Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Last Chapter...

Here we are, sitting on the last plane of our trip! It's a lot more bittersweet than I thought it would be.  We have definitely been looking forward to going back to Vancouver, but now that we're actually there it's hard to believe that the adventures are over (for now)! On the other hand we are so looking forward to seeing friends and family again.  The more I travel, the more I appreciate how incredibly beautiful Vancouver is, with the mountains to the North, the ocean, Stanley Park, false creek and the fact that it is green green green in both meanings of the word! 

We have so many pictures to sift through, bags to unpack, and various odds and ends to take care of, but more than anything we've been left feeling like we did everything we wanted to do and more on the trip and on top of that we have met countless people along the way who were really what made our trip so memorable.  

The Tomatina Festival left us feeling pretty damn exhausted, but the night in an actual hotel room was heaven- what a great sleep!! We had dinner in Barcelona- one last paella, yum! The hotel room was actually a fall-back seeing as we were trying to hit up a campground but it was 60 Euro for one night!! So we payed 80 or something for a real room. Absurd, but in the end awesome!
After a ridiculous argument over whether or not it was worth it to pay for the breakfast buffet in the morning (Chris 'won', and we stayed for breaky.  After traveling for so long together, you're bound to have a few silly disagreements that you can later look back on and laugh at), we headed back towards Switzerland to stay with Ketty once more.  We showed up late only to be surprised with a traditional African meal, with outfits and everything! We were so excited to share in her traditions from home and the food was absolutely amazing! Both Nico and Ketty have been so good to us, we hope to return the favour one day! We took some pictures after creating our African safari background and had a great night catching up.  Nico was flying in from Africa in the morning and going straight to work so we popped by for a tired hello/good-bye on our way towards Luxembourg.

Does it look like we're in Gabon?!
We met up with our buddy Onur in Geneva! We first met him in New Zealand, how cool is that?!
I must say that Chris is generally an organized person, especially for a guy. He loves his lists and is great at organizing events when he commits to them, and I love that we shared the job of Couchsurfing communications during our travels. Unfortunately, he had one small error, accidentally replacing the word 'Friday' with 'Saturday' and as a result, we showed up at our hosts' doorstep to some shocked faces. "You had said you would be arriving tomorrow..."! Oops! Anyway, it was Jean-Marc and his family of seven kids- what's a couple more people? Of course they were having family over that night (a four-person family), so now they were suddenly entertaining and feeding 15 people! We had an awesome night having home-made sushi- what a fun activity for the kids! There were bowls of different accoutrements all over the never-ending dining room table and we had small hand-sized squares of seaweed, so it was like making Japanese tacos. Delicious! Maybe the kids will come visit us in Vancouver one day (though let's hope not all seven at once!). Honestly, you have GOT to check out Couchsurfing!

It was our last day in Europe, so we headed out fairly early, headed for Luxembourg. Here in 'Lux city' we saw the coolest street performer. Everyone gathered around to check out the illusion! We walked around a bit, but with little time to spare and after having seen soo many main squares we decided to just buy the traditional shot glass to add to our collection and move on. We detoured through Belgium JUST so that Chris could by a shot glass, but ended up in a really cool city which we both liked a lot, called Liege. We walked around the main area (starting to see a trend here?) and did a bit of last-minute shopping for chocolates and a giant bag to help us carry all our stuff home. 

Finally, we made it to our last stop, Dusseldorf, and where we would meet up with our first and our last CouchSurfer for the Europe leg of the trip, Joe. We popped some champagne to celebrate all of the memories we have to look back on through our travels in the last 7 months. Chris and I both value the people in our lives so much, and I think one of the highlights for me was meeting people from all over the world and sharing experiences and stories. We met them as a couple, and learned about each other through listening to stories and opinions shared.  What I love about the people we met is they were all so open, so kind, so happy.  Sharing the love of travel gives you this mentality and I hope we hold on to that openness and desire to share our lives with everyone we meet in it as we return to life back home.

Joe! Our very first (and last) CouchSurfer in Europe!

Speaking of important people in our lives, I can't imagine ever being able to do this trip with anyone else. Chris, to me, is the ultimate travel companion- he is up for anything, reminds me of the things that are most important, knows how to make me smile no matter what the circumstances, and has such a happy, easy-going personality that it's no wonder everyone he meets almost instantly realizes how awesome he is. There were definitely bumps in the road and we learned a lot about each other (for better and for worse) along the way, but I'm so excited for what lays ahead for us after passing this ultimate relationship test with flying colours. 

Looking back I can honestly say we're happier and closer than ever, so thanks babe! I wouldn't have wanted to be:
dodging the cyclonic rain of Fiji, digging 'wobbles' the van out of pea gravel, partying until mugged at the Full Moon Party, sweating (and let's be honest, complaining) in Anchor Wat, braving the animal market in Bac Ha, breathing in the dust of Aswan, tandem biking the streets of Amsterdam, beer-tasting in Belgium, CouchSurfing through Europe, posing in front of the Eiffel Tower, freedom camping in Germany, hiking through the hills of Austria, checking out the Prince's palace in Liechtenstein, listening to the cowbells in Switzerland, sunbathing in Nice, surfing the internet in McDonalds, wine-tasting in Provence, getting kicked out of a lake in Carcassonne, indulging in unique views at the pool in Andorra, swimming on the coast of Spain, walking (with difficulty ;) through the streets of Marrakech, riding on a donkey-pulled platform through the outskirts of Asilah, navigating the streets of Europe for countless hours and finally getting sprayed in the face with water, fighting to stay on my feet and dodging tomatoes at La Tomatina,
with ANYONE else!

To Chris, I love you more than ever, and can't wait to top this adventure with all the more to come in our lives together!!

To everyone we met along the way, we hope to meet you again and will eagerly have you to stay if you ever come to Vancouver. Thanks for all the memories and big love to you all!

To all back home, thanks for following along and sharing in our journey! Happiness and adventure are that much more awesome when you share it with those you love.

Until the next adventure then,...

Much love, Lauren and Chris!!!

Ha ha, we MADE IT!!!!!

Peace Out!!!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Going out with a bang (and a tomato in the face)

We definitely went out in style, finishing our trip as planned, at La Tomatina!!!! For those who haven't heard of this event, it is an annual festival in Bunol, a small town 40 kilometres inland from Valencia in Spain. The premise is that basically it is a giant tomato fight.  We had seen some pictures and read about it and thought it would be a fun, crazy thing to participate in.  Well,,.. it was definitely crazy, the jury's still out on the fun part!
Couchsurfing also has an activities section, and the happened to be two groups organizing a meet-up for La Tomatina.  We thought this would be perfect as it's one thing that we really wanted to do with a group of people so we didn't just end up hucking a couple of tomatoes at each other.  We met up with almost 30 people in Valencia from all over the world, but of course mainly Aussies! After a few beers and a lot of "so how long have you been traveling for?" and "where are you from?" and "where have you been in Europe so far?", we linked up with a few choice couchsurfers to head into Bunol to party for the night.  The town was crawling with loads of people who had turned up for the event.  Down all the streets restaurant tables were set up outside and people were having tapas and drinks and good times. We wandered around with Megan, a fellow Kiwi who bummed a ride with us into town, and purely by chance ran into another couchsurfing group who had met up in Bunol.  We partied and danced to Spanish music. They have a spanish version of 'yankee doodle', which actually seems to still be popular for some reason. There were tons of Japanese tourists at the event dressed in crazy costumes, looking like contestants on Wipeout. Fair enough as it doesn't get much quirkier than this and based on their game shows, I think the Japanese get a kick out of quirky. We headed back to the car for a couple hours of sleep and to our surprise there was dance music pounding at full blast in the property right next to where our car was parked! We were too, um, 'tired', to care and threw in some earplugs to sleep a bit before the events the next day. 

Couchsurfing is AWESOME! Cheers to that!

We woke up bleary eyed in the morning to the same blaring music like we'd never slept a minute's sleep. We picked Megan up off the ground beside our car where she'd slept among another half-dozen partiers, and headed down to the main event! This town is pretty small and they get a good 50,000 people who come in for the event. It was 8:30 in the morning and the tomato-chucking trucks didn't roll in until 11, but you have to go early if you want to be in the thick of things because there are so many people that you wouldn't be able to make it through the crowds otherwise.  The other reason you go early is to experience the ridiculous but endless entertainment of the greasy pole.  Yes, that is correct.  Every year they put up a wooden telephone pole and attach a ham to the very top of it.  The goal is to climb up to the top of the pole to get the ham. The challenge? There is about an inch of pig fat covering the entire thing from top to bottom! It was a hilarious scene: there were people trying to go it on their trying to reach as high as they could, taking running jumps and straight back down to the bottomw. Then people start to climb on top of each other, with feet in faces and elbows to the head, shirts being ripped, it was mayhem! Each time someone would get a bit higher than previously they would grab handfuls of the pig fat and throw it into the crowd and everyone would cheer at the progress made. One japanese girl was giving a go scrambling up the backs of a few tough guys and wrapped both legs and arms around the pole like her life depended on it! Someone grabbed her shirt and her boob popped out for all the thousands of people to see.  She wasn't giving up though, she braved the laughing cheers from down below. Still, her efforts proved fruitless. Another favorite contender was a black guy who looked like he'd recently competed in the Olympics he was so ripped. People cheered for him every time he hit the pole by yelling "Uss-ain Bolt! Uss-ain Bolt!".  I only learned this after the fact when Chris explained to me.  Here I thought they were yelling "Use that pole!". Failed again! Ha ha! It was sweltering outside and we were shoulder-to-shoulder standing in a stagnant crowd for over two hours waiting for the tomatoes.  We turned to the locals in the metal cage (yes, they were!) with pressurized water hoses and begged them for 'agua', and every once in a while they'd spray us and we'd be refreshed for a few minutes before we turned back into a sweaty mess. We learned from previous tomatina vets that there was no way our flip-flops would make it out alive, so we taped them to our feet. We also knew that supposedly the tomatoes were delivered by trucks that drove down the street. With us already being too close for comfort to each other it was difficult to fathom how we would ever make room for a giant truck to drive through the people without anyone getting trampled! Finally a four-man chain was made so that a guy could just reach the netting encasing the ham. He pulled just a big enough hole that after he had slid down the crowd was able to shake the ham free! And just in time!

 The gun went off to signal the beginning of the tomato fight and things turned to chaos. We quickly realized the potential of the water hoses - they had the pressure of a fireman's hose and rather than a gentle hose down were being blasted into the faces and orifices of innocent tourists! It was a good fifteen minutes of blasting and we were just starting to question whether it was in fact a water fight rather than a tomato fight, when we caught glimpse of the first truck.  It started off slowly, we caught glimpse of the odd tomato. Chris got the first one of our group in the face! Then, the trampling began as people tried to make way for the truck. Check out this video clip to see just how much of a struggle it was to stay on your feet!
   Tomato-fight Footage!

Things quickly turned from hilarity to intense chaos which was, frankly, kind of freaky! I was clinging to Chris like my life depended on it, to avoid falling over and being trampled! Our arms were like useless chicken wings trapped at our sides, yet we somehow were able to shuffle towards the side of the street. Here, we hit the wall of people smushed up against the building and were safe, as no matter how hard someone pushed on us there was nowhere to move - thankfully! The first truck honked it's way through the masses and the tomatoes were flying! We stood frozen in place, me with my swim goggles on and Chris bravely bracing the blows. Doesn't it sound awesome!? There were five or six giant dumptrucks full of tomatoes and in between the arrival of each one we were blasted once more with the fire hoses. I guess it was actually a blessing in disguise, having the tomato seeds and juice rinsed out of your orifices so you could have a few clean breaths before the next truck arrived. I think I maybe threw three or four tomatoes, albeit not very far since I couldn't exactly get my arms out from beside me.  The trick is you have to patiently wait until a tomato lands in the crevice of your elbow. I felt like a velociraptor throwing those things- without being able to move my arms all I could really womp up was a hard wrist-flick to launch the tomatoes. Not the most effective method, but I did what I could. The girl beside us was crying after we were only two trucks in... again, oh the joy! Best event ever!! We continued to get pummeled and squished and it seemed like everyone around us was trying to convince himself that this was really fun. Just when you thought it would never end, the horn sounded for a second time, to end the tomato toss.  You could really tell that everyone respected that bell. We couldn’t believe how everyone just dropped everything- how ironic that the crowd could be so orderly after such an absolutely insane hour!  The streets were clogged with tomato pulp and water and a sea of floating flip-flops and people began to wade their way out of the main drag. We slowly marched en masse, tomato caked through our hair and wiping juice out of our eyes, with mixed emotions of pride and relief that it was all over.

This isn't even quite in the main square...!

This is almost exactly where we were standing! I couldn't find us in the picture though :(
The locals just lapped up the sight of all the beaten tourists, but were kind enough to hang outside of their property with hoses to rinse everyone off after the event. Chris’ favorite local was one who was spraying people with his hose in one hand, while in the other he was happily smoking hashish from his hookah. Classic! We eventually cleaned ourselves up enough to warrant getting into our car to head for the ocean! One last swim in the Mediterranean and we were good to go, mostly tomato-free, and relieved to be able to move around freely and enjoy having our personal space back.  What a way to end our crazy travels! Just a few more days of visits and driving and we will be flying out of Dusseldorf before we know it!

Unfortunately my jandals were retired post-Tomatina, after 7 months of almost daily use during our travels!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Viva Ethpana....?

Next stop Barcelona, my favourite European city! Wandering down la Rambla, drinking Sangria, marveling at Gaudi's Sagrada Familia, and hitting up one of the beaches full of beautiful Spaniards after a long day. What I love about Barcelona is not that it is necessarily the most picturesque or even the most friendly place, but it really has a little bit of everything for everyone!  Chris and I camped for two nights here as this city is way too popular for us to be able to find hosts who weren't already booked up. We were literally 50 metres from the beach, a perfectly sandy beach with no rock to be seen and a man from Pakhistan selling cheap cold beers like they do on Wreck beach in Van! We were so torn because on the one hand we wanted to have time to check out the city but on the other, we kind of had it made there too! We spent the first night dedicating a good hour (at least) trying to finish a fishbowl of sangria each while people-watching on La Rambla.  Spain just seems so completely different from the rest of Europe. One of the most noticeable differences is the fact that their daily schedule is completely different - the siesta screws everything up! An afternoon nap does in theory sound like a great idea, unless you're the odd one out who needs to actually accomplish something during that time.  Then it gets tricky! Often places seem like a ghost town between 2 and 5pm and dinner isn't eaten until 10pm or later! You can distinguish tourists from locals based on who's sitting down at a restaurant to eat at 7 in the evening. This also becomes somewhat problematic if you're trying to sleep in a campground at midnight after a long drive and the local kids are playing a post-dinner soccer game.  Although generally there's nothing better than the sound of children's squeals of laughter, call me crazy but it seems a little out of place at 2 or 3 in the morning!
We dedicated a day to Gaudi, checking out Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell, La Pedrera and Casa Batllo, all featuring the uniqe architectural features that are distinctively Gaudi.  The inside of Sagrada Familia is finished, which was absolutely mind-blowing to see! When I was there seven years ago it was all scaffolding.  Now it is full of stained-glass windows and pillars and a ceiling that combine to mimic a forest with a canopy of leaves on the top.  Every city in Europe has a cathedral, but nothing is as unique as this building. It's meant to be finished by 2020, maybe we'll have to go back to see the final product! 
The inner 'canopy' of Sagrada Familia!
The outside is pretty crazy too!

Crazy, Dr. Seuss style Parc Guell :)
Enough of Europe for a while with its price tags and predictability! We want to rough it and have some shock value again! We decided to head to Morocco for one of the final weeks of our trip! We spent the better part of two days driving down to La Linea de la Concepcion, where we would leave our car with two couchsurfers for a week while we bartered our way around Morocco. Sascha and Bruna are an international couple from Germany and Brazil, respectively! And here we thought a New Zealand - Canada relationship was exotic! Sascha works in Gibraltar and it was interesting to hear his opinions about the Spanish culture and bureaucracy.  Spain is currently having quite the economical crisis.  There is a high rate of unemployment, especially among the younger generations.  It seems as though it is quite a challenge to accomplish many things in Spain: buying/selling a car is such a complicated process that people spend twice as much as they need to to hire someone to do it for them.  Apparently instead of trying to streamline processes in the public sector, Spain is trying to create more jobs and so often times things that should be simple become more complicated. We saw first hand the economic crisis because Sascha and Bruna live in a beautiful apartment complex with only maybe 20% occupancy, if that! In any case, once again we spent a night with people who were so easy to get along with and we looked forward to staying with them again when we returned from Morocco.
A little dessert hookah, anyone? Hanging with Sascha and Bruna :)
The best we could do for timing! Gotta love late night swims...
 We entered back into the land of public transportation with a day of ferries and buses and trains (oh my!) to land in Fez, Morocco. Fez is known as the most traditional city in Morocco because it has a medina (old city) that is the only medieval Muslim city that still functions as it did back in the day. Walking around its streets feels like going back in time!  Coincidentally, two stops before we got off the train to arrive in Fez a man named Abdul (shocking!) came into our compartment who had a son that was living in New Zealand with his kiwi wife in Christchurch.  He kept calling and calling on his phone to try and get through to his son so that Chris could talk to him.  It was a little weird.  At the station he pointed us in the right direction of a cheap hotel and some good places to eat and asked if we would like to see the tannery where he works the following morning. We thought it sounded too good to be true... that should've been our first clue. In any case he had also offered to have us over to his place to break the fast of Ramadan with his family, so he really did seem genuine.  We agreed!
The next day we were guided through the streets of the medina.  The tour quickly turned into a shopping trip rather than sightseeing and it really seemed as though Abdul was quite eager to get us to buy a bunch of stuff. The first stop was the tanneries, where we were given a proper tour and explanation on the rooftop of the tannery. From here we could see all the different steps taken to make the leather that Fez is most known for.  Apparently one of the steps in producing soft leather is to soak it in a solution of water and pigeon poo for up to a week.  The highly scientific term 'pigeon poo' would be somewhat amusing in regular English, but there is something hilarious about hearing it in an Arabic ESL accent.  It reminded me of the Dutch woman at information who tried to explain to us in broken english that they had just had a celebration for 'zee homosexuals' (in English terms gay pride parade). Anyway, pretty funny. 
The white containers are where the leather is softened with ze pigeon poo, and the darker pots are where the leather is dyed! Pretty cool :)

The tour ended with the common explanation that we were welcome to look around but needn't feel any pressure to buy anything. This is the speal that actually means 'I plan on pressuring you more than you ever thought possible to get you to buy something'. It didn't really worry us though, seeing as we weren't going to buy anything we didn't want. We feel we are seasoned barterers now after being in Asia and Egypt! Second stop,  the rug shop! We were told this was a government controlled shop so not to worry, all of the rugs had price tags! Nevermind that there was nothing in the store for under $1000! Here we met the best salesman we have experienced on our entire trip.  From the moment we set foot into this shop, we had at least five guys dedicated to pulling out rugs of all colours and sizes and with a flick of the wrist unrolling dozens of rugs all over the room for us to look at. From the beginning we said we couldn't possibly afford to buy one rug.  The solution? "Buy two! Take one home and sell it at an auction in Vancouver and you will get 8 times what you pay for it here! That will allow you to pay for the first rug you couldn't afford in the first place!" We were speechless. We were then told that Kiwis get a 75% discount on shipping because NZ gives Moroccans an 'import agreement' allowing them to get cheap Merino wool for their rugs **cough, bullshit, cough** This guy was good, but we held strong.  Even after we had unequivocally told him there was no way we were buying a rug he said "I totally understand, you don't want a rug... but, you are only in Morocco once... just... which one is your favorite, you don't need to buy it, but just for argument's sake...!" We had to walk out on him and the five others, leaving them to re-roll the thirty rugs we left unsold on the floor. 

Afterwards, we had a great meal on Abdul's  recommendation, saw the sights of the medina and then were left to our own devices to peruse the shops of the medina and told we'd be picked up at 6:30 for dinner. That was the last time we saw him, we were stood up!! This led us to realize that he must have been taking a cut from the few things we did buy, although we really feel like we got the better end of the deal.  We puzzled over the possible explanations of this scenario for quite a while and then moved on. We'd had a great day regardless! The medina of Fez sure did deliver in the 'shock value' department: the meat market had freshly skinned goat heads and we saw a chicken's throat slashed open- not for those with a weak stomach! There were donkeys used everywhere to transport goods through the streets that were way too narrow to fit any sort of car and the smell of the tanneries would creep up and smack you in the face every now and then. In short, it was awesome and unlike any other market or city centre we have ever seen. 
One of the quieter side streets in the Fez medina.
Snake charmer!
Marrakech is the bigger of the two cities and quite different from the older, more traditional Fez. We stayed in the 'ville-neuve', the more modern part of the city, but within walking distance of the medina. Marrakech is home to such touristy gimmicks as snake charmers, horse and carriage rides and monkeys, all in the main square of Jemaa el Fna. We did a lot of wandering through the medina and shopping a bit more than we should've.  If you're not doing an organized tour (which we decided against for various reasons) then experiencing the city is somewhat limited to shopping. The local cuisine is another part of the culture, which in itself proved to be difficult at times as the locals celebrate (do they call it 'celebrating'?) Ramadan from July 20th to August 20th.  During Ramadan those of Muslim religion and culture don't eat or drink anything (not even water!) while the sun is up.  I don't know the background behind why this happens during one of the sunniest months of the year.  Wouldn't it be easier to fast during one of the winter months where there are fewer hours of sunlight? Hmm.. maybe that is the point though, and it's supposed to be a challenge or it would be otherwise pointless? Anyway, moving on from my internal thoughts.  If I had the internet right now I'd just look it up, but no such luck... Ramadan was really interesting to experience, but if you decide to go make sure you go for the beginning or end of it so that you can experience Morocco during the regular part of the year as well.  Many of the shops are closed during this time and people just kind of hide out because daily temperatures are high and energy levels are low.  Sometimes it felt like we were walking in a ghost town and we weren't able to find a proper breakfast spot until lunchtime! Still, it was a really cool experience to be sitting near a group of Moroccans just before sundown to see them get out their dates and coffee and snacks and eagerly await the town-wide dinner siren. It's a time of community because no matter where anyone is or what they are doing, every single muslim will sit down and share a meal with his or her neighbour.  Several times we got offered a snack of dates or something during the breaking of the fast.

Sure would suck to spend the day completely surrounded in food you can't eat until sundown!

One of my favorite things about the Arabic african countries we've visited - fresh squeezed delicious OJ!

We got to experience the celebration of the end of Ramadan and what a city normally looks like during the day in Assilah, a small coastal town 50 km south from Tanger.  We were there for one day of Ramadan as well as a normal day, once Ramadan was finished.  IT was such a contrast to see people socializing over coffee, doing daily chores, or opening the shop for sales during daylight for the first time in a month.  We would have liked to see Marrakech or Fez at this point - they would've seemed that much more vibrant and colourful, we are sure of it! At this point we were really wanting a couple of full days at the beach so we went to this random town with sun-bathing in mind! The "paradise beach" was a little ways outside of town, but well worth it! The crisp cool Atlantic ocean kept us refreshed in the sweltering heat and the beach was lined with restaurants for snacks when you got hungry.  We had a great two days watching the camels being walked up and down the sand by their tourist-hungry owners. A few tagine meals later, it was time to head back to Spain!

This was our mode of transportation for a 45-minute trip back from the beach. Comfy!
Our last day of public transportation was an absolute doozy. We left Assilah at 11:30 and didn't get back to La Linea until almost twelve hours later due to late trains, late ferries, late buses, malfunctioning bank machines, misinformation, you name it, it happened! It was a bit frustrating, but at least it made us that much happier to have our own wheels back for the remainder of our trip!
It was sweet to have a plathe to go back to in Spain. La Linea de la Conthepthion. What's that? Everyone here talkth with a lithp! It'th really difficult get uthed to. Do you thee what I mean? I thought I could underthtand Thpanish quite well, but it'th a whole different ball game down here! Chris says that he heard it was because back in the good ol' days there was a king that had a lisp and it evolved into a dialect.  If that's true, it makes the accent even more ridiculous! Anyway, we stayed with our international friends once again and had a great BBQ after a day of hanging with monkeys in Gibraltar! We had no idea what to expect, and hadn't even planned to visit GIbraltar, but we heard about the monkeys on top of the rock and we had to go check it out.  We watched the main street get smaller and smaller as we climbed up the rock on the gondola, shoulder-to-shoulder with a bunch of other eager tourists.  Before we even arrived at the top we approached the platform where there were three or four young little monkeys jumping from rail to rail and playing with each other.  That was only the beginning! Once you get out, around every corner there are monkeys of all sizes, who seem to be completely indifferent to the fact that endless groups of tourists are making funny faces at them, trying to pose for pictures, and taunting them in various ways. We were no better, entertained for hours watching these wild crazy monkeys steal people's ice creams and hats and play with each other. Chris had been hanging out for some good monkey watching and of all places, we finally ticked that box in Europe! We stayed there for a good couple of hours until we had to escape the heat. It was one of the highlight events for us in Europe, for sure!
Monkeying around...

View from the 'Top of the Rock'!

He even tried to grab my kindle! Cheeky monkey!

Loving that we splurged for a great camera for moments like these!

Me and Toffee!
Originally our plan for the end of our trip was to stop and stay in one spot in Southern Spain for a week as well as one spot in Morocco for a week.  We had been moving around pretty quickly and wanted to get a more in-depth taste of a place (preferably next to a surf beach) for a change.  Unfortunately, because there were so many things we kept wanting to see and do this never really happened.  Still, we were saved from couch-hopping when we were accepted by Brian and Jane to stay at their place outside of Malaga for five whole nights! Score! We were so excited that we would have a 'home base' from which to explore Malaga, Granada and hit up a beach or two before heading homeward bound.  We didn't know quite what to expect at first, as Jane and Brian are a bit older than we are (they might refer to themselves as "wrinklies"), but probably about five minutes after we pulled up we felt totally at home and for the next five days we had surrogate Spanish parents taking care of us and making us feel like part of the family! Jane and Brian are originally from the UK, and have the most fascinating stories and experiences to tell.  They love to travel and have done a lot of it, so we found ourselves spending the evenings having a glass of wine and chatting about every topic under the sun. Their place is in the mountains about a 45-minute drive east of Malaga.  It's a beautiful house that the two have made their own, complete with a beautiful swimming pool, great view and two little dogs who have the run of the place.  We were in paradise and so happy to chill before heading on our epic road-trip back up to Dusseldorf. Every morning we had fresh fruit salad and the best marmalade ever (not together as a combination, but both equally delicious)! One morning we went for breakfast with some of their friends and got to check out the closest small town of Competa, a quaint town in rural Andalucia. Our last touristy day trip was to check out the Alhambra!!! I had recently read 'The Constant Princess' by Philippa Gregory, and throughout the book there are constant references and descriptions of the palaces of Alhambra and the Arabic architecture. I was looking forward to it! Well, it was beautiful, definitely, and it was completely different from anything else we'd seen in Europe, but we just felt like there was something missing or something that just didn't quite do it for us. Or maybe we are just over sightseeing for the moment! We did get some good pictures of the beautiful Arabic inscriptions and carvings. In any case, I'd give it one thumb up and say that the guide books sure make it seem like it is the most amazing place on Earth, but I much prefer Sagrada Familia!
One of the impressive water features in Alhambra

Fresh fruit salad and delicious homemade marmalade every morning in an idyllic setting - it sure was tough to leave!

Not a bad place to relax! Notice one of the other family members - Kelly :)
Our amazingly wonderful hosts! We will definitely be back one day!
 We had *tear* our last day at the beach and at Casa Kirk on Monday.  We had a fancy shmancy home-cooked meal, including rice with a least 8-delicious (you'll have to ask)! Next stop is La Tomatina and we will say goodbye to our Spanish padres for now and make sure to find the opportunity for a visit in the future. 
We have less than one week left!!!! It is absolutely insane  to think that a week tomorrow I will be back at work (yikes!)... I need to go have a moment of silence, and perhaps one more glass of wine...