567: Travel Deals

The-Leading-Provider-of-Travel-Related-Services

I have been subscribing to a travel website for years now that I would like to share. It is free to subscribe to travelzoo.com’s weekly e-mail posting of what they consider to be the Top Twenty travel deals that they found by canvassing hundreds and hundreds of travel companies world-wide. The weekly post arrives via e-mail every Wednesday, and highlights twenty or more local and/or international travel deals that are often astonishingly inexpensive.

To be fair, often they are at times during the year when I cannot travel, being a schoolteacher – travel companies tempt travelers to travel at non-peak times with extra good discounts, and usually, those are times when I am tied to my job and can’t go. However, if it is a time when I can go, the deals are spectacular!

I have booked and traveled with Travelzoo’s recommended deals several times over the last few years and I have been thoroughly pleased with each trip.Often the trip packages offered through the site’s recommended agencies include airfare, accommodation, taxes, fees and excursions, and some are all-inclusive resorts that include entertainment, sports and all you can eat and drink into the bargain.

To sign up for the free weekly e-mail and see the great travel deals yourself, go to http://www.travelzoo.com and register for free. They have departments of the company located in various parts of the world, so there are e-mail deal packages especially for people who live in Europe, or in the USA/Canada, or in Asia, for example. They also offer local deals for you based on your identified zip code, which means for me that I see extra travel and entertainment deals in the southeastern USA, and in Atlanta, Georgia, especially.

Have fun planning your next exotic (and cost-conscious) destination!

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562: International teaching jobs, and good advice

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I taught internationally for five years before I returned to the USA to get married. So far, HE’S been worth it, but teaching abroad was certainly more rewarding than what I am doing now, PLUS the travel opportunities. But, where do you get a teaching job overseas?

I joined two subscription sites, and several free sites, that list available teaching positions for teachers with a passport and a love of teaching. The one that trumped all the others was this one: www.joyjobs.com

This site lists jobs the other sites have never heard of, AND they have a training program online where they teach you what to do in order to get hired. AND they help you set up and host for you a professional website so you can say to schools – here is my professional website for more information – and THAT is a big help. The people who run the site are quite knowledgeable, and will assist you if you ask. Igor helped me tweak my cover letter with excellent results.

A year’s subscription is less than 40 bucks -and was worth every penny.

557: Community Theater

My new hubs (still bright and shiny after six months) and I are in a community theater play tonight and tomorrow night. It is a reader’s theater, which means we cheat and don’t actually memorize our lines, we read them, in full costume, instead. Sort of like beginner’s theater, or theater for us forgetful old folks.

I like the opportunity to participate in something fun with others who are like-minded. It’s why I like to visit new countries as part of a tour group: you get the experience of not only the location, but the group as well. Usually, being part of the group makes the experience more fun, and it is nice when in a new place to know if something happens, you are not alone to have to deal with it. Plus, expensive surprises are usually absent, too – a real bonus of traveling with a group.

This play is a committee meeting: a group of church ladies planning a church function. Except that I am the only actual lady – the other ‘ladies’ are all men, and every single one has a beard, goatee, or at least a mustache. I will fit right in……..

 

413: Barbados

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I adore Barbados. It is the Caribbean island that is located furthest east – or the closest one to Africa and Europe, even though it is closer to South America than either one of those. Being so far east, most hurricanes give it a pass.

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As a result of location (and its geography and climate, which made it ideal for growing sugar cane and making RUM), it spent quite some time as a British colony before peacefully earning its sovereignty as a nation. It’s a pretty small nation.  You can drive from one side of the island to the other in about a half hour, even with traffic. It is a longer island than it is wide, though – going end-to-end, long wise, would take, oh, maybe an hour and a half, with traffic.

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The interesting part of the history of Barbados, to me as an American, is that our first president, George Washington, took his only international trip there. While he was there, he got ill with smallpox, an often deadly disease during his day. He survived, of course, and therefore had immunity from smallpox during the American Revolution, especially during the winter encampment at Valley Forge. This meant the American military leadership suffered no disruptions when smallpox broke out – GW was immune.

The fun part of Barbados is that, being British, they all drive on the other side of the road. Note that I did not say the WRONG side of the road, BUT – I did nearly meet my maker there when I looked in the incorrect direction to check for traffic before stepping off the curb, and a BUS whiffled by a few millimeters from my nose. I needed to change my pants, and I had campmeeting right there on the sidewalk. I might have even spoken in tongues.

Near-death experiences aside (!!!), our trip was offered on http://www.travelzoo.com, a fantastic Website that scours thousands of tour companies looking for what they think are the best 20 deals for the week , and they send a Wednesday e-mail to subscribers (it is free) listing the great deals on trips world-wide. Our Barbados deal came with round-trip airfare from the USA, six nights at a beach-front resort that included a full breakfast every morning (YUMMY, too!), with pool, AC, and a kitchenette in the room, PLUS a 100 dollar gift card good nearly everywhere on the island (bought lots of gifts for friends and family) and a fifty-dollar voucher for a seafood meal at the weekly weekend grill-seafood-party place where everybody meets to have fun and pig out. All of this was less than 600 USD a person, and they STILL run deals like that on travelzoo years later. I adore travelzoo, too!

I had grilled fish at the weekend party place, and it was then (and even now) the best fish I have ever eaten. Bar none. And Barbados has something else to gush over…Mount Gay rum. WOW. WOW. WOW. They have been making rum on Barbados for several centuries, and it SHOWS.

I had a fabulous time there – even the fact that they bury their dead standing up (!!!!) did not freak me out too badly. There is an interesting Barbados burial site story in this group of top ten: http://listverse.com/2012/10/04/top-10-creepiest-graves/

I plan to return, if God lets me live long enough!!

For more background on GW in Barbados: http://www.coedu.usf.edu/culture/Story/Story_Barbados_Washington.htm

354: Retiring…..in MOROCCO????

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Published February 25, 2014, in the Herald Leader, Fitzgerald, Georgia (USA) weekly newspaper.

Lately, most Islamic countries have been pretty much OFF the list as desirable places to live, work and retire. Political unrest is not attractive for those in the market for a place to live. This black eye, however, is undeserved in several cases, and Morocco is close to the top of the list as a pleasant place to consider living. Morocco is located in the upper north-western corner of the African continent. Morocco and the United States share a companionable history – did you know that Morocco was the first country to officially recognize the fledgling USA as a nation? Morocco is an Islamic country in that Islam is the official state religion, and the majority of its citizens are Muslim, but there are people of other faiths here as well, and tolerance is the theme, espoused and endorsed by Morocco’s progressive king, Mohammad VI, as well.

A lot of Morocco is hot, often too hot to be comfortable without expensive air conditioning. After all, the Sahara Desert begins in eastern Morocco, and hot was invented there!  However, Morocco has mountain ranges that run lengthwise down the middle of the country like a backbone: the Middle and High Atlas Mountains. In the Middle Atlas, you will find the lovely little city of Azrou. Azrou is a little less than a mile high in elevation, and has a comfortable climate that is much cooler than other locations in Morocco, even seeing some snow during the winter months. There is a ski resort in the neighboring town of Ifrane (10 miles away), which incidentally, is home to Morocco’s only English-speaking University (Al Akhawayn University). For those who enjoy winter sports, there are African slopes waiting!

And, unlike some other places, Morocco enjoys excellent water. Several brands of bottled mineral water originate near Azrou, and water here is delicious straight from the tap. Being in the mountains does no damage to the views, either! There are lovely, rolling hills all around Azrou, and the drive to either of the larger cities nearby, imperial Meknes (UNESCO World Heritage site) or imperial Fez (UNESCO World Heritage site) includes some breathtaking scenic spots begging for your camera. Meknes is surrounded by vineyards, and local wine produced there and elsewhere in Morocco is both tasty and relatively inexpensive.  There is a good selection at prices less than 10 USD a bottle. The extensive Roman ruins of Volubilis (yet another UNESCO World Heritage site) are a little over an hour’s drive away from Azrou.

Morocco 034Azrou adjoins one of Morocco’s National parks, and there are Barbary Macaques (monkey), that make their home there who are accustomed to being fed by park visitors, though for your safety consider photos only. Hiking, biking and camping opportunities abound nearby in nearly any direction, including being able to explore some nearby extinct volcano calderas and some lovely waterfalls. Outdoorsy people will find plenty to do.

My husband and I moved to Morocco knowing not a word of Arabic or French, the two most common languages spoken in Morocco, and we have done just fine here for three years. The Moroccans are lovely people, helpful and generous, and many speak enough English to be able to transact business, even for us Americans, and are appreciative when you do your best to learn and speak Arabic. Azrou is primarily a farming community, with a few tourist shops featuring handicrafts thrown in for good measure.  The weekly souk (farmer and flea market) here is on Tuesdays, with inexpensive,  fresh produce, all manner of household goods, clothing and livestock sold weekly, but anything you might want is also available from small shops all over town any day of the week. There is also a fish farm in town that sells smoked or fresh fish, dressed fresh to your order. Restaurants in town range from inexpensive sandwich shops (where you can eat for less than two dollars USD), to dining experiences featuring the finest in French cuisine, without the expensive European price tag.  Medical care and dental care both are good and inexpensive. My husband’s recent oral surgery cost us 125 USD, and his bridge will be made by a Boston University-trained dentist, for thousands less than what the identical services would have cost us back home.

Our two-bedroom, two-bath rooftop apartment, with a balcony and a private roof terrace, sets us back 1,500 Moroccan dirham a month, which is 176.50 USD.  Water, gas, electricity, phones and Internet run about 500 dirhams more a month: 63 USD more. We can do just fine here on much less than a thousand USD per month – our living expenses alone run about 650 USD, without including the costs of our small car, which accounts for the rest of the thousand per month. We bought the used car for our occasional trips around Morocco and to Spain, which has two toeholds, nice little cities, five hour’s drive away from Azrou along Morocco’s northern coastline.  Morocco has excellent, inexpensive bus service and the trains are quite nice, too, as well as inexpensive, for those who’d rather not maintain an automobile.

For those considering locations around the world for potential retirement, Morocco has a low cost of living, a good standard of living even on a limited budget, and a very nice proximity to vacationing in Europe, while not paying Europe’s often higher costs of living. A small, but efficient, regional airport in nearby Fez serves cities in Spain, Italy, London, Paris and more, on one of several low-cost carriers. Seasonal fares can be so low we can actually afford to fly to Rome for just the weekend, occasionally. Try THAT in the US! We had high hopes for Morocco when we made the decision to move, and it has certainly fulfilled them. If you are looking at international locations, consider exotic Morocco!

Resources:

Moroccan Arabic Phrasebook (2nd ed.), Bacon, Andjar and Benchehda, 1999. Lonely Planet Publications, ISBN: 0864425864.

Moroccan consulate in New York: http://www.moroccanconsulate.com/, requirements for Moroccan visas and other information for travelers to Morocco.

US Embassy in Casablanca, Morocco: morocco.usembassy.gov/news.html, has hours of operation, directions, visa, passport information and more resources.

Friends of Morocco website: friendsofmorocco.org/, friendsofmorocco.org/

Above: Site has MANY useful links all about Morocco, in English – including links for learning Moroccan Arabic.

Learn Arabic free online: learnarabicfree.info/, learnarabicfree.info/

Above: Free Arabic lessons online. For beginners – starts with the alphabet!

Learn French free online: www.lsfrench.com/beginners2.html, http://www.lsfrench.com/beginners2.html

Above: Free online French lessons for beginners.

Map of Morocco: http://www.journeybeyondtravel.com/news/travel-morocco-map

181: Morocco’s Spain Spots

Mellia Portside

Mellia Portside

Morocco is on the African continent. Spain is across the Strait of Gibralter on the European continent – well…..most of it, anyway. Left over from when Spain was once a world-conquering Empire, they have two small toe-holds left on the African continent. I did not know this, prior to arriving in Morocco to teach at the international school where I work in Morocco. But we soon heard about international faculty here making “runs” to Spain for the fabulous shopping. Fabulous shopping?? I had been having a great time in Morocco with the fabulous shopping that is here in Morocco – what was the great attraction about Spain?

Mellia

Mellia

And then we actually went to one of these toe-hold Spanish cities. There are two, as I mentioned, both on the northern coast of Morocco, near the southern tip of (real) Spain. One is called Cueta, or Sebta in Arabic, and the other is called Mellia (no especial Arabic name for it, apparently). And we discovered why the international faculty were making runs to Spain for the shopping. There are items in Spain that you just cannot find in Morocco – at least, not without traveling several hours to one of Morocco’s biggest cities, like Rabat, the capital, or Casablanca, the premier seaport in Morocco. Things like electric blankets for the chilly winters. And, if you are traveling hours to shop, anyway, why not visit another country?

The second reason why people drive for hours to shop in Spain’s toe-hold cities on the African continent is because many items cost far less in Spain than they do in Morocco. Morocco sometimes has a hefty import duty on some goods that are considered luxury goods, or sinful goods. (You are probably thinking: Sinful??? WTF????)

Remember that Morocco is an Islamic country. Islam forbids a number of things, including alcohol. Alcoholic beverages are available here, but the government discourages the average Moroccan from purchasing them by adding a substantial import tax, which is even added to the alcoholic beverages that are produced in Morocco – yes, you heard me aright – PRODUCED in Morocco, an Islamic country. Apparently this hypocritical conundrum is politely overlooked for the revenue that the sale of Moroccan wines brings to the government. Meknes, a larger city one hour’s drive to the west of Azrou, the small town where we live, is the wine-producing region in Morocco. There are miles and miles of vineyards there, lining both sides of the roads, and the wines they produce are not bad. The domestic ones cost less than any label that is imported. Our little international school had five of the children of one of Meknes’ leading vintners in attendance last year.

Anyhow, a bottle of Moroccan domestic red wine (less than a liter) costs about 40 dirham and up. That’s about 3 1/2 Euros, at today’s exchange rate of 11.45 dirham to the Euro. In Spain, the low-price leader wine, in your choice of red or white, is .54 Euro a liter. I can get SEVEN liters of wine in Spain for what one dinky bottle costs me in Morocco. That’s worth the drive all by itself, if you like a drink of wine occasionally. The costs for liquor are comparative, too: a bottle of Spanish brandy is 1.7 Euro, compared to 100 dirham (and higher) in Morocco.

Cueta candy-seller

Cueta candy-seller

Another thing that’s available in Spain that is sort’ve frowned upon in Islamic countries is PORK. I did not realize how much I was missing bacon until we could not get any. Or ham. In Spain, the majority religion is Catholic, and Catholics eat pig, which Muslims won’t touch. Even the Moroccans who will drink themselves silly in direct disobedience to Islamic teachings, still won’t touch pig. Go figure. I am not Muslim –  I adore pig. When we got to Cueta, the first little grocery we saw had WHOLE HAMS hanging in the window. Drool. And all sorts of sausages. Yummy.

There are lots of cheese varieties for less than cheese can be purchased for in Morocco, too, but the real draw there is the different kinds. Morocco’s reasonably-priced cheese is red-wax-ball cheese: Gouda or Edam only. It’s OK, but Spain has dozens of varieties.

Plus, Spanish cities have bars. Moroccan cities have bars, too, where they serve really intoxicating beverages: tea and coffee. Period. And the places are slap full of Moroccan MEN – ONLY. Nary a female in sight, which is a small problem for me, since I get REALLY stared at when I go in, like I am an alien creature, which is pretty much spot on, I’d say. Spanish bars have the real thing, plus one thing extra that makes them head-and-shoulders above even American bars: they have tapas. For those of you who do not know what this is, tapas are sample-sized, single portions of various delicacies that Spanish bars serve you for FREE when you purchase a beer, which you were gonna buy anyway. Crab, seafood, fish, pork, chicken, salads, potatoes and other veggies in velvety sauces – you name it, they serve it; even snails. WOW. Seriously wow.

Plus, for us cat lovers, Spain is also worth the drive for cat (or dog, for that matter) supplies. A cat collar for one of our babies who’s lost theirs (again), purchased in Morocco is 40 dirham: In Spain, it’s 1.5 Euros, less than half-price.  A bag of cat litter costs one-fourth in Spain what it costs in Morocco. Same for the bags of kitty kibble.  My husband, who loves to do sums in his head for some unexplainable reason (I just don’t get that) figured out that if we purchase a month or two worth of cat litter and kibble alone, the savings over the cost of those supplies in Morocco pays for the gasoline to drive to and from Spain, PLUS two night’s stay at our favorite Pensione Iberia in Tetouan (the city were we sleep over when we do go to Cueta). Pensione Iberia: http://hotel.tripwolf.com/en/guide/show/716561/Morocco/Tangier-and-the-North/Tetouan/Pension-Iberia.

Tetouan

Tetouan

And, my favorite reason, above all of those? Spain has dollar stores, or Euro stores. They have tons of useful things for pennies: jewelry-making supplies, sewing supplies, art supplies, household goods, you name it!! I cannot find those things here in Morocco unless I am in a big city. I hate big cities. Cueta and Mellia are not big cities.

This past weekend was my husband’s birthday. so we went to Spain to combine birthday celebration with shopping. Small problem. Unbenownst to us, December 8th was a national Spanish holiday. All the stores we were planning to shop in were closed, both Saturday AND Sunday. Darn. We were reduced to checking out the beer and tapas places. Darn! I guess that just means we will have to go back to shop THIS weekend. What a darn shame. heeheehee

87: Escaping to Spain

We are wanting to escape Morocco and go to Spain. Not the mainland Spain, just the bits that are still on the African continent: Mellia and Cueta. These two smallish cities are Spanish toe-holds left over from when Spain conquered this part of the world, and gradually lost ground until these two cities are all that’s left.

These two cities are enormously popular with Moroccans, because they are access to goods that simply cannot be found in most cities in Morocco, and for much less money, too. Milk, for instance, the ultra-high temperature pasteurized sort that can sit on the shelf, unrefrigerated, for months and still be good, is HALF price in Spain compared to what it costs in Morocco. And the cat food, litter and related supplies like collars and leashes and much less than half price. Pork is available, which is like gold here, since it is generally something that just cannot be found. Let’s get real – Morocco is a Muslim country, and Spain is not. Muslims, like Jews, don’t eat pork for religious reasons. I am not Muslim or Jewish, and will happily dine on pork, just like any other Spanish Catholic. Pork is available there in whole, luscious hams. Drool.

Plus, I can find things like jewelry findings, so that I can make my own jewelry. I learned to do this when I discovered that I can make lots of jewelry for what it costs me to purchase one ready-made piece. Spain has dollar stores – well…not really….they are Euro stores, which is the closest equivalent. Everything in there is one Euro – and they have tons of neat stuff that I have trouble finding in Morocco. Razor knives, five or six to the pack, for one Euro. Masking tape. Knitting needles and crochet hooks. Sewing supplies. Other good stuff, too.

The problem is that our little plastic car was wrecked, and is being repaired, but is not ready yet. Taking the bus up north to Mellia or Cueta is just not on. It is cheap enough, mind you, but there is no potty on the bus. You have to hold it until they stop. AND you have to carry all your luggage to and from the bus. Those cartons of milk are heavy. I think we will wait a few weeks until the car is fixed, and then take a weekend and depart to Spain. WHEE!!!!!