100% Murcia (Day 1)

Although August in Spain is not the best time to be a tourist, Murcia is a city I could easily fall in love with, even in August. You could argue that three days is hardly enough time to fall in love. And spending those three days almost exclusively downtown–only glimpsing the outlying barrios from the bus window–you could argue that I don’t even know her. So we’ll call it an infatuation.

I arrived in downtown Murcia close to three p.m., perfect time to check into my airbnb, eat lunch, and rest on the couch in front of the air conditioning. (Aaaah, what luxury to control the temperature!)

My apartment was within a few minutes of the cathedral and well, pretty much all of downtown. Downtown was full of churches. As the hour changed, bells sounded from every corner, clapping through the narrow streets. I stood, enchanted.

coffee shop interior

I parked in CaféLab, an utterly charming coffee shop. The aromatic ambiance made it hard to choose what I wanted–one of each? I finally opted for the mango smoothie.

cathedral façade

As a non-Catholic, I am fascinated by cathedrals, but I also find them a little creepy. Like, I didn’t come to church to see a mural of Saint Bartholomew being skinned alive. I toured the cathedral, reading the signs, staring at the statues and paintings of saints, and wondering what the cathedral builders would think if they saw all of us walking around in sneakers, snapping pictures.

fountain and flowers
Glorieta de España
statue of sardine half-submerged in water
Monumento al entierro de la sardina
boat under arched bridge, bus over arched bridge
Puente de los peligros

I walked along the river, enjoying the view and the parks I stumbled upon. Eventually, I rested on a bench to listen to the gentle clacking of loose bricks as feet passed over them.

birds on bridge
Pasarela Manterola
people walking across suspension bridge

Pasarela Manterola, a pedestrian suspension bridge, moved as we walked across it, just enough to make me wonder if my mango smoothie had made me tipsy–Am I imagining this mild motion sickness? A young man serenaded us with “Stand By Me” while ducks below fought over the bread crusts someone had tossed to them. When I peered over the railing, they eyed me expectantly.

“So darling! Darling! Staaaaand by me. Oh, stand by me…”

I strolled through the Paseo de Malecón and tried to snap a photo of red red roses that decided not to be photogenic in the blazing sunlight. And there was a catalpa tree with long beans dripping from it. I would have studied it more had a man not been lounging in its shade.

From there, I circle back to find the Arab walls. The smells began to overwhelm me in the way that they often do when I allow myself time to smell them. I smelled chwarmas before I passed the chwarma shop and then a spice that transported me the North African old medina. Shadows grew. Men with fat, unlit cigars dangling from their lips crossed my path.

Somehow, with a malfunctioning sense of direction, delayed maps app, and winding downtown streets, I ended up in Plaza Mayor instead of in front of the monumental Arab walls. There in the plaza, the silence was astonishing. Someone with squeaky shoes left squeaky echoes after she had disappeared around the corner. I just stood there and listened for long moments.

I made another attempt at the Arab walls. And another. At my third pass-by, I realized street work hid the walls from view and made them inaccessible. Apparently, the “open 24 hours” listing on my maps app doesn’t apply to August… or maybe I still didn’t find the right spot.

On my way back to the apartment, I crossed through Plaza de las Flores where everyone was in slow motion, eating an early dinner or meandering through the warm plaza. And me? Enough exploring for day one. I had an evening date with the air conditioning.

downtown street lined with brick buildings

Alone at the seaside

In the middle of a crazy week, I took a break. This time, I was was smart enough not to stay at home because staying home meant trying to relax while gritting my teeth at unfinished work. It was time to go to the beach.

I headed out before the sun (which admittedly isn’t that difficult if you live in Spain). On the dim streets of the early morning–Are people really out and about this time of day!? Who knew?— predawn workers hurried with backpacks and work clothes. With my backpack and grungy beach outfit, I felt like I fit in. No one pointed out that I was, in fact, an imposter, on holiday rather than heading to work. Plus, I was carrying a travel mug and, well, no one does that.

One street smelled like weed. Someone trying to make it through another day, I supposed as I wound through the prolonged construction. I took just a moment to fill my lungs with the pastry aroma panting through the supermarket vents. For not really liking sweets, there are these luscious braided pastries that taste like flaky pecan pie and…. well… I marched on.

At the bus stop, I waited with the crew of sullen morning people that all kind of looked alike in an Eastern European sort of way. They stood in a row in front of me, dark hair in a perfect line, round faces turned in the same direction. Trees that had all been planted the same day. And I wondered how they could tell themselves apart.

The sun rose while we waited for the late bus, eliminating some of the romance of the early morning escapade. But as we headed out of town, the sun was still just a yellow yolk resting on the bed of white plastic greenhouses. Suddenly, I was hungry for toast. I don’t even like toast.

The sea gave a glorious welcoming roar. I stretched out on my towel dug my toes in the sand and watched the handful of retirees paddling through the chilly water. I thought through my answers for a survey I needed to fill out as I sipped my coffee and ate my soggy granola. And then I read and thought– not about food prep for an event, not about who I needed to visit, not about English lesson plans, not about my dirty floors. Instead, I thought about who God created me to be and how I fit in my current world.

Really, someday I will try to write about introversion in my line of work, as long as you promise to help me out and then give me feedback. Meanwhile, don’t mind me while I disappear to the seaside for a few alone hours.

Day of green

I took a vacation day to get out of town and soak in some green. Most of the immigrants got off the bus at the Mytown stop. An assorted crew of elderly Spaniards remained, talking like they all knew each other. Maybe they did. Then there was me, who probably left them wondering if I had missed my stop.

The weather was gorgeous, but I forgot how long the hike was from the bus stop. I also forgot just how intense the Spanish sun can be when you’re hiking uphill. I was sweaty when I finally parked myself under a tree to revive myself with L.M. Montgomery and roasted almonds.

The park was quiet, only the occasional picnickers and the North African couples who came to do their illicit smooching (who I tried to avoid until I decided that they should be avoiding me).

Winding down the mountain on the bus ride home, I was staring out the window at the departing green when I realized that the bus radio was playing Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” The refrain (however monotonous) was a fitting closure to a morning that had sent me back to my country girl roots.

Room with a view

Lord willing, in a few short days, I plan to move. As excited as I am about this next step, I am sad to leave Immigrantville behind. There are lots of things I will miss. Some things are big, but I will miss the small things too… like the daily view from my bedroom window.

I have been snapping photos, trying to enjoy the view to the fullest before I start waking up to a view of my new neighbors’ windows. 

So enjoy the photos with me.

Finally in Granada

“It’s just so close. I want to see some of the cities that are farther away now because I know I’ll see Granada some day.”

That’s what I said until someone told me that I was being so pokey that I probably would never see Granada after all.

He was right, I realized. And when I realized it, I organized a group of Granada-bound ladies. (“Organized,” as in, “sent out a message in a whatsapp group chat.”)

And we went! Granada is subject to higher temperature extremes than the coast. So we bundled up in scarves and gloves and inch-thick socks, printed off our Alhambra tickets, and started out far too early one Wednesday morning.

Below are photos from the Alhambra, the Cathedral of Granada, and on the streets of Granada.

(Disclaimer: I realize that my pictures look like every other tourist’s pictures of Granada… except maybe lesser quality. We were standing outside the Alhambra and I snapped a picture on my Canon, only to discover that my SD card was still stashed in my laptop’s card reader at home. So I hauled around a pointless camera all day and took sub-par pictures on my phone. Lesson learned, I hope.)

Sometimes, I wonder if I’m two people

Sometimes, I wonder if I’m two people. How can I feel so alive in a field of green with no one else around when I feel just as alive walking down the street of a busy little town?

The green grabs me and pulls me in to whisper, “And God said that it was good.” I see His hand in the great green and blue of creation.

But as I walk down the street in the middle of humanity, I hear the same words, “And God said that it was good.”

city street with blurred lights, burger king and fountain

Here in town, surrounded by manmade structures and, well, manmade everything, I long for the moments I can slip away and just be by myself with nature. Or even without nature. Sometimes, what I’m really longing for is anonymity where I can step out of my house without someone reporting it to someone else somewhere along the line. 

I’m a country girl at heart, but I know that should I ever move again to the country, even under that vast starry sky, I would miss the connection and relationship of the daily ins and outs with humans.

I would miss the Spanish pop blaring from someone’s front window that puts a spring in my step. I would miss the evening chamomile with a friend who has invited me into her inner circle. I would miss the cars that stop as I approach the crosswalk. And the store owners who ask how I’m doing because we’ve been around each other long enough to care. I would even miss that dog yapping at me just because I walked past. Or the neighbors drilling into their wall when I want to be sleeping. And that little boy greeting me as if he knew me and then turning to his friend and saying, “She’s the one who visits Khadija.”

It’s the living and breathing together that makes me aware of God’s Presence. But it’s also the furious ocean waves and the placid Midwestern cornfields that make me aware of Him. 

I can’t explain it. Except maybe to say that God’s Presence transcends our preferences and breathes life wherever we are.

(But I still sometimes wonder if I’m two people.)

His Presence in the waves

The JWs caught me for the first time in my life. The woman was nice, but the man’s smile was as big and fake as he was pushy. When I finally said I wanted the chance to speak, his patronizing smile grew even wider and he pretended to listen. 

The bus came, thank goodness, and my scrambling on board provided a decisive exit.

Minutes later, I was disembarking and descending to the beach. I looked up to the looming mountain and sighed. JWs or not, it had been a good decision to bury myself in God’s artwork for a few hours.

I love being at home. But sometimes there is an accompanying trapped feeling. Trapped within my own honey-do list. Seemingly endless people to contact and visit, groceries to buy, food to cook, laundry to soak, languages to study, paperwork to stress over.

Right now, I had only my Kindle.

I parked in the sand and gulped the salty air that was cold enough to keep most tourists away. The rhythmic roar of advancing and receding waves drowned out the remaining background noise.

Feeling gloriously alone and free, I drenched my mind with St. Augustine. He reads like a famous blogger, I decided, and read until my mind was too saturated to absorb any more. Then I turned to Daddy Long Legs and delighted myself in the simplicity of a young lady’s letters to her mysterious benefactor. And shame on me for not reading the book sooner for all that it had been recommended to me. 

By then, it was dark and I was cold. And I still had some grocery shopping to do. So I gathered my few belongings and left behind that glorious alone spot.

And the next day, when emotional and physical demands nearly drove me to my wit’s end, I drew upon yesterday’s strength which God had multiplied into the present.

Sometimes, God is harder to see in the rhythmic roar of emotional waves. I would rather drink in His clear Presence in nature.

But some days are like this. And He is in these days too.