Tuesday, September 30, 2008

africa?? you bet!

this is a long post... and i won't apologize.
when i was younger, i remember making a list of places that i wanted to go before i died. on that list, i included africa; and while morocco isn't exactly the africa i pictured in my young-girl heart- i am still putting a check mark on that list. the final stop on our initial travels took us to this strange and interesting place. we got into morocco pretty late at night and only had one sketchy reservation at a hostel so we took a bus from the airport to the town hoping we would figure out something once we got there. we walked off the bus to find a bustling main square full of temporary restaurants that only come out at night, markets that sell just about EVERYTHING, little kids playing, street performers, snake charmers, men selling old teeth and so many people! although we were a little overwhelmed, cade found some girls who were staying at our same hostel and had actually printed a map! the luck! cade really does have the best luck. anyway, we started walking to the market and learned our first moroccan lesson: do not make eye contact with anyone. here is a shot of some snake charmers we took from the roof of a restaurant. if they see you take a picture, they ask for a ton of money... so we just used our zoom feature.

as we were winding our way through the market, a man saw we all had packs on and a map in our hands. he started walking next to us so we naturally looked at him to see what he was up to. at this point he guessed the name of our hostel and said, 'i will take you to equity point' (the name of the place). i had read about how people in morocco will demand money for any service they perform for you (aka guiding you somewhere) or even for taking pictures. i told the others about the scheme and we all started telling the man to leave us alone and that because we have a map, we do not want him to take us. almost as though he couldn't hear us, he trucked on alongside us trying to walk in front of us. at one point, one of the girls we were with tried to pass him to show she knew where we were going but all this did was fuel a speed walking contest and eventually- the man won. finally we managed to find a little hole in the wall where a long series of tunnels led us to a door in the stone wall. we knocked and found out we were at the right place. immediately, our little amigo demanded some money for his 'services.' grudgingly we all paid him as little as possible and slipped inside only to find that our reservation was just as shady as we had originally thought. there was only room for one of us and they would not budge to let one more in.
the man called one of his friends who showed up at the door a few minutes later to take us back through the tunnels to another door in the wall. this door led to a beautiful riad with the most amazing interior. we knew that it would probably be a little more expensive than our hostel, but it was so fun and authentic, we ended up staying there a night and then going to our hostel the other two nights.

the night was young- so after settling in a little, we headed off to the market for dinner. it was a such a fun place. once you hit the square, the servers from all the different spots come and try and persuade you to come to their booth. the best part is, they all serve the same thing so you are safe no matter what you choose. we decided to just sit down as quick as possible to avoid a huge scene. the food was good and cade loved the arabic coke (of course, cade knows his mother's wishes and drank it grudgingly).

afterwards we decided to take a look at some of the shops. they were tempting me all through dinner with their colorful scarfs and rows of cool looking shoes. this is where we learned lesson number 2: don't walk into a shop unless you are full prepared to buy something. as we started looking people would say anything to get us to stop. once we made eye contact (see lesson #1) they had us. not fully educated yet, we made eye contact and eventually listened to a man convince us he had the best scarves at his shop. we followed him down a few shops and the next thing i know i turn around to find cade looking like this:

that's right. the man had dressed him head to toe. i was so wrapped in scarves by this point i could barely see him but we both got a good laugh out of our situation. as you can tell by the picture, after some intense bargaining cade walked away with the entire outfit (see lesson #2) with my voice echoing all the while- when will you wear that stuff. the answer has been clear ever since: always. even as i type this sentence, cade is sitting on our bed wearing his beloved robe (ali baba as he calls it) while reading. and yes- i walked away with one of the many scarves the men had wrapped around my neck (see again lesson #2). not wanting to get sucked in again, we kept our eyes low and wound our way back to our hotel. marrakesh really was funny because the market was full of people trying to make money. at one point, a guy with a tassel on his head jumped in front of us as we were walking and started dancing all over the place. when he had finished, he held out his hat for money. what do you do???! and that was all day one....
day two, we thought we would hit up all the museums and mosques. the crazy part about finding your way around marrakesh is that the main section of museums and markets is full of small, winding alleyways where no cars fit but are packed with people and motorbikes. we asked for a map from our hotel only to find the section we wanted to map out was a big orange blob labeled 'the souqs,' meaning it was too much to map out. nonetheless, we left that morning optimistic we would find whatever we needed without hiring any more 'guides.' we were wrong...
to give you an idea of what these tunnels look like, here is a video of us getting to out hostel from the main market... and, no... we didn't add the music in.

the souqs are like a maze that never ends. the deeper you go, the more you realize you have no idea where you are. this is where we learned lesson number 3: never look at your map in public. once we showed the slightest bit of confusion we were approached by a handful of 'guides' loking to take us to the museum or mosque. a few of them tried the 'walk along side' method that our little amigo tried the night before, so cade and i would just turn around and walk the opposite way- refusing all help. little did our little guides know, they were pointing us in the right direction, and after we had successfully shaken them off, we continued towards our destinations reassured we were going the right way. i don't feel the least bit bad for it either because their idea of payment is like 50 dollars. ya right.
finally, we found the museum we were looking for. here is lesson number 4: during ramadan, things can close at any time, people are all so hungry, and we are pretty clueless about the rest of the muslims traditions. the museum we had been searching for all morning was closed for the rest of the day for ramadan. ok....

so as we turned down a different street, another guide approached asking us if we were going to the tanneries and pointed the way we were going. we said no, did our little back track method and decided to try out the tanneries after all. the tanneries were very difficult to find as well, which meant shaking off a bunch more guides in the process. finally, as we were getting closer, a man approached us and started doing the 'walk alongside' method. we told him we would not pay him and he turned around and said he did not want any money, but he would still show us the place. we were skeptical, but we followed. he led us to a tannery and showed us inside where he immediately introduced us to a shady looking fellow (ah! this is why the first guy said it was free!) who said he would show us around. he handed us both big clumps of fresh (a debatable term) mint leaves to hold to our noses.

it wasn't too long before i realized why. going to the tannery made me grateful for every piece of leather i have ever owned.... EVER. it was sooo stinky and there were piles of animal hides and hair everywhere. i was in my little flip flops and was seriously concerned that i was going to contract some fatal disease, but we obediently followed our new guide around. he walked us through the piles and across small planks of cement that separated big pits of a pigeon poo mixture and some sort of coloring liquid. men were waste deep in the guck soaking large slabs of hide and laying them out to dry in the sun. thus the smell. i have never seen anything like it.

surprisingly, this shady guide didn't ask for money either and cade and i were wondering what kind of deal we had found; however, as he took us out of the tannery there was another man waiting to meet us and take us to his leather shop. this is the point cade and i realized the money making scheme we had been roped into. we walked into the shop and the shop owner started showing us all his leather goods. as impressed as we were, the man was asking ridiculous amounts of money for everything and we really didn't want to buy anything. he kept pushing us (see lessons #1 and 2) and finally cade walked out of the store. 'there goes my money!' i explained but the man wouldn't let me leave! cade was waiting outside and i finally got out of there and practically ran down the street. the next thing we know, our little tannery guide was running behind us demanding money. we thought it would be good to pay him since he showed us the place, so we gave him some money. apparantly, it was not enough. he started getting really mad and looking around, i realized we were the only tourists on the whole street. we finally got out of there and, again, laughed at the craziness of it all. after the tanneries, we allowed ourselves to be convinced into a few more fun buys, went out the market to eat with some friends and spent the rest of the night chatting with some friends in the hostel.

after all the madness of the first two days, we decided to take a nice break from the streets and get hammam massages. we weren't quite sure what that was, but a girl at the hostel highly recommended it. this was an interesting experience. we soon found ourselves in a steam room with a little moroccan lady who told me to take off all my clothes and for cade to leave just his underwear on. she then proceeded to bathe us with hammam, a kind of soap. she would lather us up and then leave us in the room for a while. you may think this is TMI for a little blog post but it really happened. i will admit that it was a little interesting to have someone bathe me... if you want more details of the hilarity of our bathing session, you'll have to hear it in person.
after the bathing, we were led to a room where we got full body massages.... that's right... full body. it was interesting to see that a country that requires so much modesty in their women still had traditions like this. it really was fun- definitely a cultural experience i won't forget.

this brought us to the end of our trip; but even as we were leaving, we still broke lesson 1 and 2 in the market. as we were walking out, cade made eye contact with one of the henna women who sit in the square. they have been asking to do henna since we got into marrakesh and i just didn't want it. well, after eye contact was made, the next thing i know, this lady has a death grip on my hand and is drawing all sorft of designs with her henna pen on my hand. i tried to pull away and it just made her leave a long streak up my pinkie finger. i told her i wouldn't pay her because i had no money- which was true... cade had it all. she just kept drawing and telling me i would have healthy babies and that my eyes were pretty. the design was all over my hand and every time i tried to pull away- she would mess up again. finally, i wiggled free and she told me to give her something of mine.... she wanted 'something american.' i honestly had nothing to give this lady. by this point, cade was at a safe distance, watching me try to get out of this one... the lady asked for my necklace- ya right. she then asked for my earrings. i was not getting out of this. annoyed at this point that i was covered in henna when i had to start work in 2 days, i took out my earrings and handed them over wondering all the while if that is even legal to demand my possessions. the earrings were old and the lady needed money, so i guess it was win-win in the end.
we had so many other adventures here like almost walking into a mosque (a big no, no), eating at roof top cafes, and just hanging out in the midst of it all. marrakesh really was such a fun place. it was so different from any place i have ever seen. the bargaining and money scams were all just part of the experience. we loved the craziness of it all and would go back in a second... after learning all these lessons: we are ready!

Monday, September 29, 2008

spain's final stop...

while spain is one of the slightly larger countries in europe, i was always under the impression that it was very small in comparison and everything was relatively close together. with this false assumption in our dreamy heads, cade and i boarded a bus from barcelona to madrid, looking to finish up our spain trip with a little time in the capital. we settled into our seats, pulled out our harry potter and tetris game, and took off. about twenty minutes into the bus ride, the driver got on the speaker and made a long, loud message in thpanish. not understanding any of it, i watched cade's facial expression change from yay no nay. the announcer was telling the bus that the non-stop trip to madrid was going to take close to eight hours- so we had better get comfy. it was a good thing we bought a chocolate bar before we came on because we were stuck on the bus until 1:30 in the morning. around 11, the driver made an unexpected stop and we dashed from the bus to use the bathroom and buy some chips from a vending machine. it was insane! but don't worry, we rolled into madrid at 1:30 with no place to stay and no plans.
we thought it would be easy to get off the bus and just ask around for a hostel or hotel, but as we pulled in- we realized we were pretty much outside of the city. some one pointed us towards the metro line and told us our best chance for finding a place for the night was to take it into town. we bought our passes, jumped on a train and headed towards the city. realizing we had to change metro lines, we got off our train and sat down to wait for the next one which would take us the rest of the way. the only problem was, there was no 'next one.' the metro had stopped for the night. but as you can see in this picture, we sure sat down there hoping and praying one would please come and get us. you'll notice we are the only ones down there.

we thought about sleeping in the metro, but i have seen too many movies to know what happens when you do that. we finally surfaced to the road, flagged down a taxi and paid one zillion dollars to get into town- but by this point it was one zillion dollars well spent. when we got into town, it was a party! it was 3 in the morning and by the looks of it, you would think it was 7 at night. the streets were packed with people, most of which were waiting outside clubs or just socializing. i couldn't believe it. cade and i wound our way through the crowds with our packs on trying to see a hostel with a vacancy sign... it seemed like everything was full!! we finally walked into a hotel and asked the front desk if he had any rooms at all. he told us they were booked. we were crushed! where were we going to sleep!? we were getting desperate, so cade turned to the guy and asked again if every bed in the hotel was full. the man laughed and told cade he had lots of beds- just not for married people. he apologized again for not being able to help. confused, cade asked again what kind of beds he had available. the guy replied that he had plenty of rooms with two twin beds in them but nothing for couples. we started laughing, gave the man our money and let him know that at 3 in the morning- we don't care if we sleep in the same bed. what a weird guy.
we slept like little babes in our twins that night and woke up in the early afternoon ready to see the city. after the long bus ride and sleeping in so long, our stomachs were sucking up against our spines. lucky for us, a burger king was right down the street- and even luckier, they had a great family deal going on. we ordered the family meal that is suppose to feed a family of four and gorged in the goodness that bk had to offer. it is kind of funny to think that in the middle of a historic city with such beautiful sights, cade and i cherish the memory our beast feast at bk.

turns out, there were other cool places in madrid besides the bk. i looooved the park!

there is the most beautiful park in the center of the city that was so fun. it was so full of culture, families, and friends. it seemed like a utah family night at the park for every family in madrid. the street performers put on little plays or juggled on unicycles for the kids while everyone our age gathered in the center to participate in the drum circles. people were dancing, playing hackysack, playing with those stick thingys (i hope someone understands what i mean by that) and every other hippie activity. we had fun people watching at the drum circles; but after being asked if we wanted to buy hashish a few times, we moved on. aside from the drugs- i really did love this park. it made me want to build a place like that back home. a place where culture is so alive and families are together. what a great park!

we didn't have much time in madrid but we loved sightseeing and the food. it was a great end to spain.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

barcelona: in pictures

i know that we have been here in brussels for like 2 weeks now and we haven't even posted once on our experiences at work, but we are trying to get our updated info all done on the blog. a brussels post will come this week... we promise.

barcelona was a great stop on our trip- mostly because of all the cool architecture. good old gaudi sure left his mark on this city and years after his death, it turned out amazing! we took a bus from costa brava and ended up in barcelona with just enough daylight to find a hostel, rent some bikes and start our tour. we headed to the street markets first, of course, after we had heard it was packed with weird merchandise and interesting people- we were not disappointed. among the great jewelry and bags, the street market proudly sold live animals of various sorts and all kinds of flowers. in one stop on the street i could walk away with a necklace, turtle, chinchilla and a few roses. target's got nothin on this market. our other favorite sight in the market was all the street performers. there were people holding completely still with their entire body painted gold or black, reenacting a famous statue or painting (stinkingly similar to that great arrested development episode), others dressed as ronaldinho and did cool soccer moves...some painted pictures and some just bluntly asked for your money without any show at all.. grown adults dress up in all sorts of crazy outfits and just go to the market all day to make a living. cade loved the idea and started thinking of all the places in the states he could make good money trying something like this which gave me horrible visions of our kids bringing cade to carreer day at school all dolled up like abe lincoln (the person cade thinks he could do best). 'my dad is abe lincoln for a living.' yikes...

after the street market, we biked over to la sagrada familia, the most famous of the bacelona buildings. this thing is HUGE! gaudi started it years and years ago, but died before it was done. they are still trying to finish it; however, gaudi never made real blueprints for anything he built so it is taking the architects quite a while to figure out exactly what the rest is supposed to look like. it was really great to see.

the next day, with my b.spears hat and our little bikes, we set out to see the rest of the architectural wonders of barcelona. but first- we made a quick stop at the bakery. cade and i have fallen in love with europe's bakeries and it is actually getting out of hand.

as far as our tour went, one of my very favorite stops was gruell park. another one of gaudi's creations, this park looked like an underwater kingdom full of mosaic tile... literally full. the walls, the benches, the ceilings, the sculptures... everything was mosaic tile. we started to bike there and were surprised to see that it was built at the top of a huge hill. 'let's go europe' forgot to mention that part. we huffed it up the hill as best we could...sweat dripping down my face. one english guy yelled out to me as i passed by at a snail's pace- 'you can do it! almost there!' at that point, i turned around, looked him in the eye and said 'no, actually i can't. thanks.' and cade and i walked the rest of the hill. the view from the top was awesome and it was a blast to wander through the park. well worth the sweat.

finally, another video clip. this is us biking through the streets of barcelona to the picasso museum (a great art museum, by the way). we just pretty much biked wherever we wanted, and as you can see- it caused a small problem.

overall, we loved barcelona.. a great stop on our tour de spain.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

to the coast!

the nice thing about not making any reservations in advance is- you have nowhere you need to be, which is exactly where cade and i loved being: nowhere. after our girona detour, we looked at a map and decided to put off barcelona just a wee bit longer and head out to the coast. oh...and we were so glad we did.
we took a bus out to costa brava, a section of the spanish coast which is mostly rocky cliffs but also has amazing little beaches that open up between the cliffs. we pulled into the small town and headed straight to the tourist office. cade had been looking for ways to impress me for quite a while now, but once we got into spain- the gloves were off. it was spanish time! we walk into the tourist office and the next thing i know the lady at the counter is cade's best friend. she starts loading up a bag of all sorts of free notebooks, travel maps, pens... you name it. she pointed out a nice hotel not too far away and we were off and i was impressed.
our little hotel, hotel cliper, was small but really fun. we had our own little balcony that looked over main street that we would sit out on at night and people watch while sipping on some aquarius.... it was the life. the beach was really close to where we were staying, but our little amiga back at the tourist office told us the best beaches are along a coastal road which takes you up a mountain and then down to the beach...and up another mountain and down to another little beach. it sounded great to us, so the next day we were off on a little scooter we rented...

we loved it. the first hour or so on the scooter, i think i said 'cade! be careful!' around 314 times and he had a white line around his stomach where i had applied my death grip. but after realizing that life was ok and the scooter would not kill us- i loosened up and we were out and about.
the guy at the scooter shop told us in his thpanish a really old route to take to the coastal openings. we would head towards the coast but would cut in and out of old, medieval cities. how adventurous!

this is one of the only pictures we had someone take of us- now you know why every picture posted up until now has been taken by cade's long arm rather than a stranger...yes, that's the stranger's finger.

don't worry- despite the heat or awkwardness, cade never parted from his dear helmet.

i always have wanted to post a video on the blog before... but i just haven't ever done it. as i was looking through our pictures, we have a ton of video from this day, so i thought it only appropriate to enter in a little video. there are a few items to notice in this video: cade's undying obsession with the english accent (thank you jim dale... and while we're at it, let's thank chumbawamba for all they are/were), my worried ranting, and our hotel.

so as you can see, we were having a blast on our little ride. here are a few more shots.
beautiful coastline...

beaches aside, another part of spain i already miss is all the naked ladies. seriously... some skin just doesn't need to see the sun. don't worry- this is the only picture of a beach where everyone's nubbins are covered. you're welcome.

it was perfect. we were on the scooter all day long and at the end of the day i got that feeling you get when you've been on roller skates too long and you feel like you are still gliding- but it was all worth it. we headed back to town, stopped at our favorite crepe place and fell asleep to another chapter of harry potter.

another unexpected stop...

dear old venice meant the end of italy for us, but as sad as we were to leave- we were pleased as punch to finally get to spain! so, back on a plane we went. the airfare here is insane; you can get a flight for soooo cheap. the only problem is the airports are in more obscure places. when we planned our trip to spain, we decided to fly into a little city called girona- which is near enough to barcelona which is where we wanted to go. we planned on hopping on a train headed to the big city straight off the plane, but as we got into girona, we decided it looked kinda cute and not so touristy which made us decide to stay a bit. this decision was also heavily influenced by a place to eat called bocatta. compared to italy, it was twice the food for a third of the price and we ate like kings in girona.
despite the lack of tourists, there really were a bunch of things to see here, so i just included a few shots of what we did here...
first on the list, we woke up early to hike the infamous city wall. girona was once surrounded by a huge barrier that protected the entire city. we hiked a few flights of stairs and found ourselves walking along the top of it like the great wall of girona. every few meters there were little slits in the wall like this.

they gave little peeks of the city and the outer areas (which don't look so threatening anymore). the wall would lead us to a tower every once in a while that we would climb and look out over the city. it was a fun little morning hike and the views of girona were beautiful.

afterwards, we wandered some gardens, visited some churches and eventually moved on .... on where???

Thursday, September 18, 2008

la venezia

the train ride from cinque terre to venice was a long one- but again, harry potter made the best of it. we are sucked in. but it was so nice to finally arrive at our hotel:

it looks a little dumpy, but we actually really liked this place. located about 15 minutes from the heart of venice, our hostel/campground called 'plusted' (perhaps a play on the english accent of the word plastered, which everyone at plusted was) offered a shuttle service to and from venice every thirty minutes and ended up saving us loads. plusted was soo much cheaper than anywhere in the city. our little cabin had two twin beds with awful mattresses- but we weren't there too often, so it was great!
i had been scouring 'let's go europe on a budget' for all sorts of travel tips and sights in venice and we had heard from people some fun things to do- but when it all came down to it, we decided to spend the whole day in venice with no agenda.... no plans, no place to be, no time limit. it turned out to be perfect.
we took the bus into town, got off and started winding our way through the narrow little streets which often just led us to the canals.

the canals were so cool because they were just like italian job. everyone seems to have their own little boat and instead of cars, everyone just takes a boat to eat or to see their friends. if you look in the picture above you will see little doors with steps that lead right into the water. venice truly is a beautiful city. how on earth did they manage to build it?!?
no, we did not take a gondola ride- and i am not afraid to admit why... we are not japanese/billionaires. they were charging soo much money and seeing the same things cade and i were seeing on foot- so we opted out and took the much cheaper water taxi. i loved the water taxi. it is like a city bus that has stops and everything. we just bought a ticket and rode around to see the city from the canals. we had to stay on the big canals, but it was great weather and the city is so fun just to look at.
they were cool to see, but we left the gondolas open for all the rich asians.

we enjoyed our freedom as we stopped in little outdoor markets or to sit on the stairs somewhere and listen to a street performer play the guitar. our appetite for gelato only became more insatiable and i think we downed like 4 cones.

again, just asking for cade's opinion on venice, he summed up our experience quite well: 'very romantic,' he says. i agree. it is a charming city and we can't wait to go back.