Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Morocco- A Whole New World

I guess it is a very, very old part of this world but it was like entering a whole new world for us!  From Barcelona, we took a three day trip to Morocco!  I wanted to go to Africa so I could visit my sixth continent! Michael wanted to go somewhere exotic. So Morocco was the place for both of us!  I was very worried about safety.  (I guess I have "The Man Who Knew Too Much" to thank for that fear.)  That meant that our planning was very specific and we read many reviews and suggestions.  Thankfully, I never once felt unsafe and it was an incredible country to visit and learn more about it's culture!  We also were never out of sight from a guide or driver which was nice because it made me feel secure and that meant we could just enjoy the journey instead of trying to figure out how to get from place to place.
Our first night, we landed late so we had a taxi take us to our hotel.  The taxi took us to the edge of a big block city where a guy from the hotel was there with a cart and took us through an amazing maze of shops and houses.  Then we got to a smallish, plain door that was our hotel.  Once you walked into the door you were in this beautiful, spacious courtyard.  Our room was gorgeous!  We wished we had been able to stay there longer because it was incredible!

Walking to our hotel.

Our two story room! Fireplace, living room and master bed were on the main floor.  Two twin beds were upstairs. And a beautiful wood carved bathroom was through the door in the picture!

That ceiling!

The doors to our room! ^

So many incredible details!

Early the next morning, we were picked up by our tour guide to the Sahara Desert! He picked us up and drove us the 7+ hours to the desert's edge.  We had a few stops along the way.  It's pretty incredible what a little bit of water will do to a landscape! 


Let's not forget our stop to feed the monkeys!

A few comforts from home ;) 

Where we stopped for lunch

It was pretty delicious!

On the edge of Sahara sand dunes!

After hours of driving, we were at the desert's edge and so we got in the car with this guide so that he could four wheel drive us to where the camels are.

He was so sweet and loved showing Laila the baby camel!

Here's where we were welcomed with some herbal tea (not my favorite taste but generous gesture!) We were given a room with AC to go to the bathroom, shower and relax until 7 PM when the sun was starting to set and we would take off on camels into the desert for the night! I was nervous to ride a camel for over an hour.  I get really bad allergies when I ride a horse so I was nervous that I would be an itchy eye, asthmatic mess all night.  Fortunately, I am not allergic to camels!  So despite a few saddle sore moments, I could have been on a camel all day!  Michael and Laila shared a camel.  Michael got on and the camel stood up.  Then they handed Laila to him.  I had Harrison in the ergo carrier and our kids were awesome on the rides!

It was so incredible seeing different caravan of camels set off into the desert creating breathtaking silhouettes like this!

Our little caravan with another couple from Europe!

Our home for the night! We dwelled in a tent in the Sahara Desert!

Once we got settled, our camel guide took Michael out for some sand surfing!

Then our guide made us some yummy dinner by candlelight! There was so much food!

Then it was time for bed.  Although I will say there was not much sleep because of how hot it was.  Laila woke up in the middle of the night saying "Guys! I'm trying to sleep but it's just so hot!" haha! Poor girl! It felt great outside.  Inside the tent not so much.  Haha!

The next morning, we woke up really early to ride our camels back to the room where we had cooled off the night before.  We met with another guide in the local town to show us their market day and teach us more about the local culture.

This was the goat and sheep auction.  We had missed the camel and cow auctions.  Those were earlier in the morning.  The next part was my favorite, our guide took us to the "parking lot."  People ride their donkeys to market and they park them in the parking lot.  Out super sweet guide let Laila ride on one.  She was thrilled!

We also got to see all the different spices that were for sale! So beautiful!  The market was so incredible to show their way of life.  There was still a blacksmith, a butcher,  and a coppler, etc!  It was a great experience.  I also love the rug I bought there too. :)

To finish off this post and this trip, I wanted to show my favorite picture we have from our whole time abroad.  It's also probably my favorite picture of all time.  This was going to the parking lot.  It wasn't long but I wanted to capture it so I quickly grabbed Michael's phone and snapped it.  Later, as we were looking through pics, I realized how this phone pic was way more powerful than I even intended.  I love how it shows two people from very different cultures and yet they are walking together hand in hand.  It just represented to me how we are truly all God's children and even though we all have different perspectives and beliefs, we can still be together in harmony.  I could go on and on about how I feel about it, but for now, I will leave it there!  

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly In the Plain...

...And definitely not in sunny BARCELONA!

Most of our trips in Europe were work related but this one was special because it was ALL vacation and it was 10 days long!  With Michael's work schedule and long hours, we wanted somewhere warm, sunny, with beaches.  Barcelona delivered.

The city has such great architecture and history.  We loved dancing in the street, riding the subway, taking a bike tour, and walking around the beautiful city.  Although we were away from Romania for 10 days, we didn't stay the whole time in Barcelona.  We took a little two night jaunt to Morocco- which I will write about next.  This time, it's all about Espana.  This trip was a good thing and a bad thing because we all got some pretty bad head colds.  Good thing because we were on vacation for a long time we could take it slower and just rest when we needed to.  Bad thing because we were sick, we didn't get to enjoy as much time other places as we could have if we had been in full health.  Oh well! C'est la vie!

This was a street near our hotel the first couple nights and when the streets are this picturesque, you just have to dance through them!

We love bike tours! This was no exception.  The kids love their seats and don't get tired as easily.  We all love seeing so much of the city and getting to hear a guide's information behind what we are seeing.  Bike tours are our favorite!

Awesome architecture!

Incredible history! (^This is from Sagrada Familia.  My absolute favorite! More on that later in this post)

Government buildings flying the flag of Spain and Barcelona.  Barcelona desperately wants to be an independent nation of Catalan and they make that quite well known.  There's also a "Refugees Welcome" banner.  Definitely a powerful statement there!

Some of our own exploring on foot!

This fun spot was created when Barcelona hosted the World Fair.
Another fun story- this arch was also built for the world fair.  Another architect had been commissioned to build a modern tower in this location but when the residents saw the designs they insisted they fire that architect, Mr. Eiffel because it was so ugly.  They wanted something memorable so this arch that is not known for anything was built and Mr. Eiffel had to build his tower somewhere else.  In...Uh, France... I think ;)

This is our selfie in front of the Christopher Columbus statue.  Definitely fascinating to learn more about him and his voyage chartered from Barcelona.  When this picture was taken, we were about a month away from heading back to the states.  So the caption was intended to be something along the lines of: Watch out, America!  Just like Columbus, the Shields are coming for you! (Except without disease and all that other stuff...)

This is one of my favorite pictures because I had major congestion and real fruit/smoothies were the only things that sounded good to me so my super cute tourist husband joined the unique crowd to get me some! Aw! True love!

Let's not forget all our fun time spent on the beach!  There were lots of topless people on the beach so we had to be very vigilant with what photos we posted.  We would zoom in and be like, "Nope! Can't post that one!" Haha!  This one seemed safe as far as we could tell! Besides the pants-less boy front and center! 

One morning, we hiked to the top of the incredible Park Guell where lots of Antoni Gaudi's work can be enjoyed! 

Gaudi's distinctive, Catalan modern architecture is magically and easily recognizable!

Especially his magnum opus- Sagrada Familia!  This unfinished basilica is incredible.  I am a very soft, traditional art fan so I did not think I would fall in love with this Gothic/curvilinear Art Nouveau wonder! When Gaudi died, it was only a quarter completed.  There is an anticipated completion date of 2026 which is the centenary of Gaudi's death.  I hope this is true! It will be incredible to see it without the construction and cranes everywhere.  On the exterior of the building are carvings and statues depicting the life of Jesus Christ.  Starting with "La Sagrada Familia" (the Sacred Family) on the main entrance side.  Such a beautiful depiction of the nativity and the first Christmas night!  Oh man! I loved it!  THEN, you go inside and see this....

The walls were basically simple white stone and the stained glass is beautiful but when the light came through the glass and magically changed the walls to this glowing, multi colored world, it was breathtaking!  I thought after all the cathedrals, castles, churches, stained glass, etc. that we had seen all summer long, this would just be another pretty church.  Instead, I was completely blown away.  What an incredible experience!

To finish off our trip, we rode the train out of the city and the sky tram up into the mountains to see the Abbey of Montserrat.  Getting there was definitely half the fun because the cable car ride was exciting but the location and the mountains also added to the charm.  We needed to get creative with our poses after six months of picture taking. (As seen above!) Also, this is the place where we lost our tripod.  We set it down and it was not there when we went back.  Some of us mourned the loss more than others and some of us were ok picking out a new tripod when we got home that wasn't as bulky and long and annoying as the lost one. ;)

Barcelona was a very nice retreat for us.  It was nice to be able to spend so much time in one place without having to worry about work meetings, etc.  It was a vacation and it had a little bit of everything for everyone!  We are grateful for our time there!