Thursday, October 28, 2010

Home Sweet Home and What Next?


Home does, in fact, always feel sweet when we return from a trip.  As of midnight last night, we’re both back in Olalla, busy re-stocking the refrigerator and pantry, catching up on a month’s worth of mail, doing laundry, mowing the lawn and working to get over jet-lag, not yet successfully.


Next up, 3 weeks from now, is an 11-day trip to the Carribean for Thanksgiving, accompanied by Mackenzie, Matt and Adrienne.  Unfortunately Ryan and Jaime will be in India then, so can’t join us.  After that, we head back to Baja the first week of January in the Arctic Fox, expecting to stay until end of March, at which time we’ll cross the border and roam the Southwest U.S. for a bit before coming home.


After that, we’re discussing lots of possibilities:  Vietnam and other S.E. Asia destinations with Bob’s sister Lynn and her husband David; New Zealand with friends Jim and Phebe; a 4-month boating trip from Key West, Florida north to Greenland through the Northwest Passage to Alaska, and back to Bellingham, Washington; or a year-long boating circumnavigation of The Great Loop, which is a trip up the Hudson River, through the Great Lakes to Chicago, down the Illinois and Ohio Rivers to the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway to Mobile, Alabama, across to Florida and around the tip, then back up the Intracoastal Waterway to the beginning. 

What do you think of those ideas and what other adventures might you suggest?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Real Portugal

We’re at an airport hotel in the industrial part of Lisbon. After checking in, Bob went for a walk to see if there were any nearby restaurants, or whether we were doomed to room service pizza for dinner.  No idea what the name is of the place he found, but we arrived at 7:30 and found only one other couple, quite elderly, in the place, plus the late middle-aged couple who run it – she cooks, he takes orders and serves. The menu was hand-written, and we couldn’t decipher a word, so pointed at the first item on the top and requested a 1/2 litre of red wine (we’ve learned how to ask for that in Portuguese).  A short time later our plate arrived with a whole fish on it, including skeleton and tail, a pile of fried potatoes and a salad of lettuce, tomatoes and raw onions. Soon men started arriving from work. Eventually there were 22 Portuguese men seated at the little tables in what looked just like a tavern.  Everyone had the same fish we had, or alternatively a plate of spaghetti with meatballs. This was a real working class place, and we were quite the oddities there. We got the impression they’d never seen tourists inside before.  But the fish was delicious, we enjoyed the people watching, and Cathryn stuck her head into the kitchen to say “thank you” and “good” to the wife who did the cooking, two things she can now say in Portuguese.  A fun end to our time here. 

Back to Lisbon, headed home soon


(photo above: the pillory)

This morning we left Coimbra and took a back-road highway to the village of Obidos, two hours south. Obidos sits atop a hill and is corralled by a 14th century wall, 45 feet tall and surrounding narrow cobblestone lanes lined with white-washed houses trimmed in yellow or bright blue with pots of flowers at every window and red tile roofs.  It’s charming, and small.


The town has lots of tiny shops offering Portuguese crafts, bottles of ginjinha (cherry liqueur, which we did not try) and painted tiles. It’s complete with a square, a castle, and a pillory to which local bad boys were tied in the 16th century to endure whatever punishment was deemed appropriate. 


To finish our day we drove back to Lisbon, endured terrible traffic to find a big mall with a bookstore (so we could buy junk novels in English to read on the airplane tomorrow; and for Bob, the next day and the next day), then turned in our rental car and took a taxi to our hotel.  Tomorrow we rise early to catch 7 and 7:30 am flights out of Lisbon, headed home.  Cathryn flies to Frankfurt and Washington D.C., arriving home Tuesday night; Bob flies to Madrid, Paris and Houston, arriving home Thursday night unless he’s able to get a flight in Houston a day early.  We’ll see. 

Portugal has been lovely, and we recommend it for those who find themselves anywhere nearby, though it’s small enough (same size as Indiana) not to serve as a primary destination all it’s own from so far away as Seattle. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Coimbra (pronounced Qweem-brah)


We headed south on the tollway out of Porto, this time enjoying the scenery we missed 3 days ago due to fog. The countryside is pretty, and the weather was pleasant.  Coimbra is THE university town of Portugal, housing many old buildings on the hill rising above the river Mondego. After checking into our hotel in the city center, we stopped at one of the ubiquitous cafes for a cup of coffee and a pastry, then wandered up the hill, through and around the campus, and back down the city streets.  It’s a small-ish town (160,000 residents), and on a Sunday no students were visible, so the campus was quiet. 


The University and town are an interesting architectural mix.  Much of the old city, built on a hill, is made up of centuries-old buildings placed erratically leaving cobblestone “streets”, many no more than 5 feet wide, to find their way between the buildings. On the University campus at the top of the hill, some of the older buildings are former palaces from the days when Coimbra was the capital of Portugal, when the Moors ruled the south of the country, including Lisbon. Other buildings are legacies of the Salazar dictatorship, built to reflect the facist monumentalism of the Italian dictator Mussolini – some even designed by the same architect.


Given the nice weather, Cathryn decided to go for a run along the river (her first in almost 4 weeks since leaving home) while Bob explored the city some more and had another cup of coffee at a sidewalk cafe. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010


On our last night in Porto, we walked to Guarany, a nice restaurant on the square, for Saturday dinner at 8:00 (a little on the early side by European standards). The food, wine and service were all excellent, and at 9:30 the music began:  Fado, a popular form of Portuguese music sung by a female (are they all beautiful, or only this one?) accompanied by two male instrumentalists.


Fado began centuries ago in Lisbon, sung by the wives of men who went to sea for lengthy and dangerous fishing trips, or men accompanying explorers to unknown worlds. The women sing of love for their man, and the sadness knowing they might never see him again, or for years if he did come back alive. The music was beautiful with a bit of a haunting tone to it. We stayed for two sets, then wandered back to our hotel.

Porto, Day 2

We continued our tour of Porto today, so here’s the day in pictures.


Livraria Lello, a famous bookstore in Porto that is, for us, reminiscent of Elliott Bay Bookstore, formerly of downtown Seattle, though Lello is grander.




Casa Da Musica, a music school designed by Rem Koolhaas, the Dutch architect who designed the downtown Seattle Library.  While it’s probably a more complex building design due to the need to deal with acoustics for the concert halls, it isn’t as visually interesting as the library. We took a tour and enjoyed it.


Today's transit photo, we rode the Metro out to Casa Da Musica.



After another lunch at an outdoor sidewalk cafe (at the end of October!) we took an hour long boat cruise on the River Doura which offered very nice views of the town and each of the 6 bridges crossing the river.

And finally, the bane of all travelers looking for a picturesque photo…….


the satellite dish!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Porto Anyone?

Mostly we prefer red wines on the dry-ish side, but occasionally we have a nice dessert wine, and Cathryn, particularly, enjoys it. Today we drove to the Port capitol of the world, the city of Porto in northern Portugal.

The drive from Lisbon may have been interesting, but the fog was so heavy that we saw little scenery. For 3 1/2 hours on a high-quality tollway with a speed limit of 75 mph, our little Renault Clio made good time.


Porto is situated on the north shore of the Douro River as it enters the the Atlantic Ocean, a hilly, Old World Charm town with 200,000 residents, narrow winding cobblestone roads, and a more gritty feel than Lisbon. It has 6 bridges crossing the river from various spots in town, including the Ponte Dom Luis I bridge designed by the Eiffel of  Eiffel Tower  fame (who was also the architect of a church in Baja, Mexico we’ve visited).



The La Ribeira District (riverfront) is busy and beautiful, and we had lunch at a sidewalk cafe, with Bob ordering Calamari (as always, given the chance) and Cathryn having Stuffed Squid, which was interesting and tastier than expected, stuffed with rice and ham.


Next up was a walk across the river to the area housing all the Port Lodges, several dozen places where visitors can tour the wine-making or wine-storage facilities of various vintners, all of whom make Port. Though we’ve been on a number of wine tours in the Napa Valley and other locations, we learned a lot from today’s tour of the Taylors facility as Port-making is quite different, and varied.  We tasted two recent Ports before the tour, and two fancier ruby Ports, 20 and 40 years old respectively, afterwards – yum! A bottle of the 40-year-old Port costs 118 Euros (about $150) so we declined to buy, though we discussed whether our upcoming 25th anniversary might be an appropriate excuse to splurge; Bob voted instead for a 40 year old scotch since he isn’t really into “sweet”.


A ride back up the hill on the Funicular took us to our hotel for a short rest before heading out to dinner.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hills, a Palace and a Castle


Last night we had dinner at Casa do Alentejo, on the 3rd floor of an old building in the “restaurant district” with old tiled walls, wooden floors, and several separate dining rooms, each with a dozen or so tables.  As often happens in Europe, we were seated at a 4-person table, and soon were joined by a couple from Bonn, Germany, so ended up conversing with them. Fortunately he’s an English teacher, and she speaks both English and Portuguese. They’re relative newlyweds (4 years), but he’s about Bob’s age, while she is 40 at most. We had a fascinating conversation about World War II. She reflects the younger generation’s view of horror at what happened under the Hitler regime, and also describes the fear her parents endured as the city where they lived was bombed daily at times.  He was quiet on any view of the war, and told the story of his father’s capture in France by the Americans, and subsequent 2-year status as a prisoner of war during which he worked in the kitchen cooking for the Americans.  The father is still alive. An interesting evening.


Today we had an early breakfast and rode the train 40 minutes northwest to the town of Sintra, located on a “mountain” just under 2000 feet tall and still near the ocean. This is where kings and rich people have built posh homes for centuries to escape the city grit of Lisbon. Most of the mountain is now a Park, and cobblestone trails and a one-way road wind their way through a forest from the train station to the top.  Most people ride the bus to the top, but the weather was beautiful and we decided to walk, taking trails through the park and gaining about 1600’ over the 90 minutes it took to arrive at Pena Palace.


Pena Palace was originally the site of a chapel and monastery built in the 1200s and 1500s respectively, which went into serious decline after the great earthquake of 1755.  Don Fernando II bought the site and constructed the present palace between 1842-54. Don Fernando was a cousin of “Mad King Ludwig” of Castle Neuschwanstein fame, and you can see that interest in odd architecture ran in the family. The German architect hired to design the palace married Moorish, Manueline, Portuguese and various other styles to create a most unusual place, richly furnished still with pieces from around the world during the Victorian era (this style was described as one in which its followers “have a horror of open space and like to display their collections” – we might call it cluttered, fussy and a nightmare to dust and polish!). The last family members of the monarchy fled from here in 1910.



After stopping for a cafe au lait in the park, we continued on to the nearby ruins of the Moorish Castle, originally built in the 9th and 10th centuries by the Arabs, rebuilt in the 1500s by the Portuguese and  then restored in the 1800s by Don Fernando. We climbed many, many steps and saw turrets, cisterns and archaeological sites during our time here.


Another train trip took us back to Lisbon, and shortly we’re headed out for dinner on our third and final night in Lisbon.  We remain enthusiastic about Portugal and are finding our time here interesting and easy, and we’re very much enjoying the weather.  Tomorrow we pick up a rental car and head north.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

We Awoke In A Different World!

After meeting at the Lisbon airport last night and making our way to our hotel, we slept well and woke at 8 in a different world. Breakfast was made up of rolls, cheese, meats, yogurt, fruit, juice and endless coffee!


After breakfast we set out to explore the hilly city of Lisbon which has a very compact historic center made up of three different neighborhoods. Each one is easily walkable, and they’re connected by various forms of public transportation including trolleys, buses and funiculars, all of which we rode.


We spent the morning in Baixa on a self-guided walking tour, with a stop in a great urban park where we had our first outdoor cafe au lait.  We returned downtown to explore and had lunch at a sidewalk cafe, eating something like a pork culet with salad and fries,  accompanied by a beer for Cathryn and wine for Bob (not an option during the 2 1/2 weeks in Morocco).


The afternoon was spent exploring Alfama, a neighborhood on a different hill and including the Castle of St. George, originally constructed in the 1100s by the Moors and rebuilt in the 1500s by the Portuguese. We sat at yet another sidewalk cafe on a catwalk overlooking the Tejo River which pours into the Atlantic Ocean, sipping a beer and listening to a street band play nice music. Ah, Europe!


One conversation we have every place we travel is whether we could imagine living in the place if we were to leave the U.S. long term (which we won’t do, but still it’s fun to discuss). With only 24 hours under our belt, Lisbon strikes us as a place we could happily live, and we think it’s under-rated as a European destination.


Situated on the water with lots of hills, trees, 250 year old buildings (most of old Lisbon was destroyed in a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami in the mid-1700s), it’s less expensive than France, Italy or Switzerland, almost everyone speaks some English or Spanish, and the road and hotel signage and menus are easy to interpret as the language is Latin-based. Traffic and driving are no big deal (though navigation is tricky as the streets are not on a grid and have many one-way roads and pedestrian streets closed to autos).  The weather is perfect at the moment – sunny and in the 70s – not bad for October!


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Transition Day

Most of our blog posts are drafted by one of us, edited and finalized by the other, hence no claim of authorship.  This post is all Cathryn.

We obtained our airline tickets for this trip using miles, and didn’t have enough for two tickets on any one airline, so are traveling separately.  We underestimated how much we’d hate that and have vowed not to do it again.  Domestically it would be fine, but not internationally.

It’s 5am Tuesday, and Bob just got in a taxi headed to the Marrakesh airport.  Marrakesh and Lisbon are both “minor” ports, so there are few direct flights between the two, and not every day. Bob is flying Ryanair to Madrid, then Easy Jet to Lisbon, arriving 3 hours before I do.  I catch a cab to the airport at 3pm, but have a rare direct flight to Lisbon on Portugalia.  We’ll meet there at 8:30 tonight.

I leave Morocco with mixed feelings.  This is a fascinating country, and we’ve enjoyed much of it:  the beautiful scenery and villages in the Atlas Mountains, the ancient, amazing walled fortresses (both homes and towns), the vast Sahara desert where it’s hard to comprehend how people eek out a life, the lovely Atlantic coast where harbors teem with hard-working fishermen, and the vibrant cities full of astonishing colors, sounds, smells and lively people in the souks (markets).  It feels foreign, exotic and in some ways unknowable, at least to this casual, short-term traveler. 

The fact we speak no Arabic or Berber, and only a tiny smattering of French, while most people here don’t speak English, has made it challenging – more so than other travel we’ve done in Europe (where almost everyone speaks some English) or Central America where we get by fine in Spanish. Even in East Africa where we traveled in 2008, more English was spoken than it is here.

The fact this is a Muslim country adds to the feeling of difference:  the muezzin’s call to prayer, heard 5 times daily in every city or village, the crowd of men coming out of the mosques afterwards, the rarity of alcohol, the women in heavy robes and scarves while men are more often in western attire, and the fact that public spaces are largely populated by men, with women seen mostly in the context of shopping for food.  I’ve not felt at all the object of sexual harassment as is sometimes the case in latin american countries. Moroccan men, according to Bob, are busy “checking out” the Moroccan women, but not the western women. Moroccan men in hotels, restaurants and taxis treat me the way most men at home do – friendly, helpful or factually informative, as called for. 

The difficult aspects of travel here, in addition to language, have been driving and navigating in big cities, and in the end, for me, the feeling of vulnerability inspired by the assault on Bob night before last.  I’m also reminded that after two and a half weeks living out of a suitcase, moving between hotels frequently, I get tired of that and want to settle somewhere, or be in our Arctic Fox trailer where we feel “at home”, even when we’re not.

Bob seems to have recovered psychologically from the shock of the assault.  His lower lip is swollen, his chin still abraded, his teeth and jaw a bit sore, and he took Tylenol every 4 hours yesterday for a persistent headache – but he claims to feel “fine” the first 3 hours or so after each taking of Tylenol. Oddly, it seems I’m more upset by having seen him hit, than he now seems by it having happened to him.

So . . . on to Portugal where we expect things to feel more familiar, though we’ve never been there and speak no Portugese.

We’re very glad we came to Morocco and also are not sad to be leaving.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Takes the Glow Off

Over 25 years traveling together in foreign countries, we’ve lost wallets and passports, been burglarized in rental houses or hotel rooms, and had things stolen from us. All of those have been unpleasant and inconvenient experiences, but not actually frightening.  Tonight we have a new one to add to the list of potential travel perils.


After dark, but still early in the evening, we wandered to the edge of the Square in the Medina (old walled part of town) to rest and watch all the activity in the area.  There are  many thousands of people in the square at this time of night – families with children, couples, young and old men or women walking arm-in-arm with friends – it’s a lively, interesting place.  Food stalls which serve as temporary restaurants are set up each afternoon in the square, and we’ve had dinner at them several times.


After sitting for about 20 minutes, a man who appeared to be middle-aged and Moroccan wandered toward us, leaned down putting his face close to Bob’s face,  then pulled back, made a fist and punched Bob hard in the mouth and chin!!!  We stared at each other in open-mouthed shock and disbelief as the man turned and wandered off, weaving a bit. A number of other people witnessed this entirely unprovoked and out-of-the-blue event, and one young Moroccan couple who spoke some English came over and asked if Bob was okay. They stayed with us for a couple of minutes, and we all realized the Bad Man had wandered off into the crowd. Bob’s lip was split in a couple of spots, and bleeding, and he had a sore chin, jaw and several teeth, though no teeth are loose.


We realize something like this can happen anywhere. The Bad Man was “a crazy guy” in the words of the young Moroccan man who checked on Bob afterwards, and there are plenty such people wandering around downtown Seattle and Pioneer Square where we worked for several decades without incident.  We didn’t report the incident to the police, and didn’t seek medical attention, as water, tissue and Tylenol are likely to take care of Bob’s symptoms.  But we must admit, the incident definitely took the glow off of our feelings about Marrakesh, and we now feel ready to move on to Europe.  We took a cab back to our hotel after dinner and plan to spend the rest of the evening reading our junk novels.

Back to Marrakesh

Mackenzie and Matt left us in our Casablanca hotel room at 10pm last night, headed to the airport in a taxi for flights to Frankfurt, then Seattle.  Presumably they’re home by now (8:30 Sunday night our time, 1:30 in the afternoon in Seattle).

The difficult experience of traffic and navigation in Casablanca yesterday led Cathryn to insist we get up early this morning to hit the road to Marrakesh before traffic became bad. Fortunately, the plan worked, and by 7am we were on the highway outside Casablanca, headed south to Marrakesh having had no problems.  Four hours later we arrived at the Marrakesh airport and turned in our rental car a day early, as we don’t really need or want it here. 


After checking into our hotel, and feeling a bit adventurous now that we’re familiar with Marrakesh, we decided to ride a public bus back to the medina rather than catch a cab. We guess our many years in the transit industry haven’t entirely left us!  The bus ride was cheap (90 cents for the two of us), fast, and easy! We definitely appeared to be the only non-Moroccans on board.


We spent the afternoon back in the medina, wandering through the souks, buying snacks from a street vendor, watching the snake charmers, monkey handlers and other performers and vendors on the square, and having a cold drink on the 4th floor terrace of a restaurant overlooking the main town square.  Very pleasant!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Au Revoir Mackenzie & Matt


Today was our last day with Mackenzie and Matt in Morocco. We rose early, had breakfast at Villa Garance where we’ve spent the last 4 nights, and headed north. Mackenzie, Matt and Bob stayed in navigation and problem-solving mode as we made our way into and through Casablanca, but Cathryn found the traffic, crazy drivers and feeling “lost” unsettling.  We spent an hour finding our way to our hotel in Casablanca, sometimes because our map reflected only a tiny part of the city (3 million residents) and sometimes because the signage within cities is woefully inadequate.  Highway signage is good, city signage is not.  Finally, in  frustration, Bob jumped out of the car, waved down a taxi, and asked the driver to lead us to our hotel – he went with the taxi driver, and Matt (driving), Mackenzie and Cathryn followed – not an easy task in afternoon crazy city traffic in Casablanca.  But it worked!


We caught a taxi to the Hassan II Mosque, a spectacular new (completed in 1993) mosque that has the highest minaret in the world, and the third largest (after Mecca and Medina) mosque in the world.  Tours are offered several times a day, and we joined the 2:00 tour that took us through the prayer room (capacity:  25,000 people), absolution room, and hammam room.  The structure was simply mind-boggling and gorgeous. We were told  that 100,000 people occupy the interior and exterior spaces every hour of every day during the month of Rammadan here – astonishing numbers, but entirely believable in terms of the amount of space.

We were tired after our day and struggling with the French language (which none of us speak much) so chose a Spanish restaurant for dinner.  Mackenzie and Cathryn were delighted to be able to speak with the waiter easily.


At 10:00 p.m.  a taxi arrived at our hotel to take Mackenzie and Matt to the Casablanca airport for their flights to Frankfurt and Seattle, and Bob and Cathryn bid au revoir. We’re sad to see them go, but have had a great deal of fun traveling together.

Tomorrow we leave Casablanca and return to Marrakesh.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The “Wild” Beach



The walled town of Essaouira is immediately adjacent to a lovely beach where we spent some time on our first day here, but it’s fairly crowded.  Yesterday we retrieved our car from the guarded spot at the entrance to the medina, and drove about an hour south to the “wild” beach near the town of Sidi Kaouki.  We saw some goats climbing the Argan trees, eating the fruit from the trees, then stopped at a surf shop to buy beer and leave our car in their parking lot.

The “wild” beach is largely uninhabited, wide and unspoilt. There are a few vendors who harrass sunbathers to buy food, jewelry, and camel rides, but mostly we were left alone to eat, lie in the sun and relax.  Mackenzie and Matt went swimming for a while, and we paid one beach vendor 60 dirhams ($7.50) to have the use of two chaise lounges and an umbrella so Cathryn could stay mostly in the shade. We went for a 30-minute walk down the beach, but otherwise relaxed and enjoyed some quiet time.  A nice getaway from the city.



How many of you have been to Rome?  If so, you’ve seen cats by the hundreds and thousands. Morocco shares this trait with Rome.  Cats are everywhere. Dogs, hardly at all. Cats are in every shop, hotel, restaurant, alley, street.  They are on the hunt for food, sleeping in the sun, meowing for attention. They are mostly thin and desperate in appearance. There are too many to feel you could do anything to make a difference.  It is a notable change from the prevalence of dogs and barking to which we have become accustomed in Mexico.  Bob is reminded of a time in Rome with Ryan’s mother decades ago when she was overwhelmed by the sadness of the number and condition of the cats.  It does not appear there is any effort focused on neutering or spaying animals in this country.



Morocco has a reputation for being a place where drugs are easy to come by.  We’ve been here for two weeks, and until today, other than a very occasional whiff of marijuana, we’ve seen or been aware of no drugs.  Today changed all that.  Today Matt was approached NINE times by young men inquiring whether he wanted to buy any hashish!  We can’t for the life of us figure out why today, why him, why now.  Matt is a clean-cut looking, clean-cut living guy.  He of course declined each time.  As sunset approached tonight, we wandered to the west-facing wall of the medina with a bottle of wine and sat on the wall for an hour awaiting the sunset.  A man approached, three times, inquiring whether we wanted to buy some cookies.  He described the dozen different kinds of cookies his wife had baked, then pointed to the last row of “happy cookies” – those containing hashish!  We laughed, shook our heads no, and tried to send him on his way.  He was persistent, laughing, friendly and funny. But still he was disappointed with our lack of interest.  This is the “holy day” here – Friday – what gives?????




Long before we arrived in Morocco our research turned up the prevalence of “Hammams”, the Moroccan version of an American spa.  Hammams have been in existence for more than 1,000 years, though we expect their form has evolved. Today there are “public” hammams, where men and women (in separate rooms, at different times of day) sit on a floor in a steam room and sweat, scrub their own or a friends or family members backs, and rinse off.  There are also  “private” hammams where one can make an appointment in advance, sit in a private or semi-private steam room and get thoroughly scrubbed and washed. 

Today Matt, Mackenzie and Cathryn chose to check out a private Hammam.  Yesterday we made a 12:30 appointment for our introduction to the experience. 

The Hammam we visited was very fancy, and felt as nice as any American spa we’ve seen, though exotic and different in decor, and only one of the staff spoke a bit of English – as usual, French prevailed, so we felt at a bit of a loss as to where to go, what to do, how to behave.

All three of us found the experience to be delightful. Cathryn swears she lost two pounds of exfoliated skin and sweated another two pounds.  We each had a one hour massage afterwards, so came out looking like bright red, severely scrubbed people with noodles for legs, we were so relaxed. And the cost was about 1/3 of what we’d pay in the U.S.  Bob sat at a sidewalk cafe and drank coffee, engaging in his favorite past-time of people watching in foreign countries, so we de-briefed him afterwards. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010



Yesterday we drove 7 hours from Skoura, an inland part of Morocco, passing through Marrakesh and heading southwest to the Atlantic coast. The phrase “all roads lead to Marrakesh” comes to mind, as almost anywhere we’ve gone, we had to pass through or near Marrakesh.


Essaouira almost feels like a different country in some ways. It is an “old town” encompassed within the walls of a Medina, as part of Marrakesh was. No cars are allowed inside, so we parked outside the walls, paid a man 80 dirhams (about $10) to guard our car for 2 nights, and paid another man 30 dirhams to load all our luggage into a cart and guide us to our hotel, Villa Garance.   The Villa is on a narrow alley, about 6 feet wide, with buildings 4-5 stories tall on both sides, all side-by-side buildings sharing exterior walls. We have rooms on the second floor, and afternoon tea and breakfast are served on the rooftop terrace above the 4th floor. People with mobility issues could not get by here easily at all, as the stairways are narrow, winding, with steps of irregular height and width, no elevators. But all is otherwise modern with large bedrooms, small salons and private baths, with breakfast included in the price. Our hotel owners are two French sisters  who, like most people here, speak many languages, including English.


Matt and Cathryn shared the driving from Skoura to Essaouira, though Cathryn insisted on driving the first half of the day so she wouldn’t have to do the portion through Marrakesh. Matt doesn’t enjoy the city driving either, but he tolerates the stress of it better and remains decisive and calm even through stressful conditions.

Today we had a lovely breakfast on the rooftop terrace, then Mackenzie and Matt headed out on their own, as did we, to tour the town, port and beach.  We wandered through the souk (market) which is quite different from the Marrakesh souk, walked on the wall near the Port, toured the Port and saw fishermen bringing in their catch of the day, then walked a mile or so down the sandy beach.


This part of the country feels much more Westernized. There are still many women in robes and head scarves, but almost all men are in Western attire, and many women as well.  There are people on the beach in bikinis (not something that would have been acceptable in the rest of the country), couples holding hands, and lots of women in short skirts, sleeveless or tank tops, and even some shorts (tourists). French is the prevailing language here, not Arabic or Berber as in other parts of the country.  Bob studied French two years in high school, and we’re all appreciative and amused that he is our language expert here, as he claims not to have an “ear” for foreign languages, though he is teaching us various words and phrases. 


We had dinner at a beach-side restaurant, and with seafood soup, lobster entree, creme caramel, and two bottles of wine we spent only $200 – far less than a similar dinner at home would be.  By far our most expensive dinner. Nice to have something besides tagine or couscous.