A Travellerspoint blog

Magnifique Maroc

A whirlwind tour and a stint seaside

What an amazing two weeks I have had! I don't even know where to start except that Morocco exceeded by expectations by far! I decided to book the trip to Morocco last minute in an attempt to escape the cold weather of the UK and I couldn't have been happier with the outcome.

Despite being a late entry, I was very fortunate to reserve a place on Intrepid's "Best of Morocco" tour. Aside from a Contiki "tour" (ok, let's call it what it really was, a Euro pub crawl), when I was 19 (cliche, I know), I had never done an organised tour before and wasn't too sure how I would like it. I don't like to travel in big groups as I feel like a member of a herd of cattle and I feel that sometimes such large numbers diminish your experiences. When I travel I also enjoy my own personal freedom in deciding what I want to do each day (and change my plans haphazardly if I feel like it!). But I am very aware that this can often work against me as when time is of the essence, milling around at breakfast trying to make a decision as to what I am in the mood to do can be a bit of a time waster! As Morocco is an Islamic country, I was also concerned about my safety as a single girl travelling on her own. My French, Arabic and Berber, the national languages of Morocco, are all very below par to even attempt on my own, so thought it would be much wiser to travel through Morocco in a group. And I am so glad I did! I was exposed to so many incredible things, things that I would have never had the opportunity to see or discover if I was on my own! I am simply too disorganised and would never have done enough research (or even had the know how quite frankly) to even pull half of it together.

Now, what to say about Morocco! Well, it surprised me to be honest. In many respects, it was far more liberal than I was initially expecting. But then in others, it was much stricter than I thought (of course this very much varied by city as the more metropolitan, the more liberal, in general). Morocco is absolutely gorgeous and I was so blown away by its diversity (but I will let the picture below speak for themselves). Gobsmacking (and my photography skills are mediocre at best!). I have to admit that I did find the men to be a bit trying at times. They are pretty full on and certainly are not shy at all to approach you. It's not that I felt as though I was in danger or they would harm me, it just got very tiring having complete strangers trying to talk to me every five minutes. I don't like to be cold to people when I travel, but I found that it worked best for me (especially when I was walking around alone) to avoid eye contact and keep to myself. Not that it worked all the time (they will follow you around trying every single language they can speak to talk to you. I'm pretty sure most of them thought I was a mute!), but it helped. When I was with other people, or with Moroccans I had met previously or under met more of a formal circumstance (not just joe blow off the street), I had some great interactions with people and made a few mates. Moroccans have a fabulous sense of humour and provide some very witty banter, (which I loved!) and are such warm and lovely people.

I do not have enough great things to say about our tour guide, Abdu. He is probably one of the most patient men on the planet! And I certainly don't know how he manages to work many of these tours back to back (with maybe one day inbetween). I would have maybe lost my mind by now! Abdu is Moroccan and a Berber from a village in the High Atlas Mountains. He is one of nine (don't ask me where he falls in the line up, but I know it's definitely not the youngest or the eldest. He's sandwiched somewhere in the middle!). He is very proud of his country (and quite rightly, there are so many things to be proud of!) but is also very realistic about its downfalls and was very happy to discuss our questions. He operated under an "ask me anything" approach, which faired very well for all of us as many of us were trying to understand or relate (although "relating" to anything here was almost impossible) to the cultural and traditional norms. It was very helpful to hear a bit of background as to why things are done in a certain way instead of just automatically making a judgement on it (which is what most of us default to unfortunately, myself included!).

Like India, one thing that I very much admire about the Moroccan culture (perhaps it can be also applied to most Eastern countries) is the importance of the family unit, espeically the treatment of the elderly. I'm not saying that what we do in the West is awful or that we treat our families poorly, but I definitely felt a stronger sense of a family unit and connection in these types of countries than ones in the West. It was very nice to see.

I've decided to do one post for Morocco, so this is your warning that it will be lengthy one! You may need to get a cuppa ready for the read (and I completely understand if you totally zone out).

As I mentioned in my previous post, I took the ferry from Tarifa to Tangier. The transition from being in Europe to Northern Africa was like a punch in the face (but I don't necessarily mean that in a bad way though! Just trying to accurately describe the drastic contrast). I was in Africa and it was time to put my game face on. No more looking at people in the eye and smiling down the street (this would be an open invite to be approached, and as a white woman that tried to mind her own business for the most part, I got approached enough; Moroccans love to talk!). I was ready to be hassled and prepared to haggle (so much fun!). But please don't let my comments paint a negative picture of Morocco in your mind. It is just a completely different type of society, a society that I thoroughly enjoyed exploring and being exposed to. And while it certainly can be tiring at times, it is a beautiful country that is full of some very lovely people.

I spent one night in Tangier exploring the city. It's beautiful and had some exquisite bulidings (which were run down but part of its beauty) and then made my way to Casablanca via the overnight train to begin my tour. Unfortunately, I was sick upon arriving in Casablanca so had to spend the first of my two nights there cooped up in the hotel room. I was concerned with starting a tour unwell so wanted to ensure that I was 100%.

As much as I would like to accurately paint a picture of the entire "blow by blow" of the trip in words, I have decided against for the following reasons a) it make for a very long story, b) I'm not entire sure any of you would finish reading it and c) this post has taken me so long to pull together and I just don't have the time! So I've done my best to summarise the Cliff Notes for the most memorable experiences (I have also done a bit of commentary on all the pictures below, too. There are heaps! Too many to choose from!). The highlights of the itinerary for the tour went as follows:

Day 1 - Met in Casablanca and met the group. Casablanca, what a disappointment! I definitely do not ever feel the need to go there again (although I did have to fly out of there!). It's just a big, dusty, industrial town. Which is such a shame because the movies romanticise it so I was expecting much more. Having said that, it is a great place to start a tour because every other city in Morocco would blow you away by comparison.

Overall, we had a great group. There were 16 of us and I'd say 75% of us were Australian (or I guess I should say Antipodean as there was one token Kiwi!). As with any group, there are always a few trying personalities. But fortunately, there were enough of us that made it quite possible to avoid said individuals when they were having one of their moments (although on a few occasions I found it a bit rough as I roomed with one of them!). The other countrymen that joined us on the tour were representatives from Germany, Canada, England and Romania. Like I said, a great crowd, for the most part. We certainly shared many laughs and the Antipodeans showed that we know our way around a bottle, or ten.

Day 2 - We travelled early to Rabat by train. Rabat is the capital and fifth largest city in Morocco.We had the afternoon to explore Rabat, which is a beautiful city and got to spend time also exploring the white Kasbah (a Kasbah is a smaller version of a medina, which is defined later). Later that afternoon, we made our way via train to Meknes. Abdu, our tour guide, gave us a cheat sheet of Arabic words and encouraged us to have a chat to some of the locals on the train. Pam, the token Kiwi, and I shared a cabin and had a go at chatting to a few. They found it quite entertaining chatting with us and quickly switched to English as the conversation wasn't progressing very quickly! Moroccans love to talk and were very interested in us and our impressions of Morocco. So far we loved it!

Day 3 - Explored Meknes and it's lovely Medina. A Medina is the term used for the old city and is where you find most of the markets (where the locals would buy their produce on a daily basis). As well as food, it also sells goods. Following our experience in the Medina, we took a mini bus to Volubillis, which is the site of some impressive Roman ruins. After the tour of Volubillis, we took a bus to Fes.

Day 4 - Fes. We had two nights in Fes, and on the morning of day 4, we had a guide take us on a tour of the medina. The medina in Fes is the largest in Morocco and is absolutely fabulous (by far the best one that I visited while I was there!). It is enormous and would be impossible to visit it on your own without getting lost. Fes is also described as the spiritual heart of Morocco and I definitely would agree. No trip to Morocco would be complete without visiting Fes!

Day 5 - Midelt. We travelled for 5 hours to Midelt, which is in the Middle Atlas Mountains. Abdu took us on a guided walk along and gorge and around the local Berber village and we got to see how they live (mud-brick houses and comically, many of them had satellite tv!). It was a very interesting experience. Prior to arriving in the village, we also visited Kasba Myriem, which is a women's cooperative for the local Berber women that is run by Franciscan nuns. That evening, some local villagers also came and played some Berber music and dancing (and of course I dusted off the old dancing shoes! My Moroccan moves are significantly worse than my normal moves if that gives you any indication for what it looked like!). But, you gotta get involved!

Day 6 - Merzouga & a night in the Sahara (with camels of course!). Today we had another 5 hour journey (it is hard being in a bus for so long!) to the edge of the Erg Chebbi dunes. In the late afternoon we loaded up our camels and had a one hour trek into the desert where we set up camp. Prior to the sunset, we also climbed the highest dune at our camp which was quite a feat (all I can say is if you are ever in a group and climbing a dune, don't volunteer to lead the pack as you have to do all the work in breaking in the sand, and your feet sink!). I was so bloody knackered after getting up that dune, but the views were absolutely amazing and well worth the torture.

Day 7 - Todra Gorge. We woke up very early that morning and climbed the dune again (well, halfway), to watch the sunrise. Following the trek back to the base, we bid au revior to our camels and piled back on the bus for another long journey to Todra Gorge. We stopped a few times on the way for some pictures. Todra Gorge is absolutely stunning! That evening we laid low at our hotel in the gorge.

Day 8 - Today was a free day but we could elect to do a hike through the Todra Gorge. It was about three hours long and well worth it. Our local guide also took us to meet some real Berber nomads! It is absolutely amazing that people this day and age are still living the nomadic lifestyle. We got to meet Bob (can't remember his name, unfortunately and I promise it was much more authentic than Bob!) and his family, his wife Jane, and young son Doug (who was about 6 years old). Jane was Bob's second wife; his first wife, Sandra, died during child birth, and Doug was the youngest of his six children. Bob is about 70 years old (and he has a 6 year old!). Jane is about 40 years old (estimate). Anyway, they kindly served us some delicious lemon and thyme tea and we sat chatting with him for a half hour or so. I think he really enjoyed our company as he kept pouring us more tea. Not that I was complaining, it was delicious!

Day 9 - Ait Benhaddou. We piled ourselves back into the mini bus for a four hour journey towards Ouarzazate, which is the movie capital of Morocco (many, many famous movies are filmed here. Gladiator, for instance). We had a quick lunch in Ouarzazate and then made a quick drive to Ait Behaddou where we stayed the night. Whilst in Ait Behaddou, we visited Project Handicapped Horizon, which is a local project that Intrepid supports and works with people with disabilities. It is a great organisation and really encourages and gives handicapped people the means to be involved in a routine and create handicrafts, which they sell at their retail shop, etc.

That evening at the hotel, Mr. Action Houssain (they call him Action because he has been in hundreds of movies as an extra. He is an absolute character and LOVES having his photo taken), gave us a couscous cooking class. Let me assure you, it is much harder than the couscous we cook! It takes one and a half hours to cook! But you can certainly taste the difference, delicious. I only hope that I can repeat it to taste half as good as Action!

Day 10 - Aremd. Today was by far the longest ride that we had on the bus but also the most spectacular! We drove across the High Atlas Mountains via the Tizi 'n Tichka pass, the highest point in Morocco which stands at 2260m. We left the bus in the Toubkal region to Imlil and then had a 45 minute uphill hike to stay in the small mountain village of Aremd. From the terrace at the auberge, we could see Jebel Toubkal, which is Morocco's highest mountain. It was Diane's birthday that day, and the villagers at our auberge made her a beautiful Berber cake. Yum!

Day 11 - Essaouira. That morning we had an optional hike up the mountain (not to the top as that would take days) and through the valley. It meant a very early start, at 6.30am, but was well worth the forfeit of sleep. There were many hikers on the trails and the views were so rewarding (so was the amazingly fresh and delicious orange juice that was freshly squeezed at the top!).

Following the walk, we came back for an early lunch at the auberge before we descended the 45 minutes back to the mini bus and made our way to Essaouira (my haven!). I absolutely adored Essaouira (hence why I went back for a week of R&R post the tour). It is a very relaxed seaside village with an abundance of fresh fish and freshly squeezed juices. It is also a very chilled out part of Morocco, by far the most "western" of the places that I visited. I didn't get hassled as much there, and there was a very laid back and chilled out vibe (there is also a lot of hash there, so maybe that helps, haha!).

Day 12 - Essaouira. We began our day in Essaouira with a tour of the medina (a far less chaotic medina than the ones I had previously experienced). We had free time in the afternoon and I decided that I'd like to try a hammam, which is the traditional way to bathe in Morocco. Abdu was able to put me in touch with a local girl who took me to the hamam for the local women. What an experience! I consider myself to be very fortunate to have had the opportunity to do something like this as what many tourists would experience would be a tourist version of the hamam and would be quite a different (and a significantly more private experience than the traditional one. I ended up doing two, one traditional and one tourist, so that is how I know!).

For a country that is so conservative and the women are so well hidden beneath their gowns and head scarves, it was nice to see them in their own element where they can show no inhibitions (obviously this can also be shown in their own homes too, but I am not privy to this so a public hammam is the next best thing to witness it).

As expected, the hammam is separated between a men's and women's hammam. Moroccans go to hamams several times a week as this is the traditional form of bathing and many of the traditional homes are not fitted with a shower. These days, many homes are, but because it is such a significant and social part of their culture, the tradition still holds strong. Touching between men and women in public is frowned upon, so interactions between same sexes are often much stronger than we would usually see in a western society. It is common place to see men embracing and kissing each other in the street (both cheeks). I guess it all boils down to the fact that we are all human, and crave that closeness with another being. So if you can't have that connection with the opposite sex, you embrace the next best thing!

Being stripped down completely nude (aside from my undies) was a bit of a daunting experience at first, but when I first walked into the room and saw that everyone else was just getting on with business as if you were just shopping at the grocery store, I was put at ease. My uncomfort at first probably was aided by the fact that I was the only white girl in there so did get a few looks of curiosity, which were later turned into acceptance, and again, getting back to business. I would never consider myself a prude, but sitting freely nude amongst a bunch of strangers was certainly something quite foreign (in the old swimming days, getting changed in the lockers was a bit of an art form and I was able to get my togs on and off very quickly and efficiently baring very little skin). But here, these women sit amongst each other very openly, chatting and laughing as their scrub themselves (and the process they use is a whole other story). They seemed so free, so happy and it was just a really lovely thing to see. I once had the notion that these women were significantly oppressed of their own expression but now I have a little more insight into one of the free forms of their expression. A very short snippet into life behind the veil, so to speak.

If anyone ever has the opportunity to do a traditional hammam, I would highly recommend it. Just remember to go in there with an open mind. It was definitely a revelation in how prudish we are in western society (excluding most Europeans of course, they're pretty good with nudity!). Maybe it is the British in us, ha!).

Day 13 - Marrakech. I spent the morning hours doing a quick whip around my beloved Essaouira for the "last time", but it didn't take long for me to finally decide to scrap my plans to go to Portugal and head back here for a week to relax instead. I'm a beach babe at heart and feel closest to home when I am by the sea.

By mid-afternoon we were en route to Marrakech, which was a three hour bus ride (on the "chicken bus", which Abdu, the funny fella, had informed us the previous night, so when we saw a nice public coach arrive, we were all quite pleasantly surprised). We had dinner on Place Djemma el-Fna that evening and feasted on many of the Moroccan gastronomical delights that I have grown so fond of (the food is incredible there! So many incredible and intense flavours). Following dinner, we walked around the square where people from all over Morocco come to see the story-tellers, snake charmers and acrobats. It's a very lively square with so much to see and do! You just need to be wary of the bum pinchers!

Day 14 - Marrakech. This was a free day in Marrakech and I decided to split off with Annmarie and Pam to explore the city. By that time in the tour we were all a little fizzled out. It was tough going (especially in the heat) and there had been very little down time throughout the tour so I had lost my appreciation for seeing things (which was a bit of a shame). It all just turned into a bit of a check the box exercise. Having said that, I still thoroughly enjoyed what I did see and would certainly recommend Marrakech!

That evening we had a leaving dinner with the group. Dinner was fun, but not as rowdy as some of the other nights we had had together. Quite a few people had early flights so those who did, bade us farewell at a reasonable hour. The rest of us pushed through to send ourselves off in style!

Day 15 - I spent the morning cruising around Marrakech with Annmarie and Ange and then I hopped on the 4pm bus straight to Essaouira which served as my haven and resting spot for the next week! And goodness knows I needed it! I never realised how important my own time and space was to me until I finished a tour. While I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, it is absolutely exhausting and I definitely appreciated being able to be on my own and with my own thoughts for a while.

Post tour:

There wasn't too much to my time in Essaouira for the extra week other than resting and relaxation. I did meet some absolutely fantastic people though; my Dutch friends, Guus & Susan, the Belgian girls, Leen & Anna, Aidan the Englishman and my two favourite Moroccans, Assan & Jaouad). We had some great times together and many laughs at Hostel Cloud 9 (one of my all time favourite hostels!) playing cards, making "burnt" tagines (Assam is an amazing cook! And "burning" it makes it even more tasty!) and getting our tan on on the rooftop terrace (the only "safe" place to show some skin).

One thing that Morocco and India (and many of the non-western countries that I have visited in my life prior to this trip) have taught me is to keep an open mind. There are many different ways to live your life and be in a society. Sometimes coming from the West, we tend to put our Western glasses on and blankly categorise anything that is vastly different from how we would grow up or operate is flat out wrong. I don't think this is the case. It is different, but not wrong. Many of these "differences" work within other societies. They might not work in the West, but they do in their cultures and should be respected. Having said that, there are many things that I certainly admire about these different cultures; their rich history, strong sense of family and the greater community. But it has also taught me to appreciate the little things that we take for granted being born western (especially as women), like dressing as we feel fit, having a career if we want to, and for those wandering souls like myself who need a bit of time to just figure out life in general, having the opportunity to do just that. In my opinion, I am very fortunate to have won the "birth lottery" but I do hope that through my travels, I can learn something from each of the cultures I experience and apply it to my own life and enhance my own experience in western society.

For anyone who has ever been interested in Morocco, I highly recommend it. It is a bit of a culture shock at times, but that's the best part! You won't regret it :)

Hope you are well, wherever you are in the world.

Much love,

Mel xx

PS Apologies for my "reflection" above. Every now and again I like to have a bit of a think about what I have been learning during this journey and admittedly, as I read it now, I feel like it's almost a summarisation or concluding paragraph to a high school paper! Anyway, no more reflections, it's just my spiel for the day!

Tangier:

I spent my first few days in Morocco wandering the streets of Tangier. Within the first half an hour of being in Morocco, I had already been "had". Clearly I am quite naive and will believe anything anyone says! I was walking from the ferry station to my hostel when a young boy approached me asking if I needed help getting to my hostel. My instinct said to decline his offer, but when he whipped out the business card of the hostel and said that his brother worked there I foolishly believed him (I mean who would lie about that?! SO NAIVE!). But before you judge me and think how stupid I am, let me clarify what it is like arriving from Spain, where you are never hassled, to Morocco where it is an absolute mob scene. Men and boys would approach you left right and centre asking if you needed help, can they give you a lift, do you want to buy these tissues (a hot commodity...especially when you have squat loos!). I was fully aware this would happen, but still, you never know what it is really like until you experience it. I was hassled continuously during my 30 minute uphill walk to the hostel (usually by men), so when a young boy approached me with a card (has to be legitimate right?!) and as so innocent, it was like my prayers were answered! The roads are like a labyrinth and it was proving quite difficult to navigate though with google maps. Thankfully I got there safely, he was very nice and his English was excellent so he happily (and very proudly) chatted to me about Tangier and how beautiful it was and telling me about his family and his hobbies and interests. It really was endearing. One particular interaction will forever stick in my mind. "Miss have you ever been to Morocco?", I shook my head, "Ok, and Miss have you ever been to Africa?", I again said no, and he said "Oh Miss! Welcome to Africa! It's like nowhere else in the world!". Reflecting back on it later that night, I laughed to myself, yes, welcome to Africa! And you're not wrong! Africa, where even cute little kids can doop you. Even though accepting his help, and then later accepting his offer for a guided tour may have been a bit of a mistake (according to the guidebooks), he was completely harmless and I was happy to float him some money for being such a top bloke. At first they say they do not want any money from you (I may be naive at times but I'm not stupid!). Of course they do! When I had had enough of him, I gave him a 30 Dirham tip (which I was later told was far too much, oops! Only about $7 AUD) and sent him packing.

Streets of Tangier!
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More streets!
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India may have been the country of dogs, but Morocco is the country of cats! Cats are everywhere! They come in all shapes and sizes (and varying degrees of health too!). This guy looked pretty healthy to me. He must get his fair share of the tagine scraps!
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Beautiful beach/port
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More of the Port (hi Spain!)
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View of the water from the French quarters of Tangier
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These water fountains/taps are also very common all throughout Morocco. I would never drink the water from them but they make for a pretty picture. On the topic of water, I was drinking the water in Tangier and had no problems. Once I joined the tour, because I was on a tour and we were going to be moving around a lot, I moved to the bottled water just in case (a few of my fellow tourees had some tummy problems for a while and it was not pretty! Especially on a travel day...I thank PPFA for my stomach of steel!).
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Casablanca:

Square in Casablanca
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Famous gardens. Nothing to really rave about but it was on the list as a "must see" in Casablanca.
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The medina!
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The Hassan II mosque. It was also a "must see". A lovely building but I can't say that I was too blown away by it. For starters, it was built in the 1990s (I think), so I am genuinely older than it. And being that it was built then, everything used to build it was state of the art. Seeing something that is hundreds or thousands of years older is far more impressive to me. Especially when you consider how they would have made such sites all those years ago! It would have taken forever...
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The beach...all I can say is gross! Don't worry, there are far nicer beaches in Morocco! Regardless, there were still tonnes of Moroccans down by the water messing around. I couldn't believe it!
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More mosque
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The detail up close. This day and age, mosaics like this are done with machines so there is flawless accuracy. In my opinion, seeing something done by hand is far more impressive!
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Rabat:

One of the many administrative buildings in Rabat.
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More administrative buildings. PPFA, do you recognise any of these? My mum used to live in Rabat in the 70s for a period of time...kinda groovy (haha, sorry, really poor joke!).
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The waterfront at Rabat.
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The view of the white Kasbah from the waterfront.
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Gardens within the white Kasbah.
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Inside the Kasbah. The white with the blue trim is just stunning. Very striking from a distance seeing it all together!
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I have a door fetish apparently...more white Kasbah.
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I believe this is Hassan II Tower (we got absolutely drenched trying to get to this spot!).
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This is the Mausoleum of Mohammed V
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A guard (on guard) at the mosque.
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Inside the mosque.
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The view of the Hassan Tower from the mosque. The tower is a minaret of an incomplete mosque that was intended to be the worlds largest but was never finished. In 1199, the Sultan Yacoub al-Mansour died and the construction of the mosque ceased.
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So this was quite a rather entertaining event. A couple of us were en route back to our meeting point at the train station when a riot broke out in the town centre. I was dead centre in the middle of it, and fully aware that nothing good could come from a riot, as soon as I saw the swat team, I legged it across the Main Street and sought refuge in a shoe shop. Anyway, the girls I were with were laughing so hard because they couldn't believe how fast I moved and were left standing around wondering where I had gone to! Funnily enough, this was not a crazy riot, and is actually a standing riot that occurs every Monday but the swat team come anyway. From my safe view at the shoe store, everything appeared in order and no one was getting crazy. It was just a bit scary that everyone was running as soon as the swat team showed up, so of course, I did my best Ussain Bolt impersonation and BOLTED! Pun intended ;)
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Meknes:

The walls of the Imperial Palace
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View of the lake from outside the Palace.
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The amazing mosiac within the Maousolem of Moulay Ismail.
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More of the gateway to the Imperial Palace
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These are the Petit Taxis that are all over Morocco. They are by far the best (and cheapest mode of transportation). Each city has it's own colour! I thought it was quite cute and I used them quite a bit (always good for a haggle!). Also available to use are some of oldest Mercedes around (Dad, I reckon it might rival the old model that we used to have!). I don't know how those things are still going! But they are much more expensive as you have to pay whatever fare it is time by 5 (as that is how many people it can hold), even if you only have one person! Rip off! But great if you have a large group.
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This is the traditional metallic work of Meknes. The man here was demonstrating his work (which I absolutely loved! And bought a plate!). He said it takes three days to complete the plate that I bought...I got quite a good deal too (PPFA, you would be so proud!)
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This picture makes me crack up every time I look at it. I wasn't sure whether I was going to laugh or choke! Karen, the lady next to me (who is an absolute legend and bloody hilarious!) had just made a rather unsavoury joke about the shape of my camel burger representing one of the camel's appendages! Anyway, caught me at a good time! On a more wholesome note, camel burgers are a double thumbs up! They were beautifully spiced so you would hardly know what you were eating. Let's just say, I'm not sure I could have gone through with it if it was after our camel ride!!! Poor Mr. Camel!
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The camel burger man! He was a top bloke.
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The view of the valley in Volubilis
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Roman ruins (and look at that scenery!!!) Seriously, am I in Morocco?!
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More ruins, spectacular!
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The crew at the ruins!
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This was a pit stop on the way to Fes. It honestly blew me away! Morocco?! What?! I can't tell you how many times I had to pinch myself during this trip and keep asking if I was still in Morocco! I never expected this. Absolutely breathtaking.
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There aren't too many photos of me where I am not doing a very average and awkward attempt at a selfie. Hi!
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Wowzers.
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Hello Fes! The gates at the Royal Palace.
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Me at a door that I was quite taken with (I told you, door fetish!).
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In the medina. This is what they call black soap and it is an olive extract that they use to clean their skin in the hammams. It is honestly beautiful to use (looks gross, I know!). After using it with the special scrubbers, my skin has never felt so smooth! And it peeled so many dead layers of skin off. Great product!
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Beautiful Fes from a lookout.
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And again.
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The chaotic traffic!
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The date man in the medina! Lots of date men in Morocco. Those dates are divine! He didn't really like having his photo taken though!
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The olive pusher. He was a nice guy. Great olives to sample!
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Nouss Nouss! This was by far my favourite drink. I think I may have been averaging three a day (yikes!). It didn't help that Abdu was a coffee fein, so would regularly call pitstops so that he could get another hit of the java. Nouss Nouss is essentially a half and half. Half black coffee (espresso) and half hot milk. It's delicious (less milky than a latte!). I much prefer it.
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The world famous Fes tannery. It absolutely stank! They gave us mint leaves to sniff as we walked through (I basically had mine up my nose). But how they make the leather using all natural dyes is very interesting. They have the most beautiful products as well! If you need great quality leather goods, head to Fes.
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I believe this was an entrance to a university (if I remember correctly).
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We also had a carpet making demonstration in Fes. These women are absolutely incredible. They work at such a quick speed and without a pattern! Each design of the rug is based on memory. Unbelievably talented. The work was just beautiful.
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Another photo that makes me giggle. We also learned about the traditional dress in Morocco (and apparently this is one of them!) Anyway, it was all very funny, I was sitting down minding my own business when one of the workers quickly pulled me up and started dressing me in all of this fabric (it's all attached as one piece, a giant Moroccan onesie!). Pull one string and it all comes off, ha! He then informed me that my "selling price" was 1,000 camels. Good to know! I'm not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing, but just a warning to my folks, if you suddenly receive 1,000 camels, there has been an offer! Make sure the new house has land ;)
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Another "where am I?!" moment. This tiny town called d'Ifrane reminded me of a Swiss or Austrian village in the Alps. So bizarre! There is a highly accredited university here apparently. It was a pitstop in one of our bus legs.
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My mate the butcher. This was maybe one of my favourite lunches. We had a pitstop in a small town that looked like something out of the Wild West. We picked our meat (I went for the lamb chops) and this bloke cut it for us.
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We then took our meat to the bloke with all the power, the barbie master, and he cooked it up and served us!
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A Moroccan barbie!
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The "ranch" where we ate.
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My day in the front seat with Braham (our bus driver, an absolute legend!) and Abdu. View of the Middle Atlas Mountains.
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The Berber village (Berrem). Check out those mud huts equipped with satellite tv! Unbelievable!!!
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Berrem
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Berrem
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I just thought this was funny. That poor mule! The man can almost touch the ground!
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Cute little girl in Berrem.
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A mini oasis on the way to the Sahara.
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After Abdu had appropriately prepared my attire for the camel trek. A real Arab now! At the foot of the dunes (before we began the camel trek).
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Abdu and Braham going nuts on the drums. Very talented!
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The trek!
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Trying not to break the poor camels neck! I still loved him (even though he had a butt fetish for the camel in front of us!) Gross!
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The tents (nowhere near as glamorous as India!
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The dunes.
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Ange making her way up.
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The crew at the top (hi John!)
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The trek in the Todra Gorge. Steep!
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Berber nomads!
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Bob and his abode.
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Hi Jane!
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View of the gorge from the top of the hike.
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The Todra Gorge.
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A local market that we pulled over to see. Every town has one once a week where they are outside and you can buy lots of different things (even livestock!). All very exciting. This was very much a local experience, definitely the only white people here!
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That watermelon was to die for!
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A random stop off.
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Another random stop off (think it was the same one!)
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Mr. Action Houssain! What a legend! Upon arriving at every hotel, the Moroccans will greet you with mint tea. The sweeter, the better (as it means they like you!) and also if you have a "high" pour, then that is also a sign of how much they like you. I was giving Action a pretty hard time about the height of his pour. And like any savvy Moroccan, he was quite witty back. Also, a very interesting fact about the Moroccans is that when a family has asked for the hand of another family's daughters, the daughters family will invite the prospective family over for tea. When the tea is served, if it has been sweetened with sugar, the family has accepted the offer for the daughters hand. If the answer is no, then the family has declined. So much weight placed in sugar!
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View of Ait Behaddou from a lookout.
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The crew at the lookout!
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One of the highest points in the High Atlas (we stopped as we were driving). It doesn't look too high because we were already so high from the road. Take my word for it, a monstrous mountain!
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Karen and Diane took the mules up to Aremd. It was quite a steep hike!
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The view from our auberge at Aremd. It is Jebel Toubkal, Morocco's highest mountain.
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The trek that we did bright and early the next day!
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Someones house along the way!
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The best orange juice of my life (freshest and COLDEST!). Freezing mountain water is running over those oranges.
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A lovely waterfall in the mountains at the top of the trek.
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The gates to my haven, ESSAOUIRA!! My happy place :)
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I love this seaside village! Home of the worlds biggest seagulls! I could not get over the size of them! Beastly.
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The juice stand that I visited everyday!
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Some snaps of the old town (doors! haha)
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This picture makes me laugh. Brian is such a character and had me in stitches for most of the trip! Brian posing with his war wound at the hammam that I went to! See that bruise on his arm? He did a hammam in the Todra Gorge and after asking him how it was, he just said it was an interesting experience. The next day, that bruise popped up (clearly he bruises like a peach!) We are all still wondering what happened in there to warrant the bruise!!!
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The fish market! I went here almost everyday (until I got food poisoning!). You choose your fish (caught earlier that morning) and just like the barbecue at the Wild West, they cook it up for you and serve you chips and salad. The best fish of my life! So much fun!!!
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The fishes (there was so much to choose from!)
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Gross eels. I didn't have a crack.
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Starters.
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The main event! We had sea bass that day.
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The "barbie"
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The beach. Essaouira isn't really my idea of a great swimming beach. It's very windy so ideal for wind sports (great for spectators!). You definitely can swim though!
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Kite boarder dudes.
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Place Djemaa el-Fna (the market we ate dinner at). Delicious!
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Jardin Marjorelle (also known as the Yves Saint Laurent Jardin).
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The medina in Marrakech.
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Juice, juice baby! Moroccans love their freshly squeezed juices (and so do I!).
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Wanna date? Or a dried apricot?!
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Lights in the souk.
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Bedlam in the square!
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The last supper! Abdu, Phil and I
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Pam, Phil and Annmarie
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Annmarie, Ange and Abdu
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Brian, Diane and John
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Karen, Karen and Dan
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Jason, Dirta and Maree
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Pat, Me and Phil (geez, how many bloody photos do I have of Phil! haha).
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The whole crew! What a fantastic trip!
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Posted by melpage 13:33 Archived in Morocco Tagged essaouira marrakech rabat fes casablanca meknés tangier Comments (0)

The lazy south

Now you're talking!!!

I had a bit of an interesting start to my experience in the South of Spain. I arrived before 7am feeling a bit out of it and disheveled after a very cramped and interrupted sleep on the bus. I do not seem to have as much luck sleeping on buses like I do when I fly! The Marbella station was very small and I was very disappointed upon looking at my phone to discover that the route that I had mapped for myself guiding me to my hostel from the bus station had disappeared! Great. The station was empty aside from a few other people who did not speak a word of English, there was no wifi and the information centre was closed. Now what? I managed to make my way to a taxi stand and was doing my very best attempt to communicate in Spanglish about trying to get to my hostel. Despite my efforts, maybe my Spanglish really is that ordinary (who am I kidding?! It most certainly is!), or perhaps it was because these fellas seemed to be more concerned with their morning "break" and didn't want to be interrupted by my fare, so they just pointed me in the right direction, not understanding that I wanted them to drive me. Oh well, I guess it was not meant to be. I loaded up my backpack and began to walk across a highway and in the general direction of where I thought the town centre might be. About 2 minutes into my walk, a man in a truck slowed down and wound down his window and said "me, you, centre" and pointed in the general direction I was walking. He gestured for me to get in the car. Hmmm, I wasn't really too sure what to make of that other than he wanted to take me to the centre. I obliged and showed him my phone where the address of the hostel was printed. He said "si, si, si" and we drove off. It was a 5 minute journey and in that time I found out his name was Manuel and he was born and raised (I think) in Marbella. He thinks Marbella is beautiful and seemed to be very excited that I was visiting it for the first time. Of course what I am deducing is based on lots of hand gestures and broken Spanish and English. Good fun! As the city centre of Marbella is very small and narrow, Manuel couldn't drive me to the street that the hostel was on. He pointed me in the right direction, and I was off. A few seconds later, I heard some shouting, it was Manuel. He was watching me from his car to make sure that I was going in the right direction. I was not. I quickly readjusted my direction per his gestures, and eventually made my way to the hostel. Manuel, what a character and legend! I knew that if the rest of the folks in the south were half as nice as Manuel, I was in for a treat. And I wasn't wrong.

I promptly checked into the hostel and despite the 1pm check in time, the guy at the front desk, a fella from Manchester, let me check in early. I had a good few hours kip and then hit the streets. I found Marbella to be breathtakingly beautiful. It was everything I had ever imagined Spain to be like (well at least the small towns). It was full of narrow cobble stoned paths and like Barcelona and Madrid, had many squares where there were lots of lovely restaurants and cafes. A very nice and easy way to pass an afternoon. I strolled through the old city centre, which didn't take long, and then made my way down to the beach. The beach was gorgeous. Still not as beautiful as Australia or Bermuda, but getting much better. There was a promenade that stretched for a miles. I walked up and down it all afternoon having an amazing time basking in all of the sunshine. Now this was the life!

That evening, I made my way back the seaside for a seafood feast. I managed to score an excelled trip from Tripadvisor about a great traditional seafood place down by the seaside at Puerto Deportivo (nice and descriptive, eh?!). When I arrived, admittedly early by Spanish standards (8pm!), I was the sole person in the restaurant. Oh dear, had I been ill advised? Forty minutes later, the place was exploding with guests (most of which were locals, another reason I knew I had a great find!). It was a beautiful meal and also highly entertaining watching the Spaniards interact. I love the way the Spanish eat. It's a slow process, savouring every bite, you have many plates of different things and everyone eats family style. The locals were seeing their friends on the street and inviting them to their tables to feast on their food. It was a lot of fun to watch.

The following day after another seaside stroll and a last minute cruise in the old city, I made my way to the bus station. Next stop, Tarifa. I decided to spend one night there before I began my Moroccan journey. And I'm so glad I did.

I adored Tarifa. It's far less glamorous than Marbella, but has a very chilled and down to earth vibe. It's a prime spot for any type of windsurfing or kiteboarding activity and draws in a young (or young at heart) crowd. The old town was full of eclectic shops and hip cafes. I loved strolling through the streets and having a nosey in all of the shops.

Upon arriving at my hostel, the Pink House, I was met with another girl, Roberta from Croatia, who was also checking in. Roberta was in the south of Spain for a one week break from her internship that is in Barcelona. She is an architect and for three months, has been transferred to Barcelona. Lucky girl! We clicked straight away and were both starving so decided to explore the city together. We found a lovely restaurant in the old city and enjoyed dinner. I had some enormous prawns which were absolutely divine. I still cannot get over how big they were. I love being by the sea!

The hostel had an amazing rooftop terrance so we made a plan to grab a bottle of wine on the walk back and sit on the roof to enjoy the sunset. It was a beautiful sunset and you could see Morocco in the horizon (it is only 14km from Tarifa!). On the roof we met a lovely German couple who have spent their week long break in Tarifa. They were highly entertaining and were telling us stories of their experiences since they have been here (it appeared to be quite an eventful trip!). They had initially wanted to camp on the beach while they stayed here. They arrived quite late at night via bus and managed to find a camp stop in what they thought was a remote area of the beach. At around 1am they awoke to some horrendous weather (the wind is intense in Tarifa, hence why all the wind water sports are so popular). Not long after, they discovered that they were surrounded by cows. Not wanting to sleep amongst the animals, they decided to move when all of a sudden a bull came charging at them and they had to quickly escape by jumping a fence! I imagine it would be quite terrifying to be chased by a bull in the darkness at 1am! But made a great story.

The following day I spent the morning meandering through the lovely shops and cafes and having a stroll along the beach one last time before I boarded the ferry for Morocco. My Moroccan adventure was about to start, finally! I was so excited!

Hope this finds you well, wherever it is that you are!

Mel xx

Marbella:

There are no words! Just gorgeous...one of the many beautiful streets in Marbella.
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And again!
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A lovely square. The old town centre is very small, it is impossible to get lost! So I hardly used a map, and unfortunately because of that, I didn't look at signs much so have virtually no recollection of what some of the famous squares are (Orange is one, but this is definitely not that!). My apologies.
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I couldn't put up this post without including these old dears. But don't let their "frailness" fool you, they are a force to be reckoned with! I saw them again "resting" after their visit to the veggie market. I was in line trying to buy some apples, when one of these lovely ladies, comes storming up to the front of the shop and appears to be screaming at the man at the register. I was horrified and thought something horrible was happening. I think one of the guys in the line that saw my expression (I had never seen an old lady flail her arms and shout like that before), and later clarified that she was simply asking the price and trying to check out (and pushing in, the Spanish do that a lot!). So the Spanish have just as much character as the Italians. Gotta love it. I thought they were yelling at each other, but they were just "discussing". Classic. No wonder they needed a pit stop on the way home after all of that activity!
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La playa! Beautiful!
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The marina at Puerto Deportivo.
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The promenade (which changes names frequently as you go, especially if you walk as far as I did). The further I went down, the posher it seemed to get!
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The old city.
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More beautiful streets.
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The Holy procession in Marbella. What a surprise this was! Walking home on my way home from my seafood feast and I came across this. I had absolutely no idea what was going on until I got close enough to see what was on the float. This happened every night at 10pm here in Marbella (and possibly during the day too). There were thousands of people in the streets filming it and getting involved. When I got to Morocco and met up with some of the Aussies on the tour that had been to Sevilla (and Roberta and the Germans also confirmed) that the Semana Santa there is far more intense (I didn't think it could get worse?!). Apparently, thousands of people line the streets in robes with the floats and play a brass band for hours (I'm talking 14!!!) and it can go well into the night. For a girl that doesn't do well with less than 8 hours sleep, I'm not sure how I would have coped having to hear a brass band into the wee hours of the morning every night for a week! But I did hear that both Granada & Sevilla are incredible cities. I'm sad to have missed out! Next trip!
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The landview of Marbella!
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Tarifa:

Beautiful grand building in Tarifa (likewise to Marbella, too small to get lost so I went sans map!). Hence the lack of details...never had to know it
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Bit more of an edgy to Tarifa. Nowhere near as glamorous as Marbella, but I loved it. Shabby chic.
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Random square with a cool frog fountain.
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Water-sports in action...oh and hey Morocco! You can see the mountains in the background!
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One of the main plazas full of the tourist trap type restaurants. I stayed clear! But it was still pretty.
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Stunning old church in the Old Town.
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Look at that sunset! The Germans, Roberta and I were enjoying this with a few bevvies. Glorious!
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Tarifa from the hostels' rooftop. Beautiful. Nothing beats a rooftop lounging area!
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Hey Roberta! Looking very glamorous with her very serious camera.
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Beautiful beach in Tarifa. The mountains in the background here are still in Spain.
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Posted by melpage 23:26 Archived in Spain Tagged marbella tarifa Comments (1)

MADrid

Mariners reunite!

I was really excited to get to Madrid for two reasons, the first, I had never been and was looking forward to exploring a new Spanish city (especially considering that there is a fierce rivalry between Barcelona and Madrid as to which is better!), and secondly, because I had a friend that was living there who promised to show me around! It will certainly be nice for some company (and let's be honest, some help with my Spanish!).

Furbs, a fellow Mariner, and a Bermudian, has been living in Madrid for the past two years. He decided to go back to university as a mature aged student and get his degree in Accounting (unlucky...haha!). I know him through the Mariners, which is a Bermudian rugby team that I used to play touch rugby for (yes, I honestly did play rugby!). He was what we called one of the "young bies" which is Bermudian slang for young boys. When he heard I was coming to town, he generously offered a place on his couch. Result! It's always nice to get out of the hostels and be in a real home.

Furbs picked me up from the station as being that it was my first time here, it may have been difficult for me to find his apartment using the Metro. Clearly he didn't have any faith in my navigating skills (frankly, I don't either and I boil all of my success down to goodluck). Anyway, it was very kind of him to come and get me and I certainly appreciated it. We spent that afternoon walking around the city centre and he gave me a general overview of the layout of Madrid and the key sites that I should see. Between that tutorial and being full equipped with my google maps app, I was armed and ready for hitting the pavement. As a full-time student, he had studies to do, so I was more than happy to venture out on my own during the day.

The first evening, Furbs took me to meet up with some of his Spanish friends. In his spare time, he teaches English to Spanish people. One of his "students", Alejandro from Grenada, has since become a good friend. We met in a lovely bar off of one of the squares. Alejandro brought his girlfriend and she brought one of her friends (their names escape me unfortunately) too so there was a little posse of us. It was a really nice evening until Furbs discovered that he had lost his keys! So there were were, at about 1am, running around the city of Madrid tracing out steps to see if we could find them. As expected, we were unsuccessful. And the real kicker was that his landlady lived in London! Couldn't have been a worse situation! Fortunately, we didn't have to sleep on the stoop outside his door that evening. He had a Moroccan friend just down the street who kindly offered to let us sleep in his lounge room. It wasn't a great sleep, sleeping upright in an armchair is never ideal, but was better than being out in the cold. Despite an unfortunate situation, Mohammed was a very generous host, offering us mint tea and snacks. This was just a small taste of what I was soon to learn about Moroccan hospitality. In their culture, you treat your guests like royalty! I'm not sure that people who just show up out of nowhere at 2am would qualify as "guests", but he was very kind, regardless.

As a result of the previous night's episode, I unfortunately missed out on the 11am walking tour that I had planned on taking. I needed to sleep and did so, until the late afternoon. We were finally let into the apartment at 8am. That evening, we went to a great little bar in one of the squares for tapas. At my persistence, Furbs took the liberty of ordering for us. We feasted on some delicious octopus, potatas bravas (translates to brave potatoes, I think because the chilli power that is added) and a tortilla (which is different than a Mexican tortilla, it is a giant omelette). It was all delicious! The Spanish really know how to make some potatoes and eggs!

The following morning, at long last, I got to do my walking tour. It was a nice walk and a stunning day. The sun was shining and in full tradition, all of the Spanish were out in the streets. On Sundays, the Spaniards all like to get out of their homes and amongst all the action. The cafes are bursting with people and everyone is out enjoying the sunshine. I found a great place to perch in from of Puerta del Sol and enjoyed a gelato while people watching. It was the perfect day for it.

My fourth, and final day in Madrid was spent exploring the beautiful parks that the city has to offer. There were two that I saw, Parque del Retiro and Casa de Campo. Casa de Campo was by far the largest, but Parque del Retiro was my favourite. They both were stunning and was a great way to spend a lazy Monday. Nothing beats having a picnic in the park on a beautiful day (accompanied with a cerveza of course!).

I don't know if I just had my expectations set ridiculously high after my visit to Barcelona or whether I wasn't giving Madrid a fair chance but it didn't really impress me. Sure, it's a beautiful city, the people are lovely and the night life is great, but other than that, it's just another big city. There wasn't a tremendous amount to see or do there (not like Barcelona!). I was in Madrid for a long weekend, and to be honest, that was plenty for me! On the Monday evening, I took an overnight bus to Marbella. It was time to begin the adventure in the South of Spain...and what an experience!

Lots of love to you, wherever it is in the world that you are!

Mel xx

The "youths" at Puerta del Sol. It's a beautiful square. I heard two reasons why it was called the "Gate to the Sun", which I believe is the rough translation, the first was because it was always lovely and sunny there (when the sun was out!), and the second was that it was a very big plaza and very round and had many streets that intersected it so from an aerial view, it looked like a sun. I think both sound quite plausible!
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This was just a random statute that I found on the way to the Palacio Real (these are part of the Jardines de Sabatini).
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Cathedral de la Almudena. We were lucky on our tour of Madrid to see an Easter procession go past the cathedral. I happened to be there on Palm Sunday, and being the bad Catholic that I am, I completely forgot! Until I saw all the palms (and hoards of people)! The Spanish take the Easter celebrations extremely seriously. Once I got down south, the celebrations were intense, and magnified! I heard that they are particularly manic in Grenada and Sevilla (but I'll save that for another post!).
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Palacio Real in all her glory!
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The bear eating the tree is the official monument or symbol of the city of Madrid. You can find this symbol everywhere throughout the city. So of course I had to take a picture of the statue that was in Puerta del Sol!
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This was on the first night in Madrid. I was astounded at the number of youths that congregated in the squares all throughout the city drinking a street beer! With unemployment among university qualified young people at a horrifying 40% (and I may be being nice here), it's no wonder none of them can afford to drink in a bar! Everybody convenes together in the city squares and people walk around with a bag full of single beers to sell individually. I thought it was hilarious! And very awesome at the same time.
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So of course we got involved! Yay for street beers! Furbs and I before the key devastation. This square was one of them that we "checked' at 1am. Of course all we would see was a sea of empties. Heartbreaking.
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Plaza de Espana, a lovely square at the end of Furbs' street. I came and chilled in this park a few times. It was nice and close and excellent for a good people watch (with street beer of course).
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Palm Sunday celebrations in front of the Cathedral!
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Somewhere along Gran Via, which is one of the main and fanciest streets in Madrid.
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As I mentioned earlier, the Spanish love their meat, particularly their Jamon (posh ham). For convenience they sell these little snack bags full of it! I've seen fries sold like this but never hunks of meat. Great for all of you ravenous carnivores out there! I didn't give it a bash but ate jamon in small quantities separately, it is delicious!
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The legs of jamon! The markets are full of these! Quintessential symbol of Spanish cuisine...they love it!
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One of the entrances to Parque del Retiro. Absolutely stunning!
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The lake at Parque del Retiro. If I wasn't solo that day, I totally would have gone out for a punt on the boat...I just didn't want to have a "swim" alone, haha!
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Chocolateria San Gines. Opened since 1894 and is a must do for chirros which is a Spanish delicacy (and breakfast...bit too sweet for breaky if you ask me! Maybe dessert?). Anyway, it had to be done. This place is opened 24hours and their busiest time is allegedly the wee hours of the morning. People finish clubbing and need their chirros. I didn't test that statement and went at a more civilised hour. They were very tasty, but I think I liked the chocolate syrup better (being the chocolate fiend that I am!).
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Yum!
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Posted by melpage 01:23 Archived in Spain Tagged madrid Comments (0)

Valencia, oh how I love thee!

A city with so much depth and history

Valencia, the third biggest city in Spain, is about 300km south of Barcelona on the coast. I travelled here from Tarragona via the regional train (which was by far the cheapest and slowest mode of transportation to get here!). It was a lovely relaxed journey and I arrived in the City about 2pm. I made my way to my hostel, the Purple Nest (on recommendation from Conan).

The city of Valencia itself is very picturesque. There are some magnificent buildings and much like the other places in Spain I have visited, there is certainly a very relaxed vibe. Another fascinating thing about Valencia is its history. So many different influences from various periods of time. It is a very old city, with the first Roman settlers arriving in 138BC. Because it is so old, it has survived through many difference eras and has artifacts that are representative of key times in its history. What I found to be hysterical, was that instead of preserving these artifacts and influences that have come from various periods of time, as most cities have done, the Valencians didn't really seem to care, so as the new ages came (Roman, Germanic, Muslim and later the reconquering of the Christians and the start of the Modern Age, etc), the city built over itself. So throughout the city, you may have traces of a Muslim building, but also contained within might be some monuments or stones from the Romanic period. Certainly quite unique! And a different way of capturing history.

I spent the first day wandering around the Old District, which was close to my hostel. In general, the city is very easy to navigate, but in true Mel form, I somehow managed to get lost anyway! A few rights when I should have been going left, and somehow I ended up on the completely wrong side of the city (to my hostel). But the great thing about getting lost is that you end up seeing more of the city and also finding some hidden gems (like great deals for drinking and eating!). And it gives you a tad more exercise!

The second day, I went on the free tours and was the sole attendee. Nothing like a bit of pressure to pay attention and ask intelligent questions (zoning out not allowed!). Clearly a very quiet time to be in Valencia! My tour guide, Geralh a native Venezuelan, was lovely and gave me all kinds of recommendations for my stay here. He himself was also relatively new to the city having moved here only four months prior but he absolutely loves it and is ceratinly very proud of his new home. He recommended that I try the Valenciana Paella (a paella that is made of rabbit, chicken, green beans and white beans). Paella was also born in Valenica, fyi. He also took me to try a famous drink in Valencia called a horchata (I'm not sure if I spelled that right!). I'm glad that he didn't tell me what it was prior to me trying it, because it essentially was a milk drink with carrot in it and is served ice cold. It sounds absolutely foul, but I can assure you that it tastes amazing! Who would have thought carrot and milk could be a pairing? Very thirst quenching and popular here on a hot day. Following the tour, I decided to go on a long walk (and when I say long, I mean long) to the science centre in Valencia. It took me well over an hour to walk there from where the tour ended, but it was a beautiful hot day, and being the sun worshipper that I am, I was loving being back in the sun again. Back in the 70s, there was a river, the Turia River, that circled the perimetre of the City. Then at one point in time there was severe flooding of the Turia River. In the 80s, the river was coverted into a beautiful park that surrounds the city. It is absolutely gorgeous. Following my long walk to the science cente, and not realising that it was approaching 3pm, I decided to get a spot of lunch. I was starving. Geralh showed me the Valencian Central Markets during the tour, which are absolutely enormous. I believe there are over 900 stalls there and it certainly contributes to a significant portion of the people's earnings here. Forgetting about "siesta" time, by the time I reached the markets, they were closed. I was devastated! Fortunately there was a lovely little restaurant on the corner and I feasted on a three course meal.

That evening at the hostel, things got a bit more interesting! All of a sudden the population in the hostel went from about 5 people (well, five that I saw anyway) to at least 60. Exciting times! There was a live band at the hostel that night and I saw the night through with a group of 8 of us playing good old fashion drinking games. It's funny how you can have people from all over the world come together and each know the same games, of course each country has it's own variations of the rules. We played Kings Cup and 21 for hours. It was great fun with the Aussies, an Italian, pack of Swedes and a Spaniard representing. I am not sure that I will ever forgive Trent for choosing to drink cheap gin that night. In one of the games, I had to drink the cup. It was revolting! I get shudders just thinking about it. Oh well, live and learn. I seem to be a whole lot of "living" lately, not so much "learning"...c'est la vie!

The next day was a beach day. Similar to my experience in Barcelona, I was still not too impressed with the beach. It was far superior to Barcelona, but still no where near as beautiful as Australia (or Bermuda!). My Aussie mate Trent and I spent a good few hours walking up and down the beach, checking out the marina, before we packed it in and headed back to the hostel. I was starving, and Trent was keen on a nap.

I met Trent on my first night in Valencia. He's a young lad from Perth, and of course being an Aussie, and also on a similar route to me (he had just left Barcelona too), we hit it off straight away. It was nice to finally have some Australian company (and a native English speaker no less!). He is the first Aussie that I have come across since I have been in Spain which really surprised me (and him too as he said he had come across loads!). Clearly I am hanging out at all the wrong places! Anyway, he was always good for some solid banter and a laugh (and rated Adelaide...and had been to the Hills!). He was pretty cool, for a nineteen year old (ugh, I am seriously getting old!).

On Friday morning I made the trek to Madrid. I was really looking forward to seeing Madrid. I have heard amazing things and I had my own personal tour guide waiting for me! Furbs, a friend of mine from Bermuda, has been living there for over a year now so I was quite excited to be back in the company of a friend (and a local that has local expertise!). Finally I will be able to know what it is I am actually ordering on the menu!

Hope this finds you well xx

The beautiful Placa d'lAdjuntament in Valencia (I think...)
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Valencia is full of beautiful orange groves like this (as is most of Spain to be honest!). Although, I was advised to not eat the oranges that are grown in the city as they may contain lead (not sure if they really meant pesticides rather than lead? But who knows. Regardless, memo received loud and clear. Do not eat street oranges!).
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This narrow apartment was the narrowest apartment in the world. It has only recently become uninhabited. I cannot imagine how you would live in a house like that! I'd love to see what it is like inside.
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The horchata drink! Delicious! I strongly recommend it if you ever find yourself in Valencia...a local delight!
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The beautiful park!
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The Palau De La Musica which is in the park.
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Also, in the park are these amazing buildings! Valencia boasts incredible Arts and Sciences Centres; including an interactive science centre and Europe's largest aquarium! The architecture of these buildings alone is incredible! I was blown away.
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The beach!!! It was nice, but neither Trent or I was too impressed after all the talking up it got at the hostel the previous night.
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There is a great promenade of some amazing restaurants at the beach. Nice way to spend an afternoon in the sun!
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The Port at Valencia.
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Posted by melpage 11:53 Archived in Spain Tagged valencia Comments (0)

Exploring some Roman ruins

A seaside escape to beautiful Tarragona

Tarragona is a small city that Is about 80km south of Barcelona on the coast. It is a lovely seaside town that is famous for its Roman ruins. I spent two nights here, which is more than enough as a day trip from Barcelona is certainly suitable. However, I got a fantastic deal on a hotel, and was feeling pretty worn down. I needed some good quality sleep and my own space. Sightseeing is hard work, and I needed a bit of "me" time (another translation is I needed a break from life in a hostel haha). And there is no better place to do it then Tarragona! The sites are all within a short walking distance from the city centre and it is a very sleepy community.

I arrived in Tarragona by bus at about 8.30pm. The hotel was a fifteen minute walk by foot, so by the time I had arrived had checked in, it was almost 9pm. I had had quite a large lunch (three of those mini sandwiches and a pint of beer, thank you Conan!) so wasn't particularly hungry but was keen for a quick nosh before I hit the sack.

The concierge at the hotel recommended that I walk to Placa de la Font, where there were a number of bars that I could go to to get some tapas with a drink. The great thing about being out of Barcelona is that the tapas are complimentary with your drinks everywhere else is Spain! Unfortunately it is not customary to have tapas with your drinks there, so you need to pay. I found a great little place called Quatros at the end of the square and enjoyed two slices of tapas. The first was a lovely baguette with roasted vegetables, and the second, I allowed the waiter to choose for me, which I later discovered was a bold move on my part. It was delicious, but I am not entirely sure what it was. Definitely some kind of meat, and definitely one of those times when you would rather not know what you are eating! But it tasted great...and had a slice of cheese. Everything tastes great with cheese!

I had a very long lie in the following day and finally mustered the energy to get out for a look when I couldn't handle being hungry any longer. It was almost 1pm and I still hadn't eaten. I was enjoying time alone, watching tv in Spanish (an interesting experience, sadly I don't think my Spanish has improved. Still nonexistant!) and working on the blog. I found a great local restaurant for lunch and took a stab at ordering. The fun thing about not speaking the language is when you are trying to order, it is a bit of a gamble as to what you will get. I know some basics, like pollo is chicken, etc but as for the accompaniments to many dishes, it is always a surprise! I ended up ordering very well, starting with a lovely green salad and some grilled sea bass, potatoes and roasted tomatoes. It was to die for! So garlicky and soaked in olive oil, my favourite! All washed down with an ice cold cerveza. I am certainly eating well in Spain. Even if my Spanish is sub-par, at least what I'm ordering is delicious.

Following lunch, I hit the road to see the sites of Tarragona. My back was still giving me a bit of grief so I was quite glad that they were very close and not a long distance. I spent a few hours walking around, taking pictures and then back to the hotel for another siesta (I could really get used to this!).

That evening, I hit the markets and purchased a few snacks and cheap wine for the room. I wanted to keep it low key and have another chilled night in. And so I did!

The following day, I headed to the train station to purchase a last minute ticket for Valencia. And that folks, concludes my summary of Tarragona! I apologise for not a particularly action packed post! It was a very casual and lazy visit. I promise the trip to Valencia will be more entertaining!

Mel xx

Rambla Nova (i.e. the main drag). It's a very large main road with a pedestrian walkway through the middle. Gorgeous! Great town planning.
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The Tarragona coast. It was a shame it was grey and overcast when I was out taking pictures. It wasn't cold though so that was a huge bonus!
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A monument on Rambla Nova (let's call him Roger, Roger the Roman warrior, I don't remember what it was for!).
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More lovely coastline.
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Placa de Representacio del Forum Provincial (how's my Espanol?!). Roman walls in Forum square...
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Beautiful mural on one of the buildings
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The Cathedral
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I just loved the small town feel to all the buildings. So quaint and lovely.
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More ruins! There are about 15 Roman sites that you can see in Tarragona (some are a little outside of Tarragona so you would need a car). But they are all beautifully preserved. There are also some medieval sites too.
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I just liked this tap...it sort of popped out of nowhere in one of the old streets. Beautiful! Apologies for all my random photography! I take so many photos like this!!!
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Posted by melpage 05:22 Archived in Spain Tagged tarragona Comments (0)

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