Category Archives: Journey

Markets, parties, and architecture – Barcelona

Hi everyone, we made it back to Europe! Flew from Casablanca to Barcelona on the 20th. Barcelona is a gorgous city, with so many sites and events to experience. Some of the highlights include:

  • The Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family) Basilica. This stunning Basilica combines modern and gothic styles, and utiizes natural light in such an amazing way. The scale and unique designs are like nothing else on the planet! See the attached photos
  • Casa Batllo – a facinating house designed by Gaudi, the same architect as the above Basilica. Every detail of the house was methodically thought out, such as the central light column to provide natural lighting, the erganomic ventaliation system, and the bronze door handles made with clay moulds to perfectly fit to your hands
  • La Boqueria: an extremely appealing market with all kinds of fresh seafood to taste, freshly squeezed fruit juices, wine, beer, and every kind of goodie that you can think of.

The general vibe of Barcelona is very chill, even though it is a thriving metropolis. I learned that Barcelona, an the Catalonia region of Spain speaks their own language -Catalan! This area is quite distinct from the rest of spain, with its own unique culture and history.

We were lucky to be in the city for the Saint Joan festival on the evening of the 23rd, where the people head to the streets and beach and set off fireworks until the wee hours of the morning! Vendors were coming around the beach to sell beer and mojitos for 1 euro! Quite a bargain!

All in all, Ioved Barcelona! I will definety be going back. From Barcelona the journey continues onto Paris! Until then!

 

Beginnings in Morocco

One small ferry ride is all that was needed to significantly alter the traveling experience. Right off the ferry we were whisked away from a few “official” tourist ambassadors. From a grande taxi to the medina we were delivered, my inexperienced travel mind thought ‘this is great’ chauffeured to the doorstep.  You’ve probably already guessed it, yes there was a catch. However this would prove to be the formal introduction to Morocco’s method of business. I was not prepared for the style of life we dove into, equipped with my unabiding avoidance confrontation. Adapt we did.

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Fresh produce, spices, naan bread, cigrettes the list goes on of what one can find in a medina. Raw in your face aromas to acompany the aray of eye candy. I refrained from freely taking pictures as I did in Spain and Portugal because usually a mild photo surcharge was imminent. I felt uncomfortable capturing the poverty of the country and didnt want to romanticize the reality these people are living.  Tireless donkies loaded up with propane tanks travelling through the maze like alleyways will run one over if it weren’t for ‘balak!’, or watch out, being said by the donkey driver. Think farmers market with a twist, a twist of lamb heads, sugary pastries and no fixed prices.

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‘I didn’t know i had some many friends’ one of our fellow combatants accurately said. My friend, my friend were probably the most spoken english words I heard in Morocco. Multilingual to boot, the shop owners can usually pick where you’re from and will most definitely have a friend, cousin, nephew or some anecdotal reference up their sleeve waiting to butter up the wallet. The price would generally not be revealed untill some social bonding occured and the right amount of “friendship” developped. Hospitable by nature and ready with sugar laced mint tea, I dont want to leave a bad taste in your mouth about my experience. Maybe thats what the tea is for.

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We road a bus from Tangier to the mountainous Chefchaouen. Well known for its charming blue color it provided a relaxed-layed back scene to soak in. If British Columbia is the weed capital of Canada then Chefchaouen is our brother from another mother. Difference being hash is the preferred method. For a few dirhams a local will guide you through the mountains and proudly show you acres of maryjane. Nights on the riad roof top melted away with muscians jamming out and competitive card sessions.

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Beyond the blue city are the Cascades d’Akchour. Getting there is alone an adventure by piling 6 plus the driver in a grande taxi, a 80’s brownish cream Mercedes D400. Oh and make sure you sit front middle like I did, its the best. Did I mention its all standard driving out yonder? A 30 minute ride later arriving numb but gleefully appreciative of the future memory, we started off to the grand cascades. A solid hike hopping on stones over a creek and beautiful scenes along the way its well worth it, one note: go on a weekday because the sunday we went was very busy.

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Cheers!

Bazaars and Beaches!

The city of Marrakesh – nothing quite like it! The main square in the city – Jemaa el Fna, turns into a flurry of activity, including snake charmers, musicians, shops with nearly everything, and likely the world’s largest collection of orange juice stands. Just wandering around the square was a treat! We had a lot of fun wandering around the medina area, finding our way through the maze of streets and alleyways.

After all the activities and cities, we decided to chill in a little beach town called Essaouira. A four hour bus ride from Marrakech, and it felt like a world away! The pace is relaxed an calm, with the sound of waves and seaguls in the background. This spot is great for surfing, swimming, suntanning, and catching up on blog posts! We found an awesome hostel here, called Hostel Cloud 9. The hosts an other guests have created a great atmosphere to relax and unwind.

Our time in Morocco is coming to an end. I’ll be making a quick stopover in Casablanca, and will be flying into Barcelona tomorrow. Back to Europe!

Cheers,

Shawn

Sahara Desert Trek

Into the Moroccan South! From Fez we started a three day trek into the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara Desert! On the first day we made a stop in a monkey reserve, an were able to see a very lively family of monkeys, including some babies. Their moms were quite protective as the babies clung on to their moms very tightly! The scenery along the way was spectacular, as the road winded along with the mountains.

By late afternoon we arrived at a hotel/refuge on the edge of the Sahara Desert. We then jumped on some camels for one and a half hours and ventured into our desert camp. Note that this is legit desert, with massive sand dunes surrounding us. A group of us perched ourselves at the top of the sand dune and waited for the stars to come out. The sky lit up with stars – and we had a fantastic view of the Milky Way. However, none of us brought a flashlight, so we stumbled over dunes and fought our way back to the camp! Many good adventures!

On the second day of our trek, we continued on through the Atlas Mountains, and enjoyed the scenery of gorges, valleys, and even a 400 year old well system. Now the wells are dried up, so we could wander through the underground system in a series of tunnels. Very cool! We stayed overnight in Ouarzazate, and grabbed a bus to Marrakech on the third day. Onward and forward!

Across the Straits into Africa!

The journey continues into Africa! From Seville, Spain, we took a bus to the Straits of Gibralter, and hopped a ferry to Tangier, Morocco. We took one night in Tangier to relax, and then took a bus to Chefchaoun, a beautiful mountain town in northern Morocco. This is called the Blue City – you can see why in the photos below. We checked out some waterfalls near Chefchaouen, which was a good 5 hour hike. While crossing the river, there were cement like pillars to hop accross – good practice for our balance. Surprisingly, there are massive open fields of marijuana being grown. The locals are very proud of their hash – I’ve heard it’s very relaxing!

From Chefchaouen we took off for Fez – one of the best preserve ancient cities in the world. The Medina (old part of the city which is surrounded by the city wall) of Fez was quite amazing, with a labrynth of streets that can be wandered for hours! The mosques, theology schools, and architecture are facinating. Check out the photos.

I must admit that photos cannot capture the full experience. The aromas of the market, the bussle of the streets, and the many promises of “A special price for you my friend,” must be experienced in person. While at times tiring, northern Morocco has been a blast! In my next post I’ll shares our Saharra Desert trek, and the Moroccan south! Until then!

Cheers,

Shawn

P.S. You’ll notice that I’ve previously posted several photo galleries. As we go along, we will post photo galeries of each area in addition to our regular posts of the journey. I’ve set these up as seperate categories, so you can select just photo galleries or journey post. You can find the categories in the side/bottom menu. Hope you enjoy!

Coimbra Capes and Porto Port

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Above is the ticket to Queima das Fitas “Burning ribbons” a traditional festivity of the students of some Portuguese universities, organized originally by the students of the University of Coimbra. A heck of a party. We arrived in Coimbra and caught the last day of the festival switch started with fireworks at midnight. There was a main stage for bands to play and 3 large tents for dj’s. The food is worth mentioning, vendors spit roasting entire pigs and for dessert there was a candy trolly providing a variety to choose from. Apparently this festival beat Octoberfest in beer consumed, the locals made sure we know this impressive fact. In a blurry combination of music genres and mini plastic beer cups covering the ground, 6 am rolled in so we rolled out. Heck of a party indeed.

The gallery above is pictures from Coimbra; from around town and the university.

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The students carry on a long tradition of capes and outfits seen above, the badges are earned and hidden from sight in times of mourning. You’ll probably assume Harry Potter’ish about the look and you’d be right. In fact J.K. Rowling drafted a few of her novels in Porto. The very busy library below was also an inspiration for some scenes in the movies. I managed to snap one picture without anyone in the image, great success!

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In Porto our free morning walking tour was well worth the time and tip at the end. Our tour was provided by Porto Walkers who were enthusiastic and well informed. Here are some shots from the walk:

Stoked from the walk we decided to continue by signing up to the port wine tasting tour, which is a must for Porto as it is the birthplace of port wine. (Fun facts: Portugal’s two main exports are 2 – Port wine and 1 – Corks and cork material.) Venturing to a port wine museum and celler we had our first taste, anticipating it to be sickly sweet I was delightfully surprised to find a rich and full body experience. Not too sweet.

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Nearly 20% alcohol content left us glowing as we continued on to two more spots. One with a female Porto style Fado singer which compared to Coimbra Fado sounded much more up beat and that a women was the singer. By the way, Fado is a type of music home to Portugal infused with melancholy emotion and usually serious content. Saudade is a Portuguese word that doesn’t translate easily to english and is used to describe Fado. I was told it is best compared to the heavy saturating emotion one can experience when something is loved and then lost. Back to the third spot which was a more contemporary joint, challenging traditional methods of port production and taking heat for it.

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After checking out from the Garden House hostel we strolled out to cross the popular bridge Ponte de D. Luis. The day provided a hot sunny and picturesque scene to snap some pictures shown below.

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Sowing in the time…

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Loving Southern Spain

Greetings from Seville, Spain! We’re arrived here from Granada two days ago, and are having a blast! The weather is nice and toasty at 34 degrees, with clear blue skies!

We wandered around the Maria Luisa park yesterday, and found the amazing Plaza de Espana – see pictures below. This plaza has beautiful tile art of Spain’s military victories, and a fantastic fountain. They even had a Zumba rally going on (a type of exercise based on dance moves). They sure are dedicated – as the weather was 34 degrees!

Checked out the Alcazar today, which was the Moorish palace when the Muslim Empire ruled this area. It was taken over again during the Spanish re-conquest many centuries ago. It has a great mix of Muslim and Christian architecture and art. The gardens around the palace are quite amazing – I got lost and wandered for hours!

We’ll be in Seville until June 5, so we can take our time to enjoy the sites. A few events we have lined up include Flamenco music/dancing, and bullfighting. Should be quite the experience!

On June 5 we’re headed to Morocco! We take the bus to Tariffa, and hop a ferry across the Straits of Gibraltar. Onward and forward to Africa! Until then!

wpid-wp-1433179281091.jpgView during my afternoon siesta

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Gardens in Seville’s Alcazar

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Ceiling dome in Seville’s palace – nice digs

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Catching up on Game of Thrones – backpacker style

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Plaza de Espana in Seville – Massive!

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Sandles giving me some weird tans lines!

Belated Portugal post

We arrived on bus to Granada, Spain and checked into White Nest Hostel. Covering the rolling hills were smaller tree’s stretching out as far as the eye could see, pretty sure they’re olive trees. Keeping the whole bus company was the comical elderly Spanish couple, who transended the language barrier by their refined routine together. But Granada will be another post, I want to share a place called Sintra (20min bus ride from Lisbon).

We were made aware lots of walking/hiking awaited us to reach the sites. So upon recommendation we found a local spot a fueled up on some bacalhau fish with rice, which was needless to say delicious. Oh and beer. Tip: Super Bock over Segres any day.

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First up was Quinta de Regaleira a honest and true fantasy land, easily a day trip on its own. Going uphill are pathways weaving throughout vast lush gardens with the odd narrow trail tempting you to explore. Along the way to getting lost are well maintained buildings, towers and of course a private chapel for the big cheese living here.

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As if ment to be hid was a well going down 27m called the initiatic well. Carved out is a pathway winding around down the well where its delightfully colder. The bottem view up was cool, even better were the interconnected caves we stumbled around in. This place is filled with continuous surprises, like a commercial reminding you “BUT WAIT THERES MORE.”

Accompanying the epic gardens was the palace, worth taking the time to admire. Exquisite to say the least.

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Second stop was the Moorish castle ruins a journey in its self getting to them. The pathway up hill took its toll on our conversation, from talking to joking about “it never ending” to silence until we arrived. The castle walls hugged the outskirts of the hill and on each corner a tower to look out from providing spectacular views.

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Burnt out and out of time we decided to skip the colorful palace perched independently at the highest top. Other travelers recommend visiting the palace giving great feedback. Maybe next time.

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Madrid et al.

Greetings from Madrid! The journey continues to the capital of Spain! We caught a cheap flight from Porto, Portugal, to Madrid, Spain for $60 Can, about 45 Euros. Even though it was an economy airline, we still received food and drinks! I tip my hat to the airline TAP Portugal!

I apologize in advance for the lack of my own photos in this post. The last two hostels have had rather sketchy WIFI connection, so I can’t connect via my tablet that has all my pictures. We’re heading to Granada (southern Spain) tomorrow, so hopefully we’ll have WIFI to beautify the blog!

We’ve been having a blast out here, checking out some amazing museums and cathedrals. Two highlights are the Prado Museum in Madrid, and the Cathedral in Toledo (50 min outside of Madrid). The Prado museum has a vast array of paintings, including the “Garden of Earthly Delights,” by Bosch. Google it! Fantastic piece.

We just got back from Toledo, which was a day trip from Madrid. This used to be the capital of Spain, and has the most spectacular Cathedral I’ve ever seen. The architecture, artwork, and sheer magnitude of the Cathedral is facinating.

I’ve attached a few pics from Google of the Cathedral and the Garden of Earthly Delights. Hopefully I don’t get in trouble for copyright violations… but I suppose it’s tough to catch a vagabond always on the move!

Due to popular demand, we’ve made a Facebook page for the website. I’m told that this means you can like the Facebook page and get automatic updates when Jon or I make  posting. I’ve added a link for this on the site. Until the next posting!

The Wandering Shawn

800px-The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights_by_Bosch_High_ResolutionGarden of Earthly Delights

1280px-Catedral_de_Toledo.Altar_Mayor_(huge)Toledo Cathedral – altar

Toledo_Cathedral,_from_Plaza_del_AyuntamientoToledo Cathedral

Fantastic times!

Greetings from Porto, Portugal! Ten days in, and the trip is going strong! Our arrival to Europe was very smooth – one nod and stamp from the immigration official, and we’d arrived!

During our first night in Lisbon we met many amazing travellers, many of whom we plan to meet up once we reach their home countries. The atmosphere of Lisbon was a perfect balance of energy and relaxation. The city is pretty well built on a hill, so we’re starting to get into great shape.

We’ve been enjoying the rich history in Lisbon, including the beautiful winding streets of Alfama, a historic district of Lisbon. You can see the National Pantheon of Lisbon below in the pictures. The market outside the pantheon had all kinds of nic-nacs. Even though I am not known to be an avid shopper, I quite enjoyed the experience.

From Lisbon we ventured onto the university town of Coimbra, a two hour train ride north of Lisbon. We caught the tail end of the graduation celebrations for the students. Man – Portugese students know how to party! We arrived for the festival at midnight, which started with a grande fireworks display! Four different bands and local musicians (including Coimbra’s students) played music until 6am. There may also have been copius amounts of alcohol drank – good times!

By now we’ve been in Porto for two days – which was another 2 hour train ride north. A picturesque city on the ocean that is famous for its Port Wine – a sweeter dessert style of wine. We just finished a Port Wine tasting tour – which was fantastic! I blame any spelling mistakes in this posting on the wine. Note that real Port wine only comes from the Duoro River region in northern Portugal. If you’re ever here, I recommend the train ride from Porto along the Duoro River. The scenery and vinyards are quite the sight!

I’d love to hear your comments and feedback! Don’t be shy! Until next week!

The Wandering Shawn

wpid-p1330688-edit.jpgOur first friends of the trip – Alisha and Winnie

wpid-p1330727-edit.jpgNational Pantheon in Lisbon – right next to a fantastic market

wpid-p1330747-edit.jpgTired of climbing – let’s take a tram

wpid-p1330714-edit.jpgVery deep – and with some of my favorite characters!