Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Contiki!!! Spain, Morocco, Portugal

So, after Kylie left me I still had about 3 weeks before I was to be back in Aber for my exams. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, so a couple months ago, my flat mate introduced me to Contiki. Contiki is a travel company that does tours all over the world for people ages 18-35. I considered the tours they offered during my break and chose one I was excited about: Morocco and the Iberian Peninsula. I was going to get an in-depth exploration of Spain, spend a few days in Portugal as well as visit Morocco (which is in Africa for all of you not caught up on geography)!

Most of my Spanish spree group in front of
Queen Elizabeth's old palace
When Kylie flew home from Sweden on December 27, I flew to Madrid Spain, Wooo!! I joined a group of about 40 travelers, that have come together from all over the world, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and other Americans. Some travelled with a friend while most were travelling solo, like me! We ranged in age from 18-33 from all different backgrounds and we were about to spend the next 21 days travelling together as one big happy family. I am rooming with a girl from Tasmania, Australia who is also studying agriculture (match made in heaven). We all get along well and it has been a fabulous group of people to travel with, I have made friends that hopefully I will be able to visit someday soon, and will have a friend to show me around their country.

Now on to my tour. Since this trip was so long we did so much I will just give the highlights.  The first 9 days I spent travelling all around Spain, I love this trip because we get to see more of Spain than just Madrid or Barcelona, we are going to the smaller towns and seeing the real Spanish culture. We started with a couple nights in Madrid, touring the royal palace and visiting the valley of the fallen, a memorial to all the Spanish citizens lost in the Spanish civil war in the 1930’s. We then made our way through the mountains to the northern coast of Spain. We stopped in multiple little towns to see the sights such as the old Roman Aqueduct in Segovia that was built in the first century AD and still runs through the middle of town, it used to bring fresh water to town from the mountains. We stopped in the cute coastal town of San Sebastian, where the weather was warm and sunny, and we got amazing view of the bay.  We spent a night in Pamplona where we learned about the running of the bulls festival and got to walk 200 meters of the Camino de Santiago (a famous pilgrimage, there is a movie about it with Martin Sheen).  For those of you that do not know, I studied Spanish for 6.5 years, and I learned a lot about the Spanish culture and different parts of Spain. I have absolutely loved exploring Spain because I remember studying about the aqueduct, the running of the bulls, and the Camina. It has been amazing o see these places in person and remember learning about these things.

Roman Aqueduct in Segovia
San Sebastian on he northern coast
We then got a couple days in Barcelona, one of the most unique cities in Europe, that completely transformed after hosting the 1992 Olympics. Barcelona is a part of the Catalonia region which just recently has had protests and is currently fighting for independence from Spain, and Spain is pulling out all the stops to keep them, I’m sure you saw it on the news in October. In Barcelona we got to see the unfinished Sagrada Familia and Park Güell, both amazing masterpieces by the famous architect Antoni Gaudí. I rang in the new year with 22,000 of my closest friends in the Plaza España in Barcelona, and got my fill of Sangria and Tapas. Most dinners in Spain have been tapas, it is where we get small portions of many different dishes. For example, if you go to a tapas bar, you order many different little portions, like a mini wrap, or 1 oyster, or croquette, and you just stand at the bar and eat it before moving on to the next bar. Most of our meals have been this way and I am ready for a sit-down steak and baked potato 😊.  In Barcelona we got to enjoy a traditional flamenco show, flamenco is one of the oldest and most traditional artforms of Spain, it is guitar music and dancing with a lot of clapping and stomping, amazing to see live in a small venue. We also got to ride bikes along the coast in Barcelona which was loads of fun!!

After Barcelona, we made our way down the Mediterranean coastline. We stopped in Valencia where we went to a Master Chef class to learn to make Paella. We split up into groups and mad dinner for all 20ish of us that went. I was on the dessert team, and made a delicious cake. They taught us all how to make the paella and gave us the recipe, it was a bit complicated so don’t expect it when I get home. But it was the most delicious paella we had all trip, so if I do say so myself, we nailed it! One thing to note about dinner in Spain is that no one eats dinner until at least 8:30 or later, most restaurants don’t even open until 8, it is really throwing off my internal clock. In general Spaniards do everything later than we do and usually they get a siesta in the middle of the day. If I was in Spain for a while I could definitely get onboard with it. But since we are only here for a short period of time we still must get up early and it just throws me off.

 We spent a couple days in Granada where we explored an old Muslim palace and visited a cathedral. So, Spain was ruled by Muslims for a couple hundred years at one point and in Granada (where they stayed the longest) they left a significant impact on architecture and left beautiful palaces with intricate engravings.

After Granada we headed south where we jumped on a ferry to take us across the 8-mile wide Strait of Gibraltar. We landed in Morocco and it was a whole different world. Morocco is still a developing country and nothing like the European countries. The entire time we were in Morocco we had cold showers, we couldn’t eat the vegetables (or anything that would have been rinsed in the water), and had to carry around our own toilet paper, since public bathrooms didn’t have any. Morocco was a super interesting and intimidating place, I don’t think it is a place I would want to go alone (especially not the first time you visit) but it is somewhere I am so glad I went.

Medina in Fes, It was quite the rainy
Our first two nights were in Fes and we went to the medina. The medina is the shops area in the city with narrow streets and lots of little market shops. The medina is a labyrinth of alleys and lanes crowded with people and some narrow enough that when you walked through each of your shoulders brushed against a wall. Our group had multiple guides around the group to make sure no one got lost, they say if you get lost in this medina, you’ll stay for years and get married off for camels. The only way to get around is walking, and to move goods they use wheelbarrows or Donkeys. It was crazy, we would see full size donkeys coming at you with 10 cases of water bottles strapped to their back, and there was hardly enough room to pass each other. The medina literally sold anything you can think of. They sold camel meat, shark meat, regular meat, live chickens (not sure if you buy the live chicken or if they kill it for you), live parakeets, fish, produce, scarfs, leather goods, metal goods, and touristy stuff. Morocco is very well known for their carpets, leather and scarves. We were able to visit a carpet cooperative where they try really hard to sell you very expensive carpets (they insinuated that if I didn’t buy a carpet I was not being a good American ally towards morocco). We visited a tannery where they soak the hides and make leather goods, and visited a textile shop where they made scarves and we got a lesson on how to wear a head scarf.

Muslim Palace in Morocco

After Fes we went to Marrakech, which is a more developed city, but still developing, if you know what I mean. It was better than Fes but still miles away from developed countries. In Marrakech there was a main square that was a hotspot for people trying to get money from you in anyway possible from selling sunglasses, henna, and the most outrages were the snake charmers, There were groups of men and they each had a couple snakes, yes real live vipers and nasty looking snakes (they’re supposed to have the fangs removed, but not all do). The snake charmers aggravate the snakes and try to get then into their attack stance for the tourists to take pictures and then give them money. I stayed far away, because it is common for them to put a snake over your shoulders and refuse to take it off until you hand over money. The medina in Marrakech was also a bit nicer and less of a labyrinth of alleys. We were able to navigate it without guides and able to do a little shopping. While the medinas could be a bit dirty there were beautiful parts of the country, gorgeous palaces, parks and gardens filled with palm trees and orange trees and fountains. After Marrakech we visited Casablanca, which is only famous for the movie, as well as the capital city of Rabat.

Market in Marrakech
Once we left Morocco we crossed back over the strait into Spain. We went to Gibraltar, which is actually an overseas United Kingdom territory on the Iberian Peninsula, attached to Spain and bordering the strait of Gibraltar (hence the name). There is a distinct border and we had to show our passports and everything. They do as the British do and not the Spaniards. They speak mostly English and they eat plenty of fish and chips (no tapas). The UK has owned this piece of land for more than 300 years, and it became vital during the second world war, keeping German U-boats out of the Mediterranean. If the UK had not had Gibraltar there could have been a very different ending to WWII.
Keeping an eye on the sneaky guy

While in Gibraltar we went up the rock of Gibraltar and found monkeys, his is the only place in Europe where you can find native monkeys. They are so used to tourists, that they really don’t mind people and you can get pretty close to them. After Gibraltar we headed off towards Seville and spent a few days here learning about the history of bull fighting and exploring the nice little town before going to Portugal. We only have a couple days to explore Lisbon (or Lisboa, as they say it here). We went to the mountain town of Sintra, which looks straight out of a fairytale, and the coastal town of Cascais. We visited the most western point of Europe, which people used to believe was the end of the world (that is until, Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492).

I had to fly straight back to Wales from Lisbon on Jan 14th. I have my international marketing exam on the morning of the 15th. I figure international travel is a good way to study for the exam, right? I got back in Wales just in time for 8 hours of sleep before taking my exam at 9:00am the next morning. And I am 90% sure that I passed, and that's all that matters! I am only in Aberystwyth now for 2 nights before heading home!! It is crazy to think that this long adventure is almost over, and I will be back home on Wednesday night! I get about 2 weeks at home before moving to Washington DC for my internship with Animal Agriculture Alliance. No rest for the weary, am I right? 

“To move, to breath, to fly, to float

To gain all while you give

To roam the roads of land remote

To travel is to live.”

-Hans Christian Anderson