We hired a car and driver to take us to Fes from Tangier because we wanted to stop for a few hours in the Blue town of Chefchaouen before continuing onward and the train/bus situation was too long. We had rather a rickety taxi but he was a nice guy and it was lovely to see the countryside. I was surprised at how much agriculture there is in Morocco with sweeping landscapes of wheat and more grains plus orchards of citrus and olives. The smell of the small olive factories was very over powering in the small towns.
Chefchaouen is just as the guidebook photos show – delightfully picturesque. We wandered around the small blue streets, played with numerous kittens, and of course took loads of pictures. There are a lot of tourists and many come in for the day as we did. It would be nice to stay there and experience it later in the evening. Food was sure a lot cheaper than Tangier.
Given our “historic” hotel in Tangier we booked a place outside of the Medina in Fez and I’m really glad we did. We were in the Ibis, which is right next door to the train station and has some small local type restaurants around it. What made staying there so nice were the pool and the grounds. It was a little oasis in a teeming city. They had gorgeous rose gardens and all kinds of flowering plants. There were also peacocks and chickens in the garden and a goat next door! Even though this it a chain, I can recommend a stay here. Plus it had a bar so we were able to have a few drinks at the pool (most places do not serve alcohol).
The next day we hired a guide who took us around the Medina. You need a guide as this place is enormous and we would not have known what to look for or what to see without him. There are quite a few ancient sites within the Medina such as the world’s oldest university, which was started by a woman. The Medina is a UNESCO world heritage site and deserves to be. It’s crazy in places with tiny paths where you have to flatten yourself against walls because horses and donkeys laden with goods are coming by. I feared for my toes at times! Men pushing handcarts and people carrying large cages of birds cram past you. But the neat thing was everyone seemed friendly and they smiled and apologized if they bumped into you. It was a really nice environment and enjoyable experience, which the Medina in Tangier had not proved to be.
There are 250,000 people who live fully in this Median and that doubles during the day with people coming in. Everything needed to survive is created and made here. There are carpenters, metal workers, bakers, sewers, barbers – no one needs to leave. There are also schools and I was able to step in and visit two tiny one-room kindergarten classes.
They were so welcoming and the teachers eager to point out all the things they were learning from the posters around the room. Little room for play and no toys but the littles were laughing and singing. It was a fun day but I sure was glad to be back in that pool garden with a cold beer at the end of it!
Charlotte enjoyed the pool the best.
And I was thrilled to visit the world’s oldest university founded by a woman. Now deep inside the Medina!
I was so excited to see how close and easy it was to get to Morocco from our place in Spain and the excitement increased when I found out one of my former Dubai students was getting married just after we arrived. So we planned to get to Casablanca for the wedding. Best of plans can change as we all came down with heavy colds/chest infections the day after arriving in Barcelona. I haven’t had a cold in quite a few years but this one just wiped me out for a few weeks. So sadly we cancelled the wedding trip but then managed to find a time just last week to pop over for a week. It was very unplanned with no itinerary at all!
Tarifa port and yes that is Morocco in the background!
Our journey started by driving to Tarifa about an hour away and finding a car park to leave the car in for a week. The port one was full but we got a private one that cost about 10 euros a day so not too bad. We bought our ferry tickets and within an hour were boarding the nice ferry for an hour’s journey across the straights. It was only about half full and a relaxing journey. Coming back we were packed in with loads of bus tours but we still found seats thankfully. The only accommodation we had booked was our first two nights in Tangier. We walked out of the port, across the road and climbed up steep stairs to the Continental Hotel, which is apparently an old palace. It backs onto the Medina and overlooks the ocean. It’s an interesting place with gorgeous tiling in the dining area. The people who work there were very nice and let us change rooms to one slightly bigger but the rooms were not exactly luxurious and our shower never would drain easily which meant wet floors plus an unpleasant pong.
We headed out into the Medina for something to eat and were a bit taken aback at such high prices (they capture the tourists well) and the hawkers were pushy and it didn’t feel very relaxing at all. Not somewhere I have much desire to go back to.
The next day we hired a driver to take us all around the local area. Tangier has a new cornice, which looks as if it will be lively in summer. Maybe too lively given the number of discos they seemed to have! We went to the lighthouse where the two oceans meet and the Cave of Hercules amongst other bits. Then it was a pretty drive along the coast to Asilah, which is a small beach town with a pretty Medina and lots of good restaurants. If I came back I think that would be a nice spot to stay for a couple of days.
Our house is on this street — on the left of the square
We rented a house from the sabbatical dot com website as I fell in love with the walk through video they had made. The house is probably over 300 years old and just gorgeous; part of an old convent. Flagstones, wooden windows and old doors, hidden patios tucked away, claw foot tub and chandelier, and a little pool all made me just have to live here for a bit. The owner is delightful too and really helpful with everything which sure helps for an easy landing. We are told that half the village has fiber internet and it’s coming to this house soon – that will be nice! Internet is OK but not consistently good.
Here is the video walk through of the house:
The house is located in a small white village in the Southern part of Spain about half an hour drive from the coast and Gibraltar. Jimena de la Frontera is one of the historical “pueblos blancos” where the buildings are all painted white. It’s lovely driving through the country when you can see these villages across a valley tucked away in the mountains. We are just a few houses from the main square and have various restaurants and cafes around us but it’s still a quiet little place. An old castle looms down on us and it’s a pretty, albeit strenuous, walk up to it. From the top you can see Gibraltar and Morocco on a clear day!
The house was a bit chilly at first and with the flagstones it took a bit to warm up plus they have had an unusually cold and long winter. We wore layers of clothes a lot and put to good use the oil heaters and wood stove. It’s not hot yet but we are told the house stays lovely and cool in summer because of the thick walls and stone floors. We shall see in June.
We headed out from Florida again with one-way tickets to Europe (yay) and this time our team had expanded to include Darwin the beagle and Mark (grandson) and his mom. Our landing was in Barcelona and from there we drove down in the new car to our long-term rental in Andalusia. We only spent four nights traveling as it’s just 11 hours down the east coast. We stayed for two nights just south of Barcelona in a beach suburb called Castelldefels. It was a quieter side of the city I think and all the more as it was quite chilly at the end of March so few people at the beach. Food was OK. Internet was lousy at the Airbnb but still a relaxed settling in.
We then drove about half way down the coast and stayed in another beach town called Puerto de Mazarron. Again it was rather sleepy and quiet with most of the houses looking a tad depressing. Shutters on all the windows and a desolate feel to it. I think this could be normal of the beach areas we saw all the way down the coast. Between shutters, dead flower-pots, factories, and concrete block high rises, it wasn’t exactly an exciting intro to Spain. I’m afraid the coastal route did little to impress us nor did the internet speed in either place!
From about Malaga on it was prettier and veering inland a bit near Granada was lovely with lots of sweeping open views and mountains.
Highways are very easy to access although tolls are not cheap. Everywhere is pretty easy to drive in but there some narrow country roads and old city streets that make you gasp a bit. Central Seville was quite nerve wracking!
We seem to have been busier than ever here in SMA. There are loads of worldschooling families here and it’s nice to be able to network and find classes and fun outings rather than always having to search them out ourselves.
Charlotte and Max have a private Spanish tutor twice a week who is amazing. She comes to the house and I can hear how fast they are learning with her plus laughing a lot. I hope she will continue on Skype!
Charlotte is also riding at a lovely ranch and has been going on trail rides twice a week.
Then there is indoor rock climbing at 8 Doble
And Silks classes (could also do gymnastics), which are available at about three different places.
Max has played chess with the ongoing club that meets at Starbucks Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Oh and there is volunteering at the animal shelter. Playing with puppies and kittens galore!
We are hoping to add in some art classes too and if we were here longer then have also found a great Japanese language teacher plus music teachers. The nice thing is most are within walking distance (riding is taxi) and so reasonably priced that it’s hard to turn down. There are tons of activities for adults too. It’s a great city for classes or simply eating and wandering.
On another day trip around SMA, we headed to the ranch that provides produce, meat and eggs for the lovely restaurant and shop, which is just a couple of streets from our house. Via Organica self describes as: “Via Organica is a Mexican nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote good nutrition through organic agriculture, fair trade, a healthy lifestyle and the protection of the planet.”
This is one of those places that makes you not only enjoy your food as it’s tasty but feel good about the process and background of the food system. And since they brew beer right at their restaurant you can sample and feel even better. We had a lovely tuna one (cactus berry and not the fish).
I think that’s my favorite but they have all kinds and it tastes different each time. At the ranch half of us got onto horses to tour the ranch and area and the others had a walking tour of the gardens and farm and then drive to the village restaurant. This was a very simple and yet delicious meal of all locally made foods. Chicken soup, chilli relleno, and pulque to drink. I think this last was the most fascinating as we got to watch the restaurant owner go to the large magueys growing in her garden, pull back the plastic sheeting on the top, and ladle out the honey water from inside the huge plant. We drank this and it was sweet and a juice. But when they take this liquid and add it to a little of the previously fermented honey water, it “magically” turns into pulque. At first sip I wasn’t so sure of this as the smell is a little different but the taste is good. Slightly like beer but we are told not as strong, it’s something that has been drunk for centuries and goes back to Prehispanic times. Apparently a drunk mouse in 1340 gave the secret away. It’s quite hard to transport as fermenting is fast and nonstop so must be consumed quickly after it starts. There are quite a few reports too of the health benefits including being good for breastfeeding moms (increasing milk supply) and gastrointestinal benefits. It is similar to kombucha so I can see how it must have probiotic qualities.
We had a great day learning so much about this neat drink and organic farm and of course kids and Aunt Jo liked the riding. It’s a really nice place to spend the day and see a bit more of the countryside.
I already wrote about Dolores Hidalgo and that day trip but we enjoyed it so much that we took Grandma, Aunt Jo, and Cousin Janet back during their visit with us. We ate some great Al Pastor which was fun to share with family.
We also stopped at an amazing World Heritage site church: Sanctuary of Atotonilco. This was built in the 18th Century and is known as the Sistene Chapel of Mexico. For good reason as the paintings on the ceilings and walls are lovely. My pictures do not do it justice.
This time we not only shopped for Talavera, but went to a large factory to see how it is made. It’s a really neat process and quite lengthy as all made and painted by hand. This factory has contracts with Walmart so watch out for the pottery around Christmas.
I knew we would San Miguel (SMA) looked lovely but it really is amazing so far. The city is very pretty with loads of restaurants and neat shops. It’s quite touristy in the central area and many retirees from the US have moved here but the city seems big enough for all. Many of the old colonial houses in the central area have been renovated and look lovely. Slight gentrification but that has mixed blessings as it brings money to in to renovate and save historic buildings.
We are here for two months so I will hopefully post more about the city but here are a few things to start. The churches and squares here are lovely. They are full of life with vendors and families just hanging out together and enjoying the lovely climate. It is such a break from the summer heat of Florida to be in central Mexico where the daily average is in the 70s and nighttime is in the 50s. It rains quite a bit in the afternoon but that just makes it green and cools things off. The humidity is also much lower thank goodness.
We have been to some amazing restaurants so far with topnotch gourmet food and delicious market and street food. Widest range of options that we have seen in Mexico yet.
We also took a trip to Canada de la Virgen, which is an Otomi archaeological site from about 530AD. It was a beautiful and easy drive up where we parked at the visitors center and then were driven in a minibus for about 10 minutes to where we then hiked up to the site. It’s quite a long walk (1.5 miles round trip) and rocky terrain in places but the weather was lovely and cool (70s) and we were up in the hills. Cows wandered by us and there is a lovely gorge nearby that you can see into.
The tour was all in Spanish so three of us got very little out of the guide’s explanation but it was pretty walking and exploring and we read about the site before going which helped.
We rented a car for a couple of days so we could explore around the San Miguel de Allende area and one town we visited is famous as it is where the Cry of Dolores went out and the priest Miguel Hidalgo Costilla sounded the call for independence from Spain. It’s a relatively small town and easily walkable in the downtown with multiple small but enjoyable museums. The square in the middle of town is also famous for the ice cream vendors who have flavors of everything imaginable (note not my picture but the menus of options are all similar — I was too busy eating to take pics).
We sampled: beer, shrimp, cactus, avocado, rose, cola, mango, coconut, chamoy, tequila, mole and many more. Really fun to see but hard to pin down which one to eat a cup of!
After eating our way around the town we headed over to the main road for pottery. I’m a fan of Talavera and this place has been making it since the 1810 revolution or before! The stores were full of gorgeous items – matching toilets to sinks! I want a hook and towel hanger to match my talavera sink in Florida but had to buy an entire set of bathroom fittings (toothbrush holder/soap/multiple hooks etc.) as they came in a set. This only cost me about $10! Not sure what I will do with all those pieces but such a deal.
We headed off to Mexico again and we were thrilled to meet Jake in Mexico City. Before we settled down in San Miguel de Allende for a couple of months we took a few days to stay in a city about an hour away: Guanajuato. It’s a colonial city built on hills and coming in by taxi (from the bus station) at night is impressive as you have to go through long tunnels. These are not smoothly formed but rather rugged and roughly hewn. They were designed during early mining days to divert the river and prevent flooding but now are a warren of tunnels for cars (some people walk but I sure wouldn’t want to).
The city is gorgeous with some of the best views from the top of the hill, which is easily accessed by taking the funicular tram up the hill to the Pipila monument. The city is built on hills and houses are jumbled together joined by alleys that are a rabbit warren of hills and stairs with much of it a steep climb. It is not easy climbing and small children would be difficult and certainly no babies in strollers.
We had a lovely evening at the Teatro Juarez, which is a beautiful old theater. The symphony was playing Dimitri Shostakovich’s 7th and it was all the more rousing with the large storm outside; thunder crashing with the percussion and flashing lightening. We got absolutely soaked going home and the narrow alleyways up hill became small rivers, which we had to wade through to get back to our rental house. A memorable evening for sure.
There are quite a few small museums in the city and most are easy commitments in both money and time. One that is a taxi ride just outside of centro is Museo de las Momias. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to this as it’s very creepy but the kids convinced me. It IS creepy but not really nightmare’ish. We’ve seen multiple mummy exhibitions but usually they have been quite a bit older than these that are quite new. The local soil has minerals that preserve bodies rapidly and so within a few years they are mummified. Many of the bodies are less than 100 years old and the hair and parts of clothing are still on. So yes, kind of creepy.
We were excited to visit Casa Diego Rivera, which is where the famous painter was born and is now a museum. It was a pretty old house but a rather disappointing museum with limited art. OK for a 30-minute visit but not much depth.
There were some decent restaurants and it was a nice city to visit. More than worth the trip if there is something good playing at the theater!