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Morocco-Gilbraltar-Spain overland, part 1

July 10, 2014 was our 10th wedding anniversary, and we were eager to celebrate this big milestone with our family. As we had wonderful memories of the city we met at (Barcelona) and our families would have to travel from parts of France and Germany for the gathering anyways, we decided to celebrate the big day in Barcelona.

Once this was settled, the next question was: how do we get from California to Barcelona and what else could we visit in the area, to make it worth the trip? We had talked about visiting Andalusia for a while, and this seemed close enough to our final destination. So we quickly decided to add Andalusia to the trip. However, we found out soon that the journey to get from SFO to Sevilla was not that simple. It required at least 2 layovers, and significant time on the road. By the time we would reach our final destination we would have spent 2 days in transit! That's when we looked at the map once more and realized that we could fly into Casablanca (much more time efficient connections) and make our way North quite easily while adding one - and soon 2- new countries to our itinerary. And so started our crazy Morocco-Gibraltar-Spain overland adventure with 3 kids under 6. We figured we were not going to get a relaxing vacation anyways, so we might as well enjoy some sightseeing in the process.

And so our trip started.
We flew into Casablanca and arrived late at night (and jetlagged) and headed straight to our hotel for the night. Somehow we were able to rest in the few hours left in the night, and we were up by breakfast time. After a nice breakfast - and quite a bit of coffee, we made our way to visit the key sites in Casablanca, which included the impressive Hassan II Mosque and the Medina, and drive through the cosmopolitan and modern city center. While it was a short visit, we thought it was a good introduction to Morocco and a chance for the kids to learn about religion and lifestyles.

First day in Casablanca

After a quick bite, we drove to Marrakech for a short 2-day visit. We loved Marrakech! There was so much activity and so many new experiences to witness. The market looked very different than our Western markets, we saw vendors with cobras dancing to the flute, and the medina was an interesting labyrinth to explore. We felt at home very quickly.

Snakes at the market.

The next day would bring us one step closer to the Sahara desert as we did a day tour over the Atlas toward the next, dry valley. It started with a long, windy road (not ideal when still fighting jetlag) and it was really cold at the top of the Atlas, but the adventure was all worth it when we got to the other side. We first got to ride on camels, which the kids LOVED!. Then, we visited this really interesting site called Ait Benhaddou (it's an old labyrinth village perched on a hill), and we finished at Ouarzazate, which is considered the beginning of the Sahara desert and has a nice historical fortress.

Cold and windy Col du Tichka

The other side of the Atlas: desert and camels

Ait Benhaddou

Once we reached the end of this tour, our interesting overland journey back to Spain started. We first had to head back to Marrakech. From there, we were supposed to take a night train to Tangier (ferry harbor in the North), but somehow the train got cancelled a week before our visit We ended up driving back to Casablanca by car late at night, sleeping for a few hours at a hotel by the train station and grabbing the first train to Tangier the next morning. In Tangier, we took the ferry to Tarifa across the Strait of Gibraltar, and we continued by car to Gibraltar. All in all, it took us about 22 hours from our furthest destination in Ouarszazate to our hotel in Gibraltar, but we got to observe a lot of the local views from the car, the train and the boat. It was definitely a trip to remember. And despite all of this travel, the first thing the kids wanted to do when we arrived at the hotel is jump into the pool (a well deserved break, which we all enjoyed).

Train transfer

Ferry transfer

Definitely not in Morocco anymore. Pub in Gibraltar

After a nice stroll into the British-looking city center and a nice chicken pot-pie for dinner, we made it back to our hotel for the night. The next morning, we wanted to take the cable car to visit the famous Rock of Gibraltar. After a nice breakfast and a 10-minute walk to the cable car, we found out that it was closed for the day due to strong winds. Changes of plans again! We ended up taking a taxi half way up the hill (up until taxis are allowed to go) and walking up the rest of the path, with breaks for sight-seeing along the way. Good that we had a backpack to carry the 1-year old and that the 4 and 6-year olds were very fit. It was a lot of hiking on a hot and windy day. But when we arrived at the top, we were greeted by thee famous monkeys, which were also very popular with the kids and made them forget their exhaustion. 

Break half way up the hill

Made it to the top!

Surprise visitors at the top of the Rock!

On the way downhill, we stopped for well-deserved popsicles at a shop and visited St Michael's cave, which is a nice natural cave with large chambers and stalactites. It's quite well done and an easy visit with kids.

By the time we can back downhill, it was time to check out from our hotel and head to our rental car, which we would use to explore Andalusia for the next few days. Check out the rest of our trip here.

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