|When I was in Paris a couple years ago, my travel partner had a city guide by Rick Steves that turned out, despite my hesitation to be one of those kinds of tourists, to be really insightful and interesting. Being that I was back in his domain, I decided to see what he had for offer. What I found heightened my travel experiences in Amsterdam incredibly* and gave me a new way to explore on my travels (besides geocaching and aimless meandering.)
The Rick Steves Walking Tour podcasts are what the name implies: a podcast that leads you on a walking tour of various places. It points out architecture, talks about history, customs, etc., and leads you to areas of interest for tourists. Each seems to be about an hour or so and cover a distance between 1 and 2 miles.
For Amsterdam, there were 3 tours and after trying out the first one, I was hooked. My favorite, by far, was the Red Light District Walk. Along with architecture, history, and cultural context, it dove pretty deeply into the logistics of how the area's drug and prostitution worked, which I couldn't help but find incredibly fascinating. In fact, I would suggest giving it a listen even if you weren't walking the narrow canals of Holland's most notorious district.
So while I'm sure I'll continue my random tourist meanderings just like always, I'm super stoked to have found another great way to get to know a city. Now if only Mr. Steves' empire expanded beyond the bounds of the world's most expensive cities. City Walk: Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Now we're talking.
|Wednesday May 22 2013||File under: travel, Netherlands|
Okay, folks, it's time for your favorite pastime: audience participation! I'm here in Amsterdam and am totally blown away by the number of bikes. They're everywhere! It's actually quite comical. The task: to create the best "Amsterdam has so many bikes...." joke. Be as crass and creative as you like (Jule, I'm looking your way here). Here are a few to get you started.
|Friday May 17 2013||File under: travel, Netherlands|
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|In his list of 100 wonders of the world (previously covered here*) Howard Hillman includes the city of Marrakesh Morocco, citing its famed public square, its souks*, and its minaret. Mr. Hillman hasn't led me astray yet, so I figured I had to stop by to have a look.
While the minaret was great, everywhere you turn in this country there are minarets. And besides the normal beauty of almost all the minarets I've come across, this one didn't stand out so much. As for the souks, it's hard to get excited about an attraction where the main activity is to buy stuff. I long ago gave up buying souveniers/trinkets for folks back home, which makes the draw of markets, aside from their energy and bustle, largely lost on me.
But the public square, Djamaa el Fna, was something that I haven't really seen before*. At first impression, it doesn't seem like much, just a big square with the occaional fresh orange juice stand. But as evening sets in, the large chunk of pavement become totally covered in street performers of all kinds and the people who come out to watch. There were snake charmers, acrobats, storytellers, impromptu boxing matches, dudes with monkeys, henna artists, traditional musicians, and more. Much of it was lost on me because I don't speak Arabic so couldn't quite figure out many of the clusters, but the excitement and bustle of it transcended language barriers. The only letdown was the lack of jugglers*. Alas.
I can't say whether Marrakesh would make it to my top 100, but it would definitely be in the running. But in my write up, I might skip the minaret and souks and instead highlight the Majorelle Garden and the Bahia Palace. But to each his own. Whatever the case, Marrakesh is a city worth visiting.
|Wednesday May 15 2013||File under: travel, Morocco|
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While I have seen this style throughout the past couple stops here on the hot* and dry side of the Atlas Mountains, the best example of it was seen near Ouarzazate* at a place called A�t Benhaddou. The reason for its exemplary condition is that it is somewhat of a tourist destination. Many films were made here include Gladiator, The Jewel of the Nile, and Prince of Persia. It's just my type of tourist destination, though, because the main activity is to roam around and look at the buildings.
I took some pictures too, not because I think they'd be any better than what's already out there, but because, when rolling solo, it is a good activity to extend your roaming around a place. Oh, and I found a geocache there too!
(Would you look at that...I made a picture oriented blog post without one of those silly self shots in it. I guess this is what it feels like to be a grown up.)
|Sunday May 12 2013||File under: travel, Morocco|
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|One of the big reasons Morocco has been on my want-to-go list for some time is because of the Sahara. It is storied, it is beautiful, it is different, it is mysterious--basically, it is all things I look for when traveling. While not all my super high expectations were realized*, after a two-night camel trek into Erg* Chebbi outside of Merzouga, Morocco, I've got a little better understanding of this place I've been so anxious to see for so long.
One of the things that I learned was that riding a camel isn't the most comfortable experiences in the world, both physically* and mentally *. But they are incredible interesting creatures, and to be so close to them was really great.
When I wasn't busy holding on for dear life on the camel*, I was constantly engrossed with the vistas. The desert, esp. sand dunes, are really beautiful! Very few of the pictures I took turned out*, but I'm okay with that. I've got the necessary imagery up in my noodle.
Yep, it was quite an adventure ("nomad village", an oasis, scarab beetles doing it, traditional Berber drumming, a frisky scorpion/spider getting intimate with my leg, bright stars, isolation, and more) and I'm so glad to have done it.
|Friday May 10 2013||File under: travel, Morocco|
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|Some places, no matter how good a photographer you are or how good your equipment is, defy being captured to any sufficient degree. No photo can convey the feeling of being there, whether it is an issue of sounds or smells, scope, or merely an issue of geometry. That's not to say, of course, that good photos can't be taken, but they just don't do the place justice.|
Medersa Attarine in Fex, Morocco, is just such a place. Among the elements that can't be captured are: the agreeable drop in temperature from being surrounded by stone that's been in the shade, the surrounding nature of it, and the drastic calm compared to the bustling Medina just outside its elaborate gates.
I stumbled upon said Medersa while aimlessly meandering* the narrow descending avenues of Old Fez which made the impact of it all the greater: I didn't know what to expect. "Oooh, that looks like an interesting gate. I wonder what's through it."
I am heartily comforted by the fact that some places you just have to visit to understand. It helps justify travel*, as opposed to looking through beautiful National Geographic photos. So while I always attempt a few photos, just to spur my memory later, I basically just end up staring in wonder trying to soak up the moment.
|Tuesday May 7 2013||File under: travel, Morocco|
|Sometimes when travelling, it isn't so much what you see that is noteworthy, but the thoughts it evokes. Such is the case of the Moroccan-surrounded Spanish exclave of Melilla. While the town itself is nice (highlighted by a well-maintained fort/castle* and an elaborately tiled city park strewn with dozens of fountains), the concept of a tiny autonomous territory separated from its homeland by a vast sea is what really interest me.|
Melilla is about the size of central park in Manhattan, i.e. pretty dang small—smaller, in fact, than Fidalgo Island. I walked from one side to the other in search of a geocache*. And with a population of around 80,000, I imagine you'd get to know your fellow countrymen pretty well in no time.
But for all its tinyness, as far as I understand, it pretty much does its own thing. So, for example, on taxes, it decided it didn't want to have any, so everything is "duty-free"*. Does it allow casinos? Sure, why not? Legal driving age of 12? Sounds good!*. And that's just the issue of laws. What about national identity? Economy? Interscholastic sports? And what about the whole thing from Spain's side? "Hey, let's fight oodles and oodles of battles just to maintain this tiny chunk of land that we essentially have no claim to! Huzzah!" My mind chugged along on overdrive weighing all the ins and outs of a tiny territory such as this.
In reality, I'm sure it's all much more bland than I think. With close ties to Spain, they use Spanish currency, the Spanish mail system, and very likely many Spanish laws. That also probably answers the question of national identity. And with Spain just a 4 or 8 hour ferry ride away*, I'm sure people pop across just to buy a new couch. Surprisingly neat, simple, easy, and boring.
But the probable reality of it all doesn't hinder the intrigue for me. I'm sure disconnected territories such as this* will lodge themselves and the thoughts they stir in my memory of my travels just as much as any cathedral or beach. Yep, just another fun facet of the exciting world of world travel!
|Sunday May 5 2013||File under: travel, africa|
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|A week isn't a lot of time to really check out a country such as Portugal. We knew that from the start. But the parts* that we did spend a little bit of time, we enjoyed quite a bit. I guess next time we'll just have to explore some of the other parts of the country. Until then, here are some of my favorite photos from the past week.
(I would apologize for instagramming them all, but it's just so dang neat. But if you hate neat things, I'm sorry.)
|Friday May 3 2013||File under: travel, portugal|
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|Lisbon is full of narrow winding streets that, esp. from the perspective of 2 people having spent the last 10 days aboard a ship, were wonderful to explore. Public plazas, statues, fountains, back alley squares—it is European in so many wonderful ways. But, as 2 people having spent 10 straight days only walking from ice cream machine to movie theater can tell you, these long meandering explorations into the different parts of Lisbon can tucker a body out.
Enter the electrico, Lisbon's answer to public transportation, at least in part. Designed long before the automobile was a glint in Mr. Ford's eye, many of Lisbon's streets are hard pressed to allow passage to a mini* let along a regular-sized public bus. Electricos are small trolleys with rounded ends to make some of the narrow corners. They rattle along the tracks, up and down hills, through tight parts of town carrying both tourists and locals alike.
For me, riding the electricos was a merging of so many favorite things; exploration, public transportation, narrow old streets, and sitting. All in all, not a bad start to a European vacation!
|Thursday May 2 2013||File under: travel, Portugal|
|It's common knowledge that one of the awesome upsides of travel by cruise is the food. This upside, however, has a bit of a downside. Judging from how I handled the bi-weekly trips to the Jumbo Buffet this fall, I was in for either a challenge in self control or a severely expanded waistline. To impericially figure out which of these won the day I decided to do an experiement. My first stop while boarding the ship was the scale.
So the food worked like this: From about 7 in the morning until 9 at night, the all-you-can-eat buffet was available. We ate about 80% of our meals there. The fare was good and plentiful, although got monotonous after a while*. Then there was the full service dining room that was open for limited hours for each meal. It worked mostly like a restaurant where you got a menu (which changed daily), and you ordered appetizers, main course, and dessert. In the evening, you were seated with the same people so you had a nice little cadre of people to share stories with. We went here maybe 3 times. The languid pace of the meals, the extreme degree of fanciness*, and the rigid schedule made us opt for the buffet most of the time. Our other option was a little cafe type thing that had a small but sufficient menu that was open later into the night. We would occasionally stop in there for a cup of soup or a burger after the late show.
And that was all free and all as much as you wanted. If you wanted 3 shrimp cocktails to start your dinner in the main dining room, you could. I did. And whoever thought to put a self-serve soft-serve ice cream machine onboard gets both my highest praise and cruelest fist shaking (but mostly the former).
So this is what I had to contend with. Almost daily visits to the gym helped, but were also depressing. Thirty minutes on the stationary bike reported that I burned 300 calories while I know that my breakfast alone was up in the quadruple digits. But that's what vacations are for, right?
The morning of our last day, I faced off with the scale...for science. (I would have taken daily data points, but it turns out a scale doesn't work so well on a rocking ship.) The verdict? One pound. Jigga-what? Twenty six ice cream cones, 14 pounds of mashed potatoes, and the equivalent of 3 pigs worth of ham, bacon, and pork chops and I only gained one pound!?! I figure it was a tactic by the cruise line to slowly recalibrate the scale throughout the trip so skeptics like me walk off believing that the food thing turned out all right.
And it worked. I feel pretty good about the whole thing. Sure I didn't do the healthiest thing for myself. Sure all those 4-meat breakfasts probably weren't so good for my heart. But I'm okay with it. More than okay, I'd say. In fact, I can't help but ponder when I'll get my next chance to eat on a cruise ship again.
|Sunday April 28 2013||File under: travel, cruise|
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