Monday, July 20, 2009

The Motherland and Morocco

I regret that it has taken so long to report on some of what we have seen, but we are just starting to have time to catch up.
Lisbon was another beautiful city. Dana said it reminded her of San Francisco, and I have to agree. It was built on seven rather substantial hills with an active harbor, cable cars (they call them trams), and they even have a bridge they modeled after the Golden Gate bridge. Our hostel was in a fun part of Lisbon, with nice restaurants and shops. Before my trip was told I had to try the octopus. So, I decided to be adventurous and ordered an octopus salad that night for dinner. I thought it was delicious and just tired to ignore the suckers. I think they used baby octopus, so they weren't very big.
We also went to a place where they let you sample wines from different regions of Portugal and then you give them feedback on the taste and the bottle and label design. It's done by like the wine council of Portugal. However, if they really knew how to embrace capitalism, they would also sell the wines they let you taste. Most were too dry to my liking, but there was a dessert wine made from Muscat grapes (a grape NC is also famous for and also makes great grape tart) that was really good. Later, Dana and I also got to sample some Ports at a store. They were both good, too.
I am certainly not a wine drinker but they seem to have a greater selection of sweet wines here that I actually like. The sangria has been good, and I have never liked sangria at home. Likewise, they have a drink here called Tinto de verano which is red wine with lemon soda added. It's very good and very cheap- less than a euro a liter in the store. It has been fun to sample some of the local wines as well as the local food. I realized that while D. may talk about toilets a lot, I just talk about food! I'm taking note of what I eat so I can recreate some of it at home. I wish I could pack my suitcase full of olives; the Spanish olives especially are good. The Portuguese have the best seafood dishes I've had so far, though. I was excited about trying the Spanish paella, but the cataplanas of Portugal are way better.
But again, I have wandered into Foodland and have stopped describing the sights. The next morning we went on a very hilly historic walk of old Lisbon. We saw the outside of the Se and Sao Vincente, two very beautiful cathedrals that were unfortunately both closed to the public at the time. Dana and Jenny saw an old Moorish fort while D. And I took a snack and sit break. We are kind of all old fort-ed out. Every town here seems to have an old Moorish fort and a cathedral. Each is a little different, but there is enough similarity that D. and I are starting to pick and choose which ones we want to see. Not to worry, we will see Notre Dame. We decided to forgo the art museum and instead head home early so Dana could get in some more pool/beach time before she left in the morning.
I believe I already mentioned that we stayed in Marabella the night before Tangier, Morocco. So we had to get up early and drive to Tarifa. Dana and I had tried unsuccessfully multiple times to book a tour in Morocco. We considered just not going, but in the end we decided we would try to find something when we got to Tarifa. Once there, we spotted a tour agency that Rick Steves had mentioned. Good old Rick saved the day again. The agency quickly booked us on the 1pm tour, and we were off to the ferry. It was a huge ferry with multiple levels, two cafes, and a duty free shop. Still, the Straits if Gibraltar were as rocky as their namesake, so we all felt a little woozy. I made the mistake of going down a flight of stairs and down a hallway to use the restroom while we were in motion. Sea legs I do not have. I about fell over multiple times. Eventually we made it to Tangier. First, they loaded us in a bus and gave us a tour of the more modern part of the city. I was surprised at how beautiful and big it was. I always imagined Morocco as a very dirty, gritty kind of place. Then they let us off for 30 second camel rides. It was clear this was just set up for tourists since there was no desert and no other camels to be seen elsewhere in the city. Still, it was fun and my camel was kind enough not to spit on me. I don't see how people ride them very long. That space between the humps is not very comfy. After our camel ride they took us to a Moroccan restaurant where we had a vegetable soup, kebabs, and a chicken couscous. For dessert we had mint tea and a pastry called honey cake similar to baklava. After lunch we saw the old Medina, which was the gritty Morocco I had pictured with people harassing you to buy something constantly. They took us to a rug seller who showed as some amazing but expensive rugs. Although Dana did show that you could talk them way down, but where would I put it in my luggage? We stopped at more shops and eventually ended up at a "pharmacy" that sold spices and an assortment of cure-alls. Dana and I thought it was a bit like a frontier cod liver oil salesman. It was entertaining thought I think he managed to insult most of the group before he was through.

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