Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Not Smart-agena in Cartagena

I don't say 'no' very often. This is why, three weeks later, my skin is still peeling from lying for several hours in a bikini on a beach in the sun in Cartagena (not to be confused with Cartagena, Colombia, which I'm sure is also a nice place to visit). Even when the ozone layer really exists, the sun can still burn. So I learnt.

Cartagena came about because we noticed buses weren't too expensive there, accomodation looked reasonable too, and there were some nice pictures on Google Images of Roman ruins and the aforementioned beaches.

Photograph of said Roman ruins

Suddenly there were four of us, frantically texting one another to find out how to get to the bus platform, one minute before the bus was due to depart. And on the bus we went and into the depths of the region of Murcia in the south of Spain. The bus had free wi-fi, which would have been nice to know one minute into the trip instead of finding out when I was getting off the bus in Cartagena.

Quick shout-out to the scenery - incredible. You did good. Spain's landscape is every changing - sharp green mountains, ranges, desert-y with palm trees, it has it all. Also expanses of wind turbines, which made the greenie in me very happy.

We arrived in Cartagena, made many unsuccessful attempts to navigate to a bus stop on Google Maps, then finally found the right stop and headed away from the city centre and up, up, up to a rather shabby part of town reminiscent of the desert town where I spent a year as a teen in Chile.

I rather liked Cartagena, but I will add that when you're searching for a backpackers hostel and none come up in a city, there's probably a reason for that...

So we ended up at a hotel, about a 20 minute walk from the nicer part of the city centre. It was still pretty cool to stay in a hotel for once, even though it appeared to be straight out of the 1980's. Yet it was clean, quiet, and had helpful front desk staff, so no complaints there. We frequented Dia (supermarket) across the road way too often and made friends with the young chap at the petrol station when on the hunt for a corkscrew.

The fatal beach day happened on Saturday. I never really sunbathe, and I guess you could say I caught up on lost sunbathing time that day. When I woke up and realised I might actually be mistaken for a tomato, I tried to ask if I could sit inside the beachside restaurant to drink a coffee and get some shade, but after talking to three different waiters who said weird things like the (nearly empty) restaurant was only for people eating lunch and the shaded umbrella seats were the same... a nice waiter finally took my arm and said that I could sit at a table in the shade, and nobody bothered be since.

Beach of the burning sun

It was also the season for wearing nice dresses to the beach and taking pictures. Dozens of formally dressed young girls and boys, in their satin and chiffon best, with stiletto-heeled mothers and fathers sweltering in nylon suits were down on the beach - and all around town - taking photos.

I tried the 'café arabica', a Cartagenan specialty - coffee with 'licor 43' at the café, my 2nd coffee because I felt slightly guilty about sitting in the café for so long. It was nice, but nothing came quite compete with a flat white - a well-made flat white.
Café Arabico

I had the best paella I'd ever had in Cartagena. It was worth the half hour it took to make it and the half hour the waitress dwardled around after we asked for the bill. It might also actually be the best paella I'd ever had because it was the first paella I'd actually had in a Spanish restaurant in Spain. All for very cheap too, nothing like the 30 euro 'tourist' paellas you see advertised around the centre of Madrid and in most touristy cities here.

One of the surprising things about Cartagena is how art-deco is was. The main city centre part is tiled, and the balconied apartments in the centre are all very much 1930's esque. It could look quite tacky if not done well, but it had a Great-Gatsby-esque charm about it. It might not be in the Lonely Planet, but there were still a few tourist milling around. The best part was being so close to the sea - whether it was walking back from the beach and exploring old tunnels and ruins just because, or making the maritime-law-lover in me get a little bit excited about the fact it was a port town and the port was right there, or the rambling water front with palm trees and sailboats, or the fact there were hills with sea views, and hills beyond the sea - it made me miss the sea just a little bit.

We ticked of a few of the main tourist attractions on Sunday before leaving in the afternoon.

Tourist attraction numero uno was a hill with some ruins of a windmill on top. Lots of flowers and wild herbs growing and views of the sea, plus a café where families were having their Sunday lunch, all dressed up. The cray thing about this hill was that, despite not being excessively high, there was an elevator - outdoors - leading up to it.
Random outdoor elevator
The old windmill and some hillz
Tourist attraction numero dos was the Roman Forum, a some Roman ruins going for the Colosseum look but not quite getting there because they were probably smaller than the Colosseum. Neat views from the top of that hill too, however.

Overall thoughts on Cartagena was that it was a sleepy southern Spanish city, a nice place to visit if you want the beach and some beautiful scenery, without the hustle and bustle and tourist of a bigger city. And by no tourists, I mean, the one of the four British ladies sitting in front  of us on the beach on Saturday yelled out "Who has a penis?"to prove the point that there were no tourists and no heads turned. Not even mine, because I had already overheard one of them debating with her friends about whether to do it or not and her friend reassuring her that nobody would understand English.

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