A Travellerspoint blog

Dont worry Córdoba...

...I didnt forget you!

semi-overcast 14 °C

Dont get too excited, I dont have any new adventures to talk about yet, you will have to wait until after this weekend, but it seems that i only write about the stuff i do outside of Córdoba, and never the stuff going on here. Given, its nowhere near as exciting, but its just as big a part of this whole experience as the travelling.

Boring stuff first: The Weather. Its cold here! My body thermometer is permanently registered at 65-70 °F, courtesy of beautiful San Diego, and I, as well as many of my other California friends are filling up our mornings complaining about the cold. BUT, truth be told, as much as I dont like being cold, its a nice change to have seasons.

Speaking of seasons, Christmas comes earlier here than in the States. They have no Thanksgiving to wait until as the 'official' start of the Christmas season, so now that its cold enough, we can call it Christmas time. This means that Christmas candies (Turron: nouget with different types of nuts, Mantecados: really buttery and yummy melt-in-your mouth cookies in assorted flavor, chocolate, and an unfortunate assortment of those nasty liquour candies: Marachino cherries here do not mean the deliciosly flourecent ones for the top of your sundae, they mean jellies cherry saturated with Anis (black licorice flavor) liquour native to Córdoba...gross!). Also, Christmas season means that El Corte Ingles, the 'Godfather´of Spanish shopping (aka a huge department store that has EVERYTHING!) has strung lights all over the outside of the building, and the rest of the downtown area has followed suit! They havent turned the lights on at night yet, but the lighting of the city is in just a couple weeks. Its so cute! Like small town,lets-crowd-around-the-fire-and-eat-roasted-chestnuts(which really happens if you go to Valencia)-stroll-through-the-christmas-shops-and-stare-at-the-manger-scenes in the windows(or singing christmas trees), cute!

Despite the cold, I have still managed to get out and about. I finally made my way to one of the Teterías (tea houses) here in Córdoba for some té con leche (tea brewed with milk), my favorite of the teas and infusions here. Entertaining myself at the cines (movie theatres) which are half the price of US theatres, has been interesting. American movies are better in their original voices (not dubbed) but Spanish movies are really good.

My search for warm clothes continues. I definitely didnt bring enough socks when i came, socks were most definitely at the bottom of my list of items to pack back in scorching August, and now im paying for it with frozen toes.

Um, what else is new?? I dunno, cant think of anything specific right now, i need to write stuff down thats odd/different/entertaining when i see it so i can remember to write it later. Well, in that case, we should all get back to whatever activity we were putting off by reading/writing this. Off to Salamanca this weekend to visit Kiki!!!! Making my way to a new part of Spain the central Northwest (just west of Madrid), where we will watch the biggest fútbol match of the season for Spain, Real Madrid vs. F.C. Barcelona!

Much love to all of you. Missing you more now that the holidays are closer, but always thinking about you guys, and cant wait to see you in a month!

Posted by tuffchix 23:54 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Valencia:

Oranges, Paella, friends, the end of being sick!

rain 17 °C

So after a week of doing absolutely nothing (fearing to go too far from ‘el baño’), it was time to get out and about. Marissa was planning to go to Valencia for the weekend and I, ready to get the heck out of Córdoba and shake the last week off called up Sarah (my other future roommate studying in Spain) and two hours later, and just a few hours before our train left, I bought my train tickets and planned to meet up with Sarah there…I love seeing people from home!

A short night sleep later we boarded the 6 hour train to Valencia, home of Valencia oranges, Tomatino (the tomato throwing festival), Paella, Agua de Valencia (Spanish version of mamosas), Horchata de Chufa (made with Chufas, a peanut like nut instead of rice), and gorgeous buildings. I know the last doesn’t sound as exciting as the rest, but Valencia really got the whole architecture thing down right. They found the perfect mix of clean and modern, while maintaining some of the old style and even adding gargoyles to match the architecture of some of the remaining castle walls and churches.

We arrived on Friday afternoon to some light rain and real winter weather. Sweater, Jacket, Scarf, and Boots worthy weather! Wandered the city a little bit before settling in a colourful (by that I mean ever floor was a different color) hostel in the old town. Valencia is on the eastern coast of Spain in the Autonomous Community of Valencia, it’s the 3rd largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona and home to the (new) and famous Cuitat de Les Artes I Les Ciencies (Valenciano for City of Art and Science). We reserved the Ciutat for the following day and instead spent our first 24 hours walking the old town and the sites, and tasting real chestnuts…yes, they were roasted over and open fire!

Valencia is home to the Mercado Central (imagine Pike Street market in Seattle, mixed with the farmer´s market and put under the roof of what looks like an old train station and you have Valencia´s central market). Breakfast was a combination of fresh citrus, oranges and clementinas, from the market, after which we hopped across the street to check out the Lonja. The Lonja looks like a church without an alter or pews, and was the site of the 16th century market in Valencia. We forged on, full of yummy orange-y past the Plaza del Ayuntamiento with its gorgeous fountain and flower vendors, and headed toward the Plaza de la Reina and el Catedral. The Catedral in Valencia would be much like any other cathedral in Spain except that this cathedral is home to ‘La Capilla de Santo Cáliz’ or The Chapel of the Holy Grail. Yes…all you Monty Python fans, I have found the Holy Grail, the quest is over! The not so ornate gold chalice, said to be the chalice drunk from at the Last Supper, is encased in glass behind the chapel’s alter, and while you cant really get close enough to see too many details, I can now say that I have seen ‘El Santo Grail’.

Since we were in church-mode, we decided to cross the park (a river-like park that snakes its way through the city) to the Iglesia de Santa Monica, for a little vanity tourism. But the powers at be were keeping my ego in check, and my namesake church was closed. I had to admire it from outside and be satisfied with the small park just outside the church doors. It was about time to head to the train station to meet Sarah and her friends who were coming in from Alicante, so Marissa and I headed that direction, stopping along the way at a delicious looking bakery we had spotted the night before next to the 200 year old Horchatería.
A couple hours later, all the girls were settled into our hostel and we were on our way to the bus stop bound for the Art and Science Center. The center is divided into 4 parts, only 3 of which are finished. We arrived, walking over and under this botanical modern hallway-type-thing made of hundreds of white iron arches. Then climbed downstairs onto the entrance level of the center. We first headed into the Museu de Les Ciencies Principe Felipe on one side of the large modern walkway, bordered on either side by a shallow light blue pool that gives the effect that the very modern, intricately curved buildings have sprouted out of the serene blue. We entered on one side of the hands-on science museum and made our way up to level one of the exhibits. After bending light rays, changing the tone of our voice, experimenting with mirror illusions and two-way mirrors, we moved test our memories by trying to draw a Euro from memory, or sketch a map of Europe, examining brain cells of Alzheimer patients, and even got to watch a chick hatch out of an egg (note to self, add chick to list of possible pets…and farmer to give it to when its not cute and fuzzy yellow anymore). Then we moved on to my favourite part of the exhibit, ‘Deportes’ (sports). Here you could see how high you jumped and if it was high enough to be a professional rugby player, you could time your 10m sprint, shoot hoops, pretend to be John McEnroe (although a John McEnroe in a rare calm state to save yourself from getting kicked out of the exhibit), measure your height in meters (I am 1.66m) and all while learning who, what, when, where, why, and how?

We only gave ourselves 2 ½ hours in the exhibits before heading to our IMAX show about adrenaline and risk. We didn’t even get to really check out the 3rd floor, but hey, there’s always next time (Ha!). So part II of the science center is called L´Hemisfèric and is the huge dome screen with reclined seats used for Planetarium, laser, and IMAX shows. Of the few offered IMAX shows the next available one was about adrenaline and risk sports. As you laid in the seats, with your headset, which you could select to listen to the show in English, Castellano (our Spanish), or Valenciano, watching a huge screen about adrenaline junkies, we felt pretty ridiculous, but it was actually really neat. It confirmed my desire to skydive, and also my complete lack of desire to base jump (skydiving, but jumping off a cliff, and without a back-up parachute).

After the show, we decided to skip part III, L’Oceanogràfic, a huge biodome/aquarium type thing (after having just been to a stellar biodome in Montreàl, I didn’t really feel the need to drop 20 Euros, $25, on entrance to another one) and headed back to get ready for dinner.

Valencia is famous for many things, but it is the birthplace of Paella. A rice dish made with meat or fish, flavoured and coloured bright yellow with saffron. Paella is actually the name of the HUGE wok-type pan used to cook the food in, but the original name, Arroz de Paella, has just been shortened to Paella. Finding a restaurant that was serving the dish was a little harder than we expected, but when we finally settled into a place, the search and the wait was well worth it. Entertaining ourselves with fun girl talk, there were 6 of us, and a few pitchers of Agua de Valencia, the ½ wait for the freshly prepared Paella de Mariscos (seafood paella) flew by. We stuffed ourselves with the amazing rice dish to the point where it tasted so good we all wanted more, but couldn’t fit another bit into our stomachs (not that there was much left in the pan anyway, between the 6 of us, we downed almost an entire pan, about 18” in diameter…no joke!). After the incredible dinner, we were not about to call it a night and headed out.

Bar #1 was a Cuban club, playing all sorts of fun music but the crowd seemed a little older. We hung out for a few and after being offered birthday cake for a 47 year-olds birthday party, we decided to change scenery, and try and find a place a little more in our (how I say this nicely?), generation. Bar #2 was the Irish pub down the street from our hostel. Murrayfield (how Irish) sold my favourite beer, Paulaner, and had rugby stuff cluttering the walls. We hung out for a while and by the time we climbed down the stairs to head out, the place was packed, and a haze of cigarette smoke. Bar #3, the last for the night, was on the way back to the hostel, and was packed. We spent the end of the night dancing away to horrible music with English words and the repetitive Spanish beat that is the base for all club songs here. Nevertheless, it was fun, and we got to stare at the Spanish version of George Clooney (a.k.a. the bouncer) while dancing our little hearts out.

After that, we headed back to the hostel to get some sleep before our train left the next morning. Getting out again was a nice way to shake off being sick and see a new part of Spain. Also, it was so great to get to see Sarah and have someone around from home that knows about my life before Spain, its nice to have that perspective and that level of comfort, especially this far away from home!

So, that was my weekend. Next weekend its off to Salamanca, east of Madrid to see Kiki, and after that maybe Barcelona, and then Berlin to visit Laura and her family the first week of December. Its starting to feel like the end is in sight, as there are only 5 weeks left in the program, but there is still lots to do, and lots to learn, so I have to remember to stay focused on being here in the moment…aaahhh, always difficult for me. But, I may only do this once, so I better do it right, right?!!!

Posted by tuffchix 00:04 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

"The Aftermath"

Oh Morocco, why do you hurt me so??

all seasons in one day 17 °C

So, as if being sick doesnt suck enough, try doing it 6000 miles from home without any normal medicines or doctor or any of those comfort things. Moroccos was amazing, that is very true, but even more memorable is something I like to refer to as “La revancha de los Almoravides!” Consider it the Moroccan version of Mexico´s Montezuma´s revenge. While we all suffered some bowel discomfort after the trip, my experience was unique. Not only was that taken to a whole new level, but I managed to get a nice little virus somewhere. On Wednesday, my first day back at school, I started to feel flu-ish and by the time I got home that night I had a fever, chills and couldn’t eat a thing. For the next 4 days I split my time laying curled up on my bed and the bathroom, and trying to sleep, the only remedy for what seemed like a slow tortuous death.

In addition, a wonderful wave of homesickness set in and, well, lets just say it was a rough week.

On Monday I headed back to school, feeling like I had things “under control” although not 100% yet. By Wednesday I could eat normal foods again and Thursday gave way to Friday and I felt pretty good. I was so tired of sitting around and I was ready to shake off the whole sickness/homesickness thing and get outta town, and the perfect opportunity came up!

Posted by tuffchix 00:01 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Morocco

Oh crazy Morocco!

semi-overcast 19 °C

Thursday afternoons on long weekends are always a whirlwind. Between the time that class ends, and you get home to eat/finish packing/do any last minute errands you wont be able to do for the rest of the weekend, you find yourself almost always rushing to the bus or train station. As was the case for Cody, Chris, Jessica, Marissa, and I. But, as we are now experienced in matters such as these, we made our bus and at 4pm we were off to Madrid. 4 ½ hours later, we arrived and hopped on the metro (California´s cities really needs to get themselves these systems…BART isn’t enough) and got our hostel where we spent one night before flying out the next morning to MOROCCO!!!!

Our Iberia airlines flight left from Madrid at 11:45am (only a little over an hour late, which makes the signs in the airport advertising for Iberia which say: “Punctuality is our aim” that much more ironic). We arrived in Casablanca, Morocco, and had our first experience with cheap things. Train tickets from Casablanca to Marrakesh (the city we would be spending most of our trip in, located about 1/3 of the way down and about 2 hours from the Atlantic coast) cost 105 Moroccan Dirhams (MAD), which is about $10.00. In Spain a 4 hour train ride like this would cost close to 70Euros, about $85.00. After missing our stop to change trains, we got off at the next one and for a few scary moments didn’t know if we would make it to Marrakesh. But it all worked out and a few hours later we were heading south. The train ride was long and we were ready to be done travelling, but the monotony of the ride was broken up as the sun set…literally.

We had arrived in Morocco during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar and a month that consists of fasting from sun up to sun down, prayer 5 times a day, and extra conservative dress for women. So, when we were on the train and the sun finally set, people ate breakfast (yes, they actually call breakfast the meal when they break the fast). This was our first experience with the generosity of Moroccan people with food. Chris and I were talking with a couple men who worked for the Moroccan government and spoke fairly good English. They were teaching us Arabic and about Ramadan and as soon as they could eat they offered us part of their meal. At first uneasy at taking their food, as we had eaten that day, they wouldn’t let us turn it down and we shared a Ramadan breakfast with them.

We finally arrived in Marrakesh and thanked them for all of their help (and food), and headed into the city towards the main square called Place Jamaa El Fna (you can pronounce it with a French or Arabic accent, as both are spoken there). We walked through the plaza and down some side streets looking for hotels or Riads (hostels) to stay at. In Morocco, people are constantly trying to get you to go to their hostel or hotel, or buy their goods or food, and sometimes they have people out on the streets directing you or leading you to their businesses. This was the case for us, as a younger boy, probably 15 or 16 decided to show us to a hotel just off the main place. We arrived to a fairly clean looking hotel (although it was more like a hostel) and for a grand total of 220MAD per night settled in. There were a few bugs crawling around and the bathrooms were not any place you would want to spend a lot of time in, but then again, we weren’t planning on spending a whole lot of time in our rooms.

We were all starved and headed out to get some grub. In the Place at night there are tons of vendors, all selling the exact same food, that try to get you to eat at their place. They get right up in your face and almost herd you to their kiosk where you can pick what you want to eat and have them cook it right there for you. Every kiosk is numbered, and for dinner that night and every night after we chose #55. We were very weary of the food, having been warned a million times about all the dangers of eating unpeeled, uncooked, or raw foods so we opted for all cooked things that night, including a traditional Moroccan dish called Pastilla. Pastilla is a delicious bird covered in almond and cinnamon paste wrapped with pastry dough and sprinkled with flour or powdered sugar on the outside. It sounds wonderful until I tell you that the meat inside is paloma, which is either pigeon or dove depending on who you talk to, and apparently isn’t all that uncommon. It grosses me out to think that I ate pigeon, but it really was tasty.

After dinner we strolled the main Place, joining a Morccon drum circle for a few minutes (I can now put musician on my résumé), and being constantly approached by all-too-cute children begging to sell you a rose for a few dirhams. After a long couple days of travelling we headed back to the ‘hotel’ and hit the hay, laying down on some uncomfortable beds and the hardest, most lumpy pillows I have ever felt (imagine rolling up shag carpet and stuffing it in a pillowcase…kinda like that). Regardless, it was nice to lay down and go to sleep, rest would be much needed for the days to come.

Saturday: Our first full day in Morocco started off with fresh squeezed orange juice from one of the many identical orange juice vendors in the Place. We headed next to a park where we heard camels could be ridden and where a beautiful lake with a view of the Atlas mountains was…man, where we disappointed. Two piddly looking camels, a dirty pond, and no view of the mountains through the smog left us a little bitter for having to pay for a taxi out there. But, you cant dwell on that, so what do you do when you are a little discouraged, well, if you are with Cody and Chris, you go eat! So, we did. This was our first experience with Moroccan mint tea, and Moroccan bread, both absolutely delicious. The bread is like a thick version of the delicious tortillas they sell on the streets in Old Town San Diego, and the tea is a ridiculously sweet version of mint tea, never had anything like it!

After that, we had more energy and decided to head towards the tombs where (please excuse the blunt and probably politically incorrectness of this statement) the dead arabic dudes where buried. I cant say that they were all famous, or rulers, or special, cause they weren’t, but it is one of the few actual tourist sights IN Marrakech, so I felt a little obligated to check it out. To spice up the place we attempted to spell out Morocco in Arabic body language, but, given our lack of Arabic knowledge, it just turned into a jumble of arms and legs in random directions, resulting in us just looking ridiculous, as usual! We left the tombs and started to walk back towards the place, losing ourselves in ‘the real Marrakech’ among the natives and their shops, off the beaten path of the tourist. As the only white people in the neighbourhood, we got some pretty interesting looks, and us 3 girls, dressed differently than the rest of the women, were especially looked at differently, but that’s the nice thing about having 6’3” and 6´4” guy friends travelling with you, if ever uncomfortable, hide just drop back next to them, and its like this wall pops up. It’s a very different feeling for me to feel like I actually NEEDed someone to be behind me, just in case. It was definitely an added comfort of having the boys with us, and something I was very thankful for a few times in the souks (markets).

After finding our way out of the maze of coral coloured stucco buildings, motorcycle repair shops, and meat shops with live chickens hanging upside down inside, we were back out on the main street. Hunger set in, and we faithfully headed back to #55 for dinner. We tried some new things, vegetable cous-cous made the favourites list, as did aubergine (my personal favourite)! As would be the case ever night after, mint tea flowed non-stop, and we walked away satisfied. As we walked back to our hotel, we ran into Juan Ma, Marissa´s Spanish brother, with his dad and friends who happened to be playing tourist in Morocco as well. After having a ‘copa’ (drink) with them, we headed back to the hostel for some shut-eye.

Sunday morning was warm but slightly overcast, much like most of the other days, and in the search for breakfast food, decided that there was no need for anything nutritional that morning, and decided on ice cream, Moroccan pistachio ice cream is nowhere near as good as David Rico pistachio here in Córdoba, I can tell you that much! But, it satisfied my breakfast craving, and we were ready to go! Now, so far I have made it sound like we have spent hardly any time in the souks, the Moroccan markets where you haggle and they haggle and you bargain and they bargain for anything from shoes to turbans to tea sets to Moroccan rugs, but I have mislead you, sorry. We had done our fair share of shopping but today was THE shopping day. We found yet another new market area and bought spices, clothes, handicrafts and in Chris´s case, a rug making him the winner of the ‘who-can-bring-home-the-most-extra-weight’ contest. The souk experience is like any other market (like in Mexico) where you get herded into shops and have to bargain down absurd prices, BUT the mix of colors, languages, materials, crafts, smells, and a zillion other factors also make the souks of Marrakech entirely different.

We heard some of the funniest things while in the souks. Some of the common hooks to get you in the shops were, “You speak English?” or “Where you from?” (after which we would make them guess where we got every continent of the world except for North America…go figure). My favourite hook line had to be, “For you I make good price,” after which they take down whatever you had slightly glanced at and whip out the pad of paper to start the bargaining receipt where you pass it back and forth writing down your prices. Then they offer you their, “Ultimate last price,” and when you walk away, unwilling to pay they quickly chase after you saying, “No, not my ultimate last price,” and continue to bargain until you go too low and they walk away looking disgusted, and you realize you didn’t want it that bad anyway, or they concede and you now have another piece of Morocco to take back with you. It’s a process, and is fairly tiring as a shopper, I cant imagine how frustrated/tired/bored of the whole bargaining process the shop owners must be at the end of their day.

At the end of our day, we dropped our purchases off at the hotel. We walked in the door about the time of break-fast again and the dueño (hotel operator) offered, in true Moroccan spirit, to share his meal with us. We tasted traditional Moroccan soup, made of vegetables, had some coffee, and hard boiled egg (and a couple other things that were probably on the list of things you are not supposed to eat while in Morocco), which tied us over until dinner. We headed up to our rooms, to change into our traditional Moroccan garb, the boys in all linen and turbans and us girls in our head covers and linen shirts. Dinner at #55 again for some more of our favourite foods and our great evening was only slightly dampened, pun intended.

It had started to rain a bit, but that was manageable. The real drag was the tourist group of Americans that sat down next to us. They managed to find everything in the world to pick at. From the food, to the city, to the fact that “this” experience (in Morocco), is just as “cultural” of an experience as you would get “shopping for a leather jacket at Gucci in Milan.” I was utterly disgusted! Sometimes I don’t understand why people travel, and its that kind of tourists that give other American travellers a bad name…UUGGHH!! After those comments, I just blocked out the rest of their complaints and enjoyed my dinner and tea.

Sunday was our last night in Marrakech and what is there to do in Marrakech…SHOP! Even the guys were into the whole shopping thing, which never happens, and we wandered through the souks adding more to our purchase collection!

Monday (HALLOWEEN!!!!) we weren’t leaving until later that night and decide to do something different. So, we sought out somewhere to ride camels for real! We hopped in a cab and 20 minutes later all 5 of us were on top of camels, being led through this desert/oasis (yes I know those are oxymoronic but what would you call a ton of sand-dirt punctuated with palm trees?). The ride lasted just long enough for my bum to start hurting (I guess that Saharan trek by camel will have need some training beforehand). Upon paying and leaving we encountered some difficulty. We had negotiated 200MAD for everyone, and they ‘camel guy’ wanted 200MAD a piece, saying it was more because they had taken our picture and blah blah bullcrap! After arguing and handing over 400MAD we walked away and hopped in the cab, a little nervous, not entirely sure what to do. Lucky for us the drive took off and we were heading back to town. MAKE SURE YOU ARE CLEAR ABOUT PRICES BEFORE GETTING ON A CAMEL. That is a good message for any purchase in Morocco, make sure you and they know what you want and how much you are paying for it so you don’t have to deal with situations like that later…not fun! Afterward I didn’t know if I should feel bad for walking away, or good for standing my ground about the negotiation. I resolved that the compromise was decent and there was nothing more to do, and besides, I had ridden a camel in Morocco, how often does that happen??!?!!!

The rest of the day we spent wandering around the city. I spent a short time on Cody´s shoulders making us the next tallest thing in Morocco after the Minaret, getting lost for and hour on the way back to the Place and eating for the last time at #55. We gathered out things after dinner and headed to the train station. In honour of Halloween we bought some ‘fun size’ Mars bars for the train ride back to Casablanca and pretended that we didn’t miss Halloween that much (what a lie!). In Casablanca we managed to slyly stuff 5 people into a room for 3 (yes, college students are mischievous/cheap like that) for our last night in Africa!

Tuesday morning we took the short train back to the airport for our (much more on time) flight back to Madrid. Once in Madrid, we had 30 minutes to get off the plane, get our bags, get through customs, and get to the bus station…and we made it! Thank God, because the next bus wouldn’t have gotten us back to Córdoba until 1am and we were all tired of travelling.

Morocco had tons of things to see and try, experience and enjoy! It’s a trip I had wanted to take for a long time, and Im so glad I took the chance to get to Northern Africa, especially when it was so accessible….although, I wasn’t too happy with myself the week following.

Posted by tuffchix 23:49 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Eiiwww sick!

wake up and smell the....chicken???

overcast 14 °C

Just thought you would all want to know that this morning, as I walked past the butcher on my way to school (one of the few businesses open at that hour) I saw him hack off the feet of a chicken....yuck! Not that im eating much chicken these days with the whole bird flu thing over here, but that was just waaaaaayy too graphic for 8am.

Posted by tuffchix 23:51 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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