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Conner's Big Adventure 2017

Spain - Cities, Food, and Beaches

SPAIN | Wednesday, 28 June 2017 | Views [564]

Cartagena as seen from the top of the Castillo de la Concepcion

Cartagena as seen from the top of the Castillo de la Concepcion

Cities, Food, and Beaches

I talked about Valencia and Madrid in Part 1, as well as a bit of Vera. Now I will tell you a bit more about Vera as well as the surrounding towns and cities.

Vera is a small town, and it feels like a small town. Shop owners know their customers, grocery checkout lines are places for friendly conversation, and the city police serve as crossing guards every day when the kids get out of school (and not in a “Dangerous Minds” sort of way either). Of the many small towns in this beautiful valley, I would say Vera and Cuevas Del Almanzora are the two locals towns in the area with more of the tourists and expats residing in Mojacar, Turre, and Vera Playa. Garrucha seemed to be a mix of both. Despite that distinction, it really didn’t seem like prices or amenities varied much between the towns. Each had their own unique character certainly, Mojacar with it’s Pueblo up on the hill (with a killer view of the valley!) and beach side town below, Cuevas with it’s wonderful park strip downtown, Vera with it’s massive Saturday market that takes up about 25 city blocks branching every which way, Vera Playa with it’s long and beautiful beach stretching all the way to Garrucha which held our favorite swimming beach being protected as it was by a manmade rock break. Garrucha also had the all important water park "Aquavera". Really a nice little water park actually, we spent two very happy days there.

Now here we can’t pass by the Naturist zone, so I will be sidetracking for a moment. At the northern most end of Vera Playa there is a naturist zone which is unique in that it is fully a part of the town of Vera Playa, not separated in any way, but it is officially recognized by the city as a naturist zone where clothing is entirely optional. Ok, so I knew this place existed when we picked Vera as our home base in Spain, and of course I told Gregg that we didn’t have to go there. It was just one section of the town and a small section of beach strip that we could easily avoid if we wanted to. And of course that was the first section of the beach we ended up at. Do you think he believed me when I said I didn’t mean to take us there? Well it’s the truth whatever he says, but end up there we did and our first clue was when we drove past an elderly man strolling down the sidewalk toward the beach completely in the nude. We parked in the lot next to the beach and decided we would just leave the car there and walk our way back down to the other end. As we walked past a small café/bar and past people lounging on towels or in chairs Conner looked at me and said “Mom, why is everyone naked?”. Well kiddo, just like you all of these people prefer their birthday suits over Armani, and this just happens to be a place where everyone agrees on that one small thing and so no one wears clothes. They are all more comfortable that way. Being my child, he of course accepted this bit of reasoning and left it at that. After walking almost the entire beach strip it was decided that topless was about as clothed as people were going to get, so Gregg agreed to drop anchor down near the Garrucha end and we swam and played and had a great time. I will say that the lack of concern over nudity in general in Spain was extremely refreshing. On any beach we went to people were completely comfortable changing in the open, women went topless as often as not, and not just young and fit women. It wasn't a display thing. Middle age women, mothers, and grandmothers too felt the need for skin freedom. Kids under the age of about 6 were just as likely to swim naked as with a suit. Most kids, even at the water park, under the age of about 8 went around in bottoms only, boys and girls. Skin was skin, everyone had it and no one cared.

But let’s get back on track here. Restaurants in all of these towns were plentiful and varied in quality and in price from simple cheap eats to fine dining with a mighty fine price tag. Tapas were everywhere and ranged from €0.50 to €3.00 each. Many places had a meal of the day deal where you could get a starter, main dish, bread, and either coffee or dessert for about €10-13. The paella was of course “to die for” as Conner says, but so was everything else we tried. Every menu had numerous fish and seafood dishes including multiple preparations of octopus. I ate a lot of octopus in Spain and boy was it good. We saw steaks, burgers, chicken, rabbit, and lamb, but the seafood was definitely the stand out everywhere we went. I was absolutely delighted of course, seafood lover that I am. Gregg was also delighted. He was delighted that every place we ate at had options enough that he could completely ignore the fish section ;-).

Being gluten free was surprisingly simple in Spain. All of the big grocery stores had plenty of GF items and just about everything in the store was clearly labeled with allergens including gluten. Most restaurants were very helpful in letting me know which dishes were naturally gluten free, or letting me know what could be made to accommodate. Food everywhere in Spain was fresh, flavorful, and very well put together. Did I mention wine at the grocery store was $2-6 per bottle? Ah Spain, you were delicious.

The two larger cities we visited around Vera were Cartagena and Almeria. Both were much more touristy with huge cruise ships docked in the harbor and lots of food and shops catering to foreigners along the strip and in the Old Town areas. Still, there was definitely some cool history to see in both places to say nothing of the streets and architecture of cities as old as these. Walking the streets in Europe has been an entirely different experience than anything I’ve felt before. I can’t think of a single city I have been in in the US where walking through the streets and buildings allowed me to feel how long ago they were built. In both Croatia and Spain, though the term “Old Town” seems to have become almost a synonym for “Tourist Zone”, the feeling of the cobblestones and alleyways, the shapes of doorways and windows, it all sort of bathes you in a feeling of age and endurance. The stores and restaurants may be modern or old fashioned, squares might be filled with old artifacts or pop concerts, but it all somehow lends itself to the sense of longevity. Please forgive my completely inadequate metaphor here, but I imagine it to be like a person going through the ages and stages of life. First we are our purest, most awkward and bumbling selves just trying to get a foot hold. Then we grow into our bodies and set out to absorb all of the world’s secrets into our quickly growing selves. Then come more changes and we lose ourselves for a bit in the grand torrent of the world around us, coming eventually back to an ordered chaos where we try to hold everything together into one forward motion. The older we get, the more we understand and come to terms with the idea of accepting ourselves as we are and allowing the rest of the world to do the same, accepting us or rejecting us as they will, and we learn to roll with what comes without allowing it to change who we are at our very core. That core, that is what I feel like we get glimpses of walking through these cities with their narrow, cobblestone alleyways with fiber optic cables running overhead. The broad squares with statues and fountains, and street musicians and tour guides. If the cobblestones could talk, they might say “My people may have changed, my walls have been rebuilt, my streets repaved, but I’m still here”. It is a very peaceful and humbling feeling walking these streets.

Cartagena had a bit of this feeling, as well as some neat museums, but we much preferred our visit to Almeria. The city felt more genuine and less made up, and the Alcazaba castle in Almeria was one of the highlights of our trip. Gregg had read about a “cat castle” online where the reviewer said to make sure to bring cat treats for all of the furry friends that stand guard throughout the castle. Since Conner had caught wind of this cat castle and was absurdly excited, I was of course expecting to show up and see not a single cat. I couldn’t have been happier to be wrong! We ran across about 10 different cats roaming the gardens and castle ruins. Some friendly, some not, but all were lured by the smell of “ocean medley” and came within range to be thrown treats, and in a few cases to receive a small amount of petting (after which Conner received a large amount of hand sanitizer….). The castle gardens were mesmerizing with their neatly trimmed hedges, fountains, pools, and cascading water channels leading down from the fortress itself. Conner ran around following the waterways for about 30 minutes before being persuaded to move on up to the fortress (mainly because 92°F was too hot to stay out in the sun any longer with no breezes). We made our way through each part of the fortress ending in the castle at the top of the hill. There was a lot of interesting information along the way about the history of the place, who controlled it during which periods and how they had to dig up the fortress and castle recovering them bits at a time. Fun fact, Almeria was founded (or possibly re-founded based on disputed evidence of earlier settlement) by Calipha Abd-ar-Rhaman III of Cordoba in 955 AD! Don’t you feel smarter now? You’re welcome :-).

Spain made us feel very welcome. Vera especially was wonderfully inviting and comfortable. We could have stayed there indefinitely, however although, Spain, you will be missed, it’s onward to Slovenia!!

Tags: almeria, beaches, cartagena, cities, food, spain, vera

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