Spain and Morocco

Family Reunion 2023

Family reunions are priceless. Covid had isolated us for a long period of time and we were planning a get-together somewhere out of the country.

The opportunity came by when our good friend from Spain, Angela Abascal invited us all to her wedding in Pamplona, Spain. She was getting married to Vidit, an Indian boy.

It seemed crazy at first to think that the whole family would congregate to Spain from different parts of the world. But Angela insisted that we should all come, approached us individually and convinced us that we were all welcome.

And so our travel plans began to take shape. Spain would be the first destination to attend Angela’s wedding, and all of us unanimously felt that after Spain, Morocco would be an exciting country to visit.

So here goes

Day 1

Vasu and I arrived in Barcelona, Spain. We met up with Minerva and Bram who had arrived some hours earlier from San Francisco via Belgium.

Our first visit was to the ‘La Sagrada Familia’ Basilica, the architectural marvel designed by Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona. Even after 132 years, the Basilica is still under construction because of Gaudi’s vision of building the structure vertically with symbolic Christian images like the Nativity, the Resurrection and others on the exterior facade. The structure is expected to be completed in 2026.

‘La Sagrada Familia’ – the exterior which depicts the Nativity scene.

The Interior of the ‘La Sagrada Familia’ Basilica in Barcelona

Dinner at ‘Layaya’

Dinner at ‘Layaya’ was a gourmet’s delight. Dinner consisted of foie gras salad, smoked salmon and shrimp, anchovies in vinegar with tomato toast, gambas al ajillo, scallops with garlic, sole stuffed with spider crab and grilled monkfish. Portions were small, but delicious.

Dessert was Leche frita with vanilla ice cream and Lemon sorbet with Marc de Cava

Minerva and Bram did the menu selection and the food was delectable.

Day 2

We went to the Barcelona Sants Railway Station to catch our train for Pamplona. The train station was crowded with long stationary queues of people. We were confused at what was going on as our tickets showed departure time of the train at 9:30 AM, and it was already 9:30 AM and the lines were not moving forward.

Barcelona Sants Railway Station

Nervousness was settling in. But suddenly at 9:30 AM the lines started moving and we were directed to the platforms from where the trains were stationed for departure. Both Mini and Bram were in charge of the situation and so we made our way to our train compartment and got seated comfortably into our allotted seats.

Barcelona to Pamplona Train Journey

The train journey took us through picturesque countryside landscapes. It was raining and I was reminded of the song sung by Julie Andrews in the movie ‘My Fair Lady’. ‘The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain’. I kept humming the tune and realised that the rain in Spain falls everywhere and is not restricted only to the plains.

Day 3

We reached Sancho Ramirez in Pamplona where we had booked accommodations and where we met up with Priam, Mabel, Logan and Athena who had come in from Los Angeles and Franav, Munawira and Zayne who had flown in from India.

‘La Vieja’ Iruna, Pamplona

Dinner was at ‘La Vieja Iruna’ where we enjoyed our 3 course meal. What I realised in Spain was there was only one person who waited at several tables, which included taking the order, serving the order and clearing the table. They did all this and still provided excellent efficient service with a smile.

Day 4

In the morning we visited the Plaza de Toros, Pamplona. It is the venue of the famous running of the bulls end point during the festival of San Fermin. The Plaza de Toros is also used for sports, cultural and musical events and has a capacity seating for 19,722 people.

Plaza de Toros, Pamplona

In the evening, we attended the wedding of Angela Abascal with Vidit at ‘Iglesias de Santiago’ at Puente la Reina, Navarre, Spain.

The whole Pillai family assembled in the church where the beautiful ceremony was conducted in Spanish. There were English handouts of the scriptures which an Indian priest Fr. Joseph Kishore kindly shared with us.

The stunning bride Angela led to the altar by her dad. The bride and groom Vidit after the wedding ceremony

Pillai family at ‘Iglesias de Santiago’ ie Church of Santiago

Reception at ‘El Peregrino’

Guests mingling at the outdoor venue of ‘El Peregrino

The glowing bride Angela arrived in a horse carriage. The wedding guests had come in from across the globe. The priest in his homily said that it resembled a mini United Nations event with people from most continents present.

The reception venue was outdoors to begin with and the weather was playing perfect host to the wedding guests. At the reception there were never-ending varieties of ‘tapas’ served with beer, wine and cocktails freely flowing around.

Guests mingled with each other on the green lawns of ‘El Peregrino’, and in true modern style networking was at its best. Guests with common interests converged towards each other ideating and talking animatedly about collaborative initiatives.

The dancing and music started later at the inside of ‘El Pergrino’ which has a big hall, great ambience and a well stocked bar.

Day 5

Angela, her mom and Logan at the sumptuous barbecue at the ancestral home of Angela Abascal

The whole Pillai family at Angela’s ancestral home

That evening we had dinner at the ‘Adokin Gastobar’ which was at the main plaza of Pamplona. The crowds were in celebratory mode as the festival of La Peñas was on. The festival of La Peñas is preceded by impromptu gatherings and processions with banners and a band in tow. It was exciting to see the crowds at the plaza with high spirits and high on the spirits as well.

The bustling streets at Pamplona main plaza

The celebratory procession of La Peñas, Pamplona

Day 6

It was a hectic day of travel as we were leaving for Marrakech, Morocco. Marakech is also called Marrakesh. We decided to split ourselves into 2 groups. Vasu, I, Priam, Mabel, Logan and Athena would leave for Madrid and from there take a flight into Marrakech, Morocco. So it was a taxi ride to the Pamplona Railway station, then 2 train journeys to Madrid as we had to change trains at Zaragoza. From Zaragoza, we got into a double decker train which took us to Madrid main station. From Madrid railway station another taxi ride to Madrid airport, and then a plane flight to Marakech and another taxi ride to the hotel. Phew! We made it to Marakech and to the hotel intact. Four adults, piles of luggage and 2 small kids.

At Marakech airport, Morocco

Morocco is a country in North Africa bordering the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The Strait of Gibraltar separates it from Spain by just 8 nautical miles/14.5 kms. It was a French colony from 1912 till 1956. It is therefore, influenced by Berber (Native), Arab and European cultures.

Day 7

We booked a mini van which took us to the sights of Marakech. The first stop was the Bahia Palace which in Arabic means ‘brilliance’. It is a mid to late 19th century palace and consists of decorative stuccos, paintings and mosaics and is today considered the cultural icon of Marrakech.

Bahia Palace, Marakech

Lunch was at ‘The Marjana Terrasse’ which had a great location, a rooftop view and great food. Lunch was a three course meal with salad, a main dish and desert. In Morocco, it is taken for granted that lunch is a 3 course meal for tourists unless you request for an a la carte menu. Traditional Moroccan dishes are ‘Tajine’ and ‘Couscous with vegetables’

‘Tajine’ is named after the earthenware pot in which the dish is cooked. It consists of slow-cooked stew of lamb, vegetables, and spices and all the flavours are contained in the pot.

Couscous are tiny granules of durum wheat, and the dish usually has raisins and nuts. Lamb tajine and vegetable couscous are considered traditional Moroccan dishes.

Dessert was slices of sweet lime spiced with cinnamon powder.

Lunch at ‘Marjana Terrasse’ with Minerva and the family.

Moroccan dessert of sliced lime sprinkled with cinnamon powder

We next went to the Jemaa el Fna square – main square of the Souk. While the rest of the family went round the souk to browse and explore the feel of Moroccan shopping, Vasu and I sat at the outdoor ‘Café Glacier’ which was facing the main square. Sipping Morac orange juice, we watched the world go by the Moroccan way. Vendors came into the cafe to display their goods. Well dressed people came in to beg. They turn away if there is no interest shown in their wares. The cafe managers don’t shoo them away, but turn a blind eye on them. The good thing is that the vendors or beggars don’t pester. They leave immediately if ignored.

Jemaa el Fna square – main square of the Souk

‘Cafe Glacier’ facing the main Jemaa el Fna square

A walk to the iconic Koutoubia mosque was just 250 metres away from the main square. The mosque is Marrakech’s most famous landmark and is visible from all squares in Marrakesh. The Koutoubia mosque has a square minaret which is 77 metres tall and is unlike other Middle Eastern mosques which have domed minarets.

The Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakesh

Day 8

An exciting day indeed as we were travelling to the Atlas Mountains which was an hour and a half journey away from our hotel. The Atlas Mountains separate the Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines from the Sahara Desert. We passed through breathtaking views and Berber villages. The Berbers are the natives of Morocco, friendly, warm and welcoming. We stopped at a Berber village for an experience on how they live.

Berber village. A native Berber demonstrated how this granite millstone grinds grain to make flour

At the Berber village with the backdrop of the Atlas Mountains

We stopped at the Ourika valley for lunch. The valley is along the Ourika river on the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains. The restaurants are located on the other side of the river and one has to cross narrow bridges to reach them. Nature is abundant here and the valley is surrounded by olive groves and cherry orchards, almond trees and agricultural fields in full bloom.

Ourika Tributary

The swaying bridge we had to cross to access the restaurant

Lunch at ‘Restaurant de Valle’ at Ourika valley where there was live music and serenaders to entertain us

The lunch across the swaying bridge was at the ‘Restaurant de Valle’ where again we savoured the Tajine and the couscous dishes. The experience here was different as we had live musicians and serenaders who came to our table and lent enjoyment and liveliness to the table. We had our feet tapping, hands clapping and shoulders swaying to the music.

The final stop of the day was at the famous ‘Jardin Marjorelle’. This is a one hectare botanical garden created by the famous painter Jacques Majorelle in 1931. It is a green paradise of date palms, cacti, bamboos, water lilies, bougainvillaeas and many tropical species of plants. It houses the mausoleum of the famous designer Yves St. Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge.

‘Jardin Marjorelle’, Marrakech

Mausoleum of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge

Marjorelle’s favourite colour was ‘Cobalt Blue’

Day 9

Train journey from Marrakech to Casablanca

The family took a train and travelled to Casablanca, another city in Morocco. For me, Casablanca derives its charm and charisma from the classic Hollywood movie with its themes of love and war which was set in this city and which won several Oscars in 1942.

1942 War movie CASABLANCA

Casablanca is a port city and the economic centre of Morocco. The French colonial legacy is evident in their building structures in their business centres.

We visited the Hassan II mosque which is a resplendent stunning monument with a minaret which is 210 metres tall. The mosque is a masterpiece of artisan ship with its carved woodwork, marble inlays and geometric mosaic tile work.

Hasan II mosque, Casablanca

Lunch at the ‘Tropicana Beach Club’

We chilled out at lunch at the Tropicana Beach Club with its backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean. We savoured varieties of fish dishes and spent a couple of hours just lapping up the fresh air and ambience around us.

Tropicana Ice

Mohammed V Square which is also called Pigeon Square in Casablanca

The Mohammed V square also known as Pigeons Square is another tourist attraction in Casablanca. The middle of the square has a huge fountain and there are hundreds of pigeons flying around. Some of the main official buildings like the Palace of Justice, the main Bank of Morocco, the French Consulate, the Central Post office and others are in its vicinity.

Day 10

We booked a mini tourist van and drove up to the cities of Rabat-Salé. Rabat is the capital of Morocco. The Bou Regreg River separates the cities of Rabat and Salé.

Entrance of the Kasbah of the Oudayas

The Kasbah is built as a fortress to protect the inhabitants from attackers or invasion. Once you enter the Kasbah, its gardens and surroundings gives one a sense of calm and peace. The greenery around provides the much needed relaxation and tranquility as it is an oasis inside the stone built fort. This Kasbah in Rabat is also on the list of UNESCO recognised heritage places.

The Andulasian gardens within the Kasbah

Sipping hot mint tea and Moroccan pastries

A ‘to do’ at this place is to visit the Moorish cafe and enjoy their hot mint tea and the famous Moroccan pastries. The Moroccon pastries along with the hot mint tea was like a refreshing tonic at this unique site at the mouth of the Bou Regreg River.

At one of the home entrances at avenue EL Jamae

White washed walls gleamed all around us as we walked along the winding streets of the Main Avenue called El Jamae which had little shops or souks selling traditional handicrafts, carpets, jewellery, leather or pottery.

Walking along the winding avenue of the fortified Kasbah village of the Oudayas

Dinner at the Movenpick rooftop restaurant

This rooftop restaurant had an amazing view of the modern city of Casablanca. The restaurant also had a great menu of wines, cocktails and premium alcohols. The bartender was very generous with his pouring of the drinks. It advertised Thai food, but also had lots of tapa bites, grilled meats and tajines. It offered the perfect atmosphere to spend quality family time before we all dispersed to our various destinations.

Day 11

Priam, Mabel, Athena and Logan left for Mumbai India.

Minerva, Bram, Franav, Munawira, Zayne and I visited the Habous Market which is in the new medina at Casablanca.

Habous Market at the new medina in Casablanca

The Habous Market is a great place for shoppers. Clothes, carpets, lamps, jewellery, crockery, magnets and other stuff were available here. There were also a salt and olive market, bakeries and outdoor cafés where one could have a meal or snack. It was free of bustling crowds so shopping could be done with ease and bargaining was possible with the vendors.

That night, Vasu and I left for India, Bram and Minerva left for San Francisco and Franav, Munawira and Zayne continued on their Moroccan trip and took off for Fez and Tangiers .

A wonderful end to a memorable family holiday re-union. The family met, chatted, teased, talked about their plans, helped with carrying kids around and had a great feeling of family togetherness.

I praise and thank God for this lovely get-together and look forward to another one soon.

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