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01: UK-Scandinavia
02: France
03: Spain-Portugal
04: Andalucia off-road
05: Morocco: Fes/Marrakech
06: Morocco: Atlas/Sahara Safari
07: Gibraltar, Switzerland, Italy
08: Turkey
09: Syria
10: Jordan
11: Iran
12: Pakistan
13: India
14: Philippines

Special Features:
Kirsten writes about exploring the Middle East

Kirsten's dispatch about her Indian adventure

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Current Status:
Back home in Seattle as of 1 August 2001

London Bombay Cebu

A New Year on the Road...
by Karin Corea-Laurel

Dispatch #7, Gibraltar, Switzerland, Italy
24 January 2001
Istanbul, Turkey
After taking a short ferry from Tangier, Morocco back to Algecieras, Spain, we decided to stop by Gibraltar. It is essentially a large rock that is a territory of the UK. It immediately felt as though we’d been transported to London. The architecture of the homes, businesses and especially pubs were typical Brit style. We expected to see cars driving on the left. The children were amused that they had been in three different countries in a matter of hours. They also thought of an amusing bit of trivia. "Where can you find wild apes in the Britain?

We had to check out the famed Barbary Apes that roam freely on Gibraltar. We saw apes of all ages napping and walking in the road and it was clear from the start that they were used to humans. Jim was still backing into a parking space when a few of them jumped on the car to catch a ride, leaving hand and footprints all over the hood in the Moroccan dust.

We got out to get a closer look. "There’s a monkey in our car!!", shouted Kirsten. A mother ape with an infant clutching her chest had climbed through an open window and grabbed one of Connor’s prized lollipops. Our laughing was probably what scared her out of the car. Connor screamed "My melody pop!", and tried to grab it back from her, causing the mommy ape to screech and take a swipe at him. She ripped the wrapper off and took a bite. A local Spanish man said that the apes have been known to snatch cameras, purses, etc., and finding them inedible, throw them down the cliff. Their little fingers touched ours as they took almonds and crackers from our palms. It was really worth the side trip.

After a quick oil change and greasing in Malaga, we headed east through Spain and France toward Switzerland. Compared to the grime and cold showers of Morocco, the Swiss hotels were a dream – clean, and things in your room actually work! We were to spend Christmas in Zermatt, a little ski town nestled in a valley at the base of the Matterhorn. We had to leave our Land Rover at the nearby town as only electric cars are allowed in Zermatt. This goes a long way to creating a quiet, peaceful and clean atmosphere.
We spent six days at "Ambiance", a cozy family hotel with great food and a wonderful view of the Matterhorn. As you would expect, the place is absolutely spotless, and the tap water tastes like bottled mineral water. The lack of typical Christmas commercialism was refreshing. The shops even close for several hours each day for a kind of "siesta lunch" – something you’d never see in the US. We had one of the most, yet best Christmases ever! Kirsten and Connor made their gifts and even hung their socks up on door knobs, as there was no fireplace. They awoke to find some coins for their collections in their stockings.

The skiing was good, though a rather thin base meant some rock damage to our rented skis. The skies were clear, so we had some pretty low temperatures. One day we found ourselves skiing in 11 degrees below zero! What we were no prepared for was the difficulty in getting to the slopes, sometimes taking more than an hour. The lack of infrastructure meant lots of walking, riding buses, taking trams, all the while wearing ski boots and carrying our gear. It seemed so much easier back home in Washington, not to mention that for the past few years, we’ve had TOO much snow – so much that one year the chair lifts had to be dug out.

The drive from Switzerland south to Italy was breathtaking. Everything was covered in a blanket of snow and huge icicles with a hint of aqua hung from trees and roofs. Thankfully, the road was clear.

We stopped in the prosperous town of Modena, home of Luciano Pavarotti and, of course, Ferrari. Jim was to finally meet his friend Rob Appleby, a fellow photographer with whom he’d been exchanging email for years. We spent a fun evening with Rob and his family, during which Rob treated us to a private showing of some of his new work from Dhar Avi, India.

During the winding, mountainous drive through Tuscany, the temperature was hovering around freezing, and we were constantly on the alert for ice on the road. Jim would hit the brakes hard once in a while, to test the road surface for icing. The conditions didn’t seem to slow many Italian drivers’ typically fast driving.

From Modena, it was on to Rome to see the obligatory tourist sites. After all, a trip through Italy without at least a stop in Rome would have been a bit odd. Jim would have been happy to avoid Rome altogether (he had been here as a child). He was not too impressed with Rome after having seen the great Roman cities of the Middle East, which you can wander virtually alone, or nearly so.

We met with our friends Bob and June from Seattle, who had come for a vacation. They were kind enough to bring a few things from the States that we needed, including a replacement digital camera for ours that had failed in Fes.

It was fun to travel with June, as she had a love of history and an appreciation of Rome! Bob busied himself photographing what he called "old stuff". We saw the Roman Forum, an ancient commercial, political, and religious center, Trevi Fountain, and the eerie catacombs. We spent a lot of time enjoying Italian cuisine, but agreed that the best Italian food we’d had so far was still back in Malaga, Spain!

Kirsten and Connor managed to get their "cat fix", cuddling with a friendly one that curled up in their laps during our chilly visit to Rome’s famed Coliseum. It was the site of more bloodshed than I thought. Supposedly, the games during its inauguration lasted 100 days and nights, during which some 5,000 animals were slaughtered. It was sickening to think of the 9,000 gladiators killed during the 117 days of games held under Emperor Trajan.

Moo! We felt like cattle as we waded in a sea of people toward St. Peter’s Basilica on New Year’s day. I was beginning to understand Jim’s disdain for tourist attractions. The Vatican is still full of priceless art and architecture – every inch of it – and I was awestruck by how much wealth the Church had accumulated over the years. I have yet to find the answer in any of our guidebooks, but I guess when you’ve been in business for 1700 years, you’re bound to amass some significant resources.

We had a surprisingly pleasant day at Pompeii, the most popular tourist attraction in Italy. Even Jim enjoyed roaming around the well-preserved town. When Vesuvius erupted in AD79, Pompeii was buried under a layer of pumice and ash, creating an archaeological "snapshot" that provides rich insight into everyday Roman life.

Like most visitors to Pompeii, we were interested in seeing the body casts, formed by hollows left in the hardened tufa by people in their final moments of life. Sad, but fascinating. To us, Pompeii was more interesting than Rome, and a lot less crowded.

We drove south along the beautiful Amalfi coast, winding our way through hairpin turns and past tiny villages clinging to the mountainside. Our next stop was to be the region of Calabria (in the "toe" of the Italian boot), to stay in Soveria.

Jim flew back to the US to try and get our Syrian visas, and attend to some other business, while the children and I stayed for 16 days in Santacinnara, an agritourism farm. My parents had found this place on the Web and stayed here two years ago. It is owned and run by the Frattos, who made us feel like family. We lived in one of the cottages, surrounded by olive, almond, lemon, mandarin, and orange trees. The area’s gentle beauty reminded me of Tuscany, with its classic patchwork landscape of groves and fields.

For the first time in months, we did our own cooking as the cottage was equipped with a kitchen. It was refreshing to be able to eat the foods we missed, although we had several delicious meals with the Frattos. We could pick as many oranges as we could eat, and Connor took to making fresh-squeezed juice from blood oranges several times a day.

My Great Grandparents on my father’s side were from this area. While Connor was getting his hair cut, the barber and his friends found out that we were related to the Coreas in the area. While we were in a tiny neighborhood grocery, we met a man named Giuseppe. A few words and many hand movements later, I guessed that he’d met my parents a few years earlier, when they were trying to track down any remaining Coreas. It turns out that the Frattos knew the last Coreas in the area and arranged for them to come to the farm. It was great meeting cousins for the first time.

Kirsten and Connor spent time checking out animals on the farm – dogs, sheep, pigs, geese, turtles, and especially the seven pasta eating cats! A kitten that was rescued during our stay was even named after Kirsten.

We were awakened by pitiful squeals one morning and found that a large male pig had been slaughtered. We watched the entire butchering process, from the shaving to the organs being removed to the intestines being made into Italian sausage. The children found the yearly tradition "gross, but interesting".

Just a few days later, Francesco Fratto told us that the female pig had just given birth. Unfortunately, we had missed it. Two of them were cold and weak, looking as if they weren’t going to live. We held the tiny pink piglets near a heater, massaging them. It must have helped, because only one died, and a week later, all seven were plump. What an experience!

At the nearby Ionian coast beaches, we collected delicate shells and fossil hunted near an Aragonese (Spanish) castle. We had lots of time for reading and Kirsten found time to paint several watercolors of the surrounding landscape.

This was our favorite part of Italy.

To book a stay at Santacinnara, send email to Francesco Fratto, or visit thier website.

Next up: Turkey. Asia at last!

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