Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 11, 2017
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I prescribe a trip on... a Moorish journey

A neurologist takes his teenaged daughter on a spirited tour of Portugal, Spain and Morocco

“How come I never get to go anywhere?” asked my 17-year-old daughter, Andee. “You’ve been lots of places — we camped all over Canada and the US when you were younger.” “Yeah, but I’ve never been to Europe and you always get to go to Europe for conferences.”

Well, I don’t always get to go to Europe but I have been a few times. It’s expensive to bring the whole family, especially when you have four children. But Andee’s question got me thinking. If I took just one kid with me and flew her on points it might not be that bad.

I had a conference coming up in Madrid last summer so I decided to bring Andee along and I booked us onto a two-week Cosmos coach tour (cosmosvacations.ca) of Spain, Portugal and Morocco before the conference. Within an hour of my springing the news on her, Andee informed me that she was old enough to drink in Portugal and Morocco — ah, the wonders of Internet research.

Iberian adventure

Before we knew it, we were utterly jetlagged and lunching at a café in Madrid’s sunny main square, the Plaza Mayor, where many poor souls once perished in the bonfires of the Inquisition. The following day, our first glimpse of Toledo’s ancient skyline inspired a simultaneous “Wow!” from each of us — what more could you say about a city this breathtaking?

Portugal turned out to be full of surprises. Who knew that it was a country that seems to have more pharmacies than people? My photograph of a short block in Coimbra shows three drug stores. Who knew that you could find a big chunk of the Berlin Wall in Fatima or that the bullet that shot John Paul I is embedded in the crown of a statue there? Lisbon’s so international that it has a bridge that’s a dead-ringer for San Francisco’s Golden Gate and a statue of Christ the Redeemer that looks just like the one in Rio de Janeiro.

In Lisbon, Andee ordered sardines for dinner. Her plate arrived with four fish laid across it, each larger than her hand, each looking forlornly up at her. They looked as if they’d just been hauled out of the ocean and slapped down in front of us. She’s an adventurous girl and finished them off.

Portuguese hangover

That wasn’t her only Lisbon adventure. I tried to order myself a glass of wine but my lack of Portuguese and the waiter’s lack of English meant that I ended up with a whole bottle and I had to enlist Andee’s help in drinking it (after all, as she enjoyed reminding me, she was of legal drinking age here). The following morning she woke up saying, “Oh, I think that fish gave me a headache.” Somehow, I’m not sure it was the fish.

Carrying on through Iberia, we were entertained by the plaintive strains of fado and the staccato haughtiness of flamenco. In Seville's cathedral, we admired the resting place of Christopher Columbus. It turns out that two or three other countries also claim to have his body but this is his real tomb (or at least that’s what they told us in Seville).

Nearby, we strolled the ruined streets of the Roman city of Italica (not where italics were invented). We may have been a long way from Rome but this was once an integral part of its Empire. Spain was home to Russell Crowe’s character in the movie Gladiator. Two Roman emperors, Trajan and Hadrian, hailed from Italica.

McCouscous and cat calls

In sight of the Rock of Gibraltar, we boarded a ferry that whisked us across the strait to Morocco for our first taste of Africa. As a matter of fact, though, our landfall in Africa was in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, a little bit of Spain on the African continent. In Fes, we visited what’s rumoured to be the city’s most popular restaurant — McDonalds. Apparently people in Fes seldom eat out, preferring to dine at home, but somehow the curiosity factor has them investigating the golden arches. There you can enjoy McCouscous or a McArabia (a hamburger on a pita).

During our tour of Fes’s medina, Andee’s shorts and T-shirt made her the most immodestly dressed female in town. At every corner she was greeted by catcalls but Moroccans are very well-mannered and these were the most polite catcalls I’d ever heard — “Good morning nice lady; you are very sweet.” And yes, they really do wear those little cylindrical hats.

Moorish monuments

From Fes, we headed out on the road to Marrakesh and I drove Andee crazy by unconsciously humming that Crosby, Stills & Nash song most of the way there. The glow of the setting sun against the red walls of Marrakesh was well worth the trip.

In Morocco’s capital, Rabat, our hotel was across the street from a mosque and we were awoken far too early in the morning by the muezzin calling the faithful to their prayers. In Casablanca, atop the minaret of one of the largest mosques in the world, a laser beam pointed the way through the night to Mecca.

Back in Spain we wandered the verdant halls of Granada’s Alhambra, a Moorish palace built in the days before Ferdinand and Isabella expelled the Muslims from Spain in 1492. From there it was a short hop back to Madrid where I had my conference to attend while Andee mostly sunbathed.

If you’re thinking about a meeting overseas and would love to take the whole family along but are worried about the expense, try taking one kid at a time. Andee and I will always have these memories to share, like the one about the sardines that caused a hangover. This year I’ve planned a trip to Scandinavia and the Baltics with Andee’s younger sister, Emily. But that’s a story for another day.

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