The World is a Book

Writing about: Family Travel, kids, places, food…

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Jereze de la Frontera – horses and sherry

We had a road trip and went to Jerez which is in the south and just over an hour to Seville. Cadiz is right next to it and across a peninsular so easy trips to both cities.

The trip was planned because of horses (Charlotte) and sherry (Jake and me) and all of us loved this small city. There are so many bodegas selling sherry and you can tour and sample most of them. It’s also growing in craft beer scene and is home to the Royal Andalusian Horse School:

https://www.realescuela.org/en/

Charlotte and I went to see the show and tour at this. It was really interesting and the horses are beautiful. Both of us were uncomfortable at the show aspect because training animals to work in order to entertain humans makes us uncomfortable (such as elephants in circuses). We appreciated the skill and culture at this horse show but probably would not go back. Charlotte did think she could be happy living in the School’s old building.

The city though was amazing. Very walkable and small enough not to exhaust us. We saw various bars with flamenco shows going on and music sounding from all over. The food was excellent and great markets and restaurant scene. One evening we did a tasting menu at a Michelin recognized restaurant where they pair sherry to the courses. The range of tastes in sherry is really interesting and not simply that of my English youth at Christmas (although Harvey’s is there and I have to admit I like the sweet taste of this one:)

The drive down and local area was really beautiful as well.

City break in Seville

Our house in Jimena had been rented out for one week during our longer rental time so quite serendipitously we had an offer to house swap our Florida place for a Seville apartment so headed there for this week. It was rather a crazy time to try and get to the apartment which was in the very central part of the city.

Our car air conditioner was not working so we planned on leaving the car at a garage and using cabify to get a car in. Sadly that system would not work for us and we waited an hour for a taxi but none came because it was May 1 and everyone on holiday! So Jake drove us into the city center, dropped us off on a narrow street (complete with heavy honking of horns behind us) and then attempted to park the car for the night. It took him ages because with a car top carrier he couldn’t get into covered parking places but he finally found a spot. Then his phone died but luckily he had memorized the address and approximate location of where he had dropped us off. That and the sudden pouring of rain was an auspicious start. But the apartment was gorgeous with high ceilings and lovely furnishings: all white! Everyone had a comfy bed and we could look out of the balcony and see the cathedral. You couldn’t have been any closer to the old city of Seville. We were living it!

There were so many restaurants around us it was hard to choose. We ate our way around and never had to go more than a few streets for great food. Tapas reigns supreme there and we sampled many.

It was nice to have a week and just explore the city slowly rather than racing to every spot. We went to the Alcazar on Monday which was free (but you have to buy your free ticket online for one euro) and organized a tour into the cathedral as it is huge. We thought a tour would help lessen the wait time in line for tickets but in hindsight I’d just have waited as we had a pitifully bad tour guide and she didn’t add much to the process. We did make it up the tower which was part of the old Mosque there and built so a horse could walk up 5 times a day for the call to prayer. Christopher Columbus (the guide referred to him as Cristóbal Colón and I had no idea who she was talking about at first) is supposedly partly buried in the cathedral although there is controversy as to whether it is him or not.

http://www.catedraldesevilla.es/

 

Inicio

 

Both places are incredibly beautiful and fun to wander around. I read not to do both in one day and while I’m glad we were able not to, it wouldn’t have been hard to.

 

We also went to a neat flamenco show. The city is full of shops with flamenco dresses and seems to be much more of a center than in other places. Musicians were playing the music around the city and it feels very much part of the heart of Seville. We saw a few dancers perform pieces from multiple styles of flamenco which was interesting. In a couple of them you could really hear the Arab sounds infused in the music too. The guitar player was amazing.

 

And of course there is the famous Plaze de Espana where one of the Star Wars movies filmed a segment:

 

Seville is a beautiful city. We probably missed many museums or spots but for us the beauty was just wandering old city streets and eating at sidewalk cafes etc. Very vibrant city that we enjoyed our week in.

Rabat by Train

I love train travel and so we continued the journey by train to Rabat. It was Mother’s Day so I was excited to find a tin of my favorite British chocs in the tiny shop at the station plus Digestive biscuits.

Made the journey even more enjoyable. We bought first class tickets as had seats assigned plus heard the aircon was better and there was no smoking in first class. The trains were lovely and comfortable although the air was not working very well. Smooth and easy 3 hour journey to the capital city.

Rabat was an entirely different experience again and reminded us in places of Paris with large boulevards and trees. We had rented a riad for a couple of nights as it had such rave reviews and was really lovely looking. It did not let us down in terms of being gorgeous but we (OK me) hadn’t realized that Sale is a town next to Rabat and kind of across an inlet of water.

They join together but Salat is like the deserted outpost and we were a bit discombobulated to find out there were no restaurants or any stores that we could find. We were in the Medina but there were barely any places open and no food. We wandered for about an hour and headed back worried as to where dinner would be. The owners quickly said they would cook for us and they rustled up a lovely tagine of turkey meatballs and salad. They also cooked for us the next night and it was one of the best meals we had there: meat and prune, long cooked tagine. Another one full of vegetables too. So it ended up being OK as we enjoyed eating in the riad.

But more than two nights may have had us itching for something a bit different! I can’t do justice to these pictures—it is lovely and the nicest family running it. The 300 year old riad has been in their family for 4 generations :

https://www.hotels.com/ho642170/?tab=description

We spent a lovely day in the center of Rabat wandering around the Medina there with my former student which partially made up for not being at her wedding. I was glad to see her and catch up.

The next day we were up early and took the train back up to Tangier where we easily caught the ferry back to Tarifa. Very easy journey.

 

Onward to Fes

 

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!

 

Morocco Bound: Tangier

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.

Pueblos Blancos in Andalusia

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:

https://my.matterport.com/show/?m=Z1JqY1ECPjK

 

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.

Road Trip Through Spain

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!

Activities in San Miguel

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.

http://www.sanmiguelhorses.com/

Then there is indoor rock climbing at 8 Doble

http://www.doble8rocodrom.com/en

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!

http://www.spasanmiguel.org/how-you-can-help/volunteer/

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.

Via Organica Ranch and Pulque

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.”

http://viaorganica.org/

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.

https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulque

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.

 

Day Trips Around San Miguel de Allende

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.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanctuary_of_Atotonilco

 

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.

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