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2010 has been a fantastic year.

And if I could summarize it with just one word, it would be this: travel.

Las Vegas not once, but twice. Twice to DohaQatar, too. Colorado, Kansas and Chicago. Summer through Spain and Morocco, in Paris, LondonEdinburgh, and Toronto, and across Ireland. Phew!

Along the way, I ate, I drank, I laughed and I loved.

And then, come the fall, I returned to school, to the kitchen, to chase down a dream.

Yes, 2010 was a pretty good year. And while I doubt 2011 will look anything like it, I’m hopeful it will be as exciting — replete with new sights, new sounds, new tastes, new adventures.

Onward.

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WTF?!

Evidently, there’s something worse than a ferry trip across the Strait of Gibraltar and a ten-hour train journey from Fes to Marrakech: a three-hour bus ride from Marrakech to the coastal town of Essaouira on an un-air-conditioned coach bus, overloaded, old and having a cabin temperature of close to +40C.

I wish I were friggin’ kidding. Hell sounds like a paradise after a trip on that God-forsaken deathtrap-on-wheels.

That said, once we arrived in Essaouira, noted for its famous visitors of yore (Hendrix and the Beatles to name but a few), we were greeted by the refreshing winds off the Atlantic, which, we agreed made our harrowing and altogether horrible journey to the town worth it. Almost.

In fairness, our guest house was positively charming, as were the staff. Tucked away at the end of a narrow corridor off one of the medina’s main drags, it offered us a sanctuary for three marvelous days. Moreover, it proved to be a wonderful way to conclude our grand adventure.

Of course, most everyone comes to Essaouira for the beaches and so, when in Rome, we spent a fair amount of time soaking up the sun.  (We’d been on the go since we arrived in Morocco and deserved the break, frankly.)

As is happens, we were also in town for the World Cup final, between Spain and the Netherlands.

Having caught a number of the games whilst in Spain, we were positively delighted our adopted team were vying for the cup. I don’t need to say what happened next, but I will say this: what a way to finish!

Sadly, all good things must come to an end and, after three days of rest and relaxation, we packed our bags one last time and caught the bus to Casablanca where, nearly three weeks after we began our adventure together, my friend and I would call it quits.

Sigh.

I don’t have much to say, save for the fact that our time at the ferry terminal in Algeciras really did a number on our overall impression of Spain, which had been quite positive until that point.

An overall lack of information, monumentally unhelpful port staff, poor signage, unclear directions and tardy ferries made for an unpleasant experience indeed.

Sure, we managed to get on the boat to Tangier… or a port named “Tangier.”Evidently, the ferry terminal servicing the city of Tangier is located a convenient 60+ kilometers outside the city.

What a nightmare.

Wow.

What a difference a few hundred kilometers makes. Were it not for the language, you’d swear Andalusia was a country all its own.

Our journey though Moorish Spain took us first to Granada, then to Cordoba.

Granada

Our various guidebooks had recommended “getting lost” in Granada’s Albaicin. We did. Many times. It was hard not to, what with the narrow, cobble-stone streets, circa Medieval Moorish Spain. Thankfully, we managed to find our way to the to the spectacular Alhambra.

Were I Washington Irving, I suppose I’d have no trouble recounting the immeasurable splendour of this historic site. Alas, I’m not. So, you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say the Alhambra was utterly, overwhelmingly, out-of-this-world remarkable.  (N.B. The below photo does not begin to do justice to it.)

Of course, with the World Cup in full force, we would have been remiss had we not taken in the match between Spain and Paraguay.  Spain were, of course, victorious… again!

We bid farewell to Granada after two very enjoyable days, and took comfort in the knowledge we wouldn’t yet have to bid farewell to Spain: we were off to Cordoba.

Cordoba

And here we thought they took the siesta seriously in Granada. Weren’t we in for a surprise! Cordoba was militant about its afternoon nap. No word of a lie, there was a moment when we were convinced we were the only two people left alive in the town.

That’s not the say our time in Cordoba was uneventful. On the contrary, we visited, what was to me, one of the most outstanding sites during our travels: the Great Mosque of Cordoba, the Mezquita.

It’s iconic red-and-white arches and darkly-lit interiors made for a very mystical experience. Or would have, were it not for the all-too-bright Roman Catholic cathedral inserted smack-dab into the middle of the building. (N.B. Again, the accompanying photos don’t really do justice to the place. Apologies.)

In fairness, the juxtaposition of the two very distinct spaces, was impressive — albeit jarring.

The rest of our time in Cordoba was spent wandering the (empty) streets of the old city. We also stumbled upon one of the three remaining synagogues to survive the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, and attempted to visit the Alcazar. I say “attempted” not because we couldn’t find the old fortress, but because it was closed for the afternoon. As it was every afternoon. Siesta, duh.

As we set out for Algeciras, and the ferry terminal that would take us across the Strait of Gibraltar, to Morocco and the next leg of our journey, we delighted in all that Spain offered us, so freely and so generously.

It’s not often I can say with absolute certainty I will return to a particular country. I can say that about Spain. Hands down. Without question.

After four glorious days in Barcelona, we bid farewell to the city — its cafés, wide, tree-lined avenues, cheap sangria, beautiful beaches and first-rate public transit — and headed south, first to Valencia and then to Alicante.

Our time in Valencia was brief, but still long enough to take in the futuristic Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

We were also able to catch Spain crush Portugal, which was a thrill to be sure! Still, Valencia was yet another big city and, after five days, we needed some peace and quiet.

We found it in Alicante… sort of.

The town is situated a few hours south of Valencia along the picturesque Costa Blanca.

Our first night left a lot to be desired.

Sure, the beach was right out our front door; however, the place wasn’t exactly in Alicante, as advertised, but 5 kilometers outside of town. Not an insurmountable obstacle, but sufficiently inconvenient for us to relocate closer to city the following night.

Doing so proved to be both a blessing and a curse. Yes, we were much closer to the bus station, which meant we could catch the early bus to Granada (our next stop); we were also much closer to Alicante’s vibrant nightlife.

Suffice it to say, we made the early bus, but it wasn’t our finest hour. (Granted, it had been Canada Day the night before.)

Just when I thought life couldn’t get any better, I find myself lying on a beach in Barcelona — the azure Mediterranean in front of me, the breathtaking city at my back.

We’ve been in the city for three days now. It’s a fantastic place, so full of energy!

When we venture south to Valencia in a few days time, it won’t be without a measure of regret. We’ve only just scratched the city’s surface.

Still, an entire country awaits…

I once again find myself sitting in the departure lounge of Winnipeg’s airport. Bags checked. Boarding pass in hand. The exhilaration of take-off awaits.

And this time, I’m flying up and away with no return date and only the flimsiest of itineraries.

I do know this much: from Winnipeg, I’m flying to Toronto; from Toronto, Barcelona by way of Brussels; I need to be in Casablanca on the 14th of July, Dublin on the 24th, and Edinburgh on the 7th of August.

Other than that? No plans.

Amazing.

I’m luckier still, since I won’t be on this adventure all by my lonesome; I’ll be with various friends along the way.

So, here’s to summer, to friends, to sunny days, to safe travels and to happy returns.

Cheers!