to decide to be either a British or a Spainsh territory...they voted for Britian with a majority of 94%. burn on Spain! they have the strangest dialect, a mix of British english and Spainsh-everyone has to learn both languages-and supposedly this combination is where the word "gibberish" comes from. they are kind of hard to understand when they get going.

and let me tell you, Gibraltar is the posh-est big rock in the world. they have their own fashion magazine, beauty contests, and way more high-end stores then souviener shops. it's amazing how much they crammed into such a small space. we did not stay very long, which is probably a very good thing for our pocketbooks. we did have the unique experience of accidently going to the high school hangout on a friday night...ooh. the drinking age is 18 there but i am not sure this place was carding. needless to say, 21 isn't such a bad drinking age. finding yourself in a bar full of drunk highschoolers is just about the last thing the weary traveller wants. the bar staff sympathised with us, but maybe we should have had sympathy for them.
so Gibraltar...yes. except don't go to the Tunnel on friday nights unless you want 16 year old boys to stumble on you while drunkenly yelling in your ear for a cigarette.

what a great city! i had a wonderful time here...our hostel was nice, we took some free walking tours that really gave us a different perspective, it was easy to naviagate...just really fun. we even went to a flamenco show. i think S St J is considering a new career path. Seville was where we really started to adjust to Spain, to stumbling in Spainsh and seeing Catherdrals that used to be mosques...apparently the Moors really knew what they were doing. i almost wish they'd colonized USA for awhile to leave some awesome architecture behind. but that's in the past. wayyy in the past. the present is all about looking at paintings from the past, and we did plenty of that. the highlight was the palace where Isabella and Philip lived, began by the Moors which gave it some pretty incredible ceilings and gardens. they sure know how to do the fountains in Spain.

like Seville, easy to navigate and goregous. they had an old Roman bridge, and that bridge had ducks. which we fed. we also explored the Mezquita, another mosque turned church. this one still has services, so we got to walk around in it while the organ was playing, which was pretty awesome. Cordoba also has some unique local cuisine which we tried one night. it pretty much tasted like cheese soup with ham to me, but my palate is very unsophisticated. unless you're talking about sangria. okay, even then it's pretty unsophisticated.

woooooooo. Granda was fun. we took the chance to go tapas hopping...most of the bars give you a free tapas with your drink, so you just bar hop and try what they have. some give you a choice, others just give you whatever they want. the best was a bar we found on wikitravel, and they are famous for having the best in Granada. we were not disappointed. that being said, none of the tapas we tried were bad. and Granada is a great place to wander around at night, they have no shortage of illuminated fountains.
we also went to the Alhambra, another palace with similar influences-though a very different look, and much larger-to the one in Seville. positioned on a hill overlooking the city, it had breath-taking views as well as beautiful temples, gardens, and an awesome-looking museum that was, of course, closed. ehhhh. highlight of Granda? the day spent at the SCIENCE PARK where we got to see their special exhibit on the almighty T-rex. they also had a really cool Escher exhibit, a butterfly house, a room for Andulasian culture, an endangered predatory bird rehabiliation program, a human body exhibit, and a whole plaza we barely had time to explore that featured an observatory, an astronomy museum, and a lot of touchable examples of water, wind, and solar energy. Spain has more then a few wind turbines lining their coast, they are obviously very forward-thinking in the alternatve energy category. i would have gladly spent another day there, but we lost our ticket-funny story-and we were never really clear on whether or not we got a 2-day pass anyways. so we decided to come on to Madrid, since we leave Friday, and there's lots to see here. This will probably be my last post for the trip-unless something amazing happens, but once i get home i'll make sure to put pictures up here for those of you who don't have facebook, and maybe i'll even throw up some tidbits about Panama and Costa Rica.
love you!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

But how will we find the big mosque?

Wooah. i didn´t mean to go this long without posting. i am now in Seville, Spain at an adorable hostel with truly hot showers. i think they have beds and stuff too. but you don´t wanna hear about all that quite yet. first i´m going to educate you all on the things i learned in Morocco (about Morocco).

first of all, it should be stated that everyone in Morocco wants to be your tour guide. we were well warned about this by guidebooks and friends so on our first day in Casablanca it came as no suprise that we attracted some hangers-on wanting to show us the sights (well, sight) in Casablanca, the 3rd-largest mosque in the world. they were so insistent we would never find our way to the mosque without them, which was a hilarious notion because it dominated the skyline. it is sort of like being in DC and not being able to find the Washington monument. except even easier to locate. whenever one of us managed to shake off a potential guide, the other one would enquire, but how will we find the big mosque? somehow we found it, and it was supremely beautiful and absolutely immense. but i intended to make you a list, so here´s some bullet points for ya...

1. they are pretty ill-equipped for cold weather. at least, as cold as it was while we were there. apparently we caught the tail end of the cold front that´s currently assaulting Europe. much colder than the typical Moroccan winter. so it turns out everyone else was just as cold as we were, but not complaining about it. as much as we were.

2. "fruit salad" is a lot more of a dessert there than it is in the US. think a multitude of tropical fruits, pudding, almonds, dates, and a piroutte on top. amazing. (yes i photographed one.)

3. Morocco was the first country to officially recognize the United States as an independent country. i learned this during a visit to the American Legation Museum, which is less about US-Moroccan history and more about Moroccan history. but they did have this really funny letter written by the first diplomat living in Morocco about how the Emperor basically forced a pair of lions on him as a "gift to Congress" because US laws forbid the President or the diplomats from accepting gifts. The Emperor´s man was so set on him accepting the lions (because if he didn´t they would cut off the messenger´s head) that he posted guards at either end of the street and told the diplomat if he didn´t want the lions to set them free. the letter ends with the gentleman lamenting the cost of hosting 2 fully grown lions and the rumour that the Emperor is preparing some horses as a gift to "the American people." the ALM also had some awesome dioramas depicting 2 historic battles. and lots of maps of Tangier, which apparently has been shot to bits quite a few times.

4. "Medina" means city in Arabic. we saw 4 different medinas (a city surrounded by a stone wall, very medevial) while we were there, by far the largest being in Fez. over half a million people live in the medina in about cramped. luckily our first night was spent in Casablanca, where the medina is much smaller so it wasn´t that big of a deal that we got totally lost and took awhile to find our hotel. these walled cities are little more than giant stone labryinths to the untrained eye, where the business and shops seem to repeat and there´s no shortage of young boys who may or may not be lying when they say you´re headed towards the outside. afterwards we stuck to hotels in the villa nouvelle, or new city, where landmarks are a bit more distinguishible.

5. Chefchaouen was incredible and nothing the guidebook pages we tore out (oops) about it really seemed to be correct. anytime there was a "nothing to see here" comment we found another breath-taking vista. i will post pictures as soon as i find the facility. the other aspect of "nothing to see here" in Chefchaouen is not only does everyone want to sell you hashish (an unappealing offer when all you want your hostel owner to do is turn on the gas for a hot shower), they are also trafficking it with each other. there were a few occasions where i almost inadvertently photogrpahed a drug deal. it is illegal there, but apparently there´s another case of culture and law disagreeing.

after Morocco, we crossed the ferry to Spain. it must have been an unusually rough day on the water because everyone was using the seasick bags the staff thoughtfully passed out to those who looked queasy when the ferry started pitching. i managed to escape with my breakfast but not everyone was so lucky. at one point there were probably 15 people simulataneously tossing their cookies...a odd experience, being in a room with so many people retching. one i hope never to repeat. from docking we went to Gibralter, which i´ll tell you all about later because it´s about ten pm, Spanish dinner time. Ciao.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Leaving the Tropics Was a Mistake?

we made it to Morocco!!! which is really exciting. especially because Royal Air Maroc checked our passports no less then 5 times so if we didn't have our documents in order we'd have been screwed. Morocco is amazing, more like Europe then Africa, which is crazy. but there's still undertones of Africa here and some other impressions that are purely Moroccan. this place has a lot more cultural identity than any other country i've visited these past few years.

there's just one thing.

it's WINTER here. really really winter. last night it was 1 degree celsius-just a hair above freezing. i am so cold i don't even know what to do. i even bought more clothes, i'd forgotten what layering feels like. next on my list is shoes, chacos and socks just don't cut it. and the thing about Morocco is they don't really embrace the concept of heating. when we first arrived i thought it was strange the way everyone wanders around bundled up as if they were on a trek across Siberia, but i quickly realized this is because this is the only choice. not a single hotel, cafe, shop, or any building i've been in has had any sort of heat. not even fireplaces. it's crazy. you have to bundle up all the time because you can't quite pop indoors and warm up. but its good for me, sort of like going cold turkey-get it?-on feeling hot. plus i probably needed to beef up my winter wardrobe. but that didn't stop me, last night, bundled under 2 of the thickest blankets i've ever seen, from asking myself...was leaving the tropics a mistake?

no. and yes.

but anyways Morocco is one of the most beautiful places i can even imagine; naturally and architecturally. people speak french and arabic which makes it feel soo exotic but there's still enough english for us to manage. the food is amazing, they really know how to use spices here. you can buy strawberries from street vendors and pastries on every corner. they have huge stray cats the locals feed to entice them to kill more rats. i just wanna entice one to take a nap in my bed so it'll be nice and warm when i crawl in it. Morocco is definitely a cut above Ghana, the ideal next step up the development ladder. i have taken a few pictures but its difficult to do it justice. needless to say i will still post them later anyways. until then, i am yours in gloves, a hat and a scarf. c'est bon? c'est bon.