Backpacking My Style by Cristina Grau

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BACKPACKING MY STYLE Copyright Š 2018 Cristina Grau

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher.

Published by Amber Horn an imprint of BHC Press

Library of Congress Control Number: 2017964746 ISBN-13: 978-1-947727-24-3 Visit the publisher at: www.bhcpress.com


For Hailey My beautiful granddaughter My summer travel companion My little nomad in training



TABLE OF CONTENTS Prologue.................................................................................11 Chapter 1: Morocco...............................................................13 Chapter 2: Rabat....................................................................15 Chapter 3: Casablanca............................................................20 Chapter 4: Marrakesh.............................................................22 Chapter 5: West Sahara Desert..............................................26 Chapter 6: Marrakech/Casablanca.........................................35 Chapter 7: Morocco...............................................................37 Chapter 8: Israel.....................................................................40 Chapter 9: Tel Aviv................................................................41 Chapter 10: Nazareth.............................................................45 Chapter 11:Tiberias...............................................................48 Chapter 12: Nazareth Village................................................54 Chapter 13: Mount Tabor......................................................56 Chapter 14: New Year’s Eve...................................................58 Chapter 15: Haifa..................................................................59 Chapter 16: Jerusalem............................................................61 Chapter 17: The Dead Sea.....................................................67 Chapter 18: Israel..................................................................70 Chapter 19: Palestine.............................................................72 Chapter 20: Jericho................................................................73 Chapter 21: Bethlehem..........................................................75 Chapter 22: Palestine.............................................................79 Chapter 23: Jordan.................................................................81 Chapter 24: Amman..............................................................83


Chapter 25: The North Of Jordan...........................................87 Chapter 26: Back To The Dead Sea.......................................91 Chapter 27: King Hussein Highway......................................97 Chapter 28: Little Petra.......................................................101 Chapter 29: Wadi Musa and the Lost City of Petra............104 Chapter 30: The Wandering Wanderer................................111 Chapter 31: Wadi Rum.......................................................113 Chapter 32: Agaba...............................................................117 Chapter 33: Jordan..............................................................119 Chapter 34: Egypt...............................................................121 Chapter 35: Sharm El Sheikh..............................................124 Chapter 36: Giza.................................................................127 Chapter 37: The Pyramids Of Giza.....................................130 Chapter 38: Alexandria........................................................134 Chapter 39: Cairo................................................................137 Chapter 40: Aswan And Abu Simbel..................................140 Chapter 41: Seeing Egypt....................................................145 Chapter 42: Al-Qurn Mountain .........................................151 Chapter 43: Hurghada.........................................................154 Chapter 44: Back In Giza....................................................157 Chapter 45: Egypt...............................................................159 Chapter 46: Turkey...............................................................163 Chapter 47: Ankara.............................................................166 Chapter 48: Tragedy In Kizilay Square................................170 Chapter 49: Fethiye.............................................................174 Chapter 50: Cappadocia ..................................................... 178 Chapter 51: Izmir................................................................184 Chapter 52: Pamukkale........................................................185


Chapter 53: Turkey..............................................................189 Chapter 54: Greece..............................................................191 Chapter 55: Rhodes.............................................................195 Chapter 56: Crete................................................................199 Chapter 57: Heraklion.........................................................207 Chapter 58: Santorini..........................................................209 Chapter 59: Athens..............................................................214 Chapter 60: Leaving Greece................................................224 Chapter 61: Bulgaria............................................................227 Chapter 62: Ivan Vazovo......................................................229 Chapter 63: Sozopol............................................................232 Chapter 64: Varna................................................................235 Chapter 65: Plachi Dol........................................................238 Chapter 66: Dobrich............................................................240 Chapter 67: Return To Ivan Vazovo.....................................241 Chapter 68: Plovdiv..............................................................243 Chapter 69: Karlovo.............................................................245 Chapter 70: Chirpanski Monastery And Perperikon...........247 Chapter 71: Sofia.................................................................252 Chapter 72: Bulgaria............................................................256 Chapter 73: Republic Of Macedonia...................................259 Chapter 74: Skopje...............................................................261 Chapter 75: Kosovo.............................................................267 Chapter 76: Albania............................................................270 Chapter 77: Montenegro.....................................................273 Chapter 78: Kotor................................................................274 Chapter 79: Budva...............................................................277 Chapter 80: Croatia.............................................................279


Chapter 81: Dubrovnik.......................................................282 Chapter 82: Austria.............................................................286 Chapter 83: Vienna.............................................................287 Chapter 84: Austria.............................................................290 Chapter 85: Hungary...........................................................292 Chapter 86: A Recap...........................................................297 Chapter 87: The Final Tally.................................................300


“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” - Robert Louis Stevenson Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes



prologue After publishing Fulfill Your Dreams, many people have asked me how I can extensively travel all over the world for so many years; I responded that, while I don’t have much money, you don’t really need much to travel. I decided to keep track of all my expenses for a year, so you can see how much I spend and on what. Hopefully, this will demonstrate that you don’t need that much to pursue your traveling dreams. Before I begin, let me explain that I am not your typical backpacker. I have met many backpackers that spend much less than me. I have met many travelers that spend much more than me. This is just my style. At the end of each chapter, I will detail the expenses for each location I’ve traveled, and at the end of this book, I will reveal the grand total, whatever that might be. As I explained in Fulfill Your Dreams, the reason I can travel without many expenses is that I house-sit and use HelpX and Workaway. For house-sitting, I use HouseCarers (www.housecarers.com) and TrustedHousesitters (www.trustedhousesitters.com). Both sites are excellent, and they work the same way. You pay an annual fee, and then input your profile and a picture on their web page. You select the countries you wish to visit and then wait for the site to send you an email with your list of chosen countries; or you can go into the list of the people looking for house-sitters and


12 | cristina grau contact them. If you find something you like, you send an email to them via their site’s email system for house-sitting approval. You can change and update your profile at any time. They also have a calendar that lets you input your availability. There are many house-sitting opportunities in Anglo countries or European countries for Anglo people but few opportunities elsewhere. However, I wanted to visit other countries where house-sitting isn’t a common occurrence, so I signed with HelpX (www.helpx.net) and Workaway (www. workaway.info). Once again, you pay a small fee and input your profile and picture and contact the places you want to go in your desired country. There are many different work opportunities all over the world—just about anything you can think of. Whether you are doing house-sitting, HelpX, or Workaway, you will meet great people, see beautiful places, and experience a vast array of cultural lifestyles and foods. By traveling this way, I am able to travel for years without breaking the bank. And by staying with families, I learn about their country’s culture and traditions. It’s a win-win situation. As you will see, I don’t have as many expenses as I would if traveling as a tourist, which sometimes I do. We’ll see…


Chapter 1

morocco I arrived in Morocco on a Sunday afternoon in early November. The sun was shining, and it felt like summer. I came from Spain by bus because I wanted to see the countryside, and then decided to cross the canal by ferry ($75.34), which proved to be the right choice. The 1-1/2 hour crossing was beautiful, with stunning views of both continents. Due to the choppy waters, I did not sit much on the ferry. I know some people complain when boats rock, but the rocking would have put me to sleep like a baby. I did not take the ferry to sleep and miss the sights. So, I walked as if I was drunk, going from one side of the ferry to the other. And yes, I was having fun; a few times I even went “wee” as I slid all over the ship. As I walked, I spoke to some of the people onboard. Most were men, as the few women onboard sat and remained in another part of the ship. I was the only non-Moroccan person on the bus and ferry, and I was amazed at the friendliness of the Moroccan people. Everyone who had been to Morocco had told me how nice its people were, but you don’t realize how genuinely nice they are until you meet them. Morocco is situated in the north of Africa just across from Gibraltar. It has a western coast on the North Atlantic Ocean and a northern coast on the Mediterranean Sea. Beautiful beaches run along each coast.


14 | cristina grau There are many souks (markets), beautiful mosques, white-washed seaside towns, and medieval city centers all with vibrant colors and appetizing aromas that dance in the air to the sound of Islamic music. Morocco is a mixture of Berber, Arabian, and European cultures, and as such, they speak Moroccan, Berber, and French. Spanish is even spoken in the northern sections of the country. Morocco had been under Portuguese, Spanish and French governments until its independence in 1956.


Chapter 2

rabat My host, his wife, and an assistant picked me up at the bus station. We stopped for coffee at a very nice beachside cafÊ before proceeding to the apartment where I would be staying. The apartment was located in a new community of block buildings in a working-class neighborhood that looked like the projects. On Monday morning, I went for a little walk around the neighborhood as I waited for my host to arrive with another volunteer. As I walked, everybody said hello, smiled, and spoke to me. Many men came to shake my hand and welcome me into their town. I am still amazed at their friendliness; I had never felt so welcome in a place. I was volunteering at Jeune Habile, a private language school that taught English as a second language. They also taught Spanish, German, and French. Of course, everybody there was very welcoming and friendly, too. A very nice volunteer from New Zealand arrived the day after me and became my roommate for my two-week stay. The first day, our host and his wife took us for lunch at a typical tagine restaurant, and it was delicious. We had salads, lamb tagine, chicken tagine, grilled meats and insides (yuck), halloumi, and bread. Then we went to the medina, the amazing market in the center of town that provides anything and everything you could possibly want. As we walked through the market, the vendors gave us free samples of sweets and fruits, and then we stopped because we couldn’t eat one more thing. However, being with Moroccans means


16 | cristina grau that you will eat more, whether you want it or not, so we went to a tea house for some tea and more cookies. Obviously, we did not have dinner that night. How could we? Anyway, the medina is an UNESCO World Heritage site. It was beautiful. The colors, the aromas, the music, the vibrancy in the air—just gorgeous. On Friday, we had lunch at our host home. It’s customary every Friday to have couscous after the obligatory prayer at the mosque. We had it with delicious vegetables and chicken, and we drank leben, a fermented milk. (Don’t ask.) Then we visited the ruins of a temple called Chellah (or Sala Colonia), a hammām bath, and tombs of the sultans. It’s a necropolis built in the 14th century over Roman ruins circa 40 AD. These are the most ancient ruins built at the mouth of the Bou Regreg River. Except for the constant clap claps of the many storks that habitat the place, Chellah is a wonderfully tranquil and peaceful place. There is also a multitude of cats all over the place. Actually, there are cats all over Rabat. In other words, there are cats all over Morocco. There is a cement pond swarming with eels where women feed them boiled eggs for fertility and an easy delivery. I did not see any eels, but I’m told they are there and that you can see them surfacing and eating the thrown eggs. On Saturday, my roommate and I went for lunch with the receptionist/ secretary/assistant (she does just about everything at the school), at this typical fast food restaurant where we had shawarma, cream caramel, and a bottle of water for 39 darahim or DAM ($3.90). I was suddenly sick with a terrible head cold. I just wanted to stay in bed and watch TV all day, but I didn’t have a TV, and besides, I would only be in Morocco for a month, so I didn’t want to waste time by staying in bed. After taking some cold medicine, we went back to the medina and walked through the narrow streets filled with vendors and stalls peddling their wares. Afterward, we went for a 50 DAM ($5.00) hammām. This is how it works: you go into a big room where all these other naked women are and sit on a floor mat, and then a woman comes and scrubs you very hard with savon noir (black soap); after she scrubs you raw, she bathes you and washes your hair. It was good, even though it was strange to have somebody bathe me. Nevertheless, I had never felt this clean in my life. And my cold felt better!


backpacking my style | 17 Instead of teaching English classes, I gave workshops to inform the English teachers how to conduct an interactive class while making it exciting and fun for their students. A week later another volunteer from the States showed up, and now we were three. I was happy that everyone was nice and got along. Otherwise, three women in a two-bedroom apartment… The workshops came out all right. The American volunteer took over presenting most of the script, and I let her. She wanted to do all the work, and that was fine by me. I did the PowerPoint presentation. We had many different activities and games so the teachers could see how to conduct the classes and make them fun. I was happy with the results. And most importantly, our host was happy with the results. The PowerPoint presentation was perfect, if I do say so myself. Our host’s wife found an advertisement on the net for a hammām package offer, and even though my roommate and I just had one a week ago, we went anyway. We had a twenty-minute table massage and then the hammām, which was a little different because we were in a private room. Here they rubbed me with henna before the black soap scrub. The rest was the same. After the hammām, I got a one-hour massage, a basic mani-pedi, and then a blow-dry and brushing. In total: two massages, the hammām, the mani-pedi, the blow-dry, and the brushing all for 99 DAM ($9.90). And I felt so light and relaxed…it was incredible; all that for that minuscule price. Oh, how I loved it. The original price was 300 DAM ($30), which would still be a bargain.

Fun facts Rabat, established in the 12th century, is the political and administrative capital of Morocco. It’s also where King Mohammed VI lives, which makes Rabat one of the most important cities in the country. Right now, the king is building city suburbs outside of Rabat, as the capital is overpopulated and it’s very expensive to rent or own anything within its borders. Tamesna is one of the new cities being built. All of these cities look the same. As I mentioned before, they look like the projects because they are the projects. However, a hospital and a univer-


18 | cristina grau sity are being built in Tamesna as well. Additionally, an intercity highway and tram will be functioning by 2018 between Rabat and Tamesna. I am amazed at the speed that everything is being built, and that work goes late into the evening and on weekends, too. Of course, I asked why they worked so much and so quickly. I was told that, if they didn’t finish on time and that the job was not completed correctly, they would be punished. My mind conjured up many different kinds of punishments, and I asked what the punishment would be. It was monetary—if they don’t finish in time they won’t get paid. I guess that is a great incentive to do the work right and on time. The king plans to be at the same developmental level as European capitals by 2018. The people in Tamesna are amicable; everybody says hello and asks how you are. And they actually talk to us. I guess we were a novelty, as we were the only non-Moroccan in the whole city. Nevertheless, they were extremely friendly. Every morning we go to the same café: Amigos. This city is not a touristic place, so no other women sat down, but it was acceptable for us because we were foreigners. The owner and staff were very friendly and helpful, and the coffee and pastries were delicious. Besides, the Wi-Fi at the apartment was very slow, so we used the one at the café. I mentioned how everybody gave us free cookies at the medina. Well, every time I went to the farmers market to buy one banana or one tomato, they looked at me and asked, “One kilo?” I answered, “No, just one banana,” or whatever I was getting at that moment. So, with a perplexed look on their faces, they gave me the banana or tomato, but they did not charge me for it because it was just the one and all their prices were by the kilo. The same happened at the bakery when we wanted a few cookies instead of a kilo.


backpacking my style | 19 I had never seen anything like this in any other country. I felt bad just going back for one banana, but when they saw me, they called me and gave it to me without question. Amazing! One of my roommates had a toothache. Since she was going to the dentist, I went along too. The checkup cost 200 DAM ($20). Everything was fine with no cavities. One day, we were walking in the neighborhood around the school looking for a place to eat lunch. As we passed this little hole-inthe-wall, I saw these men eating some kind of soup. It looked like lentil soup; I asked what it was, and one man told me that it was harira, which is a chickpea, lentil, and lamb soup. So, we decided to eat there. After that day, we had harira for lunch every day. It was delicious. They give you a full bowl of soup, a soft, yellowish bread, and a bottle of water for 5.50 DAM ($0.60). Every time our host asked us what we wanted for lunch, we said harira. He kept on telling us to ask for something else, that the soup was the cheapest thing we could eat, and that we could have anything we wanted; nevertheless, we wanted harira because it was that good. Rabat Expenses Total days: 17 Total spent: $128.54 Daily average spent: $7.56


Chapter 3

casablanca Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco and the second largest financial district in Africa after South Africa. The Berbers founded Casablanca in the 7th century BC, and it was one of the most important ports used by the Phoenicians and Romans. The most famous attraction is the Hassan II Mosque, which is the biggest Mosque in Morocco and the 7th largest in the world. It was built as a mausoleum for King Mohammed V in 1961. The building is beautiful from the outside. I didn’t see the inside because I was there during prayer time and not allowed to enter. I didn’t have the time to wait until tourists could visit, so I left. Maybe next time. The Hassan II Mosque is the only mosque in Morocco where tourists can visit. The city is also known for the classic film Casablanca (1942), which was directed by Michael Curtiz and starred Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Casablanca is considered one of the best films of all time. Set during WWII, it depicts the story of two men in love with the same woman and the sacrifice of one man. And let us not forget the famous phrases “Here’s looking at you kid” and “Play it again, Sam.” It was just a one-day trip, as we were going to a school to do a workshop for their teachers, so we didn’t see anything else. There was a lot of traffic all over the place; it took us almost twenty minutes to go just a few blocks. We


backpacking my style | 21 were late arriving for the workshop, but it didn’t matter because everyone is always late in Morocco. Since I went with my host, I didn’t pay a single dirham. I will miss Rabat and Tamesna; it was great being there. Besides, I feel that my host will be a friend for life, and I am sure I will be back one day.


Chapter 4

marrakesh As I walked in the medina in Marrakesh, I felt like I was in a different world. It’s very touristic here. The medina was full of snake charmers, monkeys posed for pictures, watermen dressed in colorful costumes, and they all wanted money to pose for a picture or to have their snakes or monkeys all over you. I hate snakes and monkeys. I really do! There were people from all over the world looking at the spectacles just as I was. During the day, there were many street performers. At night, there were music groups representing all parts of the country, playing their traditional music. The medina is huge with many narrow streets and passages full of colorful souks (little Berber stores), and once again, you can find everything here, and I mean everything. They mainly sell leather bags, belts, shoes, handmade carpets and rugs, metalwork, pottery, and lanterns. The only problem is many people drive their Vespas, bicycles, or scooters right in-between the souks and the people. I am surprised that nobody has gotten killed yet. I guess they are used to it. When people think of Morocco, they think of Marrakesh and Jemaa elFnaa, which is the picturesque square in the medina you see in all the postcards, documentaries, and films. Unlike Rabat, this was a touristic place, and it was utterly beautiful, even though there were many beggars all over town, which was something I did not see in Rabat.


backpacking my style | 23 The Koutoubia Mosque was just a couple of blocks from the medina. It looked beautiful from the outside. However, as I mentioned before, I was not allowed inside because only Muslims may enter. Oh, well. The spire atop the minaret, where the muezzin calls the people to prayer, was decorated with gilded copper balls that diminished in size toward the top, a style unique to Morocco. Due to its size, you can see the spire from afar, and it was a great focal point, as I just had to walk toward it to get home. A riad is a traditional old town Moroccan home. They reminded me of the old Spanish homes with the courtyard in the center and all the rooms around the courtyard. This was where whole families used to live together. Spain was conquered by the Moors in 711 AD and ruled Spain for 800 years, so it’s not a coincidence that the houses have the same style. My grandfather used to have a beautiful big house like this in Uruguay. My host’s home was in a riad on the main passage right off the Ryad Dyor and next to the medina and mosque. Of course, he doesn’t have the whole riad—just an apartment with a Turkish toilet. On Friday I went for a walk and had dinner at a typical hole-in-thewall for 24 DAM ($2.40); the shish kebab and salad were delicious yet so big that I could not finish them. You also got a big piece of bread and a bottle of water with it, and if you wanted more bread or water, they just give it to you. That night my host took me to a café on the other side of town to meet some of his friends. All of them were teachers at the same school where my host taught. We had a great evening drinking coffee and talking, and then had dinner at a restaurant couple blocks down. Once again, I had a delicious kebab with potatoes, salad, bread, and water. Then he proceeded to invite them for dinner on Saturday, and I was to cook the meal. On Saturday morning, we went to the medina to buy a chicken and the vegetables for a sauce. We chose a chicken, they killed it, removed the feathers, cleaned and quartered it, and gave it to me. When I got home and took it out of the bag, it was still warm. It was bizarre, but I guess it doesn’t get fresher than that. I made spaghetti with chicken and tomato sauce. It was delicious and everybody enjoyed it. I don’t cook very often, as I don’t like to cook just for myself, but once in a while, I do enjoy it. One of the guests brought a bottle of Moroccan wine, but I didn’t like it; it was too full bodied for my taste.


24 | cristina grau Right now there’s a film festival in town, and Bill Murray and Willem Dafoe are here. I didn’t see either of them; I didn’t feel like staying in line for two or more hours just to get into the theater and see them. Besides, the lines were so long that by the time I got there, who knows if I would have been able to get a seat. I went to visit the El Badi Palace, the ruins of one of the most lavish palaces in the world. It was built in 1578 during the reign of Saadian Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur after his success against the Portuguese at the Battle of the Three Kings. It took 25 years to be constructed and consisted of 360 rooms decorated in gold, ivory, Carrara marble, and precious and semi-precious stones. Nowadays it’s in ruins. However, you can walk through the courtyard and along its large pool and see the massive walls and some of the layout of the palace. You can also still see some of the mosaics on some of the floors and the dungeon where the prisoners were kept. After the reign of Ahmad al-Mansur, Sultan Moulay Ismail commenced his reign. He took apart El Badi Palace and used the parts to build his own palace in Meknes in the north of Morocco. Sultan Moulay Ismail had 500 children, and at his death, a civil war endured because all 500 of his children wanted to be the next sultan. After many battles, Moulay Ismail became the sultan, and he was called “The Bloodthirsty” due to his cruelties. He was the second ruler of the Moroccan Alaouite dynasty and reigned from 1672 to 1727. He had four wives and 500 concubines, and it is said that he fathered more than 1,000 children. A computer simulation revealed that he actually had 1,171 children. These simulations further detailed that he would have needed a harem of only 65 to 110 women and have sex once a day for 32 years to accomplish that. So, it is possible. But, back to the palace. The ruins are very nice and every year it houses the Marrakech Folklore Festival. Like everywhere else in Morocco, many storks and cats live amid the ruins.

fun facts Marrakesh is located at the foothill of the Atlas Mountains, and it was built by the Berbers. It used to be called the Red City due to the orange-red clay used to build the city’s homes and walls.


backpacking my style | 25 Berbers have inhabited Morocco since the Neolithic times, and the name Marrakech derives from the Berber word Murakush meaning “Land of God.” When you shop at the medina, the vendors will ask a higher price just because you are a foreigner. However, haggling is a common practice all Moroccans participate in, and you should, too. (I have not learned to do it yet; it goes against everything I know). However, I don’t buy anything, so I don’t need to haggle. The new medina is in the city center, where you find all the brand name stores and higher-class restaurants and cafés. Whether you are in the new or old medina or any other part of the city, it’s always full of people. Everybody walks on the street, and they cross it any place they want, just zigzagging between cars, scooters, and horses. Traffic lights and zebras don’t mean a thing.

View from my bedroom

Marrakesh Expenses Total days: 6 Total spent: $23.53 USD Daily average spent: $3.92 USD



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