Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Final Blog of the Great 2015 Expedition!

It's hard to believe that this odyssey began almost four months ago, when we left Toronto on June 9th, and that we would visit:
Italy, Croatia, Slovania, Bosnia-Hertzegovina (for about 20 minutes!), Greece (Sifnos, Hydra), Italy (Rome, Venice, Santa Fiora, Pisa, Cinque Terre, Assisi), Spain (Barcelona, San Sebastian, Santillana Del Mar, Santiago De Compostella), Portugal (Douro Valley, Porto, Luso, Lisbon, Evora), Spain (again - Seville, Jerez, Arcos de La Frontera, Gibraltar (UK), Ronda, Grazalema, Zahara, Iznajar, Granada, Cordoba), AFRICA!! (Morocco - Marrakesh, Essouira), Spain (again - Nerja, Altea, Barcelona)

Now we are looking at a four hour drive tomorrow to Barcelona on our penultimate day, then we head home to Sweet Melissa, Geoffrey, Jocelyn, Mia, Kingston and Cadence.

A trip like this would be madness if you were to try it with anyone but your very best friend, and I am so lucky that I married the woman I will love forever; who keeps the journey fun (even the five hour drives!), and is the most patient, even-tempered person on earth.  Thank you, Lorraine.  (Sweet Lorraine)

Consider this final blog post an invitation to contact us if you are planning any kind of extended travel as we have learned soooo much that we would happily pass on. Sweet Lorraine (Yes, I know, Sweet Lorraine and Sweet Melissa – but those are both song titles, and they ARE both sweet), is as close to an expert as there is at planning these things. She loves doing the research as much as she does the travel, so feel free to email her or me. We share the same email address:

The Always Beautiful Sweet Lorraine, My Wife of (Almost) 42 Years

A Toast to US! Marrakesh

Yup, I did Play in Morocco!

Last Day in Morocco - on a Wind-swept Beach

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Marrakesh, Morroco

"Don't You Know We're Riding on the Marrakesh Express?"  (Crosby, Stills and Nash 1969)

Marrakesh, Morocco. I think it is a good thing that I did not write this yesterday, as yesterday I was pretty down on most things, and definitely most things Moroccan. To be fair, it started with Tony Romo breaking his clavicle and being out 8-10 weeks on top of DeMarco Murray going from the stud of 2014 to the dud of 2015, but you would have to be a fantasy football fan to understand this.
The part that Marrakesh played can be blamed partly on culture shock, and partly on my smilingly good nature and belief in man's inherent honesty. I don't like getting scammed.
 Let me tell you what NOT to do in Marrakesh: Do not accept “Free” help from anyone. It is never free and what you think it's worth and what your Samaritan thinks it's worth are two different things. To wit: You pull out your map and a friendly face asks what you are looking for. You tell him and he offers to show you where it is. To, “Take you there”. This usually ends one of two ways. Either you are taken for what seems like hours through the souks and alleyways and are then expected to pay handsomely for this “Guide Service”, or you end up at a carpet dealer who gives you a cup of mint tea and then expects you to buy a $12,000 carpet.  A refusal to buy gets you the life story of the dealer, an accounting of how poor his family is, how much work went into the carpet, and a promise to fix your fantasy football team if only you would just buy this carpet that would cover the floor of your double garage.
Absolutely demand to know what something is going to cost before you venture into ANYTHING – because after the picture is taken, or the buggy ride is done, or your taxi is at your hotel, any leverage you might have had in deciding what it was worth is gone.
Between the constant harassment of beggars and sellers and scam artists, and the life-threatening experience of actually trying to walk the narrow alleys without getting run down by a scooter, I was missing the attraction of Morocco.
Today is better. No, my fantasy football team still sucks, but we are learning to love the colours, sights, sounds and smells of Morocco. Okay, maybe not ALL the smells, but this is an enchanted land.

Things are very, very different than anywhere else we have been. Chicken is served at every few hundred metres at a small hole in the wall with a brazier. Fresh chicken. How fresh? The chickens are kept in cages a few feet from the counter, and when you order one, they bring it out, kill it and cook it.
Five times a day the Imams call the Muslims to prayer and you see men stop what they are doing, unroll a prayer mat and start bowing towards Mecca – if they cannot get to a Mosque. The fore-mentioned narrow, smokey alleyways are crowded with souks and stalls spilling out into the way, and donkey carts, horses, cars, bicycles and most of all, motor-scooters all compete at Formula One speeds to see who can fit into the tiny gaps that are available for micro-seconds. These are not empty scooters - some of the drivers have a pot of tea in one hand, and seriously, some have a sheep tucked between legs and under arms.  Some of the scooters are actually little trucks.  Lorraine and I are constantly jumping out of the way. I do not think even Stephen Hawking could figure out the mathematical probability of nothing colliding.
In the squares: dancers, musicians, jugglers, tattoo artists, and, yes, snake charmers compete for your tourist dollar – (see note above about scammers). Mosques, ancient fortresses, walls and gardens, minarets, and riads all sit side by side in the Old City – the Medina, with its action-packed Djemaa el-Fna and maze of souqs, where Berber tribes once traded slaves, gold, ivory and leather.

 We have learned quite a bit about being in Morocco. I would be lying to say it is relaxing, but it is definitely interesting - will we learn to love it?

SL About to Enter an Alley of Souks

Amidst all of this, the Scooters would Roar Down the Alley

And This is One of the Little Scooters

Hard to See, but Those are Live Chickens Waiting to be the Next Swiss Chalet Special

Yup - It's a Real, Live Cobra. Note Lorraine Bravely in the Distance

Friday, September 18, 2015

Iznajar Cortijo La Loma

Iznajar. First you have to learn how to say it; Iznajar: three syllables, Ish Na, then you make a sound like you are clearing your throat, and add a Har at the end of it. So you end up with roughly ISHnakhar. Once you can say it, you then can start to love it.

We had been travelling for over three months by the time we hit Iznajar, with the last month or so being one or two night stops, so it was a lot of driving, a lot of packing and unpacking, navigating, finding parking, finding good places to eat, locating shopping when necessary; in short, it was, while being tremendously exciting and interesting, a lot of work! So we were delighted that we could relax a bit, and we had found the perfect spot to do it. Cortijo La Loma.
The views were some of the best we have ever seen, and our hosts, Gaynor and Martin, were absolutely terrific. We would unconditionally recommend this guesthouse to anyone. We even had a small kitchen, so we didn't have to source out a restaurant every night. The pool and the hiking in the area ensured that the battle of the bulge was not a complete rout.

We made a number of little side trips – most notably to The Alhambra in Granada, and to the Great Mosque of Córdoba (commonly referred to as La Mezquita).

The Alhambra takes its name from the Arabic al-qala’a al-hamra (the Red Castle). It is one of Spain's most visited attractions; part palace, part fortress, it welcomes about 6000 guests every day. As with other notable complexes, it shares an Islamic and Christian past, but was first built by Samuel Ha-Nagid, the Jewish grand vizier of one of Granada’s 11th-century Zirid sultans.
Courtyards, pools, carved wood ceilings, baths, honeycombed vaulting, - one ceiling uses more than 8000 cedar pieces to create its intricate star pattern representing the seven heavens. Another ceiling is painted leather. An absolute must-see if you are in Andalusia.

In Cordoba, the Great Mosque is another example of Islamic architecture appropriated by Christian conquest. The Great Mosque was begun by the Emir Abd al-Rahman I in 785, it is one of the largest mosques in the world, measuring some 250,000 sq. ft.). There is no other building like it in the world; a Great Mosque and a Cathedral, in effect two different buildings representing two major religions, sharing the same space. You can still hear local worshippers attending Mass say, “Voy a la Mezquita a oír misa “ (I’m going to the Mosque to hear mass) rather than to the Cathedral or Church!

Stunning artwork, mosaics and sculptures make this an all-day trip!

The incredible views, the quiet, the beautiful little hill-top towns, all had us thinking, for the very first time, that we could actually live here happily.  (Providing, of course, that we had lots of room for all you visitors!)  

View from our Cortijo

Every Day This Captivated Us

Sweet Lorraine Enjoying Our Pool

Sunset from our Patio

The Mosque in Cordoba

The Mirhab in the Mosque

Over 25.000 Sq. Ft. of Beauty

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Bussaco Palace Luso

We had agreed, some time ago, while planning this whole odyssey, that we would treat each other to a special experience as a mutual birthday present – we are both Leos. That present was a night and a dinner at the Bussaco Palace in Luso.

This legendary Palace was built for the last King of Portugal in 1885, converted into a deluxe hotel in 1917, and is nowadays one of the most beautiful and historic hotels in the world. It truly is a palace, and you definitely get the feeling you are staying with, or amongst royalty. 

The royal palace is surrounded by formal gardens in the center of 250 acres of magnificent woods. The Bussaco Forest is renowned by arborists worldwide for its incredible array of exotic trees collected from all over the world by Portuguese Navigators.

We checked in to find our room was not ready, so we strolled through the gardens and pathways, marvelling at the sights and drinking in deeply of the scented air.

Returning to the palace, we felt as if we had entered a Disney film. Listed in the '1000 Places to See Before You Die´, the palace is an amalgam of overwhelming eclectic architecture - a flurry of excesses, a hotchpotch of styles - of stone carving, pinnacles, turrets, gargoyles, twists, pillars, arches, tiles, marble and nautical references. Ceramic tile frescoes tell the story of Vasco da Gama's voyages in stunning relief. 

Our room had a panoramic view of the gardens and castle walls. It definitely showed its age as a grand old lady, but it was comfortable, clean, and proudly proclaimed its history and heritage in its furnishings and ambiance.

We dined in the spectacular outdoor terrace, and unfortunately, although the service was good and the atmosphere very romantic, my pork was so salty that it was inedible, which detracted from an otherwise perfect night. To be fair, I requested that the entree be removed from our bill, and it was, along with a complimentary dessert. 

We would definitely recommend a stay here for at least one night as a celebration of a special anniversary or birthday. It is NOT an ordinary experience. To do justice to the beauty of the place, some of these pictures were downloaded from the web.

Bussaco Palace from the Grounds

Our Formal Dining Room

The Foyer

The Staircase with its Ceramic Murals

View of our Terrace Dining Room from our Bedroom Window

Sweet Lorraine Enjoying the Gardens

View from our Room

Saturday, September 12, 2015


I hate to admit it, and were my Sainted Mother alive, she would be appalled to hear me say that, I'm sorry, but museums just are not my cup of tea. Museums of Science and Technology, yes, but Museums of Art, Museums of Ancient History – not so much. I have been to the Louvre with its “Venus de Milo” and “Mona Lisa”, the Acropolis Museum in Athens and its archaeological excavations, the Prado in Madrid with its Goyas and Rubens, the Uffizi with its “Birth of Venus” and the Vatican Museums. I really try to appreciate what I am seeing and it is pretty incredible to try to transport yourself back into ancient history, or imagine the vision, creative genius and sheer talent that went into the Sistine Chapel. I find, however, that after too short a time, I grow tired of seeing painting after painting of the Crucification, or the three thousand year old results of an excavation, “Oh look, another shard of what might have been an urn!”

My favourite museum went a long way to dispel that ennui, and that museum we found in one of the oldest cities in the world – Lisbon.
The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon houses treasures from the East and the West collected by one man and is now one of the world's finest private art collections. It includes works by Rembrandt, Rubens, Monet and René Lalique. More importantly to me, it had a large variety of collections: ancient coins, weapons, tapestries, carvings, furniture, sculptures, paintings, and yes urns. The paintings ranged from old masters to modern art, with a wide variety of subjects and approaches. We spent a whole day there, a with all that Lisbon has to offer, that was the lion's share of time. Don't miss it if you are in Lisbon.

Other sights to see: (These are copied from the web)
JERONIMOS MONASTERY The resting place of explorer Vasco da Gama is a church built in the 1500s as part of a magnificent monastery. Its cloisters are considered among the most beautiful in the world and it has been listed as a World Heritage Site.
BELEM TOWER The city's icon is also a symbol of the Age of Discovery. Built in the early 1500s, this ornate watchtower has been declared a World Heritage monument by UNESCO.
ST. GEORGE'S CASTLE From the millennium-old battlements of this castle you have a bird's-eye view of the city in the company of roaming peacocks. Inside is a small archaeological museum and down the hill are a couple of terraces with perfect postcard views over Alfama, the city's medieval village-like neighborhood.
 PARQUE DAS NACOES Contrasting with the city's oldest neighborhoods is this 21st-century district showcasing striking contemporary architecture with Europe's longest bridge as the backdrop. It includes a state-of-the-art aquarium, a casino, and a wonderful waterfront promenade.
Do not miss to see the city from the back of a mini-cab - an unforgettable experience where the city, and your life, will flash before your eyes!

Our Minicab and its Suicidal Driver.

Beautiful Haunting music - like Steel Drums, but in Tune.

View of the City Down to the Tagus River

A Reubens in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

Calouste Gulbenkian Museum also had Rembrandts and Sculptures by Rodin

One of our Favourite Cities - Venice!

Thursday, September 10, 2015


Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn't it a pity
Doesn't seem to be a shadow in the city. 

 Remember this one from the Lovin Spoonful? Well it certainly fit Seville (pronounced Seveeya) when we were there (it was 42 degrees C) up until the last line.

Seville must be one of the only cities we have seen that was truly planned for the people. Parks everywhere; fountains and bike paths, trees and planters, spectacular architecture.
In 1929, Seville hosted Ibero-American Exposition World's Fair, and the entire southern end of the city was redeveloped into an expanse of gardens and grand boulevards. The centre of it is Parque de María Luisa, a 'Moorish paradisical style' with a half mile of tiled fountains, pavilions, walls, ponds, benches, and exhedras; lush plantings of palms, orange trees, Mediterranean pines, and stylized flower beds; and with vine hidden bowers.
Numerous buildings were constructed in it for the exhibition. The Plaza de España, designed by Aníbal González, was a principal building built on the Maria Luisa Park's edge to showcase Spain's industry and technology exhibits. The Plaza de España complex is a huge half-circle with buildings continually running around the edge accessible over the moat by numerous bridges representing the four ancient kingdoms of Spain.
In the centre is the Vicente Traver fountain. By the walls of the Plaza are many tiled alcoves, each representing a different province of Spain. The Plaza de España has been used as a filming location, including scenes for the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia. The building was used as a location in the Star Wars movie series — Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) — in which it featured in exterior shots of the City of Theed on the Planet Naboo. It also featured in the 2012 film The Dictator.

Contrary to our experience in Porto, we took a wonderful cruise down the Guadalquivir River and it was well-organized, clear and informative. It was incredible how many beautiful buildings and structures were developed for the Ibero-American Exposition World's Fair, in 1929, that were described for us along the river.

We were starting to regain our appetites after our long bout with food poisoning, and we enjoyed sampling numerous tapas with a bottle of Spanish wine for our long, lingering dinners. It is amazing how well you can eat in Spain by selecting a number of different tapas at anywhere from 1 to 3 Euros each and sharing a bottle of the excellent local wine. Most of our dinners – and remember this was in the centre of a very large city – were under $75.00 for two.

Plaza de España,

Every Province of Spain is Represented in Mosaic

Plaza Features a Moat Which You can Row On

Beautiful Parks |Throughout the City

We Highly Recommend the Boat Cruise-Tour

Monday, September 7, 2015

Porto Portugal

So here is a tip for all you fellow travellers and sight-seers. Think long and hard about what kind of tours you spend your hard-earned Euros, or Pounds, or Kuna, on. Bring your own headsets, the kind you use on the airplane, and ask to see the handouts you are given on the tour. You are pretty safe to take the “Yellow Bus” or “Red Bus” sightseeing tours if you already know that there are some well-known sites to see.
In Rome, you will look forward to seeing the Coliseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish steps. Paris won't surprise you when the tour goes by the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame, and yes, you may get to explore some interesting, lesser-known areas in some other cities BUT! We did not know what to look for in Porto, Portugal, so we thought it was a good idea to do the “Hop-on, Hop-off Blue Bus” which also came with a river cruise and a tour of a Port winery. Considering my back was still in spasm, we deemed it the better part of valour to take it a bit easy and be chauffered around to see the sights.
There was no key to deciphering the “map” we were given, the headsets kept falling out, we had to turn up the volume to maximum to hear what was being said, and then it was so distorted we couldn't tell what was being said. I could have sworn at one point it said,  “I can't GET NO, satisfaction”. There were also no real reference points – I am sure the recorded voice was not telling us that the McDonald's to our left is the Cardinal's Chapel.
The river cruise was relaxing, again not particularly interesting from an architectural or historic point of view, but it was relaxing.
If you MUST visit Porto, and I don't think it is bucket-list material , do take the wine cellars tour and tasting. It was fun, informative and entertaining, and yes, we bought a bottle of port.

Porto at Night by the River

Sweet Lorraine Beside the Sweet Sherry

Yours Truly Holding up a Barrel of 40 Year-Old Tawny Port

Our Romantic Dinner