Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Europe Travelogue #8 From Morocco
May 30, 2006
Dear Friends and Family,
Hello from Morocco where I am having a somewhat difficult time typing this because the keyboard is French. Being here has been an amazing experience so far and we are quite enjoying every moment.

Let me start from the beginning. Friday morning Lori, Mitch and Maddy drove us into Seville where we caught the bus to Algiceras. Arriving at about one, we had hoped to be able to get a ferry right away, as they usually ran every hour. This day however, the weather was bad with very high winds and the fast ferries were not running. We had to wait until 4 PM, and after loading up on time, that one didn’t leave until 5 :30. The turbulence was enough to cause quite a few people to be sick, but luckily not us. We got our passports stamped on the boat, and already there were signs about the restrictive culture, as there were separate lines for men and women. Once we arrived in Tangiers, we learned that although we had mostly traveled south, we had gained 2 hours because of the time change. After changing some money, we took a taxi to our hotel. This was a pretty nice one because I screwed up the name while booking it on the internet, so we stayed at the 4 star Intercontinental instead of the 2 star Continental. By this time, we were hungry and the average meal cost at the hotel was about 100 dollars, so we walked around looking for a place to eat. Nearly every place was filled with only men. Finally we found a pizza place and got some food to take back to our hotel. This was sufficient until the very excellent hotel buffet breakfast the next morning. It was included in the cost of our room, as seems to be the case here.

We took another taxi to the train station and bought tickets to Casablanca, a 6 hour journey. While we were waiting for the train, I tried to talk to the conservatively dressed Muslim woman sitting next to me and a guy working there came over and severely reprimanded her for speaking to me. She gestured to us that she couldn’t speak to me anymore and then turned away as if she was embarassed. The train journey was interesting because we shared a compartment with an Iraqi couple who are both PhD’s living in England for the last 20 years, and who are very knowledeable about the situation in Iraq. He was asked to head the Ministry of Justice after Saddam was removed but he refused because our government was not following any of the recommendations made by the institute he worked for with regard to policies for
the new government. It was also interesting because we got to see lots of Morocco terrain. This country reminds us of Mexico in many ways. There are burros and horse carts, people harvesting fields by hand, sheep and goats, areas of cactus borders around the fields, small villages with a mixture of brick buildings and mud houses, and always with a minaret. There were good crops too : grains, vineyards, trees, orchards, and vegetables.

Once we arrived in Casablanca and caught another taxi to the hotel there, we were pleased to have a very nice room overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. There was a nice promenade along the beach and we had a very nice walk there for several miles. I twas Saturday and there were tons of people there but we never had any hassels from anyone, as we had heard that we might. That evening we met part of our tour group and our leader, a young Aussie woman named Jessie. There are only 8 people in our group. One young Swiss girl, 1 young guy from New Zealand, 1 young Aussie girl working in England, and a New Zealand couple about our age traveling with their 26 yeqr old daughter who is also working in London. Everyone is very nice and very well traveled, so we hope to learn a lot from them and get lots of travel tips.

Unfortunately , because we have been doing so many fun and interesting things, we don’t have time right now to tell you about everything in the three days since Casablanca. And tomorrow we leave early for a long day’s drive down to our Berber tent camping experience down near the Sahara. So when we next have internet access, we will try to catch up. Sending hugs and hoping that all is going well.
Love, Mary and Elaine

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Below I have tacked on a few of our pictures from Portugal and Seville. I couldn't put the labels right under them so you will have to try to figure out where we took them based on our travelogue reports. If you haven't read the travelogue we sent yesterday, #7, it follows the pictures. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Europe Travelogue #7 From Moron Air Force Base, Spain
Dear Family & Friends,
Thought I had better send another message since we have the use of Jerry and Lori’s computer and internet access. We are staying with them in their lovely little home on the air base, which is about 35 miles from Seville, and it is nice to have all the
comforts of “home”. Jerry is Elaine’s nephew and these are the lovely people we visited last year when they were stationed in Germany. They are both looking fabulous, doing awesomely well in their new location, where Jerry is now the squadron commander here, and so are their very charming and intelligent children,
Mitch and Maddy. Mitch is in second grade and is learning Spanish rapidly after a similar feat last year in Germany. Maddy is in kindergarten and is also learning Spanish and is quite a good little artist. What a fabulous education they are getting with all their international exposure!
Jerry picked us up at the bus station last evening, and today took the entire day off to show us around Seville. What a beautiful and interesting city! There are many well preserved old buildings with interesting facets, windows, overhangs, doorways, and overall trim largely due to the Moorish influence here. And it is quite surprising how green the city is, with many types of large old trees, numerous
parks, boulevards, blooming jacaranda trees, flower beds, fountains and outdoor cafes. We visited the Plaza de Espana, built for the Ibero-Americano Expo in 1929. This is a huge building with several towers, a huge fountain and a lake (dry today), and many alcoves of intricate carved wood ceilings and colorful Spanish tiles showing coats of arms and pictures from the various regions of Spain. From there we visited the Alcazar, which is an old palace, part of which is still used by the royal family. It has an incredible garden, lots of Moorish architecture and colorful
tiles inside, and by using an audio guide, we learned about it’s long and colorful history.
The air base here is a small one which is located out in the countryside amongst many fields of golden wheat and green and yellow sunflowers, also orchards of olive trees and other crops we can’t identify. This part of Spain looks very agricultural and quite productive. There are lots of birds too, the most noteworthy being the very many large black and white storks that we have seen in both Portugal and here.
They make huge nests of sticks, a lot like osprey nests, which are perched high on power poles or even on people’s chimneys. Almost all of them have fairly large young birds in them. Jerry and Lori have a swallows nest under their eves and local ordinances prevent them from removing it. Today we could see all the little babies sticking their heads out of the opening, waiting for the mom to come and feed them.
Of course, we came here from Lisbon, where we ended our car travel adventures on Tuesday. It was somewhat of a relief to turn the car back in and not have to worry about it being hit, or maneuvering around in it anymore. Most of the time it was great to have it because it allowed us to go a lot of places that would have been difficult to see by public transportation. But in the cities, the streets are so
narrow and convoluted, with many one way streets, that we were always having a difficult time finding our way around. The car did enable us to end out trip on a relaxed note because we drove to the Algarve region, which is the southern coast area, where we managed to rent a small apartment right on the beach in a small
fishing village called Salema, and for only 50 Euros a night. We had three delightful days and nights there,with good weather, and because the apartment had a
kitchen and refrigerator, we could cook some of our own meals, something we enjoyed after all this time away from our RVs. Lee & Susie were fighting a cold while there, so they were glad to kick back for a while. One day we did take a small day trip to the most southwesterly point of Portugal at Sagres. There is a large old fort there, that we visited, and also watched fishermen catching fish off the very high cliffs.
Tomorrow Lori will drive Lee & Susie to the airport in Seville where they will start their journey back to the USA. Elaine and I will stay here until Friday, when we will try to catch a train or bus to Tarifa, where we will catch a ferry to Tangier,
Morocco. The next day we take a train to Casablanca where we meet up with our English tour group and start our 2 week swing through Morocco.
Sending big hugs, as usual.
Love, Mary & Elaine

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Europe Travelogue #6 From Evora
Dear Family & Friends,
Today we have been wandering around another old walled city called Evora. This is the best preserved city with authentic old streets and buildings because it wasn't flattened by the big earthquake of 1755. There is a surprisingly intact Roman temple (14 columns still standing) from the first century AD, as well as other Roman ruins which have been found when they were digging under some of the buildings to make repairs. The old city wall has been incorporated into some of the buildings, and several of the towers are 100% intact. One of the churches has an ossuary,
which is a side chapel where they have rather artistically displayed the bones and skulls of 5000 people. They got the bones by digging up graves in the 1700's. Some of the church people thought that the people needed to be reminded to behave themselves because soon they too would be just bones.
I'm sure that Lee would tell you that the biggest pain about these walled cities is driving in them, which we have to do in order to deliver our luggage to the places we stay. The streets are so narrow and then often there are cars parked on them too! Also they are mostly one way and then it is like driving in a maze. Last night after we unloaded, he had to move the car outside the walls to a public parking area and we had to have the maid ride with us to guide us! We have mostly been staying in rooms called Quartos, provided by people who want to make extra money. Here
it is right on a pedestrian street not far from the main square, so it is convenient and inexpensive. Most of our rooms have been costing 30 or 35 Euros. They are very clean, the beds are mostly good, and we usually have a private bathroom, although here we are sharing.
The night before we stayed in a big old home of a lady named Albertina in the town of Mantiegas. It was way up in the mountains of the Serra de Estrellas, and
was quite a scenic drive to get there. Albertina made us feel very welcome and even kissed us goodbye, once on each cheek, as we left the next morning. She had gotten up early to fix coffee for us and served it with fresh rolls and her homemade jam. Yum.
That day we drove to another walled town called Marvao, located very high on a mesa. It had quite an extensive castle which was mostly built by the Moors,who took over beween the 8th and 12th centuries. It is located only 10 km from Spain, so that was another reason it was so heavily fortified. There were earwigs and flies all over the place, which caused us to hurry our visit quite a bit.
I wrote the last travelogue from Porto, and on our last day there we walked across the bridge to the area across the river where all the port wine lodges are located. We enjoyed a picnic along the river front and then did some port tasting at three of the lodges. The best one was Taylor's, both in taste and ambience. They had an informative video and tour and now we know a lot more than we did before about Port.
Mostly we learned that we prefer red wine to Port, even though some of the varieties were pretty good.
The day we left Porto, we drove to the Duoro Valley, where the grapes are grown for the port, and we visited a Quinta. Here we were able to walk around the vineyard while listening to an audio tape telling us about the business, and then we again tasted some ports. The Duoro Valley is truly incredible to see because the banks rise steeply from the river and they are almost entirely covered by terraces where grape vines are planted. All the work of building the terraces and growing the grapes is done by manual labor and requires tremendous amounts of work. They also still harvest the grapes in early fall by hand and then use people to stomp the grapes because they think machines are too tough on the grapes and would crush the seeds and skins. They even bring in musicians and people dance in the vats while stomping the grapes! Our drive that day was through some very beautiful countryside and we were glad it was sunny.
Yesterday, on our way here, we were driving through a region called the Alentejo, and it is here that there are lots of olive and cork trees. The cork trees are really just a species of oak (Quercus suber)and when they get to be about 25 years old, the bark is thick enough for them to harvest by peeling it off, usually only on the main trunk. It takes 9 years for it to regrow enough to be harvested again. The trees live to be about 125 years old. They are a rusty color right after the bark has been peeled off. We also saw a big truck carrying a huge load of the cork
peelings that had been flattened.
We also stopped at Estremoz, one of the marble cities. There are marble quarries here and many of the buildings are made with beautiful marble. Even the cobblestones in the streets and sidewalks, and the curbs are chunks of marble. Of course, there was a castle and wall here too, and we climbed to the top of
the castle keep, one of the only parts that survived when the castle blew up in the 1800's. They were using it for an ammo dump - pretty stupid.
If we can find our way out of town tomorrow, we will head for the south coast and some beach relaxation time as well as more exploring and enjoying the Portugese culture. Sending big hugs to you all.
Love, Mary & Elaine

Monday, May 15, 2006

Europe 2006 Travelogue #5 From Porto
Dear Friends & Family,
Trying to keep these short, I will send another one. Tonight we are in Porto, the second largest city in Portugal and near the northern part of the country. It is here that they grow many grapes in the Duoro valley and make vast quantities of port wine which they ship down the river to Porto where there are 18 companies who finish the wine and either sell it or export it. We arrived today and had a delightful time poking around this city, which is very steep and hilly in parts. First we visited the Bolsa Palace which is a fabulous building built by the commercial association in 1834 and which is still in use today. The highlight was the Arabian Hall where there were many Arabic inscriptions and designs and they used 9 kgs of gold for the gold leaf decorations. There were also many wood inlay floors, and vibrant paintings, in addition to glorious chandaliers and intricate granite sculptures. We then spent some time walking through the Ribiera District which is right along the banks of the Duoro River and fun to stroll. Too bad this was our first overcast day! If it is sunny tomorrow, we will take a boat trip along the river, and also visit some of the port storehouses across the river for some tastes. Earlier today we visited the best preserved Roman ruins in Portugal at a place called Coimbriga. We had spent the night at a nice little hotel in a small town nearby, after trying to find a place in the much larger city of Coimbra and being unsuccessful, largely due to convoluted one way streets! It was a quiet small town and we enjoyed being there rather than in a large city. The Roman ruins were quite extensive and there were many well-preserved mosaic floors, garden areas and walls. In the museum there were many artifacts from everyday life. Because it was Sunday, it was free, so we enjoyed that part too.
The previous day we had left Obidos and visited the fishing village of Nazare. Here there was a huge sandy beach with an area where the fishermen had established nets guarding a drying area for the small fish they caught, cleaned and dried. The nets protected the fish from the birds. Part of the town was down near the beach and the rest was up on a high cliff overlooking the beach so we had to take a funicular to get up there.
From Nazare we drove to another beach town called Figuiera do Foz, and this was a much bigger town with hundreds of tall high rise apartment buildings and the largest sand beach I have ever seen. It was quite extensive in length, as well. They say that this place is quite impacted with vacationers in August, and if that is true, there must be millions of people on this beach! We are glad that we were here in May, when there were very few people on the beach. Coming here at this time has also made it easier for us to just drive from place to place and show up at a small hotel or pension and ask for rooms. If we were here in summer, we would have to have reservations.
Good news, today we actually drove on the toll road, figured out how to get a ticket, and made it here in record time and with a fee of only 6 Euros.
No more 40 Euros fines!
We forgot to say in our last report that while we were in Lisbon, we had a happy reunion lunch with Alistair and Paul, 2 friends from the UK, whom we met on the ship last year. They were sailing back to England and were in Lisbon for only a few hours and they joined us near our hotel. It was a fun time and we enjoyed showing them some of the sights of Lisbon and then escorting them back to their ship on the tram. This international travel results in some interesting and fleeting friendships!
From here we will be driving through the Duoro Valley, along the Duoro River, supposedly one of the prettiest places in Portugal. We will send a report about it in a few days. Sending hugs for this time.
Love, Mary & Elaine

Friday, May 12, 2006

Europe 2006 Travelogue #4 From Óbidos, Portugal
Dear Family & Friends,
Since there is free Internet here in Óbidos, I will send another travelogue. This is a very picturesque walled city often called “The Rothenburg of Portugal”. We arrived here late yesterday and are staying in a very nice little private home with 4 rental bedrooms just inside the walls for only 35 Euros and each room has a private bath. This city has been occupied on this site since 300 BC by a variety of peoples such as the Romans, Visigoths and Moors and it was the Moors, who built the very extensive walls. They are 45 feet tall and since the city is also on a rocky hill, parts of it seem very high indeed. We walked almost all the way around on the wall today and enjoyed the wonderful views over the countryside. There is a Roman aqueduct running about 3 km out from the city too, and it seems even higher than 45 feet tall. The streets are cobblestone, of course, and there are LOTS of tourists
here during the day, so there are shops selling touristy stuff everywhere.
We had quite an adventure getting here. The car was a little late being delivered to us in Lisbon, and it was a bit smaller than expected, but we managed to
cram Lee & Susie, Elaine and I and all our luggage into it. Lee is the driver and I am the navigator. We got out of Lisbon without any trouble and then missed our first turn onto the right freeway! After we got on the right one, there was a toll booth which we drove through but there was no arm down and also the place where we should have paid was covered by something, so we figured it was not working and we
could just drive on. Later, when we hit the place where we were supposed to pay, and we had no ticket because we hadn’t gotten one at the first booth, they tried to charge us 40 Euros as a fine. Lee & I complained and argued for about 5 minutes and they finally let us go on without paying the fine!
We stopped for lunch at Mafra and had an English tour of the very huge palace and basilica there. Then we drove minor roads to Obidos, arriving around 6 PM. We
tried to get a room outside the wall but that place wasn’t open and the other inexpensive ones were inside the walls so we parked and walked in. The first place
we tried was OK and the lady wanted 65 Euros per room but when we said no she quickly dropped to 35 because it was late and no one was staying there. Lee and I
went to get the car and had to drive in through the very narrow gate and couldn’t even get the car through the first one because it was so steep and our tires
kept spinning on the smooth, slippery cobblestones. We got in the last gate and then drove all through the town on the very narrow streets to the right area but
when we tried to drive up to the place we had reserved, we couldn’t climb that street either. Elaine retrieved her passport from the lady and said
we had to cancel and then we found another place in a much easier location for car access. It is also one we like better and there is a sunny verandah where we
have afternoon drinks and morning coffee. Thankfully, it is also much quieter than the place we stayed in Lisbon.
Our last day in Lisbon was fun because we took the train to a nearby coastal village called Sintra. This is where the imperial court built some palaces and
spent the summers especially after the earthquake in 1755 leveled most of Lisbon. It is a delightful place and we toured one of the palaces and also the old Moorish castle and fort. The palace was rather whimsically built and was absolutely crammed with elegant furniture and paintings. Both the fort and palace were built on very high hills and we were glad there was a public bus to take us up there and then a
trolley for the final leg through the gardens and up to the palace. The road was steep and narrow and our bus driver was a magician to get us up there without
hitting a wall or a tree.
Luckily, we have had excellent weather – mostly in the high 70’s and perfect for sightseeing. Tomorrow we will leave here and head for a coastal fishing
village. They eat lots of fish here and we will go see where some of it is caught. Sending big hugs to you all.
Love, Mary & Elaine
5-11-06 Since I forgot to post my first three travelogues to the blog, my daughter, Laura, very kindly did it today and the first three travelogues are below. More later as we have further adventures and free internet here in Obidos, Portugal.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

5/9/06 Once again we are a bit rushed for time but I am determined to tell you something about this place. We are happily established in our Pension which is very
well located on one of the busiest plazas in the historic center of Lisbon. The rooms are very clean and comfortable, and every form of public transport is nearby making it very easy to get around. We have purchased transportation passes and are going everywhere. In fact, when we got off the ship last Saturday, and we could not find a taxi to take us to our hotel for less than 25 Euros, we just went out on
the street and jumped on the tram and were here in no time.
This is a very easy city to poke around in and there is lots of atmosphere. The part where we are staying is called the Baixa, and is an area between 2 hilly areas, which was leveled by the horrible earthquake of 1755. It was rebuilt in a grid pattern and has lovely pedestrian streets with smart shops and good restaurants. We took tram 28 and explored in the Alfama, one of the older areas where the streets are
very narrow and convoluted. This was to confuse invaders who were trying to get to the castle which is at the top of the hill and which dates from the 700s.
We explored the castle another day.
Sunday we spent in the area called Belem, which is right on the river and not far from where our cruise ship docked. Most of the museums and other attractions were free on Sunday and we saw the huge church and monastery there call Jeronimos. It was
built in a new style called Manueline and was very interesting architecturally. The Monument to the Discoveries honors such famous men of history as Henry the Navigator, Magellan, Cabral, and Vasco da Gama. It was due to these explorers that so much richness came to Portugal in the 14th and 15th centuries and also accounts for all the places they colonized. We saw a video there about Lisbon, and also took the elevator to the top for stupendous views. There are statues of all the famous explorers on the outside, so we took lots of pictures. We also visited the Belem
Tower, the Maritime Museum, and the Coach Museum. This building was full of old carriages used by the monarchs and nobility. Not as good as the one at the
Nymphenburg Palace in Munich. To get to Belem, we took one of the old trolleys,
and just short of our stop, it hit a car!! Everyone was fine, even the woman driving the car, although she was pinned in for a while, so we just got off and
walked the rest of the way. All the books say the traffic here is heavy and dangerous and we believe them. Lee got clipped by a car the very first day here, but he is OK. They only stop for you if you are in a crosswalk.
Today we toured the fabulous Gulbenkian Museum, one of the finest collections of paintings, furniture, glassware, jewelry, etc. in the world and all donated
by an Armenian oil magnate who was offered refuge here during WWII. Then we joined Alistair and Paul for lunch and showed them around. We met them last year on our ship to Barcelona. They are sailing to England on the Jewel of the Seas and were only here in Lisbon for a few hours today. It was great fun to see them
again and be their tour guides for a few hours.
Tomorrow we take a train to a nearby town called Sintra, to see several more palaces. Then we will leave Judy and Lou here while Lee, Susie, Elaine and I
go off in our rental car. Ken and Carolyn left yesterday and are also in a rental car and have already sent us some tips by e/mail. Thanks Ken! We all have been having a great time, very nice and sunny weather, and the people are friendly and nice. More next time from another Portugal town.
5/4/06 This will have to be a fast (and possibly messy)message because I am on a free public computer in Ponta Del Gada, in the Azores, and my time is limited. We are only here for another few hours. The sea crossing has been mostly fine and warm, with only one choppy day. The entertainment and food on the ship have been good, as has been the camaraderie with our fellow RV travelers.
The most memorable ports for us were in Nassau, Bahamas, and then Kings Wharf, Bermuda. The Bahamas are quite a few islands (maybe 700) and it was warm and sunny there. We 6 rented a van together and our driver gave us a nice 2 hour tour, ending at the Atlantis. This is a mega casino and resort which was quite elegant and had a very large aquarium in the lower levels. There were a few stops at forts and such, but overall we didn't think there was a lot to see and do there. The standard of living is much lower than in Bermuda, which has the 3rd highest standard of living in the world. Bermuda was much larger and more elegant, with many inlets and coves
and lots of waterfront property with large, expensive homes. Average price was 1 million, with an overnight hotel stay at about $300 per night and a dinner for 2 about $100. Joe & Carla had a tuna melt and kisch lunch which cost over $30. Bermuda was also a place where we could have spent days exploring and the beaches are gorgeous. A return here would be welcome. We explored using an all-day bus and ferry pass costing $12.
Today we are just walking around the town, getting Euros at the bank, and using the internet because we were here last year. It is a nice, clean, friendly town and we enjoy it. There are trips to the interior but we haven't taken one. Elaine has a cold, I am getting it, and we are enjoying a lazy day. Lee, Susie, Ken, Carolyn, Lou & Judy, and Carla & Joe are all fine and we have many fun times together. Joe & Carla have a big room with a balcony and have had all of us in for 2 cocktail parties. There is nothing like getting a bunch of RV travelers together and
listening to the travel tales and philosophies.
More later from Lisbon, in 2 days.
4/26/06 Here we are at the first port of call on our cruise - Key West. We have been here about 4 times so we are doing non-touristy things such as checking e-mail at the library and writing this first travelogue.
All is going well. There are 5 other RV couples of our friends on the ship with us and we are having good times together, as well as meeting new friends. The weather has been humid, but in the 80's, so we have been able to walk the deck in a tank top andshorts and be comfy. Last night was the Captain's reception and dinner, so we all got spiffed up and after a few complimentary drinks at the reception, had a fantastic dinner. It started with escargot (yummy) and ended with Grand Marnier Soufflé so you can see that our weight loss efforts earlier might be undermined very soon! We have also been walking a lot and did an exercise class in the gym, so all has not been hedonism.
Tonight we head out of here towards the Bahamas, and I will try to send another update from there.