Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Sevilla and Morocco!

Last night I arrived back completely exhausted from a phenomenal weekend in Seville and Morocco.  The trip was long and tiring, but I loved every bit of it!

Early on Thursday morning, Hannah and I caught a train from Almería to Seville (Amy came later).  The train was supposed to only take six hours, but ended up taking seven and a half. We arrived mid-afternoon and immediately sought out a great place to have lunch.  We eventually chose a small tapas bar and ate delicious paella and spinach with garbanzo beans. Although we noticed that a lot of the tapas were the same as the ones normally offerened in Almería, we also noticed that there were some tapas unique to Seville!  After living in Spain for so long, it's easy to pick up on these slight differences.  Anyway, after lunch we spent the afternoon exploring the picturesque city of Seville.  We walked past the famous Cathedral, Torre de Oro (gold tower), and the Guadalquivir River.  The city's arquitecture is stunning, and walking around the city is entertainment in itself.  After a quick cafe con leche and pastry, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up for the night.  For dinner, we did a bit of a tapas bar crawl and tried some of the new Sevillian tapas. After tapas we strolled around the city a bit, but with quickly grew tired with exhaustion from the long journey and headed back to the hotel around midnight.

Day two in Sevilla started off with a trip to Starbucks.  Some of you may criticize me for this, but trust me when I say I don't have Starbucks often and it's a real treat when I get to indulge in my cafe americano.  After that, we ventured to the notorious Plaza de España and the gardens that surround it.  We enjoyed a long lunch in the Sevillan sun and treated ourselves to ice cream afterwards. Then, we headed back to the hotel to grab our suitcases, and headed to the meeting point for our Morocco trip.  We traveled with a group called "Discover Sevilla" which organizes various trips around Seville.  We boarded one of the two coach busses with our four guides (two Spanish, two American) and drove down to the port (it took about 3 hours).  Then we boarded a ferry to Tangiers, a port city in northern Morocco.  After about an hour on the ferry, we had arrived in Africa!  We got back on the busses (which had been brought over on the ferry) and went straight to the hotel, it was about 9pm at this point.  We had an incredible dinner at the hotel including a fresh moroccan salad (cucumbers, tomatoes, tuna, beets, boiled egg, carrots and boiled potatoe topped with herbs and a simple dressing), a giant chicken and vegetable couscous (I ate around the chicken because I gave up meat for lent), and had a plate of fresh fruit for dessert. We also were only allowed to drink bottled water due to unsanitary water in Morocco. After dinner we went straight to our rooms and crashed, once again exhausted from the days long journey.

The next day we woke up early, had a wonderful (carb-heavy) continental breakfast at the hotel, and then boarded a bus to Chefchaouen.  It took us about three hours to get there and the ride was nothing like I expected Morocco to be.  Rolling green hills, farms, trees and lakes made up the majority of the landscape on the way there.  My English friends even commented that it looked identical to the English countryside.  Eventually, however, the hills grew bigger and turned into mountains and thats when we new we had arrived at Chefchaouen (some of the mountains even had some snow on the very top!).  Chefchaouen is a Moroccan mountain city notorious for its white-washed buildings with blue doors and accents everywhere.  Our tour guide told us that the Moroccans painted the city blue to keep mosquitos away from the city.  Side effect of repelling mosquitos, the blue city attracts tourists from all over!  We spent an hour or so with a local touring us around the city, and then sat down to a delicious lunch of Moroccan salad and couscous.  After lunch, we had time to shop and barter with the local shop keepers for Moroccan products.  Our tour guides recommended us to barter as the shop keepers usually price their products double or triple the actual price and you must barter them down to get a reasonable price. At first, some of us felt weird about arguing the price, but it became like a game.  Most of the Moroccans loved it as they just wanted to talk to us anyway.  They were all very friendly, and we made some good purchases.  Speaking of talking with the Moroccans, we had a bit of language confusion in Morocco.  We were sure if we should speak Spanish, English, French or Arabic (we learned how to say hello, thank you and no thank you), with the shop keepers.  Although the mother-tongue in Morocco is Arabic, nearly half of their education is in French.  Furthermore, however, due to high tourism (and being so close to Spain), many shop keepers speak Spanish and English as well!  It was overwhelming at times, but some how we managed to communicate with everyone.  After a few hours of shopping in Chefchaouen, we got back on the bus and went back to the hotel where we had another delicious meal and went straight to bed.

The next morning we had another early wake-up to go to a costal city called Assilah.  It was only about an hour bus ride this time which was nice. We toured the city for a bit and then shopped/bartered once again.  Assilah was different from Chefchaouen because it was mostly flat, located near the ocean, and much smaller. Most of the buildings where white yet had blue doors that resembled those of Chefchaouen.  We spent the morning shopping and sitting down for a traditional Moroccan mint tea.  After a few hours in Assilah, we drove to a restaurant a few minutes away and had lunch (Moroccan salad, rice and fresh fruit).  After a long lunch, we drove to the beach where we went on a camel ride!  Much different than riding a horse; you are much higher off the ground and the ride is not nearly as smooth as a horse.  After the camel ride, we got back on the bus and headed to the ferry to go back to Spain.  It was a short trip and I was sad to go, but it was a great sneak-peak into Moroccan culture and life!  I would love to go back another time and go to Casablanca or Marrakesh to see what the big cities are all about.  The ferry ride was... not great.  The ferry was PACKED as many Spaniards and other tour groups were returning from a holiday weekend in Morocco and didn't leave until an hour and a half after the scheduled departure.  Furthermore, the water was rough and the boat was rocking like crazy.  The staff was handing out vomit bags left and right, it was not a pretty sight.  Luckily, after two and a half hours it was over and we got off and rode our busses back to Seville. Amy, Hannah and I went straight to our hotel and straight to bed after we got back around midnight.

Hannah left early the next morning, but Amy and I stayed a little extra in Seville.  We had breakfast at our hotel and did a little shopping in the morning.  It was raining, so we weren't to keen on walking around too much.  Coincidently, my sister's friends who are studying abroad in Segovia, Spain were in Seville on the same day!  We met up and had a long lunch and just caught up a bit with each other.  Unfortunately, it was short lived as Amy and I had to leave on a 4pm train back to Almería. Nevertheless, it was nice to see them just for a couple of hours.

All in all a FANTASTIC trip!  No major problems, everything went smooth.  I got to travel to a new continent and see a city in Spain that I've always wanted to! Although the trip was great, it's always great to come back home and relax.  I'm looking forward to a tranquil week and weekend in Almería.