A Travellerspoint blog

Blue-washed mountain town

Chefchaouen

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After a smooth 3 hour journey by bus into the Rif Mountains in Northern Morocco, we arrived in Plaza Uta el-Hammam, the central square of Chefchaouen’s medina. Unfortunately it was raining and it took us a while to find our riad that was in an alley, off an alley, off a small street. It was worth the hunt though and we were welcomed into the modern but traditionally styled hotel with a cosy room and nice rooftop terrace.

Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen

We spent 3 days in this artsy, blue-washed mountain village exploring the medina and the surrounding countryside. Luckily the rain stopped and for the rest of our time there it was warm and bright. Chefchaouen reminded us a little of the small villages we had visited in Andalusia and we learnt that when the Moors and Jews were expelled from Granada they came here as refugees and so brought the Spanish influence with them. Almost the entire town has a pale blue-wash across its white walls, the colour of the Jews.

Chefchaouen - indigo powders used for blue wash

Chefchaouen - indigo powders used for blue wash


Chefchaouen - blue washed walls

Chefchaouen - blue washed walls

Chefchaouen isn’t a place for sightseeing. Instead we filled out time wandering the streets of the medina, observing local life and taking lots of photographs. This place is really a photographer’s dream, although the people here run in the opposite direction when they see a camera, due to religious beliefs. It’s a shame as there are some nice wrinkly old faces we would really like to have captured! Still, we got a few…

Chefchaouen boy

Chefchaouen boy


Chefchaouen man

Chefchaouen man


Chefchaouen ladies

Chefchaouen ladies


Chefchaouen man drinking mint tea

Chefchaouen man drinking mint tea


Chefchaouen ladies

Chefchaouen ladies


Chefchaouen lady

Chefchaouen lady


Chefchaouen men having a good discussion

Chefchaouen men having a good discussion


Trendy chics of Chefchaouen

Trendy chics of Chefchaouen

We saw children playing in the streets, basic butcher and bakery stores, street vendors, a local fruit and veg market and lots of local craftsmen such as wood and leather workers, tailors, cobblers etc. Plus the usual tourist and souvenir shops, which are fun for a while too. Most afternoons we could be found drinking mint tea in the square and doing people-watching, just like the locals do. Sophia also joined the Moroccan ladies in the square and had some henna done.

Chefchaouen lady walking home from the market

Chefchaouen lady walking home from the market


Berber ladies' hats for sale in Chefchaouen

Berber ladies' hats for sale in Chefchaouen


Chefchaouen streets

Chefchaouen streets


Chefchaouen - blue and orange

Chefchaouen - blue and orange


Chefchaouen - lady blowing her henna to dry it

Chefchaouen - lady blowing her henna to dry it

Whilst in town, we tried out a few different food places and had some tasty and cheap food, including lots more tagines and cous cous dishes. The novelty of Moroccan food hasn’t worn off yet, although we have started to notice a lack of variety on the menus.

Chefchaouen Kasbah is a red walled fortress within the medina and we visited one afternoon to climb the tower for good views. There was also a nice garden inside and a small museum. Next door is the Grand Mosque with its unusual octagonal tower, built in the 15th century.

Chefchaouen - Moroccan flag over the Kasbah

Chefchaouen - Moroccan flag over the Kasbah


Chefchaouen imam outside of the mosque

Chefchaouen imam outside of the mosque

One afternoon we went for a walk outside of the medina. We first passed some small waterfalls where we saw local ladies doing their laundry and hanging it to dry in trees. We then walked uphill just outside of town and passed an old mosque that is no longer in use. We climbed further and had great views back over the walled medina. We passed through fields and saw men with donkeys carrying loads and ladies herding grazing goats. We eventually reached a small village where we briefly spoke to a few people. It was a nice, spontaneous walk and a good break from the busy medina.

Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen


Chefchaouen man in jellaba

Chefchaouen man in jellaba


Chefchaouen men

Chefchaouen men


Chefchaouen door

Chefchaouen door


Chefchaouen alleys

Chefchaouen alleys

Chefchaouen shopping for dyes

Chefchaouen shopping for dyes


Sit, have mint tea, and buy my rugs...

Sit, have mint tea, and buy my rugs...


Sully in Chefchaouen

Sully in Chefchaouen


Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen

Posted by Up.Up.and.Away 04.06.2012 14:49 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Gateway to Africa

Tangier

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We left our hotel in Algeciras and walked to the port where we caught a free transfer bus to the port of Tarifa and hopped onto our 11am ferry to Tangier. As you can imagine, we were very excited to be heading into a new continent but also nervous about getting back into the swing of backpacking after 6 weeks of European comfort. Plus we would now be taking long bus journeys in the heat again, quite daunting after driving around Andalusia for two weeks! The boat was nicer than expected, especially compared to the ones we took to get around the islands of Thailand. It only takes half an hour to get to Morocco from Spain, so it’s really striking how different the two places are. It was a rainy and unsteady ride over.

Our transport across the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco

Our transport across the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco

We checked into our hotel in the new town of Tangier, a modern place but with old-fashioned prices, and then made our way to the old town and medina area of the city. With its history of foreign control and its proximity to Spain, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Tangier still has a traditional way of life and hasn’t become westernised/commercialised for tourists.

Our first stop was the Grand Socco, a large, palm-fringed plaza with a central fountain, and with a keyhole shaped gate into the medina. It was a hot day, and we sat for a while and enjoyed our first images of Moroccan life. One of the most notable things is the traditional, and sometimes colourful, clothing worn by people of all ages called jellaba and their pointed leather babouche shoes. The sound of throaty Arabic being spoken all around was also quite remarkable. Throw in a couple of goats, the call to prayer and a distant beat of drums and the scene is set. Welcome to North Africa.

Grand Socco, Tangier

Grand Socco, Tangier


Mosque at Grand Socco, Tangier

Mosque at Grand Socco, Tangier


Grand socco fountain, Tangier

Grand socco fountain, Tangier


Grand socco, Tangier

Grand socco, Tangier

We went into a yellow building at the side of the square that houses DARNA, a women’s institute. They have a small community-run restaurant where we ordered a lunch of tangy Moroccan salad and a chicken tagine. The meal was delicious, especially the caramelised currants with the chicken, and we were surprised that eating salad can actually be this enjoyable!

DARNA womens institue, Tangier

DARNA womens institue, Tangier


Gate to the medina, Tangier

Gate to the medina, Tangier

Refuelled and rested, we decided to brave the medina, having read that it is a ‘labyrinth of alleyways’, which is contained within the 15th century fortress walls built by the Portuguese. We were lucky not to get lost and whilst exploring the maze of lanes we were rewarded with fleeting glimpses of ancient ways of living as local life unfolded around us. We reached the Grand Mosque, once a Portuguese church, where afternoon prayers were taking place. This building with its colourful minaret overlooks a square called Petit Socco, a small place with cafes and outdoor seating and is welcoming to tourists. However, this was once a notorious crossroads of the city where drug deals and prostitution was rife and visitors would not have ventured here. We also found the fresh produce and fish markets which were a hive of activity and full of pungent aromas!

Moroccan fabrics on sale in the medina

Moroccan fabrics on sale in the medina


Fresh produce market in Tangier medina - olives

Fresh produce market in Tangier medina - olives


Traditional bread, Tangier

Traditional bread, Tangier


Berber ladies at the market

Berber ladies at the market


Fish market, Tangier medina

Fish market, Tangier medina


Babouches for sale in Tangier medina

Babouches for sale in Tangier medina


Grand Mosque, Tangier

Grand Mosque, Tangier

After exploring the medina, we entered the area of the kasbah and walked the streets looking at all of the little doors in all shapes and colours. A local man appointed himself as our unofficial tour guide and although that sounds nice, we knew at some point he would start demanding high levels of cash, so we made efforts to shake him off! We explored the kasbah museum, which is housed in the former sultan’s palace and has a nice courtyard and exotic garden too.

Tangier kasbah

Tangier kasbah


Tangier medina doors

Tangier medina doors


Tangier medina doors

Tangier medina doors


Tangier medina doors

Tangier medina doors


In the kasbah of Tangier trying to run from a tourguide we didn't want to use!

In the kasbah of Tangier trying to run from a tourguide we didn't want to use!


View of Tangier from the kasbah walls

View of Tangier from the kasbah walls

After some Moroccan sweets, we wandered back to the Grand Socco and whiled away some time at a street side café drinking sweet mint tea and people watching.

Moroccan sweeties

Moroccan sweeties


Mint tea overlooking the square in Tangier

Mint tea overlooking the square in Tangier

We also called into St Andrew's church, nearby, that was built on land granted by Queen Victoria. It is an Anglican church but Moorish in design and so has the Lord's prayer written in Arabic and also has some Islamic and Jewish elements to its design so is quite unusual!

St Andrew's Church, Tangier

St Andrew's Church, Tangier


Sunshine at St Andrews, Tangier

Sunshine at St Andrews, Tangier

In the early evening we walked to the ville nouvelle, built by the French, with its Riviera architecture and colonial ambience. So far here, we have had to communicate with the locals in French as they do’t speak English as much. We sat in the square called Terrasse des Paresseux where we had a great view of the port and even over the water to Spain. In the new town there were lots of young, modern looking locals hanging around, it seems that the streets get busier in the cool evenings here. We had a nice dinner that was inexpensive and happily wandered back to our hotel for a good night’s sleep as we planned to travel by bus into the Rif mountains the next morning….

Place de France, Tangier

Place de France, Tangier


Mosque in Tangier new town

Mosque in Tangier new town

Our little update would have ended there if it wasn’t for the fact that Sully woke up in the night with a giant black moth fluttering on his face. How could we not share this story? He woke up, turned on the lights and called “Sophia…the room...is infested…with moths” (Now there’s something you don’t hear every day). Sophia sat up in bed and as her eyes adjusted to the light she found Sully jumping around the room with a Nike trainer in his hand swatting at giant moths and swearing at them in Guajarati as they dive bombed towards him! It would have been funny if we weren’t so tired. Luckily the hotel guy was sympathetic and once he saw the whole floor nicely decorated with moths and that there were more still lingering in the light shades, he moved us to a new room. Oh la la, as the French would say.

Posted by Up.Up.and.Away 23.05.2012 01:35 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Spain's South

Algar, Arcos de la frontera, Cadiz, Tarifa, Gibraltar, Algeciras

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Leaving Seville after a breakfast of toast and chocolate spread (when in Rome..) we drove South towards a town called Algar. It was a scenic countryside drive and just before we reached the town we arrived at our 'resort' - a cluster of small bungalows on a hillside overlooking a turquoise lake with a mountain backdrop. We had booked this place cheap online and were very pleasantly surprised when we arrived! The views were stunning and there didn't seem to be any other people in sight.

Algar, Spain

Algar, Spain


Algar, our 3 days of peace overlooking the lake

Algar, our 3 days of peace overlooking the lake

Although we were meant to be spending two nights here, we quickly decided that we should extend and spend another night as it was just too peaceful and relaxing. Plus, the weather was gorgeous so we found lots of reasons to sit around doing nothing! We managed to get exercise each day by walking down the steep hill to the lake (easy) and then walking back up (not so fun). One evening, there was a small fiesta taking place in the town and we walked around for a while watching the local people in their celebrations. There was a fun fair for the kids and the ladies were dressed in flamenco dresses.

Algar, our 3 days of peace overlooking the lake

Algar, our 3 days of peace overlooking the lake


Algar, our 3 days of peace overlooking the lake

Algar, our 3 days of peace overlooking the lake


Algar, our 3 days of peace overlooking the lake

Algar, our 3 days of peace overlooking the lake

The bungalow was a cute little place with a nice living and dining area. We bought some supplies from the local town store and cooked up some feasts. It was good to have a little break from the tapas. There was a small dog at the resort called Blanquita who took a liking to us and slept outside our front door at night. It was a very peaceful place and a lucky find - there's a good chance we'll be back here in future!

Blanquita the dog in algar

Blanquita the dog in algar


Algar, our 3 days of peace overlooking the lake

Algar, our 3 days of peace overlooking the lake


Algar, our 3 days of peace overlooking the lake

Algar, our 3 days of peace overlooking the lake


Algar, our 3 days of peace overlooking the lake

Algar, our 3 days of peace overlooking the lake

After our few days of doing not much we drove through Arcos de la Frontera where some of the town's buildings are perched very close to the cliff edge and looked like they could fall down at any moment. This is one of Andalucia's famous pueblos blancos (white towns) that are very popular with tourists because they are so picturesque.

Arcos de la Frontera

Arcos de la Frontera


Arcos de la Frontera

Arcos de la Frontera

We then drove to the coastal city of Cadiz, a busy port centre with lots of history. We spent a couple of hours there, where we saw the cathedral and other important buildings, saw the sea wall and had a good lunch. It's an interesting city but we didn't feel like lingering there too long.

Cathedral of Cadiz

Cathedral of Cadiz


Cadiz

Cadiz


Cadiz

Cadiz


Sea walls of Cadiz

Sea walls of Cadiz


Town hall, Cadiz

Town hall, Cadiz

We stopped over night on the Costa de la Luz, the Atlantic coast of Spain's South and much less visited by tourists than the Costa del Sol further along. It was quite windy and we sat and watched some kite surfers making the most of the opportunity. There were some pretty beaches along this coast and we visited quite a few of them. We were surprised to find clear water and almost white powdery sand at some of them!

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Beaches of Costa de la Luz - Atlantic coast

Beaches of Costa de la Luz - Atlantic coast


Beaches of Costa de la Luz - Atlantic coast

Beaches of Costa de la Luz - Atlantic coast


Beaches of Costa de la Luz - Atlantic coast - kite surfers

Beaches of Costa de la Luz - Atlantic coast - kite surfers


Beaches of Costa de la Luz - Atlantic coast - kite surfers

Beaches of Costa de la Luz - Atlantic coast - kite surfers

We also called into another pueblo blanco called Vejer de la frontera that was similar to Arcos and is a nice way to spend an hour or two looking around the streets and the small boutiques and craft shops.

Vejer de la frontera - statue of traditional dress

Vejer de la frontera - statue of traditional dress


Soph in Vejer de la frontera

Soph in Vejer de la frontera


Vejer de la frontera

Vejer de la frontera


Vejer de la frontera

Vejer de la frontera


Sully in Vejer de la frontera

Sully in Vejer de la frontera

Our next stop was Tarifa, a port town with regular passenger ferries across to Morocco. We booked our tickets for a couple of days ahead and were instantly excited to be heading across the water to Tangier, which you can vaguely see on the horizon from Tarifa, on a clear day. Tarifa had a nice atmosphere as we wandered the streets. It was a very windy day and as we walked along by the water we were almost swept sideways. Along the beach area, there was a constant spray of water and sand whipped up by the wind!

Sully enjoying the Atlantic breeze in Tarifa

Sully enjoying the Atlantic breeze in Tarifa


Tarifa beach - too windy to sunbathe

Tarifa beach - too windy to sunbathe


Tarifa

Tarifa


Tarifa

Tarifa


Tarifa

Tarifa


Tarifa

Tarifa

Before we could leave Spain, we found ourselves lodged in Algeciras, an uninspiring and rather ugly port town, but with cheap accomodation and a good location for departure! From here we took a day trip into Gibraltar, a strip of Spanish soil with a big mountain on it that belongs to the British. It's quite bizarre to cross over the border and instantly see English everywhere, English red phone boxes, proper policemen and bunting for the forthcoming Queen's Jubilee. We sat in the square and ate fish and chips like tourists. It would have felt like we were at home, if only the weather weren't so nice!

Casemates Square in Gibraltar

Casemates Square in Gibraltar


Mosque of the Custodian of the Two Holy Shrines

Mosque of the Custodian of the Two Holy Shrines


Lighthouse of Gibraltar

Lighthouse of Gibraltar

Posted by Up.Up.and.Away 23.05.2012 01:17 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Flamenco Fiesta

Seville

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We had read in our guide book that “driving in Seville is an ordeal” but we arrived confidently thinking that if anyone can do it, Sully can.

What we didn’t factor in was Sophia’s nerves getting the better of us from the passenger seat as she attempted the less challenging role of giving directions. ‘I thought you liked puzzles’?!’ Sully asked in his attempt to pacify her. “Navigating our way through a labyrinth of narrow, one-way streets with tight bends, dead ends, impatient drivers and unfamiliar street signs in 38 degree heat isn’t quite the same as doing a Sudoku”, she replied in a panicked tone.

Whilst Sophia tried to calm her nerves and mostly kept her eyes closed, Sully had the time of his life squeezing the car through tight gaps with less than an inch on each side, finding a dead end and then reversing back out. At one point the front of the car went through a gap but the wider back end meant we couldn’t get through, it was a tight squeeze. We would have gotten out to take a photo but weren’t able to open the doors. Sophia assisted by breathing in and holding her breath as we squeezed through the gaps, it makes all the difference! Not.

Eventually, we did of course find our hostel. Whilst Sully checked in with an adrenaline induced smile, Sophia checked for the grey hairs she must have earned during the journey through the city centre. We had arrived in Seville, at last.

We spent our first afternoon doing what we do best these days; sitting outside a little restaurant in a busy square, eating tapas, talking non-stop and watching the world go by. We tried a Sevillian speciality dish called espinacas con garbanzos (spinach with chickpeas) which was quite nice and another called revueltos (scrambled egg with mushrooms and garlic). We find Spanish food to be quite rich, heavy and intense in flavour so small tapas portions are just right.

In the evening we took a stroll around the old quarter of Seville where we saw the Giralda tower and baroque cathedral, the largest in the world, lit up against the darkening sky. The bell tower was particularly beautiful in design and was, in fact, once the minaret of a mosque at this site. There was a great atmosphere, with tourists eating at outdoor restaurants, young university students socialising in groups and lots of couples enjoying an evening stroll. There were horses and carts lined up too, as we had seen in Cordoba. The shops were closed but we did some window shopping and saw the flamenco inspired fashion that is so popular here.

Seville at night

Seville at night


Seville giralda by night

Seville giralda by night


Seville by night

Seville by night


Us on our evening stroll in Seville

Us on our evening stroll in Seville

Whilst in the city we visited the Royal Alcazar, a fortified palace complex that has been occupied by rulers of Seville since the time of the Romans. Some of the ornate Moorish designs in the interior of the palace as well as the garden complexes and fountains reminded us of the Alhambra in Granada. We particularly enjoyed the gardens here and the peacocks roaming around, it was another hot and sunny day so we had a nice relax surrounded by the scent of jasmine and orange blossom.

alcazar real in Seville

alcazar real in Seville


Palace of alcazar real in Seville

Palace of alcazar real in Seville


Palace of alcazar real in Seville

Palace of alcazar real in Seville


Palace of alcazar real in Seville

Palace of alcazar real in Seville


Seville

Seville


Gardens of alcazar real in Seville

Gardens of alcazar real in Seville


Gardens of alcazar real in Seville - peacock

Gardens of alcazar real in Seville - peacock


Gardens of alcazar real in Seville

Gardens of alcazar real in Seville

It was a Saturday and it must be wedding season here as we saw a number of wedding parties. The brides came to the Alcazar and Cathedral area for their photos and we enjoyed seeing the guests’ posh wedding outfits and the fancy wedding cars covered in flowers. Weddings here seem to be an extremely grand affair!

Just outside of the Alcazar we found a photographic exhibition on Cuba and Mali that was very impressive, we spent a while there, especially since it had air conditioning, and are now really keen to see Cuba some time, it looks amazing.

The rest of our time was spent roaming the streets of the Santa Cruz and Macarena districts, eating more tapas and indulging on ice-creams, including a delicious lemon and mint flavoured sorbet. We also visited the bull ring – apparently the most famous in the world - but didn’t get to see any bullfights. We finished off the afternoon with a visit to the Museo de Bellas Artes, an art gallery located in a former convent with some nice frescoes as well as an impressive collection of works.

Cathedral in Seville

Cathedral in Seville


Us in Seville

Us in Seville


Architecture of Seville

Architecture of Seville


City gates, Seville

City gates, Seville


Sevillian man

Sevillian man


Church festival, seville

Church festival, seville

The huge highlight of our time in Seville was the flamenco tableo we attended late on Saturday night. We knew that Seville is the home of flamenco and were keen to see something authentic, rather than a diluted version put on just for tourists. We even considered attending a performance in the private home of a gypsy lady who is well known for her dance shows. In the end, we took a recommendation from our hostel and we were not disappointed, especially as the female dancer is one of the best in the world.

We arrived at the tiny, dimly lit venue in time to grab the best seats in the house, right at the front and close enough to be hit by the flying sweat as the dancers twisted through the air! The tableo lasted for 90 minutes and included all of the elements of flamenco; male and female dances, guitartist and singer. The show was very intense and dramatic and the artists were full of energy and passion for their work. We were truly amazed by the atmosphere they created whilst stamping their feet, their outfits, clapping their hands in a unique rhythm and spontaneously shouting “olé”! We took so many photos and videos hoping to capture the true art form of flamenco, it was a great ending to our time in Seville.

Flamenco in Seville

Flamenco in Seville


Flamenco in Seville

Flamenco in Seville


Flamenco in Seville

Flamenco in Seville


Flamenco in Seville

Flamenco in Seville


Flamenco in Seville

Flamenco in Seville


Flamenco in Seville

Flamenco in Seville

Posted by Up.Up.and.Away 19.05.2012 12:55 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

The frying pan of Andalucia

Ecija

Our next stop was Ecija, a small town with big heat, situated in a valley between sandy hills with a desert-like landscape. It is known by the locals as la sartenilla de Andalucia – the frying pan of Andalucia – because it gets so hot there (it once reached 52°). It was roasting hot and the only solution was to sit around doing not much and eating magnum icecreams!

Streets of Ecija

Streets of Ecija

Ecija is known for its skyline; eleven tall baroque church towers covered in glistening, brightly coloured tiles. When we arrived in the town, we were surprised to find it felt quite deserted, like the heat had forced everyone into a constant siesta. We worked our way through the brilliant white streets to the palm-shaded main square where we sat and enjoyed the surrounding architecture and watched life pass by us. The town lost many of its old buildings during an earthquake in 1755 and everything was rebuilt in the baroque style, so the town has a different look to others we have visited in the region.

Nice flowers in the square, Ecija

Nice flowers in the square, Ecija

In the late afternoon we ventured into one of the churches where there was a service taking place. There was a nice courtyard and we were greeted in Spanish by a local man but unfortunately our Spanish wasn’t good enough to make conversation, it’s a shame as we haven’t had much chance to get to know local people since arriving in Spain.

Another church in Ecija

Another church in Ecija


Church in Plaza Mayor, Ejica

Church in Plaza Mayor, Ejica


Churches in Ecija

Churches in Ecija


Ecija shadows in the late afternoon sun

Ecija shadows in the late afternoon sun


Plaza Mayor, Ecija

Plaza Mayor, Ecija


Reading in the park

Reading in the park


Yet another church in Ecija

Yet another church in Ecija

However, we did manage to practise our Spanish before we left the next morning. Our hotel was located out of town near a service station and there was a ‘diner’ that served breakfast. When we arrived it was packed full of people at the bar and all the tables were full. The waiting staff were rushed off their feet and literally throwing things around. It was chaos and there was Spanish being shouted all around us. We decided to throw ourselves in at the deep end and worked our way towards the front, eventually managed to grab someone’s attention and even managed to get ourselves understood in placing an order. Success came served as toasted fresh bread covered with a tomato salsa, freshly squeezed orange juice and strong coffee. It was all delicious; no wonder the place is so popular.

We only stayed in Ecija for one night, so after our well-earned breakfast we drove towards Seville, the ‘greatest city of the Spanish South’, to see what all the hype is about….

Posted by Up.Up.and.Away 15.05.2012 03:04 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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