Friday, July 27, 2012

Home Again

Tuesday evening was spent mostly relaxing in the hostel and chatting with roommates. I attempted to get to that castle again but they were still closed! So I decided to try to go early Wednesday morning. I then spent the evening packing my backpack and organizing things so that everything I needed for Wednesday night was at the top of the pack. This way I wouldn't have to go through everything when I showered and dressed that night.

I got up bright and early on Wednesday and saw that I had to check out of the hostel by 11.30am. That would in theory give me from 9-11 to visit the castle, assuming that it would be open. I grabbed breakfast quickly and chatted once again with other travelers before deciding to head out to check out that castle. Unfortunately when I got there I found out that it doesn't open until 11 am on Wednesdays. Why do castles in Europe have such strange opening times? Since I wanted to catch the bus at noon I knew I couldn't visit that castle on this trip. Luckily the castle is about a 2 minute walk from the hostel so it wasn't that big of an issue and it gave a nice brisk walk after breakfast. Plus it was a lovely view to see the port first thing in the morning. I guess since I didn't get a chance to wander around this castle I'll have an excuse to return to Tarifa.

After the castle fiasco I went back to the hostel and checked out. I got to the bus stop a little past 11 in the morning and was able to catch the bus at 12.10pm. While waiting for the bus I met a fellow Canadian who was born in Ottawa but now lives in Montreal. We chatted for a while. My bus showed up 20 minutes late which made me really happy I didn't wait to catch the bus at 2pm. I arrived in Algeciras for about 1pm and my train was scheduled to leave at 3pm. It didn't actually leave until 3.30. The train ride itself was uneventual. The view was amazing though! All of the rolling hills and mountains. The vegetation is a lot more varied in the southern parts of Spain than in the northern parts. It was amazing to see. Especially when the sun began to set and everything had that lovely red glow. That's seriously my favorite time of day, sunset. Everything always looks so pretty, plus it's brilliant for some photography.

When I finally did get to Madrid I had 4 hostels lined up for places to stay. I was told earlier in the week that I couldn't stay with Natalia that night and since I couldn't reserve a bunk before I got there (I didnt bring any credit cards with me, I figured no temptation to use them). So, when I got to Madrid I went to the nearest hostel and got lucky. They had bunks. I asked for the cheapest room and was placed in a 12 bunk mixed dorm. When I got there 10 of the beds were taken. All were men. (Which I didn't discover until later) After settling into the hostel I showered and then ventured out to find food. There was a pizzaria almost right next to the hostel so I decided to grab a slice there. I did struggle with the door to get out of the hostel. There's a button next to it that you have to press but there's a symbol of a bell so it looked like an alarm button but apparently it's the door release. I also had issues opening the door to the hostel room itself. There's this watch thingy that they gave you open doors and lockers. Supposedly you press it on the door and it opens but our door just wouldn't open! (Which explains why it was wide open when I got there and it was empty, guess everybody has trouble with it).
After food I basically went straight to bed. I tried to climb up to the top bunk where I was assigned but the ladder was too painful on the foot so I said screw it and went to the bottom bunk instead. I slept wonderfully until all my roommates poured in at about 2-3am. They were all quite drunk and noisy. When they discovered I was there they all seemed a tad shocked that there was a girl in the room but that didn't stop them from making lots of noise. I got my payback first thing in the morning when I finished packing my bags and got ready to leave for the airport. I made sure to make a whole bunch of subtle noise then.

To get to the airport I had to jump onto the metro and then had to switch lines twice. The metro took me to terminal 2 so I had to get to terminal 1 from there. It's a long walk in the airport. I got to the luggage check-in nice and early and was the 4th person in line! Unfortunately they started it late so it was a loooong wait. After that though it was nice and smooth with the exception of our flight being delayed 2 hours because our airplane hadn't arrived yet! It was flying in from the states and the winds were bad but that meant winds on our side to get there so that would save about 30 minutes of airtime for us.

On the plane I watched the Raven, the Avengers and the first three episodes of Smash. Which is a really good series. We got to Toronto almost 2 hours late. I originally had a 3 hour layover but that turned into about an hour instead. I'm still in shock that I made my next flight. When I arrived in Toronto I had to go through customs, the lady there gave me a hard time. She expected me to have a concrete list of everything I purchased and the exact price for everything listed down as well. I think she was just having a bad day and it didn't help that I was exhausted, hungry, had a increasing headache and I was about to miss a flight. So, customs luckily didn't take that much time and afterwards I had to go to baggage claim to get my pack before dropping it off for my connection flight! Waiting for the bags was brutal. It felt like it took forever. Once I got them though I pretty much raced to get them onto the plane, the guy juuuust let me put them through since apparently I was running out and then I raced to the boarding gate. When I got there I discovered that the flight was delayed. We still boarded on time but we left an hour late. While waiting I was able to watch another episode of Smash. Unfortunately episode 4 wasn't there so I jumped ahead to episode 5. The flight itself went relatively smoothly. I arrived in Ottawa at a little past 8 pm.

It feels a little nice to be home. Good food, good water pressure, and I really missed my cat and surprisingly my bird. I didn't think I'd miss Rocky as much as a did. She looks like she's gotten quite fat over the past few weeks but she was probably that big when I left and I just didn't remember. I'm off to Pembroke this weekend (actually I'm writting this on my friend's computer in Pembroke) so I plan on going through photos on Sunday afternoon, Monday, and Tuesday.

The next destination I currently have in mind is Costa Rica. I wish to see the rainforest and I'd like to see the volcanos there.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tuesday Market

I've had a somewhat busy yet relaxing day in Tarifa. So far I've walked and seen most of the sights with the exception of one of the castles since it was closed (the other castle you just can't get close to, it's all blocked off) but the other castle opens again from 6-9 tonight so hopefully I'll get in then. I just missed the opening for it this morning by 5 minutes.

Basically so far I've spent my day wandering around the city taking pictures of buildings and pretty things. I eventually wandered over towards the second castle and the beaches and crossed the bridge that divides the ocean from the sea. Took a whole bunch of photos there since I was really fascinated with the area.

While wandering I decided I found this lovely little market near the hostel (that apparently only operates on Tuesdays from 8-3). They were selling fruits, vegetables, clothing (for as low as 2€) and in the clothing there was everything. Shirts, pants, dresses, underwear, bras, etc... While wandering through here I decided that it would be a good idea to get myself some fresh tomatoes for lunch and a peach for desert. I grabbed 2 tomatoes and 1 peach and asked the guy how much and he told me it was free. I asked why and he said it was because I wanted so little that I could simply have it. I really didn't complain at the free food and left there a little stunned but very content. Since I was about a minute away from the hostel I quickly went back and made myself some lunch. More pasta! This time I had the added joy of tomatoes and a peach for desert. It was delicious!

After lunch is when I ventured forth towards the castle and the beach. I now have a pocket filled with shells. I think I was worse than the kids. I kept running around taking pictures and picking up shells. I even saw a crab! I was very thrilled. I then crossed the bridge to get to the island with the lighthouse but that area was closed. I stayed and hung out by the beach for a good 2-3 hours, just relaxing to the sound of the waves and the intense winds. It was very, very windy. I did find an area under the bridge where the ocean almost meets the sea. From there I took off my shoes and stepped into the sea and then ran towards the ocean. It was pretty exciting. I ran back and forth a few times and stopped when locals started to stare at me a little strangely. I had fun. Discovered there's also some coral reefs on the ocean side as I saw some people snorkling.

Pretty house

The fortified walls from the original settlement

One of the squares with a bunch of patios

Covered walkway, I love the pots on the wall

One of the churches.

The sea side of the bridge!

The ocean side of the bridge!

Yet another map... Sorry guys. This one has a point of where I was standing. So that's neat?

A view of the island facing the ocean side.

A view of the island facing the sea side.

ocean side again.

Crab! Sea life! I guess this little guy is hiding until high tide comes in.

Uhm, the ocean side again. As I said, I got carried away.

Me, under the bridge. The ocean is behind me.

This picture's pretty neat. The water in the front on the sand is from the ocean and the water in the back of it is the sea. This was taken from the bridge.

Me in front of the image above. I was told I needed to be in more photos so voila! My pretty face once more. :)

That second illusive castle that I couldn't enter no matter how hard I tried. It's blocked off from all sides at the bottom of the cliff/hill. Part of the fence was broken down so I guess I could have snuck in but that seemed unsafe.

A statue dedicated to the local fishermen.

I want to say a mural of Don Quixote. I also want to say that it's near a school.  It is however almost right next to my hostel.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tangier - fully updated

I can officially say that I've been to Africa. It was only for a day but still, it was amazing! The ferry left Tarifa at 9 am and came back at around 7pm. The ferry ride only took about 25-30 minutes to get us from point A to B which was really awesome. My passport's also kinda funny since there's a stamp showing me leaving Spain on the 23rd, another of me entering Morocco, leaving Morocco, and then me coming back to Spain that same day. 4 stamps in one day. The guys at customs were like "WTF?" When I came back in the evening.

I knew I wanted to go to Morocco while in Tarifa since it's so close to Spain! I wasn't sure at first if I wanted to buy tickets and go or do a tour. I am so glad I went with a tour. For starters tickets alone to get there would have cost me between 60-70e euros. The tour cost 55 euros and it included the ferry ride (there and back again), a Moroccan style lunch, an actual tour of Tangier (the medina, bazaar, etc...) Plus they took us to Hercules' Cave just outside of Tangier. So. The tour was worth it. Plus it saved with the confusion in the port and how to get to the medina.

Tangier is 2 hours behind Spain. We also arrived on the 3rd day of Ramadan so we were told that the streets would be relatively empty. The tour started with the guide introducing himself. His name was Rajesh and the driver was Abdul. They were both super nice and friendly. Most of the other tourists were German, though there were a few Spaniards, Austrians, and Australian's there too. Everyone was super nice. After getting onto the tour bus we were given a quick tour of Tangier from the bus as we headed to Hercules's cave. On the way we stopped off at the top point where you can see both the ocean and sea at once that was pretty neat. I took a video of it. We then go to ride camels! Yes, I rode a camel today. It was super uncomfortable when it stood. I definitely felt like I was going to fall off. But I didn't and I survived the camels. Afterwards we went to Hercules Cave. This place isn't that big and it's flooded with vendors but it's still gorgeous. There's an opening leading out to the sea which makes it really, really nice.

Afterwards we headed back to Tangier and were dropped off for a walking tour. The guide took us through the main gates to the ancient city (known as Medina) and down some winding streets. One of the first things I noticed that I thought was really unusual were crates of baby chicks. These chicks were colored various colors such as blue and pink. I was able to grab a quick image of some of them but it didn't turn out the best sadly.  Our guide explained a few things as we went. He then took us to see a snake charmer. It was pretty neat. There were three men playing music and the fourth was with the snake. It was interesting. Afterwards we kept walking and eventually stopped at a place where they bake bread and the guide gave us a few loaves to split amongst us. He kept calling us his family so we share bread like a family. The bread was still super hot. It was fresh and was absolutely delicious! We broke off pieces and passed it on. The bread is thick and round resembling a pizza. I think in the end I ate almost an entire loaf to myself since people kept giving me more bread. There's an image below of it. While making our way through the streets we eventually started to head towards the markets. The smell was amazing. I could smell tumeric, cumin, cinamon in the air as we ventured forth into the city. We were taken to a covered bazaae where they sold tons ans tons of fruits/vegetables. Some stalls had chickens hanging in front of them. It was very different but very neat. This was one of the busiest places that we were, there were tons of people trying to haggle over prices of vegetables and chickens.

Afterwards we went to lunch. The place was absolutely gorgeous. So the restaurant was decorated in a traditional style and it was so gorgeous! The patterns on the wall and the decorations. There were even people playing traditional music (with instruments) as we ate lunch. We sat down and since I was traveling by myself on the tour the waiter placed with me a group of German tourists who basically spoke German to each other the entire lunch but the people at the table next to me were speaking English so I kept jumping into their conversation. They didn't seem to mind since they saw that it was clear I couldn't speak/understand any German. After we sat down they asked us what we'd like to drink Cola or water and then they gave us another loaf of bread! This one was pre-cut a little so it made it easier to grab pieces. After a few minutes a waiter came out with a giant bowl of soup and placed some in the tiny bowls in front of us. The soup had a curry-esque taste to it but it really wasn't spicy. It was delicious! I wish I knew what it was called. I ended up dipping some of the bread into the soup.   After the soup they brought out some fried beef (I believe it was beef, tasted like it) on skewers and then a few moments later they brought out giant platters. We were expected to spoon out what we wanted from these platters. Under everything there was couscous with the same type of seasoning, some chicken, cabbage, carrots, chick peas, and raisins. It was amazing. A mixture of sweet and mild spices. It was seriously a perfect mixture of flavors. I ended up filling up my plate three times and I could have done it a fourth or fifth it was that good. I was surprised by how much I ate considering all the bread I had eaten shortly before that. It was simply amazing. My mouth is watering as I'm thinking of the taste of the food again. I would fly out to Morocco just to taste the food once more. It's honestly that good. Probably some of the best food I've ever tasted in my life, anywhere. After the huge meal we were given these semi sweet cookie things with some mint tea. The tea appeared to be hot water with actual pieces of mint leaves in it. It too was quite tasty. It was a nice way to end the meal. Needless to say the smells in the street before with all of the spices really added to the enjoyment of the food afterwards.

After lunch we ventured forth once again through the maze of streets and found our way to the bazaar once again. We were taken to a bunch of various out of the way stores and there were some demonstrations in some of them. The first place we were taken to was a carpet store (that also sold pottery, jewelry, and other stuff on the lower levels). I wanted to buy a rug so bad but these ones were a fortune. The cheapest rug I saw was worth 1,000€, which was insane seing as it was a tiny thing of nothing. But they were so pretty! I found out near the end of the tour but a girl we were traveling with was offered 3,000 camels for her hand in marriage. When she refused he brought up the offer to 15,000 camels. She still said no. Said she was flattered but no. We asked our guide about the price of a camel and they can range from anywhere from 5€ to 5,000€ per camel depending on the breed and it's health. There was potential to being rich but what do you do with 15,000 camels?

After the carpet place we went to a farmacy which also sold a bunch of spcies. I ended up getting some spices that I'm told is used in virtually every dish here. It's a pre-mixed package and you just have to add a bit to the food you're cooking. It was buy two get the third free so I got two of them. These spices are in part a gift for my brother since I know he loves to cook and I expect him to be the one to use them the most. At least I hope he'll use them. It's why I bought so much. After the farmacy we went to a shop that produced handmade scarves/bags/blankets, they were all so gorgeous and reasonably priced too. I didn't buy anything here because I do still want to be able to carry my bag home. While moving from shop to shop we were followed/pestered by vendors and kids trying to sell ietms to you. I actually missed out on a great deal  because of my frustration with them. I was trying to haggle in the carpet shop for a necklace and a hat for my brother but the guy wanted 50€ for the necklace alone! I was like no, that's way too much. He brought it down to 30€ in the store and I was still like "no, that's better but still way too much. I only have 10 euros on me" (total lie, I had 50) so later in the street he came back and offered both the hat and necklace for 5€ but since I was in my just say no to anyone trying to sell anything to you mode that I refused that offer! He brought down my 50€ necklace to 5€ and included a hat and I missed it! Graggle! It was a lovely necklace, he beads were all greenish blue stones. But it's something that I asked myself how often would I actually wear it. My mom's made me tons of gorgeous necklaces before I left that appeared to be in the same fashion. I felt bad at not getting the hat for my brother. It was one of those short white hats that everybody there was wearing. There were little embroidered designs of palm trees all around it. Guess I'll have to return some day to get him that hat and to eat the food. That's a good reason to return some place, right? Hats and food.

After the bustling markets we were taken to a lovely building where I'm told they filmed Casa Blanca and one of the James Bond movies. It was absolutely gorgeous! We were told we had an hour to sit there and relax or we could venture forth once more into the town. I relaxed for the hour and chatted with the others on the tour (this is when I found out about the camel thing). It was really nice and relaxing and a great way to end the day. We were driven to the ferry which was maybe 500 meters away and went back to Tarifa. Yet again we had to go through security checkpoints and customs to get out of the country and back into Spain. (We had to do that to leave and go into Morocco as well). I've never done intense customs lines twice in one day. Once is usually enough,. There were also quite a few people on the way into Spain that got detained by the local police because something flashed wrong with their passports. One of them was this really elderly lady traveling with young kids. I didn't stick around long enough to figure out what was actually happening because surprisingly I was starving and wanted to eat once again.

When I got back to my hostel I met some new roommates, two guys, Sergio and Antonio. They're both from Madrid like two other girls in the room. The noisy spaniards had left and I guesse their age accurately. I figured they were 16-17. They were 17 and had just graduated from high school. Apparently the other guests in the room were annoyed with them as well so we were all quite pleased to have these two hansome men in our rooms. We chatted for a bit and then I went to make my dinner. More pasta. I made enough for lunch/dinner leftovers today. I should have just enough pasta sauce left in my open container for the meal as well. If not then I'll have plain pasta with butter and grated cheese. There's free use cheese in the fridge. I don't want to open another container of sauce for one meal. I also have another unopened package of pasta and one that's been opened. I believe I'll be bringing home some pasta and sauce as well. The sauce is actually really good, something called Tomato Frite and basically tasted similar to tomato soup. I love it. I just pour it on the noodles cold and it's good to go.

After dinner I showered (to get all of the sea salt off of me) and started to write up the blog, added the photos and then got kicked off the computer. The computers/lounge/kitchen all close at midnight. I hadn't realized that it was so late at night. So I tried to keep writting my entry on my phone in bed but I just couldn't do it. I was way too tired and eventually crashed at a little past 1 in the morning.

I plan on taking it easy today. I'll browse through some of the shops, on the first day here I found this one store that sold these gorgeous bracelets for 5€ so I'll see if I can find that store again (there were matching necklaces but those were 20, it was a little much). I also plan on seeing both castles and exploring the beach. I brought a swimsuit I plan on using it, maybe. Relaxing by the beach for a few hours this afternoon could be wonderful. I'll also have to start packing up my things once more to head back to Algeciras tomorrow because I have an afternoon train to Madrid to catch.

Guess that's about it for now. Gonna go gather my things and explore the city some more!

First views of Tangier from the ferry.

A view of the Atlantic Ocean....

A view of the mediterranean sea from the same vantage point...

Me on a camel! I'm in the back.

Just for Michele...A camel! This one's a baby.

A view to the sea from inside of Hercules' Cave

Me inside of Herculeas cave, my head is blocking the view of the sea. As you can see I'm looking much better. My face is red because it's boiling, it's not sunburnt again.

Some street in Tangier. Most streets looked like this or were even more narrow!

Temple of some sort, I can't quite remember....

Snake Charmer!

We were given tradtional loaves of bread to split amongst each other. They were so good and hot!

The bazaar.

More bread! this time it's with lunch.

First course was this soup.

Then there's this.

Desert. Tea and a cookie?

Carpet making

More streets!

Some guy making a scarf

Inside of Casa Blanca (or the house used in filming Casa Blanca)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The African Coast

It's true, you can see the coast of Africa while standing in Tarifa. It looks a little misty but it's there and it's amazing.

So far my time spent in Tarifa has been wonderful. The hostel is absolutely gorgeous, it's a white house that's been turned into a hostel. The kitchen has everything labeled so you know where things are and if you leave food there there's labels so you can put your name on things as well. This hostel kind of feels like home. It's really neat. I also found an actual computer so I can upload photos!

Tarifa itself is absolutely wonderful. I was mistaken in saying that it's bigger than Orvieto. The heart of the city, the older city, and the part worth visiting is much, much smaller. The rest of the city (the outer parts) is basically chain stores and housing. The walk to the pier takes about 2 minutes from where I'm staying and the walk to the bus stop is about 15-20 minutes which really isn't bad. Most of the buildings here are painted white (to help with the heat) so it's all really lovely. This town is clearly a tourist relaxation town but it's nice and peaceful.

This afternoon while wandering I decided to go whale watching. That was pretty fun and neat. We saw a whole bunch of dolphins that swam up against the boat and some other whales. I can't remember exactly which species it was. It was hard to get a good image between the moving boat, the moving whales, and all of the other tourists who were pushing and shoving to get past you. I may have gotten one or two decent images with my 50D. It was really neat to see them in their homes.

I also did a bit of grocery shopping for the week. I got some pasta and sauce so I can make my own dinner so that's fun. There's even plastic containers to store extra food in case you cook too much at once.

So the first image is a basic map of the area to show you the ocean and the sea and where the city is. Algeciras is at the top right corner of the image.

It's barely visible but you can see the coast of Africa in this image. That misty blue mountain thingy in the background is Africa.

This one is actually from Barcelona... it's a piece of art off of a church.

One of the first things I saw when I got into Tarifa. A sign for a bull fight on August 18th.

One of the streets in Tarifa in the old town.

One of the churches. I believe this one is Mathea

A pottery shop. This is built in an old siege wall.

More streets with palm trees. There are so many palm trees here.

The mailbox at the hostal.

The boat we used for whale watching. Note the sketchy plank we had to use the get onto the boat and the wheels.

More streets and trees.

Paintings done on some of the walls in the street. I'm hoping these were all drawn by children.

Also, since I've figured out how to use the blog a little more I plan on going back and editing previous posts to explain what's what for the images. :)