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Spike: 1995-2008

Spike

I found Spike abandoned at a dumpster by the side of the
road in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. Only weeks old and less than five pounds,
the vet said he wouldn’t live. But he did, and how. Over the next 12 ½ years,
Spike traveled more widely than most people. Spike was with me through a
divorce, five hurricanes, two cats, numerous jobs, boyfriends, a doctorate
degree, a new marriage, and five moves.

Spike’s survival was due in no part to me – but entirely to
Julie and Rita. Julie and I saw him for the first time on the same day. When
Julie got to her office she immediately called to see if I’d seen him and his
sister at the dumpster. I had. "Someone should rescue him – we should tell
Rita," was my response.

Lucky for me, Julie was more proactive. She rescued the
malnourished, dehydrated scrawny mutt. Unable to catch the female, she called
the Humane Society and Hubert set a trap, but he was never able to catch the
pup’s sister. Julie kept Spike, raising him along side her four cats. Those six
weeks with Julie made a permanent imprint on Spike and he spent the rest of his
life somewhere between cat and human, with an occasional bit his dog-ness showing.

Rita, too, went above and beyond in rescuing Spike. Even
Julie’s help wouldn’t have been enough for Spike if Rita hadn’t come to Julie’s
every day and made chicken broth for the puppy and hand-fed him. He grew and thrived,
bonding with his cat siblings and driving Julie crazy. She diligently tried to
find a home for him, and refused to call him anything by ‘the puppy’. I didn’t want the responsibility, so insisted I couldn’t have a dog – the landlord said so.

Then Julie went off island for two weeks and I babysat the
cats and the puppy. Within days, he went from ‘the puppy’ to Spike, from
spending nights in the bathroom to the bed, and from an orphan to my baby.

Spike spent his first year on St. Thomas, going through
normal puppy ‘trauma’ – obedience school, vaccinations, and neutering. He made
his first doggy friend – Tessa, Randy’s parent’s Doberman. She was tolerant of
his puppy antics and energy, and even joined in for digs in the sand and chases around the yard.  Spike’s
lineage (greyhound, pitbull, date-rape) showed itself as his legs grew long –
matching his too big nose and ears and giving him his greyhound profile and
powerful jaws. When he broke into a screaming run, up and down the driveway, he
was a racer through and through.

After his first year, a few hurricanes and a couple boyfriends,
Spike and I moved to Puerto Rico so I could attend grad school. Spike came into
his own in La Parguera. He developed his unique people-personality and
mannerisms – taking the end of the leash to walk his best friend and love of
his life, Huracan, grabbing the top of a water bottle to let me know when he was thirsty,
pressing the door handle with his paw to let himself in and out, carrying his
Frisbee to the park during Little League practice to play with the kids, and
tugging at my hand or bringing me his leash when he wanted to go for a walk.

It was in PR that Spike started to enjoy beach outings –
digging up ghost crabs, being alpha-dog to Huracan, and chasing waves. He
learned to swim at Boqueron when he wanted Calcetina’s ball badly enough to jump in the water and swim for it.  He loved the muddy water in the fish ponds at Mike’s, where he learned that it was okay to chase birds, but not to catch them.  He also learned that some birds,
like the big gray goose across the street, chase back. He also learned what
all those obedience classes had been about – protecting him. He ran into the road and was hit by
a car. Luckily, it scared him more than it hurt him. From then on, Spike was a
champion ‘heeler’.

After two years in Puerto Rico a job opportunity brought us
to Charleston. He loved our outings to Sullivan’s Island, where he could race up and down the beach to his heart’s content, dig up
ghost crabs, and roll in the occasional dead fish. We lived in Mt. Pleasant for
a year, and that’s where we met Spike’s new "Dad", Matt. Then we
moved to Summerville, where Spike spent the longest part of his life. For the
first time ever he had his own yard. He loved digging up moles, chasing birds and
squirrels away, and patrolling and defending it – this was his home.

Five years later, we moved to Stuttgart, Germany, the most dog-friendly place you can imagine. Spike loved his big yard and his
long walks through the fields and woods. No ghost crabs to dig up, but there
were moles and mice. We couldn’t help but laugh at the smile on his face as he
deer-leaped through the tall grass and wheat fields, his over-sized tongue lolling out to the side.. He had a new babysitter,
Theresa, who he adored. I think Spike actually looked forward to ‘Mom and
Dad’ being away – he knew Theresa was going to take him "bye-bye
car-car" every day for a walk around the lake.

While in Germany, the tumor on Spike’s leg grew from marble
sized when we arrived in May 2005 to tennis ball size a year later. We had it
removed and it was diagnosed as malignant.

Spike’s vet in Germany, Dr. Annette Richters, was Spike’s
favorite vet. He would take treats from her, shake her hand, and only cower
slightly. She gushed over him as if he was the most amazing and special dog she
treated, as I expect a vet to do. Dr. Richters had counseled caution with
treating Spike’s cancer – thinking of his quality of life first. I appreciated
that. When she finally decided it was time to remove the tumor, she warned me
that, although the surgery was successful, it was only a matter of time – weeks or months – before
the cancer returned and spread. Despite the odds, Spike continued to lead a
full and active life in Germany for our remaining two years there.

When it was time to return to the US, I took Spike to
upstate New York to visit his "Grandma" for a month while we went
through the chaos of moving. The airlines won’t fly pets during the summer (May
15-Sept 15) because of the heat and we weren’t scheduled to return until June.
We would pick him up after we were settled in our new house some time in June.

"Be a good boy for Grandma, and you stay alive until we
come and get you," I told him. I couldn’t say good-bye even though we’d be
apart for at least a month. I was too afraid that it really would be good-bye. Would I ever see my baby boy again?

Aside from a rote bedtime prayer, and that more from habit
than sincerity, I don’t pray. But I prayed as I drove away that day in May.
"Please let him live to see his new home." I didn’t bargain, didn’t
promise to return to church or be a better person. That was too cliché and it
would be a lie. I wasn’t making a deal, I was asking, begging for a favor.

Miraculously, my prayer was answered and five weeks later
Spike came home to his new house. Our furniture wasn’t there yet, but he had
his pillow and his favorite blanket, the one that Nancy made and that went
everywhere with him, so he was happy. He explored the new smells and met the
neighbors’ dogs. He thumped his tail and smiled at us, and at night he curled
up on the air mattress next to me.

And then he stopped eating and drinking. He paced through
the night, too uncomfortable to lie down. IV fluids and pain medicine didn’t
help. Ten days after coming home, we made the decision we’d known was
inevitable but dreaded none the less.

Spike died on July 7, 2008. We were blessed to have such a
great travel companion, loyal friend and loving and lovable family member, and
to have him for these last two ‘bonus years’ after his surgery.  There will never be another dog quite like him.

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Back in Charleston

We’re back in Charleston. Our three years in Germany went by far too
quickly and even with all the traveling we did, we only saw and did a
fraction of our list of "musts." As much as we hated to leave, it’s
nice to be back, too. It’s both familiar and new. Familiar since it’s the place we met and established our home and
family, and where Lynne has lived longest for a continuous period of
time since leaving for the VI in 1984; new because we’re in our new
house and neighborhood.

Despite Lynne’s initial apprehension
about the house, she’s rapidly growing to love it. It took some time to
"bond" (through cleaning, painting and yardwork) to make it hers, but
the neighborhood and neighbors won her over immediately. Matt has been
surprised by some of the work we’ll need to do on the house, but has
puttered with the yard and pool enough to be at home here already.

After 5 weeks in the house, our furniture has finally arrived.  It’ll be delivered tomorrow and we hope to have the house really settled by the end of the week.  Then we have a hectic schedule of visitors – David for a week as he and Hanna make their move to NC, then my brother and his family, then Matt’s brother, Mike and his family.  After that, we’ll schedule our Labor Day weekend housewarming party.

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An Exciting Week

I’ve had quite an exciting week.  I know there’ll be a few more of these before
we’re packed up, moved and settled in Charleston, but this may stand out as both
the most traumatic AND exciting of them.

 

On Monday (May 5), we closed on our new house in
Charleston.  Hurray!  It’s officially ours now.  You can see the pics on Matt’s flickr site:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/drobnikm/.  That started the week’s excitement.

 

Then, on Thursday,  I
took Spike to New York.  He’ll be
vacationing with "Grandma Hinkey" until the Subaru arrives in
Charleston, hopefully around mid-June. 
The airlines won’t fly pets in the summer months because of the
temperatures, especially flying through Atlanta.  So, Matt drove Spike and me to Frankfurt and put
us on a Delta flight to JFK.

 

Spike did great on the trip. 
After the two-hour drive to the airport, he was ready for some walking
and didn’t mind the taxis, cars and buses around the airport.  Dr. Richters had bandaged up his tumor the
day before, so all the Delta agents paid him lots of attention.  He ate up being the center of attention.  He wasn’t too happy about being carted away
when it was finally time to load him, but when I picked him up at the large
baggage area at JFK he was none the worse for it.  He probably slept the whole way. 

 

Spike adapted quickly to life at Grandma’s house.  He loved the cats, although they weren’t too
keen on him.  Meeko stayed in the closet
for the first 3 days.  Cyrus followed
Spike everywhere, harassing him, sneaking bites of his food, and intimidating
him.   When Spike has had enough, he
snaps at the cat and then Cyrus keeps his distance, growling and snarling, for
at least a few minutes.  I think they’ll
work it out.   Spike is still fascinated
by the bird, but after getting yelled at once for nibbling on Joby’s tail (it
was poking out through the cage) he’s just lusting after the bird from afar.

 

The stairs I bought to help Spike get onto Grandma’s bed are
a bust.  He won’t use them.  Cyrus likes them, though.  Cyrus also likes Spike’s pillow and the
cushion from the crate.  No wonder Spike
snaps at him – he’s taking over all Spike’s spots!

 

Spike’s next adventure was a trip to my brother’s house in
Liverpool.  Spike isn’t used to THAT much
excitement:  Four kids, two cats, a
rabbit and a hamster provide lots.   He
did surprisingly well!  I was concerned
about Michael – don’t know what Spike would do if he had a seizure or moved to
quick.  The only ‘scare’ was when Michael
discovered Spike’s squeaky toy.  Michael
loved it – carried it around squeezing it and gnawing on it (he knows what dog
toys are for!)  Spike watched, teeth
chattering, but didn’t try to take it away. 
But when he finally got it back and Michael reached into his mouth for
it, Spike did growl.  So, we put that
back in the car.  Once his toys were
safe, Spike was great.  He settled on to
the sofa, went for some long walks around the neighborhood and followed Tina
around the house.  I guess he has good
instincts for who does the cooking!

 

I left NY on Tuesday and arrived in Frankfurt on Wednesday
morning, then took the train back to Stuttgart. 
Leaving Spike for 5-6 weeks is the trauma.  The last time we were apart for that long was
when I taught at UVI in the summer while living in PR.  He stayed with Mike for six weeks.  As much as I missed him then, it wasn’t
nearly as difficult.  He was young and
healthy and loved being on the fish farm. 
This time, he’s 13, has cancer and I worry about how much longer he’ll
be around.   Much more difficult to leave
him behind, even for a short time.

 

I arrived in Stuttgart at about 12:30, jet lagged and sleep
deprived.  Matt picked me up at the
Hauptbahnhof and we went to International Car Sales to pick up my new
Mini-Cooper!  It’s beautiful – British
racing green with a dark green convertible top and white hood stripes.  I’d wanted a bright color, but Matt was
opposed to looking like a taxi cab in a yellow car.  So, the green was our compromise color.  It’s like Matt’s old Chrysler, and the color
I’ve always wanted for my Jag.  It’s not
a Jag, but it’s British, so it’ll do.  I
was too jet lagged to dare drive it.  We’ll have pictures up soon.  Any suggestions for names are welcome!

 

That was our exciting week. 
We’ll spend the next 10 days getting everything ready to ship.  They pack us out on the 26th.  Then I’ll have a few days to clean windows,
floors and walls after all the furniture is out.  I’m not looking forward to the last week in a
hotel – without Spike to walk three times every day, I’m afraid I’ll be bored
here and anxious to get to our new house! 
Then we’ll have a few more exciting weeks of painting, settling in,
sleeping on an air mattress until our furniture arrives and another trip to NY
to pick up Spike as soon as the Subaru gets to Charleston.  The fun just never ends!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What We’ll Miss Most

Only 6 ½ weeks to go.  It seems both a long and a short time.  It’s a long time to be in-limbo, where we are now.  Not soon enough to pack things up (we have to wait for the movers to do that on May 26), too early to start a really thorough house cleaning, and too soon to start making any serious arrangements on the other side since we don’t close on the house until May 5.  But, it’s too short a time to fit in all the things we have yet to do and see everyone we want to see before we go.  So, we plan and make lists and make insignificant efforts to get ready, like cleaning drawers and purging the closets.

 

Suzi, from the masters swim team, asked what I’ll miss most about Germany.  The short and glib answer is ‘everything’.  Then I started to list some of the small things – krokettens, walking and biking trails, curry ketchup.  From there, the list grew.  Each day, some small thing will remind me of more things that I’ll miss.  There are so many things we take for granted here that we won’t have when we return to the states – things that have become part of our typical day and typical life.  These things are so ‘average’ here that we don’t think about them, but so foreign in the US that the impact of not having them will be drastic:  Green space around each town with easy access to biking and walking paths; each town being a livable and walkable community where I never have to get in my car to get groceries, run errands, go out to eat, or find entertainment, but if I do want to venture farther afield, I can easily jump on a bus or train and get anywhere conveniently.  I know regardless of how much more outdoors I am here – walking Spike on the trails, going to the farmers’ markets, eating and drinking at outdoor cafes – it’s not a fraction of how much we could or how much German’s do take advantage of the pedestrian friendly environment they’ve created here. 

 

Even in the winter or with bad weather, there’s more going on outdoors here all year round than there is in most places in the US, even Charleston with its wonderful climate.  THAT is something that isn’t easy to articulate to anyone who hasn’t experienced it, and something that I’d imagine will be difficult to adapt to when we return.  How do you adjust to that live your life indoors, behind privacy fences, sequestered in your house or car lifestyle that we have in the states?  I keep imagining things like biking to the store, then the practical side hits me – there are no/few bike paths or sidewalks, and drivers aren’t taught to watch for bikers and pedestrians, and the crosswalks, where they exist, aren’t really for pedestrians because of the abuse of right-on-red that drivers take to mean ‘right of way’.   

 

Here’s our list of what we’ll miss most.  It gets longer every day – not surprisingly food and drinks make up a big part of the list!

 

WHAT WE’LL MISS MOST (see pics of these in the photo album with that title) 

Biergartens in medieval castles, in the forest, along bike trails in the middle of nowhere – EVERYWHERE!

Krokettens

Dog-friendly malls, restaurants, stores, historic sites, etc

Curry ketchup

‘Toothpaste tubes’ of condiments (mustards, wasabi, tomato paste, horseradish, ketchup-mayonnaise, etc)

The Filder-Neckar-Teck Senioren Schwimm Gruppe

My SMART Car

Käsespätzle

Our house – and solidly built brick/block houses, in general 

Driving on the Autobahn

Good drivers!

Semis and slow drivers staying in the right lane

Döner Kebabs and Imbisses

Our town’s Eis Café and their awesome gelato flavors

All of our friends – especially the Perrys, Taylors, Ballards, Saylors, and those who we already miss – the Pukanskys, Lenkeits and Lucases

Mövenpick ice-cream

Outdoor everything – regardless of the weather – hiking, biking, dining, sitting on park benches, swimming, walking

Walking and biking trails EVERYWHERE

Hanutas!!

Ritter Sport candy bars

Müsli and good yogurt

Dr. Oetinger Frozen Pizzas

Our neighbors

Edeka (grocery store)

Walkable, pedestrian friendly towns

Twice a week farmers’ markets

Bakeries

German Wings, TUIfly and other discount airlines

German bier

BIO-products readily available in all the stores

A real ‘downtown’ with everything we need in walking distance

Restaurant Zum Trauben

My houseplants

Our garden

The Röhms

REAL and the AWG Center (shopping)

Good, cheap wine

The Nurtingen Hallenbad and Friebad

Trains, buses and easy public transportation

The Fests – Frühlingsfest, Volkfest, Weindorfs, Zwiebelnfest, Knoblauchfest, Vinzenzenfest, Fasching . . .

The Patch Ski Club and ski trips to the Alps

Maultaschen

MezzoMix

Apfelschorle

Full and comprehensive waste program – recycling, incineration (waste-to-energy), reclamation, and land-filling as a last resort

Cheeses – lots and lots of cheeses

Olives

Frischkäse-stuffed peppers and tomatoes

Sit-as-long-as-you-like restaurants with no-hassle wait-staff

Dr. Richters (the vet)

People doing environmentally sound things (recycling, building energy efficient buildings, stormwater runoff control, bio/organic, developing solar and wind energy, fuel efficient vehicles, etc.) because it’s right, not only if/when you have to

 Hills and mountains

Historic to prehistoric sites all nearby

Cultural diversity

The cool shutters on our house!

What won’t we miss?  Matt won’t miss work – that’s been a struggle for him since he got here!  We won’t miss the weather, either.  While I’ve toughened up some, I’m still a Caribbean girl at heart and need some sunshine and warmth.  We were incredibly lucky our first two years here, and I really didn’t believe those who told us "this is unusual, just wait until it returns to normal."  This last year, it returned to normal and what a depressing year it’s been!  Thank God for travel to warm and sunny climes, otherwise I’d sit in a corner and cry!  Last April was the last consistently nice weather we’ve had.  After that, it went downhill and stayed there.  May and June were cold and wet.  By then, I’d given up on the Freibad.  The summer before, I swam every day starting in May through August.  Even when it was still cold, the sun was out and the water was nice.  Last summer, it seemed to be in the 50s and rainy most of the time.  All the yard work and housework that required opening windows or hanging anything outside had to be done on the few warm or sunny days we had.  I only went to the pool a few times.  I thought I’d miss the onset of real summer while I was in the states.  I did get a short dose of sun and warmth during my few days in Charleston, but then went right back to ‘scheisse wetter’ in New York and even more of it back in Germany.   AAARRGGGHHHH!

 

Of course, with all the crap summer weather, we were due a spectacular Indian summer, right?  Wrong – more rainy, cold weather.  And just when we thought we’d have a brilliant, snowy winter with those gorgeous, crisp days with cloudless blue skies for winter, we got more of the same weather.  It rarely snowed, but I’d have loved the snow over the cold, damp, drizzly yuck that passed for winter this year!  We’ve had a few nice days this spring, but they’ve been few and far between.  Each false start brings hope, only to be dashed a few days later by snow (twice in April – more for Easter than for Christmas and New Year combined), or more rain.

 

Still, I’d be willing to tolerate the miserable weather for another year to take full advantage of the items on that big, long list of things we’ll miss most.

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Berlin

THE BERLIN ZOO

 

We spent the long Presidents’ Day weekend in Berlin for the
swim team’s Championship meet.  The kids
did great and Matt and I added a day before and 2 days after for some
sightseeing.  We got in a number of the
sites that I’d visited last year and knew Matt would enjoy – Checkpoint
Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, and the Reichstag, and went to some spots that I
missed and wanted to get to – the Kaiser Wilhelm Kirche, Alexander Platz (the
tv tower, although it was too rainy and foggy to warrant a trip up to see the
view), the Pergamon Museum (amazing!), and the zoo. 

The zoo was my
priority 1.  Knut, a baby polar bear was
born on December 6 – just about 6 weeks before my last visit, and the
controversy was just heating up.  Knut’s
mother shunned him and his sibling, who subsequently died.  There was quite the furor over what to do
with the poor cub.  Should a zoo let
nature take its course and not interfere if the mother refuses to take care of
her young, or do they intervene? 
Luckily, the decision was made to intervene and baby Knut was raised by
the zoo keepers.  He’s since become the
biggest attraction at the zoo.  Even
though he’s over a year old, he’s still a ‘baby’ and I wanted to see him!  We’d also heard great things about the Berlin
Zoo, overall, and we weren’t disappointed.

 

Berlin Zoo is the oldest in Germany, with the largest number
of species.  We visited on a drizzly,
gray day (no surprise – it’s February!) so there weren’t any crowds.  We strolled around by ourselves, only occasionally
running into other visitors while outdoors. 
Most folks stuck with indoor exhibits like the aquarium and lions’ house.  Outside, it was one of the most active zoo
visits we’ve had!  There were lots and
lots of young animals and lots of rambunctious ones, too.  The first and one of the most striking
animals we encountered was a Bactrian camel – a two humper with the coolest
dreadlocked beard, and a face with serious attitude!  He seemed to enjoy posing for the camera and
repositioned himself a few times to give Matt a better angle!

 

We saw baby hippos (that’s the manatee looking ‘blob’ laying
on the ground by its pool in the photos!) baby warthogs, a baby rhino, some other piglet
looking things, lion cubs, and, of course, Knut. 
We also saw a lot of future baby animals in the making!  A male bear chased a female into a corner and
went at it, a zebra, after chasing down some gazelles in their shared
enclosure, jumped another zebra.  We
think he may have been an adolescent and hadn’t quite figured it out yet –
you’ll see why in the pictures!  It
seemed like a lot of the other ungulates were ready for spring, too!

 

We meandered through all the paths, pavilions and
exhibits.  The aquarium is a cool, old
building and the exhibits are nicely done. 
The other animal houses are typical – when the animals have had enough
outside, they come in and get stared at some more.  The lion house was exciting!  The lions are fed at 3:00 p.m. Tuesday
through Sunday.  Monday is a fasting day,
and that’s the day we were there.  Dad
lion was none too happy about not getting his meal, and he knew it was
3:00.  His roar echoed through the hall
and grumbled in our bellies.  That got
Mom lion in the next cage going and her screams were added to the din.  So, the cubs knew something was up and THEY
started in, too, with adorable, high pitched, ‘Mrrows’ of their own. 

 

We found Knut in his own private enclosure, we weren’t
disappointed.  He’s not a tiny, cuddly
cub anymore, but he’s still adorable! 
But, I think the poor guy is lonely. 
He strolled down to the edge of the moat separating him from the crowds
and waved a paw, sniffed the air, like he wanted to join us.  Of course, it might not have been us he
wanted to join, but the ‘other’ polar bear he could see reflected in the glass
across the moat from him.  Made me want
to climb over and give him a hug.  Which
explains why I can’t work in a zoo – I’d be one of the statistics of zoo
keepers who were mauled by the animals!

 

I’d highly recommend the Berlin Zoo, maybe because I’m
partial to Knut and maybe because we were there on a day without too many other
people, but we enjoyed it.  If you want
to see wonderful pictures and video clips of Knut, there are some below.  Our next zoo visits will be the Nurnberg Zoo
where another baby polar bear was abandoned by its mother in November, and
Stuttgart, where ‘Wil-bear’ is the newest polar bear cup in Germany.

 

Knut’s page
on the Zoo web site (in English)

http://www.zoo-berlin.de/en/experience/young-animals/ice-bear-knut.html

Knut’s Blog
(in German – great pics and video clips)

http://blog.rbb-online.de/roller/knut/

 

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SPAIN II: Rota, Seville and Tangier, Morocco (see Spain I below)

ROTA, SPAIN

 We returned to Spain for the long Thanksgiving weekend, this time to the southern coast.  We stayed at the Navy Lodge in Rota – a cute, coastal town that probably picks up in the warmer months, but is pretty quiet in November!  They take their siesta seriously in Rota.  Matt and I went for a stroll through the old section of town, looking for some lunch at about 1:00 p.m..  Armed with a map and recommendations from the receptionist at the Lodge, we wandered through quiet, shuttered-up twisty alleys and plazas, only occasionally running into any other people!  We did find a tiny restaurant (4 tables and a counter) and had a fabulous lunch of octopus salad, olives, bread and other tapas.  The boardwalk and beach were equally deserted, aside from one or two lunchtime joggers, we had it all to ourselves. 

 

TANGER, MOROCCO

We wanted to go to both Gibraltar and Morocco – both easy day trips from Rota – but also wanted to see more of Spain.  So, we decided on a day in Morocco and a day in Seville.  We left Spain from Tarifa on a fast ferry.  About half way across the Strait of Gibraltar it got rough – the customs station on-board the ferry shut down when the police officer manning it turned green, the crew hurriedly ran around passing out seasickness bags, and the poor woman in the on-board duty free shop had her hands full picking up cartons of cigarettes from the floor only to have them fall off the shelf with the next lurching roll of the vessel.  Our 35 minute crossing took 1 hr 15 minutes – then we were in Africa.  One of my favorite movie lines is Matthew Broderick describing the southern heat in ‘Biloxi Blues’: "It’s hot.  It’s damn hot.  It’s like Africa hot!"  Well, I have news for you.  Africa isn’t always hot!  Morocco averages 3" of rain per year.  They got 1.5" of it the day we visited.  It was a cold, wet and just plain miserable day!  Everyone was wearing their heavy wool kaftans and djellabas (long-sleeved, hooded kaftan-type garment for men).   And I was eyeing them enviously as I shivered in my lightweight jacket and slacks (and thought I’d overdressed!)

 

I’m glad to say that following a friend’s recommendation we took the guided tour offered by the ferry company.  They handled customs, money exchange, transportation and meals.  While it might have been an adventure to try navigating the Kasbah on our own, it could also be rather dangerous.  Talking with two men – a Russian and a Frenchman – on the ferry afterwards, it could also be an exercise in futility.  They spent the better part of the day asking for directions and being ‘held hostage’ for payment in return for those!

 

Our tour took us through the streets of Morocco on a bus, a quick overview of the city’s history, and then dropped us off at the gates to the Kasbah.  A guide through that maze of alleys, dead-ends and bazaars is essential!  The streets are filled with people speaking every language imaginable.  I had the no-so-brilliant idea that we’d fool them by switching languages.  Obviously, all of the street vendors spoke English – the universal language – and French, since they’d been a French colony, and Spanish, since it was such a short hop away.  So, when they started in English, I switched to German, which they quickly and fluently picked up!  Then I tried Spanish, knowing full-well they’d just as easily switch to that!  I would have given up and gone back to English, but most of the American’s in this group were such the typical ‘ugly Americans’ that I refused and stuck with Spanish or German.  Our fellow-tourmates were an embarrassment to all Americans!  They refused to eat a fabulous lunch at the ambiance-filled restaurant that we stopped at because it had all this ‘funny foreign stuff’ like couscous and curry chicken!  With terror in their eyes, they huddled in a bunch in the middle of the group, shooing away the street vendors, kids begging for money and even the clerks in the bazaar, as if they were contagious.  I;m happy to say that by the end of the day, the every decreasing prices for the plates, teapots, fezzes, bongos and jewelry the vendors were hawking even broke their xenophobia down and they boarded the bus loaded down with all of the ‘bargains’ they got at the gate as we were leaving the Kasbah. 

 

Matt and I did pretty well in the bargain-hunting department – I think.  Or perhaps as well as any tourist can do there!  We came home with a beautiful plate, a brass and bamboo window-mirror, a small decorative teapot, henna lip gloss from the apothecary, a kaftan for me, and a small carpet that went from 700 euro to 150 to 80 in the course of 20 minutes!  It’s a gorgeous carpet and now I refuse to put it down because it might get dirty!

 

After our visit to the Kasbah, we boarded the bus and drove down the waterfront to an open field with the remains of an old stone building where three camels were grazing.  And here’s where I got my camel ride.  Almost passed on it because I felt so sorry for the poor thing – kneel down, get some big, fat American or a screaming kid on your back, walk around in a little circle, do it all over again.  But, touron took over common sense and I rode the thing.  Not the most comfortable ride; and, eau de wet-camel makes wet-dog seem like perfume!  But, I did it, have the photo to remind me.   The day was indeed an adventure – and we can add not only a different country, but a whole other continent to our list of travels!

 

SEVILLE, SPAIN

While Barcelona is a bustling, modern city with incredible, cutting-edge ‘modernisma’ architecture, Seville is filled with old-world charm.  The Seville Cathedral embodies this with its towering gothic spires and details.  The church was built as part of the city’s ‘celebration’ of the reconquest of Spain from the Moors.  The canons of Seville went on a 100-year austerity budget in order to fund construction of "a church of such a kind that those who see it built will think we were mad."  The cathedral is the third largest church and the largest Gothic building in Europe.  It also has the largest altarpiece in the world.  The cathedral, along with the Archivos de las Indias (where all the documents pertaining to the discovery of the New World are housed) and the Alcazar (the royal palace), is a World Heritage Site.

 

Entrance to the cathedral is via the Puerta de San Cristóbal on the south side. Near the doorway dedicated to the saint he was named after is the tomb of Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colón in Spanish). Columbus was originally buried in the cathedral of Havana, on the island he had discovered on his first voyage in 1492. But during the upheavals surrounding the Cuban revolution in 1902, Spain transferred the remains to Seville.

 

Seville, like most European cities, is a very pedestrian-friendly, walkable city.  It’s also incredibly clean and friendly – even more so than Barcelona.  We wandered the length of the city, through palace and cathedral gardens, public parks and plazas, past orange trees, palm trees and giant Norfolk Island pines, then walked back along the riverfront to see the Bullfighting ring and museum and the Tor d’Oro, ending up back and our starting point where we watched sunset over the river as we had a glass of Sangria:  A delicious end to a wonderful day.

You can see pics from both of our Spain trips in the photo albums of ‘Barcelona’, and ‘Rota Seville and Morocco’.

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