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Time Travelling in Morocco

When most travelers discuss the premier time to visit a destination, the commentary usually revolves around the best weather or lack of crowds.  Paris in the spring. New England in the fall, the Taj Mahal just after the monsoons stop and before the heat returns.  Rome in any time except the draining heat of summer. Dreams of uncrowded beaches and palm trees blowing in a warm breeze fill our thoughts. Uncrowded museums and easy tickets to cultural attractions rank high for some.

Unfortunately everyone generally agrees on the same timing and the term “season” was invented. In popular places the best time of year may not be synonymous with the best time to visit. Some savvy travelers have mastered the so-called shoulder seasons. They hope to avoid spending all their time in line while not giving up the ability to sit in that outdoor café along the picturesque boulevard without wearing a winter overcoat. Others may purposely visit off season, just to feel they are experiencing the area by themselves.

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Chefchaouen

 

We have recently begun to look at the proper time to visit in a different way. What time period would have been the most interesting for you to visit the place of your dreams? For most destinations there is an era that most interests you. Perhaps it was the curiosity generator that originally drew your interest to that place of your dreams. Which era of Paris most interests you? Napoleon’s Paris of the late 1700’s or Hemingway’s Paris of the 1920’s? Maybe sharing coffee in Montmartre with Picasso or Monet? The ornate palaces and gardens of Versailles or perfect people watching in a neon lit cafe on the Boulevard Montparnasse?

We have found that it doesn’t matter what “season” it actually is outside if you use your imagination and spend part of your vacation “time travelling”. You can see Rome from the eyes of a gladiator or an emperor by visiting the Colosseum and Roman Forum. Maybe take a little “Roman Holiday” and share a gelato on the Spanish Steps, channeling a little of Audrey Hepburn or Gregory Peck. Put on a skinny tie and hang out on the Via Veneto waiting for Sophia Loren or Federico Fellini to arrive in an Italian sports car. An afternoon with Michelangelo studying which colors look best together in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.

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Chefchaouen

 

The best destinations always have a musical, culinary or literary history that can be discovered no matter what the weather is like. Great cities usually contain architecture that represents many different periods of time. These things are there always and can be experienced no matter how many tourists crowd the beaches or well-known museums. There are many ways to visit Mexico. You can experience it through the eyes of the Mayans by visiting the ruins at Palenque. You can follow Steinbeck to Baja California and the Sea of Cortez. You can choose which Mole suits your taste in the tiniest cafes of Pueblo. None of these rely on perfect timing of reservations at that popular beach resort in Cancun. Time travel is possible in any time of year and no matter how many people crowd a city. That’s because time travel resides in your imagination, which is the always your best guide through any destination.

We thought of time travel when we were planning our 6 week trip to Morocco. We tried to pick destinations that best captured different eras of Morocco’s history. After our time in Casablanca, Marrakech and Essaouira we moved on to our final three stops….

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The Blue Gate- Fes

 

Fes

Fes does not seem like a destination in the hills. You get some sense of the change of terrain as the train starts inward from the coast at Rabat. By the time you pass Meknes you know you are going uphill, but not quickly. You really don’t get the sense of its location until you walk through the so-called Blue Gate (Bab Boujloud) that is the beginning of the Medina. This is the end of car traffic and from here the maze of streets, alleys and tiny squares quickly transports you 1000 years back in time. It takes little imagination to conjure being an early foreign visitor encountering the exoticness of Fes that has changed little since the Middle Ages.

After the brief level ground in the gate area you start downhill into the center of the medina, almost as though you are being propelled by a magical force towards an ancient mystery. Visitors probably pick either the wide street (Rue Talaa Kebira) or the narrow street (Rue Talaa Sghira). If you go left to the wide street (which is really narrow also) you are almost immediately grabbed by the smell of grilling, heavily spiced meat. A group of cats waits impatiently outside of a poultry dealer on one side. A camel head is proudly displayed in a shop on another side to show the freshness of the recently butchered meat on display.

A little farther down the hill is the Megana, the ancient water clock. It no longer functions but is interesting to ponder before you enter the ancient school of Medersa Bou Inania. The craftsmanship of the tiles and woodwork of the courtyard are amazing. Picturing students studying the Koran in the quiet courtyard just steps from the commotion of the busy alleys outside is easy. Don’t forget to stop for a mint tea at the Café Clock before following a heavy laden donkey farther down the hill through the maze of every type of shop imaginable.

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Fes

 

At the bottom of the hill past the Henna Souk we take time to admire the Nejjarine Fondouk and Fountain. The Fondouk is a meticulously restored building where wealthy merchants stored wares they brought to the medina to sell. The rooftop provides airy relief from the busy courtyard outside the beautiful building and allows nice views of the hills that surround the ancient area of the city. No visions here of modern Morocco, with the exception of thousands of satellite dishes.

Nearby we visit the leather tanneries that have been in operation for a thousand years. You view them from high above and hold a mint leaf to your nose to protect from the strong smells. After viewing the souk where they construct elaborate wedding decorations normally only seen in a grand Bollywood epic, we begin our ascent back up the hill to the gate where we began our journey back in time several hours before. The hill is steep and necessitates many stops in the tiny artisan markets along shop filled passage. Passing back through the Blue Gate we are returned to the modern city of Fes.

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Chefchaouen

 

Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen is not a place we knew much about before arriving. The city is popular with photographers who come to see a town that is almost entirely painted a lovely shade of blue. We rented a tiny old house in the medina. It was unheated with the exception of a leaky ancient gas stove. The night air was oddly frigid during our stay. We tucked into our beds at night under many layers of blankets and were grateful for hot showers in the morning.

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The Blue City- Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen is located high in the Rif Mountains of Northern Morocco. The Rif Mountains are famous for its production of hashish. The blue buildings and smell of hashish made us think of backpacker havens of the late 1960’s. Visions of wide eyed young people following early Lonely Planet guides and travelling to exotic locations in search of spiritual meanings, cheap food and easily accessible highs filled our thoughts.

 

Chefchaouen was, by far, our favorite city we visited in Morocco. So much so that I hate to mention it to anyone in hopes that it never gets ruined. It is everything that the young hippies must have wished for. 3 course dinners for 5 dollars. Friendly children that greet everyone with a hearty “Hola” showing their Spanish roots. Happy people who dress as they did many years ago. While we didn’t partake, the smell of hashish was prevalent everywhere and we were offered some often. The old part of town is located at the base of steep, rocky mountains that rise out of green valleys with crystal streams. Women do their wash in chilly rivers. At times the blue of the city walls mix with the crystal blue sky perfectly and give an effect where you feel you could be walking in the clouds themselves.

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Chefchaouen

 

We walked to the Spanish Mosque at the top of a nearby mountain to watch sunset one evening. The sky began to glow as the sun set over a distant mountain range. Brilliant colors of red, purple, yellow and orange contrasted against the sky blue of the city below. The sunset seemed to last forever as the lights came on in the city below. The sunset call to prayer began at one tiny mosque. It echoed off the surrounding mountains of the area as other mosques began their amplified calls also. The cacophony of sound reverberated around the valley below until it began to sound like harmonic bees buzzing aggressively. Truly one of the amazing sites I’ve seen in years of travel. The smell of hashish in the air was great, but I thought it was unnecessary on this night.

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Chefchaouen

 

It was easy to imagine ourselves as young travelers in the 1960’s as we descended the mountain in the gathering darkness of a perfect night in the mountains of a spiritual land far away.

Tangier

 Intrigue, exoticness, and conspiracy around every corner. A city with a location at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea so valuable that nearly every major world power sought to control it at one time or another. So important that for many years it was deemed an international city and enjoyed a reputation as a place where nearly everything was possible and all was available for a price. An ancient walled city that rises abruptly from the blue sea, whitewashed so it stands out so brightly it is easily visible from the Spanish coast in the distance.

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Tangier

 

In addition to the ancient medina, a modern city has grown along the beaches that stretch along the warm coast. We arrived and found our modern, high-rise apartment with views to the ocean from the 6th floor windows. We liked the city right away. We were greeted by warm weather and after a couple of cold weeks in the mountains and we looked forward to ending our long journey on a high note.

As an international city and, for many, the entryway to Africa, Tangier has attracted a unique crowd of adventurers who have sought both the exoticness and the freedom the location provided. In the 1950’s a group of authors grouped here to take advantage of the cost of living, lack of drug enforcement and creative atmosphere. Following in the 1960’s the city became a sunny, laid back, party stop for the jet set of the movie and music industries.

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Phoenician Graves- Tangier

 

We enjoyed visiting the cafes that became so well known for their famous clientele. The Cafe de Paris was a favorite. Paul Bowles, William Burroughs, Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams held court here. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg and almost all the Beat writers made visits. They lived in the cheap hotels nearby and drank in the bars that catered to sailors and international clients. The cafe oozed history and every visit was enjoyable.

Many visits to the tiny square in the medina called Petit Socco were filled with tea or coffee enjoyed with the perfect street side table to watch the citizenry pass by. Café Tingis and the Café Central were favorites in the afternoon after long walks through the steep hills of the medina. Not far away was the venerable Hotel Continental which still clings to it perch above the harbor and while long past its glory days was worth a visit to view a grand dame of Tangier lore.

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Café Baba

 

We had drinks at the classic Caid’s Bar located in the Hotel Minzah. A real life Rick’s Café of Casablanca fame, the hotel was once the host to anyone who was famous in Tangier. Views across the pool to the port were excellent and it took little imagination to see visions of past glories.

The Rolling Stones made the Café Baba famous when they visited. Located midway up the hill, the café looks like it hasn’t changed since they left. The smell of hashish met us as the door. Mint Teas were perfect pick-me-ups for the mixed crowd of mostly local youth. A real favorite and well worth a few visits. The nearby Kasbah museum was as interesting for its architecture as for the items contained inside.

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Petit Socco- Tangier

 

We enjoyed our time travel six week journey throughout Morocco. It was challenging and quite different from how we have travelled for the last couple of years. The people were friendly and the food was good. We probably didn’t pick the best season to go. But as we hoped, if we chose the right era to view each destination in, we had an excellent time in a unique place that we had only seen in our imagination.

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Bab el Kasbah- Tangier
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Chasing Pictures

2I believe I always wanted to travel. My family had a very old atlas in the house and even as a child I loved to thumb through the pages and look at the colorful maps displayed inside. The book was huge and had heavy covers and thick paper that made a distinct sound when you turned it. Pastel pink, green and purple countries filled the pages. Thin black lines connected the cities and different size dots indicated the relative populations of each. Rivers and lakes were marked by a wonderful shade of light blue. Creating journeys along the roads or waterways to the most intriguing sounding places was an interesting pastime.

I remember writing down the names of the countries or cities that sounded the most exotic. I knew nothing about the places other than their name, but they inspired me to want to see them one day. When I was very young I have distinct memories of my dreams of Zanzibar, Samoa, Burma and Bombay. I was fascinated by the island below India called Ceylon at the time.

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Kotor

 

Of course travelling in real life is different than running your fingers along the pages of a well-worn book. While inspiration still comes from a variety of sources, travelling outside of the pages of an atlas entails limits not found inside of your own imagination. For most of my life, time, budget and responsibilities often took precedence over my desire to visit these far off places of my dreams.

We were asked by a friend recently how we choose the cities that we visit. Our methods are definitely not consistent and have changed throughout the years. Of course, like everyone, we were interested in seeing the most famous cities first. Paris, Rome, Venice and Bangkok were on our list as well as everyone else’s. As all travelers know, the more you travel the more you realize how much there is to see. There is always something just over the next mountain that given just another day or two you could have gotten to. There is always justification to take another trip. Prague, Budapest, Cairo and Penang are all secondary trips that were, at one point, just past our original destinations.

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Perast, Montenegro

 

As time went by monumental and magical destinations became as important as the exotic cities of the world. We saw Cusco because of Machu Picchu, Siem Reap because of Angkor Wat, Lhasa because of the Potala Palace, Agra because of the Taj Mahal and Yogyakarta because of Borobudur. I don’t think we would have spent much time in Giza, if not for the Pyramids.

As time goes on, photography has become an important hobby to me. It is the perfect companion to a life lived on the road. When we are discussing our next destination we always check the difficulty and expense of travel arrangements. We certainly check the availability and location of apartments for rent. We check for activities that are of interest in the general area we are considering. However, final arrangements are never made until we check photography sites for photos that might be taken. We peruse various online photo sharing sites for the best pictures of an area. Often photos are taken from locations that we would never have visited if we hadn’t wanted to capture a beautiful vista. We have even visited locations almost entirely due to work by talented photographers who have gone before us. We spent an entire month in La Spezia, Italy due mainly to the nearby beauty of the Ligurian coastline. If not for the photogenic beauty of the Cinque Terre, Portifino, Lerici and Portovenere I don’t think we would have visited this magical area of the world.

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Bay of Kotor Sunset

 

We have often spent time just prior to a sunset taking some form transportation to an elevated location to find just the right vantage point over a spectacular setting. While others see the colorful photograph of a gorgeous cityscape, the finished photograph often sparks our memory back to the journey we took to get to the location.

As we were discussing places to go after our month long visit to Dubrovnik, we finally decided on a hopefully magical destination for our future travels. Unfortunately budgets just did not allow us to go just yet. We needed two weeks to find airline tickets that were in our price range. As beautiful as if was, we didn’t want to spend two more weeks in Dubrovnik.

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Kotor Streets

 

A few months back Nanci returned to the U.S. for a short time and I was travelling by myself in Montenegro. We were inspired to travel to Montenegro by a photograph of the city of Kotor. When Nanci returned home, I never got around to taking the photograph. The photo is taken from the ramparts of an old fort above the city and I just couldn’t find the motivation to make the journey by myself. It sort of bothered me as the “one that got away”.

As Kotor is only a two hour (and less than 10 Euro) bus journey away from Dubrovnik, it seemed like the perfect place to spend our time while we waited for onward transportation. While waiting I would be able to attempt to capture the scenic vista that I had missed before.

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Bay of Kotor

 

Kotor is located at end of the spectacular Bay of Kotor, which is called simply Boka locally. The bay lies in an incredible location between towering mountains that rise straight from the sea. While the area appears to be, and is often called, a fjord, it is technically called a ria or submerged river bed. Whatever it is called, it is as gorgeous as anywhere on the planet. Kotor is a walled city and, while smaller, bears a slight resemblance to Dubrovnik. Inside the walls, it is obvious that the construction of the buildings take inspiration from its Adriatic neighbor, Venice.

What is unique in Kotor is the city walls run up the side of the mountains above town and end in a large fortress at the top of the mountain. The hike to the top is more than 1000 stairs and is popular with adventurous cruise ship passengers that arrive in droves during the summer. Despite the beautiful weather we enjoyed during our stay, it is not the typical season for tourists and we again had the whole town to ourselves. No cruise ships, no massive yachts and no tour buses. The fashionable shops, sophisticated boutique hotels, beautiful restaurants, lovely cafes and stylish bars inside the city walls rarely had anyone inside but a lonely proprietor busily studying their cell phones.

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Kotor Streets

 

Everyone in tow seemed to speak perfect English and was genuinely glad to have someone to talk to when we visited. We had time to visit a long overdue dentist. 5 fillings, 2 cleanings and X-rays for 250 dollars was an unbelievable price for first class work. We had a nice apartment for a good price and generally just enjoyed strolls through the narrow city streets or along the quiet waterfront.

To get to my picture location I had to climb about half way up the 1000 steps to the fortress. I’m glad it was only half way, because I did it five times trying to get the perfect sunset over the city and city lights below. I can’t really say I achieved my goal, but as always, the picture will remind me of the difficult climb and breathtakingly dramatic views over the city and bay as the sun went down and the lights of the city came on. Because of the location of the mountains, the city gets dark very quickly and I will always remember my mad dashes down the hill before it became too dark to see the steps.

We enjoyed our short time in Montenegro and are now off to further adventures. Like looking through the pages of the old atlas many years ago, I realize how many exotic and wonderful places there still are to see in the world.

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Bay of Kotor

 

 

 

 

 

A Timeless Story of Love, Beauty and Dedication

This is a story of love, beauty and dedication. Like the sea, the wind and the land, it goes on forever and cannot be changed by the passing of time. The tale must be read to the end, or you cannot understand. The narrative has taken years to write, but will only take minutes to read. It is a timeless drama that many others have experienced and no doubt have shared on these pages before. Hopefully you have, or will, experience a similar tale in your travels and more importantly in your life.

There is a land, far away, where the mountains rise directly from the sea. Somewhat barren and rocky, they tower over the azure sea, majestically rising to granite peaks a thousand feet above. The August sun warms early and angrily blisters the land as it rises. It is hot, too hot, and refuge from the intensity is sought by everyone and everything as the day passes. On good days, cooling breezes flow across the Bay of Kotor and provide some relief from the onslaught. On bad days the air flows from the rocky inland and punishes all who contact it.

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Herceg Novi

 

 

A town sits by this calm sea, no doubt founded by those who found their lives intricately interwoven with the rhythms of the sea. Houses rise from the shore and follow the rocky ridges upwards. Built of cut stone from the surrounding hills, they follow the natural curves of the land. The hills are steep, aggressively steep. Directions are not given by compass coordinates, but rather with a fleeting finger pointing simply upwards or downwards. Down to the cooling seas where white sailed boats ply the harbor, or up to the tiny plazas, simple churches and shady cafes that await strong legged visitors with tasty delicacies from the sea. Two ancient forts anchor the town. One high above the Old Town, and one overlooking the crystal bay, shining beaches and winding oceanfront promenade. The forts stand as evidence of the need to protect this paradise from intruders in bygone days.

A main thoroughfare winds upwards through the town. It follows a serpentine path upwards and is perhaps the only route that was possible for the early residents. How it was carved centuries ago from the rock face is difficult even to imagine. Automobiles have made their way to the road and improvements have been made. It is best to use the mind’s eye to view the scene as it was in the past, and not as it is today. Stories of ancient days are easier to imagine as you traverse the narrow stairways that run aimlessly between the tightly woven houses. Seeing visions of medieval fisherman, merchants, craftsmen and perhaps pirates come effortlessly as you slowly meander the countless winding paths.

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Herceg Novi

 

Sun kissed children wander the streets unsupervised. Their skin is brown and their hair faded by the summer sun and endless days spent swimming in the ocean. They play soccer energetically on cement fields narrowly cut from the mountainside in the morning and move retiringly slow in the afternoons when swimming and sun have drained their bodies of their near endless reserves of energy.

Older residents are found gathered early in the main square centered on the ancient church. An old woman sells vegetables and flowers from handmade baskets in the shaded corner that catches the early breeze. She leans against the cool marble stone and wears a loose fitting, faded and colorful dress. The lines on her coffee brown face announce a life of soft smiles and warm embraces. Men passing through the square greet each other heartily, all baritone voices and hearty laughs. All stop to drink of the cool water that flows freely from the ornate fountain that anchors the square. Legend says that its waters assure health and vitality to all who drink from it. No one passes without a sample of the magic.

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Savina Monastery- Herceg Novi

 

Soon enough, visitors fill the narrow streets, stairways and passages between the stone and pastel colored facades of the city. They dress in brightly colored swim attire; all floppy hats, cover-ups and sandals. A few well-heeled travelers forsake the beach and choose to spend the day shopping in the trendy boutiques that line the central promenade. They of billowing dresses, high heels and exactly arranged hairstyles covered with the perfect hat to complement their purses and pearls. Much less interesting than the residents, the visitors move rapidly and interrupt the tranquility, peace and pace of the gentle morning. It is time for the smart traveler to return to tiny apartments for cool drinks and long lunches.

Evenings are spent on sea view balconies overlooking unkempt gardens. Shiny pomegranates, peaches, figs and pears ripen in the bright sun. An arbor of purple grapes fills an area of morning sun, its fruit hanging low on the timeworn vine as it matures slowly. Plump, deep red tomatoes of the most amazing color, sit fat with flavor on vines that need to be tightly braced against the weight of the perfectly developed fruit. Olive trees and citrus fill the rest of the garden with full foliage and magic aromas that promise delicacies that will be enjoyed in seasons to come.

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Hilly Streets of Herceg Novi

 

Swallows fly crazily in the moments before sunset, working aggressively to remove the insects from the air. Distant boats cross the calm sea below, their wakes forming perfect V’s as they follow their course through the flat bay. Bats arrive magically from their hidden places and fill the air above to remove whatever last remnants of intruding insects were missed by the swallows. Lightning flashes in the far distance from some storm that will never enter this glacier cut bay paradise of sand and sea. An Italian love song plays in the background and provides a melodic melancholy that enchants the night as faint whispers of lovers mix with the innuendo of the gentle breeze. Wine glasses can be heard, tapping together. Memories of a lifetime are being created everywhere around me.

Alas, that will not be my memory of this enchanted land. You see, for the first time in 5 years, I am travelling alone. These are memories that can only be created together with a loved one. True memories of romantic lands and faraway places can only be captured in hindsight when shared together, long after the moment has passed. I promised you a story of love, beauty and dedication, and thus you will have one. Not this regular story of times in faraway places where dreams came true for others.

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Bay of Kotor

 

My story is of a love that was created 30 years ago, thousands of miles from where I find myself tonight. It is a story of careers, children and hard work. It is a story of celebrations, accomplishments and shared fulfillment. It is a story of a love between two people that transcended difficulties, strife and unpleasantness. The love flowed onward and eventually carried us one day to an impetuous decision to add an extra dimension to our shared memories. To travel the world to see and experience all that it had to offer.

This is a story of the beauty of world that we found together. Spectacular sunsets over verdant mountains. Endless rivers that flow through thick jungles where men have rarely passed. Astounding skylines of cities so beautiful, it did not seem possible that men could have created them. Astonishing monuments built by kings and queens and common people who only sought to leave the world more beautiful than they found it. We have seen beauty in the people of all colors, religions and ages that populate this tiny earth. The beauty of people who have helped us, despite our inability to communicate, when things seemed hopeless. The magic beauty of a mother who allows us to hold a smiling child at the perfect time when all the world seemed a foreign place.

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Montenegro

 

It is a story of the dedication of a wife who followed her husband’s dreams to see all the exoticness, color, intrigue and fascinations that might be found across a good part of the globe. While we have shared on these pages many glossy photographs and sometimes poetic prose of many of the moments of the last 5 years, let it be known that you saw our world from only one side of a carelessly focused lens or rapidly scribbling pen. You could not have seen the dedication it took to spend countless nights on hilltops fleetingly waiting for a sunset to develop so the “perfect” photo could be taken. You could not have seen the dedication it took to spend hundreds of sweaty nights in uncomfortable beds with unexplained noises filling the night so your husband could spend a few days in some oddly alluring venue. You could not see the dedication it took to spend thousands of hours spent looking for a supposed paradise-rainbow at the end of a distant third world road. You could not have seen the abundant laughter and unfortunate tears that filled the time between our infrequent posts.

Too many days pass without me saying how much I appreciate the company, compassion and comradeship my wife has displayed towards my crazy ambitions, not just in the last 5 years but during our entire 30 years together. Tonight, as I close my eyes under a crescent moon in a land far away, I find myself dreaming of the days ahead, spent with the person who hopefully knows how much she means to me.

Spirits from the Past

There is an apartment in Seville. It is at the end of the callejon, past the tiny bodega where they have futbol and cups of good wine. The tiny alley is narrow and the smell of food drifts from the kitchens of the houses that line it. The days of the fish stew are the best with intense aromas that yield a mixture of sweet and sour. At the end of the alley you find a heavy framed metal gate with artistic flourishes that leads to the courtyard. The courtyard has a stone fountain and marble floor that feels cool to the touch even on the hot days, as it most always is.

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Santa Cruz

 

Three flights of stairs are climbed to reach the apartment. The stairway is accented with the famous blue azulejos tiles. The building is unusually quiet most times. In the right time of day you hear the man practicing his flamenco guitar, strumming endless chord progressions, accompanied only by the gentle tapping of his foot. The pretty girl across the courtyard leaves early in the morning and comes home late at night. She dresses well and must have a good job. She sometimes wears a flower in her hair, usually a color to match her dress.

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On the Avenida

 

Above the apartment is a terrace where the laundry is hung to dry. It is painted white to reflect the sun’s rays and is intensely hot. The residents hang the clothes early to avoid the sun themselves. As the breeze picks up during the day, the clothes blow in the wind like the sails of the wooden ships that left the port here many years before. This is the hottest city in Europe and the cloudless blue skies dry the clothes faster than any machine could. They dry stiff and feel starched and will need to be lightly ironed before they can be used.

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Plaza Espana

 

The sun rises late, after eight, so it is easy to start the day early. In the days before you adjust to the time change it is a pleasure to walk the streets while it is still dark. The lights are on and it feels romantic and slightly mystical as you make your way through the narrow cobblestone streets. With little effort you can see visions of Carmen leaving the tobacco factory to meet her bullfighter or Don Juan returning from late night liaisons with an unnamed lover. You are keenly aware of the history the ornate walls have witnessed. Columbus and Magellan walked here while planning distant voyages to exotic lands. The Catholic kings ruled here and before them the Moors and before them the Romans. Each group left their marks and with only the slightest imagination they are clearly visible in the early light of day.

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Seville Sunrise

 

Breakfast is eaten early and quickly. If your breakfast is in a café you will probably have juice and toast and a thickly rich coffee. On Sundays you might satisfy your cravings for sweetness with the churros and decadent hot chocolate from the small shop with the large line. Everyone sits outside at the casually arranged tables. The conversation is muted as many read newspapers or chat quietly. Everyone seems to smoke, perhaps daring fate itself, as many spend their lives doing here on the southern tip of Spain.

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Plaza Espana

 

If you choose to shop for yourself and time is not critical it is better to find each item of the meal separately. Visit the carniceria for meat, pescaderia for fish, panaderia for bread and maybe a small vegetable market for whatever is in season. After three visits they will remember you. People eat what is in season and what is fresh. Most visit markets daily. The best of the old style mercados have been preserved in the neighborhoods of Triana, Macarena or Arenal. They have been refurbished but have kept the original style of small owner operated stalls filled with delectable goodness. Beautiful tiles tell the vendors name and what his specialty is. Olives, oils, spices and cheeses fill jewel-like glass cases. Delicious Iberico hams and cured sausages hang as advertisements to entice the hungry. Vegetables are arranged in artistic displays of color and flavor.

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Triana Market

 

Life centers on the many plazas. One size plaza does not fit all needs. Some are large and surrounded by designer shops showcasing the latest styles. Some are filled with tourists who look hot and uncomfortable and hungry. Some are more residential and filled with children with soccer balls and bicycles. The best plazas have popular bars and restaurants filled with customers throughout the day. It is said that the tapa was invented in Seville. El Rinconcillo bar is one of more than 1000 places serving tapas in the city and credited with having invented the tapa. It has been turning out food and drinks since 1670 and may be the oldest restaurant in Spain.

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Plaza del Toro

 

Our small Seville apartment sits just outside of Plaza Alfalfa. Plaza Alfalfa is the perfect combination of all the plazas. This is where the Romans settled before there was a Spain. Surrounded by local merchants and tiny cafes it has the perfect mix of humanity to make for the best people watching. Old ladies, babies in strollers, teenagers with their first loves, diners passionately discussing subjects over large cups of sangria or small glasses of beer. The plaza is filled from early morning until late at night. It has tall trees to provide abundant shade and is blocked to traffic. Dancers often practice and a constant game of soccer goes on throughout the day, the players changing as they are called to do other things. Children on bicycles and skates play in the evening after school and before dinner. They easily weave between passing tourists following maps and looking for hard to find street names. Later in the evening diners fill the tables to enjoy drinks and tapas from one of several restaurants that all have outside tables. Everyone seems to know each other and no television could compete with the entertainment found here.

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Puente Isabella II

 

Days are spent here touring the city. It is a city built for walking. The buildings are tall and built close together to provide shade during the heat of the day. The Moors brought orange trees to the city and they line streets everywhere. They provide a wonderful smell in spring and cooling shade all year long as they keep their leaves in all seasons. Perhaps cursed by the vanquished Moors, the oranges are sour and not good to eat. Mixed with enough sugar they can be used for marmalade that the English like.

Seville has its share of world class sites. The Cathedral is the third biggest in the world and the Alcazar that housed first Moorish kings and then Spanish royalty is filled with intricate passageways and formal gardens. La Giralda stands above everything and can be seen from everywhere in town.

8
Sevilla Nights

 

I believe the essence of the city is found while walking along the Guadalquivir River in the evening as the sun is setting. Couples hold hands as they walk past the bullring. The breezes are cooling and the air is refreshing. The colorful buildings of Triana reflect in the water. The lights on the Isabel Bridge come on and a magical ambience overtakes the city. Perhaps the spirits of the artists, adventurers, kings and queens of different cultures take over the city again and lead the people on journeys of their own through the streets. Spirits of bullfighters and flamenco dancers abound and help the inhabitants, tourist or local, find a true passion that life was meant to have.