I know this is a food blog, but I really wanted to document and share with you all our most recent adventure.
Ben and I recently escaped on a 6.5 week Mediterranean adventure – through Spain, Morocco and Portugal. I had been to Spain previously, but only to Barcelona and Madrid, for 3 days. I had always intended to go back and do a more wholesome trip, so our honeymoon seemed like a good excuse! We planned to spend about 2 weeks in each country, from March 11 – April 24, 2018.
We planned this trip over the period of about 12 months. It was quite an effort, I will detail our process here.
When Ben and I bought our house 2 years ago, part of the home loan deal was a bonus of 250,000 Virgin Velocity Frequent Flyer points. Ben and I used these points to buy return tickets SYD-BCN (Barcelona).
Timing and annual leave:
Ben and I decided to travel over March and April due to the fact that that 6.5 week period had 4 public holidays! As I was taking this trip on half pay, it was a relief to be at least paid full pay on those public holidays. Lucky Ben has more annual leave than he knows what to do with, so he was alright.
Ben and I used Booking.com, Agoda, and AirBnB to research accommodation options. Using Lonely Planet and Google maps, we were able to identify which suburbs were central to all the sights, which was one of the filters we used in our search. We also used filters like a budget of AUD$120 per night, ensuite bathroom, flexible cancellation, and guest reviews of over 4 stars (out of 5 stars). We pre-booked everything prior to departure so that we wouldn’t have to worry about having a roof over our heads.
In the end, our accomodation was on average about AUD$100 per night.
We thought long and hard about what to do with Lola, and it became immediately obvious that a kennel was not an option. We love (and spoil) Lola so much, we wanted her to have a similar quality of care as if we were still at home taking care of her.
I was trolling through FB one day, and noticed that our dance friend Naomi had sold her current home to buy an off the plan unit. While her unit was being built, Naomi was house-sitting! It seemed like a sign. I made arrangements with her, and was so glad that I did.
Naomi took wonderful care of Lola. She sent me pictures and videos of Lola every few days, took Lola on walks, social outings, and dog play dates. Lola looked very happy and healthy, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with the outcome. It was a bonus that there was someone to look after the house too.
We were allowed 30kg each on our Singapore Airlines flights, but we had agreed that we would take as little as possible, so that we would have space for all the things that we might end up buying. We each had a large suitcase that could hold up to 25-30kg each, Ben had his camera bag for carry-on, and I had a small backpack for our passports, water and every-day things that we would need on the go. The backpack was interesting, as it had little clips that attached to rings on the bag, sort of an anti-theft solution. I have to say, it was quite effective, although, no one tried to steal from us.
We had also checked the weather in Europe, and seen that it was looking quite rainy. We each have Kathmandu waterproof jackets, which have an outer waterproof shell, and an inner jacket that provides warmth. Thank god for these.
Each of us packed about 7 shirts (+7 camisoles for Shalini), 14 undies, 1 pair of jeans, 2 pair of tights (for Shalini), 7 pairs of socks, 1 quick dry sports towel, 1 pair of walking shoes, 1 pair of ballet slippers (for Shalini), and 1 pair of sandals.
We also packed an emergency medicine/first aid kit – we had Betadine gargle, nurofen, panadol, imodium, buscopan, vicks, strepsils, bandaids, a thermometer and tweezers. As we were going to Morocco, I packed a roll of toilet paper, just in case!
Spending money/credit cards:
When travelling we make use of Citibank’s Citibank Plus everyday account, which has no fees for anything. No account fees, no international transaction fees, no exchange rate adjustment in favor of the bank. It works as a Mastercard debit account and when compared to using a credit card overseas, it saves us 5-8% in fees and inflated exchange rates. We are still careful though and ensure whenever we withdraw cash from an ATM we are not getting hit with ATM fee charges from the ATMs bank. We used the following ATMs to avoid fees: Deutsche bank in Spain, Attijariwafa and BMCE in Morocco and Euronet in Portugal.
Planning the route:
I used Google maps and the Go Euro app to determine the best route for us. Go Euro is essentially an app for the EuRail train system, so I would put a fake date in and see how many direct trains there are from A to B, how long they take, and how much they cost per person. This was a lot of trial and error, as the Eurail system doesn’t follow geographical logic, i.e. if the distance between A and B is shorter than A and C, train A to B might cost more or take longer than train A to C due to a slower train being used. Other possibilities might be there just are no trains between A and B, you will have to go through D first to get to B.
After all this mucking around with various tools, and calculators, and Harry-Potter-esque calendars, I finally decided on the following route:
|Day/Date||From/Departure Time||To/Arrival Time||Transport Mode|
|Sat||10 Mar||Canberra||1.00PM||Sydney 4.00PM||drive – park at Jackie’s|
|Sun||11 Mar||Sydney Airport 4.10PM||(arrive at airport 1.10PM)||SQ 222||SYD-SIN||4.10PM – 9.20PM|
|Mon||12 Mar||Barcelona Airport BCN 6.55AM||SQ 388||SIN-BCN||12.05AM – 6.55AM|
|Tues 13 Mar||Barcelona|
|Wed 14 Mar||Barcelona|
|Fri||16 Mar||Barcelona||7.05AM||Madrid||9.50AM||Train||2hr 45 min|
|Sat 17 Mar||Madrid|
|Sun 18 Mar||Madrid|
|Mon||19 Mar||Madrid||AM||Segovia||Train||28 min|
|Tues||20 Mar||Madrid||9.00AM||Cordoba||10.50AM||Train||1hr 50 min|
|Thurs||22 Mar||Cordoba||10.20AM||Seville||11.05AM||Train||45 min|
|Fri||23 Mar||Seville||PM||Granada||Train||3hr 20 min|
|Mon||26 Mar||Malaga||10.00AM||Gibraltar, Algericas||10.00AM||Pick up car Malaga Railway Station (Explanada De La Estacion S/N 29002 Malaga)||Drive||1hr 40 min|
|Tues||27 Mar||Algericas||12.00PM||Tangier Med 12.30PM||9.00AM||Drop off car at Algericas Renfe (Avd Gesto Por La Paz/Estacion Renfe GPS 36.126168, -5.448701 11207 Algericas)||FRS Ferry||1hr 30 min|
|Tangier PM||6.40PM||Fez||11.36PM||Train||3hr 20 min|
|Wed 28 Mar||Fez|
|Thur 29 Mar||Fez|
|Fri 30 Mar||Fez|
|Sat 31 Mar||Fez – Marrakech Camel Tour|
|Sun 1 Apr|
|Mon 2 Apr|
|Tues 3 Apr|
|Wed 4 Apr||Marrakesh|
|Thurs||5 Apr||Marrakesh||8.00AM||Essaouira||10.45AM||Supratours Bus||2hr 30 min|
|Essaouira||6.00PM||Marrakesh||10.59PM||Supratours Bus||2hr 30 min|
|Fri 6 Apr||Marrakesh|
|Sat 7 Apr||Marrakesh|
|Sun||8 Apr||Marrakesh||6.20AM OR 8.20AM||Casablanca||10.00AM OR||12.00PM||Bus / Train? Unclear, looks like train||3hr 30 min|
|Mon||9 Apr||Casablanca Mohamed V 10.00AM||(arrive at airport 7.00AM)||Lisbon 11.20AM||AT982 Royal Air Maroc||1hr 20 min||Uber Euro 10-14 Airport -> Loving Lisbon Rossio|
|Tues 10 Apr||Lisbon|
|Wed 11 Apr||Lisbon|
|Fri||13 Apr||Lisbon||8.00AM||Sintra||8.00AM||Pick up car from Portela Airport Lisbon||Drive 27 min|
|Sat||14 Apr||Sintra||7.00AM||Sagres, Lagos||Drive||3hr 8 min|
|Sun||15 Apr||Lagos||Algarve, Lagos|
|Mon||16 Apr||Lagos||7.00AM||Coimbra||Drive||4hr 16 min|
|Tues||17 Apr||Coimbra||5.00PM||Douro Valley||Drive||1hr 47 min|
|Wednesday 18 Apr||Douro Valley|
|Thurs||19 Apr||Douro Valley 9.00AM||Porto||Drive||1hr 6 min||12.00PM||Drop car off Oporto Airport, Francisco Sa Carneiro Airport Oporto|
|Fri 20 Apr||Porto|
|Sat 21 Apr||Porto|
|Sun||22 Apr||Porto Airport OPO||9.00AM||(arrive at airport 6.30AM)||Barcelona Airport BCN 11.40AM||Vueling VY8477|
|Mon||23 Apr||Barcelona BCN||12.05PM||(arrive at airport 9.00AM)||SQ 387||BCN-SIN||12.05PM – 7.00AM +1 Day|
|Tues||24 Apr||Sydney||7.15PM||SQ 211||SIB-SYD||9.35AM – 7.15PM|
|Wed 25 Apr||Sydney||Canberra||Drive|
We realised that we had some days where we were travelling in the morning, and arriving in a new city/town before our accommodation would allow us to check in. We managed this by maintaining our plan, but leaving our big bags in the train station lockers.
This is a pretty handy solution, particularly for the backpacker, as it’s quite difficult to be carrying all your possessions around on your back. We just needed a place to shove our large bags for 5-6 hours so that we could do some uninterrupted sightseeing.
Typically, these lockers cost about €8-12 per day, but they are massive lockers, both our bags were able to fit in them.
For Spain, Ben added an international datapack to his Virgin Mobile phone account, as Spain is a Tier 1 country with Virgin, this provided plenty of data and the call and SMS rates are not insanely high in Spain.
But when we got to Morocco, that data pack didn’t work as morocco is classed as Tier 3, so we purchased a local SIM from Maroc Telecom. It was so worth it, as it was only 10 Dirrham for the sim which included a few minutes of calls and we added 5GB of data for 50 Dirrham as that is the smallest you can get with longer than a 1 week expiry. So for about AUD$8.50 we had more data than we knew how to use and the phone reception in Morocco is superb, we had reception everywhere we went.
Similar story in Portugal as they are classed as Tier 2 with Virgin, so we got a Vodafone data only SIM at Lisbon airport, the standard size seems to be €15 for 15GB but there was a deal running so instead we got 30GB of data for €15 of which we used around 2GB by the end of our 2 weeks.
We used a variety of apps to help us get around – namely:
- One Drive – to store and manage all of our plans and tickets, we had everything we could need saved to offline mode so either phone or the iPad had access.
- Google Maps – was great just to get from A to B, public transport options, and even telling us Google reviews and ratings for restaurants near us
- City Mapper – this only works in select cities but provides more accurate and slightly more detailed instructions than Google maps when getting from A to B, things like where you should board a train (front or back) so your platform exit is right next to you when you get off the train.
- Go Euro – to search for and then purchase train/bus tickets
Ben and I really wanted to do some special activities, things that we couldn’t or wouldn’t do if we had kids some day.
One of the activities recommended to us by friends was the 4 day 3 night desert tour in Morocco. Ben and I decided to do this tour from Fez to Marrakech, we had a private car drive us south east from Fez to Merzouga, where there is a 35km stretch of sand dunes. We stayed at a backpackers the first night in Merzouga, then the next evening we mounted some camels for a 1 hour ride to the desert Berber tents. We spent the second night out in the desert, and then back on the camels for another 1 hour back to Merzouga. Then we start driving west through the Todra and Dades gorges and valleys to Marrakech.
We also decided to do a bit of driving in Portugal. We felt that Portugal was a small enough country that we could get a lot out of driving by ourselves and seeing things along the way, instead of being stuck at the mercy of a train. We rented a car for a week in Portugal – it was so worth it! Definitely one of the highlights of our trip.
I hope you will enjoy reading about our trip – it really was an amazing 6.5 weeks, and I can’t wait to go on our next holiday! Happy reading!