Friday, October 9, 2009

Closure. (For William)

The last time I wrote my blog I was in Tel Aviv, and now I'm at home in Connecticut almost a month later. After Tel Aviv, we went to Athens for four days where we enjoyed doing nothing. Besides celebrating my 22nd birthday, shopping for boots, and visiting the Acropolis and Parthenon, we laid in comfortable beds in a five star hotel and took the time to relax and mentally prepare ourselves for our trip back home. It really wasn't anything exciting, but to us it was exactly what we needed at the right time. We planned to surprise our parents, which worked, very well I might add (thanks Kelly!) But it was time to come home. Being on the move every three or four days (with a few exceptions) gets very tiring, especially after two and a half months. We were ready to be "settled" somewhere. Not that I've "cured" my case of the travel bug in any means. If anything, I've only made it worse and I'm counting down the days 'til I'm able to hop back on a plane and continue exploring the rest of the world. 31 countries down, a lot more to go........

But I must take the time to thank you, my faithful readers (especially William!), for letting me share my experiences with you. I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts as much as I did writing and sharing them.

Until my next travel adventure, I bid you adieu.

peace&love.

Meagan

Friday, September 11, 2009

Dahab, Jordan, Israel

So the last time I wrote we had just arrived to Dahab and we ended up staying there for two weeks. It's funny how fast time goes by when you aren't really doing too much of anything. When we first arrived the staff asked us if there was anything we really wanted to do, i.e any excursions. We said we wanted to be lazy and thus we were dubbed the lazy bishbishi women. Like I said previously, we pretty much swam and snorkeled, ate really good food, read, and slept. The snorkeling was amazing. The Red Sea has some of the best coral reefs in the world. Underneath the water among the reef was a world filled with life. Fish of all shapes, colors, and sizes, sea anemones, eels, and even sharks. Granted we didn't see any sharks, a guy saw a hammerhead one morning. One of the coolest parts was the contrast between ocean and desert. You are floating above looking down onto this vibrant world and you poke your head above the water to see nothing but desert and the Sinai mountains. Standing on land where hardly any vegetation survives, it's hard to believe that such an array of life exists a few feet away under the ocean. I could have stayed under water all day looking at and pretending to be part of that world, but one's back quickly becomes sunburn which wouldn't be a pleasant experience. Since we were in Dahab during the off-season, it really sometimes felt like a deserted island. Half the resorts had no guests and were eerily quiet and empty. Not that we were complaining; it's pretty nice to have the beach all to yourself. But another cool aspect of Dahab is that you can see the coast of Saudi Arabia pretty clearly. My favorite time of day was when dusk sets in and the orangish/reddish mountains seemed to glow. It's definetely something you can't capture on a camera. Overall I really loved Egypt. It's easy to find yourself mesmerized regardless if you are or are not a history fan. Plus there's cats. Lots of cats and kittens (kittens ahhh! haha). I was offered 2 kittens during my stay in Egypt. I wanted to take them with me, especially this cute little guy in Dahab who was 10 days old and an orphan. Sadly I left them behind because I wasn't too sure how the rest of the countries would feel about me traveling with an Egyptian cat, and Brooke didn't seem so keen on a new companion. But Dahab was amazing and we had to force ourselves to leave and continue onwards. We took a ferry from Nuweiba to Aqaba, Jordan. We somehow found ourselves ushered into the first class lounge, which we didn't say no to. After the hour long ferry ride we had the pleasure of waiting 2 hours in immigration with the rest of the foreigners. No one really knew why it took so long, but it might have had something to do with the day's fast ending (it is the month of Ramadan for followers of Islam). We also had no idea what time it was. Egypt ended day light savings early because of Ramadan, as did Morocco, so we thought maybe Jordan did too, turns out we were wrong. You would think it'd be an easy thing to figure out, but it proved quite a challenge.

The next morning we took a mini-bus to Wadi Musa, which is the main town outside Petra. That night we went and did Petra by night. It was pretty cool. To get to Petra, you have a mile walk through the Siq, which is a canyon chiseled out by wind and water. Over 300 candles lit the way down the curvy and slippery rock path. The way the gorge was illuminated by the full moon was incredible. In the moonlight, it felt like I was on a different planet. I wouldn't have been surprised to see some Star Wars creatures pop out from one of the caves. Once we reached the end of the Siq, you could see the faint outline of the treasury. There were a hundred candles lined up in front of the treasury, trying to light up Petra's most famous building. Everyone (there were 300 people that night) sat down on mats by the candles and we listened to two traditional Bedouin instruments being played. During the performance we were served some tea and soaked in the ambiance of the experience. I enjoyed seeing Petra at night, especially since it gave us a sneak preview to expect the next day.

Walking through the gorge in the daylight is a totally different experience. It just doesn't seem real, and the colors of the stone swirl in pinks, oranges, and browns. You most definitely don't expect to see the treasury at the end of the Siq. I read somewhere that there are no words to describe seeing the treasury for the first time and the contrast between the dark Siq and glowing treasury, which I found very true. It's hard to believe that all of the buildings are carved out of the mountains; the detail is so intricate. After walking past the treasury and some tombs, we came upon some rock stairs. We decided to take them because why not? We soon realized we were on the long, steep path to the High Place of Sacrifice; which is on top of a mountain that is 3000ft high. It as a good workout to the top and most definitely worth every step! From the High Place of Sacrifice you could see Aaron's white tomb (Moses brother) on top of the highest peak in Petra. There were two altars, a basin for blood to drain, and some other carvings into the rock that would have been helpful during human and animal sacrifices I suppose. We climbed back down the way we came, which apparently wasn't the more exciting way to go down, because as we climbed down everyone asked why didn't we just go the other way? When we reached Petra again, we walked past the theatre which was built to hold 7000 people, and went to the royal tombs. The Urn tomb was the most impressive with two rows of arches carved out underneath. After exploring around there, we walked down the city's main street, towards the path that would take us up 800 steps to the monastery. Despite it's name, the monastery was never a church, but a tomb dedicated to a king and is Petra's best preserved building. We hiked up a bit farther to one of the lookout spots and the view from the top felt like we were sitting on top of the world. You could see Aaron's tomb again and the "grand canyon." We made a friend from Amsterdam while we were up there and had another great conversation about American politics and the dissapointment of America's stance on universal health care. We eventually started our climb back down and were amazed at how easy the donkeys found it. They full out ran down the steps and rocks like it was no problem where I was slowly making my way down grasping onto the rocks trying not to slip off the mountain (for those of you who go to Petra, word of advice, don't wear flip flops haha.)

The next morning it was off on another mini-bus, but this time we were headed to Amman, the capital of Jordan. Amman is huge and to go anywhere required a taxi. The first day we went and saw a movie and caved and went to an American style restaurant/sports bar, and just happened to arrive during happy hour, such perfect timing. The next day was spent most of the time at a hammam. For those of you who don't know a hammam is a Turkish bath and is absolutely wonderful. It consists of a sauna, jacuzzi, body scrub and wash, massage, jacuzzi again, and then a shower to wash off. I didn't want to leave, plus they served this delicious cranberry juice. I don't think I've ever felt so clean. I was excited since I didn't get a chance to go when I was in Istanbul. It might be the highlight of my trip and was perfect after two months of backpacking. That night we went to dinner at Wild Jordan, which is a cafe and shop which uses/sells products from the area; similar to a fair trade shop. It has an amazing view of the city of Amman which included the roman ruins at the citadel and the worlds largest flagpole.

The next day we headed to Israel. We took a cab to the border, waited to get our exit stamps, and then hopped on a bus that takes you to the border of Israel. I've read that Israel has some of the tightest and best security in the world, and that was immediately evident. We dropped off our bags so they could be inspected and then went through more security to reach passport control. After answering all of immigrations questions, I had to wait another three hours before I got my passport back while they did their security background check on me. But I was let in and we took a shared taxi to Jerusalem. We stayed directly in the old city, which reminded me a lot of the medinas from Morocco. Looking from the roof of our hostel, you could see pretty much everything inside the four walls, including the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (where Christ was crucified and where his tomb is located). Jerusalem is such an interesting place. Within the four walls of the old city, you have some of the holiest sites for the three main religions of the world. We visited the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, did the Via Dolorosa walk (which follows the path Jesus walked from being tried to where he was crucified) and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. At the Western Wall, there were lots of bar mitzvas going on and the families and sons were so genuinely happy and excited; everyone singing and dancing. You could see the millions of prayers folded into the walls cracks and crevices. The Dome of the Rock is beautiful. It's gold roof shines brightly in the city day and night and the tilework of the mosiacs makes it one of the most beautiful mosques in the world. Of course shortly after we got there, the mosques courtyard closed so we didn't get to see the inside. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was insane. Well, I take that back. The tourists were insane. We were waiting in line to enter Christ's tomb and were literally being elbowed in the back by the group behind us, and then half the group managed to cut us. We were annoyed and and tried not to let it bother us, after all we were in a church. That patience lasted until it was our turn to go in and their tour guide tried to have me removed from the line; it was her groups turn and she insinuated that we had just cut and we needed to go to the end of the line. Such a joke since the woman had been looking at Brooke ever since they got in line behind us. After having some words, she conceded and let us go in. We then went upstairs to see the rock which Jesus was crucified on. Part of the rock is exposed, so you can touch it, so there was a pretty long line. At one point the line wasn't moving and people started yelling at each other and were being so rude. I couldn't help but laugh at the irony of the situation. Here we are in the holiest place for Christians and the people we encountered were acting anything but Christian. I couldn't wait to get out of there and away from all those people. But besides that, we had a lot of fun in Jerusalem.

And that brings us to right now, where we are in Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is awesome. It's very different from Jerusalem and there are tons of trees. I didn't realize how much I like trees until I hadn't seen one in almost 2 months. Nothing too exciting has happened here, just a lot of shopping and going to the movies. I'm a big fan of this city. We leave for Greece soon and I'm pretty excited for that. But that's enough writing for now...

peace&love

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Egypt

Like I've written earlier, leaving Morocco and our friends was sad, but we were ready for our next adventure. To get to Egypt required three flights. The first was from Tangier to Madrid, which was delayed a good two hours due to "technical difficulties." After EasyJet sent over a new plane from Lisbon, we took the short flight to Madrid where we took our second flight to Stuttgart, Germany. We didn't land in Germany til 11pm and our next flight wasn't til 9am so we found some semi-comfortable benches and called it a night. The next morning we awoke early, checked in, and waited for our final flight to Luxor, Egypt. The flight was full of tourists so we felt reassured that we weren't the only crazy people visiting Egypt in the middle of August. Of course when we landed in Luxor, out of a full plane, maybe 10 of us got off. The rest remained on board where they then flew to the "Cancun" of Egypt and the Red Sea. It was hot when we stepped off the plane, but it wasn't really that much worse than what we faced in Morocco, plus sometimes there was a nice breeze from the Nile. But anyways, we took a taxi to our hostel where we were greeted by the owner Mohamed, who quickly became one of our favorite people. We spent most of our nights in Luxor hanging out, talking to him about a wide array of topics. Politics, obviously, was one of the main topics of the night. One thing we both definitely agreed on was that people don't have an understanding of one another's cultures anymore, and that perhaps if we stopped and took the time to really learn and understand each other and our differences, there may not be as much conflict in the world. But what are the chances of that really happening?

Our time in Luxor was spent visiting all of the ancient historical sites. We visited Hatsheput's Temple, which was built for the sole purpose of her mummification. In a nutshell she married her brother, her brother was weak and sickly, died, she decides to portray herself as a man, rules as king, makes her step-son act as regent (he should have been King), and ultimately ends up being one of the two women to be buried in the Valley of the Queens. Her step-son/nephew ended up avenging his fathers death by defacing her in her temple and scratching off all the depictions of her face. But her temple was pretty cool and we had an awesome guide who told us a lot of information.

At the Valley of the Kings we visited four tombs: Ramses IV, Ramses IX, Ramses V & VI, and Ramses I. Cameras aren't allowed in any of the tombs, and for the Discovery Channel to videotape inside a tomb for a TV special, they had to pay 50,000L£. As you walk into the tombs, you can't help but be astonished. Somehow after 4000 plus years the paint on the walls and ceiling is still intact. Hieroglyphics adorn the walls, giving the dead Pharaoh instructions from the Egyptians book of the dead. The ceiling is painted blue with yellow stars depicting the night sky.

We took a 3 hour trip north to see Osiris's temple in Abydos. It's said that where the temple is built is where Osiris, the first man on earth, was "born", lived, and upon his death buried there. When he died he became the first human to be a god. Again we had a really good guide who explained what a lot of the hieroglyphics were saying and what the paintings were depicting. On our drive back to Luxor, we visited Dendara Temple, which is dedicated to the goddess of love, Hathor. The amazing part of this temple is that it is fully intact. It was built during the period when the Romans occupied Egypt and some of the walls have pictures of Caesar and Cleopatra etched into their sides. Archaeologists found this temple buried completely under sand which helped keep it so well preserved.

Since we were in Luxor, we obviously had to visit Luxor temple, which we got to do at night. The perks of going at night are a. much cooler outside and b. less tourists. The temples lit up with floodlights so you can still see everything, but it just gives it an ancient vibe, it's kind of hard to explain. Luxor is also home to Karnak temple which we visited during the day. Karnak Temple is huge, it takes up over 2km which means it took forever to build. Over ten Pharaohs worked on, all usually destroying something their predecessor had built. We spent a lot of time running around the columns just because it was shady and at 10am it was already 110 degrees. We visited the Luxor museum, which isn't very big, but still holds a lot of important pieces. There are some items from Tut's tomb, a couple mummies, and then your usual ancient Egyptian artifacts. And the museum was air conditioned so that was a HUGE plus.

But besides all of the ancient history that this country holds, Egypt itself is a pretty cool country. Although we are here during the hottest time of the year, we aren't surrounded by tourists. During the peak season, 50,000 people a day enter Luxor, eager to see all of the ancient sites. Luxor isn't even a big city, it can't even remotely be compared to Cairo, and with all of those tourists around, everyone says it's crazy.

The next part of our journey took us on an overnight train from Luxor to Cairo. From Cairo we went to Giza to see the pyramids. When people think of Egypt and the ancient Egyptians, the pyramids are usually what pops into mind. Naturally, if I were to run into you back home and you knew I went to Egypt, the first question you would ask: how were the pyramids? I would respond, well, cool, but overrated. You would probably stand there shocked and aghast that this is how I just referred to the only remaining ancient wonder of the world. Ask anyone who has went there and chances are you'll get a similar response. Maybe it's because the pyramids are surrounded by the smog covered city of Giza. Maybe it's because the pyramids and the Sphinx are kind of randomly located for ancient Egyptian times. Maybe it's because we went to Luxor first and saw everything there. I can't really pinpoint it. Don't get me wrong, standing along side one of these pyramids with your neck arched back, you can't help to be impressed with how no present day technology they were able to construct these huge monuments. My reaction is the same regarding the sphinx, it's cool but eh. Basically, I'm really glad I was able to see them, and I would recommend visiting them, but in no means was this the highlight of my Egypt trip.

We also went to the bazaar in Islamic Cairo. The bazaar sells everything. It's tons of stalls and small shops that sell everything from toys to kitchen appliances to souvenirs. We walked around and did a lot of bartering trying to get some good prices on souvenirs. It's a huge game that is sometimes fun, sometimes annoying. We made off fairly well so we were proud of ourselves. But no trip to Cairo is complete without visiting the Egyptian museum. The museum itself isn't that big, but if you were to spend a minute looking at each piece, you'd be there 9 months. Seriously, that's a fact and not an exaggeration. They pack a lot into this museum. Which means half the things aren't labeled and sometimes it feels like things are just thrown on top of each other. But they have almost everything from Tutankhamen's tomb, which is gold, gold, and more gold. There is a room on animal mummification which was really cool. The highlight of the museum has got to be the rooms of Royal Mummies. Home to eleven mummies such as Ramses II and Ramses V, whose chicken pox scars are still visible. It's hard to believe how intact the bodies were. You really have to hand it off to the ancient Egyptians, they sure knew how to mummify.

And now our story brings us to Dahab. Dahab is lazy. It's a vacation from a vacation. We've been here a week, and I can't believe how fast time flies when you aren't doing too much of anything. Life here isn't too exciting, it's just relaxing and calm. We swim, we snorkel, we read, and we eat. One can't find too many complaints with life here. There are hardly any tourists here, just other backpackers and hardcore divers. It's just a laid back atmosphere, which couldn't be more perfect for us. We're having a great time and loving every minute of it.

Until the next blog..

peace&love

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Pictures

New blog entry coming soon...

Until then, some new pictures in the album "Random Pictures..":

http://picasaweb.google.com/meagan.puzacke


peace&love

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Roadtrip III

*So I haven't had time to upload any of these onto a computer until now (sorry about the wait..) We are in Luxor, Egypt right now and being surrounded by all this history is humbling (more on that in a few days.) It might be easier to scroll down and read the post "Granada" first and make your way up since then it would be in chronological order...but that's just me ;) And I apologize for the typos as these were all typed on my iPod haha.

Our last stop along our roadtrip was Ifrane. Another long six hour drive from Merzouga, Ifrane is far different from the rest of Morocco. To begin with, it snows in Ifrane during the winter - and it snows quite a lot. The city, which is home to 100,000 people in the summer and only 5,000 in winter, was a lot like the decidious forest back at home. The trees help create lots of shade, even though we didn't really need it since the temperature didn't go past 21 degrees celcius when we were there. It was such a welcomed drastic change from the 45 degree temperatures of Merzouga. While we were there we visited our friends's university which was also one of TSS's partner universities, Al Akhawayan University. It is such a beautiful school and is in a great location, I'm jealous of my friends who get to go there. After Taha gave us a tour of his school, we headed to a park where went horseback riding. We walk over to this little fence and there's no one around. The foreigners looked around at each other wondering where the horses were when all of a sudden we look up and see a cloud of dust moving towards us. Nine horses, under the command of young boys, charge towards us. Each boy wanted you to pick his horse and I settled on what seemed like a happy chestnut. I love horses so I was really excited to ride through the forest. However, my horse wasn't as excited as I was. In fact, he didn't even want to move. To top things off one of my stirrups was higher than the other and the kid couldn't figure out how to fix it. So me and my horse were led by my kid in the back of the pack. I felt bad for the horses because the kids would walk up behind them and smack them with thick branches to make them run fast. The kids learned our friend Haitam wanted to go fast, so one of the kids snuck up behind him, grabbed a huge, thick branch and hit the horse so hard that the branch snapped in half. Needless to say, Haitam and his horse went really fast, and the rest of cringed feeling so bad for the poor horse. Me and my horse eventually caught up with the others and while we went at a slow pace, it still was enjoyable, and definiteley with our group of friends hilarious. We returned to Tangier and spent the last couple of days just relaxing and hanging out with our friends. I really did not want to leave Morocco. It was sad to say goodbye to both our boat friends and our new friends, but I know I will see them again soon, because we really can never stay apart for too long. If we hadn't already booked our flights to Egypt, I have a feeling we would have stayed longer. I really liked Morocco and I can't wait til the next time I get to go. If you haven't already gone to Morocco, I highly recommend it!

Roadtrip II

We left Agadir later than expected and ended up driving most of the time in the dark. We went up and over numerous mountains on narrow roads with few guard rails. Ouarzazate is known for the Atlas Corporation Studios which is where alot of Hollywood movies are made. Babel, Passion of the Christ, Kingdom ofHeaven, Alexander the Great, and Gladiator are some of the American known movies that were filmed there. There were also some French movies and a Canadian documentary on an explorer. We took a tour of the studios and visited the sets of the movies. It was wierd to think that what felt like the middle of nowhere was where a lot of Hollywood movies were made. Our guide was telling us how he's been able to be an extra in almost every movie filmed there and his roommate was part of the Moroccan family that helps Brad Pitt in Babel. One of the sets was a replication of theTemples of Karnak, so we took pictures to see how it compares to the real temple in Luxor. After the movie tour some of our group went out on ATVs in the desert for a two hour tour, but since it was 110F, I opted to go back to the hotel and go swimming in the pool. We left Ourzazate the next morning and headed to Merzouga, where we were going to go camping in the Sahara desert. A lot of our TSS friends who have come to Morocco have gone here as well and have taken some amazing pictures of the dunes. We were looking forward for our chance to do the same, but we had such an atypical experience. It all started during our drive to Merzouga. When we were within 60km, we started hitting a couple of sandstorms, but hoped that wouldn't affect us later on. We arrived at the place and were getting ready to go when a sandstorm blew in and caused our departure to be delayed. Mind you it's also 45 degrees Celcius out, which is 116 Fahrenheit. When it calmed down, we headed outside and got on our camels who would take us on an hour and a half camel ride to the oasis where we would camp. I named my camel Flower (he had a flower stuck in the hair on his neck)and while it took a few minutes to get used to, the ride was more comfortable than I had thought it would be. We were a half hour into the ride when one of friends felt like he was going to throw up, so we took a quick five minute break. Off in the distance you could see a windstorm and we kept our fingers crossed that it would stay away. We were back on our way and ten minutes later the sandstorm we had been hoping to escape finally caught up with us. A sandstorm in the dunes looks so cool; it's like the wind and sand are dancing all over the dunes, it's beautiful. Beautiful and painful. We were wearing ruzza's,which are headscarves, which protected our face, eyes, and mouth, but the rest of our body was fair game. Each piece of sand felt like a needle piercing your skin. Now imagine this except thousands of particles of sand being thrown at you. And then to add the icing on the cake, it started raining. In the desert. Which in itself is pretty rare. With the wind blowing as hard as it was, the rain was almost as painful as the sand. There was nothing else to do but to trek onwards. We battled intermittent storms for the rest of the ride and made it to the camp by dusk. There were already tents set up so we made our way to ours and had some tea. After tea we went to the kitchen tent to see how they were cooking dinner and then on the walk back to our tent, AJ stepped on an insect and got bit. His foot was burning from the bite, but the guides assured him it was just an insect and wasn't anything serious. Of course this hadn't ever happened to a tourist before, which seemed fitting to the day we were having. It was a full moon and we could see pretty well so we climbed to the top of one of the dunes to see the night view. The way the dunes were illuminated by the moon made the desert look surreal and dream-like. The camp was only 30km away from the Algerian border so from the dunes you could see the border and the lights of an Algerian city which was really cool. At night it was still pretty hot so we moved our matresses outside to sleep under the stars. It rained on us while we were sleeping but everyone was too tired to care. We woke up the next morning at 6:30 expecting to see an amazing sunrise, and found nothing but clouds, which seemed fitting for our adventure into the desert. The guides then said we might as well just head back to avoid the hot sun so we got back on our camels and trudged along backto the main place. Now after reading this, one might think I had a horrible time, which is quite the contrary. I had so much fun, even during the sandstorm we made the best of it and laughed about it right after. So if anyone ever goes to Morocco, they MUST go to the Sahara! It was a lot of fun and we didn't let anything get us down or bother us. And after all, if worse comes to worse at least you'll have one heck of a story to laugh about later.

Roadtrip I

We started our adventure bright and early Sunday morning and began our 3 hour drive to Casablanca, our first stop. When we arrived to the city we went to Hassam II's mosque. This mosque is the third largest mosque in the world. Hassan the second donated 1/3 of his personal wealth and took donations from the citizens of Morocco in order to begin construction of this mosque over water. The minaret is taller than the pyramids of Giza! We weren't allowed in, but from what we could see of the inside it's attention to detail couldn't be more intricate. This is where we picked up our friend Ryan, another TSSer who is living in Morocco right now for school. We didn't stay long in Casablanca because we had another 3 hour drive to Marrakech, so we loaded the cars back up and continued on our way. We arrived in Marrakech later that night and finally found the apartment we were going to be staying in. We stayed in Marrakech for two days. One day we went to our friend Laila's house, where her family prepared an amazing lunch for us. We spent another afternoon at the waterpark cooling off from the hot Moroccan sun. One night we went to Teatro, voted morocco's "best nightclub since 2004." We paid extra to get a couch and a table and it was in such a great spot...right against the speakers. Sitting on the couches felt like a really bumpy car ride with all of the vibrations pulsating through. However we didn't sit long, we spent most of the night dancing on the stage in true TSS style. Another night we went to the medina and explored there and had some amazing fresh squeezed orange juice. After Marrakech, we drove to Essaouira, which is known as the windy city, which we found to definitely be true. Located right on the Atlantic, Essaouira remains relatively cool. When we went out that night I had to wear my sweatshirt, which I didn't expect to ever happen. Our hotel was located within the medina, so were in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of the city. That night we went out to dinner and then took a walk along the beach at night. Here's a fun fact - off the coast of Essaouira, only a couple of kilometers away, is a little island that is home to a castle which inspired Jimi Hendrix to write the song "Castles in the Sand." Anyways, we only spent a night there and left the next afternoon to begin a 3 hour drive to Agadir. Agadir so far was the first city I felt like I wasn't in Morocco; a lot of cruise ships port here so it's more touristy. We arrived in the afternoon and met up with Taha's friend, who was a great host and showed us around the two days we were there, and went to our apartment. That night we went down to the marina where we had dinner and hung out at the beach. We also had entertainment courtesy of another tourist. As we are sitting on the beach, a girl sprints by wearing a thong bikini and dives right into the ocean. Naturally, this caught a lot of men's attention. As she came back out, she couldn't seem to find where she was originally sitting. People tried to point her in the right direction, but she just kept wandering farther and farther away. Whoever she was with, it appeared to be her brother, didn't really care that she was lost; he too just watched her roam around. Eventually she made it back. The next day we went back to the beach and spent the entire time playing in the waves. We had a lot of fun and emerged from the water to discover our skin was a lot redder than before. We had lunch and ate the best chicken tagine I've had yet. It was amazing and I really wish you could have all had some. After lunch, we departed on our way towards our next city!

Tangier

We were welcomed into Morocco by our wonderful friend Taha, who picked us up from the ferry. We arrived around 10:30pm and went to Taha's house where his mom and brother greeted us with pastries and Moroccan cookies. We stayed there briefly and then went to Youssef's house, where we stayed for most of our time in Tangier. Youssef's mom had prepared a delicious meal of cous-cous and other typical Moroccan dishes. Everything was so good, we couldn't stop eating. We finished the meal with fresh fruit and then Taha and Youssef took us around the city at night pointing out all the different parts of the city. We spent most of our time in Tangier relaxing, going to the beach, exploring the medina (which is the "old city" in every city surrounded by protective walls) and hanging out with our boat friends. We took a day trip to Assilah which was a Spanish city and it's medina is famous for an art festival where every year artists come in and paint all over the walls. While we were there some artists were working on their projects and preparing for the festival. We went to Chefchaouen for 2 days to visit our friend Youssef's hometown. Chefchaouen is known as the blue and white city because all of the buildings are painted white and the doors are different shades of blue. This city is nestled within the mountains and is absolutely beautiful. It was pretty hot while we were there, 43 degrees Celsius. We also had the opportunity to go to a Moroccan wedding, which was really cool. This wedding was a split wedding so technically only women were allowed to go, so Brooke and I went with Youssef's mom, aunt, and cousins. Youssef and AJ were able to come later, but they had to stay upstairs on the balcony. It was a wedding unlike anything from back home and so much fun! There was lots of dancing, talking, and waiting for the bride's new outfits (she changes dresses at least 3 times and all are beautiful.)

Everyone keeps asking how I would describe Morocco to people at home, which is actually hard to do. Personally, it's how I pictured it to be, except that obviously isn't the same for everyone else. I would compare it to a mix of other cities that I've traveled to before, but what I've found here is that it isn't really about the different cities, it's about the people and the culture. American society is very individualistic (hard to believe I know), where as the Moroccan culture is collectivist, with a huge emphasis on family. It's such a different atmosphere and everyone makes you feel like you belong and have lived here all your life. I've also had some great discussions here, especially on politics and Obama. It's so intellectually stimulating to be able to have political discussions with people who aren't from the United States because they offer a unique perspective that isn't being formed by the American media; it's one of the things I miss most from the boat. There are a lot of international news channels here (BBC world news, CNN international, Fox news, AJeerzah international), that aren't as biased as they are back home. A lot of the people I've talked to aren't a big fan of Fox news, but I can't imagine why... But the food here is amazing and our friend's parents think we never eat enough and are always giving us more food. I probably have gained 10 pounds from Morocco alone. Chicken tagine is probably my favorite. It's cooked in this special dish with different vegetables and spices and the meat just falls right off the bone. It's so good and you eat it with bread; but really you can't go wrong with any of the food here, it's all that good. We are having a great time here so far and I can't wait for our roadtrip around the country!

Granada

So the last I left you all we had just arrived in Granada. Granada is such an exciting place to be (mainly for the history buffs out there). Sadly we were only there for 2 full days, which isn't enough time to do the city justice. Because of this, Granada has quickly climbed my list of cities to go back to. Granada has a history that focuses on the battle between the Moors and King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Granada originally was a Moorish kingdom, and thus was Muslim. On their conquest of unifying Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella came in, battled the Moors, and destroyed much of the city. This victory gave the King and Queen la Alhambra, the castle that sits on top of a hill overlooking the city. We went there, but sadly didn't get to go in. It was high tourist season and all of the tickets were sold out for the days we were there (they only sell 7000 a day). It was quite a hike to la Alhambra, but the view from the top is picturesque, providing a 360 degree view of the Sierra Nevada mountains with the city resting below. Once Ferdinand and Isabella had taken over, they spent most of their time and money building a grand cathedral and burial spot. Inside the cathedral one of the walls is adorned with statues depicting important scenes from the bible, and of course statues of the king and queen themselves. Their tomb was made of white marble and was very ornate with detail. It was impressive, but what I found most interesting was their coffins. There are stairs that take you underneath where their coffins are laid. Their coffins were made of wood and were completely opposite of the grandeur of everything else from their reign. I was expecting something a bit more elaborate, but coffins aren't meant to be seen, which made me wonder; did they envision this? Thousands of people coming a day to see where their bodies were laid to rest? I certainly can't imagine that for myself, but then again I'm not a king or queen. Besides their tomb, there is a musuem which has some of their favorite paintings, their royal clothes, the crown and scepter, and some personal belongings like Isabella's rosary beads. Isabella and Ferdinand are such a big part of Spanish history that it was really cool to see that.

The city of Granada is lined with narrow cobblestone streets and alleyways. It's fun to wander through discovering cafes and family-owned shoppes. But my favorite part of Granada without a doubt is the free tapas. For anyone who has been to Spain, they know that Spain isn't exactly cheap and the euro still isn't American friendly. So when there's something free - you have to take advantage of it. Whenever you order any drink (soda, beer, wine, etc.) you get a freeplate of tapas. Order another drink, another plate of tapas. They are pretty generous portions considering and can easily be your dinner. We spent our evenings bar hopping trying all of the different tapas offered by the places. It was a lot of fun and really tasty. From Granada we took a 4 hour train ride to Algeciras, riding through sunflower fields and olive orchards. We were so excited and antsy to get to Morocco and see our friends. We hadn't seen Youssef since we left the boat and hadn't seen Taha since new years eve. Our ferry was scheduled to leave at 8:45, but we didn't end up setting sail until 45 minutes later. We sailed past Gibraltar and arrived in Morocco an hour and a half later. We stayed outside for most of the time, enjoying being back on the ocean.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Paella? Oranges? Ohhh Valencia...

Greetings friends and family. I am currently on an 8 hour bus ride so I figured what a perfect time to work on my blog via my iPod touch. The last I left you I was in Barcelona. The magic fountain show at Montjuic was a true work of art. The fountains and colors are precisely tuned to the rhythm of classical music. The last time I was there I felt like it was set to more current/popular songs, and I must say I enjoyed the classical soundtrack better. The next morning we awoke bright and early for breakfast with the hopes of going to the beach. Of course, this would be the one and only morning in Barcelona where it looked like it was going to downpour any minute. We figured we would just rest our eyes for a few minutes and then come up with a new game plan. Minutes turned into hours and the next thing we knew it was 2 in the afternoon. It was still cloudy, but we weren´t going to let that stop us. We quickly got ready and hopped on the metro and once we walked up the stairs from our stop, we were greeted with sunshine and blue skies. We all but ran to the beach, picked a good spot, and then jumped into the ocean. It was so exciting to be swimming in water that wasn´t the numbing Atlantic off the coast of Rhode Island. We splashed around for a few hours and the clouds started to roll back in so we decided to call it a day. We went back home and got ready for our last night in the city. We went out for some sangria and a late dinner and enjoyed our last night in Barca.

The next morning we took a four hour bus ride to Valencia, which is south of Barcelona and along the coast. We hadn´t heard too much of Valencia before arriving except that it was the hometown of paella and the producer of some tasty oranges. We checked into our hostel and began our usual routine of wandering around. We arrived on a Saturday so there wasn´t too much action, but the city was already so much different from both Madrid and Barcelona. It had a much more relaxed atmosphere and was more quaint; not your stereotypical city. Most of the city reminded me of St. Augustine, Florida. It´s architecture and buildings clearly date far back and had that classical charm that I love. But I digress..

So the first day our wanderings led us to the main park of the city. The city redirected the river and turned the 11km riverway into a beautiful park filled with fountains, futbol fields, dog parks, skate parks, and of course thousands of trees to lay under in the relief of the hot summer sun. You might be wondering why the city would spend a huge chunk of euros to turn a river into a park. Well my friends, back in the 50´s or 60´s (that date may or may not be correct, but you get the gist..) the river flooded and caused extensive damange to the city and also claimed a lot of lives. In order to prevent that type of destruction again, the river was moved and a park was born! At the end of the park are the city´s four museums. Surrounding these museums are crystal clear pools. We wanted nothing more than to jump right in, but we decided it may not have been worth getting arrested so we headed back to our hostel. That night we cooked dinner in the kitchen, nothing fancy of course, and went to the city center for a few drinks.

The next day was beach day! And it was a Sunday.. Now for the TSSers out there, Sunday in Valencia is like the Seychelles on a Sunday. Enough said. The streets were deserted and everything was closed. We took the bus to the beach and figured out why the city was so empty - everyone was at the beach. The beach was packed and there was an international beach rugby tournament going on. We found a spot and spent the day swimming in the warm waters of the Mediterranean. When we had fried enough, we headed back to the city starving and in search of food. All of the supermercados and restaurants were closed and we had just started to accept the fact that we were doomed...until we found an open Pans & Company. For those of you who don´t know, Pans isn´t anything fancy, it´s just a chain owned sandwich shoppe. A ridiculously delicious, cheap sandwich shoppe. Ecstatic from finding food and exhuasted from the sun, we called it an early night and got some much needed beauty sleep. The next day we decided to keep it low key and relax. We did our usual couple hours of wandering and then hung out at the hostel and did some laundry. We had to save our energy for the night because we were going to go out for the best paella in Valencia. I´d say I´ve had my fair share of paella, but nothing could compare to this. We had Paella Valenciana, which consisted of rice, different types of beans and vegetables, and chicken and rabbit. It was so good we were scraping the pan trying to get every last morsel. We looked around and everyone else was doing it too so we felt no shame. It was a very pricey meal, but well worth every cent for the best paella in town.

Our final day in Valencia began with wandering around one of the districts we hadn´t explored yet. We were pretty productive and covered a lot of ground and even managed to go to the post office and buy some stamps for the first round of postcards. We then went to el cortes ingles and bought some food for a picnic and headed back to our favorite park to lounge around. We had a lot of time to kill since our bus wasn´t leaving til 11pm that night. We then meandered down to the museums where we decided to go Oceanogr√°fico, which was an aquarium. Some of the wildlife we saw were sharks, penguins, an array of fish, arctic animals, and seahorses! The highlight of the day I must say was the dolphin show. Who wouldn´t love dolphins that could dance to Ludacris? It was cheesy, but it was a lot of fun. We considered just staying in Valencia and becoming dolphon trainers until we realized the dolphins probably know more spanish than we do. Our hopes of swimming with flipper all day were crushed, but we quickly moved on. We left the aquarium, ate a quick meal at Pans, and headed to the bus station where we caught our bus to Granada, which leads me to where I am now, on the middle of a Spanish highway listening to Coldplay. When I finally post this, I´ll already be in the sweltering heat of Granada (100 degrees forecasted for this week), which from what I´ve heard from fellow backpackers, the heat is well worth the grandeur of the city. After all, it will be good practice for the next 2 months when we are exploring the hot African deserts.

There´s also a link now in the right upperhand corner to some of my pictures from the trip, right near the link to Brooke´s blog which is just fabulous!

And now we are in Granada and it is absolutely beautiful. The history here is so rich and there´s a lot to see. On that note, we´re off to explore some more! Until the next post...

Peace&Love

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Barcelona



We spent our last day in Madrid going to the Reina Sofia, which is one of the major art museums in Madrid. The highlight of this musuem is that it houses Picasso´s Guernica painting, which is huge. I knew it was big, but it took up almost the entire wall, I was really surprised at it´s size. The United States actually messed up because we were holding on to that painting until Spain´s dictatorship was over and we were supposed to send it to the Prado musuem(which is another huge art musuem), but we sent it to the Reina Sofia instead. Needless to say, the Prado wasn´t too happy. There was another interesting collection called ¿Son los animales personas? which consisted of a life-sized stuffed rat and panda. All throughout the exhibit were different videos showing these stuffed animals living as people or having the stuffed animals laying on the ground appearing to breath. It was different, and at one point creepy because you started questioning whether or not they were real...which I suppose after all was the artists objective. After that we had an amazing lunch at a thai restaurant and then headed over the Real Jardin Botanico which is a garden that shows the most important events of evolution in the plant kingdom. Sounds boring, but actually is beautiful and very shady, which in 90 degree weather is muy importante! After a long day, we took an overnight bus to Barcelona, and arrived in the city a little bit before 8am.




I love Barcelona, I´m a huge fan. But at the same time I have to say it feels so wierd being back in Barcelona without TSS. One of the first things we did was head down to the ocean and it was just so strange not seeing the boat there. Granted it has been almost a year and a half since we´ve been here, it still feels like yesterday we were roaming around here. It´s funny walking around because you will remember different memories and it can´t help but make us laugh (like being in the Gothic quarter and flashbacking to Jordi and Schaef arguing or our "cultural" meal during AFP at the Hard Rock Cafe) But besides all of this, we´ve spent our time here doing the usual tourist attractions: Las Ramblas, Sagrada Familia, Gaudi´s Houses, Parque Guell, etc. Being here a second time is more relaxed, especially since we´ve seen all of these places before. Tonight we are heading towards Montjuic and the Magic Fountain Show (which is what the Bellagio bases their fountain show off of in Las Vegas, in case you were wondering.) I love the Gothic Quarter. It´s definitely one of my favorite parts of Barcelona (and I´m actually writing this in the Gothic Quarter as we speak.) We also saw the Harry Potter movie, yes we saw Harry Potter. First screening in Barcelona to be exact. So I´m kind of a big Harry Potter fan...but Brooke and AJ were willing to be dragged along with me. The Spainards aren´t as obsessed as Americans so the first show wasn´t til 4pm, but I didn´t complain because we got to see it in English (score!).


We´ve met some interesting people so far in Barcelona. We went to the Black Sheep (another one of TSS´s favorite spots) with some new friends from Brazil and Ireland for some of their fmaous sangria. One of my favorite parts of hostels is the people you get to meet. Right now we´re staying with another Brazilian and an Italian and it´s always fun hearing each other stories and going out into the city together. Tomorrow we will be spending at the beach and then Saturday we are leaving for Valencia, home of paella.
Adios!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Madrid

Hola familia y amigos!

Here in Madrid it is a beautiful, sunny, 35 degree day (celsius that is.) When we arrived on the 9th, our plane landed in Madrid around 7:15pm and Brooke arrived not too long after us. After we reunited, we took the metro to our hostel. We shared our room with three other girls (a teacher from California and two Pennsylvanians) and met a new friend, Chris, (from Washington D.C.) who told us all of the places to go to in Madrid. That night, we wandered around the area and stopped at a cafe to figure out an itinerary. We kept it pretty low key considering we were all suffering from serious jet lag. The next morning we moved to a different hostel where we´ve spent the past 2 nights. It is in a great location and only a five minute walk from our previous hostel. So after we checked in we finally started exploring!

We began our day of exploration by going to the Palacio Real, which is the royal palace in Madrid. The palace has over 2000 rooms and the royal couple only goes there on official occasions. They had an exhibit on Charles IV who during his reign had collected a variety of impressive art pieces and musical instruments. We then wandered our way over to the Plaza Mayor, which has a huge statue of Felipe III in the middle. It reminded me a lot of the Plaza de San Marcos in Venice. Restaurants and tourist shops line the inside of the plaza charging ridiculous prices for all of the tourists who visit there. We then meandered our way back to our hostel and took a much needed siesta. Four hours later we awoke and decided to go buy from groceries from el cortes ingles and just continue exploring the center of Madrid. We then headed out to dinner around 10pm, had some tapas, paella, sangria, and called it a night.

The next day we headed over to Jardines de Sabitini which is the "everyman´s park" located right next to the Palace. There was a wading pool and a bunch of statues and fountains; the usual European park. We hung out there for awhile and then started wandering again (we love to wander, just in case you didn´t notice) and stumbled upon the Templo de Debod. The Templo de Debod is the only Egyptian temple in Spain. The Egyptian government shipped the temple to Madrid in 1968 as a thank you gift for sending archaeologists to help save the temples during a flood from the Aswam Dam. The 2200 year old temple was built to honor Isis and Ammon, and later more gods were engraved into the walls. Being a HUGE fan of Egypt and the Egyptian culture, I couldn´t have been more excited to see. It was amazing that after all these years you could still see the engravings etched into the walls. After we left there we walked along Gran Via, which reminded me a lot of streets in NYC - there were broadway shows and a variety of American restaurants. We then had doner kebabs for lunch, they were really good but of course not Istanbul quality. We then took another break from the hot Madrid sun and went to our hostel for another afternoon siesta. That night we went out for some more Spanish cuisine and soaked in
the Spanish culture.

Today we went to Jardine del Buen Retiro which is a huge park that has a lake where you can rent boats and showcases gardens with flowers from around the world. We found a cute little cafe for lunch and then made our way to the internet cafe to book our hostel for Barcelona. Tomorrow during the day we are going to visit a few of the museums and then at night we are taking an overnight bus to Barcelona, which I couldn´t be more excited for. Barcelona was one of my favorite cities that we visited on The Scholar Ship, and I´m sure the entire time we´re there, I´ll be in a constant state of nostalgia.

Granted it has only been a few days, I couldn´t be happier to be traveling again. I love being immersed in a different culture and although at times it may be difficult, I love that you hardly ever hear English spoken. How could I forgot how much I love this lifestyle and how much I love Spain? Surprisingly, I also liked Madrid a lot more than I originally thought, especially since I hold Barcelona on such a high pedestal. I will post pictures later when I have more time, but until then adios.