Category Archives: Travel

Swimming pools, Argan Oil and Goats in Trees

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Swimming pools, Argan Oil and Goats in Trees

Marrakech Part 4:

The morning of our 5th day in Marrakech we checked out of our riad in the medina and headed out of town.  We booked our last couple of days in Morocco at a fancy resort.

Kenzi Menara Palace

Kenzi Menara Palace

Fancy hotels even give you free slippers!

Fancy hotels even give you free slippers!

Cathy, Jessica and Catherine spent the day with us as well.

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Leslie with my buddy Cathy

We checked in and changed into our bikinis right away.  Well, Mike wore trunks, sorry ladies!

Cool California girls in the sun

Cool California girls in the sun

The girls played in the pool while Mike, Cathy and I lounged in the sun. We visited and sipped our drinks under the warm African sun.  We savored our last day with Cathy as she would be heading off on an adventure to the desert in the morning.  They drove across the Atlas mountains to the end of the civilized world then continued on dromedary back.  Cathy is going to have to write a guest post so we can find out the details of their adventure! unnamed

Cathy, Jessica and Catherine's camel ride looks more authentic than ours!

Cathy, Jessica and Catherine’s camel ride looks more authentic than ours!

Our last day we enjoyed an amazing, exotic buffet at the Kenzi Palace. My favorite was a fruit spread that was made of mashed oranges, cinnamon and honey. I ate it on warm Moroccan bread. Heavenly!

To me no trip is complete without a good hike or even better, a really long trail run.  We spent the majority of our time in Morocco in Marrakech so we were ready for some nature. Abdul, our driver who took us to ride the dromedaries, picked us up at the hotel.  The plan was to visit a Berber village in the Atlas mountains and go for a hike. As we drove out of town Abdul explained that we were headed to the Ouika Valley. We drove for an hour to a Berber village called Setti Fatma which I imagined would be a remote, quaint little village. Instead, as we neared the village the road became dense with cars. We stopped at an Argan Oil Co-op where the women demonstrated how the argan nuts are cracked then ground and turned into oil.

Sky and Savvy sitting with the Argan nut ladies

Sky and Savvy sitting with the Argan nut ladies

Sit right here, I'll be right back with my samples

Sit right here, I’ll be right back with my samples

Our new friend, Ilham

Our new friend, Ilham

Our guide was delightful, the girls liked her immediately and they even let her braid their hair.

Looking at the Atlas Moutains

Looking at the Atlas Moutains

We bought several bottles of magical Argan Oil.  She promised that one was specifically formulated to clear skin blemishes.  I was skeptical but before bed that night Sky put the oil on a little patch of acne on her nose.  Amazingly after one application and a day of swimming in the sun the next day the patch had completely resolved.  Youth, the sun or the oil? Your guess is as good as mine.

Our next stop was a rug store.  Of course we were perfectly aware that our guide had a vested interest in our purchases and I had no intention of buying a rug but we were curious just the same.

Savvy with the rugs

Savvy with the rugs. Give her a job!

Buried in Rugs!

Buried in Rugs!

The man in the rug store showed us rug after rug but wouldn’t give me any idea of the prices unless I would choose one.  Strangely, it was very rushed and stressful.  Finally I told him that I liked one and he told me the price. It was outrageous and I suggested that we leave.  Suddenly the price was a 1/3 of his original offer.  I know that is typical but I was surprised. We left and I think our driver was a little annoyed with us.

Of course, Sky found a friendly kitty amongst the rugs

Sky, the cat whisperer, found a friendly kitty amongst the rugs

The “typical” Berber village turned out to be a typical tourist trap but it was still exotic to us and we enjoyed it.  We dined on a sandy bank of the Ourika river on plastic tables under colorful umbrellas.

Waiting for lunch on the bank of the ___ river

Waiting for lunch on the bank of the Ourika river

Cheesy strolling minstrels played for us and posed for pictures. 

Sky ate eggs and as usual, a pack of stray cats found her.

Sky is a cat magnet!

Sky is a cat magnet!

After lunch our hiking guide, Jamal was waiting for us.  He was a cheerful, 25 year old who spoke excellent English and even some Spanish.  Jamal told us he grew up in Setti Fatma.  He learned his English in school and explained that schools in Setti Fatma are taught in Arabic and French.  Anyone who attends school is fluent in both. He also spoke Berber but pointed out that he could not read or write the language of his ancestors as it has a different alphabet and it is not taught in the schools.  Jamal led us through a cacophony of vendors on the way up the mountain.

Up the hill past 100s of tables of stuff for sale.

Up the hill past 100s of tables of stuff for sale.

for sale

for sale

stuff

stuff

 

I love to shop but this was really too much even for me.  We finally passed most of the hikers and shoppers.

Up the trail to the 7 waterfalls

Up the trail to the 7 waterfalls.

Jamal pointed out the “Berber refrigerators”.  Cold snow-melt, running off the mountain keeps drinks cool in gaudy painted fountains.

The Berber Refrigerator

The Berber Refrigerator

Once past the many blankets and little tables of stuff for sale the only way to continue was to hop across streams and climb over boulders.  Now we were hiking!

Mike and Savannah picking their way through the rocks

Mike and Savannah picking their way through the rocks. Mike is always sure to be behind just in case someone falls.

Sky, Jamal and Savannah

Sky, Jamal and Savannah

What a view, see the village below?

What a view, see the village below?

We hiked for several hours and counted the 7 waterfalls. We were thankful that our girls had good stamina and balance. They could climb straight up the mountain. Much like this goat:

Moroccan goats can climb trees!

Moroccan goats can climb trees!

We came across one goat stuck in a tree.  He cried until his shepherd could climb up and help him out. Jamal was a great guide, he was patient and clearly loved his job.  He was in his element and let us know that getting paid to show foreigners his trails was a very cool gig for him.  The views were breathtaking.

Sky looking for the goats

Sky looking for the goats

We hiked back to town through another gauntlet of vendors.  On the way down the hill I bought some “Moroccan Nutella”, a delicious mix of honey, almonds and Argan oil.  The trail actually cut through restaurants where earthenware tagines roasted over charcoal bricks.  There were couches and chairs with plush, colorful pillows right on the back of the river.  Tourists from all over the planet lounged and enjoyed the Moroccan sun or slept in the shade of brightly colored umbrellas.

Siti Fatma

Setti Fatma

After the hike Mike and the girls had an ice cream reward.

Ice Cream by the river

Ice Cream by the river

Yum!

Yum!

Back at the car Abdul was waiting for us.  We settled in for the drive down the mountain back to the resort.  I didn’t feel like I had seen anything remotely near what life is like in a typical Berber village as promised by our guide.  I did recall that a well traveled friend warned us that we were not going to see the real Morocco.  I am certain that she was correct but we did see the side of Morocco that has embraced visitors. We didn’t see a single person that was unkind and everyone was genuinely welcoming, friendly and quick to share their culture.

We spent our last day in Marrakech by the pool.  We sat in the shade and I researched and wrote about our adventure.  Sky and Savvy swam and met some lovely girls, Georgia and Lexi.

Little girls all over the world play hand games.  They taught each other songs and will no doubt go home and share them with their friends.

Little girls all over the world play hand games. They taught each other songs and will no doubt go home and share them with their friends.

Lexi and Savannah

Lexi and Savannah

Best friends after a day in the sun!

Best friends after a day in the sun!

Our one selfie of the trip! Coronas in Africa!

Our one selfie of the trip! Coronas in Africa!

The next morning we flew back to Spain and when we got off the plane we all took a deep breath of Andalucía. Adventures are great but it also feels really good to get home!

 

Camels, Friends and Belly Dancers

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Camels, Friends and Belly Dancers

Part 3:  Marrakech

For some reason in my North American mind it was very important that we ride camels while in Morocco.  Never mind that there were good roads in Marrakech and that no one was riding around on camels, we still felt compelled to find some camels.  Youssef, our host in Riad Jardin Secret arranged for a driver to meet us outside the rampart wall.  His car was modern and comfortable and stood out amongst the tiny run-down cars that are common in the medina.  He explained that we were off to ride, not camels, but dromedaries.  Camels have 2 humps while dromedaries have only one.  Who knew? As it turns out we really knew nothing about camels/dromedaries. One thing that I have really enjoyed about traveling is learning new interesting facts. Dromedaries are cool!

Here we go, ready to ride some Dromedary!

Here we go, ready to ride some Dromedaries!

Cool camel/dromedary facts:

1. They do not store water in those humps. Nope, the humps are fat.

2. So if the humps don’t store water, how is it that they can go so long without water?  This is the cool part:  Camels are really good at minimizing water losses. First, they have very little urine output and there poop is very, very dry.  Camel urine is as thick as syrup and their poop is so dry it is burned by nomads in the desert for fuel.  Secondly, they don’t lose as much water during breathing as humans do.  Have you noticed that they have unusually large nostrils? Hot air is inhaled and cooled in spiral turbinates in the nose. When air is exhaled it is cooled by the turbinates and water vapor condenses just like dew on grass.  This water is reabsorbed by the camel.

Really big nostrils!

Is this guy smiling for me? Really big nostrils!

3. Even their blood is different! A camel’s red blood cells are actually oval rather than circular like most other mammals.  This facilitates the circulation of blood when they are dehydrated.  It also allows them to tolerate osmotic variations that would kill a human and cause our red blood cells to explode.

4. Camels can tolerate up to a 40% loss of their body weight in water!  That would be like a 180 pound (81 kg) man losing 72 pounds (33 kg) of water!

5. Camels can run 40mph for short stretches and can sustain a speed of 25mph.

6. Camels live 40-50 years.

7. Camels can drink 200 liters (52 gallons) of water in 3 minutes!

Flower?

Flower? Savvy meets her dromedary.

8. Camels tolerate enormous fluctuations in body temperature.  Their body temperature can range from 34 °C (93 °F) when they get up in the morning to 40 °C (104 °F) by sunset!

Now you can fascinate and impress your friends with your new knowledge of camels/dromedaries, an added benefit of following Team Kezmoh!

I think Sky and this dromedary are laughing at the same joke!

I think Sky and this dromedary are laughing at the same joke!

We drove to an area of Marrakech called the Palmerie.  Although the landscape was completely flat, the road twisted between the palms.  Abdul explained to us that it is a crime punishable by fine or imprisonment if you cut down a palm tree.  The trees are older than the road, thus the curves.  Along the way we passed many roadside camel stands just waiting for tourists to come along and rent a ride.

Waiting for some customers

Waiting for some customers

Somehow I thought we would be in the desert and that it would seem less touristy but Marrakech is an oasis and the desert is far away.  The truth is, riding a camel is a bit cliché, I realized.   About 15 minutes from our riad we met our guide and our family of dromedaries.  Team Kezmoh climbed onboard our new friends and had a loop around the Palmerie.  To be completely honest a camel ride is more of a photo op than anything else. We did come across a turtle on the road and our guide saved him from our dromedary train.

Sky the turtle whisperer.

Sky the turtle whisperer.

The highlight of the tour was when we returned to our base.  Our guide led us through the palms where 2 baby dromedaries and their mother were hanging out.

Meeting a baby dromedary.

Meeting a baby dromedary.

The babies were 2 weeks old.  One baby was nursing while his mother ate from a giant pile of leaves. I imagine a 1000 lb animal must have to eat constantly to support a baby that size.

Mama and Baby

Mama and Baby

Posing with our guide.

Posing with our guide.

Team Kezmoh and a baby dromedary

Team Kezmoh and a baby dromedary

When we were satisfied that we had a full camel experience Abdul drove us back to the hotel.  Shortly after we returned our friend Cathy Baker arrived with her daughter Jessica and Jessica’s friend Catherine.   Mike and I work with Cathy back in California. She is a dear friend and she actually is the obstetrician who brought both Sky and Savannah into the world.  Cathy had been a Peace Corps Volunteer before medical school and lived in Oman.  During that time she learned Arabic so she was excited to come to Morocco.  Sky and Savvy were fast friends with our new visitors and the little band of girls quickly disappeared together to explore the riad.

New buddies. Jessica, Savannah, Sky and Catherine.

New buddies. Jessica, Savannah, Sky and Catherine.

That night we asked our hosts Melika and Youssef to recommend a restaurant.  They recommended  Riad Riaffa which promised good food and belly dancing.  We ordered a variety of traditional Moroccan tagines and salads.  Although most Moroccans do not drink alcohol it is available to tourists. We had a bottle of Moroccan wine which was pale in comparison to the delicious Spanish wines that we were used to but still good.

Cheers!

Cheers!

The highlight of our dinner was a belly dancing performance.

Belly dancer in Marrakech

Belly dancer in Marrakech

I have a new appreciation for belly dancing after my time in Spain.  Last September, just after school had started for the girls our friend Amparo approached me on the street with a clip board. She was collecting names to join her in a dance class at the sports pavilion.  She told me that it would be danza del vientre.  Humm, danza del vientre, I did not know what that meant but I was delighted to be asked to join any sort of exercise group so I signed right up.  I thought maybe it would be Flamenco, maybe Zumba, maybe some sort of Spanish dancing.  I arrived on the appointed day dressed to exercise.  I was still too embarrassed to ask what sort of a class I had signed up for and by then I couldn’t even remember what she had called it.  The instructor arrived, she was extremely fit.  This must be Zumba, I thought.  Marta shed her sweat pants and put on a tiny skirt over her tights. The skirt had little metal coins that jingled when she moved.  “OH NO”, belly dancing!

My instructor, Marta Indra

My instructor, Marta Indra

Belly dancing is probably the last type of dance that I am built for.   It did cross my mind to get out of there right away but I stayed and gave it a whirl.  Marta instructed us to practice what we had learned at home.  I went home and demonstrated some of my new moves to the team.  We laughed and laughed, I looked more like a robot than a belly dancer.  Walking home from my second class another student, Laura, explained to me that it wasn’t my fault, “Es que no eres Latina (It’s just that you aren’t Latina)”.  So, no hope for me… I did continue the classes until February when it dwindled from 20 students to 4 and our instructor told us that we were just too few students to make the class worth it for her.  So my own, largely unsuccessful attempts to learn belly dancing definitely gave me a new appreciation for the sport.  The belly dancer who entertained us while we ate was talented and I think I enjoyed the show more than anyone.

Mike is not sure if he should look!

Mike is not sure if he should look!

In the morning we went back to Djemaa el Fna (see Marrakech part 1) with Cathy and the girls. Cathy had promised Jessica a carriage ride around the city. We negotiated a price for 2 carriages and the 4 kids hopped in one while Cathy, Mike and I took up the rear.

American girls on a carriage ride in Marrakech!

California girls on a carriage ride in Marrakech!

Mike and Cathy Baker

Mike with Cathy Baker

Our driver Ali spoke English and Spanish in addition to French and Arabic.  He pointed out the sights as we passed and answered my questions. He was proud to tell me that Marrakech is a city that is open to visitors and that, in his opinion, people of all races were welcome. As we drove past the Royal palace he explained that King Mohammed is a popular and good monarch.

Leslie and Ali

Leslie and Ali

He pointed out storks that nest on the rampart wall to the 3 obstetricians in his carriage.

See the stork nesting on the rampart wall?

See the stork nesting on the rampart wall?

We trotted out of the medina and into an area of luxury hotels and upscale stores such as Louis Vuitton.  Once back in the medina we stopped at a spice store where we were given a tour of the wonderful herbs.  The smells in the store were divine. I bought a sac of spices that our guide promised was a mixture of 45 spices, “the secret to Moroccan cooking”.  I have enough spice to flavor our cooking for years.  (If anyone wants a bit please let me know!).

Spices

Spices

Pigments for local painters

Pigments for local painters

When our carriage tour of Marrakech was completed we plunged back into the chaos of Djemaa el Fna.  I passed a wrinkled man sitting at  a little table.  As we approached he quickly covered his display with a large piece of cardboard.  How odd, all of the other vendors called to us as we passed. He was quite obviously not interested in our little band of Americans. This piqued my curiosity.  I stood apart from our group and watched him from a distance until he uncovered his table.  TEETH! It was a gruesome display of molars and other various teeth.  He was a Berber dentist!  I later read that these “dentists” will extract a tooth for you right there at their card table!

A Berber dentist.  Photo from Google images

A Berber dentist. Photo from Google images

We spent the afternoon exploring and shopping.

This guy is carrying a bundle of live, squaking chickens.

This guy is carrying a bundle of live, squawking chickens.

A cool lamp shop The vendor with Sky and Cathy

A cool lamp shop
The vendor with Sky and Cathy

Sky, Mike, Savannah, Cathy, Jessica and Katherine

Sky, Mike, Savannah, Cathy, Jessica and Catherine

Delicious pineapple and coconut sold by the piece

Delicious pineapple and coconut sold by the piece

Jessica and Catherine were keen to get some henna as well so we went back to the Henna Cafe.

IMG_9533 IMG_9531

For dinner that night we enjoyed our best restaurant meal of the year at Le Comptoir du Pacha. The restaurant was around the corner from our riad and was owned by an enthusiastic Frenchman.  He seemed genuinely happy to meet us and gave us a tour around his place.  The food was an incredible mix of French and Moroccan styles.  If you make it to Marrakech I’d highly recommend his place.

My appetizer, yum!

My appetizer, yum!

Part 4  coming soon!

 

Henna, Turtles and McDonald’s

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Henna, Turtles and McDonald’s

Marrakech, Morocco Part 2:

On our first morning in the medina we were jarred awake at 4:30am.  The Muslim call to prayer is a shock if you are not ready for it.  The Adhan is recited from the top of all of the mosques 5 times a day by a Muezzin and it goes on for several minutes.  The Muezzin is a special person in each mosque that is chosen for his ability to recite both beautifully and loudly.  This was once done just by reciting the prayer from the minaret in a big voice. Now, thanks to modern technology, a loud-speaker broadcasts it so that everyone can hear.  When it is heard it is time to stop what one is doing and get ready for prayer. In most cases at 4:30am this means to stop sleeping.  The mosque, (that may have been right outside our window), made a second call to prayer, the Iqama, at 5:30am as well. So, once my heart had stopped pounding and I had drifted back to sleep, it started all over again.  Now I don’t mean to be culturally insensitive. I do understand that this is very important for muslims; it was just a bit of a shock the first day. Once I knew what the sound was, it was far less startling the next morning.

It is lovely to be on vacation and not need to get the girls ready for school in the morning. We wandered downstairs for breakfast after 9am and Youssef was waiting for us . We had rghaif which is a rich Moroccan dough that is pan-fried and served with honey. We also had delicious coffee, hot milk, yogurt, pastries and fresh-squeezed orange juice.  IMG_9272 IMG_9273

The girls and I had noticed that there was a spa next door to our riad. After breakfast we decided we could use a bit of pampering and we scheduled pedicures. At the Heritage Spa we were welcomed with warm tea and led to a sitting room where we waited for our attendants.

Sipping tea

Sipping tea

Waiting for our pedicures

Waiting for our pedicures

Sky and Savannah were taken to a lovely little room where they reclined on a colorful bed of pillows. A fountain bubbled and whispered soothingly and soft Moroccan music played in the background.

Having pedicures in Marrakech

Having pedicures in Marrakech

I had also scheduled some waxing in addition to my pedicure so my attendant, Banan, led me down some stairs, then up more stairs to a separate, more private area.  I lay on a massage table while she focused a bright light on me.  She had an old-looking can of wax with thick honey-colored drips down the side. It sat on a grubby base that she gingerly carried over and placed next to me.  She carefully pulled some used-looking gloves out of her pocket and covered her hands.  She used a popsicle stick to dip into the rusty can and blew on the wax to cool it a bit before she painted my hair.  There was a lot of double dipping involved and I tried not to wonder how many other people’s sticks had been in that bucket of wax.  I really did want to get rid of all that hair so I convinced myself that nothing could survive in boiling wax however unsanitary the set up was.  I thought that surely I would get to go to the lovely room for a pedicure and a leg massage when the procedure was over.  Nope, still on the flat table she had me bend my knees to put my feet in a bucket of warm water, weird.  It was my first lie down pedicure.  Once my toes were done she left me alone without a word in my little room.  I put on a robe and wandered out to find my clothes and my children.  I found Sky and Savvy lounging on their bed of pillows while their toes dried.  Two little sultanas. I joined them and we compared colors.  No one offered to paint a flower on our toes and we all felt that the foot massage was little more than a couple of slaps on the bottom of our feet but all in all it was a pleasant experience and I did get a very complete, albeit somewhat scary waxing.

Moroccan Pedicures

Moroccan Pedicures

Next stop, the Henna Cafe. After the odd experience with our henna attack in the big square the day before we thought we should find a calmer venue for some “temporary tattoos”.  We noticed the Henna Cafe the day before on our explore about town.  We climbed a narrow staircase decorated with paintings and photographs from local artists. We passed a tiny kitchen on our way to the rooftop terrace. We sat in the shade and sipped tea and ate delicious food from tagines.

Tea was a bit different, not my taste

Tea was a bit different, not my taste

The food was fabulous! Definitely my favorite lunch of the trip.

The food was fabulous! Definitely my favorite lunch of the trip.

Sky and Savannah found small turtles roaming about the tiles.  The turtles were tame and ate table scraps. It was good entertainment while we waited for our food.

New friends

New friends

Sweet gentle Sky, animals always find her

Sweet gentle Sky, animals always find her

The girls chose their designs from a book and gentle Fatima skillfully painted them with her “homemade organic henna”.

Savannah and Fatima

Savannah and Fatima

After getting lost in the labyrinthine medina Mike was keen to check out the “modern” city, Gueliz. Youssef pointed us in the right direction and this time I downloaded a map. We were very careful to memorize landmarks and I promised Savannah that we would come home the same way we went out so that we wouldn’t get lost. She was skeptical but agreed to go.

Found a park on our way

Found a park on our way

Stop

Stop

I did wonder what the draw was to this part of town. I wondered just until I saw the McDonald’s, which of course Mike already knew about from his Africa McDonald’s App. As a vegetarian, it is embarrassing to admit that my husband has a deep-seated love for Mickey D’s.  So against my better judgement, it has become our tradition to visit one in every country.  It is amazing how we just happen to “stumble” upon them.  Mike was in beef heaven and was so happy that it was worth it.

So happy but a bit sheepish

So happy but a bit sheepish

Mike had a Hamburger Royal and Savvy had a cheeseburger.  Sky and I sipped vegetarian milkshakes. McDonald’s in Marrakech is wildly successful.  It was packed with people, lovely girls met us at the door and took our order on handheld computers.  We had to search for a place to sit amongst the local Moroccans.  IMG_9318We had definitely come across the modern Morocco. Beautiful, fashionable women in head scarves strolled next to friends in tube tops and high heels (I wish I had a photo of that!). Many women passed with their heads conspicuously uncovered, with long, flowing dark hair exposed.  The west has obviously affected this Arab country but it seems that it has been a peaceful transition.  Morocco was our first exposure to the Arab world. We learned from the locals that we met, that in their opinion, Marrakech is a progressive city that welcomes the Western changes.  There are many immigrants from other parts of Africa who on their way to Europe stop in Morocco. Many find it so agreeable and peaceful that they decide to stay.

Over the centuries, Moroccans have endured invasions by Arab, French and Spanish civilizations.  The indigenous Berbers have been in Morocco for over 5000 years. They have survived and today live throughout Morocco composing more than 40% of the population.  There are 35 million people in Morocco and the overwhelming majority are of mixed Arab and Berber descent so it is not surprising that Arabic and Berber are the two official languages of Morocco. What is surprising is that Berber was not recognized as an official language until 2011. The third, unofficial, language is French which is the language that is widely spoken in government and business. Moroccans easily switch between French and Arabic and we noticed that they frequently speak a combination of the two languages.  The recent history is that Morocco was occupied by the French and Spanish as a protectorate from 1912-1956. The French occupied most of the country while Spain occupied the northernmost region.  Mohammed V negotiated a peaceful transition in 1956 that restored Moroccan independence from both Spain and France.  The sultan agreed to transform his country into a constitutional monarchy where the sultan would continue to have an active political role.  His son, Mohammed VI, is the reigning king today. In 1999 at the age of 36 he became king when his father died.  Today he seems to be a popular and powerful king, not to mention fabulously wealthy. In 2009 Forbes magazine estimated that the Moroccan Royal Family had one of the largest fortunes in the world.  He is ever-present in Marrakech from his face on the Dirham, the local currency, to his ubiquitous portrait.  In 2002 he married to the most beautiful computer engineer in the world, Princess Lalla Salma. They share a son and daughter.

The Moroccan Royal family

The Moroccan Royal family (google images)

He is also known for creating a new Mudawana which is family law based on Islamic principles that grants more rights to women regarding marriage, divorce and property ownership.  I like to think that his lovely, well-educated wife had some influence on the new rights for women in recent years.

I got a bit carried away, but I do find the whole idea of royalty quite interesting.   After lunch we shopped in the modern shops where everyone spoke French and many spoke English.  It was relaxing not haggling over prices. We were surprised that in the stores that sold typical Moroccan clothing and ceramics that the prices were actually better in Gueliz than they were in the medina. Obviously in the medina the local merchants are accustomed to asking outrageous prices of the tourists.  Sky chose a beautiful blue outfit that was one long piece of fabric.  For the outfit and some golden shoes it cost the equivalent of about 40$. In addition, there weren’t the pressured sales pitches that we experienced in the souks.  Savvy found some sandals that she was happy with and we successfully found our way back to the riad.  Sky put on her new outfit and we had a fashion show.  We sipped mint tea and played cards until we collapsed. Another full day in the Red City!

Sky in her new Moroccan duds.

Sky in her new Moroccan duds.

Part 3 coming soon…

 

 

 

Mint tea, snakes and monkeys

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Mint tea, snakes and monkeys

Marrakech, Morocco: Team Kezmoh goes to Morocco Part 1

Morocco, so close to the Iberian peninsula…  Team Kezmoh knew we couldn’t spend a year in Spain without visiting Africa. We could have traveled across the Strait of Gibraltar by ferry but we wanted to visit deeper into the country. We choose Marrakech, Morocco’s jewel of the south.  Al Magrib, the Arabic name for Morocco, means “far west” or “where the sun sets”. When Arabs first arrived in Morocco it is said that they believed that they had reached the westernmost point in the world.  And so, we travelled south to the land where the sun sets…

Marrakech was founded over 1000 years ago in 1062.  In the 12th century red walls were constructed to fortify and protect the city.

Marrakech from google images

Marrakech from google images

Team Kezmoh started the day at 3:30 am to make our flight from Sevilla to Marrakech.  Sky and Savannah jumped out of bed, excited to begin the next chapter of our adventure. We travelled during their spring break from school. We knew that we would miss Semana Santa, (Holy Week or Easter Week) so we planned a couple of extra days in Sevilla on the way home from Africa.

First steps in Africa!

First steps in Africa!

We easily found a taxi outside of the airport and we arrived after a quick 10 minute drive. Luckily we had the phone number for our hotel and our driver called ahead for directions. When we arrived he pointed down a narrow alleyway and said in French, “I think your hotel is that way…” A moment before we set off in the wrong direction, Youseff, our host at Riad Jardin Secret appeared. He had thankfully come out to meet us. He greeted us warmly and unlocked a small unmarked door in the rampart (wall around the city).  He led us down a tiny passageway to the entrance of our riad. I was very relieved to see the sign outside the unassuming door. The door gave no hint of what we would find inside.IMG_9554

 

Just arrived!

Just arrived!

Youseff led us into the cool tranquility past an indoor garden and sat us down in a beautiful parlor. He hurried back with sweet, hot mint tea and gorgeous pastries.

Youseff, taking good care of us

Youseff, taking good care of us

Sky and Savannah enjoying some mint tea.

Sky and Savannah enjoying some mint tea.

Delicious Moroccan Pastries at Riad Jardin Secret

Delicious Moroccan Pastries at Riad Jardin Secret

We learned that a riad is a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior courtyard or garden. There is generally a water feature in the central courtyard that acts a natural air conditioner.

Sky and Savvy in the courtyard

Sky and Savvy in the courtyard

Warm air entering the riad is cooled by channeling it over the water. The heat rises and leaves via the open air courtyard.  We noticed a significant temperature drop as soon as we entered the riad.   Ryad is the Arabic word for garden so technically our riad was called “Garden Secret Garden”.  Riad Jardin Secret is a very typical, traditional Moroccan palace.  It was built in the 19th century and has been beautifully restored.   It was designed to protect the privacy of the family who would have lived there. There are no exterior windows to the city. All of the windows face to inner gardens and courtyards.  This design principle also supports the Islamic tradition of privacy for women.  The inner walls are constructed of a shiny tadelakt plaster. Most of the courtyard walls are adorned with colorful zellige tiles.

After a rest in our room we checked out one of the lovely lounge areas around the courtyard. Notice the traditional z tiles

One of the lovely lounge areas around the courtyard. Notice the traditional zellige tiles and intricate carvings.

There are 8 rooms, each opulently decorated. We were told that Jardin Secret was once the home to an aristocratic family who also owned the home next door.  One wife would have lived here with her children while the other wife would have lived next door.  (Polygamy is now illegal in Morocco).

We relaxed and sipped our tea until Youseff led us to our room.  We felt like royalty when we entered.   Our quarters were spacious with plenty of room to relax.  The windows had colored glass and views of the courtyard and when opened allowed the peaceful sounds of the fountain to relax us.  SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESOur bathroom was large with a tub that was definitely not for those lacking in agility. There was a thigh high mosaic wall to climb over to enjoy an open air shower.

Beautiful tile tub/shower

 

Youseff left us to rest.

So tired!  Notice the shiny plaster on the walls. This is called Tedelakt plaster which is created using lime plaster that is treated with a natural soap.

So tired!
Notice the shiny plaster on the walls. This is called Tadelakt plaster which is created using lime plaster that is treated with a natural soap.

The view from my bed

The view from my bed

Sky and Savannah played on their new rubberband looms creating bracelets and little animals (thanks Dave!). We enjoyed the cool peaceful tranquility until our stomachs reminded us that we needed to go out. Youseff walked through a short maze of passageways to a busier road deeper in the medina. The medina is the area within the rampart walls, it is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets with thick walled interlocked homes. This labyrinth was supposedly designed to confuse invaders.  We learned that it also functions to confuse modern day tourists.  The narrow passages were quite obviously created for pedestrian and animal traffic but today they are a dangerous mess of foot, donkey and scooter mayhem. We had to be constantly alert as scooters flew by the winding, tight roads.

In the Medina

In the Medina

Youseff pointed out small landmarks so that we could find our way home.  He launched us in the direction of good eats and disappeared.  We wandered down the road, conscious that we looked conspicuously foreign.  Although we were careful to dress respectfully the first day (the picture above is from later in the trip), we realized that short of wearing headscarves there wasn’t much that would help us blend in.

We stumbled upon a lovely restaurant called Kremm Café.

The Kremm Café

The Kremm Café

After months in Spain we were excited to try some Moroccan food.  The typical Moroccan dish is a tagine, an earthenware pot which is traditionally heated over hot coals.  All of the ingredients are placed in the dish and are cooked slowly over many hours.  Mike and Savannah discovered what would be their favorite food right away, lemon chicken tagine.  The chicken, lemons, olives, onions, oil and spices are placed in the middle of the pot and vegetables are arranged in a pyramid over the meat.  Sky and I enjoyed many vegetable tagines which are the same design minus the meat.  Cous cous is offered as a side dish with the juices from the tagine poured over it for flavor.

We were not brave enough to eat from one of the street vendors but it did smell good.

We were not brave enough to eat from one of the street vendors but it did smell good. This picture is from Wikipedia.

Marrakech is teaming with tourists. We felt foreign but we had plenty of company. We felt a bit more comfortable amongst the European tourists who were dressed for the weather in sundresses and tank tops. We soon gave up on wearing long pants and long sleeves.

After lunch we set out to discover the famous Djemaa el-Fna square. This is a huge open air market. Djemaa el-Fna is both a functional marketplace where the locals come to shop and a major tourist trap. The main entrance is lined with horse drawn carriages and men with crazy hats trying to lure visitors on a tour around the medina.  The idea of the big square was more exotic than the reality.  “Henna” artists swarmed us as we approached . One young man grabbed Sky’s arm and started painting a “free sample” he said.

Beware of black Henna, Sky still has a rash!

Beware of black Henna, Sky still has a rash!

When he was done with a quick doodle he demanded 100 dirhams, (which he did not get).  It turned out that her henna tattoo was not henna at all but an irritating black ink. Weeks later, Sky still has a rash. Next up were the snake charmers who were friendly and welcoming at first.  One man draped a harmless, lethargic, green snake around our necks, “for luck”.  IMG_9248 IMG_9246

 

He led Mike over to his tent where he pulled a viper out of a basket. He held it over Mike’s shoulder for a picture. When I looked at the picture later I noticed that it was flat and quite possibly dead. IMG_9253We took pictures knowing that we would be expected to pay him.  I offered him 20 dirhams (about 3$) which I thought was fair for a couple of photos. His demeanor changed quickly and suddenly he was angry demanding 200 dirhams (23$). In the end I gave him a little more and we walked away. Whew, not the magical experience I had hoped we would find.  There were dried-out lizards and turtles in cages baking in the sun. Unhappy monkeys in chains were led around by evil looking handlers.

As soon as we got close to the monkeys I felt bad that we were encouraging this practice. The monkeys looked at us with sad, intelligent eyes.

As soon as we got close to the monkeys I felt bad that we were encouraging this practice by being there at all. The monkeys looked at us with sad, intelligent eyes.

It was a circus of unkind, seedy performers exploiting the animals and tourists alike.  They began with toothy smiles but were quick to change from friendly to demanding in a blink of an eye.

We did enjoy the fresh squeezed orange juice from one of the many juice vendors.

Don't forget to come back to stand 27!

Don’t forget to come back to stand 27!

Eventually we retreated to a rooftop cafe to observe the chaos below. Djemaa el-Fna is today at best a flee market or carnival, at worst a lure to see how much money they can bleed from the tourists for a few pictures and trinkets.

Long ago it was a very different place. Djemaa means “meeting place” or “congregational mosque”. Fna or Fina can mean either “death”, “end” or “courtyard”. So Djemaa el-Fna either means Mosque with a courtyard or Meeting place of death. There is a famous Mosque in front of the square called the Koutoubia Mosque but I also found references to the ancient practice where severed heads of criminals and sinners were displayed in the big square so either definition may be correct.  No pictures of that!

Sky and Mike in front of the m

Sky and Mike in front of the Koutoubia Mosque

The Koutoubia Mosque is the largest mosque in Marrakech and the towering minaret (picture above) built around 1150 is the oldest of the 3 great Almohad minarets around the world.   The others being the Hassan Tower in Rabat and the Giralda in Sevilla.

Here is my dad, on our trip to Sevilla with the famous, Christian-ified minaret behind him

Here is my dad, on our trip to Sevilla with the famous, Giralda, the Christian-ified minaret, behind him

And another, sorry I couldn't resist I have so many pictures of Sevilla. Note my Dad in the lower right hand corner!

And another, sorry I couldn’t resist because I have so many pictures of Sevilla. Note my Dad in the lower right hand corner!

Interestingly the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque is topped by 3 golden orbs.

3 golden orbs. No, I didn't get that close. Credit goes to Wikipedia

3 golden orbs. No, I didn’t get that close. Credit goes to Wikipedia

There are many legends regarding the orbs.  One of which is that they were made from the melted jewelry of Yaqoub al Mansour’s wife in penance for eating either 3 grapes or for eating during 3 days or 3 hours (depends on what you read) of the Ramadan fast. We couldn’t actually enter the mosque as we were quite obviously not muslim.

After enjoying our break from the chaos in the square on the terrace with a light dinner (well, quite light, as it was very bad). We ventured into the souks, the markets of the medina.  Part of the experience in the medina, it is said, is to get lost in the souks. Breathe in the smells, taste the food, buy some stuff that you never knew you needed. We dove in, visiting various shops. I bought some shoes and souvenirs.

Sky bought some sandals from this nice man who was happy to pose for me.

Sky bought some sandals from this nice man who showed us how he made them.

Who knew I needed blue slippers!

Who knew I needed blue slippers!

We could see the minaret and initially using that as a reference we thought that we could just walk in one direction and end up at the rampart wall and then walk until we came to our riad.  Silly plan.  The sun soon set and any chance of navigating using the minaret dissolved as everything above the walls of the labyrinth faded with the last light of the day.  Nevertheless, I was enjoying the exotic sights and smells. There were tables piled high with dates, apricots, mint and herbs. Colorful stores lined the streets filled with leather shoes, scarves and pottery. IMG_9312There were carts with baskets of aromatic spices (would have been more appealing without the many flies). Vendors called to us as we walked inviting us to sample their foods or try on traditional flowing robes.  The colors were intoxicating. I was fully enjoying the experience but as it grew darker and we tried to orient ourselves I became a bit nervous.  Walking in one direction was actually impossible as every road twisted and turned almost imperceptibly until we were not sure which direction we were going. Deeper into the medina the shops became less touristy and the people more local. I had read that a compass would have been useful, I later remembered that my iPhone had a compass but I didn’t think of it at the time. The girls began to worry that their parents were lost and Savvy started to cry. Despite the dark alleyways, I never really felt unsafe. There were children playing around every corner and friendly locals stopped to offer directions.  Just take the second left and then you will be on the correct street… Finally we stopped at a newsstand and the man directed us to a teenaged boy who offered to lead us home. I read that this is what everyone ends up doing when lost in the medina and since a taxi is not possible we followed the boy deeper into the tangle of passages. Soon we recognized a shop where we had bought ice cream earlier in the day and I paid the boy 100 dirhams (12$) which is what my tour book recommended.  We were so relieved to be welcomed home by Youseff. He made us tea and by midnight we were asleep only 18 hours after we had left Spain! As I was tucking the girls into bed they asked how many days we had been in Morocco. I answered just one day but it already felt like 2 or 3.

Stay tuned for Morocco part 2… Please send comments! I love to know who is reading this!

 

 

Team Kezmoh goes to Granada

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November 2013 ALHAMBRATeam Kezmoh goes to Granada and picks up our second visitor!

Our friend Carolina arrived on the train in Granada. You may recall from previous posts that Carolina is the young woman from Sevilla, una sevillana, who came to stay with us in California last summer.  In November she was on break from the Universidad de Sevilla where she is studying education.  After her stay with us last summer Carolina became part of our family so we were very excited that she made the 3 hour train trip to visit us. We picked her up at the train station in Granada. There seems to be endless construction in the center of town so we drove in circles until we were all dizzy. We finally parked the car and walked to the train station.  Lovely Caro was waiting for us on the steps. The girls ran to hug her, happy to see her smiling face. From the train station we walked to the Plaza de los Toros where we had lunch at El Coso which is a lovely place located literally under the bleachers of the bull-fighting stadium.  We are not fans of bull-fighting so this was as close as we will make it to a bull fight. The service and the food were exceptional. Our waiter was really funny and left a lasting impression with the girls.

El Coso in the Plaza de Toros

El Coso in the Plaza de los Toros

Beautifully presented dishes

Beautifully presented dishes

Sea Bass

Sea Bass

After lunch we snaked up switch-backs to our hotel, La Hostel Ninfa in the Realejo neighborhood of Granada.

Hostal La Ninfa

Hostal La Ninfa. Notice the big ceramic Pomegranate, a “Granada”. Granada literally means pomegranate and images of pomegranates are everywhere

I chose the hotel for it’s proximity to the Alhambra and the cool pictures of the facade on the internet. It was not easy to find but using the GPS we managed.  It is owned by a German woman and her Moroccan husband who is an artist.  It is decorated inside and out with painted ceramic plates and stars.  We had a lovely view of the sunset when we arrived. That night we paid the price in sleep deprivation for being close to tourist sights and restaurants with noisy people and cars in the streets below. The best part of Hostal La Ninfa was a surprise. There was a great park across the street. The kids never wanted to leave and any future outing had to include a stop at the park before and after.

Thanks to Carolina for the cool pictures!

Thanks Carolina for these cool pictures!

woo whooo!

woo hooo!

In the morning we had breakfast at a little restaurant across the plaza called El Campo del Principe.

Churros and tostada con tomate for breakfast

Churros and tostada con tomate for breakfast

By the Christmas tree after breakfast

By the Christmas tree after breakfast

Mike, Carolina, Sky, Savvy and I hiked up a very steep hill to the Alhambra.  I was thankful  that the girls were fit and old enough to walk because it was not long ago that we would have been carrying them up a hill like this.

The walk from the Albacín up to the Alhambra

The walk from the Albaicín up to the Alhambra

The Alhambra is considered an obligatory tourist attraction on a visit to Granada. It is the most visited tourist attraction in Spain and has more than 2 million visitors/year.

Ready to see the Alhambra

Ready to see the Alhambra

It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. The Alhambra is one of the best preserved Arabic palaces of its time.  It was finished around 1333 during the Nasrid dynasty. The Moors enjoyed a peaceful reign until 1492 when Queen Isabel I and King Ferdinand ordered an invasion. When the Catholic monarchs conquered Granada they ended 8 centuries of Arab rule in the Iberian Peninsula. After 1492 the Alhambra was used by the Christian rulers.  It fell into disrepair a century later and was at times inhabited by vagrants and was even used as soldiers’ barracks during Napoleonic times. The American author, Washington Irving, who wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and who is famous for his travels in Spain lived in the Alhambra.  During his time in the Alhambra, he was inspired to write his book, The Tales of the Alhambra in 1829.

A plaque in Washington Irving's room at the Alhambra

“Washington Irving wrote his Tales of the Alhambra in these rooms in the year 1829”                                                            A plaque in Washington Irving’s room at the Alhambra

To get the most out of our visit to the Alhambra we scheduled a guided tour.  We wore headphones so we could hear our guide while he walked ahead.  He was very knowledgeable but seemed to be giving the tour more for his own performance than for the group’s benefit.

Carolina and Sky with our guide

See what I mean?  Carolina, Savannah and Sky with our guide

Explaining the courtyard of the lions

Beautiful architecture

The intricate interiors of the Alhambra are amazing. 

Under Islamic law, no depictions of living beings (people, plants or animals) were allowed.  Instead, the walls and ceilings are covered with symbolic, geometrical patterns, as well as verses from the Koran.  

 

Decorated with geometric patterns

Decorated with geometric patterns and Arabic phrases

There are eight-pointed stars, representing the convergence of heaven and earth wherever one looks.  Once we learned about this, the 8 pointed stars were like “hidden Mickeys” and we found them everywhere. The Alhambra was built with wood, plaster and brick.  Interestingly ,these materials were chosen not to last, implying humility before Allah.  This was also the reason for the intentional occasional gap or irregularity in the design, since aspiring to perfection was considered blasphemous.

A ceiling once painted multiple colors

The ceiling was once painted multiple colors

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThe view of Granada from the Alhambra is amazing around every turn.

Mike with his tour guide headphones

Mike with his tour guide headphones

My favorite view :)

My favorite view 🙂

Granada

Granada

Carolina, Leslie and Savvy

Carolina, Leslie and Savvy

Within and around the palaces the gardens are endless. They have an amazing system of irritation that dates back to the construction of the Alhambra.  IMG_5745

 

Sky

Sky

Team Kezmoh at the Alhambra

Team Kezmoh at the Alhambra

Beautiful walkways

Beautiful walkways

The Alhambra tour was beautiful but exhausting and by the end we were ready for a rest.  We hiked back down the hill, stopped, of course, at the park…  My idea of resting and Sky and Savvy’s is not the same! SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

 

 

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We had dinner at our hotel’s pizzeria restaurant across the square.

Cool ceramics everywhere

Cool ceramics everywhere

It had the same decor as the hotel which was more interesting than the food.  The girls had a lot of fun taking pictures.IMG_5713 IMG_5707

Team Kezmoh, eating again

Team Kezmoh, eating again

The next day we explored the Parque de las Ciencias which was highly recommended for children.  Einstein was sitting out front so we paused to pose for a picture with him.

Savannah and Sky with Albert

Savannah and Sky with Albert

The Parque de las Ciencias is huge. Our favorite section was el viaje del cuerpo humano (the voyage through the human body)  which included really cool stuff like a video of a live human birth.

Very cool for kids to see a birth

Very cool for kids to see a birth. Sky decided to skip it.

There were exhibits of other animals as well. Savannah really liked the preserved hearts.  There was a preserved whale heart next to a tiny human heart.

Whale heart!

Whale heart!

I especially liked the exhibit of the smoker lung compared to the healthy lung.  Outside there was a mariposario (butterfly house) which was a bit of a disappointment compared to the butterfly park that we visited in Benalmádena near Malaga.  However, we love all butterfly parks so it was a mandatory stop for us.  There were outside gardens, a giant chess board, Marie Curie, and lots of activities for the kids. We spent the entire day there and only saw a fraction of the place.

Savvy, not thrilled to be posing with one the most famous female scientists of all time.

Savvy, not thrilled to be posing with one the most famous female scientists of all time.

Cool activities

Cool activities

Carolina photographing the butterflies

Carolina photographing the butterflies

Stick Bugs

Mike checking out the Stick Bugs

In this exhibit everyone felt small.

In this exhibit everyone felt small.

 

We explored Granada on our way back to the hotel.  We were hungry so I checked Trip Advisor and found a recommended Mexican restaurant.  Team Kezmoh and Carolina love Mexican food!

Leslie, Savvy, Carolina, Sky and Mike waiting for our burritos. Does the wall look familiar to anyone! Love it!

Leslie, Savvy, Carolina, Sky and Mike waiting for our burritos. Does the wall look familiar to anyone?  Love it!

We found Chile Grande Cantina Mexicana, a little bit of Mexico in the heart of Granada and we were not disappointed.

Ole!

Ole!

We had Coronas with lime, chips, guacamole and burritos.  We stayed until they closed for their break before dinner (which in Spain starts at 8pm). Carolina posed with the cool waitstaff on their way home outside.

Carolina posing with the staff of Chile Grande Cantina Mexicana

Carolina posing with the staff of Chile Grande Cantina Mexicana

We passed the rest of the evening playing at the park outside of the hotel. In the morning we headed back to Alhama de Granada.

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Spinning round and round and round with crazy hair!!!!!

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Silly girls on the swings.

It was a full weekend! Luckily Carolina stayed for the rest of the week so the girls were able to give her a tour of our pueblo. She stayed with them while we had our adventure to Nerja (see previous post).

If anyone has questions about visiting Granada with kids feel free to send me a comment. By the time I send this I will have been back several times.

Christmas in Paris

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Christmas in Paris
Christmas in the City of Light!

Christmas in the City of Light!

Christmas in Paris

Christmas in Paris!

Our family, Team Kezmoh, had been planning a trip to Spain since before Sky and Savannah were born. We have been talking about the adventure for many years.  Although spending a year in Spain had been a dream for Mike and me, it was not really Savannah and Sky’s first choice for 4th and 6th grade. With that in mind, we thought that if there was anything that they really wanted to do in Europe we were going to do our best to make it happen. I am not sure what first inspired Savannah, but she has been talking about spending Christmas in Paris for as long as I can recall. Therefore, we had to make a trip to the City of Light!

In this post I plan to tell the story about our visit to Paris for family and friends.   However, to make it a little more interesting I will include fun facts about the places we visit and hopefully some will learn from our experiences and/or mistakes for their own voyage to this lovely city!

Getting There:  We flew from Malaga, Spain and found a flight which was surprisingly inexpensive.  One thing  I’ve learned is that if something is unusually cheap there is often a reason.  We flew on Ryan Air which has an excellent safety record and a reputation for their low prices.  We were informed that there was a strict baggage allowance so we were careful to only pack small carry-on bags.  We also, luckily, learned that one must arrive early to cue up to get on the plane in order to get seats together.  We paid a fee to have seats pre-assigned which was really worth it as the plane was completely full and the seats were smaller than usual. There are 3 airports that serve Paris.  Charles de Gaulle (CGD), Orly (ORY) and  Beauvais Tille (BVA). We flew into BVA which, after I made the reservation, Mike pointed out was actually closer to Brussels than Paris!  I then later read on tripadvisor.com that one should never fly to BVA unless there is no other choice. No wonder it was cheap!

Ready to fly!

Ready to fly!

A coke can with Miguel on the side!

A coke can with Miguel on the side!

Security in Malaga was interesting. Savannah wrote about it in her journal so this memory is thanks to her.  Sky and Savannah are expert travelers.  They know not to bring liquids or sharp objects and are quick to remove their iPads from their backpacks and their boots from their feet. Savannah watched as the security woman pulled her backpack off of the conveyor belt. She thoroughly checked it and found Savvy’s school pencil pouch.  She opened it and found scissors that had been forgotten.  We watched as she carefully, very seriously, inspected them and then zipped them back into the pouch and returned the backpack  to us.  Savannah also watched her pull a large bottle of lotion out of a woman’s bag, open it, rub some on her hands and return it to the owner.  Sensible security, I say.  No one is going to die from lotion or safety scissors (We did, however, lose the scissors at airport security on the way home from London).

We arrived at BVA after ten in the evening so we knew that public transportation was not an option. We booked a private shuttle online before we left Spain.  In retrospect it would have been better to fly to CGD so that we could take the metro. C’est la vie.. Late at night it was better to be driven right to our door. Well sort of…

As I mentioned, we arrived to BVA late. Our shuttle driver met us outside of customs with a sign with our name on it. We introduced ourselves, he grabbed one of the bags and we had to scurry to keep up with him to the car. He informed us that he was from Sri Lanka but had lived in Paris for 20 years.  He seemed to speak English but could not respond to questions like “what is your name?”.  Unfortunately for the family of motion sick travelers he had a nauseating style of driving.  He constantly pumped the gas pedal giving the feeling that the car was constantly slowing or lurching forward.  We asked him to stop doing it but he didn’t seem to understand. We also got the definite impression that he could not see well.   Although the speed limit was 120km/hr, he drove along slowly in the right lane between 80-100km/hr.  Cars sped past us as we rocked slowly along to Paris.  When we got to Paris he turned on his portable GPS and placed it over the speedometer which did not inspire confidence. We finally reached the address according to the GPS.  He pulled up to a corner and told us that we were at our destination and that we should get out.  Near the corner there were young men milling about and the police were questioning them.  I told him that we were not getting out of the car until I could see the entrance to the apartment complex. (Meanwhile Mike was preparing to vomit in the front seat if he had to endure any more of his terrible driving.) I called Monique, our apartment hostess, who told us that she would come outside to help us find our way.  Our driver reversed his car down the one-way street.  Just as I spotted Monique, the police became very interested in our taxi.  We got out to unload the luggage, the police came over to us and started asking our driver for his registration and taxi license. I tried to pay the taxi driver but the police officer told me (in English) that the driver might not be legal and that we should not pay him.  Our driver looked very upset.  Although it was a terrible trip from the airport he did pick us up in the middle of the night and did drive us over an hour to Paris so I felt like I needed to pay him regardless.

Thankfully, Monique appeared to rescue us. She was lovely and very fancy as we were soon to learn is a theme in Paris.  Everything is fancy: the way they speak, the way they dress, the buildings, the parks, and even the entrances to the metro are fancy!  Monique, in her fashionable clothes spoke to us in English with a lovely, fancy, French accent and offered to take the girls upstairs away from the group of young men leering at us and the police interrogation. The girls were exhausted and happy to follow her into the warm building.  As soon as they disappeared I began to panic. Who turns their children over to a complete stranger as soon as they arrive in a new city? The police, finally satisfied with what’s his name’s papers, allowed me to pay him and they both left.  Mike and I stood outside for a long 2 minutes while we waited for Monique to reappear.  She welcomed us with kisses and led us up to her apartment on the 27th floor.  The girls were already relaxing on the sofa having a drink in the beautifully decorated apartment. Monique gave us a tour and showed us how everything worked.  Monique could give lessons on the perfect holiday rental! She had truly thought of everything. The apartment was well equipped with all of the normal appliances but she also had a milk steamer, an electric teapot, an automatic coffee maker, washing machine and dryer and an excellently stocked kitchen.  She showed us the refrigerator that already had fresh milk, eggs, orange juice, butter, jam, macaroons (little cookies) and what else in France? Champagne!  She showed us the bedrooms. Both had views of the Eiffel Tower which was about 4 miles away.  It was lit up for Christmas and sparkled in the distance. Savannah has been drawing pictures of the Eiffel tower for years and chose the side of the bed with the best view so she could go to sleep and wake up looking at the Tower.  We were getting ready for bed and the girls called us into their room.  It was midnight and the Tower was not only lit up, but the lights danced up and down the length of the magical structure.  It was a perfect end to a very long day of traveling.

Our view

Our view from Savvy’s window

Where to stay:  The first thing I learned making reservations for accommodations was that Paris is divided into 20 districts or arrondissements.  Paris is situated on the River Seine (pronounced “sane”, rhymes with chain). The arrondissements are arranged in a clockwise spiral starting at the middle of the city. The first is on the North bank of the Seine and this is where the Louvre is found. The Eiffel Tower is in the 7th arrondissement. Generally the lower the number, the more expensive the hotel will be. We stayed in an apartment in the 13th arrondissement and although we weren’t within walking distance to the major attractions there was a metro stop a very short walk away so we never felt far from anything, well, except the airport.  

Getting around in Paris: If you stay near the Seine it is probably possible to walk to the majority of the sights but, for most people, especially those with children, the metro is the best option.  There are two train lines, the metropolitan (metro) and the RER.  The metro runs from 5am-12:30am.  There are stops everywhere.  We found that wherever we were, we could walk in almost any direction, and within a couple of blocks we would bump into a stop. Tickets can be purchased singly, in books of 10, or as day passes that are unlimited 1,2,3 and 5 days. There is also Le Paris viste passes which offer unlimited travel in certain zones and discounts to some attractions.  We didn’t want to be limited to zones and figured that we would probably only ride twice daily so we bought our tickets in 10 packs which for our purposes turned out to be cheaper.  The RER line is faster and has fewer stops than the metro. It costs more if you leave zones 1 or 2.  My best advice to navigate the subway system in Paris is the “Paris metro app” which can be downloaded to your phone.

Our first morning we were excited to explore the city.  Monique had a good supply of Paris guides on her bookshelf so I grabbed Rick Steves’ Paris and we were off.  The book recommended that we start where the city began, on the River Seine.  Mike is a University of Notre Dame alumnus so we could not miss the Notre-Dame Cathedral and we planned to make it our first stop.  Our apartment building had an indoor shopping mall beneath it. We walked through the mall and found the Place ‘d Italie metro stop just outside.

Place d' Italie

Place d’ Italie

Our first impressions of Paris, although cold and rainy, were of the grandness of the place.

Savvy, Sky and Mike on the River Seine

Savvy, Sky and Mike on the River Seine

Sky taking pictures

Sky taking pictures

Walking along the Seine we were surrounded by other tourists armed with maps, tour books and cameras. We met a nice family from Indiana on the street and walked with them to Notre-Dame Cathedral where we took turns snapping photos of each other’s families as we exchanged travel stories.

Notre-Dame Cathedral

Notre-Dame Cathedral

Notre-Dame was built between 1163-1345.  It is on the Île de la Citè, an island in the Seine, in the 4th arrondissement of Paris.   Entrance is free, they just asked that we remove our hats.  It is amazingly impressive to enter the cathedral.  Above the entrance on the western side are 28 biblical kings (see photo below).  In 1793 during the French Revolution they were mistakenly thought to be the kings of France.  Story has it that the people stormed the cathedral shouting “off with their heads” and beheaded the 28 kings. Many of the heads were rediscovered in 1977 during an excavation and are now on display at the Musee de Cluny.  At some point all of the heads were replaced with replicas.  We were sure to check this out.

28 kings, yep they all have their heads

28 kings, yep they all have their heads

So much history had passed through the doors that we walked through. Despite the hundreds of visitors, it was very quiet. The light coming through the stained glass windows casted an ethereal glow.  It was interesting to learn that the original windows had been destroyed by stray bullets during WW II. They were replaced with the modern geometrical patterns that we saw. Before WW II the windows were depictions of scenes from the Bible.

The Rose Window

The Rose Window

Mike looking very pious

Mike looking rather pious

Notre-Dame is famous for housing the “Crown of Thorns”. Unfortunately it is only on display the first Friday of each month and on certain holidays so we didn’t get to see it.

In 1804 Napoleon invited Pope Pius VII to come to Paris to crown him emperor in the Notre-Dame Cathedral. At the last minute, however, Napoleon seized the crown from the pope’s hands and crowned himself.

There he his Napoleon crowning himself!

There he is, Napoleon crowning himself!

Throughout the walk through the cathedral there are candles that can be lit in honor of a loved one.  We lit a candle for our friend Mark who has been sick.

Lighting a candle for Mark Shelton

Lighting a candle for Mark Shelton

Notre-Dame has a really cool tower to climb that was recommended by my tour book and by the nice family from Indiana.  Unfortunately after 2 hours in the cathedral…

Getting tired, yawn...

Getting tired…

There was a very long line in the rain for the privilege to pay to climb the tower so we decided that it was time for a break. We had also planned to make it to Sainte-Chapelle, but alas, when traveling with little ones we had to remember that it is important not to torture the children for the sake of seeing all of the sights.

***Cool tip***There is a really nice park that has free wifi behind Notre-Dame, (on the east side of the cathedral ).  This was a great find for bored kids and parents in need of trip advisor’s advice for a good restaurant. Sky and Savannah played with the French children while we sipped Vin Chaud (hot wine, very bad) and Chocolat Chaud (hot chocolate, very good). 

Captain Kezmoh and the East Side of Notre-Dame Cathedral

Captain Kezmoh and the East Side of Notre-Dame Cathedral, the flying buttress

Chocolat Chaud, yum

Chocolat Chaud, yum

Swinging in the park

Sky swinging in the park

Cool park!

Cool park!

With the help of tripadvisor.com we found Sorza, a lovely little restaurant on Rue Saint-Louis on the Île de la Citè.

Sorza

Sorza

We all enjoyed a delicious meal. I had soufflé and French wine, what else for our first dinner in France?

Cheers!

Cheers!

After dinner we walked down the lovely, and very fancy Rue Saint-Louis.  We browsed the shops and admired the simplest  things that were unusually lovely and a sometimes a little scary in Paris.

Do those chickens still have feathers on their wings?

Do those chickens still have feathers on their wings?

yikes!

yikes!

Mike and the girls enjoyed French ice cream despite the cold.

French ice cream!

French ice cream!

Rue Saint Louis

Rue Saint Louis

A rainbow of french scarves.

A rainbow of french scarves.

Ahh Paris..

Ahh Paris..

Rue Saint Louis

Lovely Rue Saint Louis

The next day was Christmas Eve.  We wanted to visit the Musee d’Orsay and were thrilled to find that it was open. There is an RER stop right outside the museum but we were interested in exploring a bit on the way so we chose a metro stop on the other side of the river.  It was raining and we were happy to see that lovely Monique had supplied us with umbrellas. We climbed out of the metro at the edge of the Jardin des Tuileries.  The Jardin des Tuileries was originally the vision of Queen Catherine de Medicis.  She modeled the gardens after those of her native Florence.  The area where the gardens were constructed was once occupied by workshops called tuileries where tiles for roofs and buildings were made, thus the name. There is much history in this beautiful place and although it was raining I could imagine that on a warm sunny day it must be packed with people, vendors and artists.  Monet, Renoir, Manet and so many artists have painted images of this famous garden.

Monet Le Jardin des tuileries

Monet
“Le Jardin des Tuileries”

Manet La Musique aux Tuilieries

Manet “La Musique de Tuileries”

We had to cross the river Seine to get to the Musee d’Orsay and I had no idea what we were about to stumble upon on the bridge. We crossed under the street to the pedestrian bridge through a tunnel. We could see a couple sitting on the stairs in the shelter of the tunnel near the bridge. They were sitting apart from each other writing on locks.  We were about to cross the famous love-lock bridge.  Paris, the most romantic city in the world, has 2 bridges where couples write their names on a lock, lock it to the bridge, then throw the key in the River Siene.  This locks their relationship and unless one can find the key at the bottom of the river they will be in love forever. One must be very careful which bridge you put your lock on because Pont des Arts is for your committed love, while Pont de l’Archevêché is for your lover. We were crossing Pont des Arts.

Pont de Arts "Love lock bridge"

Pont de Arts
“Love lock bridge”

I glanced over the man’s shoulder as we walked by. He was writing “Will you marry me?” on his lock!  How romantic! We glanced back a couple of times but didn’t want to intrude.   As it turned out we ran into the same couple in a gift shop later.  I recognized them and couldn’t resist getting the story. It turns out that they are from Las Vegas. He proposed and, of course, she accepted.  They were happy to tell their story, pose for pictures and accept hugs from Team Kezmoh.

Beshad and Tuan Engaged on the Love Lock Bridge A beautiful an happy couple

Beshad and Tuan
Engaged on the Love Lock Bridge
A beautiful and happy couple

Wow, that's a diamond

Wow, that’s a diamond!

We never did get to the Musee D’Orsay that day, the line in the rain was too long.  We found that even in the rain exploring the side streets of Paris can be fun.  It was Christmas Eve so we ate Chinese food for dinner.

Christmas Eve Chinese Food, delish

Christmas Eve Chinese Food, delish

Christmas morning we awoke to sunshine and knew that this was the day get to the Eiffel Tower!

Sunshine on Christmas morning!

Sunshine on Christmas morning in Paris!

We opened presents that Santa brought in the night, had croissants for breakfast and got on the metro before most people were awake.

Santa brought Mike a little Eiffel Tower!

Santa brought Mike a little Eiffel Tower!

Big smiles!

Big smiles!

***cool tip*** There is an Eiffel Tower app that can be downloaded.  It gives a nice history and tour that can be listened to before or during your visit. 

The Eiffel Tower was named after engineer, Gustave Eiffel, who also designed the Statue of Liberty.  It opened to the public in 1889. It was the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair.  At the time it was the tallest human-made structure in the world.  It held the title until 1930 when the Chrysler Building was built.  The tower in person is much more impressive than I imagined. It is as high as an 81 story building.

View of the tower outside of the metro stop.

View of the tower outside of the metro stop.

Everyone takes lots of pictures!

Everyone takes lots of pictures!

Of course we wanted to climb to the top, no elevators for Team Kezmoh!  There are 3 observation levels.  One can take an elevator to each level or it is possible to climb the stairs from the ground to the second.  From the second observation deck  it is necessary to take an elevator. When we arrived the line for the elevator from the ground wound around like an amusement park line but the ticket office for the stairs was wide open! We bought our tickets and started climbing!  We took pictures from each level and just enjoyed being together on a sunny Christmas day in Paris.

Level 1

Level 1

Level 2

Level 2: The first candy canes we have found in Europe!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Laura and Max, Americans traveling in Paris.   They let us borrow their sign!

Laura and Max, Americans traveling in Paris.
They let us borrow their sign!

Level 3, thankfully fully enclosed. It would be pretty cold up here!

Level 3, thankfully fully enclosed. It would be pretty cold up here!

From the Eiffel Tower we found a park and ate crepes while we admired the tower.

A park in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower

A park in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower

Popcorn!

Popcorn!

Crepes!

Crepes!

We always find a park!

We always find a park!

One thing that impressed us was that around any corner you might find an enormous building with cannons out front and friendly guards. SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Friendly guards!

Friendly guards!

I "heart" Mom!  Thanks Sky and Savvy!

I “heart” Mom!
Thanks Sky and Savvy!

After a full day of exploring we had a lovely dinner back home in our cool Paris apartment.

Merry Christmas!  Tortellinis and Champagne!

Merry Christmas!
Tortellinis and Champagne!

December 26, first order of business: buy a Paris Museum Pass.  If you plan to visit any museums in Paris I highly recommend the Paris museum pass.  It will save you literally hours of waiting in lines.  It can be purchased at parismuseumpass.com before you leave home so that you don’t have to wait in a line for it when you arrive in Paris.  If you didn’t do this, like us, it can also be purchased at several places in Paris. They are listed on the website.  What makes the pass so cool is that it is a “fast pass”. The lines for the museums, as we learned on Christmas Eve, are daunting. Hundreds of people wait in serpentine lines in the rain for entry to see these famous landmarks.  With the Paris museum pass we just walked to the front, showed our pass and were admitted without a wait.  On to the Louvre!

Doesn't everyone who visits Paris have this picture in front of the Louvre

Doesn’t everyone who visits Paris have this picture in front of the Louvre?

One thing that is cool about the Louvre is that they allow cameras.  It is overwhelmingly huge so I asked family and friends if there was anything that one should not miss.  Everyone says the Mona Lisa.  Is that because the Mona Lisa is amazing or unlike anything you have ever seen? I think not, it is because everyone wants you to experience the chaos in the room in which Mona lives.  This is not a space for the claustrophobic or for anyone who likes to enjoy their art with quiet contemplation. Mona’s room is wall to wall tourists, cameras snapping and people pushing their way to the front.  Guess what we did when we found her?  Mike would have probably turned on his heel and left in a second, but Sky, Savannah and I were on a mission. We dove into the crowd, cameras at the ready!

Yep that is Mona, all alone on her own wall!

Yep that is Mona, all alone on her own wall!

Hard to get a good picture. Here are Sky and Savannah admiring her ladyship.

Hard to get a good picture. Here are Sky and Savannah admiring her ladyship.

We actually only visited one wing of the Louvre. One could plan a week to explore the whole place.  On the way to pay homage to Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa we passed a mind-blowing number of religious paintings.   The girls enjoyed the Latin American and African Art.

Reminds me of my brother Russell's rabbits.

Reminds me of my brother Russell’s rabbits.

oh my!

oh my!

Is this the weirdest sculpture of a breast feeding woman you have ever seen?

Is this the weirdest sculpture of a breast feeding woman that you have ever seen?

Remember the movie, The Night at the Museum.  Dum Dum actually lives in the Louvre!

Remember the movie, “The Night at the Museum”? 
Dum Dum actually lives in the Louvre!

Lunch, then next stop: Musée D’Orsay.

Good to escape a museum for some fresh French air.

Good to escape a museum for some fresh French air.

Crossing the Seine.

Crossing the Seine, the Musée D’Orsay in the background.

My advice: unless you like really big crowds and you don’t mind admitting that you skipped the Louvre when people ask you about your trip, skip the Louvre and just go to the Musee D’Orsay.  It is every bit as impressive, the crowds were more manageable and the art is really more agreeable.  The Musee D’Orsay is housed in a grand railway station built in 1900.

Musée D'Orsay

Musée D’Orsay

It had been completely abandoned in 1961. In 1978 it was saved from demolition by the French president, Pompidou.  It is the museum of 19th and 20th century art while the Louvre houses much older pieces. We love the impressionists and it was a huge hit for the entire family.  Sadly no pictures allowed inside. IMG_6599

Dec 27 Wow, 2 museums in one day left us really tired, but Sky and Savannah had their hearts set on some ice skating in front of the Hotel De Ville. The Hotel de Ville is not actually a hotel, it is city hall, an impressive city hall!

silly savvy skating

silly savvy skating

Catch me!

Catch me!

Skating at the Hotel De Ville, Paris

Skating at the Hotel De Ville, Paris

After skating we enjoyed some French churros and popcorn.

French churros?

French churros?

December 28: Travel day to London (a future post).  We thought that taking the Eurostar (super-fast train) from Paris to London would be fun.  As it turns out, it is shockingly expensive if purchased on short notice. We were able buy the tickets for a discount if we left from EuroDisney.  We didn’t have enough time to visit the park which was too bad, but we did have time to walk around Europe’s Downtown Disney.

Team Kezmoh visits EuroDisney!

Team Kezmoh visits EuroDisney!

Fancy candy store

Fancy candy store

Vin Chaud (hot wine) stand in Downtown Disney. One thing I haven't seen in Orlando or Anaheim!

Vin Chaud (hot wine) stand in Downtown Disney. One thing I haven’t seen in Orlando or Anaheim!

We ate in the Rainforest café and managed to get a coffee at Starbucks before we had to catch our train to London. We were happy to eat at the Rainforest café because there was no line and after a few months away from home it is really nice to visit some American spots!

Starbucks!

Starbucks!

Rainforest Cafe. Look, no line!

Rainforest Cafe. Look, no line!

 

Yumm! Hamburger!

Yumm! Hamburger!

Dad and Sky

Dad and Sky

Savvy and Mom

Savvy and Mom

Christmas in Paris was magical.  Everyone agreed that the Eiffel Tower was our favorite.  I also wouldn’t have wanted to miss the “Love-Lock bridge”.  Mike liked our cool high rise apartment. Savvy loved ice skating and crepes.  Sky loved the parks and art. We could have spent another week exploring but Team Kezmoh is off to London. We will be back to Paris for a summer visit some day soon.

Team Kezmoh goes to Sevilla

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Beautiful hills on the way to Sevilla

Beautiful hills on the way to Sevilla

This weekend we made our first out of town excursion to Sevilla. The girls came home from school on Friday at 2:00 PM. We had a quick lunch and piled into the car with our overnight bags, cameras and backpacks.  Sevilla is 200 km from Alhama.  As we drove west the rolling hills gave way to a flat plain.  We played a game translating the names of the towns and signs we passed using the Babylon app on my iphone.

Chicken Hill!

Chicken Hill!

We passed Cerro de la Gallina (“Chicken Hill”), Moron (“small hillock”), Cuesta Blanca (“White ridge with a steep slope on one side and a gradual slope on the other” sounds like a hill to me) and Cuesta de la Palma (Ridge with a steep slope… of the grove of palms).  Are you noticing a theme here?  There are so many ways to say hill in this language!  I typed hill into the translator and it gave me ten words that are different types of hills: cerro, lomo, colina, alcor, altillo, altozono, collado, cuesta, monte, riba, moron…  It was obviously very important when Spanish was developing to properly describe a hill because each of these words means something slightly different but basically they are all hills.  When we arrived at Llanos de Antequera (“large flat area of grassland where few trees grow of Antequera) we knew that we were out of the hills!  The flat plain was reminiscent of the Central Valley in California.  Driving on the A92 toward Sevilla looks so much like California’s I-5.  It is even complete with the Oleander flowers in the median.  I was trying to find out how to spell Oleander and Mike came across an interesting post on Flickr.  Robert Couse-Baker claims that the Oleander was once incorrectly thought to have been imported from the Mediterranean regions of Iberia (Spain) and Northern Africa.  However, it was actually found much earlier in North America by the first nation peoples who arrived and found meandering lines of Oleander.  It was called in various dialects “that useless plant that goes in long pointless lines to nowhere”. Out of some perverse curiosity people followed these long lines of plants leaving trails in the soil. These trails would later become trade routes and over time, they were overlaid by European settler roads and eventually the state highways we know today.  Not likely true, but funny just the same.

Spain or California?

Spain or California?

Sevilla is the capital of Andalucia and the 4th largest city in Spain with 1.5 million people in the metropolitan area.  According to myth Sevilla was founded 3000 years ago by the Greek God Hercules.  The Rio Guadalquivir runs through the city.  Sevilla Harbour is 50 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, and it is the only river port in Spain.  It was the most important trading port between Spain and the new world after Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492.

Sevilla, Andalucía,  España

Sevilla, Andalucía, España

Back to the adventures…We arrived in Sevilla before dark.  We checked into the Hotel Barcelo which is really quite nice.  The kids had a great time running around and exploring. There was a pool so they changed into their swimsuits.  When we got to the pool it was nearly empty but the girls were enthusiastic to swim.  They jumped in and jumped out, very cold.  We wrapped them in huge, fluffy blue towels and took the elevator back to the room. They played in the warm bathtub together to make up for not getting to swim much.  I consulted trip advisor and found a genuine Mexican restaurant that was highly recommended.   There had been a considerable amount of homesickness and we were wishing for some good black beans so real Mexican food was just what we needed.  The restaurant was difficult to find but very worth it.  We were greeted by the owner, Oscar, who is a young man from Oaxaca, Mexico.  He came to Sevilla 3 years ago for cooking school to learn to cook Al Andaluz.  Ironically, he stayed and opened La Cantina Mexicana and taught the Spanish to cook Oaxaca style. We drank Coronas and ate empanadas de verduras, fajitas and savored every bite of his wonderful refried black beans.  Mike’s tradition is to ask the waiter for their favorite thing on the menu.  Oscar brought him a dish called El Gringo. He said it was his favorite but I wasn’t sure if he was making fun of us.  Either way, Mike declared it delicious and ordered a second one.  We asked Oscar where he gets his beans.  Imported from Texas, of course!

Dig in Daddy!

Dig in Daddy!

IMG_4559

The best beans in Spain!

In Spain it is illegal to smoke inside any public place so we always choose to sit inside if we can.  It is still legal to smoke in an outdoor cafe but most smokers stand in the doorway so they can talk to their friends inside- not cool.  We already liked Oscar but when some cigarette smoke wafted by our table he smelled it too and scurried to the door to close it.  Ahh, a man after our own hearts!

IMG_4578

Savannah, Sky and Leslie on the Rio Guadalquivir

IMG_4586

Magical Sky at the koi pond

On Saturday we walked from the hotel to El Centro.  We walked along the Rio Guadalquivir on a bike path.  The path and the gardens along the water were all part of the renovations for the 1992 World Expo.  In 1992 Sevilla also celebrated the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ famous voyage.  There were lovely fountains, gardens and pools of water that must have been spectacular at one time.  The area has been sadly neglected in recent times.   The pools had murky water with small koi fish gasping for air.  The fountains were not working and the flowers were crowded with weeds, but one could still feel the magic of the past in this place.

We crossed La Puente de la Cartuja admiring the long, colorful  lines of kayakers out for their morning exercise.

From the Puente de la Cartuja: Kayakers on the Rio Guadalquivir

From La Puente de la Cartuja: Kayakers on the Rio Guadalquivir

By the time we made it to the center of town everyone was exhausted.  We stopped at the first Starbucks we had seen in 3 months.  We ordered our favorite drinks and sunk into familiar chairs for a rest.

Ahh, Vanilla Steamer!

Ahh, Vanilla Steamer!

So tired

So tired

Team Kezmoh at Starbucks in Sevilla!

Team Kezmoh at Starbucks in Sevilla!

We watched the parade of tourists on the street and played “guess where they are from”.

From Starbucks we walked past La Catedral de Santa Maria, officially the largest cathedral  in the world by volume.  It is 3rd by actual size after St. Paul’s at the Vatican and St. John’s in London.

There was a fancy wedding and we admired the brightly festooned guests who stood on the stairs.

Wedding goers in Sevilla

Wedding goers in Sevilla

Past the cathedral a line of horse drawn carriages stood, their drivers lazily glanced down at us as we approached.  When I was a student in Spain I romantically imagined returning with my children who would beg to go for a ride.  Sky pretended to be interested but as it turned out I was really the only one interested in a carriage ride.  No one else really cared about the carriage ride but agreed to indulge me.  The carriage sped down the busy streets with the cars.  We glimpsed monuments going by.   We passed the Torre del Oro one of the most recognizable features in Sevilla.

Torre del Oro

Torre del Oro

It is a 13th century Almohad watchtower by the river.  In the distant past it was covered in golden tiles and was once used to store the treasures brought back from the Americas.  Even then it was more than 500 years old!  Hard for me to imagine coming from a country who only just celebrated it’s bicentennial during my lifetime.  Today there is a small museum inside.  We also passed the Antigua Fabrica de Tabacos an enormous building which is now the Universidad de Sevilla.  Our tour ended in the Parque Maria Luisa where I once spent many hours running and sitting in the shade of the enormous elms and Mediterranean pine trees.

Sunny day in Sevilla!  Not really any other kind!

Sunny day in Sevilla! Not really any other kind!

Parque Maria Luisa

Parque Maria Luisa

Carriage ride in the Parque Maria Luisa

Carriage ride in the Parque Maria Luisa

There were beautiful canopies of trees, brilliant flowers, fountains and Sky and Savannah’s favorite – playstructures!

Parks are the best no matter where you are in the world!

Parks are the best no matter where you are in the world!

Daddy is so strong!

Daddy is so strong!

Beautiful Savannah

Beautiful Savannah

Sky defies gravity!

Sky defies gravity!

The park dates back to the mid 1800’s but luckily the play structures are most certainly from this century.  The park originally was the garden of the Palace of San Telmo.  Princess Maria Luisa Fernanda left the gardens to the city of Sevilla when she died in 1897.

Inside the park is The Plaza de Espana, my favorite site in Sevilla.

Plaza de Espana

Plaza de Espana

From Google Images

From Google Images

Beautiful Tiles

Beautiful Tiles

It was built in 1929 for the Exposicion Iberoamerica.  It features beautiful Sevillana tiles. There are tiles with maps and historical scenes for each Spanish province.   A canal runs the length of the building and for 5 Euros you can rent a little boat to row in the moat.

Savannah and Sky checking out the fish in the canal around Plaza de Espana

Savannah and Sky checking out the fish in the canal around Plaza de Espana

In the center there is a huge fountain where we posed for some photos.

Team Kezmoh in La Plaza de Espana

Team Kezmoh in La Plaza de Espana

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Savannah, Sky and an Arco Iris

We visited Sevilla on the Dia de la Raza (Columbus Day),  a Spanish national holiday, so the plaza was significantly more crowded than usual.  There was a contest going on in the plaza for the best tasting jamon.  Participants and judges tasted the entered pig legs and voted for the most flavorful. We were there as they announced the winners of the best HAM in Andalucia.  Have I mentioned the Spanish obsession with jamon in the past?

Checking out the ukeleles

Checking out the ukeleles

Cool trinkets!

Cool trinkets!

Vendors lined up in front of the Plaza de Espana selling brightly colored scarves, dresses, fans and magnets.  We bought fresh roasted chestnuts, which we peeled and ate. They tasted similar to potatoes.

Carolina, our friend/Au Pair who stayed with us in California this summer met us in the park just in time for a ride on a cool family bike.  We rode around under a canopy of green trees and Caro pointed out her favorite spots to play as a child.

In front of Plaza de los Americas

In front of Plaza de los Americas

Our next stop was the Festival de las Naciones which is celebrated for a month in Sevilla.  There were vendors selling everything from olives, hacky sac balls to wooden flutes (we bought each of these items! ). There were food stands representing France, India, Mexico, South Africa, the US and many more.  Sky chose a vegetarian samosa from India.  She announced that it was good but not as good as Ishani’s mom’s samosas!  Mike, Savvy and I ate in Mexico and drank wine from France.

La Bandera de Sevilla

La Bandera de Sevilla

No me a dejado

No me ha dejado

The girls noticed that all around Sevilla there is the symbol NO8DO.  It is like a hidden Mickey in Disney World.  If you don’t know to look for them you might miss them, but when we started paying attention the symbol was everywhere.  “NO8DO” is the official motto of Sevilla. It is even on the flag.  It is popularly believed to be a rebus signifying “No me ha dejado”. The 8 in the middle is supposed to be a loop of wool, a “madeja”.  Literally the meaning is:  “Sevilla has not abandoned me”.  However the feeling is that Sevilla is a city that will always stay with you.  Sevilla is a magical place and it is true that once one spends some time there it will stay with you always.

Artesania Alfaro

Artesania Alfaro

Barrio Santa Cruz

Barrio Santa Cruz

We made our way through the tangle of winding streets in the Barrio Santa Cruz.  We admired the beautiful tiles and I stopped to buy pottery in a store so colorful I could live there.

Metropol Parasol "Las Setas"

Metropol Parasol
“Las Setas”

Savvy on top of Las Setas

Savvy on top of Las Setas

Sky and a Spanish sunset from the top of Sevilla

Sky and a Spanish sunset from the top of Sevilla

We emerged from the narrow streets at Sevilla’s newest attraction, The Metropol Parasol.  It was opened in 2011 and was built by German architect Jurgen Mayer-Hermann.  It looks a bit like a honeycomb or a flying waffle.  It is in the Plaza de la Encarnacion and the Sevillanos think it looks like mushrooms, thus the local nickname “Las Setas de la Encarnacion” (The mushrooms of the Encarnacion).  We took the elevator to the top of Las Setas . We strolled the walkway under the purple and orange Sevillana sunset. The panoramic view of the city was breathtaking.  We took a deep breath of Sevilla and agreed it was a full day.

Team Kezmoh from the top of Metropol Parasol

Team Kezmoh from the top of Metropol Parasol

We had a short break back at the hotel and then went to the home of Carolina’s family for dinner.  Carolina’s father, Jeff is originally from Singapore and her mother, Ana is a native Sevillana.  They met at BYU in Utah where they both attended college.  Her parents were kind and welcoming.  They hugged and kissed us as if we were part of the family already.  Sadly her elderly grandfather had died the day before and the funeral had been earlier in the day.  We felt awkward coming for dinner under the circumstances but Jeff assured us that our visit was a welcome distraction.  He had prepared a delicious Chinese meal. He scooped us delicious rice from his giant rice cooker. We ate tofu and vegetables and ginger chicken. It was our first Asian food in Spain and it was wonderful!  We all agreed that the dinner with the Koh family was our favorite part of the day.

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Carolina and her brothers with Sky and Savvy

Jeff and Ana

Jeff and Ana

We slept late Sunday morning and the girls did their homework in the hotel room.  Carolina came over at noon to walk over to Isla Magica with us.  Isla Magica is Sevilla’s pirate themed amusement park.  No one told us to have a magical day like at Disneyland, but it was a fun day just the same.  October is the end of the season for Isla Magica so it was nearly empty.

Does it get any better than this?

Does it get any better than this?

The 3D show!

The 3D show!

Las Llamas

Las Llamas

Las Ranas

Las Ranas

The Iguana

Iguazu!

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We never waited more than 10 minutes to get on a ride so the girls rode every ride, several times!  Our favorite was “La Anaconda”, a water roller coaster.  It had no line at all and we must have ridden it at least 5 times.   We discovered where the camera was and planned our poses.  We laughed and laughed at our sleeping pose.  If felt good to laugh so hard.

So Scary!

So Scary!

Sleeping!

Sleeping!

Sky and Savannah

Sky and Savannah

Savannah and Carolina

Savannah and Carolina

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Sky and Daddy

At the gift shop Sky and Savvy choose to make a stuffed animal for their souvenirs.

Making the animals

Making the animals

Sky makes a cat, of course

Sky and her cat

Filling the blue bear!

Filling the blue bear!

Team Kezmoh

Team Kezmoh

We stayed until the park closed.  We drove Carolina home and got on the A92 back to Alhama in the dark.   The girls slept the whole way home snuggled up to their new stuffed animals.

Cimex Lectularius

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I debated with myself about posting this part of our adventure.   I still would like to have some visitors and I really don’t want to scare off our family and friends.  But it is part of the adventure and adventures are hazardous actions of uncertain outcome.

Bed bugs from Google Images

Bed bugs from Google Images

The morning after La Feria Sky came downstairs and told us that she had a ton of mosquito bites. She had bites all over her arms, face and back.  Savvy pointed out that she had some on her legs. It dawned on us that many of the bites were under where their clothes had been. The bites also looked too small to be mosquito bites. Then I noticed a patch of bumps on my legs. Mike started thinking and came up with the answer: bed bugs!  We looked up pictures on the internet of bed bug bites.  Bed bugs typically bite in groups of three evenly spaced bites. They are referred to as breakfast, lunch and dinner bites. Who knows why they do this but it makes them easy to identify. Sure enough most of Sky’s bites were in lines of 3 about an inch apart. Uuugh!

So Itchy!

So Itchy!

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Bed bug bites 😦

So, we were able to tolerate that La Casa Azul wasn’t actually blue, we were able to buy a vacuum, massacre hundreds of spiders, scrub cat poop off of the decks and bleach pretty much every surface of the bathrooms and kitchen.  We even removed all of the coverings from the moldy, smelly couches, washed them and hung them out to dry.  But bedbugs??? This is stretching even my strong wishes to make everything OK.  The Casa Azul had a great view and looked awesome in pictures but the internet is unfortunately not scratch and sniff!

Cleaning and cleaning

Cleaning and cleaning

We spent the next few hours researching ways to fight bed bugs.  Eventually we e-mailed our landlord.  He answered back, “I am sorry to hear about your problem”.  OUR PROBLEM? Now we were furious!  He insisted that no one else has ever complained about bed bugs and he personally had stayed at the house without any bites.  ( Mike’s note: our landlord rarely bathes, lives alone with his three dogs, and reeks of body odor- not sure that a bug would want to bite him ) He also was certain that bed bugs couldn’t be a problem in Spain, because he had not heard of that.  Surely we must have brought them from America, he suggested!  We did find plenty of articles about bed bugs in Spain and in every part of the world, civilized and not.  

We did learn a few things from our research.  First, it is not recommended to just move out or go to a hotel.  The bugs will surely follow.  It is also not recommended to bomb a house with pesticides.  Bombs don’t reliably kill the bugs and the bugs will go to the neighbors and eventually come back.  We wondered why we didn’t see the bites right away.  We first noticed the bites a bit more than week after our arrival.  It turns out this time course is actually typical.  The bumps are caused by a delayed immune response.  Unlike mosquito bites, to which we react to immediately, it takes some time for our bodies to react to the bed bug bites.  This is especially the case if it is one’s first exposure to the antigen (bed bug saliva).  This means that if a person only stays in a place for a day or two, they might not notice any bumps for up to 7-14 days.  This information was pretty horrifying as it meant that the bumps we could see were probably just the beginning.  They did get worse over the next week, but with our efforts to decrease the vermin population we only noticed a few new bites each day thereafter.  Another interesting fact is that up to 50% of people don’t respond at all to bed bug saliva.  Initially Mike had none.   I had a couple on my arms and legs and one on my chin (yuck).  My bites did continue to appear and eventually I went around in long sleeves.  Savannah had many on her arms but Sky, dear sensitive Sky, was covered.  At one point she had more than 12 bites on her face alone.  The good news is that although the bites are really gross and very very itchy, bed bugs do not carry disease.  In addition, unlike head lice, beg bugs do not live on their human hosts.  They prefer to live in the creases of mattresses and in cracks in the walls.  This made living in the Casa Azul pretty much impossible.  The walls were nothing but cracks.  The ceiling in our room was made of bamboo and thatch, great bug motels. We decided then that the bed bugs were the final straw.  We just could not stay in the Casa Pesadilla (Nightmare).  We started looking for a new place the next day.

As I write Mike is sitting next to me, he says that he is glad that I am the one who is writing because he wouldn’t be able to write about this without swearing a lot and suggests that I throw in a couple of F-bombs!

While we stayed at Casa Azul we did everything we could to decrease the population of the pests.  We ordered Diatomaceous Earth ( DE ) online which sounded very promising.  It is a naturally occurring sedimentary rock that is ground to a powder.  It is actually fossilized remains of a type of hard shelled algae that acts as a non-toxic insecticide that can be put on mattresses and around the bed.  It is deadly to the bugs because it dehydrates their exoskeletons.  The fine powder absorbs lipids (fats) from the waxy layer of the insects’ exoskeletons causing them to dehydrate. The arthropods die as a result of water pressure deficiency.  Unfortunately, the DE never came and by the time we contacted them to find out why, we already had a new place and a plan to move.  I may still try to get some DE for any trips to hotels to sprinkle around our stuff like garlic to ward off vampires!  We bought alcohol and a spray bottle as alcohol is supposed to kill the bugs on contact.  We sprayed dilute alcohol in every crack. We took the beds apart and completely doused the mattresses and bed frames with alcohol.  We sprayed the beds with permethrin (flea, lice, arthropod insecticide) that we bought from the veterinarian.  We put all of the bed legs in little bowls of baby oil as recommended on the internet. We also bought double-sided sticky tape and put it around the legs of the beds to catch any bug that might make it past the oil.  I became obsessed with inspecting the seams of the mattresses and studying the sticky tape.  We had a jeweler’s loop that my brother Russell had given to Sky and Savvy so we used that to study any bug dead or alive that we encountered.  We did catch quite a few little bugs but none that looked exactly like a bed bug. Very disturbing as we continued to get new bites until we moved.

The Casa Azul came with a washing machine but no dryer.  When we first arrived I was happy to carry the clothes up 4 flights of stairs to the roof to hang them in the sun.  However, as part of our exit strategy, we needed to assure ourselves that we didn’t bring bugs with us.  A dryer on high heat for 30 minutes will kill bed bugs at all stages of the life-cycle including the egg.  So, we drove to Granada and bought a clothes dryer to do battle with our tiny invaders.

Despite the rough start we wanted to stay in Alhama mainly because the school is really nice and this has been hard enough for the girls without having to change schools again.  We looked at many places in our search for a new home.  We looked at everything in town that was available.  In the end we traded interesting with a view for just plain clean.  Our new apartment is just down the street from the old place and it really is quite lovely.

Apartamentos Salmerones

Apartamentos Salmerones

Our new place is an old family home that was converted into 3 apartments.  We are on the middle floor. We have 3 clean bedrooms and unlike the Casa Azul, the ceilings and walls are all finished.

Entryway

Entryway

Living room

Living room

Sky and Savvy's room

Sky and Savvy’s room

On our first day in the new apartment Sky and Savannah spent hours in their new bedroom playing on their bunk beds, making forts and just relaxing.  It is really nice to see the girls playing on their beds without fear.

It was a lot of work but we wiped or sprayed everything that we moved to the new house with alcohol and dried everything in the dryer on high heat for at least 30 minutes.  We have been in Los Apartamentos Salmerones for a week.  Most of our bites are either gone or are scabbed over. I still wake up some nights worried that I feel something crawling on me but for the most part we are all feeling much more relaxed.  I no longer have the urge to bleach everything in sight but I do keep my spray bottle of alcohol just in case!

Team Kezmoh goes to Malaga

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Trip to Malaga Wednesday August 28

For the first few days in Spain we settled the important business of getting our computers and phones to work.  We met with the internet man right away.  We wanted to be sure that we would be able to communicate with the world so we asked David, our landlord, to arrange this.  It seemed really important to us to have WiFi (pronounced “wee fee” here).  I remember being in Spain in 1988.  An experience across the ocean was really different then.  I studied abroad for the fall semester of my junior year at the Universidad de Sevilla.  I wrote letters to my family and friends.  I sealed them in special, very light envelopes that were stamped “air mail” and walked to the post office to mail them.  Friends sent me letters and cassette tapes of mixes that they had made, what a different world it was in 1988.  I spoke to my family by phone only a few times during my time in Sevilla and that was usually in the middle of the night.  I wasn’t allowed to use the phone to call the US, so my mom would call in the night to be sure to find me at home.  Now after just 2 days in Spain we have internet access and mobile phones.  There are several carriers in Spain.  We discovered that there is one called Orange, no surprise we picked that one! The girls thought that Orange was funny.  They said, “We have Apple at home and they have Orange in Spain!”

Our phones came in handy on our first trip back down the mountain to Malaga.  On Wednesday we had to return our second rental car.  We initially needed 2 cars to carry our 8 suitcases, 4 backpacks and 2 carry-ons when we arrived in Spain.  With separate cars it was good to have map quest and text messaging.  It was a trick to get around the busy Malaga airport but eventually we found a gas station, dropped off the car and escaped.

We knew that there was an IKEA in Malaga and we needed supplies so the nice lady on map quest helped us find our way.  Right next to IKEA was a McDonald’s!  It is our tradition to stop at McDonald’s whenever we are in a foreign country so that Mike can see if it is the same.  Of course, anyone who knows my dear husband knows that he will find any excuse for a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and a Coca Cola Light.  Savvy and her Daddy enjoyed their cheeseburgers while the 2 vegetarians sipped water.

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We had lots of fun at IKEA buying pillow cases, comforters for Sky and Savvy, hanging shelves for the closets and other essentials such as nicer wine glasses and an orange and green mean mother scraper, ( spatula ).
Sky and I ate after shopping at the IKEA store.  My lunch was delicious, here it is:

Salmon with dill sauce, carrots and a potato brocoli patties. Yum!

Gazpacho, Salmon with dill sauce, carrots and a potato brocoli patties. Yum!  Good food for a store cafeteria.

Our next stop in Malaga was the Carrefore store.  Just like most small towns in the US, the selection of food in Alhama de Granada is pretty woeful. Carolina warned us that this would be the case. She was amazed at the selection of everything at Raley’s supermarket in the US.  One day she just stood in front of the juice section admiring the many versions of carrot juice that we have.  Carrefore is a Spanish version of one of our supermarkets but they are only located in big cities.  The one we found was actually the anchor for an indoor mall.  We walked past Claires, numerous clothing stores, and the Foot Locker before we could collect our grocery cart.  We stopped to buy Sky some flip flops. When we entered the Carrefore store there was a stern guard at the door who insisted on sealing her bag shut with a dangerous looking plastic melter (not that any 11 year old couldn’t poke a hole in the bag).  I love going to foreign grocery stores because it is always an adventure in itself.  We have already learned that ham is in just about everything.  At the Carrefore store we learned just how important Jamon is to the Spanish. There was an impressive section devoted to it.  Check this out!

Jamon! Yep, lots and lots of pig legs.

Jamon! Yep, lots and lots of pig legs.

More Jamon

More Jamon

At restaurants it is very important for Sky and me to mention that we are vegetarians.  We love gazpacho and order it often.  One time Sky ordered it, took one bite and almost spit it out. “This tastes foul! ” she said.  I tried a small sip and thought it was pretty good.  I dug my spoon deeper into the bowl and expected some nice chunks of cucumber but it was chunks of cured jamon.  YUCK!  Says the vegetarian. We have even found that jamon is a favorite ingredient in green salads. When we say we don’t want any meat on something we get confused looks from the waiter as he says, “y jamon?”. 

Good gazpacho!  Notice the cool top that I bought with my Athleta gift certificate. Thanks Folsom Women's Health!

Good gazpacho! Notice the cool top that I bought with my Athleta gift certificate. Thanks Folsom Women’s Health!

Sky loves gazpacho!  (Sin Jamon!)

Sky loves gazpacho!
(Sin Jamon!)

Every morning we walk to the panaderia (bread store) and buy wonderful freshly baked bread for our breakfast.  Even though there is great fresh bread here there is a large section of processed crustless bread at the Carrefore store! Sky even had to take pictures of this to send to her friends back home.

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Bimbo Crustless bread! For you Maddy!

We were very happy to see some comfort foods from home. We bought maple syrup from Canada, bottles of pasta sauce, tortellini, ketchup, Lay’s potato chips and Coke zero for Mike!

With our purchases in hand, we made it safely back to Alhama just before dark.  It was a good thing that we got back when we did because in a few hours we were awoken by a huge thunderstorm.  We raced upstairs to clear the laundry off the lines and close all the doors on the roof.  Mike decided then that we needed a dryer!

The next morning we could hear children playing at the school from our balcony.  We hiked down to see if we could register the girls for school.  The playground was full of mostly naked small children playing in the water.  It was a summer camp program.  We were informed that Javier, the director, would be there next week so we should return then.

Sky and Sav outside the School, Conde de Tendilla.  It opens Sept 10!

Sky and Sav outside the School, Conde de Tendilla.
It opens Sept 10!

The trail into the gorge leading away from the school was calling us, so Team Kezmoh agreed it was time for an explore!  The trail through the gorge leads to a hotel with a pool so we hit the trail to check it out.

The trail is calling!

The trail is calling!

On the trail

On the trail

We explored the trail and arrived at a Grotto to the Virgin Mary.  There are nice signs in English and Spanish describing the landmarks all around Alhama de Granada.  The sign at the Grotto explained the legend.   Around the year 1500 a knight was traveling along the edge of the gorge.  A snake scared his horse and it jumped off the cliff into the gorge.  The man prayed to the Virgin to spare his life as he flew through the air.  The horse landed on his feet but died immediately.  There are hoof marks still visible in the rocks.  The man was thrown from the horse.  When he awoke he had a very bad head wound but he was alive.  He had a vision of the Virgin Mary who told him that she would grant him 3 more days of life if he would build a shrine to her on that very spot.  Legend has it that he was quite rich so he did as he was asked and lived 3 more days.  The shrine still stands.  It is kept up by a local family and candles still burn around the clock.

We arrived at the hotel a few kilometers later (we have to start thinking in kilometers here!).  The pool was closed, likely due to the threat of lightening earlier in the day.  The hotel did have an inviting restaurant and we were really hungry.  We sat, ordered some vino tinto and relaxed with a plate of the best aceitunas (olives) in Granada.  Savvy had pollo con ajo (chicken with garlic), her new favorite whenever we eat out.

Pollo con ajo with lots of patatas (papas in Mexico, patatas in Spain)

Pollo con ajo with lots of patatas (papas in Mexico, patatas in Spain)

Mike was feeling adventurous and ordered a “typical andalusian stew”.  There was one item listed as an ingredient in the stew, morcilla.  We were unsure about the translation but he guessed that it was some kind of pork.  Nope!  Blood sausage, ewww  Looks like something else.  Here he is pretending to eat it!

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Don’t worry, He didn’t really eat it! And yes, that is Savvy’s finger 🙂

After lunch we heard thunder.  The previously blue skies had opened and it was pouring rain.   We were anxious to get back to Casa Azul so Team Kezmoh ran all the way home in the rain. We were so proud of our strong trail-running daughters!  It was my favorite moment of the trip so far!