Flew into Madrid airport on Qatar airlines at 7am, made my way through customs, managed to navigate the metro system no troubles and then a short walk to Plaza de Legazpi and on to my hotel.
After a quick shower, caught the metro again to the middle of town and had a wander.
In the shade.
At the Plaza Mayor where I had lunch, very picturesque.
With the ladies.
Hand in hand.
After a nap back at the hotel in the afternoon, went exploring the Sol area in town. Lots of sights to see, from street performers to street walkers. Hands & knees.
A guy was pushing this red sculpture thing along, and he was half covered in this red mud. Waited until he came along and took some photo's. He started yelling 'no photography' in Spanish, but I continued to click away. He then came rushing up to me, and I got a few shots of the guy covered in red mud raising his fist at me. Very surreal! Then I apologized profusely and he seemed to settle down.
Read all over.
Llamar por teléfono.
On the metro back to the hotel after cool first day in Spain!
Went for a run this morning alongside the main river. Lots of trees and park all along, and a big wide path where all the locals were walking, biking and running. Great place for some exercise. Only 20C too so was a welcome change from the Dubai heat.
Spent the rest of the morning checking out the Royal Palace.
In the afternoon went to see the Almudena cathedral.
Girl with the feline tattoo
Out with Dad.
Had a group meeting at 7pm with the rest of the tour group for the next two weeks. A good mix of people, Aussies, Kiwis,, a couple of poms and one German. The tour guide was a young Spanish guy, and is pretty easy going.
Had dinner at a Spanish restaurant. We all shared dishes so got to try everything. Had this ham, covered in green mold, but really nice underneath.
Off tomorrow to Salamanca by train.
Had an earlyish start in the morning, and then we all trooped down at 7:30am to the metro station to catch a ride to the main train station. Even though it was 8am on a Sunday morning, the metro train was half filled with people, all in running gear wearing bib numbers. Apparently there was a 10k race in the city this morning.
After a quick breakfast of bread and ham at a cafe, jumped on the train to Salamanca. Good way to see abit of the country side, albeit abit blurred at 130kph. Much comfier than a bus too.
Got to Salamanca at 11:45, and after ditching the luggage, headed to the main square, or Plaza Mayor. Much bigger and prettier than the Madrid square.
After a quick look around, David the tour guide took us to a Spanish bar for a quick snack. Had potato quiche, egg, ham and bread. Only 1 euro, and wasn't far off a proper lunch.
Then went exploring the local sights and got to see the historic buildings, including the main cathedral.
The 500 year old cathedral is covered in ornate decorations, including an astronaut! Apparently it was added by a cheeky artist a few years ago when it was under restoration.
There was some kind of painting competition, so all these people were out with their easels doing their take of the local architecture. Everything from photo perfect to the totally abstract.
Then had a late lunch at about 3pm at a restaurant just off the Plaza Mayor. Everyone was still pretty full, so just had salad. I wasn't too keen on the rabbit food though, so had some calamari instead. Just as well too as the Spanish salad, or ensalada had more dressing on it than actual salad:(!
After lunch I had a walk around the old town and admire the architecture and take some more photo's.
Had a burrito for dinner, then David took us to done cool/crazy bars in the evening.
Off to Portugal tomorrow, first stop is a city called Coimbra. 5.5 hours on a mini-bus this time though.
Had a late start yesterday, so slept in abit, then went through the narrow streets of the old town, then out into the countryside.
After breakfast, went for a walk through the streets, and went to see another really old (12th century) church, the Old Cathedral of Salamanca.
We then travelled via mini-bus to the Portugese border, had lunch, and then on to Coimbra.
Our tour guide, David, took us for a walk through the streets.
And then up the hill to the Coimbra University, which is really old too (~800 years), and got a group photo overlooking the town.
Had dinner at a restaurant and had some simple Portugese food. The server made us repeat all the meals in Portugese as a bit of fun. Now have to say 'obrigado' instead of gracias to say thank you too. We were discussing what weird things people have eaten, and David, the tour leader said "bulls balls". Then one of the girls said "I've eaten ", then she realized what she had just said and everyone was in hysterics!
Went to see a 'Fado' afterwards, or traditional Portugese music/singing. It was a three piece band, and played in an old small church which really added to the atmosphere.
Today has just been a relaxing day in Coimbra. Half the group went to see some roman ruins, and the other half went to do some kayaking on the main river. I was kayaking down the river in a 2 person Kayak, with an Aussie guy, Andrew. I noticed the water starting to seep in, but he reassured me it was normal, and the faster you go, it will start draining out (it had holes in the bottom specifically for draining). Then the kayak started getting pretty low in the water, until it was up to my waist, and then we capsized! Tried to get back in, but the kayak just went underwater. We managed to scramble ashore, while the other guys towed back the half-submerged kayak:(.
The kayak was one of those sealed ones, where you sit on it, rather than in it. We managed to drag it half back on shore, and realized it sank because it had an old hole in the back! Took about 30 minutes to drain all the water out of it. Was a good dip in the river to cool off though.
Had a stroll through the streets in thd afternoon. The town is Old, but a bit more run down than Salamanca, adds to the character though.
We had dinner at a 'hard rock' style cafe down at the river. Only America style food, but tasted good.
Off tomorrow to see some more of Portugal, to Lisbon via train.
After a restful few days in Coimbra, on Wednesday we took a short commuter train to the main train station.
And then jumped onto another train to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. Got there about 1:30pm, and then headed out for some lunch. Had a Bifana, or pork sandwich at a Portugese cafe / lunch bar with some of the others. A small cosy place that sold simple cheap food (the pork sandwich was literally just a freshly cooked pork steak between two bits of bread) with the men were standing at the counter eating a sandwich and a glass of wine for lunch with minimal banter. Just like in an old movie.
Then David took us for a walk around the city centre. The city was flattened in earthquake in the 19th century, so the city is relatively 'new' in an European kind of way. Quite a nice place to just walk around, better than Madrid anyway.
círculo de amigos (circle of friends).
We then walked up the hill to the Saint George Castle, and got a great view of the city below, and the 25th of April Bridge, which looks almost exactly like the golden gate bridge in San Francisco.
At the top.
We headed out for dinner afterwards, and went to a small restaurants in one of the back streets away from the usual tourist places. Good food, great service and cheap too. We then went to a cafe with a terrace that overlooked the harbour at night and enjoyed the view. When we were walking back we managed to stumble upon an outdoor street party with everyone dancing in the street, quite a buzzing atmosphere and got some good photo's too.
Dancing in the street.
I later got this photo published in a photography magazine competition:
We were supposed to go to a small town called Sintra on Thursday, but the train drivers had an impromptu strike. One of the hazards of traveling in Europe I guess:(. Had a day in Lisbon instead enjoying the sights of the city, visited the army museum, then took the metro out to Oriente, a shopping place next to sea.
Guitarist & Cigarette.
Had dinner at another small place (felt like eating in someone's dining room) in one of the back alleys in the evening. A good feed of shaved 'rosbif' (roast beef) and potato for 8€.
Went to a rooftop bar close to our hotel afterwards, and got to see a panoramic view of the city from above.
Went for a run this morning along the waterfront on a running track, a nice cool 15C. Quite a few locals hitting the pavement too.
Caught the tram out to the west of city to Belem to see some of the sights like the Navy museum, Jeronimo monastery and to try the 'world famous' Belem tarts.
Padrão dos Descobrimentos, which celebrates the Portuguese Age of Discovery (or Age of Exploration) during the 15th and 16th centuries.
Then took a public bus for a 3 hour trip to the south of Portugal to the Algarve today, to a small fishing village called Olhao. Just here for a couple of nights to relax, and off to the island of Culatra tomorrow.
Got up early for a run down the waterfront in Olhao. It was originally a small fishing village, and is slowly growing with the influence of the tourist trade from the neighboring town of Faro. Quite a few English accents in the restaurant we went to last night anyway.
We are just staying at a small pension, run by an Aussie. Had breakfast on the roof top garden with a cool view of the surrounding town.
Went to the markets in the morning and took some photo's of all the people and colourful stalls in the morning, and got a kilo of strawberries too for only a few euro's.
By the docks.
We then caught a ferry for a 45 minute ride to the small island of Calatra for a day at the beach. Nice sunny day with a nice cool breeze. The water was freezing though! Managed to numb up abit after the initial gasp and shock, not quite Dubai anyway. Was good to have a day relaxing and doing nothing.
Went to an Indian place for dinner. Quite a few people from Goa here, the old Portugese enclave in India.
Bid farewell to Portugal and back to Spain tomorrow, off to visit the city of Seville and then onto Jerez.
Early start on Sunday so got up before sunrise for a run. Went through town this time and up into the hills. Zero cars and people about to dodge and side step.
Caught a public bus from Olhao, Portugal to the southern Spanish city of Seville after breakfast. A bit warmer in Seville, a dry 31C at midday. Not too bad for me, but everyone else was wilting abit.
Deep frying everything is apparently abit of a speciality in Seville, so we had deep fried fish at a cafe for lunch. Had some cod, 250 grams for 6€ and definitely filled the gap.
Had a walk though the city afterwards. Sunday, so apart from a few restaurants and souvenir shops, everything else was closed. A bit eerie in such a big city! Almost got lost wandering the narrow city alleyways and street, but after a few random turns managed to get back to the meeting point with a few minutes to spare.
Caught another public bus at 4:30pm for a short 1 hour trip to Jerez.
We went for a walk through the city centre and then went to a restaurant just in the main square. Spain was playing Italy in the euro football competition, and you could tell when Spain scored an equalizer when there all this cheering and celebration as we were walking down the street. Afterwards there was were a parade for Corpus Christi, a catholic religious festival. Men, women and kids all dressed up and all the priests and nuns walking in a procession past the restaurant. They (all ladies) were carrying a statue of the Madonna, looked pretty heavy!
There was also a carousel in the square, and managed to get cool panning shot of a girl having a ride on a horse.
Went for a run through the streets of Jerez on Monday morning. I figured if I run west and then east, and should manage to come back to the hotel. Boy, was I wrong:(! Nothing like getting abit lost to get the heart racing and go a bit faster.
We had breakfast at a cafe in town, and had Spanish omelette and had some churros, a Spanish pastry that you dip in a bowl of chocolate.
Jerez's main claim to fame is sherry making, so went for a visit to the Tio Pepe sherry factory. Some of the oak casks where they were maturing sherry had been signed by famous visitors, including Picasso, Orson Welles and Steven Spielberg.
Left Jerez at 2pm and caught a bus down to Tarifa, then jumped on a fast ferry and headed off across the Gibraltar straits to Tangiers, Morocco. Quite a short trip, only 45 minutes. They even stamped the passport on the way across.
Even though the two countries are mere miles apart, it was amazing how different Spain and Morocco are, at least what we could see in Tangiers and the road to Chefchaouen anyway. From a developed (but broke) European country to a developing North African one.
Then drove in a mini-bus for a 2.5 hour drive to Chefchaouen. Got to the hotel at about 8pm. We were all pretty knackered so had a nice dinner at the restaurant. First place we have been to that has a pool too.
Went for a run through the alleys of the village we are staying at, Chefchaouen in the morning. The old part of town has alot of narrow alleys and paths, a bit like stepping back in time 500 years ago. I don't think they see many people going for a jog through them though, as I got a few bemused looks.
We had a Moroccan breakfast at the hotel. Really nice, goat cheese, olive oil, jam, honey, fresh OJ and different types of bread.
We then went for a short hike in the hills to a mosque above the village with a local guide. Was a good view of the village and the valley below too.
Got to see a few shepherds with their flocks of sheep and goats as wells.
We then trekked down to the village, and saw the local ladies washing rugs in the river.
Our local guide then took us for a walk through the streets and alleys. Everyone seemed to be camera shy so I had to shoot discreetly with the camera at waist level. Managed to get a few good captures though.
Blue & White.
In the corner.
Also got to see a local bakery, with all the bread cooked in a wood fired bakery.
We then went to a local rug shop. Spent 2 hours there, but I lost interest after 30 minutes. Some of the ladies were keen though, and one spent €2500 on a couple of rugs! One of the guys went back later to pay for his rug, and the salesmen looked a bit different, they had all changed out of the traditional clothes they were wearing and into normal western clothes.
in the square.
Across the bridge.
We then went to a restaurant for a late lunch. Had Moroccan salad and grilled chicken, quite tasty.
Spent the rest of the day just lazing by the pool, an essential part of any good vacation.
In the evening we wen to the main square to see the sights and have dinner.
Off tomorrow for a 3 hour hike in the mountains. The guide book says not to mind the vast marijuana plantations, the farmers are supposed to be used to all the tourists.
Got up early for our hike in the mountains, after another Moroccan breakfast.
A local guide took us for a hike in the hills behind Chefchaouen. Lots of goats, sheep and crops. No fences, apart from a few rocky walls.
We had been climbing up the hills for about 30 minutes when we passed some kids off to school in town in the other direction. They must get alot of exercise!
As we ventured higher up we came across the marijuana plantations. One of the valleys was literally filled with it! Apparently a few years ago, the police came up with a helicopter and burn't all the crops. But since the Arab spring last year, the King has turned a blind eye to keep the farmers happy.
Some of Morocco's finest.
Luckily no booby traps (or even fences)...
...and the farmers were actually pretty friendly.
In the foreground and the town of Chefchaouen in the valley below.
Came back down the mountain just before lunch and had a shower, packed the bags, and then went for a well earned lunch at a restaurant in the town square.
Set off for the city of Fez at 2pm. We were supposed to take a public bus, but we decided to be a bit less adventurous by chipping an extra 8€ each for a private mini-bus and get there a bit quicker.
The drive was quite cool. Driving from the hilly green mountains in the north to the much flatter, arid terrain you normally associate with Morocco as we made our way south.
Got to Fes in the late afternoon, checked into our hotel, and went for a walk in the city.
Went to dinner at a family's house in Fez. The wife organizing in the kitchen (in green) and the husband serving.
Had a really nice vege entree, and had 10+ vege dishes they brought out to us to share. Had chicken pastilla for the main. A sweet chicken pie they made with cinnamon and icing sugar. Strange combination, but really tasty.
Off exploring Fez tomorrow.
Went for a run through the old part of town in the morning. Quite a bit different from the last place we stayed at. Fes is a reasonable size city compared to the village of Chefchaouen.
Hotel where we are staying at is ok, no hot water though, but pretty warm here so not too bothered. Breakfast was ok, just bread, jam and cheese.
We set off at 9am, and checked out the gates at the royal palace.
Didn't get much further though.
Then went to a hill to see a panoramic view of the city.
Then onto a ceramic factory where they made tiles, crockery etc.
The amount of work that goes into making the wall mosaics was massive, with a row of guys chiseling these tiny 1-2cm tiles, ready to be assembled into a giant jigsaw of a mosaic.
We then went to a tannery in town. It was an old style one, where they washed and tanned leather outside in these big tubs. They gave each of us a fistful of mint leaves to mask the smell, which was pretty heinous.
We then went to an Morocco restaurant for lunch. I loved the pastilla last night, so had it again, but with pigeon meat this time.
Our guide then took us through the local souq. Glad we had a guide, as very easy to get lost. Every so often a donkey or a guy pushing a cart would come through the narrow alleys, so we had to dash out the way to avoid being run over.
Next we went to a place where they hand-wove fabrics.
It was interesting watching the fabric being manually woven back and forth.
Red, white & blue.
We then went to a Moroccan herbal remedy place. Quite interesting, lots of different oils and creams for the skin. They even had this oil which is made from the nuts from the fruit of a local tree. Apparently they used to get the undigested nuts from goat droppings, but now use more conventional methods.
Got back to the hotel at 6, so was a long day! Wandered down to the markets for a sandwich in the evening and some food for the 8 hour train trip to Marrakech tomorrow.
Got up early for the 8 hour train trip from Fes to Marrakech on Friday.
The landscape got drier and more arid as we headed south, and is pretty much just dry dirt and rock around Marrakech. Even saw some farmers cultivating cactus!
The last day of the trip so everyone was pretty buggered, so just spent the rest of the afternoon just lazing by the pool at the hotel. Hotel is quite good, hot water this time too!
We then went for a walk to the main Marrakech square, Djemaa El-Fna. Although David took us the wrong direction, and we quickly got lost!
He then went to plan B, and all 13 of us piled into 4 taxi's instead. Only cost a euro each for the 3k trip.
The square is apparently quite famous. Was in a Hitchcock movie, and featured in a photo shoot for 'America's next top model'.
Was a pretty overwhelming place. Abit of a tourist hotspot, with people trying to get your photograph with a monkey or cobra.
Saw a few times where an old lady or man sat on a stool, surrounded by about 100 locals, all listening attentively. Apparently they were story telling.
Lots of stalls selling various stuff, including a false teeth repair man, who had a big pile of porcelain teeth, which looked used, ready to put in your dentures.
We then had the final group dinner in a restaurant up on a terrace overlooking the main square to watch all the mayhem below.
Then managed to walk back to the hotel ok afterwards.
Went for a run on Saturday morning, not too hot, only 23C, and my last chance before heading back to the desert heat tomorrow:(. My 45 minute turned into a 60 minute one though after took a few wrongs turns, but managed to get back after getting lost.
The trip is now officially over, but I opted for one of the optional excursions for the last day and went with a few of the other travelers for a Moroccan cooking course. A local lady picked us up at 9am after breakfast, and took us to the local markets. The real ones, not with all the snake charmers and souvenir shops. We bought some vege's like onion, peppers, lemons, garlic etc. We then went to the chicken shop, where the Chooks were killed, plucked, skinned and butchered in about 10 minutes, talk about fresh!
Onion and Garlic.
Fresh Coriander and lemons.
And the Moroccan staple, flat bread.
We then went back to a place in the medina, or the old part of town. Quite old on the outside, but brand new and clean on the inside.
Prepping the Kitchen.
Slice, Dice and Spice.
Simmer in the tagine over hot charcoal for 60 minutes, and...
The Chefs (me on far right). Was quite alot of fun and a good way to end trip.
Then had the meal for lunch. Not sure if it was the whole 'experience' factor, but it tasted really good.
Had a lazy afternoon then went out to dinner with some of the other guys for one last chicken pastilla. Then went to a hotel with a bar on the top floor. Apparently there is some rule where they can only build as high as the mosque minarets, so we could see all of the city, even though it was on the sixth floor.
Got to crawl out of bed tomorrow at 3:30am for an early flight to Casablanca, then catch a 11am flight to Qatar via Tunis, then into Dubai at 1am on Monday morning ready to start work at 7:30am. Has been a really cool amazing trip!