Archive for June, 2008

Málaga, Spain

Karie on Jun 28th 2008 10:53 am

I won’t beat around the bush.  Our overall opinion of Málaga: eh.

It’s a fine place, and many people we met at our hotel absolutely love it here; but in my humble opinion, you can get better versions of all the same things elsewhere in Andalucía, or other parts of Spain.  Better beaches, better Picasso museums, better castles, better Roman ruins, better shopping, better weather… We didn’t hate it or anything, but if you have a limited amount of time in Spain, my advice would be to not spend too much of it here.

We had a nice day at the beach when we first arrived, but the sun is very intense here, so we both got a little burned, even with sunblock and an umbrella.  Not miserably burned, but enough to make you think you better not go back again tomorrow.  So there goes the primary source of entertainment in this city.

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Ronda, Spain: white-washed romance

Karie on Jun 26th 2008 10:33 am

I’m not sure how I decided that we needed to visit Ronda.  Every time it would come up in discussions about our itinerary, Scott would say, “Sooo… what’s in Ronda?” And I never really had a good answer, besides that I heard it was really beautiful.

We actually ended up cutting our time here to 1 night, to give us a little more time in previous locations… since we weren’t too sure why we were coming here anyway.  But somehow we ended up staying for 3 nights.

We were completely unprepared, so we exited the train station to find out there are no city buses and no taxis around, so we hoofed it about a mile to our hotel.  Giuseppe (our GPS device) told us the shortest route… but what Giuseppe didn’t know, is that this particular route sent us all the way down a steep hill, across a bridge, then all the way back up the hill on the other side.

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Gibraltar, United Kingdom

Karie on Jun 23rd 2008 09:10 pm

We managed to hit 3 countries on 2 continents in 2 days, with less than an hours travel time between each of them.  The southern tip of Spain was not only the perfect launching point to hit Morocco, but also the British territory of Gibraltar.

The Spanish buses don’t take you directly into the U.K. territory, but the bus station is conveniently located about a block from the border.  You can spot the infamous Rock of Gibraltar from miles away, but after crossing the border, you’ll encounter one of its most unique traits before you even get to the rock.  You will cross an airport runway.  It’s the only runway in the world that has a stoplight, where traffic (both by vehicle and foot) can cross freely between take-offs and landings.  We first crossed it by bus, but later went back again to walk it on foot, just to say we did.

That was only the first of oddities found in this 2 ¼ square mile plot of land.  We crossed the runway and headed directly to the cable car station, which takes you to the state park on top of the rock.  While in line, we were approached by a guy selling a tour.  We had no intentions of even paying attention, but he was doing such a great job at selling to the people ahead of us, that we ended up signing up ourselves.  It turned out to be only 1 Euro more expensive than if we had done it all on our own, so it was a pretty good deal, and we liked the guy.

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Tanger, Morocco

Karie on Jun 22nd 2008 07:50 pm

According to Rick Steves, Tanger is no longer ‘the Tijuana of Africa.’  But according to the Moroccan guy in the carpet store in Tanger, “You should really spend some time and go south, because that is the real Morocco!”  So, picture some place between those two descriptions.  Not the cleanest, but not a complete slum; a place of interest, but not at all representative of the rest of the country.

Either way, Tanger is all you get if you want a day trip from Spain.  At some point I would love to take a longer trip to go deeper into Morocco, but for now we just got a small taste.

With the high speed ferry from Tarifa, Spain, which takes about 35 minutes, we were in Africa in no time.  We had done a lot of research in advance, and read plenty of reviews on whether or not to hire a *official* guide, how to do so, etc.  The common thread we recognized was that no one really felt like they had done things right the first time.  We heard tons of people say things like, “We did this, but if I were to go again, I’d do it this way…”

Part of the culture in Morocco is to negotiate.  I don’t think haggling is one of my strengths, so part of me always feels like I’m being taken advantage of.  Based on the various blogs & forums we read, I don’t think I’m the only one that feels that way.

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Tarifa, Spain: This Place Blows!

Karie on Jun 21st 2008 07:24 pm

I found out first-hand that Tarifa is the wind capitol of Europe.  It’s a cool little town, but not quite a “destination” for most people, unless your goal is to windsurf, kite surf, or find the fastest way to Morocco.  We were here for the latter.

Most people don’t go out of their way to visit Tarifa, but it’s worth a look if you’re in the area.  Not to mention it’s faaar better than Algeciras, which is another common gateway to both Morocco and Gibraltar.  That place blows too, but not because it’s windy.

Tarifa sits on the southernmost tip of Spain, and you can actually see Africa from there.  I’m not sure if the ferry we took across to Morocco was actually a high speed, or if it’s just fast because it gets blown between Continents by the strong off-shore winds.

We arrived mid-afternoon and hit up a rooftop beach bar for a late lunch.  We had just come from Cádiz, where the beaches were completely full before noon, so we couldn’t figure out why the beach in Tarifa was pretty empty – especially on a Saturday afternoon!  Well, after we finished our lunch we decided to park it under an umbrella for a bit, and that’s when we discovered our answer.

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Cádiz, Spain

Karie on Jun 21st 2008 01:36 am

I think we only heard English once the entire time we were in Cádiz.  It was awesome.  Its beaches are definitely a tourist destination, but mostly for the Spaniards.  Cádiz, the oldest continuously inhabited city in western Europe, is only connected to the mainland by a small strip of land.  It’s pretty far down there and the public transportation is terrible, so most backpackers or foreign tourists don’t make their way down… but we did, and it was well worth the trip.

Getting into Cádiz isn’t too difficult (especially if you’re coming from Seville), but getting around the town stinks.  The train is used a bit like a Metro/subway system, as you can use it to get from one end of town to the other.  The problem is that the trains only go once an hour (in Barcelona we complain if we have to wait more than three minutes for the next Metro train).  The buses are just as bad.  The good news is that taxis are cheap, so it’s a good option if you just missed the train and don’t want to wait another 59 minutes.

Depending on where you stay, many things are within walking distance.  Both the train & bus station are near the Old Town.  There are also beaches in that area, but “THE” beach, Playa Victoria – the greatest beach in all of Spain – is a bit of a hike away.  We opted to stay near that beach, and go into town for the day, but you could also do it the other way around, depending on your priorities.

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Seville, Spain

Karie on Jun 19th 2008 06:37 pm

We can now say that we have seen the three largest Cathedrals in the world: St. Peter’s Basilica (Vatican City), St Paul’s Cathedral (London), and Catedral de Santa María de la Sede (Seville).  I’ve lost track of how many bell towers I’ve climbed, but it seems we never pass up the opportunity, and this was no exception.  However, one of the most unique things about this particular Cathedral is that it houses the tomb of Christopher Columbus (known as Cristóbal Colón, in Spanish).

While we were waiting in line to enter the Cathedral, I couldn’t help but overhear an American who apparently lives in Seville, and was temporarily reducing himself to this level of tourism only for the sake of his friend who was visiting.  When someone came through the line passing out flyers for a flamenco show, he began to ramble, “Oh look, you can pay to see flamenco.  Why would anyone do that? I would never pay to watch flamenco, blah, blah, blah.…”

We were aware that you can easily find free Flamenco shows in bars and restaurants, which is really fun, and usually pretty good.  However, it’s also possible to find free live music in the streets, restaurants or subway tunnels around the world… but that is not the same as going to a professional concert.  All options can be great, but the paid show is just in another league.

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Madrid, Spain

Karie on Jun 16th 2008 09:48 am

As much as I’m a city girl, I’ve found that the biggest cities (or capitol cities) are not always my favorite, just because there is more of everything… more to do, more commercialism, more traffic, more slums, more expenses, etc.  I am glad to report that this was not the case in Madrid.  I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the city. It had some beautiful architecture (although I must say that Barcelona still takes the cake on that), lots of interesting sites, and really friendly people.

One thing I really loved about Madrid, is that people let me try to speak Spanish to them.  Even if they could tell that I’m American, and they know how to speak English, they still humored me and allowed me to butcher their language.  One guy at a café even tried to help me by correcting my pronunciation, which I think is way cool, except that to my ears it all sounded the same.  JamónJamón.  Yeah, that’s what I said.

A few of my favorite sites/activities in Madrid were:

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