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Cartagena – Romans, Dining, Geocaching and Diving (of course!)

May 24, 2010

Cartagena Port - great for a stroll

Cartagena is a medium-sized town on the south-east coast of Spain, dominated by an industrial port and an illustrious naval history: the inventor of the submarine was from Cartagena, as commemorated by the huge grey prototype submarine from 1888 that squats down by the leisure port. The largest submarine in the world is also being built here, under wraps so nothing to see unfortunately.

Being the second largest city in the region of Murcia you would think Cartagena would still have the big metropolitan feel of Murcia, but it’s a refreshingly wide open and low slung place with a beautiful and busy port area. We had ice cream at the leisure port, overlooking the natural harbour formed by the mountains, which is full of bars and restaurants (which serve as cafes by day and clubs by night). We also visited the city’s air raid shelter (it was a key strategic town during Spain’s civil war) and museum, which was fascinating.

If you have a car you’ll be able to drive to many fortresses, castles, fortifications and battlements, ranging from Roman construction through to abandoned 20th century projects. Cartagena’s military importance is charted by numerous installations including huge guns on the hilltops, submarine tunnels straight out of a James Bond film set and 16th century pirate look out towers.

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Geocaching: Fun for kids, big kids and gadget freaks

May 20, 2010

Geocaching - Fun for all the family, at one of the many forts along the coast

Murcia is blessed with fantastic countryside and one of the best ways to get out to places, that you would otherwise only wonder about as you drive by on the motorway, is a newish pursuit called ‘geocaching’. Geocaching came about when gadget freaks wanted an excuse to go out and buy the, then, newfangled latest gizmo, a handheld GPS receiver. On 1st May 2000, the U.S. government switched their satellites on to a new, higher accuracy service for civilians. What this meant was that those hand-held GPS gadgets could now place themselves on the earth to within a dozen metres or so of accuracy. Great. Now what? Nice for surveyors, great for shipping and aviation, but what’s the hobbyist going to do with the gadget? Geocaching, that’s what!

Geocaching is, basically, hiding things in interesting places around the globe and publishing your stash or ‘cache’ on a web site: www.geocaching.com. On this web site, which is free to browse and join up as a member (membership necessary to publish a cache), you can search for all caches near a town, near your home, in a country, etc. It’s great fun for families, especially, since it gets everybody outdoors and it’s educational too (mapping, nature, etc.)

Murcia has a couple of dozen caches at the moment, and that number is rising quickly. They are mostly in places of great natural beauty, perhaps with sea views or really off the beaten track. There are caches near Cartagena (we placed a multi-part treasure hunt style cache – see later article), Murcia, Mazarrón and even way off in the mountains on the Almería border.

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Calblanque

May 18, 2010

Calblanque

Calblanque, Murcia – rocky bays, beaches, nature

Calblanque is a remote and almost untouched stretch of coast, just south of the Mar Menor. This designated natural park enjoys secluded bays, solitude and an abundance of wild birds and flowers. Boardwalks criss–cross the sand dunes leading down to the beaches, with paths along the coast.

Best reached by car access is via a bumpy road, off the main road to La Manga. The area is completely protected from the uncontrolled building which has affected other coastal destinations.

The beaches are great for scuba diving and snorkelling as the waters are very clear. You are more likely to bump into a herd of goats than see an armada of pedalos sailing past.

Calblanque Revealed – Our Trip To Calblanque

On a damp Sunday afternoon in February the beach is secluded. The sun is just about breaking through the low clouds, the sound of the sea crashing into the fossil-rich rocks acts as our backdrop and we once again marvel at how lucky we are to be living in Murcia. Our peace is only broken by the call of birds, the crash of the sea and the sound of a couple of 4×4’s zipping around on the dirt roads.

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Food & Drink Cheat Sheet – Spanish & English Words for Common Food items

May 13, 2010

Here’s a handy food and drink cheat sheet, print it out and take it with you when eating out in Spain.

 


Food & Drink Cheat Sheet

Comedor Dining room
Carta Menu
Menú del día Fixed price menu
Comida or Almuerzo Lunch
La cuenta The bill
Platos combinados Mixed plate
Cucharra Spoon
Cuchillo Knife
Tenedor Fork
Vaso/Copa Glass
Taza Cup
Camerero/Camerera Waiter/Waitress
Cena Dinner
Desayuno Breakfast
Frío Cold
Caliente Hot
Hielo Ice
Entradas Starters
Sopa Soup
Sopa de cocido Meat soup
Sopa de gallina Chicken soup
Ensalada Salad
Ensalada Mixta Mixed salad
Aceitunas or Olivas Olives
Primeros Platos Main Courses
A la plancha Grilled
A la brasa Grilled
A la parilla Grilled
Al horno Baked/Roasted
Crudo Raw
Asado Roasted
Frito Fried
Cocido/caldereta Stew
Arroz Rice
Paella Famous rice dish
Verduras Vegetables
Patatas Potatoes
Patatas Fritas Chips
Judias Green beans
Zanahorias Carrots
Guisantes Peas
Ajo (al ajillo) Garlic (in garlic)
Tomates Tomatoes
Pimientos rojos Red Peppers
Pimientos verdes Green Peppers
Pollo Poultry / chicken
Pato Duck
Pavo Turkey
Pechuga Breast of chicken
Perdiz Partridge
Carne Meat
Cabra/chivo Goat/baby goat
Caza Game
Cerdo Pork
Cochinillo Suckling pig
Conejo Rabbit
Cordero Lamb
Solomillo Fillet Steak
Entrecot Sirloin Steak
Lomo Pork loin
Ternera Beef, veal
Pescado Fish
Dorada Sea Bream
Atún Tuna
Anchoa/boquerones Anchovy
Bacalao Salted cod
Lenguado Sole
Emperador Swordfish
Mojama Cured tuna
Mariscos Shellfish
Gambas Prawns
Mejillones Mussels
Almejas Clams
Langostinos Crayfish
Langostas/Bogavante Lobster
Postres Desserts
Helado de Chocolate Chocolate ice cream
Helado de Vainilla Vanilla ice cream
Tarta Flan / Cake
Flan Crème Caramel
Frutas Fruit
Manzanas Apples
Naranjas Oranges
Uvas Grapes
Ciruelas Plums
Melocotones Peaches
Cerezas Cherries
Fresas Strawberries
Piña Pineapple
Plátanos Bananas
Bebidas Drinks
Vino Tinto Red Wine
Vino Blanco White Wine
Cerveza Beer
Zumo de naranja Orange juice
Agua Water
Zumo de Manzana Apple juice
Sangria Red wine spritzer with fruit juice
Tinto de verano Red wine spritzer
Alimento General General Food
Aceite Oil
Ajo Garlic
Arroz Rice
Azúcar Sugar
Huevos Eggs
Mantequilla Butter
Miel Honey
Pan Bread
Pimienta Pepper
Sal Salt
Vinagre Vinegar
Salsa Sauce

 


 

front-cover-outlineIf you love Spanish cooking then get yourself a copy of our Spanish Cooking Uncovered: Farmhouse Favourites cookery book.

 

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Águilas

May 12, 2010

Águilas, Murcia

Boat at Aguilas Harbour

Boat at Aguilas Harbour

Population: 28,000

This southwestern city near the Murcian coast has an arid and mountainous landscape, extensive beaches with crystalline cliffs and small, little frequented coves.

Castillo de san Juan - Águilas Castle

Castillo de san Juan - Águilas Castle

There’s the Museum Arqueologico and Centro de Interpretacion del Mar, in the centre of town. A stroll to the Port, dominated by the lighthouse, leads to the wholesale fish market, where at 5pm there’s a fish auction.

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The Levante Pastries – Spanish Savoury & Sweet Pastries

May 10, 2010
Pastel de Carne - Murcian Pastry

Pastel de Carne – Murcian Pastry

The Levante (South East corner of Spain) is famous for its astonishing variety of sweet and savoury pastries made daily (recien hecho) in the local bakeries (panadería or pastelería). Pastries are a staple of the Levante daily diet since the Moorish times when flour mills sprung up all over the region due to the Moors’ ingenious water management systems.

The spectrum of what’s on offer ranges from the more exotic fare (frequently tied to a religious festival) like a boiled egg on a doughnut to the everyday Pastel de Carne Murciano with their filling of calf meat, garlic sausage and egg and beautiful concentric circles of pastry.

If you’ve been a little nervous in the past about what you might get, here’s a short menu of some of the more popular ones:

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Going Native: Eating Like a Spaniard

May 4, 2010

You may have noticed that Spanish restaurants seem awfully quiet – when you go in.  This is probably because you haven’t worked out how to eat like a Spaniard yet.  Read on to find out how to go native and eat like a Spaniard and understand how military-precision in timing can be all-important (doesn’t sound like Spain, does it?)

 

Ensaimadas - Spanish cake for breakfast

Breakfast
First Breakfast: in Spain, most people actually have two breakfasts.  The first breakfast is to get yourself started.  Since most Spaniards start the day early, the constitution is only ready to receive something light at this stage – around 7:30.  So first breakfast usually comprises any of the following:

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The Game of Caliche

Apr 30, 2010
Old gents watching the game of caliche in La Murta

Old gents watching the game of caliche in La Murta

The game of caliche is particular to the Murcia / Levante region of Spain, based on a nationally-played game called herrón. If you, as we did, look up caliche in the English-Spanish dictionary (after seeing it in the itinerary for the local fiesta), you might be confused or even horrified. Caliche (in our 4 inch thick Collins mega-dictionary) means ‘saltpetre’, or echar un caliche means something really quite surprising, and I’m not going to reproduce the translation here (we were getting prepared to watch from a distance!).

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The Spa

Apr 27, 2010

My personal experiences of the luxury of a spa visit have been few and far between and to be honest, a little scary.

Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/lintmachine/

I had a weekend break at Ragdale Hall, where the food was sparse, the treatments were regimental and the alcohol was non-existent (except for the illegal stash we kept on the outside window ledge of our room). I had a massage in Turkey, where the scary, hairy woman tried to pry the flesh off my bones and drown me in soapsuds. And a massage in Thailand, where the tiny (yes even smaller than me!) masseuse was clearly more interested in “massaging” my husband than she was in me. Perhaps that’s why she twisted my arms round my neck and ran repeatedly up and down my spine.

So, my expectations were low and my fear level was high when I booked for myself, my mother-in-law (Helga) and my sister-in-law (Julie) to have a day at the spa.

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Taking Having Fun Seriously!

Apr 20, 2010

Taking Having Fun Seriously!

“Eh, hombres, enhorabuenas!” Miguel El Gordo shouted at me and my husband Marcus, over the din of that night’s “entertainment.”

Fiesta Band On Stage

Fiesta Band On Stage

The second night of our fiesta was punctuated with the clamour of a heavy rock band. It was two in the morning and they had only just begun – over three hours later than advertised. But that wasn’t their fault; the electrical generators in the disused quarry just couldn’t cope with the “10,000 watts of sound and 24,000 watts of light!” They had already blown two generators the size of small cars and were now on their third!

The quarry was heaving. The sobrasada and cerveza were flowing. Young children were screaming with glee and racing around the legs of tables, adults and the makeshift beer tents. Even the oldest partygoers were raring to go on all night – dancing, gyrating and generally enjoying the party atmosphere.

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