What to see in Cartagena, Spain

Cartagena: a Spanish city port and a major naval station located in the Region of Murcia, by the Mediterranean coast, south-eastern Spain. It is the Spanish city with the most beaches: Cala Cortina, Islas Menores, Honda beach, Mar de Cristal, Cala del Pino, Cavanna beach, Barco Perdido beach, El Galúa beach, Levante beach and La Gola beach.

Cartagena

I didn’t see much of Cartagena as it was an afternoon stop on our trip to Murcia. Nevertheless, it’s a very interesting historic place. It has Arab, French, and mostly Roman influence.

The weather was really nice in Cartagena, about 21 degrees Celsius (approximately 70 degrees Fahrenheit). Cartagena’s climate is classified as warm and semi-arid. I asked a taxi driver whether it was typical for it to be so nice in January. He said it’s not “normal,” that it’s usually a little less warm. But if memory serves, the weather was about the same in Cartagena around this time last year…

It was off-season when I visited, but when compared to other coastal cities during winter time — like Alicante and Valencia — Cartagena looked pretty desolate. I went to the nearest beach, Cala Cortina, and spent an approximate of two hours in heaven.

Cartagena Roman Theatre

Cartagena: Cala Cortina Beach

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The city hall…

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Small groups of tourists still gathered at the city’s main sights, like The Roman Theatre and its museum. An ancient Roman theatre, which is said to have been built around 5 and 1 BC. (Read about it here)  Luckily, I took lots of pictures.

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Let me tell you about Murcia, Spain

To think that I almost skipped this city….

Teatro de Romea

Teatro de Romea

Last year, when most of my coworkers (all Spaniards) at the language school said that they had never been to half of the places I’ve been to in Spain, I was a bit shocked. It’s so easy to move around here that I expected them to have visited everywhere. Then again, I can understand why they don’t feel the need to visit every city in their country. Still, I trusted them with suggestions for what to see in Spain.

There was a lady, particularly, who had traveled all over and was very knowledgeable. Everything she described was always accurate. Like, when I asked for her opinion about Castellón de la Plana, for instance; she said it was a “ciudad muy fea” (very ugly city) and there was nothing to do. She was right. But, unfortunately, I found out only after I had already visited. Then, one day I asked her about Murcia. She said it wasn’t worth the trip; she said it’s not a pretty city, that there was nothing special to see. So, I basically crossed out Murcia from my to-visit list.

Well, on our eternal search for sunshine—it’s been rainy and cold in Madrid— we narrowed this trip down to Murcia and Cartagena and, what do you know…it was so worth the visit!

Sure Murcia is another major city of Spain (a lot of people prefer smaller cities), but there are still many historic buildings, so much art and culture to appreciate. The architecture around there is just as beautiful as it is everywhere else in Spain.

It is also a “university town” and the young atmosphere can be felt everywhere you move. Except for La Muralla, the downstairs bar at hotel NH Rincon de Pepe—it looks really nice in there, with some original Arab walls of Murcia and all, but we looked like babies next to everyone else. It was kind of odd. But yeah, going back to how fun Murcia actually is, take for instance this blunt approach:

Pharmacy vending machine with personal lubricants and sex toys

Pharmacy vending machine with personal lubricants and sex toys

Interesting, huh? I have not seen this type of vending machine anywhere else yet.  Have you?

Moving on… when visiting Spain, visitors tend to go for the cathedrals and things of that sort because they’re enormous and just plain gorgeous. I’m sure the cathedral of Murcia isn’t any different inside, but I just couldn’t bear to see one more church 🙂 It’s overwhelming! LOL. (We did sit down at Plaza del Cardenal Belluga—the place of the cathedral—for tea one morning.)

Murcia Cathedral, Plaza Cardenal Belluga

Murcia Cathedral, Plaza Cardenal Belluga

Murcia

For me though, the highlight was the vibe of the city, the ah-mazing cuisine (lots of tapas restaurants), and the fact that it was warm even in the winter.

Also a highlight, the moment I could feel my face turn hot red when my dear boyfriend made me tell the bartender at bar La Muralla that she ripped him off. Well, I’m paraphrasing. I kindly told her that the change she gave him was short by 10€. She asked if we were sure while grabbing some money from the register. That’s when my boyfriend double-checked, realizing that he was incorrect. I was embarrassed, so I asked for a shot of tequila. Ha ha. She then gave me that drink free of charge… The reason? I’m still debating.

And finally, the menu translation of one of the restaurants where we ate (which was also, maybe inadvertently, showing a movie of cannibalism!) Yikes.

Chops or Sternum of kids, anyone?

Chops or Sternum of kids, anyone?

I also enjoyed walking through the city’s old town and its many stone and historic little roads and main spots, like Calle Traperia, Teatro Romea, eating at Plaza de las Flores (the hotel where we stayed is also around here), Plaza de Santa Catalina, and Plaza de San Pedro (all three next to each other).

The casino of Murcia, I’ve heard (and peeked a little), is stunning. Speaking of casinos, we tried to go up to the casino at hotel Rincon de Pepe but were not allowed inside because I didn’t have my passport or any identification on me. (Yup—the day I decide to leave my ID behind is the day I’m asked for it…) That being said, it is worth noting that ID is a must if going to the casinos in Spain!

Overall, I loved Murcia. I wish I had seen more, but our stay was short. Maybe it’s because it’s winter, but it was one of the least touristy places I’ve been to in Spain—and that was perfecto. Ignore travel books that haven’t given Murcia the credit it deserves. When in Spain, do go to Murcia!

What I have learned, What I will miss

As my time here is coming to an end, I’ve been thinking: what have I learned about this experience? What will I miss most about Spain? What will I not miss? Or will I miss this at all? Undoubtedly, I will. Some of it, at least.

But first, what have I learned?

Apart from having gained amazing experience in teaching, one of the things I’ve learned is that no matter where the world takes you, no matter the culture, education gets you ahead. It is the same everywhere in the sense that it is encouraged, it is vital, it is a very powerful tool. The yearning for learning is very much alive in these children (maybe they’re just a bit lazier and not pushed hard enough by their parents, but they’ve been really good kids). My experience has been unique because I was thrown at it with no formal training at all — it’s been very raw — and I have had to learn some things on my own because most of these teachers for some reason thought that I was already a teacher. Yeah, that’s part of the charm of Spain: disorganization.

Still, I keep learning. I have learned so much more about the Spanish culture; having visited about 20 regions—and counting—you may feel like you already know Spain like the palm of your hand. Working with Spaniards has made this whole experience a lot better and more Spanish (compared to the first time I lived here). Also, the time I’ve been living here, I always wanted to be surrounded by locals. I always wanted to go where the locals went. What is the point of mingling with tourists from my country? I mean, sometimes it is fun. But I came here for a reason. I wanted to emerge in the culture as much as possible, and it has paid off.

The Strait of Gibraltar (North is to the left:...

The history of Spain still fascinates me. I work with people who are full of knowledge…although most of them haven’t been to as many regions as I—a non-Spaniard—have, but they are knowledgeable of their country’s history (and may I add, very patriotic) and they have passed along some of that knowledge to me. The principal assistant, with whom I carpool, has been like the “Spain Bible” to me; she knows absolutely everything, from wine to places visit, to history of the smallest towns. I’ve learned a lot from her.

I’ve learned about the country’s geography and its climate. For example, I can tell you that the south will be an inferno in the summer. How do I know that? Because it’s only May and Ciudad Real, which is not even deep in the south, is hot as hell right now, at almost 2AM! Geographically, I love Spain because most of its boundaries are the ocean. It is a giant piece of land on water. (I’m really trying to keep this elementary.) You can find a beach in Spain in any of the cardinal points and of course they have the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean and Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean. That’s pretty cool for its citizens—there’s always that option to easily move to an island to escape la rutina.

Those are some of the things I’ve learned. Now on to what I will miss the most. Or should I list what I will not miss first? Yes, here it goes.

I will not miss:

  • Ciudad Real
  • Banco Santander
  • Spain’s customer service system
  • La bendita Siesta Time!
  • Mercadona’s theme song
  • Talking and watching Fútbol (soccer) 24 hours a day
  • The neighbors slamming their door, day in and day out
  • The apartment’s paper-thin walls
  • My Flintstones’ mattress
  • The bathroom faucets
  • My cell phone company, Vodafone
  • The washer
  • Carpooling (too tight of a ride!)
  • Not being able to take the trash down until past 7PM

And now what I will miss:

  • Living abroad
  • My students
  • The good times spent here
  • Spain’s tipping system
  • The plentiful and cheap good wines
  • The easy cheaper weekend travels
  • Mercadona’s cheap, good-quality groceries
  • The restaurants and tapas bars!
  • Madrid’s nightlife, Sevilla, and the Mediterranean Sea
  • Shopping at Sfera and all the chic inexpensive lines
  • The mostly-quick Renfe rides
  • Transportation punctuality and efficiency
  • The relatively pleasant weather
  • Leaving work at 2PM
  • The crazy amount of holidays and days off!

I’m sure more will be added to these lists as I continue my life here, because I’m not done yet! 😉

Alicante: Beach, Food, and Good Shower Pressure

Three things I will remember from this trip. First of all, Alicante (or Alacant in Valencian language) is not exactly the spot to be during “off season” days—it is a modern beach city with tall buildings and a great (and loud) nightlife, like Miami. Despite the weather, we had a fun weekend.

Alicante-barrios

I liked the whole picture: the palm trees everywhere, the blue Mediterranean sea and the seagulls, the harbor, the smell and sound of the ocean, the vibe of the nightlife and the diverse groups of people (it reminded me of Barcelona). And, of course, I loved Alicante’s gastronomy—lots of seafood and rice. mmm 🙂

We stayed there for the weekend and, even though it was not beach weather, I didn’t mind sitting or walking by the ocean. It is beautiful. I can only imagine how much fun it is in that part of Spain during summertime. I’d just make sure to reserve a room on the last floor of a hotel (preferably very high up) with sound-proof walls because it gets loud out there! (Night goers go to and come from the disco at any time of the night…)

Alicante is a big city…can’t visit many spots in one weekend. Well, I think the main attraction is the beach anyway. But we enjoyed ourselves and we visited some other things, including Paseo de la Explanada, Castillo Santa Bárbara (Santa Barbara Castle) and Parque el Palmeral (El Palmeral Park). The park is big and family-oriented, but nothing to die for. The view of the city and the ocean from the castle was beautiful. Again, there were not a lot of tourists because of the season, so we kind of had the whole place to ourselves. It felt very peaceful.

Oh, the water pressure was remarkable, that’s why I had to mention it. 😀

Some pictures of Alicante