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Days 97, 98, 99 Fes

sunny 33 °C

The night we arrived in Fes was a whirl wind. Mohammed first dropped us at the bus station so we could pop in and buy our tickets for the remaining portions of our trip and then transported us to the the edge of the Medina.

We bid goodbye with heartfelt thanks and were immediately handed over to the custody our Riad host, also Mohammed, who met us at the car and guided us to our accommodation. Instantly, we are struck with how different Fes Medina is to Marrakesh.


We walk a mere 150 m of narrow lanes 2 m wide, through a crowded lane of shops 4 m wide and finally down a darker lane to Riad Taryana. Once inside its like stepping through a portal to an alternate reality. We take a moment to absorb the beautiful mosaic tiled courtyard, with three floors and with internal facing balconies. It's so quiet and we hear absolutely no noise of the bustling turmoil outside on the streets of the Medina.


Mohammed gave us the 10 minute briefing of all things Fes plus making arrangements for a one day walking tour with a guide from the Fes Tourist Board assuring us, because its endorsed by the Tourist Board, there's absolutely no obligation to buy anything...yeah right!


The next day, after a delicious breakfast, our guide, Fouad takes us for a walk around the Medina. We booked the 3 hour option (rather than the whole day) but very quickly realised 3 hours was an illusion and we weren't getting home until the end of the day.

The Medina is built on a hill and we are staying near the top at the famous Blue Gate.


Unlike Marrakesh, most of the restaurants are centred at the top of the Medina, near the Blue Gate. But, like Marrakesh, the spruckers are equally skilled at "encouraging" us to dine with them. One fellow feigned huge dishonour when we declined to dine with him, instead having tea at another restaurant, so we were "obliged" to dine with him on our final night.


It's a couple of kms to get to the other end. As it is Friday so a significant amount of shops are closed and it is easier for us to walk around. Some of the laneways are only shoulder width and we wander the quiet streets chatting with Fouad.


Whilst there are many wonderful things about Morocco, it is a developing nation, where poverty and social welfare are constant challenges. People with disabilities or those unable to work, are forced to beg, relying on Alms from good Muslims, as pensions or government help is minimal. What is most heartbreaking, especially for Jen, are the street cats. We know that they love cats and dogs, but unfortunately lack of desexing means there are way too many kittens and cats on the street. We regularly see dishes of water and food scraps left out, they are all too thin and likely need worming. Jen struggles to resist trying to feed them all as it only exacerbates the issue. We hope that, with time and development, the people will have enough for their own necessities and pet care should follow.


Fouad gives us a quick history lesson of Morocco and in particular its French history.

In the 19th Century the region fell under the control of the Ottoman Empire. As the world became more mobile, the Ottomans struggled to manage the area from Istanbul. Pirates roamed the coastline and with various European states holding small regions, English in Tangier, Spanish elsewhere and the French wanting a bit too, based on the strategic location of the Mediterranean but the Berber and Bedouin tribes still independent. After a number of conflicts with France (based on French occupation of Algeria), Spain and Germany, the Treaty of Fes was signed in 1912 making Morocco a Protectorate of France. Dissent grew until World War II with nationalist movement gaining momentum. They believed an Allied victory would pave the way for Moroccan Independence. In January 1944, the Istiqlal (Independence) Party released a manifesto demanding full independence, national reunification, and a democratic constitution. Unfortunately, the French refused to accept the manifesto and continued colonial rule. Nearly 9 years later, in December 1952, riots brought a watershed to tensions between Morocco and France. France exiled the Sultan to Madagascar and outlawed the political party. Active opposition to French control escalated and the French were forced to negotiate their exit from Morocco. So, whilst full independence wasn't achieved until 1956, the Manifeste De L'Independence, is still celebrated.


We walk to Al Quaraouiyino University, approximately a 1000 years old and the oldest continually operating University, the first to award educational degrees in the world. It was a university for the education of theology and philosophy (which in centuries past captured all doctrines of medicine, mathematics, astronomy etc). But now it is exclusively for the studies of Islamic religion. It is listed as a UNESCO site and currently being extensively restored. It also sits beside the main river to flow through the Medina.

The river retreated underground a long time ago, and is heavily polluted. As we learn throughout Morocco, there is considerable investment in infrastructure and improvements. The river has been reinstated above ground and the next step is to address the pollution to restore the glory of the river.


We take a walk through Bou Inania Medersa one of the oldest theological colleges in all of Morocco.


Like Ben Yousseff in Marrakesh, there is a quiet calmness and a respectful solitude to this place.


Next stop nestled in amongst the riads and shops is the leather tannery. This place is where the raw hides of sheep, cow, camel and goat come to be cleaned, washed, coloured and dried and then ready to be made into everything leather. The conditions for the workers are pretty bad as most of the process is manual and they have to step inside vats of tanning chemicals and colours to soak the leather with their feet. Today the smell is tolerable but they still give us some fresh mint leaves to mask the smell.


We are taken down from the roof top into 2 floors of leather goods ranging from jackets, bags, shoes, sandals, slippers, belts, all in numerous styles and colours. They do look beautiful but leather products are something we don't need to buy. We thank the guide there and we get away from the assistants very polite but still a sell job. Looking at an entire wall of every type of leather jacket imaginable, the guide assures us that if we can't find one we like, one can be custom made in three hours! As we have travelled now for about 8 days we have heard all the typical ways the locals try and entice you to buy something. It's very subtle and always starts off "Moroccans want to talk and just chat, please come in and have a mint tea...if you don't like then you don't buy....I will not pressure you!", "oh you are Australian, we love Australians". Its quite an art form.

We walk near the largest mosque in Fes, Kairouine, which holds about 22,000 people and has 14 exits. We take a peak inside the the beautiful archways, white and tiled walls, and rugs. The mosques are a haven for people to sit, wash and get out of the heat. As its Friday, 1 pm prayers are the main session of the week with the mosque filling almost to capacity.


After, we get caught at an exit as hundreds leave after prayers and its like being in a Beijing subway human traffic jam. The lanes have specific sections that they make and sell local products, e.g. Copper, timber furniture.

This is Place Seffarine, named for its coppersmith shops, now closed following Friday prayers, for the rest of the day.


Fountains are a lifeblood of the towns. The water is not safe for tourists but locals are accustomed to the mineral content. Many shops host a container of water out front for any local to pause and quench their thirst.


This place was a historic trading post and hostel where caravans could dock, tether their camels and refresh.


After managing to successfully evade buying leather goods earlier, we thought we had sussed out Moroccan shop keepers, but our next stop was the artisan co-op rug palace. The owner first takes us upstairs for a 360 degree view of the city, pointing out landmarks.


He draws our attention to the University and its tower which was used by philosophy students centuries ago to gaze to the heavens to try to figure out the world, much like Galileo did and diligently carry out their studies in the rooms below the green roofs.


We knew he was softening us up, but it was nice to talk to him about the history of Fes and also current issues - his sadness at the pain in the world wrongly committed in the name of Islam, experiencing the world through satellite dishes and modern day issues.


Once back downstairs, the mint tea magically appears, we are invited to sit for a moment, and very quickly beautiful rugs are laid out, layer upon layer in front of us, we're happily caught in the Web. He is working on Jen and the "women always picks the colour" and " it's something for life", "she is a beautiful woman" "the woman is the head of the home, you can't be successful in the world if you don't have a happy home" . Quickly the carpets are being flung in front of us and Jen and I know we are in trouble. Fortunately the night before we agreed that we will buy a rug to complete our collection of rugs at home so we select two carpets and enter the game of bargaining. Fortunately these rugs are better quality than the ones in the Merzouga Coop.

The negotiations are fairly quick and we have our carpet rolled up, and money exchanged (including an escort to the ATM), and everyone is happy. The carpet we bought will go perfectly with the other Persian rugs we have at home and it's a great memory for us of our time in Morocco.


Lunch is down a small laneway that we would have never found ourselves and we enter a beautiful Riad style courtyard made into a restaurant. The decor is stunning, the tiles vibrant and food delicious, and plentiful - this was just one entree (we shared).

And every meal is followed with Moroccan Whiskey (Mint Tea) which is perfect.


We agreed with our guide to grab a petit taxi and go to sites outside the Medina. First stop is on top of the hill, with ancient Kasbah ruins, adjacent to the Medina to get a full view of the vastness of the Medina. We get an appreciation of how packed in are the buildings and how far the old city wall goes.


We drive to the Royal Palace and wander through the the main street of the Jewish quarter. Contrasting Moroccan Islamic architecture, the buildings here have the balcony on the outside. No Jewish people live here anymore, having moved to a new region of Fes. Unlike the Middle East and other parts of North Africa, Muslims, Jews and Christians are able to live in harmony and without conflict.


One thing the Moroccans we meet are very quick to emphasise on how tolerant they are of other religions especially Jewish and Christianity. They want us to know the ISIS Muslims and the ones in Nice and Paris are not real Muslims, they are just crazy people. From what we have seen to date and heard we believe this is the case. Jen and I think it is definitely not extremist and the current King Mohammed VI has made significant changes to the rights of women, education, dress codes, empowering women to positions in parliament and professional life. He is well educated and enlightened about the future - subsidising solar panel farms and investment in irrigation and water reticulation, and has even forced the closure of the manufacture of plastic bags to address rubbish.

It's back into the taxi and we take a ride up the hill to the co-op ceramic and tile factory. This place was amazing. It is where they make all the Moroccan style plates, bowls, cups, tiles, fountains, table etc.


First stop is the pottery wheel and Jen is asked to have a go. She jumps at the chance especially as a 6 ft young good looking Moroccan with strong hands was about to give her a lesson on how to use the wheel. I instantly think of Unchanged Melody, Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in Ghost and roll my eyes. Jen is just grinning.....what!


We are taken to the kilns and learn the interesting fact the ovens are actually fuelled by burning olive pits and hay and get to required 1200 degrees C.


It's onto the painter who has numerous pieces in front of him. Everything is painted by hand with precision accuracy. We learn about the dyes and that this purple dye turns blue when fired.


The painter grabs Jen's hand and paints a henna style design and her name in Arabic. This guy probably does this to very pretty girl that comes by but it still has Jen grinning from ear to ear with her signature smile.


The assistant shows us where the workers chip all the tiles into pieces for all the mosaics for walls, fountains, tables and ponds.
These guys spend all day with a small pick and chip the tiles to various shapes and sizes, beside a guy assembling a mosaic fountain - all done in reverse and then grouted.


Its now into the show rooms and see all the various products and the fountains capture our eyes. The colours are so vibrant and we think how good would that look mounted some how on the wall next to our pool at home. Quickly reality kicks back, there is no hope we get in our backpack. The assistant assures us they can deliver!


We resist but take plenty of photos of the styles and make mental note of the idea for when we redo the tiles at home. We have to buy something - two little bowls carefully wrapped hopefully make it home in one piece.


On our way back, at this fountain in the roundabout, amongst peak hour traffic, this darling fellow was gleefully splashing about enjoying the cool water in the heat.


Well that was the a full day of great sites, loads of facts and something very unique. Jen and I loved the whole day, our guide Fouad was fantastic and we have fallen in love with Fes.

Unfortunately we've succumbed to gastro so we don't venture too far. We wandered nearby streets and look for some small souvenirs for home. My mate Mike has requested a Fes from Fes. We stroll down one of the two main lanes that have the general stuff you can buy but the thing that surprises us is that virtually nobody wears the fes and its hard to find a shop that even sells them. We find the things to buy and go have lunch to develop a shopping strategy. As most of you know I am the introvert and Jen is the extrovert but somehow I got to be the designated negotiator, even though Jen does this stuff for a living, go figure! We go back out for dinner and shopping and successfully mange to bargain on one set of gifts. However, we were up against a seasoned pro - a 12 year old boy and I knew I needed all my years of bargaining experience to say I got a good deal but he was highly accomplished and tried all his best tricks. I used the old method of leaving the shop as the price was too high. After about 30 minutes we beat him down from approximately $90 to a more realistic $28. Success!

We have finished with Fes and loved every minute of it. It is a fun place, few tourists, very traditional and again super friendly. Next morning we do some final photo shots from the roof of our Riad. Time to say goodbye.

The next day is a travel day by bus from Fes to Chefchaouen, a four hours trip. The trip was uneventful other than it was 45 minutes late leaving Fes and got later as we went due in part to a comfort stop right beside an open air BBQ. Tried as we could, we were bewildered as to how it worked. You buy a portion of mince or cuts of meat at the butcher, pay by weight, then hand it to the BBQ guys you press it into wire racks and cook it over hot coals, then proceeding to turn and shuffle through the cooking process, along with at least a dozen other racks, without tags or labels and then shoving them in loaves of bread and handing over to the owner. How on earth do they keep track of who's meat is whose. Minimal delays were encountered at the next comfort stop, again for reasons unknown, the bus driver refused to allow a grandmother board and ignoring her as she proceeded to follow the bus banging on the side as he eased out of the chaotic car park. We don't speak Arabic but it didn't take much to understand the abuse she was hurling at him.

As we come in the hot and windy bus station we realised the town is perched uphill and the Medina is straight up from the bus station and we need to walk up a road at 20% gradient.

Our Riad is above the square and we settle into our three days in Chefchaouen.

Posted by tszeitli 10:18 Archived in Morocco Tagged food culture history shopping friendly fes negotiations gastro Comments (1)

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)

Pisa & Rome - Tourism on Steroids, but it has to be done

Day 61, 62, 63, and 64 - Pisa, Rome and getting to Aix-en-Provence

sunny 35 °C

We leave Toscana with sadness as we know we were leaving tranquillity and launching ourselves into two of the most tourist visited cities in the world.

The first part was a flying stop off in Pisa which is exactly what I did last time. Luke and Eleanor did us a huge favour by dropping us off at Pisa train station saving us heaps of time and hassles. We made our way down the main mall with the hordes of locals and tourists and after about a 2 km walk, the suburban streets opened up to a huge lawn area. The area was surrounded by museums and there in the middle is the Duomo and the monument to stuffed up civil engineering, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. This is basically what everyone comes to see in Pisa and they get in and get out! That is exactly what we did. You can't appreciate the lean on the tower unless you see it with your own eyes (we calculated about 6 degrees).

Jen quickly took some photos, we walked around and then had our snack on the lawns. Just as fun was watching everyone at some point in time get a Pisa photo pushing it over, leaning, holding up, finger on top and numerous other ways. So what did we do? - exactly the same!


Surprisingly, Pisa actually has some nice architecture and buildings, but sadly most don't get much of a look in.
Once done it was the walk back to the train station which did have a seedy feel about it so we were glad to catch our train to Rome. Italian train schedules lived up to their reputation and we had about a 1 1/2 delay, Eventually we arrived at our apartment, approximately 200 m from the Spanish Steps. The apartment was lovely, tucked in a tiny lane and close to most things including an ice cream shop 100 m away. That night we decided to cook for ourselves and enjoy the beautiful apartment. Jen whipped up a spaghetti pesto washed down with some Chianti.

Day 1 was a full on self managed walking tour of Rome combined with a 4 hour tour of the Colosseo and the Roman Forum. First stop was the Fontana do Trevi with the mass of tourists.

Fortunately Jen's camera is very good and it can get all of the fountain and hide the fact that there were over a thousand of other tourists there. Do not ask Jen about what she thinks about people taking photos with their phone or iPad at tourist locales...

From there we walked to see a number of tourists spots:
St. Ignazio di Loyola,

the very unique Pantheon,
down along the Fume Tevere,
stop off at Ponte Fabricio,
top end of the Roman Forum,

down along Via del Fori, Imperiali,

and finally we made it to the Colosseo. All in one morning!

The Colosseo stands majestically amongst all the other ruins, very well preserved and about double the size of the one we saw in Pula.

For the history buffs, some really interesting facts about the whole gladiator thing and the Colosseo:

  1. The Colosseo operated with games for about 500 years from the first to the sixth century.
  2. In that time it saw about 500,000 people killed and 1,000,000 animals of which a significant number were lions, to the point where they were almost extinct
  3. It was built on the site of a park where Nero had a massive statue of himself. Nero was not popular, so the locals were happy to pull that down.
  4. I assume most of you have watched the movie Gladiator and it happens to be quite accurate especially how the Colosseo looked and how the gladiators, animals and the like, were kept underneath the timber floored arena.
  1. The arena was covered in sand to absorb all the blood - which is understood to have been in its day quite horrific. Part of the floor of the arena has been reinstated to show the magnitude of the theatre but also the extent of underground facilities.

  1. It held 70,000 people and had seating up to top where there were sails for sun protection. Every person was given free entry and a cup of wine. Every citizen was issued a bone tablet with a number to show gate entry and seating area. Let's call them corporate boxes for the senators, the emperor right up front and the poor supporters had the nose bleed sections. Nothing has changed, right?


The Colosseo walls are covered with pock marks which are holes remaining after all the iron was pulled out when the Roman Empire began to crumble and residents and trades of Rome collected what they needed.

The steel was needed for making cannon balls, horseshoes and other military stuff. Portions were also restored in 19th Century, and the contrast is clear.

The whole structure also originally featured a façade of Travertine and marble - the majority of which is now gone. Apparently, the steps of St Peters at the Vatican are built from Colosseo Travertine and much of the finery and marble now adorns the Vatican buildings. Italians have a saying that they don't steal, they 'recycle'. Our Vatican guide informed us that there are more Egyptian Obelisks in Rome than in Egypt, so many of them were "recycled"!

A 19th century earthquake caused a portion of the structure to collapse and it was repaired, hence the unique line we know today.

The Games would be held irregularly, at the discretion of the Emperor as a "gift" to the people for entertainment, but normally after a battle had been won, food harvests or other significant celebration days. The rough schedule comprised: in the morning, animals would be forced to fight other animals and next it was animals fighting humans. Next, mythical theatre plays during lunch which included the real death of "the actor" who would be a convicted criminal condemned to execution. For example, the fable of Icarus was recreated with the condemned, launched by catapult, all during lunch for the spectators.

Finally, the day's main event would be Gladiator vs. Gladiator. This was much like our current UFC. It was not normal for a gladiator to die, they were to valuable to their owners due to the gambling that went on the side. The Gladiators would fight just enough to have one be over powered. If he fought well, with bravery and honour, the crowd would show a thumb down to indicate put your sword away and he fights another day. If the crowd thought it was a poor fight and the gladiator do not put up a worthy show then the crowd would pull their thumb across their throat meaning kill him.

After the Colasseo it was down to the Roman Forum and I must say this was very impressive.

The condition of the ruins, the history of the area, the massive buildings built during the Roman Empire and just the sheer magnitude of how big this city would have been. We learned much about the chronological timing post the Roman Empire, which declined in from about the sixth century.


The Roman Forum was taken over by other eras, built over the top. The church we dubbed the Lasagna Church has distinct layers of roman foundations, medieval footings, then middle ages below an 18th / 19th Century building.

Our guide also explained to us how much of the finery during the height of the Roman Empire was pinched from Jerusalem, including a mythical Menorah, the actual is long gone, but records of it remain.

Eventually, the site was abandoned and eventually sediments filled it in and it became a paddock with cows and livestock. It was not until 1899 the area started to be excavated and unearthed this amazing area. We went down along the Fori imperiali, Fori de Cesar and through the arc di Constantino. There is a Basilica in ruins, identified by three large arches, which is bigger than any Basilica we still have today, which is impressive.


A great lookout of the area - Palentine Hill - is called the Palantino, the actually birthplace of Rome and the basis for the word "palace". Unbelievable in its size and remnants of grandeur, including yellow marble shipped whole from Africa.


Behind the Palantino was the original emperors' palaces. This place in its time would easily rival any palace in the world but now lays in ruins.

Final walk was along the Circo Massimo (being set up for a Bruce Springsteen concert), back along the Fiume Tevere, Piazza Navona

and eventually home. Those of you who have been to Rome know that's a big walk and that's only 2/3 of Rome excluding the Vatican.

The next day was the big one, "The Vaticano". Jen did well and got special early start with tour guide and headphones. On arrival at the Vatican we quickly appreciated getting these special tickets, as the queue was 200m long at 8.30am. The tour was made up of 4 sections: the museum, the Sistine Chapel, St Peters Basilica and the front area of St Peters Basilica, including the Pieta. The first part was a corridor of over 100m with the walls covered in massive tapestries depicting the life of Jesus. Their quality is amazing, and the eyes seem to follow you around the room. They are cleaned on a rolling basis, exclusively by a sect of nuns, and only them.


The second corridor was even more impressive being 170 m long and the walls covered with accurately surveyed geographical cartography frescos of Italy.

Now it was into the Sistine Chapel. This was a shuffle one by one along a corridor and steps and then into the chapel. No talking, and no photos although there was still some idiot tourists who disrespectfully took photos, despite being told not too, playing cat and mouse with security. Simply because they could sneak a photo, didn't mean that they should - especially in the crypts. There's something icky about taking photos of a coffin. Makes for a most disrespectful experience. I won't go into historical detail other than it took 3 years to paint and 10 years to clean. The chapel has only been recently cleaned and a couple of uncleaned patches have been left to appreciate the task. The pre-cleaned state was almost black! To be fair to the Vatican, the whole process went pretty smoothly and yes it was crowded but nothing we did not expect. You have to keep moving and not linger. It is a very impressive piece of art work.

Next into the Basilica, the biggest in the world standing at 150 m high and 250m long.
It is impressive, ornate, historical, massive in size, fascinating, renaissance art and tourism at its peak. All the art work on the walls are mosaics, the frescos disappearing a long time ago. The mosaics however have faithfully replicated the original art and are magnificent. Because the tiles are immune to fading, flash photography is allowed - again, just because one can photograph something, doesn't mean you should. Flashes going off everywhere makes for a different experience and not one that is ideal for appreciating the space.

The theme of today is Michelango's first, last and greatest works. The Dome was his last work (finished after his death) and the Pieta, his first at the age of 23, and of course the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is his most magnificent undertaking. Looking at the Pieta, you just marvel at how can somebody convert a single block of marble and make something so detailed, folds of fabric, body details and emotion in a face. This is very much like his statue of "David" in its lifelike quality.


After this it was a wander around the front courtyard which you all know is where the pope stands to give his services. Witness the Vatican Guards change.

The funny side of things was entering the religious tourist shop where you can buy all forms of stuff including a calendar of the pope or the top 12 hottest priests.

Phew we got through that without totally being overwhelmed other than a little churched out. Home was another walk along the Via Cola di Rienzo, Ponte Margherita and the Piazza del Popolo. We stayed in and again cooked a delicious pasta but the night was not finished.

Jen wanted to get some night photos of the Trevi fountain thinking its 10 pm and crowds must have gone by now. We ventured off, and as we passed the last corner into the square, we were met with a couple thousand people all gathered around the fountain.


In fact there was more people at night then there is during the day.

This kind of summed things up: you will have thousands of tourists in Rome, Florence and Pisa in what ever you do but "you just have to see it".

Arrivederci Italy.....now onto Aix-en-Provence.

Our transfer from Rome, Italy to Aix en Provence, France was all straight forward and our bags arrived this time. The weather has cranked itself up again and now we are in the south of France and we are back up to the low 30's and dry heat. Another AirBNB and settled into an apartment about 50 m of the main drag.

Posted by tszeitli 10:32 Archived in Italy Tagged churches history church italy crowds rome photos tourists vatican michelangelo roman_ruins trevi_fountain pieta Comments (1)

Revisiting Past Journeys and Goodbye to Driving.

Day 47 and 48 Mostar, Sarajevo and back to Zagreb

sunny 30 °C

Jen visited Mostar and Sarajevo five years ago. She wanted to revisit these two places, which she holds very special, and show me around.

Mostar is a tiny town but hugely significant due to a tiny bridge and the war during 1991 to 1998.

It was named after the bridge keepers (mostari) who in the medieval times guarded the Stari Most (Old Bridge) over the Neretva River. The Old Bridge, built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina's most recognisable landmarks.

It has been a tourist site for centuries, with daredevils diving off the bridge to squeals of delight from onlookers, provided enough coins have been collected from patrons in the restaurants and those below on the shore. It is still the case today. This diver was trying to drum up more by teasing the crowd that he was almost ready to jump, but needed a little more.

Lots of tourists and tourist shops but that did not bother us. The place has a mystic about it that is hard to describe.

You also need to have some understanding about the Civil War between the peoples of the former Yugoslavia - which is complicated and is as difficult to comprehend today, as we are sure it was during time.

The thing that gets you straight away is this beautiful bridge. A stop at the bookshop at one end of the bridge to watch a documentary compiling footage for the dark days of 1993 culminating in the majestic bridge finally crumbling into the river in November 1993, after steady barrage of mortar and artillery attacks, despite the efforts of Mostar's residents to protect it, is tremendously sobering. The history books speak fondly of the bridge, and during conflicts over the centuries, the bridge had been spared - as if the bridge had a higher presence. It leaves you shaking your head in disbelief or in tears. It goes through how the bridge and surrounding area was completely destroyed and then recently rebuilt. Jen commented how much had changed and still felt emotional towards it.

I have a look through her photos from that Balkans trip.

We could see the changes that have occurred in that relatively short time. War wounds have healed more but the scars, physical and emotional are still there.

To lift our spirits, its time for Icecream and we're on our way to Sarajevo. The scenery during the drive is spectacular.

Jen did a great job getting us to the apartment which was 1 km from the Old Town. We quickly made our way into the square and wandered the streets and the memories came flooding back for Jen.


There is a saying, famously proclaimed by legend, that whoever drinks water in Sarajevo - never leaves Sarajevo and is destined to return. Jen returned!

We stumbled across an exhibition dedicated to the images and stories of the Srebrenica Massacre, during the Balkans War. The exhibition went through and explained how over 8000 Bosnian people (mostly men and boys) were slaughtered and the efforts to find and identify the victims. So far investigators have found 100's of mass grave sites and there are still thousands missing. The movies and pictures in the exhibition left everyone we saw speechless including ourselves.

Sarajevo also suffered brutal periods, laid siege by the Serbian army, cutting off from the world, inflicting massive damage and loss of Bosnian people. The town was surrounded by the Serbs and the fighting and inhumanity was something that had not been seen since the Second World War. When I was here in 1985 you could feel the tension between all the groups and once communism ended and Tito gone, it opened the flood gates for a horrific and brutal period. The World said, after WWII that we must never let this happen again, but sadly the 1990s demonstrated it can.

With our World currently trying to deal with the challenges of IS, racism, displaced refugees, and America seemingly descending further and further into chaos, we despair for what the future holds.


After a spot of souvenir shopping and an espresso, Sarajevo style, we visited another significant spot where Prince Ferdinand, heir to the Austro- Hungarian empire, and his wife were assassinated in 1914 by Franz Ferdinand which was the spark that ignited the First World War.
Jen was also able to find the small bazaar she and her travel companions visited last time which gave her a fun kick! [Simon - do you remember this place?]

We continued to wander the many little lane ways with numerous shops bashing out amazing pieces of copper and also coffee grinders. It is especially poignant that bullet casings and artillery shells are used by metal smiths for pens, coffee grinders, and other "souvenirs".

The old part of town has been rebuilt and now has a different feeling and move forward. Many of the Sarajevo Roses have now faded away or been re-paved, the needs of a bustling city, overtaking the reminders of the painful past.

After procuring some delicious fruit to sustain us, we headed off for our 5 hour straight drive to Zagreb where we would fly out and onto to our next adventure. The drive from Sarajevo to the Bosnia border was along 2 lanes highways with lots of trucks and was pretty slow at times. Once we crossed the border it was back to 4 lane highway hurtling along 130 km / hr. Once again the BMWs and Mercedes flying past me at 160 km/ hr. We had travelled over 1600 km/s and sadly tomorrow morning we would be saying good bye to our little Ford Festiva buzz box.

All in all our adventures through Croatia and Bosnia has been amazing, diverse, spectacular scenery, beautiful beaches, crystal clear water and a very unique history although more recently very brutal. The people are friendly and helpful and the food has been mouth watering delicious. Big thumbs up from Jen and I.

Posted by tszeitli 14:18 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Tagged history driving scenery old_town rebuild revisit war_scars don't_forget Comments (2)

Family that Lives Far Away But Always Close to Our Hearts

Day 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37 Veszprém

sunny 25 °C

After a lovely first night so warmly embraced by family and fed until we almost popped (and Hungary won!), we spent a truly special six days in Veszprém - time that was way beyond anything we could have expected or had hoped for, and will always cherish.

My Mum was born in Szengál, a town close to Veszprém (an hour and a half by train, south west of Budapest) where my relatives all now live. It was a wonderful feeling to drive down the same driveway to familiar sights from when I was here the first time as a skinny 11 year old in 1972 or as a curly haired (still skinny) backpacker in 1985 sporting a very impressive Dennis Lillie moustache!

My first cousins, Láci and Váli, brother and sister, live as neighbours with their families, back to back, with a path joining the two homes beneath cherry trees laden with delicious ruby fruit.

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My Aunty Esti lives close, only 6 doors up the street.

We stayed with Láci and his partner Éva.
We were treated to visits to Lake Balaton,

the castle at Sumeg,
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the castle and old part of Veszprem,
Tihany, Kesenthy and Herend.

Herend is famous for its fine porcelain factory, an enduring industry in the area, operating since 1826 and is one of the world's largest ceramic factories. Both Váli and her daughter Váli have worked there, helping to craft the beautiful fine porcelain. We were treated to a wonderful tour by the artists, showing us how they create the pieces, from filling moulds with porcelain, forming the figures, cutwork, glazing, painting and decorating.


My Mum has many many beautiful Herend figurines and tableware - even I was responsible for bringing a few magnificent Herend figurines to Australia in 1972 - smuggled out of the country under the noses of Soviet Customs Officers in a purpose built oversized overcoat - who would suspect a skinny little kid sneaking national treasures out under their noses! Mum loves them all, treating each one as if it is a treasured pet. Jen and I even possess a couple of special pieces, gifted by Mum for our wedding. The factory and museum tour was amazing and we saw a number of pieces that are sitting in my Mum's loungeroom. Each piece is individually crafted and painted so are quite the collectors items. I bought Jen a brooch and Váli and Váli bought here a pendant, a treasured memento.

These Harlequins are about three feet tall and are collectors items, retailing for about $20,000.

We also visited thermal hot water springs at Hévíz. Being Aussie, when presented with a large body of water in which to swim and appropriately attired in swimming costumes, naturally, Jen and I - swam. Gleefully swimming around the entire lake. Apparently however, "swimming" is not the done thing. Hévíz has therapeutic qualities and is high in many compounds including sulphur with medicinal, healing, restorative and preventative properties. Accordingly, older Hungarians afflicted with the usual aches and pains of ageing, often with the prescription of their GP (enabling them a discounted entry fee) soak in the lake.
Most Hungarians can't swim so they all float about in the water with their rubber pool noodles - not really doing anything, elaborate hairstyles are safe as not a splash of water is created, and even very little conversation. It seems Jen and I caused some consternation amongst the locals as we free-stroked our way around. We believe complaints may have been raised as the resident lifeguard was sent over to hover over us to calm us down - and communications over the two-way about those "Englishpeople" [in Hungarian] was fairly self evident.

The sulphur turned our silver rings the most amazing burnished gold colour!

The food was amazing and Jen loved the traditional home cooking delicacies Váli, Váli, Láci and Éva kept bringing out for us. Each meal I had was like stepping back in time with memories of my childhood and my Mum's cooking - even breakfast was a trip down memory lane
Things like: letcho, langos, fish soup, palacsinta, kolbasz, fresh bread, fresh cherries off the tree, paprika chicken with nokedli, gulyás soup, chicken soup, meat soup, egg soup, cherry strudel, walnut strudel, Apple strudel, shredded cabbage soup. I even had tripe! Each dinner meal would also start with either a shot of Parlinka or Unicom, both were to kick start the digestive system and aid in good health, or so everyone tells us.

Jen and I concocted our lunch one day unsupervised from Hungarian leftovers out of the fridge. The family was incredulous about what we did and how ridiculous it was. It tasted good to us! Food is a great passion of everyone - particularly keeping true to the traditions. Everyone is a great cook.

One afternoon we received a cooking tutorial on a few of our Hungarian favourites to make when we get home. Láci even sourced a Hungarian Cooking Book for us so we're all set to attempt to recreate the wonderful flavours at home, bring a little part of Hungary with us.

The real highlight was the special time with my relatives and extended family.

I spent time with my cousin Tündi and her mother Mimi Neni who I met the past two times I was Hungary and always had fond memories.
We also met my other cousins and their family for the first time, Károly and Kornél.

Károly and his wife, Lilla's darling daughter Janka, found a new play thing. Jen didn't speak Hungarian, Janka didn't speak English but delighted in saying Jen's full name, escorting her around the house all night, explaining the toys, counting, showing Jen the fish and so on.

We visited the cemetery in Szengál where my grandparents, uncles and aunties now rest in peace.


We saw the farm area where my mum and her siblings grew up, wandering along the creek where Mum and her sisters would play, including a game, throwing a shoe in at the top of the creek and chasing it down hill to the bridge.


Jen did a fantastic job of conversing with my relatives - acquiring a few Hungarian words during our stay - mostly beverages and Yes and No. Jen was also able to extract a very comprehensive family tree covering about five generations. I cannot thank Jen enough for developing this and for how she so easily settled in, quickly becoming comfortable with my relatives. Also special thanks to my relatives for treating her so warmly and making her feel very much part of the family.

I spent some special time with Aunty Esti who still has a spring in her step, looks after a beautiful garden and has a great zest for keeping busy.
Her darling dog is a great companion.
She also runs around at 100 m/ hr just like my Mum. It was great to spend time with Láci, Éva, Váli, Váli, Tamás, Boti and Laura.
Even BB-8 dropped by.
We chatted, joked, reminisced, shared photos, drank Parlinka, ate delicious food until our tummies almost exploded and enjoyed each others company.

A grand family dinner was arranged on the Saturday night bringing the whole family together, watching Hungary play Iceland, football in the back yard.
Everyone, including Moxie, had a great time!

It has been 30 years since I was here and I promise it won't be 30 years the next time I am back. Jen loved the way we were so warmly welcomed into their homes and for going out of their way, taking time out of busy lives for the 6 days.

Sadly we said our goodbyes, took some photos with family identical to where I stood 46 and 30 years ago.
1972 and Now
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1972, 1985 and now
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I hope they come out to Australia one day so Jen and I can return their generosity and hospitality.

Our train got delayed for 20 minutes so we had some final time together, delaying our final goodbyes, at the train station. During the delay, Váli, Váli and Laura struck upon the idea to accompany us on the train to Szekesfaharvar, and have a day trip, so we extended the goodbyes for another hour, very sweet.

We then made our way back to Budapest and caught an afternoon train to Zagreb to start our driving holiday in Croatia and Bosnia.

Köszönöm mindenkinek a mi idő Veszpremen.

Posted by tszeitli 23:27 Archived in Hungary Tagged food history family special legacy generations Comments (4)

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