You’ve landed at my travel blog.  For 3 months in 2011 our family took a break from life as we knew it and traveled to South Africa, Morocco and Europe.

I hope you enjoy reading about our adventures and are inspired to do the same!

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Marrakech #2

We spent our last few days in Marrakech riding ATVs, casually walking through the Souk, checking out Jardin Majorelle and doing a day trip to a town called Ourika, where we hiked to a few waterfalls.

 We were pleasantly surprised by how much we all enjoyed Marrakech.  We wished we had a few more weeks to explore other parts of the country and are already making a list of places we would like to return and visit.

I hope you have enjoyed reading about our trip it as much as I have enjoyed sharing it with you.  Your email and comments have been greatly appreciated.  Looking forward to seeing many of you when we return to Cambridge!

Here are a few last photos from Marrakech:



L to R:  attempting to bargain, Souk at night, items on display


L to R:  local market, crossing a bridge,  tagines,


L to R:  ATV riding, camels!

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We are back in Madrid for one night before heading back to Boston.  Wanted to post the results of our ‘Best Churros in Spain’ Contest.  We googled ‘best churros madrid’ and San Gines and Valor consistently came up.  Maestro Churrero was mentioned once by a local in response to this same question.  So we decided to try all 3 and compare them with Esteban, our local churro guy in Barcelona and another one in Barcelona that we read about in a Barcelona blog.

Here are our results – Esteban wins by a landslide.  We didn’t like San Gines and Valor at all and couldn’t understand why there was a huge line out the door for both of them.  Valor was so bland that we didn’t even want to finish theirs.  The dipping chocolate was thick and didn’t win us over either.

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Marrakech is an assault on the senses.  Just crossing the street is an art form – dodging the assortment of donkey carts, caleches (horse drawn carriages), bikes, motorbikes, cars and people all going in whatever direction they want.  The one way road near us is clearly not used as such (see photo below with the ignored “Do Not Enter” sign).  There is a sense of accomplishment that comes from having successfully navigated crossing the road.  Then there are the smells – the spice shops that dot the area – one every block or so and the food being cooked on the street front stalls.  Add to that the people who  try to entice you into their shop as you walk by or just greet you on the way and the same woman who daily approaches us with a bracelet to purchase as we walk the 10 minutes to the Souk.  It makes for an interesting day.



The small hotels here are called Riads – a traditional Moroccan house set around an interior courtyard.  We are staying at Riad Khabia.  Great choice and we were given a really helpful overview of the city when we arrived followed by a guided walk to the Souk.  This shaved days off feeling like we have a grasp of the city.


Our first day here we did a half day cooking class where we learned to make a tagine and eggplant salad and did a tour of a local spice market and a bakery.  The bakery is simply an oven and seems to be a neighborhood staple – we’ve noticed a few of these just walking around here.  The women make the dough at home and bring it here to be baked.  Notice the different patterned towels to indicate whose bread belongs to whom.



We’ve also had a lot of fun just walking around the Souk, dodging the aforementioned assortment of transport options and trying our hand at bargaining.  Yesterday Jacob found a wooden puzzle box that he had seen on the show “Expedition Impossible” and wanted to purchase it.  The owner started at 390 dirhams (about $46).  We eventually upped our offer to 80 dirham ($9.50) but didn’t want to go any higher.  We walked away and soon after the store owner came after us offering the box at 100 dirham.  We said no.  He left and came back and finally agreed to 80 dirham.  Zoe found a camel charm at one store for 150 dirham and today we saw a similar one for 20 dirham.  Prices seem irrelevant.

The main square of the market, Jemaa el Fna (pronounced j’mafna), turns into a huge outdoor restaurant at night.  We were there at 3:30/4pm yesterday and all the stalls were being brought in and set up.  It was amazing to see the fast transformation from empty square to one with 100+ food stalls.   In addition to the food stalls there are an assortment of entertainers – storytellers, water sellers, musicians, women applying henna, snake charmers, medicine men, tooth pullers, and a few monkeys chained to their owners who will pose for photos for a few dirham.


Zoe getting henna:


The Night Market:  daytime, bringing in the stalls, transformation


Yesterday we went to two old palaces (Badii Palace, which are ruins that are being restored and Bahia Palace) and today, the Saadian Tombs, the Medersa Ben Youssef (16th century theological college which amazing tile and woodwork) and the Photography Museum.  We rode a Caleche. toured the Dyers Souk and photographed the monkeys and snake charmers at the main plaza.


We’ve also been on the hunt for a carpet for our bedroom.  We found the type we like and attempted to bargain for one yesterday.  The seller’s price started at 9000 dirham and stopped at 3500 dirham. We stopped at 1700 dirham.  No one chased after us.  This morning we found a similar one and the man started at 13500 dirham.  We didn’t like it enough to put an offer in and by the time we were out the door his asking price was down to 6000 dirham.  Then we found another one in the same style tonight and the seller started at 1500 dirham.  We were floored and countered at 1400 and bought ourselves a rug.  Now we just need to figure out how we will get it home.

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Barcelona has some great outdoor food markets.  We are living near La Concepcio Market and we checked out La Boqueria today.  La Boqueria is the biggest of all the markets.  We had a lot of fun eating our way through Barcelona today.  Great fresh squeezed juice, empanadas, cheese, bread, fruit, you name it…





and, of course, our favorite snack food from Spain:

En route to La Boqueria, we stopped and fed the pigeons again:



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Scenes from Barcelona

This week has really flown by.  We’ve gotten into somewhat of a routine here: sleeping in (it doesn’t get light outside until 8:30, compared to 5am in South Africa), big breakfast, schoolwork, out for a long walk, early dinner for us (which would be a late lunch for Spaniards) and back to our apartment for a break.  We will often go back out around 6pm for some Churros and a walk.

Here are some of the places we’ve checked out this week:

Barceloneta Beach – as soon as you get here you forget you are steps away from a big city (that’s Jacob on the top of the 3rd photo):


Courtyard of the Picasso Museum:

La Sagrada Familia (Gaudi-designed Church) and view of the city from Park Guell:


Gaudi’s Park Guell:



There is a local store called “Biscuit” that has a large display of Rhode Island RAMS clothing, all number 23.  When I asked why I got a long explanation in Spanish, which I couldn’t fully understand.  I know it is only number 23, but why Rhode Island?

More Gaudi:


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Sunday in Barcelona

We spent most of Sunday walking around Barcelona.  We started from our apartment in the Eixample area and headed towards Las Ramblas.  There is an outdoor ice skating rink at the northern most end of Ramblas that was packed, even though it is low 60’s here and sunny, and lots of Pigeons eager to be fed.  We strolled down Ramblas towards the Christopher Columbus Statue (we even got to meet CC himself) and then stopped to watch the couple of hundred people dancing Salsa on the plaza before heading to the Born area.  Born has lots of fun, small stores and narrow streets.  We arrived too late to visit the large Picasso Museum there and plan to return one morning this week.


There is a great little Churro Shop a block from our apartment that we need to pass by en route to most places.  We have been there 3 times in the 2 1/2 days since we arrived.


Salsa Dancing in Barcelona – video of dancing on the sidewalk by Ramblas/Waterfront area.

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Adios South Africa, Hola Espana

Our South Africa Road Trip

It’s hard to fully say goodbye to South Africa after 5 weeks and embrace Barcelona.  We are still in transition.

I know I’ll miss most the friendly people – EVERY single person we met and interacted with in South Africa was so incredibly friendly and helpful.  I’ll also miss the gorgeous and varied geography we encountered.  And I still miss the Croissants at Baruch’s.

Not quite sure I will miss all the bugs and varied animals that joined us in our rooms.  While we were packing our bags Thursday morning, Jacob was by the open sliding door in our room and saw that a monkey was about to join us.  Luckily he changed his mind at the last moment.  Besides a few crazy encounters with herds of Water Buffalo and angry Elephants, we also saw so many Monkeys and Baboons in the city streets and a fellow B&B’er saw a Hippo walk by in front of our last B&B.

Here are a few last photos – all from St Lucia, where we spent the last 5 days.



After a very long, delayed flight we arrived yesterday afternoon in Barcelona.  We have a small 2 bedroom apartment here and the first photo is the view from the living room.  We had a lazy day today and didn’t venture outside until 3:30pm.  We visited Casa Battlo, one of the two Gaudi homes that is open to the public.  Zoe and Jacob both just loved Gaudi and can’t wait to see more.

But it is an adjustment.  No more long summer days and quiet nights.  Currently there is a soccer match going on between Barcelona and Madrid and I can hear the cheering from the streets after each goal.  We are having fun trying to speak Spanish and look forward to a week filled with lots of walking, good food and good internet access!



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Two more videos

Video of Elephants Fighting #2 (taken by Jacob)

Video of Zulu Dancing at DumaZulu

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Saw this on the way home from the beach this afternoon.  The beach is in a National Park, but what a surprise to see a Leopard crossing the road with a recent kill in it’s mouth.


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Swaziland and St Lucia

We left Kruger a few days ago.  Finally saw a few  Lions and the elusive Leopard the last few days of our time there.  The Lions were easy.  We eventually learned the area where they hung out and limited our driving time to that location.  Usually when you see a car pulled to the side of the road in Kruger it is because someone has spotted something and other cars soon join in.  If it is a good sight, the road will eventually become fully blocked with cars in both directions.  Ditto for Elephant or Rhino crossings – these big animals rule and people wait.  We didn’t see a Leopard until our last night, but it was a good sighting – the Leopard was lounging under a tree about 15 feet from our car and then got up and climbed a nearby tree and hung out there for a while.  Here are our last animal photos:


After Kruger we headed south for about half an hour and crossed into Swaziland.  We only stayed 2 nights in Swazi.  Swazi was OK – the geography didn’t grab us as much as Lesotho did, perhaps because it was cloudy most of our time there.  We visited a candle factory called Swazi Candles and saw a demonstration of a ball of wax being shaped into a Lion.  The kids were then given their own ball of wax to try to shape.  There was also a very cool performance space/restaurant/weaving area/set of stores a short distance from where we were staying called Malandela’s.  Unfortunately no performances were scheduled while we were there, but we ate at the restaurant several times, visited the stores and even had the opportunity to watch some women weaving baskets and see the sisal string used to make these baskets being dyed different colors.   Our last stop was a Glass Factory.  Most of these stores aimed at tourists are grouped together with 5-10 other shops.  The Glass Factory was the nicest collection – a restaurant, chocolate factory, a few local craft stores (baskets, wool, wood carvings, etc) and a large outdoor play area.


We are now at our last stop in South Africa before we leave Thursday for an overnight to Barcelona.  We chose a town called St Lucia.  It is a on the coast near the Mozambique border and in the middle of Kwu-Zulu province.  Lots of Zulu culture is here.  We visited DumaZulu Village yesterday, a replica of an old Zulu Village complete with dancing and a guide who explained the Zulu culture, traditions and religion to us.  It exceeded my low expectations – not nearly as touristy as I expected and really lots of fun for all of us.  St Lucia is also home to the largest estuary in South Africa.

Click here to see a video clip of some of the Zulu dancing


We are taking it easy here – limited driving, daily pool and school time.  We are staying in a great B&B for our last 5 nights.  Turns out the woman who helps run the B&B was born in Andover, MA – our first Boston connection on our trip and one of the few Americans we have met.

The Gardener noticed a ripe coconut this morning on one of the trees on the property and asked the kids if they would like to have it.   He climbed up, picked it, broke it open in front of us and let the us all taste the coconut juice and coconut.  Then he proceeded to show Zoe and Jacob a foot long snake.  Needless to say they are really enjoying this stop.



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And the winner is…

The “Three Zebras” photo, with the “Elephant Smiling” photo a close second!  Thanks for taking the time to enter the poll.  I appreciate all the comments and emails!

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Photo Contest

We decided to enter a photo in the National Geographic Annual Photo contest.  Please help us by selecting your favorite photo (scroll down for photos)

Please select your favorite photo

  • 1. Three Zebras (29%, 5 Votes)
  • 10. Elephant Smiling (24%, 4 Votes)
  • 2. Four Zebras (12%, 2 Votes)
  • 9. Elephants Crossing Olifants (12%, 2 Votes)
  • 7. Lion #2 (6%, 1 Votes)
  • 6. Lion #1 (6%, 1 Votes)
  • 4. Giraffe #1 (6%, 1 Votes)
  • 3. Zebra and Giraffe (6%, 1 Votes)
  • 5. Giraffe #2 (0%, 0 Votes)
  • 8. Lion Scenery (0%, 0 Votes)
  • 11. Mad Elephant (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 17

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Kruger is HUGE – about the size of New Jersey.  That, coupled with speed limits of 40 or 50km (about 25-30mph) and a nightly gate closing of 6:30, makes covering large distances impossible.  We are limited to an area of at most 100km from our camp. Because of this we decided to change our reservation and split our time here between 3 lodges.  First Olifants for 6 nights, then we will move south to Skukuza and finally Berg en Dal.  They all have something different to offer, both in terms of geography, animals in the area and facilities.  Olifant Rest Camp is named for the Olifant River that passes in front of the camp and which cuts a wide path across the middle of Kruger.  The location is amazing.  We have a riverfront cabin and wake up to Elephants and Hippos visible from our deck.  We can hear them talking to one another throughout the day.

Our main challenge was adapting to what was described as a 2 bedroom/2 bath lodge with LR/Dining area, kitchen and balcony.  What we have is two bedrooms and in the middle a living/dining/kitchen/balcony area which is open to the outside.  Perfect for sitting in the morning with a hot cup of coffee looking out onto Olifants River, but not so perfect once the sun goes down and the bugs come out.

Views from living area

our cabin

But I think we finally have this bug thing figured out now.  No cooking or cleaning once it gets dark outside and no lights on.  The first night we were here we had a violent storm – very heavy winds and lots of rain.  We woke up to a mess: our couch was soaked and there was a thin layer of dirt in one of the bedrooms.  We had inadvertently left an outside light on and the floor was covered with thousands of small dead bugs.  I do not like bugs.   The cleaning crew came in and changed all the bedding and the maintenance crew sealed the crack between the thatched roof and the wall and we decided to give it one more night before we gave up and moved.  I’m glad we did.

On the second night we didn’t finish dinner until 7 and as soon as the sun went down the bugs started to invade: first flying ants and then a few geckos and frogs who started to eat the ants.  We cleaned up dinner as fast as we could and all took coverage inside one of the bedrooms.

So on our third night here we were prepared.  We made a special meal in honor of Thanksgiving (pasta with mushrooms and cheese sauce, yummy local peaches left from Fisksburg and pineapple slices for dessert) and started early – we washed the dishes, put our kitchen box in the car trunk (Baboon-proof) and wrapped the garbage all before 7pm.  We prepared beforehand to have all our stuff in one bedroom so we could hang out together.    It worked.  We ate our Thanksgiving meal listening to the sounds of the Hippos in the river below us (they sound like motorcycle engines revving).  Not the lavish menu we are used to with our family in Rhode Island, but peaceful and enjoyable in its own right.  No bugs appeared and we were even able to relax outside enjoy our gorgeous view before sunset.

Thanksgiving Dinner


We’ve had quite a few animal sightings since we’ve been here.  Here is the list of animals we’ve seen and a few of our favorite photos:

Big 5:  Elephant, Rhino, Lion, and Water Buffalo. Still no Leopard sighting

Ugly 5: the lappet-faced vulture, marabou stork, baboon, hyena and warthog – we’ve seen all of these.

Other animals that we’ve seen: Giraffe,  Impala, Wildebeest, Tortoise, Chameleon, Zebra, Baboon, Jackal, Monkey, Kudu and Eland

My biggest surprise was how mean and aggressive some of the male Elephants are.  Check out this video of two elephants fighting.  Jacob shot it.  But, we’ve had two incidents where an Elephant has given us a warning to back off.  We almost didn’t make it back to Olifants one night by the 6:30pm gate closing because a large male Elephant did not want us to drive past him and he made it VERY clear to us.

Water Buffalo

[the rest of the photos and the video will have be posted later due to a poor internet connection]

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