Sangria fights, siestas and tapas, what’s not to love about Spain?

Spain was definitely a culture shock for us after Morocco, especially on the road where people actually obeyed the rules!  We also quickly learnt that they take their siestas pretty seriously so of course we had to immerse ourselves in the culture and do as the Spanish do.

Our first stop in Spain was Seville and we are pretty embarrassed to say that we didn’t really spend much time outside. After a hectic month of travelling with little sleep, we just crashed when we hit Spain and immersed ourselves in the culture of siestas! We did go on our first Tapas tour here though and tried a few things a little out of our comfort zones.  Our tour went to three different Tapas places with a different kind of drink at each and we experienced our first taste of shark and squid ink… yes you read right, squid ink.  Surprisingly both weren’t too bad but I wouldn’t go back for seconds.  For our last night in Seville we had a Paella night at our hostel which was really nice as we got to sit on the rooftop watching the sunset, drinking Sangria and singing the night away with a bunch of crazy foreigners that didn’t really speak English!

 

After our long nap in Seville we made our way to Granada which is a beautiful little city!  Our first touristy stop was The Alhambra, a massive Islamic Palace complex, which is definitely something you have to see if you ever visit Granada.  We underestimated the sheer size of it though and went quite late and ended up having to smash through all of our sightseeing in a few hours.  It is one of those places that you could easily spend a whole day at and stroll through at a leisurely pace, have a picnic and even a siesta.  After we visited the Alhambra we went on a walking tour of the Caves in Granada which are inhabited by Hippies.  We actually got to walk through their little community and see how they lived and we were also advised we could ‘spend a night in the cave’ if we were keen…we opted to stick to our cosy hostel.  At the caves they have also got the best flamenco shows around as the area is known for its very strong and authentic Gypsy and Arabic influence but unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to go and see one in Granada there but they were highly recommended.

We were lucky enough to be in Spain during the Euro 2012 Soccer Match as well where Spain versed Italy in the final and won!  Now, I have personally never witnessed something like this in my life but when Spain won, all of Granada seemed to come alive and in every street you could hear cheering and cars, motorbikes, buses all were honking their horns in celebration and cars were going around with flags hanging out of the windows and there was just so much pride in their country over a soccer match that it was definitely a sight to witness!  Our little group got swept up with the hordes of people and we headed in the direction of the town centre where it started to get even crazier with people throwing what sounded like mini bombs and there were flares going off and just absolute mayhem.

After our little stint in Granada we made our way to Madrid.  Originally Madrid wasn’t on our itinerary as we wanted to get to Valencia, however, the train timetables weren’t working in our favour and by the time we got to Valencia we only had half a day there before we had to leave again to get to San Sebastian, so instead we just decided that Madrid would be easier.  For our first night in Madrid we undertook another tapas tour with a difference.  We had a small group of people and actually got our own personal chef (located in a little cave) making tapas for us.  This was a great experience as we got some good hints & tips, so watch out when we get back as there will be a few tapas and cocktail nights going on!!  We were also there for the 4th July celebrations for America (yes, they had a parade and everything for the Americans).  We only had one fully day in Madrid and thought we would go sightseeing, however the shops looked more enticing so we decided to do a bit of shopping first and then realised that we only had 2.5 hours left to see Madrid.  So, of course we did what we do best and smashed the major sights of Madrid in limited time!  We of course walked right past the symbol of Madrid which is a bear and a ‘strawberry tree’ (of course when we went to ask for directions I got an earful when I called it an apple tree – I mean who has heard of a strawberry tree that stands at 2 metres???).  For our last night in Madrid we went and saw a Flamenco show in a little cave (okay, we went to a few underground caves in Madrid).  Once again this was another good experience as it was a small group and we could actually ask the dancer and singers questions and they even got us involved a little bit.  If you are ever in Spain make sure you see a Flamenco show as it is one of the most amazing things to watch.   Unfortunately we didn’t really get to experience everything that Madrid could offer, but we still had a good time!

So after Madrid we made our long train trip to San Sebastian.  San Seb is a beachside town and when you have a clear day it is absolutely amazing but unfortunately it has more overcast days than clear ones as it’s located on the Atlantic coast.  It is still worth a visit though as it’s still beautiful even on an overcast day.  There is also a surfer’s beach and a few other sightseeing places around.  San Sebastian is very big on pintxos instead of tapas and I don’t think we actually saw any places with tapas.  Pintxos is a basque style of tapas and has a toothpick through the food to identify it as pintxos.  We of course ate our way through San Sebastian and immersed ourselves in the food and tried beef cheek for the first time (highly recommended) and we also found a very local place where if you order mussels and you liked them, you actually throw the shells on the ground.  San Seb is also a great place to drink, you can order 2-4-1 drinks which come in large cups where it’s half alcohol (trust us you only need 2) and we also found the cheapest alcohol here (1.80 euro for a bottle of rum, oh yeh!!).  Just thought I’d cover this for all of our alcoholic friends.

Now onto the highlight of our trip – the San Fermin festival (aka running of the bulls)!  We stayed in San Sebastian for this and we decided to do a tour as well as it worked out cheaper for us.  I would like to note that we have never seen so many Aussies in one location ever!  Out of the 800 or so people on this tour, 99% were Aussie and at the festival itself it was a good majority of fellow Australians absolutely everywhere.  We were up early on the first day of the festival and made our way to Pamplona to get a good spot for the opening ceremony.  Here we got our ‘bladders’ (aka drink bags), stocked up with sangria and had a look around (please note we were smart drinkers and also had a second bladder that contained water).  The opening ceremony is one of the craziest, hectic, stickiest and most exciting things we have ever done.  We decided to stay just outside of the town centre and before we knew it our white clothes were soon pink and any visible skin was sticky with sangria!  About 15mins before noon all of the Spanish came out and filled whatever gaps there were in the crowds, even if there weren’t any.  From the balconies locals were pouring water on the crowds and you are being pushed left, right and centre and all of a sudden you are 10m away from where you were standing.  A few minutes before noon everyone takes their red kerchiefs and wave them in the air waiting for 12pm and as soon as it hits 12 the kerchiefs are tied around your neck and there is a few minutes of celebration and then the crowd just disperses.  The rest of the day and night is just spent drinking and sleeping.  We left about 4pm and headed back to San Seb for a good nights’ sleep.  The next morning we made our way back to Pamplona at 4am to catch the first bull run.  Okay, there is no real way to describe the scene when we got back to Pamplona, but imagine people passed out everywhere (and I mean everywhere – streets, parks, benches, gutters etc) and now imagine a very strong smell of urine mixed with vomit and even poo.  We also found that the Spanish really do know how to party as they were still going when we got back and it was actually probably more chaotic than the opening ceremony.  We did a quick walk of the bull run path (825m worth of a death defying experience!) and then made our way to the arena to get some good seats.  In the arena you can watch all of the action on the big screen and then you get to watch the people run for their lives into the arena with the bulls following.  For about half an hour smaller bulls are let into the ring all revved up and charged at anyone that dared to get close to them.  Unfortunately we didn’t get to see a bullfight but by the sounds of it we didn’t really want to see it in the end as the bulls from the run are tormented for a while and then eventually killed (this happens every day for 9 or 10 days), so definitely not an event for the animal right activists out there.

 

 

We sadly said goodbye to San Seb and made our way to Barcelona.  The first thing we came across in our dorm was handcuffs and that’s when we knew we were in for something a little different in Barcelona.  We got in quite late and decided we will make our first official hostel dinner consisting of pasta, vegetables and chicken (pasta meal no.1) with a side of cheap vino. And boy it was awesome let me just say!!!!!!!  The following day we explored the La Rambla and found the Mercat de la Boqueria which is a fresh food market filled with fresh eggs, seafood, meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, oils, lollies and anything you can imagine you could get.  This is definitely worth a visit as your senses are just overloaded and your stomach feels never ending plus it took us back to the medinas in Morocco.  We then made our way down to the port and walked along until we got to the Gothic Quarter.  In here you can find the Barri Gotic Cathedral, the Picasso Museum, Salvador Dali exhibition and so much more!  The next day was a slow one as let’s face it, we went out the night before with some crazy French Canadians so we decided to hit the beach and get our tan on!  The first thing you will notice is that there are a fair few topless females and fully naked old men (spread legged too), we kind of got swept up in the freedom of topless sunbaking and decided to try it out for ourselves – while in Spain do as the locals do.  The next day we fully explored the best of what Barcelona had to offer by doing a hop on, hop off tour.  We visited the La Sagrada Familia which is Gaudi’s unfinished work and definitely worth the visit.  The entrance fee goes towards trying to complete this amazing piece of work and it’s definitely worth going inside.  If you have time I would also suggest going to the towers however we didn’t do it as there was a 2hr wait.  Our next stop was the Park Guell which I would probably suggest doing in the late afternoon.  We went about lunch time and were overheating and the crowds were just ridiculous but it was definitely worth the visit!!  We did the whole loop of the bus ride and finished our tour with Gaudi’s La Pedrera and Casa Batllo which is also worth seeing.  For our last night in Barcelona, we made another hostel cooked dinner….three guesses as to what we made…yep, you guessed right – pasta dinner no.4 and then went on a hostel organised Pub Crawl to another hostel for some free sangria and then onto a Salsa club where we learnt to salsa with old creepy men and then onto a proper club where the best night in Spain was had.  This of course made for an insanely painful trip to the airport the next day and as we could barely move, we were happy to fork out 40 euro for a cab – ouch.

As I write this I am actually in the bus on our last official tour day of Turkey…. I know, we are quite behind in our blogs but we are just having too much fun so we do apologise! Tomorrow we embark on our next adventures in Greece but look out for our Turkey entry soon – where we saw Turkeys in Turkey!!!

Whoever said you lost weight while travelling never visited Morocco!

Since travelling through Morocco we have gained about 10kgs each and not just in our backpacks but also around our stomachs!  Morocco is an absolutely beautiful country to visit, the food is just amazing and sometimes it just keeps on coming out, so naturally we all gained a tagine belly by the end of our trip.

Now I’m not exactly sure how to write this entry as our 2 week tour of Morocco has been one of the most amazing experiences in our lives and there isn’t really any way to describe our trip so I’m going to try and do a brief outline which won’t do it justice but I’ll put up a bunch of pictures to try and compromise.

Firstly we started in Casablanca as per our previous entry and met up with group.  We did a quick day trip to Rabat from there and experienced our first medina and Kasbah (I would definitely recommend seeing the Kasbah in Rabat, the white and blue washed walls made us think we were in Santorini!).  From Rabat we headed to Meknès which is a gorgeous imperial city to discover and get lost in. We went and checked out the Maousolem aka a big palace and walked down this never ending road that looked like a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. After surviving this strip of the road without bird poop in our hair and both eyes intact we rehydrated with some noss noss (Morocco’s local caffeine drink of choice) and fresh orange juice. Of course a city tour isn’t complete without making your way through the medina which is always an experience in itself and here we got to try our first ever camel burger!  Yes that’s right, we ate camel and we somewhat liked it – well I’d rather you not mention camel burger again but that will soon be explained (sadly).

After spending some time in Meknès we made our way to Volubilis which hosts roman ruins.  Unfortunately I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as I got a touch of sun stroke and ended up vomiting on some ancient ruins – oops.  It was realllly hot!!!! We then made our way to Fès and we had quite an interesting car trip – let’s just say there was projectile vomit involved, an extremely embarrassed Michelle and pieces of camel burger – good times!

Unfortunately I actually missed out on Fès as I was still quite sick (although I’m sure my wallet thanked me) so Renee shall take over from here.

Fes is an amazing city and the medina is even more amazing….the oldest and largest in Morocco to be exact. We started the day with our rather eccentric and entertaining guide Mohammed giving us a brief overview of the city and we were all captivated viewing the old part of the city from a mountain top. Following Michelle’s departure from the lookout (actually it was more of a group executive decision that she be forced to go home…the poor darling was resembling the colour of the rolling hills of Scotland!!), we made our way to a ceramic factory and viewed the whole ceramic process and emptied our wallets…there were lots of purchases. We then entered the hustle and bustle of the medina and emptied our wallets even further. It was here that I got the nickname, given by the gorgeous Mohammed himself, “Fatima” (and the proposition to be his third wife) and my obsession for any hand of Fatima jewellery pieces began (note – this name then evolved to “Fatima Indiana Cous Cous by the end of the trip) – Indiana because of my funky hat I purchased haha. We spent the rest of the day in the Medina and then went and had a home cooked meal (best meal ever!) at a local family restaurant while the slightly less green Michelle got that extra bit more of rest at the hotel.

So after our Fès visit we then made our way to Midelt which was an amazing experience in itself. We had a pit stop before Fes and purchased some local produce – cherries! The sweetest and juiciest cherries we have ever tasted. We also had a second pit stop and spent some time with the Barbary apes (native to the area) and fed them lots of peanuts. We arrived in Midelt and were lucky enough to be able to go through the local mud brick village and spend some time with the local children.  I must stress that photos should not be taken unless you have asked for permission first (preferably from an adult).  It was the most amazing experience because you are all of a sudden swamped with kids all wanting photos of themselves and with you and next thing you know your camera is being passed around kids who all want a go at taking photos.  It’s so hard to describe but just the energy and entertainment the children get from simply taking photos is just incredible!  Just to see them all smiling, laughing and having a really good time with the group was truly something special.  It was quite hard to leave the village as the people were so beautiful and we were even getting invitations for our group (who are complete strangers to them) to have dinner with their families.  These are quite poor people but they are more than happy to share what food they had with us and it’s something that we would definitely not see in Australia and I’m sure you wouldn’t see it in many countries.  To top off our visit to Midelt we were privileged enough to have our own special local entertainment of a band and dancers and we both donned the local Moroccan dress and danced the night away.

(So at this point I’m realising I need some new words other than experience and amazing – perhaps just amazeballs?)

Anyway from here we headed to the Sahara Desert and of course with our luck we actually got there in the middle of a sandstorm.  We had to wait out the sandstorm before we hit the Sahara Desert but it was worth it.  We trekked through the desert on camels (yes ironic as a few days earlier we were eating camel) and after 1.5hrs and newly created thighs of steel we made it to our Berber camp.  Unfortunately we didn’t really get to see a sunset, sunrise or a starry night but we still had an amazeballs night filled with sand, drums, singing, food and cats (note – there are LOTS of cats in Morocco, strays everywhere and everyone seems to own 6 cats and it was here that I discovered Renee’s slight fear of cats, which made for some entertaining times).

From here we made our way to Todra Gorge which is quite a beautiful city and our hotel was really nice too equipped with a pool and we all pretty much jumped in with our clothes still on when we arrived (don’t judge us – the Sahara was damn hot!)  There are quite a few activities to do in Todra, Renee went for an easy walk through the village and I opted for rock climbing.  For any rock climbing fanatics out there – you will love Todra! It was here we discovered our love for Moroccan cheeseballs (aka like Cheetos) and cheap Moroccan wine (very sore heads in the morning!).

Moving on, from here we made our way to Ait Benhaddou and stayed with Mr Action and his family.  Mr Action has appeared in a lot of movies (as an extra) and his guest house has also been voted as one of the best.  Mr Action also loves being in photos…..once the camera was out it and he saw it, it was all over. The Kasbah here in this town is definitely something to see and the view from the top is amazeballs, especially at sunset!

We then drove through the High Atlas mountains and saw some really spectacular views and our next stop was Imlil in the Toubkal region where we hiked for 45mins to a small village called Aremd where we stayed with a local family.  We hiked up Morocco’s highest mountain (Jebel Toubkal) which was a bit off putting at first as you see all of these tourists in hiking boots, poles, navigation gear and here we are in jeans, joggers and in one case pluggers.  Yep, who needs fancy hiking gear when you have pluggers and jeans!

(Persevere – I’m almost done!!)

We then made our way to a seaside town called Essaouira.  For any of those ladies that have a badonkadonk like myself and Renee and need a confidence boost – come to this town (but not by yourself!!)  The first things I heard in this town was “wow that’s a big ass”, now at first I was actually insulted but turns out it’s actually a compliment and they like the badonkadonk.  Of course after a few comments, stares and stalkers you kind of get over it as these boys aren’t subtle about it and they will let you know if they like what they see (we experienced it most in this city and not so much elsewhere).  Now the city itself is quite beautiful and the medina here is really good especially if you know how to barter!  It was here where I was almost sold but luckily Renee was kind enough to say I wasn’t for sale, no matter how many camels and magic carpets he was offering.  We were lucky enough to be here during the Gnaoua Music Festival too which probably made for a more interesting time.  While here we opted to try out a Berber massage (2hrs people!!) and immersed ourselves in the culture by going to a hammam and stripping to almost nakedness where we got scrubbed and oiled by pretty much naked Moroccan woman…they obviously wanted to stay as cool as possible. This was actually something I would definitely recommend while here.  We got over our fear of being naked in a room of people and just enjoyed it.  We went to a very traditional Hammam so I think it really added to the experience and we can honestly say that we have never been so relaxed in our lives to a point where you have no thoughts running through your head.

The last stop on our journey was Marrakech where we hit an insane 47 degrees!!  After experiencing what we did in all the smaller cities Marrakech didn’t really live up to the hype.  It’s a beautiful city with a lot to do and if you only visit Marrakech then it won’t disappoint but it is quite touristy.  We visited the square that was within the Medina in Marrakech for an included dinner of an assortment of goodies (but definitely not Sheep’s head which was the stall most of the locals seemed to be at). The next day we had a guided tour or other areas of interest in Marrakech but by about 10am we were over it (had consumed about 5 litres of water….it was already in the high 30’s!!) so we went back to the hotel to have some much needed rest. We had a pretty good couple of days there and of course we had to go out on a bang on our last night with dinner, drinks and a local ‘disco tech’.

Along the way we made a new family with everyone on our tour including our tour guide and trainee tour guides and it was actually really difficult to say farewell to them all (Renee and I both started crying hysterically in the taxi following the farewells).  Of course it just means we will have to have a Noss Noss reunion in Morocco (or Townsville??)!  Morocco definitely stole both of our hearts with the people, culture, landscapes, simplicity, way of life, food and just everything and we are already missing the big ass comments. We definitely recommend Morocco as a country to visit for anyone that wants to immerse yourself in a really beautiful culture and experience things ‘off the beaten track’ (you eventually get over your fear of squat toilets and crazy taxi drivers). It was definitely an experience that we will never forget and we still reminisce each day.

Next stop……Spain!!  Filled with tapas, bull running, football fanatics, sangria and of course too much shopping!