A Travellerspoint blog

Marrakesh Express

Day 89 August 11 Casabermeja to Casablanca Day 90 August 12 Casablanca to Marrakesh Day 91 August 13 and Day 92 August 14 Marrakesh

sunny 35 °C

In the famous lyrics of Crosby, Stills and Nash, "Would you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express ... all on board that train!"

In a dramatic change of scenery and culture, we head to Morocco.

All we had planned before we left is: fly to Casablanca and fly out of Tangier 14 days later. Morocco was on Jen's Bucket List, and perfectly fitted into the Tommy Trip Planning Extravaganza. We had some tips from my great friend, Fly, a true Hitchhiker of the Galaxy (but when in mere mortal form, goes by the name, Pete Miers) and a colleague of Jen's who gave us some town names and that's about it.

We are about to be taken well outside our comfort zone.

But first, we have to leave España, we farewell our host Luis in Casabermeja, and head into Malaga for one last expedition to try to buy a Spanish Cycling Shirt - Jen has patiently endured me searching every bike shop could find in Spain for a souvenir cycling shirt...but we're out of luck. So its on to the airport. Missed our exit by 1 second, have flashbacks of Zagreb as we end up on gravel roads trying to get back to the freeway. Thirty minutes later than we expected, we dropped our buzz box off with no scratches and checked in. We gave ourselves plenty of time as we've found Spain's infrastructure and services are "variable". ¡Nos vemos España!

It was cool to see Gibraltar from the air, with the clouds materialising above. The Pilot's directions seemed to be, follow Costa del Sol and make a hard left at Gibraltar, 'cause that's exactly what he did and we press our faces to the window to catch our first glimpses of Africa.

We are relieved to touch down in Casablanca Airport following our 13th flight of the trip. We navigate the chaos of Immigration where there is little organisation and a sea of nationalities merging and pushing their way through the queue. We haggle a vintage Mercedes Über style taxi and had quite a respectable taxi ride through peak hour traffic to our hotel getting our first glimpses of Morocco. I fully expected it to be mad dash. Russians still have our vote as being the craziest and most dangerous drivers on the road. Sadly, we did see Scooter vs Car en route. But help and emergency services were quickly in attendance.

Our plan is to only spend one night in Casablanca then the train to Marrakesh as the song goes. First priority was buy the train tickets which was a breeze. Now, for dinner.

We had seen a local market near our hotel so why not plunge in, immerse in the culture, live like locals. Talk about being immersed!

This market was as big and confusing as I have ever seen. Narrow lanes, full of stalls selling clothing, shoes, home wares, food, butchers, fishmongers, souvenirs, glasses, handbags, leather etc and thousands of people squeezed into the crowded area.

We are instantly amazed, our eyes were not wide enough to absorb what we were seeing. Within 10 minutes we are utterly bewildered and we were lost (although we didn't know it yet). After 20 minutes it dawns on us we are well and truly lost. I'm a person who needs to know where he is at all times and I'm usually very good at directions. I thought I had kept a heading that would bring us out of the maze roughly where we went in. Somewhere in the sensory overload, I had lost all sense of direction. Trying not to panic, with Jen nervously joking that we best be careful we don't miss our train tomorrow morning, with the aid of Maps.Me, we emerge onto a main road about 30 minutes later. Once we get our bearings again, I realise we are 180 degrees in the opposite direction where I thought and 2 kms up the road. I am even now still trying to figure out how on earth we got there!

First time on this whole trip that I had a little nervous twitch of what I might have gotten ourselves into. Saying that, we never felt in danger or threatened and, as we have found throughout, Morocco is a quite safe place for travellers.

After escaping the market we eventually found a place for dinner. We are welcomed into a traditional restaurant, furnished with Berber couches and low tables, by a charming young man with a degree in American Culture / Literature and Masters in Cinematography. We slump into the cushions and were quickly drinking sweet mint tea to calm our frazzled nerves. Our new friend with impeccable English is keen to welcome us to his country, telling about his hopes to join the movie industry, but for now he works in this restaurant. As its getting late, we are the only diners and he takes great care of us (apologising profusely that there is only one menu item left). Within moments, two sizzling steaming tagines of chicken, raisins and almonds are presented before us. Delicious! With our tea finished and our bellies full, our friend loved to chat. He was so glad to have westerners in the restaurant and wanting to travel in Morocco. He also wants to learn as much as he can so he can follow his dreams. He emphasised how safe Morocco is and it is nothing like the rest of Africa or Middle East - keen to distance themselves from the terror and fear hurting the World.

We didn't know it yet, but this wonderful hospitality would not be a one off occasion and we are about to be amazed by the finest Moroccan Hospitality.

The next morning, after haggling over a $3 or $4 Petit Taxi - a tiny car with nearly 600,000 kms on the Odometer - and even though the price changed somewhere between embarkation and disembarkation - it took us 4 km to the train station for our trip to Marrakesh.

We happily pass the time on the platform, people watching and soaking up the atmosphere.


Today's Quiz - how many Safety Hazards can you spot?? [Construction side immediately opposite the rail platforms]


Then, as a local businessman with a warm smile and kind eyes nearby explains, our train is delayed by 45 minutes. He introduces himself and we strike up a conversation with our new friend, Jamal. He is friendly and worldly and keen to talk to us. He proudly shows us photos of his Japanese wife and 4-year old daughter who speaks 4 languages. We will later discover that it is not unusual for Moroccans 6-8 languages or more: Arabic, Berber, French (a legacy from French control), Spanish, English, Italian, Portuguese and German. Everywhere we go, waiters, guides, merchants, and spruckers speak every language - switching from one to the other with ease, depending on what nationality they think the potential "target" is. Jen delights in being mistaken for a Spanish Senorita. It makes sense though. For centuries, Morocco has been a trading route for caravans and travellers passing between Africa, Middle East and Europe. Being able to communicate and sell their wares to any and all travellers has been a necessity for generations. Languages are in their DNA.

Jamal is keen to share great tips for a successful trip in Morocco and made us feel so welcome. He gave us his phone number, encouraging us to contact him if we needed any help during our stay and eager to meet again in Marrakesh. Unfortunately we weren't able to coordinate a time with him but will keep in touch.

The train arrived (over an hour late) and we were on our way. Following the chaos on the platform, we scramble aboard. We establish that we are in the correct carriage as the train trundles out of the station, but our seats are occupied. It seems that even though tickets have seat allocations, this is only a guide. As we were unlikely to supplant a large family who wished to sit together, we set off in search of seats for the 4 hour trip. Again, this is a happy disposition as it turns out the seats we find are opposite a Moroccan born man who lives in Florida, travelling with his Moroccan Fiancé. We have a great chat. He is charming and expresses gratitude for our tourism and for visiting his nation. We have giant grins on our faces at the series of lovely interactions, and it fells like we've chatted with more locals in the last 24 hours than almost our whole trip.

Right - now for our greatest challenge to date - getting to our Riad through the Medina. We are met at the Marrakesh train station by a driver (who patiently waited for our very late train). He takes us to the edge the Main Square of the Medina, Jemaa El Fna.

Fortunately, a host from the Riad comes to greet us and guides us through the Square and through a myriad of tiny laneways and alleys we would have no hope of navigating to Raid Ilayka.

It's as if we've entered a portal to an alternate universe as we step through the tiny door into a cool courtyard filled with trees, cool tiles, water fountains and roses everywhere.


The warmest of welcomes from the friendly smiles of the staff and a pot of Moroccan Tea - aka Moroccan Whiskey. A fiercely hot tea of dried mint, ginseng and other ingredients (which are probably a Moroccan secret) poured over fresh mint and super sweetened with about 3 teaspoons of sugar. We develop a liking for the tea and it is surprisingly refreshing on a stiflingly hot day.


We can't quite believe we get to stay here for the next 3 nights!

The view from the top is also spectacular with its view of all the roof tops, mosques, minarets and thousands of satellite dishes.

As there is know way we'd be able to find our way out again, one of the staff escorts us back to the Square, giving us bearing points as we go. We wander getting a feel for the place, the sights, sounds and smells assaulting every sense. The Medina has both a large outdoor square as well as catacombs of stalls and residences.


The large square features hundreds of raucous food stalls in an outdoor BBQ that pops up every night all selling something different.


Each stall has a couple of guys shouting for your attention, - "Hello, Hello, Hello, where you from?" "Australia?" "Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi" "I love Australia" "You from Sydney?" "Ah Brisbane, beautiful City!" - all trying to entice you to eat at their restaurant. It is pot luck regardless. With salesmanship in their DNA, they are sharp as a tack. They aren't easily fobbed of with a platitude like, "Not right now, maybe later" or "Next time" because for sure, they remember every face and will call you on why you did not honour your promise when they see you again. We were hooked by a funny fellow, "Okay, see you later Alligator", causing us to chuckle and pause for long enough to get a menu in our hands. Okay, why not, this place is as good as any. The wonderful part though is that the transaction doesn't end there. It isn't just about getting you to sit down - its a whole interaction. As we were leaving, after enjoying a a lovely meal in the crazy chaos, he sought us out of the crowd, to thank us and chat some more. "Hamish & Andy...do you know them? I love Hamish & Andy, they are funny guys. In a while, crocodile!" We left with full bellies and smiles on our dials!

We are quickly discovering Moroccans are hugely social and amazing communicators. They talk to each other genuinely and intently, often with an arm around a shoulder or a hand placed gently on a forearm, with eye contact, communication is real and from the heart.

We also experience, the call for prayer. It happens 5 times a day and devotees can go to the mosque, but don't have to, but ideally, if you can, you do. Otherwise, pray at home or wherever you are. We learn much about Islam during the next two weeks. About being a practical Muslim and discover that it is not imperative to pray five times every day - although you should aspire. You pray if you can, but if have commitments then pray as often as you can. The five times also equates the to the Five Pillars of Islam to be a good Muslim:

The Five Pillars consist of:

  • Shahadah: sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith, ie believing in God.
  • Salat: performing ritual prayers in the proper way five times each day.
  • Zakat: paying an alms (or charity) tax to benefit the poor and the needy.
  • Sawm: fasting during the month of Ramadan.
  • Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca.

We learn that Moroccans are moderates, and their hearts are pained by the extremes in other parts of the world. They recognise other religions - Christian and Jewish especially, acknowledging that all recognise a God, however, each learns of that God through a different Prophet. Their religion also specially forbids the killing of children, woman and old people - again, we feel their genuine pain at what they see happening in the World masquerading in the name of Islam. Morocco doesn't have a great social welfare system so Zakat is taken seriously, with a coin or food often given to a disabled or poor person on the street.


Medina is a walled city and contains the old part of the town. In centuries past, towns needed to build protection from invaders and maintain borders.
Riad is a guest house. Formerly it would have been the home of an entire family. Upon marriage a son and his wife live with his parents. Parents become grandparents, and the circle of life repeats in one house for generations. The distinguishing architecture is to have the balcony on the inside and a court yard in the middle.
Kasbah is a small castle that housed and protected a collective / cooperative of Families, living together. A mini-Medina of sorts to keep the families secure from marauding tribes and nomads. Given that everyone knows that Kasbahs rock, everything is called a kasbah - restaurants, hotels, buildings, cafes and so on.
Hamman is a traditional Arab bathhouse involving a sauna, lathering with black soap (an oil based thick paste), scrubbed like there's no tomorrow then covered in a coating of oil to protect from the harsh outdoors. Hammams are hugely popular. Each medina is full of them and now have all the usual day spa treatments like massage, pedicure, manicures.
Berber one of three historical Arab tribes. Berber means "desert dwellers" in the Arabic language and said to be how the term Barbarian was coined by the Romans when the Empire sought to conquer them but, being semi nomadic, were unsuccessful. Hence, the original meaning didn't suggest they were barbaric as we understand the term but more akin to a foreigner, outsider or uncivilised in the sense of being outside the Roman Empire.
insha'Allah an Arabic term meaning "if God wills". Moroccans are genuine and spiritual people. They have faith in the good in people and the world. We have many wonderful interactions and in saying farewell, there is a heartfelt "insha'Allah", wish that our travels continue well, that our paths cross again and we stay safe.

The next day, we seek out a Hamman for a little pampering. TripAdvisor lists hundreds of places and thousands of reviews. The "Excellent" ones over the top and the "Poor" to "Terrible" are frightening (one which involved the police, and another with CCTV privacy breaches as well as mention of cockroaches). Armed with a recommendation from Jamal, we thought it best to book in person to check out a place first.

Three months on the road and sleeping in a lot of crappy beds with lumpy pillows has taken its toll and we are in need of some body work!

Walking the streets we are transfixed absorbing the scenes we encounter.

We come across the taxi rank - a place, it seems, where old Mercedes come to die


Its stepping into another era.


We go into the Saadian Tombs for a quiet wander. Sultan Ahmed el Mansour constructed the Saadian Tombs in Marrakech during his rule of Morocco in the sixteenth century as a burial ground for himself and his descendants. This led to approximately two hundred members of the Saadian dynasty being buried here, including Sultan Ahmed el Mansour who was laid to rest in 1603.


We learned that this is what a pomegranate tree looks like.


We then continued our stroll around the Medina and got dragged into a spice/perfume/tea shop. Again, consummate salesmanship The shop assistant saw us coming and knew he had some prime tourists ready for the easy picking! These shops are scattered throughout the Medina and the colours plus smells of the spices and natural perfumes are very enticing to sample.


They start with an offer of directions, then ask you where you want to go, where are you from, okay, then come over, let me show you some things. The problem is once you have stopped to talk and entered the shop then you are well and truly in their clutches but in super friendly way. It is a well oiled machine, suddenly there is a tray with some hot sweet mint tea. A silent team of assistants support the main salesman as he performs his magic. "Please, have some tea, it is our hospitality". As each potion, tea, perfume is brought out, we feel more obligated to buy something. Moroccans also communicate with all senses, especially touch - gentle and kind. Quickly our hands and arms are massaged with oils and perfumes. A clay mask is applied to Jen's hand and after a few minutes, wiped clean with rosewater. Now compare, see how smooth and soft and clear! Jen keeps whispering to me, "you know we are gonna have to buy something". This something turns out to be $60 of tea, block of cedar wood and the clay for face masks. The shop assistant basically cleaned out my wallet. I naively opened it, to check how much currency I actually had and whether we had enough I was about 20 dirhams short, but, before I had a chance to suggest putting something back, happily he took it all. Our mistake was that, whilst items were priced it was not each but per gram! We walked out with a smile on our faces, a great experience, some nice products we like, chatted with really friendly locals and that feeling of "I think I paid too much, but I'm not sure". As we left, the shop team were already going to work on a bunch of Chinese tourists they'd snagged. We're sure they would have slugged them big time - the poor suckers already had the clay masks all over their faces, had accepted tea and were now making a rookie error of sitting on a row of stools which magically appeared....big mistake!


We love wandering around. Stalls selling bounties of dried fruits and nuts are everywhere. We bought some amazing almonds and dried figs that we happily munched our way through.


Orange Juice stalls are everywhere and their attendants yell at you to entice you over. A fresh glass of 100% orange juice is 7 dirhams - about $1 and a nice treat.


Some can be a bit sneaky with the change if you don't have your wits about you.

We returned to the square for dinner and take in the atmosphere. During the day the square is relatively quiet but as night time falls the number of people treble and the square comes alive. At any time you have people selling balloons, watches, mobile phones, oils, paintings, cigarettes, perfumes and drinks. At the same time there are bikes, cars, donkeys, motor bikes all weaving between the people.


[The smoke you can see are the BBQs getting set up for dinner]

Bands are playing, monkeys doing tricks and snake charmers playing with Cobras. On principle, we did not photograph or give any attention or money to snake charmers, monkey tamers or ride the horse carriages. We are not fans of animal tourism for entertainment.

We visit Medesa Ben Yousef which is a school for the Islam studies - like a monastery. It is very simple but the tiles, colour and building architecture is very unique. We get a sense of Islam which is very different from what is presented in the media and what we see in Australia.


Unfortunately on the way back we got lost, again. My phone lost connection but quickly a local grabs us and shows us out of the maze of streets. It does cost a few dollars but this is a usual occurrence with travellers. Locals are always eager to help a traveller to their destination and then there is a request for money. Usually a few coins does the trick.

After a hectic morning, its time for our Hammam - Les Bains de L'Alhambra. We have no idea what to expect but know that we will need to leave dignity at the door. We are ushered through the process by quietly spoken women. The first part in a sauna/steam room where the ladies wash us, lather us in black soap, leave us to cook a little on the benches in the steam room then we're scrubbed from head to toe with an exfoliating mitt - 3 months of travel is sloughed off. More steaming, then wash down. What follows is a wonderful parade of foot rubs, eye masks, orange and rose petal baths in candlelit grotto, head massages and then an hour full body massage with Argan oil. Definitely what the Travel Doctor ordered. Our skin shines!

Dinner again was in the square and again we sit in amazement and watch all the going on of the Medina.
[The smoke you can see amongst the crowd on the left are the BBQs we saw earlier being set up for dinner]



A dust storm was rolling in. It was amazing to watch.


This little fellow was using all his best skills trying to negotiate a cookie from the vendor, but she wouldn't budge.


The Henna Ladies are positioned around the Square, encouraging you to get a tattoo done. We were warned against this as they use chemicals which are bad for skin.


Call for evening prayers.

And of course, when you drive a Ferrari you think you can park anywhere, including in the Square.

The Band got the whole place pumping

With locals going about their evening

It is truly an amazing place.
Well our time has finished in Marrakesh and we have had a fantastic time.


The food was delicious, the Riad with its Moroccan architecture was beautiful and we were treated like royalty - especially at breakfast.


The people are friendly and the whole place full of excitement.

We pack and prepare for our next 4 days of something we never expected to do and probably once in life opportunity.

Morocco - a country full of surprises.

Posted by tszeitli 14:23 Archived in Morocco Tagged market train casablanca marrakesh culture_shock Comments (4)

The Final Leg of España

Days 87 and 88 Seville, Antequerra and Ronda

sunny 45 °C


We left La Linea early and headed north towards Seville to see the Royal Palace, Real Alcazar.

The journey took about 2 hours by car but we stopped off for a typical Spanish road side breakfast. The place was lively with people coming and going. We both fitted in, order our ham, cheese sandwiches and coffee in Spanish and started to watch the Olympics with a couple of Australians winning their heats in swimming. The waiter joined in as we cheered. It is a great community atmosphere that is wonderful and genuinely lovely social interaction to start the morning. The waiters are the heart of the place and the customers are like family.


Real Alcazar is still an operational palace for the royal family. It is unique as from its initial existence in XI century AD its been a capital for numerous tribes and different religions over the centuries. The buildings and associated gardens are a combination of Christian, Jewish and Islam cultures.


The Royal Bedroom


Inside the building with all its open areas and tiled walls and floor makes a great place to get away from the out side heat. We spend the first hour (no photos allowed) in the upper palace which is still the functioning area for the King of Spain. It was simply decorated and lovely to walk through and steeped with history of past royal families. We continued our walk around including the gardens. The architecture, with ceramics being the defining theme for everything - the colour of the floor and wall tiles, the way the sun comes into areas and the ability to look into 4 rooms at one time make the whole walk quite surreal. It's a place you have to walk around very slowly to make sure you see all the detail.


The Queen's private swimming baths.


We get a great feeling from Seville. Its a wonderful city with beautiful parks where the shade is cool and great boulevards. Lots of history and very green with all its parks, and it is cool to see Australian gum trees which have been exported to Spain (as well as other countries).


We enjoyed exploring this city, taking a long lunch between 3 and 5 as its simply too hot. Yes, that really says 45 degrees at 5:30pm!


I'm not sure if it was the heat but we had fun exploring this town.


Antequerra and Ronda

Our final day with the car and staying in Caserbemeja is a road trip to Antequerra. Antequerra is only 20 km's north and 10 times bigger than Caserbemeja and also contains an old part of the town with a old church and castle, an Alcazar, on top of the hill. We managed to manoeuvre the car up a bunch of narrow windy streets and did a quick photo stop. Initially we wanted to spend our time here but never really found accommodation that ticked off the specification like Casabermeja.

Still it was nice to see and maybe I would have spent all my time playing golf if we had stayed here.


Next stop a further 1 1/2 hours away is the ancient town of Ronda. We walked into town and through a park and came to a spot overlooking the valley. Ronda is famous for a bridge that spans a gorge in the heart of the town and the numerous building that precariously have been built on the edge of the gorge.


With various literature luminaries spending time here.

Hemmingway famously wrote about bull fights and there is a bull fighting museum which Jen and I avoided.

The trail to the bridge is lovely to walk along with its outlook and 10 minutes later we arrive at the bridge. Scattered on both sides of the bridge and both sides of the river are numerous restaurants that seem to be hanging on the edge.


The drive back was a big loop to the coastline through the Andalusian mountain range. Coming down from the range I now understand why they call the coastline Costa Del Golf. Tucked away in the valleys are carved out lush green golf courses and resorts. Again I fought off temptation and drove past all of them. Jen just smiled as I caught a glimpse of each one.

Back home and our Spain travels are now complete. It's gather our things, pack our bags, final dinner in town, adios to the locals and switch back to travel mode. We are now entering our final 3 weeks of travel, leaving Europe for now and looking forward to our next adventure.

Posted by tszeitli 13:29 Archived in Spain Tagged architecture alcazar scenery hot graffiti islam roman_ruins ceramics christianity muslin sevillia Comments (2)

Little Britain

Day 85 Gibraltar and the Rock

overcast 25 °C

With the freedom of a car for 4 days, we have the ability to choose our own adventure. As Gibraltar is only 159 km away - why not?


We headed down the highway in our little Ford Fiesta towards Gibraltar. It was also a chance to see what the Costa Del Sol is all about with the idea of perhaps coming back one day. In simple terms, its 150 km of hotels, resorts, golf courses, apartments and shops on one side of the freeway and grey sand, ordinary surf, no parking and very crowded beaches on the other. The golf courses do look tempting but I made up my mind this holiday was not about playing golf. The thought of coming back to this coastline is not appealing though and we decided not to investigate further. We'll leave the Costa del Sol to the thousands of English tourists who flock here.

The town on the Spanish side is called La Linea De Concepcion and we booked ourselves in for the night. After we checked into our hotel we walked to the border crossing and got through Passport Control. I use the term Passport Control very loosely as all it is is a short walk through two rooms, flash your passport, get a nod from Immigration / Customs Officers and suddenly you are in England.


The Rock is unmistakable. A giant monolith dominating the entire town. We could clearly see the strange phenomenon of the clouds forming as the air condenses up the south face of the Rock. These clouds then sit on north side of the Rock directly over the main streets of Gibraltar and eventually form into other clouds in the area.

Gibraltar is an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom. It was captured by a group of Dutch and British marines during the War of Spanish Succession in 1704. As the story goes, the War was triggered by the death in 1700 of the last Habsburg King of Spain, the infirm and childless Charles II. Without an heir, he nominated the entire Spanish inheritance to go to Philip, Duke of Anjou, the second-eldest grandson of King Louis XIV of France. In 1701, concerned that this would create a "super country", a threat to European stability and the balance of power, the English, Dutch and Austria (Rome joined in as well) formed the Grand Alliance to thwart the French-Spanish plan and reduce the power of France, and off to war they went. It ended in 1715. However, to this day, the Spanish truly believe that Gibraltar is rightfully Spanish and it should be returned as such. Politics and claims of sovereignty are still active and every now and then there is a border skirmish which involves the Spanish border control checking every passport, and taking their sweet time, creating gridlock.

The UK however seems to hold onto this tiny chunk of Europe almost to spite the Spanish so instantly you get this feeling of ol' London Town. It has been a strategic military position for hundreds of years in particular the Second World War and the Rock rises straight up with the Straits of Gibraltar on one side and a shipping bay on the other.

We catch the shuttle and 100m later we come to halt at a traffic light - why, because a plane is taking off, of course!


The road crosses the runway of the airport and traffic. Air Traffic Control needs to stop cars, bikes and people crossing as we wait for the plane to take off.

Next we were dropped off at the bottom of the cable car and we enjoy 6 minutes of beautiful scenery as we rise up to the top of the Rock.

It happens to be 414 m high and at times on clear days you can see the coastlines of Morocco and Algiers. Instantly we meet the resident Barbary Apes climbing all over the buildings.

The second thing that captures our attention is almost like a smoke stack of clouds rising up the ocean side of the rock and billowing over the top and back towards the bay. As the warm air hits the Rock it rises and cools and then forms clouds right before you - the convection is awesome.

Standing on the platform all is calm and comfortable but stick your head over the edge and it's a roaring gale. This phenomena happens all along the edge of the rock face and we we wander around for the next hour. Jen has gone nuts with the camera in taking photos of the "cute" monkeys.
Every one is different and for the most part they are unimpressed by humans. Until of course, someone leaves a bag unattended or takes their eye off a bag of lollies and they pounce. They seem to have discovered that unoccupied prams are a good target, easily tipped over while parents are distracted.


Great Selfie opportunity, we were just waiting for the Monkey to poop all down his back.


They can be a little vicious if crowded or feel threatened, as one small girl found out after being bitten. The monkeys jump onto the approved taxis that drive up to the top to get a free ride along the top.


We climb around old war gun stations and take in the scenery over the straits of Gibraltar. For the most part the monkeys go about their day ignoring us, going for a stroll.

"Can we have a bit of privacy please?"

"Oh I know Mildred. Kids these days."

"Hmmm, I'm a bit bored.
Maybe I should flash my fearsome teeth and give a bit of a roar.
How was that? Scary?"


This fellow reminded us of one of Los Abuelos in Casabermeja on a hot afternoon.

Each monkey has their own unique expressions.


Universal tender moment between mother and baby

"Do you mind?"

I think we've all felt like this some days...

And who can resist the cheeky babies.

Rather than take the cable car back down the hill we decided to walk down and enjoy the scenery over the top of Gibraltar. Tip for travellers, maps of Gibraltar are crap! Hard to get lost but the map was all out of scale and many paths not shown and we eventually get down to Main Street.

We walk down a lane way and step into a typical street scene in London. English accents abound, pubs, Pounds Sterling is the currency, street signs, red telephone boxes, British post boxes and even a grey drab skyline hanging exactly over the town casting a nice grey hue over everything - just as the Poms like it. The clouds that form from the Rock hover over the town and block the sun to make the English tourists feel at home.

On our walk back to Spain, we walk to the airport crossing. Yes, you walk back over the runway and we could not resist a photo in the middle of the runway.

Back through the so called border crossing and our journey into Little Britain was over. We could see back and watch in amazement as blue sky changes into the clouds at the top edge of the rock face and float over the town. We have gone from Spain to the United Kingdom and back again in a day but sadly no stamp in our passport!

Posted by tszeitli 23:08 Archived in Gibraltar Comments (2)

La Vide Del Pueblo

Days 76 to 84 Casabermeja

sunny 40 °C

We have arrived in Casabermeja. Where is Casabermeja and why go there you ask?

Well, the specification was: find a small traditional village in the South of Spain, away from tourists and live like locals for a couple of weeks. After hours of research, we found Casabermeja, Gateway to the Andalusian mountains, near Seville, with access to the beach at Costa del Sol and small enough to force us to immerse ourselves in Spanish life. We knew this town ticked all the boxes and more, especially when we arrived at our 200-year old rustic Spanish town house where we would spend 13 days.


The town is about 30-minutes’ drive north of Malaga, at the eastern end of Costa Del Sol. The extremely touristy coastline goes all the way down to Gibraltar. In contrast, Casabermeja is a village of white painted houses and, with the exception of 4 days during our stay, nothing much happens in a hurry. Its history dates back to Moorish times, and was established in 1550 by Spanish Emperor Carlos I.
1. Vivienda Rural - Calle Real, 86

Casabermeja is a wonderful little town with a population of about 3000. The pace of daily life is beautifully slow. The town goes about its chores, punctuated with siestas and time to chat. During breaks or when the day’s tasks are done, Los Abuelos and Las Abuelas bring out a kitchen chair, parking themselves in their front doorway, which is practically in the street and there they sit, for hours, watching the day go by and well into the evening.

Our abode is a wonderfully rustic, 200-year old farmhouse with loads of charm.

White plaster walls, old stairs, and a lovely cobbled courtyard.

The men of the village congregate in the Main Square, Centro de Mayores no doubt regaling each other with the same stories of past glory over and over, for years. Benches near the church are a great spot to pass the day chatting, watching the comings and goings from the bus and the market.

A highlight during the day is to watch the local Malaga bus drive up the hill, do a reverse 3-point turn beside the church with absolutely no room for error. The driver seems to have manhandled the massive coach enough times to know exactly how far to drive the bus past the church, easing backwards, full lock one way, then the other, with the nose sneaking past the corner of the house on the other side of the street with the merest of clearances, and deftly slotting into the bus stop. We caught the bus a couple of times and still not sure if its scarier watching from the street or from inside the bus!
Most of the restaurants for dinner are at the bottom of the town, one small Mercado half way up, with some smaller Carne and Pane Tiendas scattered.
English is rare. We often felt bad, after greeting a kindly Abuela or communicating what we needed, it was assumed we could speak more Spanish than we did, launching into a conversation which we could not understand. We found though a smile and nod, or if the body language indicated – usually La Abuela complaining of a crook hip or the heat or the little girl at the pool intent on explaining something to us – a frown and lo siento was enough.
We relished buying local food - feeling quite chuffed with ourselves being able to order what we wanted and communicating the correct quantities to eating at the local restaurants – figuring out the menu and even when we got it wrong, we were rarely disappointed, adding a new delicacy to our repertoire (or knowing what not to order next time). Ordering from horseback on the other hand, needs some skill....
although getting a ride home would be cool.

The Main Street has a gradient of around 10% and unfortunately our villa is almost at the top of the town. Heading down for lunch or dinner is a commitment knowing it’s a long hike back up the hill.
Days are long in Summer. Mornings are slow to get started, with locals starting to venture about at about 9. Sunset brings an end to the day and start of evening routines at about 9pm. Often we were first to wander in for dinner at 9:30pm.
Rarely in bed by midnight, with townspeople still chatting and hanging out, as we dragged ourselves up the hill to bed. We quickly adapt to the lifestyle! It is both a young and an old town with kids happily playing in the streets or in the small kids park while their parents ate dinner and grandparents sat on their kitchen chairs in the street, well past bedtimes of every Aussie kid we know.

We were able to slow down, do some cooking for ourselves in our wonderfully rustic kitchen and recharge a bit for the final legs of our journey.

Mealtimes were often arbitrary - this was technically breakfast, but eaten at lunchtime - we made sure we had our juice, old grape juice!
The biggest decisions each day were which out of the half dozen restaurants we were going to eat at that night, would we start with Cervesas or Tinto Limon (half red wine and lemon squash which is wonderfully refreshing) and whether to try something different on the menu, but also discovering some favourite dishes we’d order again and again.

Our host Luis was a lovely man and a wealth of information, if we had a question, he knew someone. He even arranged a private visit to the local Ceramic Museum.
The whole area is known for its ceramics and we adored the street signs and beautiful murals in the town.
2. Felices fiestas.
The weekend of the 5, 6 and 7 August saw the village have its Felices Fiestas festival for which we still don't quite know what for. It was a trip down memory lane dodgem cars and side show alley, a band, donuts, mechanical bull, jumping castle, trampolines, fairy floss and our previously sleepy village is suddenly transformed with the whole town donning their best outfits – the women must have been sewing for months creating dramatic flamenco style dresses for themselves and their daughters and cute outfits for little boys, all out of the same material. Even Los Abuelos arranged a street party that was pumping well into the AM.

Our usually quiet restaurants are packed, doubling, even tripling the number of tables and we still struggled to get a table.

What was crazy though was the festival each night did not start until very late. Whilst the Kids Rides started a bit earlier, the Dodgem Cars didn’t launch into action until about 11pm – the flashing lights, sparking wires, pumping music and the siren heralding the call to race onto the floor, jump into a car and get ready to seek and destroy. The Siren wails and we're away, then the grimace as cars lined each other up, slamming into each other.

Jen and I did have a go at the dodgem cars and both reminisced when was the last time we rode one of these things. We both accepted a long long time ago!

Jen was treated with a little more respect and did not get smashed too many times, but I was immediately the target of the posse of young Spanish teens. “Gringo!”

They ganged up on me. I did the Aussie flag proud and gave them as good as I got.

The night’s festival would continue into the very early hours of the morning, long after we’d gone to bed. Saturday night was the big night with some still hanging around at 8.30am when we ventured out for our morning walk.

3. Natacion en La Playa y La Piscina

The heat was at times unbearable, especially between 3 and 5 each afternoon, and we had a few days where we just stayed inside – given our hectic travels to date, it was a welcome enforced sojourn or we hung out at Piscina Municipal Pablo Ruiz Picasso, the local pool, alternating between the pool and the shady tree over the course of the day.

In Summer a special bus is arranged for €1.65 per trip, to Playa De Las Acacias, a beach about 10 km north of Malaga. It is stinking hot at 38 deg c and we get to the beach around 11.30 am.
It is still early and the morning haze hasn’t yet burnt off. Fortunately, the beach is still quiet. We stake out a great spot on the grass under palm trees. By about 12.30 pm the beach is packed and with no room at all. We spend the day, again alternating between swim and laying in the shade of the palm trees, adjusting our position, following the shade as the sun moves across the sky.

A couple of interesting observations of beach culture in Costa de Sol.

1. The beach is brown grey dirty sand and sand finishes about 5 m from the water’s edge.
2. From where the sand finishes it turns into a dirt dust bowl that is scalding hot.
3. The locals do not know how to body surf.
4. Locals don't wear hats and stay in the sun all day. How they don't get burnt to a crisp is still unknown.
5. There is a lot of rubbish on the sand and in the water, which is unpleasant. Finding a spot to swim is difficult. We didn’t mind that we looked a bit conspicuous coming out of the water with chip packets, plastic bags and other rubbish, putting it in the bin where it belongs.
6. Swim wear for the girls is worn with their bikini pushed up their bum to convert it into a G- string style. It can’t be comfortable. They are often topless, which doesn’t bother anyone, but is somewhat inconvenient when they have to make a run for the water across the hot sand – things tend to take on a life of their own.

4. Malaga.
The city of Malaga has the largest airport on the Cost a del Sol so it's a prime spot for travellers (usually Poms) to get off and go to the beaches. It also dubbed Costa del Golf as the area all the way down to Gibraltar is filled with resort golf courses.
No, I didn’t play a round. It is also a place for cruise ships to dock while travelling through the Mediterranean.

Malaga is also the birth place of Picasso so we did spend a couple of hours in the Picasso museum.
It did have some nice pieces, e.g. Woman with Raised Arms,
Acrobat which can be viewed from all four sides and still be anatomically possible, as much as a Picasso can be,
and Jacqueline Seated, a portrait of his last wife,
but in comparison the one in Barcelona was better. The Malaga curators may have taken a few liberties with history and Picasso's connections back to Malaga. It was made out that Picasso was very much connected to the town, even though he never visited again after leaving in his early 20s.

The whole of Spain has high esteem for Picasso, nominating and naming many things after him. Given he spent most of his life in France, we're not sure how much of his thoughts remained in Spain.

Malaga is a pretty cool town though with a mix of old and new, modern and traditional.

We spent the day walking along the town mall, the marina and the local beach.

The area has been redeveloped and is a well thought out and a lovely place to visit.


I braved the waters and the rubbish and went for a quick dip, while Jen people watched and kept an eye on our bags. It was refreshing to get in the water with the temperature still in the high 30's but as with most beaches here the sand back to the path way is blistering hot and you need to sprint across, or risk blisters.


We returned to Malaga a few days later to collect a car to do some exploring. Once we escaped the town, through a maze of tiny one way, ridiculously narrow, dead end streets (although GPS showed otherwise). We took the scenic route home via Montes de Malaga. The mountain ranges are spectacular and it is hard to understand how life and farming (olives, almonds, goats and sheep) succeed here in the rocky and harsh environment.


5. Caminar en Las Montanas

All around the town are a series of walks through the Andalusian hills and we picked a 10 km walk Fuente de las Parras Viejas (or The Fountain of the Old Grape Vines) walk.

The walk took us to the top of the town, around the back and then to a natural fountain. This fountain has significance as it was the first source of water to the area to allow the town to develop and also for trading.
About one km from town, it was built in the 18th century (but its location as a water source is documented back to the 16th century).

This ended the first part of our life in Casabermeja.
Our rustic stay was doing the job and as an added bonus we were now also able to watch the Olympics, although coverage favours 'Espana'. I think the neighbours heard the yell when they left the mens swimming relay featuring Australians to cross to the bronze medal playoff between Espania and USA in trap shooting.

Posted by tszeitli 01:09 Archived in Spain Tagged hiking history hot village_life living_local slow_down sideshow_alley dodgem fairy_floss casabermeja hablar_espanol Comments (1)

Real Madrid - Nos encanta España!

Days 73 to 76 Madrid

sunny 38 °C

The weather is HOT and we don't have air conditioning so trying to stay cool is a challenge - which we happily meet. We have AWESOME bars, restaurants and yummy food on our door step.

Venturing out for dinner on our first night, we fell in love with the area. This is the Real Spain!


Roaming the Plaza del Sol with street performers whose skills are on a whole other level, mariachi bands who are always off key, street vendors selling anything and everything. The crews selling knockoff handbags, sunglasses, hats and shoes, with eyes constantly scanning the crowds for police, laying out their fake wares on sheets tethered at each corner, ready to be whisked up and flee with the sacks thrown over a shoulder at a moment's notice.

I made friends with the local general store owner who happily sells me Beers, Wine, Cava - Jen's new favourite drink - and as I discovered, Spanish Sherry, the renowned Tio Pepe's nonetheless, which I thought was Dry White Wine, but was actually not too bad, over ice.

The TV has a tragically awesome HIT-TV channel streaming current and recently current hits. Neither Jen or I have watched music videos lately, so we receive an education on what the Kids are Doin' these days! It reminds Jen of Saturday morning Video Hits.

Our Apartment overlooks a bustling street right off Plaza del Sol which is busy 24 hours a day. After our daily siesta, we open our double french doors (once the extreme heat between 3 -5 pm passes) and let the sounds and smells of Madrid envelop us, and then we head out for dinner.


Our first morning it's off to do a Segway tour to get a quick feel of Madrid and also go to the Bernabéu, home stadium of Real Madrid, voted by FIFA as the greatest football club of the 20th Century. I actually thought it should have gone to Collingwood but I will let that slide. Given it was FIFA, voting had to have been rigged.

We met our guide to get our instructions and crash course in How to Segway.


We have some apprehension as to the process of hopping on one of these contraptions. But how hard could it be we asked ourselves? The sum total of our briefing comprised the guide saying, "Step on, here is the stick, push forward, it goes forward, pull back it goes backwards, move left it goes left, move it right it goes right, OK, practice over there." directing us to an adjacent laneway.


One minute later, "Okay, be careful, leave 1 m space, don't hit anything and let's go!". Great safety talk!


Vamos, We're off.


[A bit difficult to take photos on Segway but this was the most quintessential Retro building I've ever seen]

We then speed for the next 45 minutes zipping through the streets of Madrid - with our guide pointing out key city features - to arrive at the famous Bernabéu.


For the Non-World Game followers, Real Madrid is Cristiano Ronaldo's current team and has been by far the most successful football club in the world, ever.


11 Copas de Europa, 19 Copas del Rey, 32 Campeonatos de Liga Champion, 1 Copa Mundial de Clubes de la FIFA. The stadium holds 85000 people and when full of screaming supporters it would be intimidating.


The Tour is very well done, starting with a view from the top section.


What we would ordinarily call the NoseBleed Section, but when en Español...


The tour is very well put together.


The anticipation builds as we enter the trophy room, a multi media extravaganza, with display cabinets overflowing with trophies and memorabilia through the ages, video displays of past and present players, famous matches and the history of the Club.


The presentation was interactive, and walking through the area it gave you a huge sense of awe and the tradition behind it.


I could have spent all day in there watching the clips from historic matches and the theatre of penalty shoot outs and great goals.


I have previously talked about the great Puskas, one of my father's idols and a Hungarian Legend. He played 254 games for Real Madrid and won 3 European Cups, so a little link back to my Dad.


A most impressive collection of silverware.


All of this culminates in the room everyone comes to see. As we walk the tunnel, through pulsing lights and the sound of a thumping heartbeat, gets everyone aroused.


We enter the darkened sacred inner sanctum which houses Eleven gleaming Copas de Europa,

along with Ballon d'Ors awarded to legends of the game each year.


No other side has come close to matching the success of this team, ever. FIFA therefore created a special award, Copa Mundial de Clubes de la FIFA for the Best Club of the 20th Century.


We get to wander the change rooms.


There's plenty of twinkling eyes and giggles from the girls, knowing that Ronaldo has been naked - RIGHT HERE!


Compared with the visitors quarters, they do have a very nice set up.


"We never want to look too far ahead. We take one game at time!"


Then out through the ramp to ground level - where the magic happens.


Looking back up into the stands, its easy to see this as the modern Colosseum where today's gladiators fight with honour and determination (and for rewards far greater than any Roman Emperor could have imagined) to the fanatical cheers of passionate supporters.


I was in heaven but Jen also got a kick out of seeing what a club like Real Madrid is like and how the locals love this Club so much.


Having Ronaldo, probably one of the two of the best players in world toady, also helps.


Its a wonderful rivalry between Madrid with Ronaldo and FC Barcelona with Messi - Spain is almost the Futbol centre of the Universe. I visited a few sports shops in both Barcelona and Madrid. Not surprisingly, they stock almost exclusively EVERYTHING FC Barcelona or Real Madrid, and very little else.

The ride on our Segway was just as quick back as we spent a little longer at the Stadium as we planned. You all will be happy to know we got back safely, no accidents, no falls, no near misses.

Lifestyle in Spain is very different to back home. People wake up late, things slow down between 2 and 5 pm, and come alive around 9pm. Dinner kicks off with a sangria and normally finishes around 11.30 pm.

When in Spain....do as the locals.

Next day, two words......day off.

Slept in! Headed out at lunchtime to something that should be introduced in Australia. It's Museo de Jamon. Vegetarians avert your eyes.

Basically a delicatessen with a stand up bar serving Bocadillas (sandwiches) as simple as can be with gloriously rowdy waiters yelling your order to the crew in the back.


Within moments, fresh bread, with your choice of cured ham cut off the bone and local cheese for €1.50 and €.90 Cervesa appears in front of you. No butter, mustard, lettuce or other fancies.

You get a little appetiser when you order (a bowl of crisps, a mini hamburgesa or olives) .

There are hundreds of smoked and cured leg hams ageing in tiers hanging from the ceiling.

The noise and chatter is a glorious messy atmosphere.

Local workers, office people and tourists roll in and out all day. We ate here a couple of times - the Bocadillas were amazing and for the sheer entertainment of the waiters and the customers. Today we got takeaways heading off for a picnic in the park for a siesta under the trees.


The park is near the Palacio Real Espania and the Catedral Al Mudena.


Reminds me of Buckingham Palace


Despite it being baking hot, its cool in the gardens.


Back to our apartment with a stop off near the Plaza de Mayor coming across the Peluqueria de Caballeros. What's that you ask?

It's a barber shop and I needed a haircut. Apparently this is one of (or could in fact be) the oldest barber shop in Madrid.


No one spoke English but a few gestures, and the barber taking one look at my head, we were good to go. The old photos on the wall of well dressed and likely important clients, telling of its history as the prime barber shop of of its day. Once it was a long room with 30 barber chairs lined up. Whilst Barber shops like these are making a resurgence back home, its a place where tradition is its pride, not a fad for hipsters. Great value at with €12 euros and the barber was meticulous with the little hair I have.


Emboldened by our Segway hire, we elected to hire bikes for the day. A five hour bike ride around the outer area of Madrid.


As Madrid is very bicycle friendly, it was nice to be able to stop and start at will and especially enjoy two huge parks that are only 2 km out from Plaza Del Sol to roam around.

We visited: Palacio de Cristal, Garriera De St Jeronimo, Paseo De Prado, Estanque, Templo de Bod, and back to the Palaceo Real Espania for a lovely lunch of Tapas.


We were just in time for Turtle Feeding


"I like Turtles"

Dinner was in our local street that we've come to love and it had to be Paella. Again we washed down our food with sangria, and the paella traditional and delicious with the streets always alive.


Overall we found Madrid to be closer to what we hoped Spain would be. Food, culture, vibrant, alive, friendly and great place to hang out. Our Spanish is kind of getting better but so many people speak English now, we often get tongue tied, as we figure out what we want to say in our heads, start to speak only for them to answer in English - so a weird Spanglish ensues.

Next stop will be Casabermeja, most likely the opposite as this small town is away from the tourists and very traditional.

Travel day to Casabermeja. If you go to the map, it's 1 hour bus ride north from Malaga which is the start of the Costa Del Sol. The main beaches run from Malaga all the way down to Gibraltar a distance of about 140 km. Overall the trip to Casabermeja went well and was made simpler with the instructions from our host Luis.

Although, it did not start off well as we entered the subway at 6.15am. After buying our tickets to get to the train station, 3 metro stops away we read the notice board that said the line was closed down for refurbishment and we had to either take a bus or take another line. The joys of travelling on your own and we had to catch a train in 1 hr time. Plan b into action, catch a taxi. Disaster avoided and we're on our way.

Hola Casabermeja, home for the next 13 days.

Posted by tszeitli 05:26 Archived in Spain Tagged food bikes madrid hot tapas sangria segway cava cervesa Comments (1)

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