I’ve been lucky enough previously to never have been ill on “vacation”, until now. For the past two weeks I’ve had an on-and-off cold which summoned a frog (or poison toad) to my throat and took away my voice as payment. And it all culminated early this week with a migraine, a bout of chucking up guts and 13 hours of sleep.
So now I understand all the horror stories. I would have hated to have been skiing across mountains while my guts rebelled, or riding a gondola through Venice while feeling sea-sick. The ultimate blessing in the whole thing, though, is the place I’ve found to rest up.
Compared to my last trip to Europe for an exchange (which I took relatively solo) this trip has so far been one more for coziness and homeliness alongside some of my favourite human beings. It’s an opportunity to live and experience Spain in the proper Spanish way, instead of the “guiri” way.
The relatively small region of Murcia is tucked away in a warm, cozy corner of a warm and cozy country. It’s a land of good food, good vibes and good weather. It’s also the home of Bonica and she’s been showing me sides of this country that I never would have seen otherwise. I’ve been welcomed home.
You’ll have read about Murcia, the city at the centre of the region, in my previous blog post, so I won’t blabber on too much about this bright, orange capital. Here I’ve found a nice base to strike out of, to work and rest and play in. Murcia is small, almost village-like in its own way but constantly growing, absorbing the world around it (which also means, unfortunately, that Starbucks has infiltrated). If you walk down the Gran Via, you’d be hard-pressed to imagine you were in a city that was once derided by its neighbour for being a bit “rural”.
The neighbour of Murcia and the region’s “second city” is Cartagena. With a rich history (also, a rich history in the literal term. A lot of dough flows through the ports of the Mediterranean), Cartagena is a beautiful port city dotted with Roman ruins and elaborate modernist buildings. Its city centre is a lot more compact than Murcia’s, but it is a tad grander. The spirals of the art noveau hotels and modernist town hall make Cartagena feel a lot more like a middle Europe city than a southern Spanish one. The Islamic influences are less obvious than in Murcia or, say, Granada. Instead, Cartageneros pride themselves on their spectacular Roman ruins, which you can find all across the city.
Cartagena was an incredibly important city to the Romans and to the various cultures that came after them. Everywhere, you can see evidence of a stratified series of cities, built one on top of the other. A ruined Christian cathedral still stands on a part of the Roman ampitheatre and Moorish tiling can be seen underneath it. Above and around it are the brutalist apartment blocks and decorated Catholic shrines of modern and Civil-War period Cartagena. Down the hill is a pristine high-street full of conveniences and glass-fronted shops.
Bonica and I took the short bus ride to Cartagena yesterday to meet with her mother’s side of family, who still call this port their home. Let me tell you, the sense of distance in Spain (and in Europe in general) is quite a bit different to our Aussie one. Living 40 minutes away from Adelaide, I still consider myself an Adelaidian. It’s only down the road after all. Here, 40 minutes makes a hell of a lot of difference.
It was an incredibly enlightening and interesting experience to travel in this way. Instead of going to “see the sights”, I went to meet the people. A grand lunch and a guided tour of a beautiful family home made me feel a bit like a visiting dignitary. Coffee in Bonica’s cousin’s favourite cafe made me feel like a well-missed best friend. Accidentally running across Cartagena’s carnaval celebrations made feel incredibly lucky to have a link to such a festive country.
I was even honoured to learn of colourful family history, such as the story of a great-grandfather who’s house was bombed in the civil war, sending boxes of stored candy flying onto the street for excited children to pick up.
Once again I am learning to appreciate slowness. Instead of rushing from one sight to another, camera in hand, as I did the last time I visited Europe, I am taking my time and letting the world around swallow me up. Though there is still a nervous itch to prove myself as an adventurer by backpacking all over the place and Instagramming my travels, I am fighting back. In this way I am learning the incredible stories of people and cultures who might go unremembered. I am learning of the daily struggles of those who live on the other side of the planet. And I am learning to appreciate the little things as much as the grand ones.
I am carving out a little home in the land of mi novia.