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Donna's Mediterranean Adventure!

Welcome to Donna's Mediterranean Adventure! Here is where I will be keeping a record of my travels for all of you to read. I hope that you will leave a comment for me. When I have time in between discovering new places and meeting new people I will reply! Thanks for coming along!

Diary Entries

Friday, 10 August 2012

Location: Grenada, Spain

So, after my IPhone was stolen, I caught a cab to the Samoy Hostel in Sevilla. I enjoyed that hostel very much - very well run, nice and clean, lovely staff, comfortable bed, etc. I was on a top bunk and the woman on bottom bunk was a Canadian from Victoria, BC. Neely and I hit it off and spent a day together exploring the Cathedral and Palace (Alcazar), and eating. As did the other Canadian, Caroline, whom Matti and I met in Madrid, she walked one of the trails of the Camino da Santiago in the north of Spain - 800 kilometers! Sounded like a fun challenge! In my travels, I seem to have found that the people I´ve enjoyed the most have been Spanish, and yup! Canadian! (Most Israelis too, but there have been several who have soured the bunch). Thai´s too, but I haven´t met too many outside of Thailand.

On my second day in Sevilla, I explored the area around our hostel, the old Jewish quarter. There are no real remnants of it, yet it´s still referred to as the Jewish quarter. It´s interesting, really, that both in Spain and Morocco, this term stands even though no Jews remain. Went in a lovely ceramics store and met the nicest young storekeepers and English bulldog! What an intensely cute dog that was! I have pictures! I also went to Las Columnas, or Bodega Santa Cruz, which was a stand-up bar/restaurant where you order drinks and tapas. What was very cool about that place is that the waiter keeps your tab by writing it with chalk on the bar! I was next to a young woman from Australia who had been there for awhile, so her tab was longer! It was a fun and entertaining place! I think it was the highlight of my Sevilla trip!

I also rented a bike for an hour to see the Plaza de Espana (a huge and beautiful building and square) and an old Roman wall. I would have kept the bike longer, but the young shopkeeper was on his way to the beach for several days! (Smart guy - bloody hot, it is!)

Then caught a bus to Grenada for my last stop. The Oasis Backpackers Hotel had my reservation for the 9th in a nice room, but for the 8th, there was only a place in the worst room beside the bar - dark, windowless, no room to open your pack or suitcase. Still, it was a bed and I was happy! Staff here is nice too. There was a communal dinner available for fee - so I paid and had ratatouille and salad. A free beer came with check in, so I was happy. Yesterday, I took a walking tour from the hostel up to the gypsy section where people live in caves. We also walked in the Albayzin, the Moorish/Moslem section. Grenada is built on a hill, so there is a lot of uphill walking. Afterwards, I went to a Tapas bar. Grenada is one of the places that still gives free tapas with every drink - and not just a mere morsel, but a nice-sized appetizer. So I had a beer and chose a Mexican Fahita as my tapas. Then I had a second beer and had a Thai meat and onion dish. Both were delicious - but I am a true lightweight. Two beers and I´m ready to lie down! But, I had tickets to the city´s main attraction, La Alhambra, an ancient fortress/palace - something on the scale of the Taj Mahal. It was very impressive - intricate Muslim design, architecture and decoration. However, I was suffering a bit. Although I had reserved my tickets, I had to stand in a line for close to an hour in the hot sun in order to pick them up! Then there was another line at the prescribed time to enter the palace! It seemed like poor planning on their part - it wouldn´t take much to erect an awning or some kind of shelter to get people out of the sun. But I was glad to see it.

Then I wanted to take a bus to the lookout at Plaza Santa Nicholas (to which I had walked the previous night) to get sunset pictures of La Alhambra - but the bus couldn´t get through because of a demonstration! So I checked out the demonstration instead! Again, people unhappy with the government and the economy. After that, I gave in to my heat-induced fatigue, had a shower and turned in for the night. Got up early today so I could snag one of the three computers here at the hostel.

Now I have a big decision to make - stay in town and browse for my last day, or head to a beach because of the heat! Again, I´ll be starting the trek homeward in the middle of the night, so my next entry will likely be from home! I know that there will be several things I will want to add, and certainly pictures, once I arrive home. I´ll try to show the best of what I´ve seen and experienced on this Mediterranean adventure! Please stay tuned!

Friday, 10 August 2012

Location: Grenada, Spain

So, this is the last day of my wonderful Mediterranean adventure!
I will leave Grenada at 1:30am by bus to Madrid, where I will take the metro to the airport for my flights home (via Portugal). I will try to catch you up on recent developments in sequence.

Late Monday afternoon, I made my way from Asila, Morocco to Sevilla, Spain. There is a story here! Moise, Soo Im and I walk to the bus station to enquire about times. I intended to go by regular bus, but was approached by two guys regarding traveling by inter-city van. They are anxious to fill the van so they can go(They have a similar idea in Israel, called special taxis. There is no scheduled time as there is for a bus. They leave when they are full. However, as you will see, these vans are indeed "special"). So I tell them I´m on my way to Tangier Med, the port where the ferries leave for Spain. I ask the price to Tangiers. They say it´s 15 dirhams to the city center. Then they come back to me and make a special offer - 100 dirhams directly to the port. I counter and say 80. They stick to 100. I say, no problem, just take me to the city center like everyone else for 15 dirhams. They say they´re ready to leave now. I say my suitcase is at my hotel. They say no problem, we´ll pick it up on the way. I ask if we can drop my friends off at the hotel. They say no problem. As the older man shuts the back door, he changes his mind and says to me, 80 dirhams, no problem. So we pick up my bag, I hug my friends, and I´m off.

The van has 4 2-person seats on the left and a long bench seat on the right. I´m sitting furthest back on the bench seat, by the back door. I am obviously the only non-Muslim in the vehicle. Further, it has two large banners saying "Palestine¨" across the front of the van. (Feeling very comfortable here). Then I hear the back door opening as we are driving and wonder if I leaned against it, opening it. Nope - it´s just the young guy who was one of the bargainers, climbing in the back of the van while it´s moving in traffic! He comes to collect money. I give him 200 and ask for change. He tells me, 100 dirhams. I explain that the older man had agreed to 80. He gets gnarly and says 100! (By the way, all of this is in French). Then the young man beside me, who is a university student, asks him in Arabic why 100 since it´s only 15 to the city center. Twerp answers it´s to the port. Nice young man says to me it´s 100. I tell him that the older man agreed to 80. So we get this involved conversation going - me in French, nice young man in French to me and Arabic to everyone else. (Everyone else is really interested in this conversation!) I remain nice, calm, and matter-of-fact simply stating that 80 was what was agreed upon. If not, I´m okay with doing 15 to the city center. Twerpy kid says, 30! I´m asking, why 30 if it´s 15 for everyone else? I tell the nice one beside me that in Morocco, people see me and see the three letters "ATM" written on my forehead (actually, I learned that in India last year, but it applies to Morocco as well!) He laughs and translates for the other passengers who smile. Twerp says, we stopped for 15 minutes to get your bag. I counter that it took 2 minutes, and that it was their idea anyway, in order to fill their van quickly. Twerp is getting gnarlier, everyone else is smiling and nodding. Finally, I pull the big one (again, remaining very calm). I ask the nice young man - It´s Ramadan, right? And he answers, yes, that´s the problem. People haven´t eaten or drunk anything. I say, I´m aware of that, but this is different. This isn´t just a case of grumpiness - this guy is actively trying to rip me off. So I ask for all to hear, isn´t Ramadan a time when people are trying to be better people? Lots of smiles and nods of agreement. I get my 200 dirham note back and give him exact change of 15 dirhams and the twerp retreats out of there, returning to the front seat of the van. Other than the nice young man, no one spoke to me or said good-bye at the end, but I had some smiles, nods of encouragement, and feelings of connection during this exchange.
By the way, at the end of the trip, twerp gets my bag for me, pulls out the handle and seems to be trying to make amends.

So, I get the city bus to the port and am actually relieved that I traveled that way instead of remaining on the van for the long trip to the port. So, I buy my ticket, meet a Japanese traveler who is hauling the biggest backpack I have ever seen (he´s on a year-long around the world trip), and go through security (it´s like an airport!). Get on the ferry and settle in for the hour-long trip. Took some pictures as we traveled over the Straits of Gibralter. I notice a scuzzy looking guy who seems to be bending a variety of rules, but don´t pay particular attention. There were TVs in the cabin, so I got to watch a little of the Olympics. Land at the other end in Aljeciras, Spain. Japanese guy and I manage to get on a bus, he to Cordoba and me to Sevilla. It´s night time, so I fall asleep until the bus stops on a street in Sevilla, across from the bus station. I´m kind of foggy/sleepy as I take out my Kindle and check my guidbook for the name of the hostel where I want to stay. I turn back to my bag and vaguely notice the scuzzy looking guy´s hand near my daypack. I´m thinking he may have taken something, but my head is too foggy to figure it out. In the meantime, a cab picks him and his girlfriend up, and off they go - with my IPhone, I realize after! That was the only time on the trip that I had an open pocket and was not as attentive as I should have been to my surroundings. Stinks, but it could have been much worse. I have my passport, credit/debit cards, money, and camera with all of my pictures. Still, when you get to a place that says Free Wi-Fi, you really miss it! Fortunately, it´s the older version that can be replaced for 99 cents with my phone plan!

Wednesday, 08 August 2012

Location: Sevilla, Spain

It´s been quite a while since I checked in here. I finished my visit to Morocco with a day in the seaside town of Asila, just south of Tangiers. I took an early morning bus from Fes to Tangiers, and transferred for a shorter ride south to Asila. There I met up with my friend Moise. Also, on the bus to Asila, I sat with a woman close to my age from North Korea -also someone who loves to travel! She and I shared a room at a very nice hotel - clean, spacious, private bathroom. We were offered a great price of 250 dirhams, so at 125 each it was maybe 13 or 14 dollars. After a visit downstairs, Soo Im comes back upstairs and lo and behold, has managed to get a "Discount!". Now it´s 100 dirhams each - very good room for super cheap. Actually, I was expecting to have difficulty in getting a room as they typically have an international music and arts festival at this time in August; however, this year they had it earlier because of the timing of Ramadan. Moise, Soo Im and I enjoyed walking in the evening in the Medina and during the day along the beach. Entrepreneurial guys have camels there, hoping to make money by letting people sit on their camels for photo ops. We didn´t bite, but we took loads of pics of camels by the sea - could be an advertisement for Morocco tourism!

The day that I traveled to Asila, I got myself confused with the time. When I went from Spain to Morocco, my IPhone didn´t reset itself to the new time (typically one hour behind, but for Ramadan, they make it two hours - I don´t get it either). So I decided to leave it on Spanish time, and only reset my watch to Moroccan time. But when I am sleepy, my mind does weird and wonderful things. Like get me somewhere two hours early when I have to be somewhere (like for my desert excursion and also for this bus trip to Tangiers). So I get myself to the bus station near the main gate of the Medina in Fes, and wonder why the office where I´m supposed to check in is closed. Ask a couple of young Moroccan guys who set me straight, that it´s only five in the morning and not seven! (Maybe I need a system like this at home so I´ll be on time for things?) So, I start talking to these two young men in their early twenties. One could be a Koranic scholar- he speaks with great seriousness about their religion and beliefs. I listen very closely and we develop a mutual respect. I say something profound like it´s important sometimes to go beyond the literal directives of our own holy books and interact in a logical and mutually respectful manner with people of other faiths. Finally, when their bus is ready to go, the warmer guy asks me very respectfully, "Now that you´ve heard about our religion, may I ask you what is your religion". So I tell him. We shake hands warmly, trade email addresses, and say good-bye. Nice guys.

That conversation was entirely in French, as was 95% of my communication in Morocco. When I was energetic and "on", people asked me if I was French! Great compliment to me, indicating that my French was good! When I was fatigued, my language skills dropped off and people would say, ¨"You´re not French, are you? Your French is not..." And they would drop the end of the sentence, not wanting to say that my French wasn´t so good! In any case, during my stay in Morocco, it got much better!

Before I go into my return to Spain, I´ll just tell the story about the two Basque fellows. One is a 33 year old substitute school teacher and the other is a 29 year old busdriver. Friends from their town in Basque Country (that´s what they call it, even when speaking their language, they say "Basque Country").

So they decide to go on a biking adventure over the Atlas mountains from Marrakesh to Tangiers. Buy their tickets, get themselves and their bikes to Morocco and set off. After awhile, they are struggling, despite their clear levels of fitness. Mountains are super tough, and during Ramadan, they´re having trouble finding places to replenish food and water. The final straw comes when the road they´re on ends - it was washed away during a flood. So, they have to push and lift these loaded bikes through brush until they can´t anymore. They have to sleep a night on a mountain - no food, no water, no road, wandering if they´re going to make it out. Finally they get to a river and decide to take a chance to drink the river water. At various times, they are helped by shepherds who are like angels to them. One leads them to a lift who gets them to a a taxi and them to a bus to Fes, where they run into their last angel - moi!

As I got to know these two adventurers, I told them how harrowing this experience sounded. But I also said that it will make a great great story! So on their second night, they meet a fellow Basque in our guest house. One of them, Ikar, the more talkative one tells him the story and I´m just listening and watching. Basque people talk amazingly fast and with expression - so even I was totally entertained by his story! Actually, he was telling about the taxi driver. Guy had to stop every 10 feet (or some short distance) and throw water from the river on his overheating engine!

I have much more to write but someone at the hostel in Sevilla is waiting for this computer. (I don´t have my IPhone for internet anymore, but that´s another story!) I´ll add later or tomorrow!

Saturday, 04 August 2012

Location: Fes , Morocco

Just had a lovely lunch in an air-conditioned restaurant near the main gate. Because it is Ramadan and people are fasting, I won't eat out in the open. It's uncomfortable enough inside with the four guys who work here. But they cater to the tourists and I guess that serving food while they are fasting comes with the territory. At 7:30pm, people gather in small groups to break the fast. If you walk along the main streets here, you see 3 or 4 men eating together, sitting on small stools beside their closed stalls. It seems that throughout the day people prepare for their breakfast. I see people with baguettes, melons, orange juice, and a variety of other foods. There is a hustle and bustle reminiscent of Jewish communities preparing for Shabbat and chagim (holidays).

I was told yesterday that a Muslim community requires five things:
a mosque, a fountain (these are spread around the medina for people to fill water holders or refresh themselves - I'm a big fan myself!), a Koranic school, a hammam for bathing, and a bakery. Really, Jewish communities need much the same things - a mikvah instead of a hammam, a yeshiva for Jewish learning rather than a Koranic school, etc.

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Recent Messages

From Dad
Still enjoying your blog. Had dinner with Bobby and Ann and the boys last night. All are well. Not much of interest to report. Busy doinga lot of reading as usual. I will be glad when you are back home and we can have our long phone talks. Love Dad
Response: Looking forward to those talks myself Dad! The best part of this summer´s adventure was still being together in Europe! And of course, Bob´s Bar saw some action!
From Michael
Absolutely Dave is walking Cotton! He came over to walk Molly also!
I used Melissa as a project also when I was taking education classes. Between the two of us, she definitely was out through quite a few educational experiments. I used to borrow the Walters twins also!
Keep having fun and posting your experiences. Melissa and I leave for Disney in the next few days. I will say hello to Mickey for you!
Response: I have a picture of Ilana losing it in her stroller with Goofy standing over her! Have a great time at Disney! (He came over to walk Molly? - Why do I miss all the good stuff?!)
From david plen
You have seen the desert.
Will you see the coast like
Tangiers or the Atlas Mountains?
Are the spices very different than
that of Thailand and India.
Enjoy these last days.
Response: I did see the coast at Asila, just south of Tangiers. And on the way to the desert, we drove through the High Atlas Mountains (there are also the Middle Atlas and Anti Atlas). On the way to Tangiers from Fes, I think we were in the Atlas as well, or the Rif.
From Michael
Hi Donna,

Sounds like you are having a lot of fun and learning a lot about different cultures.
Back in Manchester, CT your neighbor, Melissa got her drivers license. Even though she really doesn't enjoy driving, she is happy she passed the first time and got that milestone behind her.
Everything is status quo at your house....Dave is taking good care of everything.
Safe travels to you, Donna!
Response: Thanks so much for your good wishes Michael! Congratulations to Melissa! I still remember when you brought her over as a preschool subject to help me with an assessment for my program! Have you by any chance seen David walking Cotton? Regards to all!
From Dad
Enjoying your blog. Hope you have fun in Africa.We had an easy trip home and agreed that we all enjoyed the cruise very much.E mail from Eudie today asking about hotel in Chicago. Wedding invitation came today. I love you, Dad
Response: Finally I'm hearing from you! You're harder to pin down than I am! I'm glad you got home safe and sound Dad. It was a great trip together!
From Cath PLEN
Your trip sounds fantastic......can't wait to hear more about it....

Response: Thanks Cath. I'll keep adding as I get the chance. Hope all is well with you all too.
From david plen
how is life on the ocean?
hope you are having a grand time.

Response: It was beautiful! The sun was gorgeous and the seas were calm. As Ann said, it wasnt the most relaxing because we visited so many ports of call. Kind of harried, but I'm glad we got to see the things we did!
From Laurie
What a great bunch of people...say Hi to all of the travelers. We will be joining you in Europe starting Friday!
Response: Have a great time there Laurie! Keep in touch!
From david
Sounds like a wonderful weekend.
Really nice of your friend from India to
help you navigate the city. Love to all

Response: It was really nice to spend time together! How are you guys doing? Love you too! Give my love to the kids!
From Laurie
What no entries yet? Get crack'in lady...we want to hear all of the good stuff.
Response: Okay, okay! I´m on it!