A Travellerspoint blog

May 2010

Into Siguenza

overcast 15 °C

One of the first things I noticed on getting in the car is that the new Peugeots do not have a steering wheel – oh, there it is on the passenger’s side. Takes a little while to get used to driving on the opposite side, and a side effect is that I now call left and right on the wrong sideas we are driving along.
Our first drive is pretty short, only up to Siguenza about 110 kms out of Madrid. It is easy to find our hotel, it is the castle at the top of the town. This is a Parador, one of a chain of state run hotels right across Spain which are often in old monasteries, castles, palaces etc. Thanks to Andrew & Annie for putting us onto this, they have great deals for fixed price rooms and no charge for children’s beds, an absolute pearler as everyone else whacks on 30 Euro a pop. The Siguenza Parador is in a restored 14th Century castle, and it is fantastic. It is in a honey coloured stone sitting over the old town of Siguenza, which is little changed over the years.
Our humble abode

Our humble abode


Sigüenza street

Sigüenza street


We head out to explore the town and end up in the Siguenza Cathedral, which is pockmarked with bullet holes up the towers. These are from the Civil War, when the Republicans held the Cathedral and Franco’s nationalists held the Castle. Have a look inside, where there are some very good alabaster tombs, including a couple unusually mounted on the walls. When we come out it is raining so we head across to a bar for hot chocolates. Not Aussie hot chocolates but proper Spanish hot thick gooey chocolate sludge which you can feel coating you tonsils on the way down, yummo.
Now that's a hot chocolate

Now that's a hot chocolate


The rain has eased up so we wander about for a bit. Siguenza has a great old city centre, but it is on a hill, and by now we were at the bottom, and we didn’t want to go back up. So we went to the Almeda bar opposite the tourism office, and slowly went up and down the tapas selection and red wine list. The tapas were fantastic flavours and combinations, just brilliant. The wines were damn good too.
Tapas!

Tapas!


But all good things must come to an end and G helped us back up the hill to the Parador.
The next morning we gradually got going and out of the Parador to do some shopping before we head off. Pick up some very nice jamon, sallsichion and cheese in a carneceria on Calle Villaviciosa. Also elsewhere for bread tomatoes and a cream doughnut. G also found some other vital shopping.
A few necessities...

A few necessities...


Made ourselves a great breakfast before departing to the next Parador at Olite.
Looking on the map, we have picked the route that Michelin recommend as scenic. We head up to Soria, skirt around there and head off sort of NE. We go through some very nice villages including Yanguas with its old church and stone bridge over Rio Cidacos, and Arnedo where there are dramatic cliffs over the village that the ancients have carved into.
Stone Bridge, still used

Stone Bridge, still used


Weird rocks

Weird rocks


This is pretty hilly country, and the Spaniards have managed to get wind farms on every available ridgeline. At one point we could see at least 100 windmills into the distance in every direction.
As we get to Rincon de Soto we see we mistimed our visit – a few days later and we would have seen the running of the bulls there.
Get close to Olite and as we come over the ridge, we see that they also get into solar power around here too.
Not only Wind Power, but Solar too

Not only Wind Power, but Solar too

Posted by lostagain 15:21 Archived in Spain Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (0)

Into Madrid

Not for long enough...

overcast 15 °C

Well, after the jiggling of our flights, we got to our apartment at 5pm. We had already sorted the dirty clothes to do some loads of washing. Imagine our surprise when we saw the space where the washing machine wasn’t!
Went for a wander to Plaza Major and the tourist info. Found out where the laundrette was supposed to be, but could not find it, but it may have been boarded up, this being Sunday. Wandered around a bit more, then had some tapas in a bar for dinner. Nothing special.
Headless man, Plaza Major

Headless man, Plaza Major


In the morning we were slow getting going, and abandoned the washing. We headed back to Plaza Major for a small walking tour group, which was informative, but not too thrilling. At the end we headed off for a salt cod paella for lunch.
The Ayuntamiento

The Ayuntamiento


Palacio Real

Palacio Real


Broke up at this time – G and I head up to Bernabau for a look about whilst L peruses the shops. We have a walk about and get a glance of the turf through an open gate. As soon as I raise the camera, someone closes it...
The Real deal

The Real deal


We walk around to the shop, and glance through everything. No pictures allowed in the Real Madrid shop either. We are going to do the tour at Camp Nou, not here. A few more photos and then we head off again to meet up with L at the apartment. Here we gather our strength and our washing and pack it off to the laundrette (which we have found) and start washing. We would go over time, but the owner is working late and lets us keep drying. At 8:45 we pack up and haul it all home, and spread all the not quite dry stuff everywhere in the apartment – makes the place a lot prettier!
Next morning the clothes are mostly dry thanks to the heater – but so are we – thirsty as ten men. For the first time in a long time we have cereal for breakfast – nice to do something normal for a change.
At the Prado

At the Prado


We are off and going in an attempt to get to the Prado early – well attempt, anyway. There at 10:30, and there is no queue to buy tickets. In we go and start to get overwhelmed by the immensity of it all. Velaquez, Goya, Ruebens, Bosch, Makita, Durer, El Greco – there are all there in abundance. Like any art, you like what you like, and while some of the lesser known pieces were knockouts. All in all, we were there for over four hours including statutory breaks. It was a very rewarding time.
What happened when the first elephant in space landed

What happened when the first elephant in space landed


Next we headed off for Reine Sophia Museum. Got there to find I can’t read English, and the museum is shut today. Bollocks! So G gets to choose – Museum of Science and Technology. Okay, walk 2 kms down to find it does not open for another 90 minutes – closed for Spanish lunch. Have a few pastries to fill in time, and then in to have a look around. It is a newish museum, and small. There is a history of typewriters as the main exhibit, but there are some cars and motorbikes to keep us interested.
Next head back to Puerta Del Sol, pick up a guide book to Spain, then grab some fresh cooked meat for dinner at a street market. Finish it off on the way to the movies.
My dinner (well, not all of it)

My dinner (well, not all of it)


Here we see ”Iron Man 2” which keeps G entertained and happy all the way back to the apartment. Pack up ready to pick up the car tomorrow.
After a quick breakfast, chat with our talkative key master, then onto the train out to the airport. The arrangement is we ring up, and they shuttle us out to pick up our new car. Once we are at the airport, we call up for 45 minutes, the tourist information people call up, none of our calls are answered. Give up and take a taxi there – and the driver adds to the frustration by stopping on the freeway for directions. Get around there and about to give them a serve when they let us know they have no power, no phones and they will pay for the taxi. Any aggro quickly dissolves as we can see the day he has had.
Into the new car – a Peugeot 308 SW with my name on the ownership papers. For the length of time we are here, the price of the lease is the same as a hire car, but we get insurance and assistance thrown in – another $900 worth. Well worth it.
Head out onto the road and away – free! Then we stop and look at the map so we know where we are going.

Posted by lostagain 14:48 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Back to Marrakech

sunny 29 °C

We wake late and have a lazy breakfast, last ones down. We take our time and get all cleaned up, packed and around to the bus. Jump on early and claim seats at the front so G is less likely to feel sick. Bit of chaos as some people want numbered seats, most don’t give a toss. Bus ride seems a little rougher this direction, a bit more affected by roadworks. A Pom has to stick his head out and have a spew, the road or the previous night, I could not say. We give him a motion sickness tablet and he is not seen again.
Dump our stuff back at the riad, and then out to the Marrakech museum. This was a grand home that had gone to ruin, since restored. The tilework detail is amazing, and is accompanied by great wood work and carved plaster – well worth a visit.
Marrakech Museum

Marrakech Museum

Museum Patio

Museum Patio


You also get into the Ben Youssef Madrassa, a former Koranic college nearby. Again, the detail that is found here is fantastic, and again you realise that the skills of the local artisans was not displayed openly, but are revealed behind rather plain facades.
Madrass in Marrakech

Madrass in Marrakech

Madrassa door

Madrassa door

Madrass, Marrakech

Madrass, Marrakech


We had intended to go to the Saadian tombs too which are supposed to be fantastic, but I stuffed up and they are at the far end of the medina.
Spend some more time wandering around, this time we get to the east side where there are some interesting bric a brac places with old Moroccan number plates, advertising, street signs and numbers. Get a sandwich for a starving boy before we wander off again. Buy some of our few items in Morocco, a pair of leather thongs for me and some of the black soap for L. That’s right, no carpets!
Stroll back to the Riad for dinner. Get a few things done before we are called down. Dinner is started with a salad, then followed by one of the nicest tajines we have had the entire trip. The lamb is falling off the bone and melts in your mouth – must have been cooked for ages. Desert is sliced oranges with cinnamon again, but really juicy sweet oranges. Very good. Off to get packed and organised for an earlyish start tomorrow. L is checking on the internet – that bloody volcano has started up again and is stopping flights in Europe – but no mention of Madrid being affected.
A few hours sleep before the alarms go off nice and early to get us going. Have showers and then hop on the net around 7 to check what the volcano is doing this time – our flight is still listed at 10:10. Downstairs, no sign of Ehmet – I have to wake him up to come down and get us brekky! The taxi driver is on time though and has a coffee while we eat. Ehmet wants us to eat all our breakfast, but we don’t want to miss the flight. Shovel it down, then off. Head out to the airport, at 7:50 all the streets are deserted. Get in, and it turns out Ehmet was on the right track – our flight is delayed until midday, and we have another 2 hours until check in. L, who did not sleep at all well last night, is not impressed by the sleep she has missed. So she is catching a few ZZZs as I write.
Marrakech Airport

Marrakech Airport


Next stop Madrid

Posted by lostagain 11:18 Archived in Morocco Tagged animal Comments (1)

Into Essaouira

Chill out

sunny 26 °C

After breakfast we head down to the Supratours station to head off. The good folk at Dar Sofia are looking after most of our bags until our return, so we are relatively lightly packed.
The bus trip is 3.5 hours so empty bladders before the off. Just as well too as most of the road is either patchy or being remade with a few small stretches of good road. By the time the road is complete it will be a much faster and more comfortable trip. But the locals complain that the road workers take forever to get anything done and the now new bits will be needing replacement by the time the current work is done. At one river crossing, Lotfi complained that the group had been working there for more than a year and a half on a simple bridge, and had to stop work every winter as the water came down.
Essaouira Skyline

Essaouira Skyline

Essaouira street

Essaouira street


In Essaouira the feel of the place is different. The first thing we notice is the buildings are painted white, unusual compared to any other town we have been in Morocco. The medina is much smaller, and has some streets that make the backbone of a grid system with little alleys and dead ends mixed in. There is a much more laid back feel to the place, picked up from decades as a surfing/windsurfing and more recently kiteboarding centre. We wander into the port and pick up the sights and sounds of the operating port. The fleet that goes out looks like a real rag tag bunch, but it is part of a long held tradition that this is what Essaouira does.
Fishing Boats, Essaouira

Fishing Boats, Essaouira


Nets

Nets

There are people in the port selling what appear to be the leftovers, small sardines, some Dorado and red mullet. There are also some eels including what looks like a leopard eel. What there is plenty of is seagulls, that wheel in the sky, calling and diving, and always crapping. I know it is said to be lucky to be hit by birdshit, but right here you are lucky if it misses!
Essaouira Resident

Essaouira Resident

And there's loads of them

And there's loads of them


We are in need of a bit of food, so we head to one of the grillades near the port where they cook the fish straight off the boats for you. Some of it looked good, but not all. We pick up some calamari a emporter, and head down to the beach to eat it. It is not that tasty, and we will look elsewhere for the specialities of the region. We walk for a while on the beach, tossing stones and watching as a kitesurfer tries to get going. We talk with the instructor who tries to interest us in a course, who explains he has been doing this around the world and that he had the same student when he working in Thailand! He is struggling to get the kite up in the ‘light’ wind (which had blown my hat 30 metres down the beach), and we watch for a while, but he seems to be getting himself in more of a tangle. The beach is less protected further down and there are some sails going full bore. There is also a wind farm in the distance to the south, this area being known as windy city, Africa.
Wind City Africa

Wind City Africa


Back into town and we wander right through. The area by the sea walls at the north end, the jewish quarter, is very run down and dilapidated. Otherwise there is plenty of rebuilding going on and lots of accommodation as the town goes from surfie hangout to an expected stop on everyone’s itinerary. We pick out a couple of possibilities for dinner, but when investigated, look like tourist spots. We settle on a little place with some seating upstairs, an unlikely looking place. But the owner has a set menu without choice for 55DM, about $7.50. And it is great. We have salad with a soft cheese for entree, a squash stuffed with beef for mains and a magnificent orange mousse with chocolate sauce for desert. Amazing! This is Elfarane at 34 rue Etaouahine (or Tahaouhen depending on your map 06 10 77 63 77), not far from the bastion in the sakla. Go there.
Satisfied, we head back to Lalla Mira.
The next day L is booked into a hammam, so G and I take the footy to play down the beach. It is a bit flat so we drop into a motorcycle shop to pump it up. Mistake. A loud BANG!, a stunned and sheepish mechanic and a shocked child. The footy is torn open, the bladder burst through the rip. No more footy.
Sad boy

Sad boy


So back to the streets to get a new one. Surprisingly, there is not a lot of footies available in Essaouira – an obvious niche market is there for the taking. We get a soccer ball instead and head down to the beach to play. I have to go in a couple of times when the ball gets taken by the wind.
We give L a couple of hours for her hammam then wander around Essaouira again. Nigel – do not let Kell come to Morocco or you will be taking home around 3 million stray cats and dogs which seem to be everywhere.
Strays for Kell

Strays for Kell

A lot of the shops are the same as found elsewhere in Morocco, but there is a definite beach culture influence, and sea faring has also meant that thick woolly jumpers are seen in the shops for the first time. There is a relaxed atmosphere and it is very pleasant to be on the wall as the sun sets and rises (ok, I never saw it rise). Get a fill in crepe until dinner. Look in a few art galleries at modern African art – some of it I like. Generally we stroll happily about the place.
Self portrait

Self portrait


Head back to Lalla Mira. G and I head down to have a hammam – ours is a do it yourself that comes with the accommodation. In the hammam you steam up for a while, then you are sluiced off and steamed again, all whilst lying on the floor. After a bit longer, you give yourself a scrub down with black soap with argan oil, and an argan oil shampoo. Last is another sluice off to get you ready to go. You can book in and pay (ladies and men, but at separate times) to have extra treatments including scrubs and massages – top cost of 180DM - 25AUD.
real men Hammam

real men Hammam


Fresh and pink, off to dinner is at a little place, Restaurant La Decouverte, where I order fresh John Dory. The catch must have been a bit light on as the fillets are only about 8 cms long. But very nicely cooked. A lovely (but un Moroccan) apple pie finishes off the meal. A stroll through for tired people, then bed...

Posted by lostagain 11:15 Archived in Morocco Tagged food Comments (0)

Around Marrakech

sunny 28 °C

Around Marrakech
After a lovely breakfast we are out and about. The first priority is the Majorelle Gardens. To get here, we get lost a couple of times then head out along the correct street. (Tip – just because the map shows a square going from one street to another , it does not mean you can exit after walking right across). We get out Bab XXXXX where the streets smell strongly of urine and walk for 15 minutes to the Gardens. These are an absolute respite from all the noise, traffic, hassles and chaos outside – as long as you can get rid of all the tourists! The gardens have some great calming fountains and ponds, and the mixture of succulents and more standard plants is well handled.
In the Majorelle Gardens

In the Majorelle Gardens

Majorelle fountain

Majorelle fountain

The form of the ponds is the only formal shape to the gardens, with the paths all wandering freely. All the plantings have a minimal amount of colour in restrained flowers and fruit, which allows the vibrant coloured background that Majorelle used to work so well. It is very relaxing to just sit back and take the peace knowing what is out there.
Majorelle garden

Majorelle garden

Majorelle succulent

Majorelle succulent

Majorelle blue

Majorelle blue


It couldn’t last forever, so we walk off to get tickets for Essaouira. Decide we are peckish on the way and drop into a local market and see a stall where a bloke is cooking omelettes. We ask for one with cheese, gets lost in the translation as 5 fried eggs with 3 slices of plastic cheese on top. Sounds bad? Tasted great eaten in the hand with a bread roll as served with everything here.
One for Kelly

One for Kelly


On to the Supratours office to get tickets for tomorrow – we get the last 3 on the bus we want. Catch one of the local buses back into the medina to spend the next 2 hours wandering the souks. The stall holders are really insistent and grab at you and stand in the way. If L is off by herself, they can get very persistent in questioning and refusing to let her pass. We then wander further out into some of the alleys where the craftsmen actually make the goods which is much more interesting and you get much less agro. Also out on Rue Moussanine? the shop owners are much more relaxed (bigger margins?) and quite happy to let you browse without ‘you like? Cheap price’.
preserved vegies

preserved vegies

Light, anyone?

Light, anyone?


The one thing that is getting me down about the souks is that motorbikes and scooters are free to drive about where they will. It is like having them in Northlands or not even that as the alleys are quite narrows and these people reach speeds of over 40 kph in some spots, and regularly dish out passing blows to pedestrians. But the worst bit is the chocking fumes that are coming out of the poorly maintained motors. At times it gets hard to see through the cloud, so you can imagine what it is like to breathe.
Head back to djem el Fnaa for some snail soup – I am the only taker for some reason.
Snails !!

Snails !!

After that it is off to another stall for some okay food, then grab some pistachio halva from a bloke who looks about 140 years old.
The young bloke selling halva

The young bloke selling halva


Have a bit of that for desert as we pack ready for tomorrows trip to Essaouira.

Posted by lostagain 11:17 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 16) Previous « Page 1 [2] 3 4 » Next