Saturday, February 18, 2012

Adventures in Tangier, Morocco

What will be our lasting memories of our trip to Tangier – it was very chilly, we were hassled everywhere as soon as we left the hotel, we were never sure how ripped off we were getting, but knew we were! BUT we had a lovely lovely time!

Tangier is a city on the north coast of Morocco and is less that an hour on the ferry from Spain and as we were not sure if we would get there sailing, we decided before we left Gib we should pop across.  After a bus journey to Tarifa we caught the ferry across to the main port in Tangier, we had ready various reviews and knew we would be approached by touts, but as soon as we were off the ferry the barrage began.  It was quite intimidating to start with, as soon as you manage to get rid of one another appears with all the same spiel! We persevered and walked off into what we thought was the direction of the hotel, after walking for about an hour Mark popped into what we think was a Spanish University/School and got some help, they were exceptionally helpful and called the hotel and we got some directions. The hotel turned out to be nowhere near where it had been on Google maps!

The hotel – Dar-El-Kasbah which we had found online was fantastic, small and on the edge of the Medina.  Lots of traditional decoration in an old building but clean and really well looked after.  The staff could not have been nicer and it was a relief to get there.

We headed out into the Medina in the afternoon and the hassle began again, did we want a tour, where were we going, were we English, they didn’t give up!! More than anything we were unsure how to deal with them, did we ignore them, talk to them and tell them no, scowl at them or all of the above! We had hoped to get ourselves a nice mint tea but it was just too much like hard work so headed back to hotel and was bliss to sit in peace with our pot of mint tea and yummy Moroccan biscuits/cakes.

mmmm Moroccan tea, all biscuits already eaten!
After some time to rest and consider the options we were much happier about heading out the following day.  We had a fantastic Moroccan breakfast (super cheap) in the courtyard at the hotel and headed out to face the hoards!

Food glorious food !!

1st stop was into the Medina and admire the view over the harbour, we had been pointed in this direction by a friendly tout the previous afternoon and before we even had time to get the camera out there he was! We decided that Abdul could give us a bit of a tour, but not until we had visited the museum.

Dar-el-Makhzen was where the sultans stayed when in Morocco and was built in the 17th century.  It is now a museum unfortunately photos are prohibited so we only have a few of the courtyards. The exhibits were limited but the building was lovely if a bit run down and found some of archaeological pieces interesting and also some maps outlining trading routes over the centuries. At less than £1 entrance it was definitely worth a visit.

As soon as we stepped outside of the museum Abdul was waiting for us and wanted us to see the snake charmer, the Cobra did not look hugely impressed to be out, but he did look quite nice not that I wanted to get too close.  Then Mark and I reluctantly had our photos taken with a smaller, friendlier snake – you can see how impressed I am!

We then happily trotted along after Abdul around the Medina which we found was a good way to stop the other touts. The volume of tat being sold was amazing but it was interesting to walk around the food markets where the locals did actually seem to be shopping.  The fish market was really impressive, never seen so many fish and you actually got quite used to the smell!!
Fish market
Abdul’s main aim was to get us into a specific shop to buy something, we had briefly visited the day before and decided we would like to buy a scarf but on arrival the shop keeper (like in Mr Ben) decided we wanted to buy a rug/tent/throw at least something much larger than a scarf.  After showing us beautiful rugs/throws made from Camel’s wool, Aloe Vera, Silk/Wool we had to persuade him we only wanted a scarf! And then it was a hard bargain.  Here is me having my head wrapped up ready for a sandstorm. 

 Such a shame that you have to leave the shop knowing you probably have been ripped off and if it wasn’t so difficult we might have considered buying a throw but just knew you would be overcharged.

Abdul should us round the remainder of the Medina including Petite Socco which was a complete maze and it was actually really useful to have a guide.

Tiny lane with our guide Abdul
We felt that we had done the Medina and spent a few hours in the afternoon wandering around the new town and along the seafront.  The seafront is full of more modern hotels although some of it is still quite run down.

On arrival back at the hotel I had a really nice surprise.

mmmmmm cake :)
After quite a uninspiring Moroccan meal the night before, we headed for a modern restaurant for pizza and salad in the evening, with an alcohol free birthday :)

Morning view from rood of hotel, odd mix of old town and 100's of satellite dishes 
Good start to our final morning with another monster breakfast, on the recommendation of the hotel owner we went to the American Legation museum.  We were very lucky that when we arrived the door was closed but an English woman who had obviously been before was banging on the door, we would have had no idea that you had to knock to get in! The building was one of the first American Embassy’s abroad (1800’s) and was a fantastic building, looked just like any one of the old
buildings from the outside but was very impressive inside and actually went across 2 sides of the road/pathway that ran below.

Building to the left and also straight ahead over road/path below

Courtyard in American Legation
It contained lots of old painting of Tangers but the building itself is worth a visit.

Our final day was quite odd as we had not seen very many tourists during our stay but suddenly there were coach parties and cruiseship passengers everywhere! Which actually meant less hassle for us, ahhhhhhhhhhhh.

We headed for one final wander along the beach before heading for our ferry.

Amanda (new scarf), Dori (spot her on the bag) on beach in Tangier

Not a wonderful photo of Tarifa on return journey on ferry

Days out and about

After returning from skiing we had the car for a few more days, so after a day of rest and having the luxury of a car to do the weekly shop we spent a couple of days out and about.

On the Saturday we headed back to Tarifa, we can’t resist a walk along the beach on a sunny day.  It was still a little chilly, but at the time there was snow in the UK so we weren’t complaining.

During a walk around the old town we went into the market and came across the artwork we had seen in the grounds of the art college in Cadiz in July!  You might recognise the ladies below although there were 5 in Cadiz, the pregnant lady we had not seen, but she was huge! And then the “head” which had also been in Cadiz all impressive pieces of artwork and so odd to see them again in Tarifa especially in the market which is tiny and we would not normally even take a look in – what a nice surprise.

Look how tiny the chair look behind her!

Love these strange woman, want one in my house!

We then headed off down the beach with our picnic to make the most of the sunshine.

Tarifa island with lighthouse over looking Morocco in distance

Lovely long sandy Tarifa beach

Thee next day we headed up into the hills behind Algeciras Bay into the Alcornocales Natural Park which is part of the GR7 (Gran Recorrido/Long journey) footpath which is 1250kn through Andalucía and is part of the bigger European route 4 which is over 10,000km and runs through Spain, the French Pyrenees, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Romania and Greece – not that we were attempting to go further than a couple of miles! 

The views were stunning back to Gib and over to Morocco, we were lucky the sun was shinning, but it was again a chilly day.
Gibraltar in the distance
The park is full of cork oak trees most of which have been harvested for the cork, the pictures below show one of the larger trees and how it has been stripped of the cork.

Cork Tree

Close up of the stripped cork
The walk was slightly strange as you are very much stuck to one path as not able to deviate due to the fenced off cork trees and also due to hunting ground. The paths are reasonable well sign posted which would be good if you want to properly walk the GR7 route.  We were lucky to see lots of wildlife, there are a large number of scary looking cows/bulls roaming around they are big with large horns but you would have though they were man eaters the way we were avoiding them! They were accompanied by Egrets and lots of them.  There were also a large number of birds of prey mainly what we believe is the Golden Eagle which are lifted by the thermals over the hills in groups of 10+, they look really impressive with their huge wingspan and we saw what we think was a Red Kite which was hunting.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Fun in Granada & Sierra Nevada

Not sure where the time is going but last week was particularly busy, we had a break from getting the jobs done on the boat and headed off to have some fun.  We hired a car and decided to drive up to the Sierra Nevada to make the most of the snow and ski for a couple of days.  On the way had a nice drive up the coast road and stopped off at Puerto Banus to do some boat and people watching at the marina.  Puerto Banus is filled with designer shops and there were lots of elegant people making the most of the Sunday sunshine in the bars and restaurants which surround the marina.  The marina itself is mainly full of power boats, some of these are pretty big but after a summer of seeing some huge power boats especially in Mallorca these no longer seemed very impressive.  But we had a nice walk in the sunshine and sat alongside the beach to eat our pack lunch – no champagne lunch for us!

We then finished the day by heading up to Michelle’s for a Sunday roast and the evening catching up whilst Mark attempted to beat the boys on the Wii.  Ziggy and Asher were good as always and it was lovely to see Michelle, funny that this year I have seen her more than I have over the past 16 years which is so nice.

Amanda with Michelle, Ziggy & Asher

We had a cold early start which started by scarping the ice of the car was a shock when we had been treated to such beautiful weather in Gibraltar. We then had a 2 hour drive to Granada which is a large town at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  The town was established as far back as the Greeks in the 5th century but to be honest this not very noticeable when you drive on the motorway past the sprawling retail parks, McDonalds, etc. Unfortunately as we only had a limited mount of time we did not drive into the town but headed for the Alhambra.

The Alhambra is a Moorish citadel and palace on top of the hill just outside the main town.  It is a World Heritage site and somewhere we were both keen to visit whilst having the opportunity.  The entire site is huge and if you ever fancy a visit there is a strange system where you can only buy tickets for half a day either morning or afternoon and then you have to book at slot to enter the Nasrid Palace to avoid overcrowding, actually best to try to book tickets in advance as you can imagine it getting very busy.  It was pretty busy when we visited on a cold winters day midweek.

The construction of the Alhambra started in 1237 by the Nasrid dynasty when this area of Spain was under Moorish rule and was occupied by the Nasrid dynasty through to 1492 when it was surrendered to the Catholics Monarchs.  It was allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries but was rediscovered in the 19th century when the restoration began.

The site consists of various buildings including the palaces, a church, convent, baths, military fortifications plus some every elaborate gardens.  We could have spent hours exploring.

Convent in Alhambra & Mark hiding in the shadows

Overlooking entrance to Palaces from Fortifications
The palace buildings have been restored and are extremely decorative with Islamic mosaics, beautiful tiles and often surrounding ornamental courtyards.

Courtyard in Palace buildings

Inside Palace

Inside Palace
The gardens  - Generalife as almost a separate attraction but we only briefly walked around them as we were running out of energy after an early start, with a warmer day they would be lovely to sit around and have a picnic.

View of main Alhambra from Generalife (Gardens)
View from Alhambra over Granada

View from Alhambra of snowing mountains - yippee off to ski them!
After our dose of culture we drove around 30km up the mountains to the ski resort.  We had all our accommodation and skis booked so we headed to get our skis which all seemed a bit strange when all we really wanted to have our own lovely skis and boots which are tucked away back in the UK L but actually the equipment we hired was all very reasonable. We then had the trauma of getting into our accommodation and no-one being available but once we had finally got someone to let us in the we had lovely self catering studio which was clean, warm, had ski and boot storage and just about everything we needed and we managed to have half a conversation in Spanish to find out all we needed for the morning.

Day 1 was bright, sunny and just cold enough, we drove our lovely little car up the mountain to a remote carpark and lift, managed to get our ski pass and we were off!
After not skiing for a year thankfully it all came flooding back as we hurtled down to the main pistes. There are around 90km of piste so it is not a huge resort but it is all in one location and everywhere is pretty easy to navigate. Even after a leisurely start in the morning we were still on the lift by 9.30am and the resort was pretty empty but not surprising when it was mainly Spanish and we were lucky that it is very quiet during the week.

The sun was shinning by our first stop at around 11.45 we had already topped 75kmph on our new App – Ski Tracks, what fun we were going to have trying to beat that speed!

View whilst having a quick sit down

Stunning views overlooking resort
By the end of the day we had both managed to stay in one piece, ski over 35km (had forgotten to switch App back on after lunch so missed some) and had not headed off the slope until 4.30pm! It felt odd being back at apartment, showered and relaxed whilst still light and we could see still over the pistes – most other places we have skied has been almost dark by the time we have headed off the mountain.

View from our apartment onto the piste
Day 2 was stunning and we were raring to go.  Snow was good and snow making was pumping out to make sure it stayed that way.  Again it was not too busy, with no queues and relatively empty slopes.  The weather was still cold enough to make sure you had to keep moving and goggles were a must – no t-shirts and sunglasses!

Mark looking stunned! (I think she meant !) 
We made sure we headed to the highest point of the resort at just over 3400m; it was a bit blowy but worth it for the views.  You could see the sea and Africa! Which was pretty amazing, it is difficult to see in the photo but in the distance I can assure you it is the sea.  I didn’t hang around too long to take a look the wind was bitter cold so I left Mark with the camera.

Chilly at 3400m with wind blowing

Far in the distance the sea and Africa!
We topped over 90 kmph and skied over 40km and the legs were worn out by the end of the day.

No après-ski for us it was as much as we could do to have a shower and stick out ready meal in the microwave.

As always we were joined by Dori on our trip, this time she bought along her Canadian friend,
Dori & Pal in the evening sun on balcony

Sunset from balcony
Day 3 was not such a good start, our Spanish host called at before 9am concerned that we were going to drive and ski, there had been snow overnight, it was still snowing but we were not deterred and knew that we had skied in worse so carried on regardless.  Our super little hire car headed up the hill with no snow chains and we happy once we had reached the carpark only to find it empty and only 2 snowboarders in site.  But off we went!

First couple of hours visibility was awful which was disappointing with all the fresh snow, very few people were skiing and it was all a bit slow going but we weren’t going to miss our last day!  It did mean that we had to have take shelter for a little longer than we would like but with the fantastic hot chocolate you get on the mountain this was no problem and the prices were a lot more acceptable than they had been in Switzerland last year!  Good news was that by 2.30pm the snow had stopped and visibility was clearing so we had some fantastic skiing on the fresh snow and were able to ski through to around 5pm, skiing over 20km, so glad we persevered and made the most of it.

Funniest part was arriving back to the car to find that no other cars had joined us in the car park and our little car was all alone!

The Tangerine dream all alone in the carpark

3.5 hours in the car and we were back on board Magnum and ready to sleep!