Friday, May 02, 2008

Travels With Rick (and Casey and Kristen and Jenn)

Most people know Rick Steves from his PBS television series on European travel, his line of guidebooks or, perhaps, any number of rallies at which he promotes the legalization of marijuana. He’s American, affable, geeky and roughly my parents’ age. He also makes a terrific travel companion. Or, at least his books do.

Last Wednesday, the five of us, along with Casey’s luggage that approximated my height and weight, packed into a compact European rental car to see Andalusia. Over the four-day road trip, we hit five cities, three countries and two continents, stepping on the banks of both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. We encountered apes, snake charmers, camels, and Moroccans. We did it all on one tank of gas, and we did it all with the help of Rick Steves (or as we’ve affectionately grown to call him: Ricky, RS, Stevesy or just Rick). Here’s a quick rundown of the trip:


“Ronda’s breathtaking ravine divides the town’s labyrinthine Moorish quarter and its new, noisier Mercadillo quarter,” Rick said. He is correct: It’s a beautiful town of all-white buildings perched atop a gorge and surrounded by mountains. Ricky also was spot-on in his restaurant recommendation of “the no-frills CafĂ© & Bar Faustino,” where Casey and I became devotees to boquerones, or little fried anchovies. The one thing Rick’s guide to Ronda was lacking was an entry like this: “If you forget to pack underwear, don’t shop at Costa Sol, where the three-euro bargain bin is filled with tight-fitting and boldly designed men’s undergarments.”


Rick had little to say about this coastal town on the Mediterranean, so we simply went to the beach, then to the grocery store for beer, wine and snacks and then back to the beach for spontaneous midnight swimming. His lack of restaurant recommendations left us stranded with Telepizza—the Spanish equivalent to Domino’s. Though I’m sure Rick, whose mantra is to live like a local, would have recommended something along those lines.


Casey asked our tour guide, who drove us up the famously perilous rock, if the Barbary apes that inhabit the British territory had ever bitten anyone in his tour group. He replied, “Not until this morning. One of them bit a little girl.” If that wasn’t ominous enough, RS warned us to “keep your distance from the apes and beware of their kleptomaniac tendencies.” We didn’t heed Rick’s advice and three-fourths of us allowed the apes to hang out on our shoulders. No one was bitten or pilfered. We named one of them Mr. Baloney for no apparent reason.


We canceled our second night in Marbella, going instead to a hostal in Tarifa recommended by our boy Stevesy. It was a pleasant and very windy town, where we spent one low-key night in anticipation of our trip to the northern tip of Africa.


Rick listed his Tangier warnings in rapid order: “Most of the English-speaking Moroccans that the tourist meets are hustlers. Most visitors develop some intestinal problems by the end of their visit. Most women are harassed on the streets by horny but generally harmless men. [I think this is a very cheep shot at Casey and me—Ed.] Things don’t work smoothly.” We went anyway. Rick further cautioned: “When you get diarrhea—and you should plan on it—adjust your diet.” Heeding his warnings, Jenn stashed granola bars and peanuts in her purse. The rest of us dove into the spicy but very tasty food and thankfully didn’t have to break into the Immodium.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then we posted 190,000 words on the trip on Snapfish. View them here.

No comments:

Add to Technorati Favorites