A Travellerspoint blog

Morocco - South and West

Berber country

semi-overcast 28 °C

Tuesday

We enjoyed a relaxed morning before Kamal and Mohamed arrived at 10.00am to drive us to the Dadas gorge and valley where we will be staying with a Berber family in their Kasbah (in Morocco, a Kasbah is typically a sort of fortress/home of a local leader, with high walls and a tower at each of the four corners).

Berber town along the way

Berber town along the way


On the way we were scheduled to visit the house of a cousin of the owner of the tour company for a tagine cooking class and lunch.
We were warmly welcomed to the home by Fatima. Fatima is forty one and not married – still waiting for Mr Right. She lives in the house with her father, mother and brother (still at school and speaks good English).

Fatima looks after the house chores and does the cooking while her father and mother work on the ‘farm’ (a small area of land alongside the irrigation channel below the village). Fatima said a good clay tagine pot is the key to cooking a good tagine. Not sure we will have the space to bring one back, however they can apparently be bought online from Amazon. The cooking class took place in their kitchen. Fatima had already cut up the chicken and vegetable and was very organised.

Fatima creating chicken tagine

Fatima creating chicken tagine

'Building' tagine

'Building' tagine

'Building' tagine

'Building' tagine

'Building' tagine

'Building' tagine


Once the tagine had been prepared and was cooking we were invited to share tea together. (Driver) Mohamed went through the formality of making and serving the tea (with a great show of pouring from above the head into a very small glass). Our eyes nearly popped when we saw the chunk of sugar he put in the (relatively small) teapot.

Mohamed showing off tea-pouring skill

Mohamed showing off tea-pouring skill

Berber hospitality

Berber hospitality


Fatima’s parents came in from the farm to join us and her brother came home from college for his two hour lunch break. After tea we were to go for a walk through the farm, but suddenly Fatima whisked Glyn off and they returned ten minutes later with Glyn all dressed in Berber clothing for the walk. When we returned to the house the tagine was ready and it was delicious. The best we have had in Morocco.

All dressed up - Berber style

All dressed up - Berber style


In a courtyard attached to the house is a chicken/turkey run, a goat pen and a cow stall, and they have their own well in the courtyard. It was very special to have been able to share time with the family in their own home.

Livestock pen attached to Berber home

Livestock pen attached to Berber home

Well - Berber home

Well - Berber home


We crossed the central High Atlas Mountains and arrived at our Kasbah in Boutaghrare mid afternoon. Our accommodation was basic. however it was comfortable with a great view and we even had an en-suite with hot water. To generate an income the family has turned a few rooms into guest rooms. Not too many visitors come this far, however it is fairly popular with mountain bike tours and hikes - not for us!

Berber village - Boutaghrare - old town opposite, new town this side - view from Kasbah window

Berber village - Boutaghrare - old town opposite, new town this side - view from Kasbah window

Comfortable room in Berber Kasbah

Comfortable room in Berber Kasbah


A local guide arrived to take us for a walk around the area and then to the local village where the families have very little. The Berbers live in small clusters of houses made of mud, and villages are often only accessible by mule or foot. On the drive to Boutaghare our guide suggested we stop at a little shop to buy a few treats for the children as in biscuits, yoghurts, wafers and lollies. The children were really lovely – with two boys about six years of age latching onto us until our guide sent them home. When we were planning our trip to Morocco with the tour company we had specifically asked that a visit to a local area be included in our itinerary so we can share time with the local people where traditional values are an important part of their life.

Berber kids

Berber kids

Guide handing out treats to a very orderly group - Boutaghrere

Guide handing out treats to a very orderly group - Boutaghrere


After a shower we were a served dinner of vegetable soup, chicken tagine and fruit salad. Besides the family we were the only two staying, so after dinner we relaxed with a beautiful views of the mountains and time to catch up on email. We have been surprised by the excellent WiFi and Internet coverage as we have travelled around Morocco. Mobile phones are everywhere and judging by the amount of screen time being used, mobile data would appear to be pretty inexpensive.

Wednesday

Today was a 300 km drive to Marrakech over the High Atlas Mountains, via the Tichka Pass which is one of the most dangerous roads in Morocco. Needless to say we didn’t know this until our guide casually mentioned it. (Tichka meaning ‘difficult’ because old-time caravans had difficulty crossing the pass in winter snow) We climbed to a height of 2,260 metres (6,670 ft). Mohamed our driver just took it pretty casually, at times with one hand on the steering wheel while we were hanging on with white knuckles in the back seat. Glyn had the big drop on her side!

Tichka Pass - through High Atlas Mountains

Tichka Pass - through High Atlas Mountains

'Snake' Road - on the way through High Atlas Mountains

'Snake' Road - on the way through High Atlas Mountains


At the bottom of the pass we drove through the Valley of Roses. There are a number of Women’s Co-operatives who harvest the roses from which the locals make soap and creams.

Testing the Rose creams made by a women's cooperative

Testing the Rose creams made by a women's cooperative

Rose-petal product shop

Rose-petal product shop

Glyn buying Argan oil-based eye-cream - supposedly a wonder cream

Glyn buying Argan oil-based eye-cream - supposedly a wonder cream

Argan oil production - roasting Argan kernels before grinding to extract oil - very hard work

Argan oil production - roasting Argan kernels before grinding to extract oil - very hard work

Argan tree - with tree-climbing goats - a bit of a staged thing perhaps

Argan tree - with tree-climbing goats - a bit of a staged thing perhaps


Our lunch stop was Ouarzazate (nicknamed the Hollywood of Africa) as the movies Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy and Gladiator, just to name a few, were filmed here. The film sets are still standing and a Moroccan movies are still shot here and there is a 5 star hotel where the stars stay during filming.

View from Ouarzazate over old town with a lookout hut at the top of the hill

View from Ouarzazate over old town with a lookout hut at the top of the hill


We arrived in Marrakech early evening rather weary and as we had eaten a good lunch at Ouarzazate we opted for a light meal at our riad (hotel) close to the medina and in the heart of the Old City – where a very nondescript doorway off an unattractive alley leads into a lovely courtyard surrounded by high-ceilinged bedrooms.

Thursday

Our driver and guide arrived promptly at 8.00 am to take us to Essaouira which is a seaside town on the Atlantic coast. At one time it was the major international trading port for Morocco however now it is a very busy fishing port. It is a very popular place for kite surfing and windsurfing as apparently the wind is always blowing. This explains the number of wind turbines we could see in the distance. It is quiet compared to many towns in Morocco so we could wander around the Medina without any concerns. We took a walk along the pier to where the fishing boats had come in and offloaded their catch for the day.

Fishing boats - Essaouira

Fishing boats - Essaouira

Fresh fish - Essaouira

Fresh fish - Essaouira

Fresh fish - Essaouira - King crab, squid, prawns, langoustine, etc.

Fresh fish - Essaouira - King crab, squid, prawns, langoustine, etc.

Eels etc. - Essaouira

Eels etc. - Essaouira


After a while the fish smell got us to and we took a walk along the beach. Lunch of grilled sole was at a restaurant on the beachfront. Apparently the temperature stays between 23C and 30C year round so it is popular with the Moroccan people during summer when the temperature can reach 45C at times. There are holiday apartments along the beachfront. We noticed as we drove into Essaouira people standing on the kerbside dangling keys. The reason being they are advertising that they have the key to an apartment which is available to rent.

On returning to Marrakech we made our way to the square for dinner where we found a restaurant with a terrace view and the weather was perfect. The square had been transformed into a sea of street-food stalls, fruit and spice stalls, people selling all sorts of stuff, and drummers and other musicians doing their thing. Quite a sight to see.

Marrakech Square at night - a sea of street-food stalls - all gone in the morning

Marrakech Square at night - a sea of street-food stalls - all gone in the morning

Marrakech street-food stall - anyone for snails?

Marrakech street-food stall - anyone for snails?

Marrakech street-food stall - no idea what's on offer

Marrakech street-food stall - no idea what's on offer

Friday

Our last day before we start our trip home. We took a walking tour of Marrakech with a guide, as it is very easy to get lost. Our first stop was Bahia Palace built in the late 19th century for the Vizier who was standing in as King because the heir was too young to take the throne. The Vizier had four wives and the palace is a marvel of beautifully decorated buildings.

Bahia Palace - Marrakech

Bahia Palace - Marrakech


Wall and ceiling art - Bahia Palace

Wall and ceiling art - Bahia Palace


Then on to the Saadian tombs which date back to 1578. The older mausoleum houses the remains of the Saad dynasty’s founder and Sultan Ahmed el Mansour’s parents. The main mausoleum, which contains the body of Sultan Ahmed el Mansour, is incredibly ornate.
Saadian tombs

Saadian tombs

Ornate work in Saadian Tomb

Ornate work in Saadian Tomb


There are 66 tombs between the two mausoleums, containing princes and other prominent figures.
The gardens have even more tombs in various states of beauty and detail. Many of these outer-lying tombs contain the remains of royal wives, advisers to the sultan, and other people who were important to the ruler. The gardens contain more than 100 tombs. The Tombs were only discovered in 1917 - having been covered over by a jealous successor - and were restored by the French Beaux-arts service.

After that - shopping in the Souk. We now have the challenge of packing our purchases into our suitcases and hope they survive the trip home. Fortunately our weight restriction of 15 kgs which we had on our Camino walk no longer applies.

You;d like some olives??  - Marrakech

You;d like some olives?? - Marrakech

Spices, sandalwood bark, incense blocks - Marrakech

Spices, sandalwood bark, incense blocks - Marrakech

Hamman - massage 'cream' made from olives

Hamman - massage 'cream' made from olives

Cats waiting for 'breakfast handouts' at chicken shop

Cats waiting for 'breakfast handouts' at chicken shop

Cat lady - walks the streets in the morning to feed city cats (who keep the rat and mouse population under control)

Cat lady - walks the streets in the morning to feed city cats (who keep the rat and mouse population under control)

Snake-charmer's pets

Snake-charmer's pets

Marrakech souk - note the variety of dates - up to 300 different types in Morocco

Marrakech souk - note the variety of dates - up to 300 different types in Morocco

There are tons of things we haven't been able to include in our rambling notes - we might publish a PS at some stage (more for our own benefit as a reminder) - and we do appreciate the comments, feedback, messages etc, over the past six weeks. Hope to see most of our friends and family soon.

Best Regards

Ivor & Glynis.

Posted by IvorGlyn 14:07 Archived in Morocco Comments (12)

Morocco - North and East

Ever-changing scenery and lots to learn and like

sunny 30 °C

Morocco – North and East

Thursday-Friday

We were met at Tangier airport on Thursday by our guide Kamal who speaks Berber, Arabic, French and English and driver Mohamed, in a Landcruiser.

Kamal (guide) and Mohamed (driver - in Berber regalia)

Kamal (guide) and Mohamed (driver - in Berber regalia)


After a quick stop at the cave of Hercules (reputedly where the great man rested between a couple of his labours) we were on our way to Chefchaouen, a three hour drive away. On the way to Chefchaouen, Kamal filled us in on the people of Morocco. Population is 37.5 million of which it appears about 80% are of mixed Berber descent, the remainder are of Arab descent with a small number of Jews and West Africans. Driver Mohamed is Berber and Kamal is of mixed Berber descent. The King of Morocco is Arab (the line stretches back centuries) and we certainly get the feeling that the Berber people feel this is not as it should be. The South of Morocco is mainly Berber.

Our hotel in Chefchaouen is really lovely and hurrah! a swimming pool! We arrived early evening and have two nights in Chefchaouen giving us a full day to explore the town. Dinner was excellent, accompanied by Moroccan Champagne – a.k.a. sparkling mineral water! ;-) No alcohol is available in the hotel, however you’re allowed to bring your own wine providing you clear it first with the manager.

Bedroom into sitting room - Chefchauen

Bedroom into sitting room - Chefchauen


Pool area - Chefchauen - very welcome pool on a 30C  day

Pool area - Chefchauen - very welcome pool on a 30C+ day

View above pool area - Chefchauen - Rif mountain foothills in background

View above pool area - Chefchauen - Rif mountain foothills in background


Chefchaouen is situated beneath the peaks of the Rif mountains and is one of the prettiest towns in Morocco. It is a mountain village with many buildings blue-washed and is referred to as “The Blue City”. There are numerous explanations as to why Chefchaouen is predominantly blue, and this depends on who you ask. Walking around the Medina (old city) was very pleasant and not too busy and we found the people very polite. One could browse in the tiny shops and there was no pressure to make a purchase.

Chefchauen city

Chefchauen city

Chefchauen

Chefchauen

Chefchauen

Chefchauen

Chefchauen - early morning scene

Chefchauen - early morning scene

Chefchauen

Chefchauen

Chefchauen medina

Chefchauen medina

Chefchauen medina

Chefchauen medina

Chefchauen medina

Chefchauen medina

Never out of a job in Chefchauen - the man with blue paint and a paintbrush

Never out of a job in Chefchauen - the man with blue paint and a paintbrush


En-route from Tangier we were impressed to see hundreds of wind turbines along the hilltops - the Tangier region being permanently windy. Kamal told us a large solar farm is currently under construction, and this will export power to Europe in 2024. Morocco’s main exports are fish, olive oil, dates, oranges, apples, a variety of other fruits, and tourism is big.

Saturday.

Kamal and Mohamed arrived promptly at 8.00 am as today we head to the city of Fez (Fes), stopping at the UNESCO-listed World Heritage Roman ruin site of Volubilis - the most important historical Roman site in Morocco. A guide took us around Volubilis and it certainly was well worth visiting. The Romans established a prosperous town, built some big homes and civic buildings, brought in many slaves and lived very well in the fertile area. Many of the foundations are still visible and we could get a very good indication of the way the city was laid out.

Volubilis Roman City ruins

Volubilis Roman City ruins

Volubilis

Volubilis

We arrived in in the Arab city of Fez early afternoon. We had been told Fez is the spiritual and cultural heart of Morocco. We checked into our hotel where Ahmed, our guide for the afternoon was waiting. Before going to the Medina we visited a ceramics factory where everything is handmade, using only the finest ‘grey volcanic’ clay – reputedly a very strong material. The potter and the artists are masters of their craft. It is also a school for potters and artists. They produce hand-painted ceramics and mosaic tables and other artworks. We were particularly impressed with the ceramics .

Potter - 25 years on the job - very quick to produce items - a perfect mini-tagine in 2 minutes

Potter - 25 years on the job - very quick to produce items - a perfect mini-tagine in 2 minutes

Hand painted ceramics before glazing (lilac will become blue)

Hand painted ceramics before glazing (lilac will become blue)

Mosaic artist workin on a mirror surround - Fez (tabletop in background looked great)

Mosaic artist workin on a mirror surround - Fez (tabletop in background looked great)

Ceramic output

Ceramic output

Ceramic products

Ceramic products

When we arrived at the Medina, Ahmed gave us our standing orders of “do’s and dont’s” and we followed him closely as we did not want to get lost in the Medina which resembles a rabbit warren. The circumference of the Medina is 30 km and apparently is the mother of all Medinas, with 420 mosques in the Medina alone. The Imams and Muzzeins are paid by the government and are well paid according to Kamal. There was just about anything and everything being sold.

Ahmed and Glyn in Fez medina

Ahmed and Glyn in Fez medina

Fez medina

Fez medina

Dinner? Fez medina

Dinner? Fez medina


Fez city (note thouands of satellite dishes)

Fez city (note thouands of satellite dishes)

The only way to transport goods inside the Medina is by donkey, mule or hand cart.

Only forms of transport permitted in Fez medina - mule and handcart

Only forms of transport permitted in Fez medina - mule and handcart

We found Fez far too busy and “scruffy”. One night was plenty for our liking despite lovely accommodation.
Riad (Hotel) bedroom - Fez

Riad (Hotel) bedroom - Fez

Riad sitting room area of bedroom - Fez

Riad sitting room area of bedroom - Fez

Hookah smoking alcove - Riad in Fez

Hookah smoking alcove - Riad in Fez

Sunday

Today we knew it was going to be a long driving day as we were headed to Merzouga on the edge of the Sahara desert. It was an eight hour drive which included morning tea in Ifran (nicknamed as a little Switzerland as it is a ski resort in winter and has steeply sloping roofs to boot) and lunch somewhere along the road. It was a very scenic drive through parts of the Atlas Mountains and the date growing area; all very lovely.

Looked like it might not be quite street legal

Looked like it might not be quite street legal

Nomad temporary home for six summer months before migrating to desert for six winter months (note stock pen on right)

Nomad temporary home for six summer months before migrating to desert for six winter months (note stock pen on right)

We arrived at Merzouga at 4.30pm and boarded our next mode of transport – camels - as we were to spend a night in a desert camp.

About to be camel riders

About to be camel riders

Looking good but not comfortable

Looking good but not comfortable


The camel ride took about an hour and fifteen minutes. Our luggage was delivered to camp in a 4x4 and arrived shortly after us. Needless to say a shower was on the cards! Fortunately our Berber tent had an en-suite (so not quite the original Berber tent). The four course dinner was served outside, before we joined other folk, on a different tour, in an adjoining camp for Berber drumming around the fire, where Glyn joined in the dancing.

Drummers (and waiters) at Desert Camp

Drummers (and waiters) at Desert Camp

Party girl!

Party girl!

After breakfast we were back on our camels at 7.45 am for the return journey where Kamal and Mohamed were waiting. Our destination was Todgha (Todra) Gorges, but we were keen to stop at Erfoud, which is well known for fossil quarries which are a major industry in Erfoud. This comes about as 350 million years ago, when there was a single landmass – Pangea - the region around what is now Erfoud was part of the sea, and there are huge deposits of prehistoric sea creatures. Our visit to one of the fossil operations was very informative and we now have a little extra weight to pack in Ivor’s suitcase.

Fossil before cutting and polishing

Fossil before cutting and polishing

Cut and polished fossil

Cut and polished fossil

Sedementary material removed to expose fossils - then sanded and polished - looked lovely

Sedementary material removed to expose fossils - then sanded and polished - looked lovely

We arrived at Todgha Gorge early afternoon and walked through the canyons with walls towering 300 metres above us. The walls are so high that taking photographs from down below does not do justice.

Todra Gorge

Todra Gorge

Todra Gorge

Todra Gorge

Todra Gorge

Todra Gorge


Before arriving at the gorge we stopped at a shop in a small Berber village, and unbeknown to us, the stop was to dress us in Berber clothing for a photo with the Berber flag.

Citizenship ceremony? Flag is: Blue for sky; Green for forests; Yellow for desert; Berber letter Z standing for patriotism (in blood red)

Citizenship ceremony? Flag is: Blue for sky; Green for forests; Yellow for desert; Berber letter Z standing for patriotism (in blood red)


Again our hotel is excellent and we have been spoilt. We have had a few big days so dinner and a comfortable bed are most welcome.

Posted by IvorGlyn 14:40 Archived in Morocco Comments (11)

Logroño - Rioja

A quiet city, centre of the Rioja wine growing refion

semi-overcast 22 °C

Logroño

After our brief stay in Bilbao, we caught the train to Logroño - a couple of hours away.

Our apartment in Logrono was in a great location; close to restaurants, cafes and the supermarket where we picked up breakfast supplies.

Cathedral viewed from the apartment

Cathedral viewed from the apartment

Street view adjacent to the apartment - Logrono

Street view adjacent to the apartment - Logrono

Logroño is a small city and the capital of La Rioja, Spain’s main wine producing region in the north. Logrono doesn’t have any famous sights, however we read it was named as one of the best cities to live in in Spain.

Logrono city square

Logrono city square

Logroño - centre of Rioja region

Logroño - centre of Rioja region

Our decision to spend two days in Logrono was hopefully to learn about and experience Rioja wines. They have been making wine in the area around Logroño for thousands of years. There are hundreds of wineries around, and we booked a tour at Bodega Museo Ontañón to see their Museum and the maturation area and tasting protocol for wines together with tapas. It was very well put together and we certainly are now more knowledgeable about Rioja wines. The winery had employed a fine artist to decorate their elaborate museum with coloured class panels and windows, sculptures and paintings, and displayed dome great photographs as well.

Wine press coloured glass window - not quite the subject we're accustomed to - Bodega Ontañón

Wine press coloured glass window - not quite the subject we're accustomed to - Bodega Ontañón

Wine maturing in cellars of Bodega (Cellar/Winery) Ontañón - Logroño (photos on backlit screens enhance the image of the cellar)

Wine maturing in cellars of Bodega (Cellar/Winery) Ontañón - Logroño (photos on backlit screens enhance the image of the cellar)

Coloured glass artwork - Ontanon winery

Coloured glass artwork - Ontanon winery

Persephone - goddess of Spring growth - sculpture in Bodega Ontañón - Logroño

Persephone - goddess of Spring growth - sculpture in Bodega Ontañón - Logroño

Reflection of statue of in marble tiles around the room - reflecting the coming and going of the seasons from spring through harvest

Reflection of statue of in marble tiles around the room - reflecting the coming and going of the seasons from spring through harvest

Bodega Ontañón artwork - Dionysus looks happy - the 4 blocks beneath his right elbow show the effect of wine - Happy/singing; Feeling powerful; Somewhat lost; Acting like a jackass

Bodega Ontañón artwork - Dionysus looks happy - the 4 blocks beneath his right elbow show the effect of wine - Happy/singing; Feeling powerful; Somewhat lost; Acting like a jackass

Our second day we hopped on a bus to Elciego, a little town that dates back to 1067. Being a small town, it has only a couple of cafes/restaurants and one delicious pastry shop!

Village Square - Elciego

Village Square - Elciego

Bakery window - Elciego

Bakery window - Elciego

Elciego village - Rioja region

Elciego village - Rioja region

Driving a Lamborghini (tractor) with your best friend - Elciego, Rioja region

Driving a Lamborghini (tractor) with your best friend - Elciego, Rioja region

Village square - Elciego, Rioja region

Village square - Elciego, Rioja region

Elciego has become famous in recent years due to the Marqués de Riscal Winery and hotel that was designed by the Canadian architect, Frank Gehry. Like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the hotel is covered by titanium. However, this time the titanium contains some pink and gold tones in addition to its natural silver tone. The colour palette is based on the wine and the bottles from Marqués de Riscal; pink for the wine, gold for the metal net that covers the bottle, and silver for the foil around the cork. We gave it a miss as it almost looks out of place, however tourists flock here.

Marques de Riscal winery and hotel in Elciego - building designed by Frank Gehry (designer of Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao; Walt Disney Concert Hall; Louis Vuitton Fondation) - see https://www.architecturaldigest.com/gallery/best-of-frank-gehry-slideshow

Marques de Riscal winery and hotel in Elciego - building designed by Frank Gehry (designer of Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao; Walt Disney Concert Hall; Louis Vuitton Fondation) - see https://www.architecturaldigest.com/gallery/best-of-frank-gehry-slideshow

The bus journey to and from Elciego was super and we were able to get some idea of the importance of the Rioja wine industry to Spain. As far as the eye could see were rolling hills covered with vines. What struck us was the very dry appearance of the soil, meaning that Tempranillo – the primary grape of Rioja wines – must be pretty tough because we saw almost zero irrigation.

Inhospitable looking terroir - still tons of Tempranllo growing on steep slopes - Rioja region

Inhospitable looking terroir - still tons of Tempranllo growing on steep slopes - Rioja region

Miles and miles of vines - Rioja region

Miles and miles of vines - Rioja region

Logrono was a good stop over for us with a comfortable apartment, plenty of Pintxo bars on our doorstep and of course we now know a little more about the Rioja wine industry.

Posted by IvorGlyn 13:50 Archived in Spain Comments (7)

Spain - Bilbao

Capital of the Basque Country - fiercely non-Spanish and non-French

semi-overcast 22 °C

Bilbao

We walked into Bilbao from Lezama mid-morning Sunday after a comfortable 10km ‘stroll’ as there was only one hill to climb at the start of the day when we were still fresh. As it was a little early for us to have our usual refreshment at the end of the day’s walk, coffee it was instead.

A bridge along the way - good to stop and reflect

A bridge along the way - good to stop and reflect

Photographer photographed

Photographer photographed

Approaching Bilbao - clean rural air replaced by not-so-pure haze of more developed countryside

Approaching Bilbao - clean rural air replaced by not-so-pure haze of more developed countryside

Quite a number of offroad cyclists in Spain - more so than in France. These two part of a group riding Bilbao to Santiago over seven days

Quite a number of offroad cyclists in Spain - more so than in France. These two part of a group riding Bilbao to Santiago over seven days

Striking new Camino direction signs appear as we approach Bilbao

Striking new Camino direction signs appear as we approach Bilbao

We made our way to our B&B which was in the old town. A perfect location and a very nice little pension indeed. When we checked the room Camino Ways had booked us into, we immediately asked if we could be upgraded and pay the difference. Fortunately they had one room available which was double the size of our original room. Having just completed six days on the road we felt a little more comfort was deserved. It is a small establishment owned by two great guys who have decorated it to work well with the old building.

Bilbao accommodation - lovely large room - excellent hosts (and a vivacious Vietnamese lady speaking v good English)

Bilbao accommodation - lovely large room - excellent hosts (and a vivacious Vietnamese lady speaking v good English)

Entrance hall - Bilbao accommodation

Entrance hall - Bilbao accommodation

We knew the Guggenheim Museum would not be open on Monday so we decided it was a must to do when we arrived on Sunday. Our luggage had not been delivered as yet, so we had no option but to go in our walking gear and dusty boots (minus our poles!)

Floral 'Puppy' outside Guggenheim Museum - Bilbao (every tourist has a version of this pic...)

Floral 'Puppy' outside Guggenheim Museum - Bilbao (every tourist has a version of this pic...)

Maman (Mother) by Louise Bourgeois - Guggenheim Museum Bilbao - see https://www.guggenheim-bilbao.eus/en/works/maman/

Maman (Mother) by Louise Bourgeois - Guggenheim Museum Bilbao - see https://www.guggenheim-bilbao.eus/en/works/maman/


We thoroughly enjoyed the two temporary exhibitions; works by Picasso and Van Gogh, and then a surprising exhibition by Joana Vasconcelos who has ‘built’ some amazing stuff – starting with the biggest ‘soft toy’ ever – an artwork named Egeria - being a three storey high 30x36x45 METRE artwork that overflows the (very large) atrium of the Guggenheim Museum. Add to that her helicopter done out in coloured ostrich feathers (shades of ‘Priscilla’), and a work titled ‘A Noiva’ which you’ll have to go and see online to discover its components!!
https://joanavasconcelos.guggenheim-bilbao.eus/en/exhibition

Amazingly large - Egeria - a work by Joana Vasconcelos - Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Amazingly large - Egeria - a work by Joana Vasconcelos - Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Have a closer look - these shoes by Joana Vasconcelos are made of stainless steel saucepans and lids

Have a closer look - these shoes by Joana Vasconcelos are made of stainless steel saucepans and lids

Lilicoptere - Joana Vasconcelos - Bell 47 helicopter, ostrich feathers, Swarovski crystals, gold leaf, industrial paint, dyed leather upholstery embossed with fine gold, Arraiolos rugs, walnut wood, woodgrain painting, and passementerie

Lilicoptere - Joana Vasconcelos - Bell 47 helicopter, ostrich feathers, Swarovski crystals, gold leaf, industrial paint, dyed leather upholstery embossed with fine gold, Arraiolos rugs, walnut wood, woodgrain painting, and passementerie

'Tulips' - Guggenheim Museum - Bilbao

'Tulips' - Guggenheim Museum - Bilbao

Outside the museum, hundreds of motorcycles – from Harleys and Nortons down to Vespas - were coming down the street. It is an annual event – The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride, Bilbao - with most of the riders and pillion passengers dressed up for the event (and a large number of the gentleman riders were gentlewomen!). Music was playing, paella was being prepared and everyone seemed to be having a good time.

The annual event that brought hundreds of motorcyclists to gather outside the Guggenheim Museum - Bilbao

The annual event that brought hundreds of motorcyclists to gather outside the Guggenheim Museum - Bilbao

Direction sign for the motorcycle event - Bilbao

Direction sign for the motorcycle event - Bilbao

Well attired 'gentleman' arrives on her trusty steed

Well attired 'gentleman' arrives on her trusty steed

Pillion rider dressed in tulle skirt - nice touch on a bike

Pillion rider dressed in tulle skirt - nice touch on a bike

Crowd outside Guggenheim Museum - both motorcyclists and lookers-on - Bilbao Gentleman's Ride event

Crowd outside Guggenheim Museum - both motorcyclists and lookers-on - Bilbao Gentleman's Ride event

Love the yellow socks (and BTW looks like all shades of 'mustard' will be in fashion this winter - or did it already hit Aus last winter?)

Love the yellow socks (and BTW looks like all shades of 'mustard' will be in fashion this winter - or did it already hit Aus last winter?)

Cigar-puffing gentleman pulls in for the festival - Bilbao

Cigar-puffing gentleman pulls in for the festival - Bilbao

Paella being prepared for the Gentlemen and Gentlewomen bikers - Bilbao

Paella being prepared for the Gentlemen and Gentlewomen bikers - Bilbao


By the time we returned to our B&B our luggage had arrived, so after a shower we set off to explore the Old Town. We headed to the Plaza for a pre-dinner drink and, being Sunday evening, many families were out and the little ones were riding bikes and scooters and rollerblading around in the plaza. It was very pleasant to sit and absorb all that was going on around us before an excellent casual dinner at a little place recommended by one of our hosts. (didn't like the photos of Bilbao Plaza so here's one from Gernika - similar family-oriented evening lifestyle)

Friday evening in Gernika - families gather along the main street and in the plaza - lovely scenes

Friday evening in Gernika - families gather along the main street and in the plaza - lovely scenes


We were only due to get the train to Logroño on Monday mid afternoon, which gave us the morning to further explore Bilbao. There was a demonstration on the go - the pensioners were revolting and demanding their pension be increased to €1,000.00 per month – and a UK couple we’d met on the walk were keen to relocate to Spain, claiming the €1,000.00 was a better deal than the UK pension.

We had lunch at the market - paella and a glass of sangria – very Spanish. The place was buzzing with both locals and tourists despite most of the market stalls being closed on a Monday.

Bilbao is the “capital” of the Basque Country and again it is evident they do not see themselves as being part of Spain and prefer to speak the Basque language. In fact, almost every sign has both Basque and Spanish text inscribed.

The Basque flag is a no-no - by law (see bottom line if other lines don't read too easily)

The Basque flag is a no-no - by law (see bottom line if other lines don't read too easily)

Assertive Basque road painting

Assertive Basque road painting

France and Spain - our quick perspectives...

Over coffee we were again chatting about some of the differences between our walk on the Via Podiensis in France and the Camino Norte in Spain. Vineyards were more evident on the Spain section and the coastal views were lovely. There is also more walking on hard surfaces (not so nice). Spain is less expensive than France. The coffee in Spain is better than in France (for those who enjoy a flat white). The French section was perhaps a little more picturesque from the architecture/building perspective, and has more facilities; however the first few days walking was harder than we encountered on the limited section we did in Spain. One of the major differences we found was when we came to a hamlet or village in France where there was a chapel or church, it was open and inviting as opposed to Spain, where there were not as many churches and they were not always open. The Pilgrim Crosses along the way are far more evident in France and well maintained. More 'mad' singletrack cyclists in Spain on some very challenging paths (challenging even for foot traffic).

We are very pleased we were able to get a taste of both sections. There are still heaps more Camino routes out there and thousands of kilometres to be walked, however we will leave those to others for the time being.

Naturally many hundreds of photos have not made it into the blog (too many interestingbuildings and too many lovely rural scenes) so here are a few which may be worth a quick look:

Increasing number of stands of eucalyptus trees as we move through Spain - possibly replacing diseased pine trees

Increasing number of stands of eucalyptus trees as we move through Spain - possibly replacing diseased pine trees

Someone felt compelled to leave a cross by the wayside. Have seen quite a few, plus lots of small stone cairns

Someone felt compelled to leave a cross by the wayside. Have seen quite a few, plus lots of small stone cairns

Very little wildlife in France or Spain - seeing a butterfly is exciting

Very little wildlife in France or Spain - seeing a butterfly is exciting

In a small apartment, bikes have to stay somewhere

In a small apartment, bikes have to stay somewhere

Bilbao Station - motifs of the life and customs of the city.

Bilbao Station - motifs of the life and customs of the city.

Aisle 1 of two in the tiny 'supermarket' in Larrabetzu

Aisle 1 of two in the tiny 'supermarket' in Larrabetzu

Aisle 2 of two in the tiny 'supermarket' in Larrabetzu

Aisle 2 of two in the tiny 'supermarket' in Larrabetzu

Typical mid-morning break (usually with pastry, otherwise a protein bar)

Typical mid-morning break (usually with pastry, otherwise a protein bar)

Posted by IvorGlyn 10:52 Archived in Spain Comments (11)

Spain - San Sebastian --> Lezama

Lovely San Sebastian; great food and wine; lots and lots of hills on The Way

sunny 25 °C

San Sebastian

We arrived in San Sebastián on Saturday as did another 100,000 people who were there to attend the week long International Film Festival. Heaps of folk (not us!) were standing outside the hotel where the film stars were staying and also around the theatre on the red carpet hoping to catch a glimpse of the stars or hopefully an autograph. Dame Judi Dench and Ryan Gosling were about the only names we recognised.

Red Carpet outside main theatre hosting San Sebastian International Film Festival

Red Carpet outside main theatre hosting San Sebastian International Film Festival

San Sebastian International Film Festival was on - billboard of movies - and Audis waiting to ferry VIPs

San Sebastian International Film Festival was on - billboard of movies - and Audis waiting to ferry VIPs

We were far more interested in exploring the city and walking along the promenade alongside the beaches.

Small boat harbour- San Sebastian

Small boat harbour- San Sebastian

La Concha Beach on a sunny Sunday - San Sebastian

La Concha Beach on a sunny Sunday - San Sebastian

Ornate lampposts - foreshore San Sebastian

Ornate lampposts - foreshore San Sebastian

City Hall - San Sebastian

City Hall - San Sebastian

Saturday afternoon crowd enjoying sunny San Sebastian

Saturday afternoon crowd enjoying sunny San Sebastian

Striking building near our pension - San Sebastian

Striking building near our pension - San Sebastian

Taken at the top of the 'Mount' overlooking San Sebastian city - on a grey Monday

Taken at the top of the 'Mount' overlooking San Sebastian city - on a grey Monday

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza - fountain in San Sebastian

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza - fountain in San Sebastian


San Sebastián is known for its renowned restaurants; however guided by our host Antonio we made our way to restaurants specialising in Pintxos (~Tapas) and enjoyed them immensely. A great way to spend an evening, trying different pintxos together with the local wines.
Pintxos lined up at a San Sebastian bar

Pintxos lined up at a San Sebastian bar

Old City - San Sebastian - wall-to-wall 'Pinxos' bars

Old City - San Sebastian - wall-to-wall 'Pinxos' bars

Our table at La Cepa restaurant - Old City, San Sebastian - lollies are sealed-in under a glass tabletop

Our table at La Cepa restaurant - Old City, San Sebastian - lollies are sealed-in under a glass tabletop

Spanish waiter ("Manuel?"<img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_wink.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=';)' title='' /> hamming it up for us at La Cepa restaurant in San Sebastian  ("I know nothing!"<img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_wink.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=';)' title='' />

Spanish waiter ("Manuel?";) hamming it up for us at La Cepa restaurant in San Sebastian ("I know nothing!";)


Antonio also recommended we go to La Vina in the Old Town to taste their cheesecake. Glyn had read that one cannot leave San Sebastián without having cheesecake from La Vina so it was a must do. It was incredibly busy on the Sunday afternoon, however Glyn managed to squeeze through the scrum and came out very chuffed with cheesecake in hand, and it was just the best!
La Viña - renowned cheesecake cafe - absolutely divine taste - not to be missed

La Viña - renowned cheesecake cafe - absolutely divine taste - not to be missed


After two relaxing days it was time for us again to don the walking uniform and marching boots for the start of our 145 km Camino Norte walk which would take us through the Basque Country.

San Sebastian - Zarautz

We arrived at the seaside town of Zarautz mid afternoon after a pleasant 22 km walk with a light breeze. Zarautz is well known for good surfing. Glyn found a small well-recommended restaurant for dinner. The very tall chef was from Senegal and presented us with lovely local food prepared in a tiny kitchen accompanied by the local wine - Txakoli – a slightly sparkling white. It is poured from a height and the Basque people are very proud of their wine. They are also adamant that they are not part of Spain and we have seen a number of signs along the way attesting to this feeling.
Leaving San Sebastian - early morning.

Leaving San Sebastian - early morning.

Homes at the western end of La Concha Bay - San Sebastian

Homes at the western end of La Concha Bay - San Sebastian


Approaching Zarautz - lovely looking golf course in the foreground, but no time to have a round (sigh!)

Approaching Zarautz - lovely looking golf course in the foreground, but no time to have a round (sigh!)

Walking along the hills between San Sebastian and Zarautz

Walking along the hills between San Sebastian and Zarautz

Rural scene - between San Sebastian and Zarautz

Rural scene - between San Sebastian and Zarautz

Rural scene near Orio (between San Sebastian and Zarautz)

Rural scene near Orio (between San Sebastian and Zarautz)

Txakoli harvester outside San Sebastian - made it clear that he is Romany/Romani

Txakoli harvester outside San Sebastian - made it clear that he is Romany/Romani

Txakoli vines as we climb out of San Sebastian - picking had just begun

Txakoli vines as we climb out of San Sebastian - picking had just begun

Sengalese chef and barman Richard in Zarautz

Sengalese chef and barman Richard in Zarautz

Barman Richard pouring Txakoli - Zarautz

Barman Richard pouring Txakoli - Zarautz

Zarautz - Deba

The next day’s walk was a little more demanding; however we were warmly welcomed by Rosa the owner of the Agroturismo Donibane outside of Deba. Rosa prepared a four course dinner for 14 ‘pilgrims’ (12 from UK and us) with all the vegetables and fruit from her garden. Pumpkin soup with croutons; Spanish omelette with sweet baby tomatoes; rabbit; and for dessert, baked apples. All for €15 each, which included a bottle of wine. Certainly worth walking the 22 kms with hills.
Grape picking is thirsty work in the Spanish sunshine

Grape picking is thirsty work in the Spanish sunshine

Vineyards along the way - near Orio

Vineyards along the way - near Orio

Txakoli vines on high trelisses form a canopy

Txakoli vines on high trelisses form a canopy

Admiration for those heading for Santiago (note walkers go right here, bikers go left - means tough terrain coming up!)

Admiration for those heading for Santiago (note walkers go right here, bikers go left - means tough terrain coming up!)

Basque independence signs - Zarautz

Basque independence signs - Zarautz

Basque protest sign

Basque protest sign

Getaria - between Zarautz and Deba

Getaria - between Zarautz and Deba

Txakoli vines above Getaria

Txakoli vines above Getaria

Deba – Markina-Xemein

We were up early on Wednesday and after breakfast farewelled Rosa. We knew the day was going to be tough and it was. There were hills and hills and often not very scenic. We had been warned there were no villages along the way and we needed to ensure we carried sufficient water and food to get us through. For our lunch, we bought cheese, prosciutto, a bottle of Powerade, and a peach from the local grocery shop in Deba before setting off. Late morning we met a couple from Brisbane who have not done much walking, so walked the rest of the way with them. Chatting as you walk certainly does help with the kilometres. Fortunately our four bottles of water just got us through before finding a terrace bar where we could relax with a beer and shandy.
Between Deba and Markina - our accommodation was the little white dot to the right of the viaduct, with Deba town hidden in the valley below us

Between Deba and Markina - our accommodation was the little white dot to the right of the viaduct, with Deba town hidden in the valley below us

Looking back down a steep climb - plenty of logging

Looking back down a steep climb - plenty of logging

No we're not in Santiago! Just the name of a little stream that runs into the harbour in Zumeia

No we're not in Santiago! Just the name of a little stream that runs into the harbour in Zumeia

Markina – Gernika-Lumo

Day four was really good for walking with good with warm weather and much of the day was spent walking through shaded forests and yes! more hills. Unlike our walk in France there is no guarantee we will be able to get coffee or even lunch so we have to be relatively self sufficient. We usually carry cracker biscuits, cheese, salami/prosciutto, fruit, muesli bars and chocolate digestive biscuits to get us through the day. Today we were thrilled to walk into a village to see a place where we could have coffee. The small establishment was not only the local coffee shop cum bar, it was also the local grocery store and the town’s only ‘supermarket’. The whole establishment was tiny and could have fitted into a couple of average-sized bedrooms. The coffee was good, as was the ham and cheese we bought, but service took ages as we had hit at the 11am Friday rush-hour .
We had a relatively short day of 21kms and arrived at our hotel in Gernika mid afternoon. We found a super Pintxo restaurant - what a find! Dinner and a bottle of wine €26.00.
Warming up for the early morning mandatory hill climb

Warming up for the early morning mandatory hill climb

Dodging muddy spots - Glynis and Leanne (from QLD)

Dodging muddy spots - Glynis and Leanne (from QLD)

Old style haystacks - the only ones we've seen of this type

Old style haystacks - the only ones we've seen of this type

Any excuse to stop climbing for a minute or two

Any excuse to stop climbing for a minute or two

Gernika-Lumo – Lezama

Day five was rather boring. It started off quite pleasantly, however at about the halfway mark we found ourselves walking along roads with aeroplanes above us making their final approach into Bilbao, and cars and motorbikes buzzing past. We have a small Bluetooth speaker in a backpack so we decided music was required. We arrived at our accommodation - which is out of Lezama - to be told they don’t serve dinner on Saturday nights. Fortunately we were able to get a reservation at a restaurant about 400 metres away. Not our best day.
Virtually no birds seen in France or Spain - so here are a few we DID see

Virtually no birds seen in France or Spain - so here are a few we DID see

Monastery of Ziortza - between Markina and Gernika

Monastery of Ziortza - between Markina and Gernika

Monk feeding cats - Ziortza Monastery

Monk feeding cats - Ziortza Monastery

Dual crop. Beans use maize/corn stalks as their climbing trellis

Dual crop. Beans use maize/corn stalks as their climbing trellis

Lezama - Bilbao

Tomorrow we have a short day walking to Bilbao, our final ‘walking’ destination. We have found a big difference between the Via Podiensis walk in France and the Camino Norte walk in Spain. The Spain walk is very rural and rustic with not many facilities. We have missed our morning visit to the boulangerie to buy our freshly baked quiche and pastries, however the evenings have made up for the lack of facilities during the day with good food and wine at very reasonable prices. The scenery too is very different. We can only compare the 350 km section of the Via Podiensis walk in France to the 145 km section of the Camino Norte in Spain so our view may not be the same as folk who have experienced more of the Camino Norte.

We hope to update with a note from Bilbao in a couple of days.

Posted by IvorGlyn 14:33 Archived in France Comments (9)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 15) Page [1] 2 3 »