Sunday, January 30, 2011

Spain - Morocco - Gibraltar


We are all tired from the 3 day tour that we got home from Friday night. We went on a tour, with 25 other people (who all happened to be Canadian), to Seville (Spain), Tanger (Morocco), and Gibraltar (Britain?, hehe). It was such a highlight of my trip so far… it seems that each new thing I do becomes the new best thing. But really, the tour was unreal and such a good way to ‘scratch the surface’ of these three places.

Our first day, to Seville, Spain, we left early in the morning and drove right to Seville. The Spain border is about an hour from here, and then Seville is another hour or two. By the first rest stop, 2 hours into the trip, we’d almost finished our lunches that we’d packed… that were supposed to last the whole day. Haha. The drive into Spain was so beautiful, especially in the morning light. Once I learned how to block out the banter of our Portugese tour guide Louis (pronounced Loo-eeessgghhh), I really enjoyed the drive.

On either side of the highway are open, green fields filled with many crops and orchards: almond trees (pink and white), olive trees (delicate looking), orange trees, grape trees, cork trees etc. etc.  Scattered are small farm houses and the odd herd of sheep or horses. The horses look smaller and thinner here … and I think the sheep are just cuter!  I did not notice any cows along the way. They don’t eat much beef here, it doesn’t seem.
Needless to say, I became more and more excited as we drove … the land honestly became more beautiful and simple as the trip went on.

We reached Seville and spent the morning touring. We visited the Jewish quarter, which was narrow alleys and basic looking buildings. We passed up the tour of the gothic cathedral and some palace, as I’ll be doing tons of that in the near future…. And there were a lot of shoe stores beckoning us (beckoning grampa, to be exact). Haha.  Below are pictures of a buildilng and courtyard that were part of expo something or other.. to be honest, i cant remember what this building is but it was pretty beautiful.

We had our ‘first of the day’ at a tiny little bar/meat market … it seems that the majority of places I go here have pig legs or chickens hanging from the roof, and sausages lining the shelves. Makes for some interesting smells.

The owner of this little place was so charming –him and I laughed our heads off as I tried to order some snacks. I was starving , but couldn’t figure out a stinkin thing on the little Spanish menu… except for tortilla, but I think it may have been filled with some weird sausage or something. All the men in the place were locals and spoke little or no English. In the end I got this amazing cheese with some bread and olive oil. He gave it to me laughing. What a cute man.

After an afternoon of shopping, and then eating the strangest hotdog ever, we met back up with the group and went to our modern looking hotel – I’m pretty sure my room was a minimalist piece in itself.

The following day we all inhaled breakfast, a lot of breakfast, because the 1st nights dinner was really weird and chinsy. We were briefed, by Louis, over and over about the plan for the day. Going into Africa for only 8 hours was bound to be a little complicated. Since he does this tour once a week for about 6 months of the year he knows a lot of the people and has a smooth routine. We were put on the ferry and off the ferry with no problems at all. The ride was quick, and exciting. We arrived in a whole new land where the sun was shining bright and the people were in action all around us… I honestly couldn’t believe we were in Africa when we stepped off the ferry. The air was very warm and sweet, or wet, it was nice.

Our bus toured us right through downtown then on to the residential area and then to some seaside area. Downtown was busy and fast. All the signs are in Arabic and French, as these are the two main languages here. When in school the kids learn these languages and then when they get to highschool they have to choose a third language to learn.
The people on the streets were either very stylish and sleek looking .. or they were dressed in traditional Muslim clothing.  The men (I actually don’t think that it’s just the Muslim men) wear these ankle-length zip up robes, with hoods, made of a very thick material to keep them warm. Our guide had one on , and then some designer sunglasses haha.

We saw people begging on the streets, and then we were shown the high end residential area. Huge mansions, owned by government, and palaces by the sea, owned by government and Egyptians.  Most of these estates were gated and sort of hidden by beautiful gardens.

We stopped at a rest stop by the ocean and had a chance to ride camels. Groups of men must do this for tourists. They were scattered along the coast – we stopped at a stop above this beautiful beach which I is great for surfing in the summer. I, of course, was nervous to ride the camel but once I got on it was actually very comfy and just a short ride. The camels were all very stubborn and unhappy with their owners, but from what we all figured they are treated well … not abused.

We then had a traditional Moroccan lunch at a huge tent. Cous cous, this veg soup, poached eggs, and lamb meat balls (which I did not even come near, as all I can think of are the cute little lamb in the Spanish fields). Along with our lunch we had a couple men playing music for us, and then a woman did some traditional belly dancing.

Our last venture in Africa, and the most high paced, was going to the market. Only once a week is their market day, so it is packed tight with vendors and shoppers. Also, at the entrance into the market was the central mosque and their prayer had just ended so people were also pouring out of there.
It was a very strange environment – we were 25 tourists lined up, taken care of by 4 guides as the area we were in wasn’t the safest or most relaxed…. And as we walked everyone stared and spoke not a word we could understand. Once we got into the market, it got even stranger. We honestly ploughed through so fast that I can hardly remember some of it. We were taken through metre wide alleys from shop to shop. Our guides kind of shouted to one another to make sure we were all fine. We stopped at a carpet shop, where I left behind the love of my life (sorry Cody), a rug that I should have bought but did not buy and I know I will regret it forever. Uggghhhh. , We also stopped at a spice shop, where I bought eucalyptus seeds for nasal remedies.

We made our way out of wonderful Africa and back onto the ferry, for a sunny ride back to Spain. It is a day I’ll always remember – that’s for sure. I definitely want to go back.

Our third day we headed to Gibraltar… which was very strange and not something I was very informed about before we went. A British owned, tiny tiny country attached to Spain – A total culture change by driving only a couple hundred metres. I did the rock tour with most of the other people on our trip. We drove all around the rock in a tiny little bus with a local tour guide. Then we drove up to 2/3 of the way up the rock and stopped at the cave. The cave was made to be used for a hospital and hide away during the war, although I don’t think it was ever used for that purpose. It was amazing and huge and had a stadium of sorts in one part of it. We also spent a lot of our time with the local monkeys, which are actually small gorillas. They came over from Africa back in the day and now there are about 200 or 300 on Gibraltar. At first I was so scared to let one jump on me but then I gradually got used to it. I fed this tiny little baby one a dry noodle,and while I was doing that a bigger one jumped on my head haha and ripped at my hair…. I think that was an accident though. The baby monkey had tiny little fingers, that could have been human fingers. As we were about to leave the last sort of look out point on our way down the rock we got to see one of the mama monkeys feeding the baby. It was so amazing and, obviously, I almost cried. While she fed it she kind of groomed its head and rubbed its neck. Very very amazing.

We did some shopping in Gibraltar, then headed back to the bus for the full ride home. I got some gravol (gel capsule!) from a lady on the bus and passed out cold for the first few hours haha then the rest of the ride was the beautiful sunset drive through the last of Spain.

Of course, I’ve rambled again, as always. It’s a little hard to tell stories of my time here without just chronologically listing what I do each day. This three day trip, though, was worth listing off in detail .. because it was very amazing and memorable. Each place was so different and worth the time.

Time to go. I miss home a little – I really miss Jonni and her rambling new language that she’s discovering, hehe.
My next post will probably be once I’m in Spain again – I go there Friday and will be there for a week until I go on to France and Italy. Ill be meeting Rachel and a Columbian girl, Karoll, in Spain. And then… Brenna will be meeting me in France or Italy. Yayyyy. I hope internet access is available so that I can still post pictures and such.

Love you all. Leahrose.xo

Monday, January 24, 2011

the "real" Portugal

Hi all . Another entry… from here in Albufeira, Portugal. I’ve taken some good pictures in the last 4 days so I’m happy to share them.

On Friday (it’s Monday morning now) Grampa, Jann, and I went on a Jeep safari tour to the countryside and back roads of the Algarve (southern region of Portugal). Since it’s the off season there was only one jeep load of us; in the summer time there are often 15 or 20 jeeps of people in one day. Thankfully, when we went it was verrry clear and hot out. So far the jeep tour has been my favorite part of my trip.

We were in the jeep with 2 middle aged couples from England. The one man, Garry, reminded me of my uncle Jimmy. Jolly and charming. His wife Anthia was so small and sweet  (imagine that.. just like aunty Mary , hehe) – we so enjoyed them. The other couple, whose names we don’t know, were verrry funny and they were not afraid to enjoy the wine included in lunch…. Or to chug their glasses when our driver started to call us down to the jeep, haha.
Basically we started off right here in town and gradually drove out of the city into the country. On the way out we drove through a few villages , which became fewer as we went, and eventually ended up on dirt roads winding through orange orchards.  We stopped in the last village for a white coffee and pastel de nata and then continued into the sun.

After a while driving our guide stopped at a patch of cork trees, shown in this picture. He explained to us how the locals harvest the cork bark every  10 years. The layers can be seen on the trees and are marked by the year, so they know when to next harvest them. Also, he told us that the cork trees will not burn , if there was a forest fire or something. They are quite beautiful and remind me of the arbutus trees in Victoria… the way they bend and squiggle.


All along the way, through the country, we would come across tiny, tiny villages …. Or sort of just a couple houses at a time… A lot of them are very ramshackle looking and without electricity. However, the people on the porches are so happy and content looking. In every area there is an old wheel used to pull the water up from the well and an old brick community oven. These little villages were, and are, very community oriented and back in the day the people would all cook their meals in the same oven … and then all of the women would do their washing at the wash houses shown in the picture below.

Our second stop was at this tiny, tiny little village where an old woman was waiting to show us her house. She lives in this tiny, dark home. She was so proud to bring us into her home. Even though she couldn’t speak a lick of English, she spoke Portugese to Anthia as if Anthia could understand her. She even laughed and gestured to Anthia as if they were in conversation. She had her pots all lined along the top shelves and beautiful plates lined up as well. Everything was tidy and swept- it felt like Nanna’s.

From there we walked down the street to the “firewater distilling place”. The local drink in this village is this firewater, which tastes like very gooood whiskey. We learned how they brew it and then had tastes of the plain kind, a carob flavored one, and then a mint eucalyptus one. We also tasted their local honey. Jann and grampa bought a little bottle of the carob liquor, if only to support the cute old man who owns it with his son. He was also so proud and happy to have us there seeing how they live.


We made our way to this awesome place for lunch, on top of a huge hill overlooking the village Alte. Here we roasted in the sun and had the typical Portugese lunch… and the typical Portugese wine, hehe.

Our final stop was on our way home, in the village Alte. All us sun kissed jeep riders thought we were heading home, on the backroads of course, when suddenly we pulled down this narrow street (they are all narrow) and were led to this local’s home. Like cows, or blind mice, or something, we were led up a mothball stinking staircase, which seemed never ending and increasingly more narrow as we hiked up. It is a local man’s museum of things he’s acquired over his life; known to some as pack rats organized collection. It all happened so fast that before we knew it we were upstairs in this musty place looking at collections of old, eyeless dolls and rusty forks. The quiet, lush English man whispered to me “next thing you know they’re going to tell us to come down to the basement to see their collection of tourists”… hahahaha and I laughed. The whole experience was weird and cute, in the weirdest way. The man and wife were very happy we came, and even happier about the euros we left. I got some great pictures, that may turn into paintings, which I’m happy about.

I’m rambling on…oops.

Saturday we went to Loule ,a town 40 minutes away, for the gypsy market and farmers market. The weather changed this day, so we came home with great treats, and frost bitten toes. Hahaha I got more funny looks in one day than ever before. We were totally underdressed for the cool wind and the Portugese thought it was hilarious. We bought fresh salmon .. some nice cheese… and then souvenirs. I almost bought about 10 pairs of boots but kept talking myself out of it. There are soooo many nice shoes here.

The bus trip was great, since I had my ipod. Our bus driver, who was 25 minutes late, felt inclined to make the bus trip a multi lingual, constantly narrated ride. (Ali, it was like one of the PCL trips we took to downtown Vancouver, when the driver just spoke over the intercom because he likes listening to his own voice.) I was sooooo irritated and frustrated hahaha. But looking back it is funny.

Today we went to church and of course for walks and coffees. Church was so beautiful – the music was great. We went a bit late, because listening to the entire service and not understanding it gets a bit boring. Going up for communion was a free for all, since the church was so packed. I didn’t know that grampa played football when he was younger, but after seeing him take out all the pious parishioners and shove his way to the front to receive communion I am positive he must have been on the highschool team.

Things are great here! Tomorrow off to another town to the west to explore, and then on Wednesday we are going to Seville, Spain .. Gibraltar… and Morocco!
Report back then.
Love Leah-Rose

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Me in London at Big Ben - TIRED

Blog entry number 2 from here in Europe – Things in Portugal are great. Warm and sunny, but with a cool wind from the ocean.  We’ve been roaming the new town and old town daily; been getting a lot of fresh air and walking each day.
I’ve posted some photos from my 4 days here so far ! The produce and beans are from the gipsy market we went to the other day. The old women and men who were selling them are so aged looking and beautiful. The most sort of “Portugese” looking older people have this dark caramel skin wrinkled all over and a very content and wise look in their eyes. These were the people sitting behind the produce stands at the market.
Along with these enchanting locals, there were a couple crazy, aggressive, big Portugese women who almost physically forced me into buying things – now I’m careful not to touch much or ask about prices because doing that is basically like walking into the wolve’s den, except it’s a scary gipsy lady’s den. Haha. Needless to say there are some high strung ladies trying to sell goods at the market.

By 11 oclock , after some walking, we usually have ‘the first of the day’, which is usually an ICE COLD beer in a small glass. The beer here is theeee coldest I’ve ever had, and the small glasses helps maintain it. Very good.

These beach pictures are from just yesterday. The 3 of us got up nice and early, 6:40, and made it to the beach for low tide. The sound of the waves is so relaxing and the breeze is great. Although I have to frequently shake my Birkenstocks out, I insist on wearing them because I know that for the rest of my trip I’ll have to wear my waterproof hikers. Eeeee.

In my next set of pictures I’ll be sure to  show you all the beautiful ‘ pasta danata’ – the custard filled tarts that Grampa and Jann so love. Each day we basically start with a white coffee (Coffee with milk) and pasta danata. Then grampa has 1 or 2 more throughout the day, as we are trying to find which cafĂ© makes the best one.

Time to get going. Happy hour starts asap. We bought our jeep safari tickets today so in the next entry I’ll also try to post pictures of that. Farms and back country.

XO Love Leah-Rose

Ps, Mom – you are no longer allowed to make fun of me for my ridiculous sweet tooth. I come by it soooo honestly. I discretely snack on kit kats here, and these orange chocolate cookies, only to look over and see grampa enjoying them as well. Only a few hours later the same thing happens again. HAHAH.

Monday, January 17, 2011

safe in portugal !

Hi all,
I am safe in  Portugal. At an internet cafe , having a beer and checking all my emails.
My trip from home was long ... but well worth it. Rachel met me at the airport in London and we spent the day there in London. I saw so much in that first day, but was so tired that i probably only remember half of it haha. (Ali, I think i may have blacked out about 3 or 4 hours hahahah).
Arrived in portugal late and wetnt straight to bed..... its 2 in the afternoon here right now and me and my grandparents have been out on the beach and town all day. I am a little bit red because i~m pretty sure i have the whitest skin in the city and its already burning. but a couple more days will take care of that. i feel a littl emessed up still from the time change but hopefully ill catch up.

we are going to the gypsy market tomorrow which im excited for.... yayyy.

hope everyone reads this and knows im safe. so far the trip is good ... it~s a little strange not being able to understand anyone around you, and i feel a little ignorant for not knowing their language. portugese is a lot more like Russian and Czech than i thought ... its not as beautiful as spanish, and it sounds a lot more confusing.

time to go check my emails and finish this beer. will update by the end of the week. i am going on a jeep tour this week i think, so ill update after that..... Cody, i hope the driver is not as gutsy as you haha.  the drivers on the main roads here are crazzzzzzzzy so i cant imagine what a back road tour will be like. im sure ill be screaming. wish me luck.

love everyone . xoxoxox