Spain, Morocco and Portugal
Trip Start Jan 08, 2010
27Trip End Jun 21, 2010
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Before leaving South America we booked a tour of southern Spain, Morocco and Portugal through Brendan Tours (which actually ended up being Trafalgar Tours). The tour started in Madrid. Luckily we got to Madrid a few days beforehand as this gave us a chance to explore the city. It is a charming city with magestic buildings, fantastic gardens and an extensive metro system. Madrid has some superb art museums. We visited the Reina Sofia and saw many works of art by Picasso (including the Guernica) and Dali. We are looking forward to returning to Madrid later in our trip. Madrid was a bit on the chilly side, but after sweat-laden South America it was refreshing to be clean and crisp in Europe. Extra bonus to be able to drink the water!
This tour was different in many ways
Amongst the group we met some very interesting people, mostly Australians, Kiwis and Americans
On tour in Madrid we visited the Valley of the Fallen which is a cathedral built into a mountain. They say that the engineering is a bit skewif and it will never stand the test of time, especially considering the seismic activity of the region. Franco is buried in the cathedral. The guide told us that it was the biggest cathedral in the world, but Rome won't let this be known because St Peters needs to be larger. One thing we have learnt is that every cathedral or mosque claims to be the largest, or the second largest etc....in the end who cares, “it is just another bloody cathedral!” “ABC” for short. We then visited this monestry and the King's summer palace. This is where all the kings of Spain are buried. If you were lucky enough to be a queen of spain, and you gave birth to a king, then you were buried there also.
We made our way south through Toledo which was the old religious capital of Spain
Our next stop was Granada. From here we visited the Moorish Alhambra Palace. This place was very beautiful with all the tiling, stucco and arched doors and windows. The palace, which looked special enough from the outside, was esquisite on the inside. Apparently the muslims believe that striking external facades are not required as “beauty is on the inside”, hence the buildings are decorated to excess on the interior. The walls are decorated with tiles of mainly blue, green and yellow and then white stucco made from ground marble and egg white??? The tiles are arranged in geometric shapes that more often than not featured stars. The stucco features further geometric shapes and the phrase “Allah is great” in arabic script. There are no lifelike images represented as this is forbidden throughout the religion, hence the many geometirc patterns. From this palace Queen Isabella supposedly sanctioned Christoher Colombus' journey to find a quick route to India. Fortunately for Spain he totally stuffed his calculations and found the Americas instead!
We spent a night in Costa del Sol, which is situated on the Mediterranean
Next we passed the Rock of Gibraltar to ferry across the Mediterranean to Tangier in Morocco. The upmarket Tangier features palaces from nearly every arab kingdom. It was also the location for some of the scenes in the Bourne Ultimatum.
We drove in our big rainbow Trafalgar tour bus to Fez
Our Fez experience concluded with us witnessing the worst belly dancing in history. Out of the three none could get it quite right. The first could shake it a bit, but her main attraction was her oversized bust which had been pushed up around her ears. The second was the best dancer but was as flat as a tack – all the boobs went to the first dancer
In Marrakesh we visited a local alternative medicine man. All the medicines were natural. We bought some creams and other crap. Rick bought some black eucalyptus stuff that looks like tea. You are meant to crush it and sniff it to avoid snoring, sinus complaints and migraines. Not sure it works, and am very scared about trying to take it through customs!
Marrakesh is famous for its main square where you find snake charmers and henna tattoosists a plenty. Rick had a snake plonked on his shoulders, unsuspectingly, as we walked past some charmers trying to secure our business. I haggled and got ripped off with a henna tatt on my right hand. We decided on brown henna, which looked more like orange for the first few days
Casablanca was interesting probably only in so far as we saw the “second biggest mosque in the world” (hmmmmm everything is the “second biggest” something or other – it wears very thin after a while) and the movie Casablanca. Sad to say neither of us had seen it before, but we knew all the quotes (they now have a home)!
We then went to Seville which was another beautiful city. We went to the “second biggest” cathedral...hmmmm.....and visited Columbus' tomb. Apparently he didn't want to the buried there, but rather somewhere else nearby. But hey, that cathedral is closer than Haiti or Cuba, where his remains were transferred to for various lengths of time in the past. We tried the Iberian ham, a local delicacy. This ham comes from black pigs that are acorn-fed. The meat is meant to taste much better than swill-fed pigs and fetches a huge price.
Once in Portugal we made our way to Lisbon
Our first night on our own in Lisbon was spent in what appeared to be a fair priced, clean and nice hostel. Bit of a drop from the Marriott which the Trafalgar tour concluded in. Our hostel showed its true colours at night when the 10 or so Polish folk staying on our floor drank, laughed, screamed, banged doors and sang frickin opera until 2am. At that time enough people had complained, some from other floors also, in order for the manager to call the police and threaten to kick the Poles out. All in all we had a terrible nights sleep due to the paper thin walls. Guess that's why it was 20 Euros a night! Soon we are about to head back to Madrid for three nights on route to Istanbul, and some sleep!