Men are from Spain, Women are from Morocco

Trip Start Dec 16, 2009
Trip End Jan 09, 2010

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Another crappy shower - very little water pressure, and the water temperature was very difficult to control.  Downstairs for our last breakfast in Morocco, where we saw the group of Italians - Italians can be very entertaining, generally quite friendly and boisterous.  They said goodbye as they headed out, and we finished up breakfast.

We headed out to call our hotel for the night in Ceuta, and confirm our reservation as they asked, and also to look for an Internet cafe to book a bus, ferry, and place to stay for the following evening.  On our way through the nearby little square, a little old lady laughed and shouted out to us that it was cold, and that we should be wearing jackets.  I laughed and shouted back that we were from Canada, and that it felt hot out right now!

Off to catch a grand taxi to Ceuta - this should have been a simple thing, but turned out to be quite complicated.  We approached a taxi driver at the spot where we expected them to gather, but were told that taxis to Ceuta needed to be taken from a different spot.  Luckily, a couple of nice passersby (or so we thought ...) offered to help out, and the next thing we knew, we were whisked off into a grand taxi and were off to Ceuta. 

And then we did the math and realized how much we had overpaid by ... guess they weren't such nice guys, after all!  Not only did we get end up paying for the extra four seats in the taxi, by being told that today was a holiday and that we would be waiting for hours to fill out the rest of the taxi, but the passersby also inflated the price substantially, keeping the remainder for themselves.  As we approached the border, I was concerned that maybe they hadn't even paid the taxi driver out of the money we had given them - luckily, they at least did that.  Fortunately, we weren't scammed out of too much money, but it was definitely a reminder not to let your guard down, not even for a second, to two seemingly nice guys.  This little incident can easily be summed by the equation Smooth Talkers + Dumb Tourist = Easy Scam.    

Ceuta - the border was very busy and disorganized, and we felt like we were melting under the hot Moroccan sun.  The dusty conditions didn't help either, making the first lineup feel longer than it was, and making the second lineup feel even longer.  

The Spanish side of customs was a joke in comparison, with an officer briefly glancing at our passports, and then us walking through a metal detector and putting our bags through an X-ray machine.  I almost laughed after we passed through, because it looked like the X-ray machine wasn't functioning, as its display was freeze-framed on something that passed through long ago, as nothing was passing through the machine at the moment.  The officer also waved a bunch of ladies through, telling them they didn't need to pass their purses and shopping bags through the X-ray machine.  

As we walked out the door, we were finally ... in Spain!!!  Woo hoo!!!  Though sad to leave Morocco, I was ecstatic to have returned.  We hopped a bus for the city centre, and headed directly to the Hostal Plaza Ruiz.  It was very windy, making it difficult to walk, especially with our backpacks.  Ceuta's a tiny-little town, so we actually walked well past the hostal, expecting it to be a lot farther than it was.  

It was a bit of a shock showing up there, as it's a fairly modern-looking place, quite the contrast to the types of places we've been staying at in Morocco.  Our room has windows that open up directly over a beautiful little plaza.

Off for lunch - we headed down Paseo del Revellin, the main pedestrian zone, which was eerily quiet, perhaps because it was the start of siesta.  Wanting something quick to eat, we looked for a sandwich shop or cafe, finding one with a nice spot on a little plaza, but Mary noted that there was another cafe just a few metres down the road with outdoor seating overlooking the harbour.  We headed over there and just seconds before we arrived, it started raining - typical Mary timing, as these inexplicable things seemingly always happen to her!  

Over to see the Murallas Reales (Royal Walls) and its accompanying museums.  The museums weren't anything special, and weren't as interesting as just walking around the walls.  One of the museums contained an exhibit on toy soldiers, and also a temporary art exhibit entitled "The Human Figure".   

There's a second museum inside the Murallas Reales, one that speaks to the history of Ceuta, referring to its "Seven Essences". Many cities in Spain like Toledo are famous for, in addition to cute little Spanish hotel receptionists, being cities where historically Christians, Jews, and Muslims all lived together side by side, in relative harmony. Ceuta had a fourth group as well - surprisingly, Hindus. Like the first museum, the building itself, also housed within the walls, was probably more interesting than the exhibits. A short movie was played here, which provided some insight into the city's history.

From here, we popped down to the ferry terminal to buy tickets for tomorrow's journey to Algeciras on mainland Spain, from where we would journey onward to Sevilla for New Year's eve. All the large grocery stores in town are located on the strip opposite the ferry terminal and being hungry, I wanted to browse a bit. I really only needed to pick up some water, but my stomach made me wander through the bakery, the produce section, the chocolate section, until I finally picked up a few drinks and snacks.

We stopped at the Tardorromana Basilica, some Roman ruins that were excavated and converted into a museum. We didn't spend long there as all the explanations were in Spanish; normally I'd relish in exposing myself to some further Spanish practice, but after another long and draining day, I wasn't mentally alert enough to care.

It was now time for the paseo, the magical walking hour in Spain, where seemingly the entire Spanish population is out walking in the streets - it's one of the best times to be out and about in Spain, as there is a buzz and energy everywhere with everyone strolling, from small children, to young couples, to the elderly. The pedestrian zone that was completely dead when we first arrived in Ceuta during siesta time had finally sprung to life.

We approached the Hostal and decided to pop into the Ceuta Museum, since it was so conveniently located but more importantly, because it was free! Hey, we need to watch our money now that we are back in Spain - no more cheap tajines are available for the bargain price of only 40 dirhams!

The museum doubled up slightly on what we saw at the Tardorromana Basilica, with similar ancient artifacts on display. A temporary exhibit of paintings by a local artist was far more interesting than any of the historical displays at the museum.

Back to the hostal for a bit of a late siesta - we seem to tire quite easily now, since Moroccan travel was definitely a lot harder than we expected, and has beat up our bodies pretty good. We headed out for dinner around 8 PM, catching the end of the prime paseo hours. The crowds were starting to dwindle, since ominous clouds had rolled in, bringing with them the promise of a downpour.

Our intent was to have a seafood dinner tonight, since starting tomorrow we would be landlocked until our arrival in Galicia at the end of the Spanish portion of our trip. The best spot for this was to head downhill to the port, but we instead decided to enjoy what remained of the paseo and head uphill a short distance first, until the end of the pedestrian zone.

As we turned around to head down to the port, we popped back into the hostal to pick up our umbrellas. From there the closer we got to the harbour, the harder the rain fell, and the harsher the winds became. My girly-little umbrella inverted itself three or four times on the way to a restaurant recommended by the guidebook. There is a commercial complex sitting right on the water where we suspected the restaurant would be, but it has perhaps closed since the guidebook was published, as it was nowhere to be found. There were only bars and discos around along with a McDonald's, a Mexican restaurant, and a pizzeria.

Getting soaked, we wandered over to the Nautical Club, as there was also a seafood restaurant there that overlooked the Mediterranean. We walked a good ways along the waterfront to get there, only to realize that we couldn't get to it unless we hopped the fence, or backtracked all the way to the entrance to the port, and then again walked back all the way to where we presently were. We considered eating at the uber-cool restaurant located inside the Murallas Reales but decided it was too fancy, and chose to eat at the pizzeria we had earlier passed.

Again, communication issues - I had remembered that the pizzeria was at the complex filled with bars, but Mary remembered it being farther, so we continued past the complex until we ended up at a fast food pizza joint. Oops! Mary apparently had not seen the other pizzeria, and thought I was talking about this place. We'll call it another case of "Men Are From Spain, Women Are From Morocco"!

We headed back to the pedestrian zone and came across a little seafood joint with a fairly simple menu. There was another restaurant specializing in roasted meats just down the road, so we looked at their menu - quite pricey, so we went back to the seafood place, El Pescaito Frito. Very busy, with its tapas bar area bursting with people and only a couple of tables available, we were still promptly seated. Some of the dishes looked great, so hopefully this was a good sign of the food to come.

After dinner it was a quick walk around town, stopping at a gelato shop for a scoop of really bad melon gelato, and it was back to the hostal for the evening. Though it's a small town and the streets had died down completely, there was a lot of ruckus coming from Plaza Ruiz just outside our window - a nearby bar was going until the wee hours of the morning, with raucous singing and talking echoing through the streets.

A bit of blogging on the netbook and some Spanish TV rounded out the night - a reality show on beauty pageants, which I found completely engrossing, but only for the story lines, nothing else :) After that, it was the latest top 40 videos in Spain. For once, we didn't pass out before midnight, but sadly this was because we were now one hour ahead of Morocco, so sleeping at 1:30 AM wasn't much later than we've been getting to bed lately. We need to adjust to those late Spanish hours!
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