Sunday, January 11, 2009

Madrid is a winter wonderland

IMG_9582_x, originally uploaded by Sabihabeautiful.

We woke up on the 9th to news that it had been snowing all night and that it would be coooooold outside. Damn, this was my first early morning back at work with no boots to wear.... I tentatively went out and found, to my delight, Madrid nestled under a soft, powdery layer of white snow, with plenty more falling.

I watched it fall through my first class, craftily wrangled my way out of the afternoon classes, woke Ruben up and went to the Retiro to enjoy this unexpected treat together.

We took some photos, which don't really capture the mood, but its the best I can share. Click on this photo to go to my Flickr site if you want to have a look!

The next day there was still alot of snow on the ground but the cars had arm loads scrapped off them by the kids having fights after school, the sidewalks had turned to ice but the sky was clear and blue and an early full moon rose above it all.


Monday, March 31, 2008

post camino thoughts....

ok, so this trip to the north was meant to be an escape from the smoky crowded noisy city to the calm peace of the seaside and the relaxing rhythm of walking each day and meeting new people each night. I was prepared for all weather and really looking forward to the challenge.

Sadly, it was not all i hoped.

The weather all over Spain for Easter was strange - I am used to the joke about it always raining over Easter in Sydney, but apparently they have the same joke here.... and rain t did.

I dont really mind walking in the rain, in fact its quite calming if its not flooding your path or making it full of sticky mud......but my problem this time was waterproofing. My "yes, maam, its totally waterproof" pack cover is not as waterproof as I would have hoped. Much like sleeping in a tent in the rain, when you touch the sides, little rivers of rain soak your bed. Well, these little rivers made great friends with my dry set of clothes, so after a very long and very frustrating day searching for non-existent way-markings, I pulled into the "closed for renovations" pilgrim hostel, trudged on with the last of my energy to an overpriced room i a hotel to find every item wet enough to make them unwearable. So I passed a lonely night rotating my clothes over the spluttering heater and watched "FAME" in spanish.

I stayed in the north for 5 days and then decided to cut my loses and go back to Madrid. In all that time, with misdirections, closed or non existent accommodation, easter prices, and total lack of "camino spirit" I only managed to walk about 18-20 km on 4 of the days and nowhere near the 117km I hoped to cover. I was so disappointed - and it was temporary - that I felt like Id "failed" or something. It took me a day or two to settle back after the aborted mission and now I see it for what it was - a good break, a bit of reconnaissance, and ann opportunity to see Bilbao (big and industrial) and Santander (beachy and lovely).

So after complaining to Ruben, he reminded me that we are only a 4 hour train ride away and can easily go back in the warmer months when the hostels are open and enjoy it together!

So, not an amazing adventure but there is always something to take away from these things. Plus I got to talk to cows and goats again in twisting winding country roads, so it was worth it for that alone.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Bilbao DAY 1

After being a little nervous and apprehensive this week I finally boarded the train and took the 6 hours to Bilbao, main port of the Basque region. And I feel really good now - once I start one of these trips, the nerves wear off once Im on the road and everything pans out in a calm, orderly way. Of course I dont know what Im doing or where Im going, but that means that I can be flexible and see what happens naturally. So, today I feel strong (mentally) and a litle underprepared physically. Today will be a good test for what my body is capable of this week....

I would like to start the Camino today but I dont know where it is, so now that ive had the complimentary breakfast from my hostel (very nice one here), I will see if the lady at reception knows anything, and if so, Ill get started. Otherwise Ill need to stay here to the day, venture into the centre, wait for the Information to open and get some maps etc there. But think Id rather head off.

ITs a grey and cool day but thats perfect walking weather for me. As long as it doesnt bucket down, Ill be happy.

So, more soon - Im off to investigate.....

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Eve of the Camino Norte - Easter wanderings

OK - so 2 years after jetting off for my 1000km Camino de Santiago experience, and after swearing that I would¨"one day" get back on the road, I am on the verge of setting off on a new Camino adventure.

Perhaps after the first effort I would feel more calm and relaxed but Im afraid thats not so. Ok, so this one isnt so far from "home", but still its a route totally unknown.

In order to have a new challenge I decided to not return to the Camino Frances - the route I took in 2006, and one that is very popular and populated, and instead have opted for the one by the sea!!

I take the train to Bilbao tomorrow then will walk about 170 km through the week to Santander.

I know very little about this way except that it has many fewer people, less places to stay and less markings along the road.

BUT, Im going to be in the fresh coastal air surrounded by the best scenery and food in Spain so Im sure Ill cope if I go off track accidently (or otherwise)

So Ill check in again soon and update you on my progress!! Wish me luck


Thursday, February 07, 2008

Morocco *** Part 2

......ok where was I?

ah yes, we had just had a week in Marrakesh and the desert and we were boarding a bus to the coast....

well the next 6 hours felt like a lifetime and they were painful.

When we bought our tickets we were told to be there 1/2 hour early, which we were. But the man at the desk just waved us in the general direction of the bus station door but couldnt give us any closer idea of the location of the bus. We walked up and down the bus bays..... noone had heard of this company. hmmmmm

When we decided to try the random buses parked in the shadows o the far side of the station we were shown our chariot!!!! We chose to be disbelievers at first as the name on the bus was nothing like the one on our tickets, but lo, this was our fate - a big square blue 1960-style bus with the luggage stored on a rack on the roof. Not that we are bus snobs..... far from it, but this bus, circa 1960 would have been in great condition. We didnt see any evidence that anyone had attempted to keep it in good nick in all that time.

The too-cool guy who loaded the luggage looked to be our driver also but after seating us giving us - (the token foreigners)the front seat, we was replaced at the wheel by a hooded older man. Good thing because the kid had stalled us twice before leaving the lot.

Then it started to get fun..... first, I was dirty! well, physically yes, but now my mood was dark too..... these special seat are the worst. Ruben was sitting in his and was tiled backwards and seemed quite comfy. My seat however was pitched forward - the seat and the back so that you had to engage all your leg muscles to keep from sliding off. Now this old bomb didnt have a barrier in front of us at the glass windscreen so it was a case of "flex or fly". Ruben, being a true sweetheart, decided I must be totally overreacting and offered to change seats. Oh how quickly his mood changed..... Poor pet! The trip was long but more because it was scary. The hills outside of town were steep, and in the dark, seemed treacherous - with no side rails, squealing brakes and endless bends. Rubens face darkened..... I became more pale.... Ive never actually been really imagined certain death before this night.....

So from 9pm til 3 am we enjoyed this journey and were dumped in a tip of a town outside of Agadir..... I promptly lost a bag in the early morning stupour, the taxi overcharged us, the first hotel wouldn't let us stay because they seem to have a problem with men taking prostitutes to hotels after the bars shut and I was considered one..... so when we could find a place we could afford they gave us a room next to the elevator shaft and two single beds. After all this we had managed to turn against each other......

So in the morning it all came out and we said all the things we were over reacting about and checked out. But our luck was changing..... the price was half what we were quoted last night, and the ain had stopped so we loaded our packs on our back and walked to the sea.

Later Ruben commented on the effect the sea has ob me. He said that he really noticed the tension disappearing as we approached the beach and the sea air. He is a mountain guy and I see the same in him when we were up high, but at sea level, I am calmest, it seems! We took off our packs and had a make-up hug near the shore when suddenly a wave, bigger than all the rest came up and washed over our feet - still in boots and jeans..... ok ok, ocean - we need to get our feet wet. We too off our wet things and enjoyed the tranquility of the sea together.

But then someting happened - we saw a beer sign!! OMG - we havent had a beer...... for AGES!! With dripping pants we presented to a posh cafe and had a COLD beer(even harder than finding a beer in Morocco is finding a cold one) and a plate of fish!! Ahhh, now we are both happy.

But ready to leave this tourist trap. With lighter hearts we trecked out of the tourist frige and through the "real" Agadir to the taxi station. Normally you need to find six people who want to go your way before the taxi will leave but we decided to deserved some comfort (?) and bought the whole back seat rather than share it with 4 people (!!) The trip was amazing because it was 1: fast 2: comfortable and 3: safe..... oh, how quickly your needs become basic after a scare.

Then there was Essaouira!!! Go to Morocco and go to Essaouira! No more to suggest! This town is gorgeous! The old part is very small and walled but full of character unlike the vacuum of Agadir. White walls and blue doors and windows. The pounding sea behind the walls, the circling gulls, the atmospheric salt mist in the air. And the people are different. The guide book was spot on when they said that, unlike the hustle in other cities, the touts here are almost apologetic.... Curiously though its where we also saw our first late night local drunks.

Ahhh, after 3 days it was time to move on, but with a promise that we would try to get back here - perhaps for their annual music festival every June.

Then we hardened ourselves for Marrakech - we were not so naive this time so more relaxed but it really is much more of a tourist place, which gets tiring. We stocked up on souvenirs, had one last body scrub, a million cups of tea and a few more magnificent OJ's before taking the EasyJet flight home with alot of whinging Spaniards.... We suspect that they were only there in a weekend flight and didnt have a chance to relax.... We felt great!

I lived in that holiday bubble for a month..... well worth it!!

All the pics are on Flickr if you want to have a look....

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Las Dunas

IMG_6343, originally uploaded by Sabihabeautiful.

Near the Algerian border, these dunes are not the largest in Morocco, but they are really beautiful at sunset as the light changes


IMG_6524, originally uploaded by Sabihabeautiful.

The earth keeps spinning and for once I could see this a little....... the stars spinning overhead as 2007 became 2008. The palm trees in the foreground reminding me that I am just a small earthling watching this incredible display....

View from our roof in Marrakesh - WOW

IMG_6910, originally uploaded by Sabihabeautiful.

All I could here was "WOW"...... I was preparing for a day wandering around Marrakesh and Ruben went up to the roof of our guesthouse to look at the view for the day and....WOW.

After days of smog and pollution we had a clear sunny day and the MOUNTAINS - they are breathtaking, so close and so grand! I love the contrast of the palm trees that are everywhere in the city and the snow on the High Atlas mountains.

the serenity.....

IMG_6224, originally uploaded by Sabihabeautiful.

this night was incredible..... the stars were breathtaking in their multitude. There were only 6 of us - the two Irish, the two Berber guides and us

This is the communal eating tent were we had a tajine of beef and sang traditional berber songs after sunset.

These are my first attempts at star photos and star trails - truely amazing site combined with the silence of the desert - I was in love

in the desert

IMG_6310, originally uploaded by Sabihabeautiful.

Ruben and I in the desert - we spent 2 nights here and quickly learnt to tie a turban (although these are our first, poor attempts).

It was very peaceful and very beautiful here

Monday, January 21, 2008

Morocco *** Part 1

Morocco was amazing in so many ways - the natural environment, the people, the habits, the food, the variety to be experienced......

We had total culture shock when we arrived - walking the streets was the strangest - the little lanes near our riad were filled with tooting motorbikes laden with upto 4 people, babies hanging off handlebars, gas cylinders between legs, crates of eggs on the back...... all tooting but none slowing as they approached - if you are on two legs, you move yourself out of their way....FAST.... The mess, dirt, smells of cooking on the street, piles of fruit everywhere to be sold, old men fixing bikes or sewing, women covered and carrying trays of bread on their heads...... etc etc. And this was just going down our street.

When we reached the main square of Marrakesh we were in for a new shock....
snakes charmed into a dance, tables of false teeth, ladies selling crocheted hats, vendors selling food, smoke, people calling to us, please buy my hats, buy my lamps, buy my henna, very cheap, good price for you, where you from? hola!!

phew...... we stopped for a meal and watched with wide, newly- arrived- tourist eyes! We fell to bed exhausted.

The next day, Christmas day, was only different in that we saw all this craziness in daylight - we tackled the bustling souks, too overwhelmed to buy anything, all of is is so lovely - i wanted one of everything ;-)

Our riad, a converted old house in the centre was our respite, and our host, Khalil made us mint tea, breakfast and lit a fire in the afternoon, where we sat and chatted - us to offload some of this new information and for him, to practice his english. We had a beautiful terrace outside our room, and we could see the magnificent mountains just outside the city and the many mosque minarets spiking all over the city. After 3 days we ventured out of Marrakesh!

We left watches and phones behind and soon kept time with the sun and the 5 calls for prayer everyday from the mosques. Our first night bus took us to Oarzazate then on to Zagora, a town fueled by tourists going to the included. Overwhelmed with offers from people for taxis, camels, camps etc..... every man had a camel, everyone had an "office" and we were invited for tea..... We joined forces with two Irish, Kenn and Cindy, from the bus, thinking we would be stronger with numbers, but we were still total suckers and got "took" straight away.

Despite wanting to go independently we signed up for a tour and it turned out to be the best option as its not so easy to get to the big dunes alone. We crammed into a "grand taxi" - all 10 of us!! 8 adults, a toddler and a baby in a sedan!!

The scenery was breathtaking..... collected our 4X4 and chased the sun west. After a long bumpy ride we caught the sunset from our isolated camp site amongst the bigger dunes. Spectactular!!! All alone with the stars was an experience..... My neck was sore from staring.....

Strangely, it was a postcard “romance” moment but it was too big to be romantic..... the sky was so huge and so full of sparkly lights, that it was enough for each of us to concentrate on – Im glad we could be there together, but it was a beautiful, powerful, private moment.

Our desert time was really specail because we all felt so removed from “normal” life – we were fed and watered, taken on camel rides at sunset, climbed dunes, slept in burlap tents, and generally let time pass in a very gentle, unhurried way.

Our arrival back in Zagora, although a small town, was a shock after this quiet time. Cindy and Kenn left and we stayed on until we could think of something better to do. Without really discussing it, we fell into a great rhythm of taking everything as it came – neither of us operated with more urgentcy than the other and we could be totally relaxed.

One overwhelming menory of this day was how totally dirty we were......we STUNK! I hunted down the town hammam for a scrub and we pooled our only remained clean clothes and washed the rest. The laundry lady used to travel a lot and completely understood the importance of cleann clothes to a backpacker and stayed open half an hour longer to make sure we didnt have to spend another night dirty!! A sweetheart!

My trip to the hammam was amazing – but perhaps a story fpr another time. The whole muslim experience was incredible for me..... but later, i think – I will go into more detail.

Our next friends on this journey were three guys we met in the ATM line when the town seemed to run out of cash...... Morad, Imad and Hassan – three school friends who had come to town for the Extreme Marathon in the desert. After the first chance encounter we ended up in the same camp ground and shared coke and cakes for NYE, laughing a lot, askiung lots of questions about Muslim life and generally cracking each other up. We stayed up til 4am being silly.

We said goodbye and Ruben and I ventured off inour aim to get to the coast....... Its longerthan it seems on the map and was quite a painful journey, but we survived.....

But thats another story.....