Friday, December 26, 2014

Bienvenido a Murcia, But No Internet Until January

Lots of catching up to do as I have no internet at La Hacienda as of yet, here goes from a random, free wifi Gran Via Coffee Bar in beautiful downtown Murcia where they serve an excellent café con leche and a delicious tortilla Española . . .

Thursday, 18 December:

After a fun but exhausting day sightseeing in Madrid, I was prepared for the four-hour train ride on Thursday morning to my new home in southeastern Spain, the historic city of Murcia.

Perhaps because my body clock was way off or perhaps because I was so excited to start up with my new team, the Cobras, I only slept for about an hour all night.

Once the agreed upon but, as it turned out, unnecessary wake up call came from the lady in the Hostal Las Fuentes’ reception room, I was more than ready for a quick café con leche and tortilla Española at an open bar just around the corner.

It must be mentioned that the lady running the reception area was a dead ringer for the recently deceased Duchessa de Alba. They were about the same age and had both obviously used the same plastic surgeon at some point.

Never Too Early for a Song in Madrid

The taxi ride to the Atocha train station was fast and easy as most of Madrid was still asleep.

It was a good thing that I got there about 75 minutes early because finding the right place to meet the train to Murcia was not as easy as I thought. Once I entered the appropriate station area, I had to wait until about 10 minutes before departure to find out which train track I would need to board the 9:21 a.m., #222 train that would arrive in Murcia at 1:24 p.m. I had opted to pay a bit more and go on one of the First Class cars.

It was worth it.

We got rolling on time and I was quickly lulled into a sense of security as we gently rocked and rolled through the foggy countryside. I thoroughly love train travel as I find it both relaxing and adventurous. This train was not one of Spain’s sleek AVE bullet trains but it did move along at a good clip with only three stops before reaching Murcia.

As a perk in First Class I was given a free newspaper, El Pais, where the headlines were all about the thawing of relations between the USA and Cuba.


As we continued southward, I wondered how many Spanish Civil War sites we were passing. It is, for me, a fascinating era to study and try to begin to understand.

My short bouts of restful nodding off were interspersed with vistas of rugged landscapes, barren almond orchards in Winter, solar energy farms and lots of crumbling buildings including long abandoned train stations. As we neared Murcia we started to espy palm trees and now lush grape and almond orchards as the temperatures climbed to those normal in Southern California also at this time of the year.

Cobras’ Welcoming Delegation
Jorge, Alberto and Courier

At Murcia’s train station I was met by a contingent of team officials including linebacker Jorge Ortin Rosera and the mysterious but efficient “Courier.”  As it turns out most people have a nickname in Spain that is used much more often than their real names. Many don’t even know a teammate’s real name, only their nickname, thus “Courier” and another player that I would meet later that afternoon, “Tanque.”

Of course each nickname comes with a story of how they earned it. As a young Cobra, Courier was at a bar with veteran Cobras for the first time, so they repeatedly sent him to the bar to fetch more beers for the players, thus he became the Courier.

In Tanque’s, our starting Senior Center who is of good size, case it came because he was a big at 12 years old as he is now, as in he was “as big as a Tank!” His real name is Ricardo Galvez Gil.

Murcia at Last!!!

Also at the train station to greet me were Rosa Talavera, Oscar Constante and their son Alberto who is a very good wide receiver for our Junior team. They invited me into their home near the train station for a wonderful lunch that was filled with Spanish delights.

Nike Gloves for Alberto

Besides hosting my gastronomic needs, Rosa also gave me much-needed coffee making and juicing machines. Throw in the three bullfight pins that are the colors of the bull farms that are pierced into the bulls neck just before it enters the ring and I was a happy camper. Rosa’s father was for yearts a key member of the staff at Murcia’s Plaza de Toros.

Bull Fight Ribbons

After lunch, I was reunited with Jorge and Courier and met two more linemen, the aforementioned Tanque and Roberto. These four gave me a nice tour of my new apartment, which we will call La Hacienda from now on, and of the surrounding neighborhood.

Our Apartment Building 

Park Across the Street

Our apartment building has an ELEVATOR!!!

After they left, I made my first foray to the local Carrefour shopping center to buy some needed provisions. Once done, I settled into La Hacienda for a great night’s sleep.

The only bad news was no internet in La Hacienda until some time next week, thus no easy way to blog.

Friday, 19 December:

Our Friendly Neighborhood Panaderia

One of my guides and a lineman to boot, Roberto, lives just around the corner from La Hacienda. On my tour of of the neighborhood Thursday night, Roberto pointed out to me the Panaderia Los Siscas located about 50 yards from our apartment buildings front door next to the park that we face.


The Panaderia Los Siscas is run by an energetic, and somewhat boisterous young lady, named Belén. We hit it off from the get go and she introduced to everyone who entered this distinguished little neighborhood bakery. Roberto had informed me that no matter what you order, she always adds a little extra goody or two to your bag at no extra cost.

She did not disappoint.

We are going to be good friends.

Bus Stop

I decided to head to Centro Murcia to get a better lay of the land. I could have hopped aboard the #20 bus that stops just on the other side of our park but instead opted to walk and see more of the . . .

Region Murcia

Including all sorts of interesting things like . . .

A Gelateria

A Vespa/Fiat 500

 A Nativity Scene

Interesting Architecture

Roman Catholic Influences

Men with Clubs

A Cow (Not Real)

Singers, More on Them Later

I had no map to use so I asked a lady walking down the street, “Which way to the Cathedral?” She gave me easy directions and informed me that it would only take ten minutes. I had not forgotten about Spain’s inability to correctly judge times and distances from my Camino de Santiago days.

It took 20 minutes but the directions were spot on!

Unfortunately, this walk introduced me to lots and lots of beggars as the economic crunch shows itself clearly in some ways.

Murcia’s Cathedral of the Virgin Mary

This Baroque cathedral’s construction began in 1394 on the site of the city’s Grand Mosque.

Once at Murcia’s Cathedral, I could only come up with one word . . . MAGNIFICENT!!!

School Children About to Tour the Cathedral

Weathered Faces


Main Altar

Checkered Floor


 Holiday Spirit

Cathedral Tower

Once out of the Cathedral, I wanted to make the quick journey to the adjacent Murcia Tourist Bureau to get all of the necessary maps and info to help me during my stay. They would be quite helpful in answering all of my questions but before I got there, I was drawn by the Episcopal House that I found along the way.

Episcopal House

Dapper Guard

Dashing Guard

The Episcopal House’s big attraction during this Christmas season is it’s gigantic Nativity Display which I liked it!

Nativity Scenes

Hammer Time


King Herod’s Call to
Slaughter the Innocents

Speaking of Slaughter . . .

Episcopal House Window

Passing by the Cathedral

Baby Jesus is BIG in España!

I opted to tour the Cathedral’s small, impressive museum, which did have several noteworthy objects like . . .

A Sarcophagus

 A Sun

A Monstrance

A Flamed-Topped Thing

A Battered Woman

 A Fresco

A Crucifix

A Cardinal Praying

A Skull

A Madonna


Another Fresco

 And, of course, SINGERS!!!

I continued to roam Murcia’s Historic District and saw more things of interest as I made my way back to La Hacienda.

The Casino

Christmas Ornaments

The Teatro de Romea

Priests Wrestling

Santa Smoking

The Murphy Family Christmas Tree

Artisans Selling Gift Items

Las Tres Copas Park

Carrefour Shopping Center

Lidl Market

 Hams for Sale 

Finally, in the evening, it was time to go to work. I had a Junior team (17 years of age and under) practice to attend from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Roberto picked me up and away we drove.

I had decided to mostly observe and evaluate tonight in order to get a feel for the team’s players, coaches, practice regimen and style of play. The Juniors are players under 17 years old and they play nine man football (no offensive tackles and you pick two positions to sit out defensively, i.e., a 4-2-3 or a 3-3-3 look.

The Juniors practice field is made of AstroDirt, not a blade of grass to be scene. We only had about 12 players in attendance which makes practicing a bit difficult. I was introduced to a new player named Daniel who hails from Russia. He is a rawboned 16 years old, about 6’3” tall and tips the Toledos at about 290 pounds.


Daniel’s Jersey Number
Might not be legal in American football

I was immediately asked to show Daniel the basics of line play. I worked with our Russian bear of a lad for about four minutes when all of the linemen joined me for a fundamentals period.

So much for observing and evaluating . . .

Coaching the Juniors

Junior Team Post-Practice Photo

After a fun two hours, it was back into Roberto’s car for the short drive to the University of Murcia’s field where our Senior team (18 years of age to infinity and beyond) would hold court from 9:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.

We will be holding these four hour practice sessions on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the season.

We only had 13 players were suited for tonight’s practice and yes we do indeed play 11 man football.

I split my time between coaching the offensive linemen and helping out with the wide receivers. Our Spanish QB, Angel Clemente Hernandez, is excellent! He throws well and is athletic. So long as we can protect him, we’ll be fine.

The spirit and effort at both of tonight’s practices was excellent!

Is this the infamous
“Player to be Named Later”?

 Seniors Half Line Work

Addressing the Seniors After Practice

Senior Team Post-Practice Photo

The numbers are troubling to say the least. As near as I can tell it is because of two things. First, American football is growing in Spain and thus many former Cobras who traveled great distances to play for Murcia now live much closer to new teams that have formed in the past two years.  Secondly, last year’s coach, by all accounts had a somewhat negative approach that, even though the Cobras were winning, drove a lot of players away from the team.

I’ve got fences to mend and spirits to bolster.

Saturday, 20 December:

I was up bright and early as both the Junior and Senior teams had flag football games to play today.

Flag football is big in Europe as the continent’s form of American 7-on-7 skirmishes. This variation is played 5-on-5 with all players being eligible to catch a pass.

The scene today was another AstroDirt field located in the suburban, affluent enclave known as Altorreal.

Manicured AstroDirt Field

Playing on this surface shows me just one thing, many Spaniards are playing American football for the purest of reasons, i.e., THEIR LOVE OF THE GAME!

How refreshing . . .

The Cobras were hosting the event and had to first line the arena’s two needed mini-football fields at 9:00 a.m. before the first set of games at 10:00 a.m.

The Liner was BROKEN

Of course many of the field lining volunteers were late and the chalk liner was, predictably, not working.


We can do this!

We started lining the fields at 9:40.

Yes he is!

Today’s flag football games drew Junior and Senior teams from the Cartagena Pretorianos (both a male and a female team), the Mutxamel Mustangs, Molina Vipers and your Murcia Cobras. The hated Cehegin Wolves were no shows.

Tanque Coaching the Junioors

Nice Sponsor for this Referee

Vipers Interesting QB Technique

 The Pit in Junior Flag Football


Cobra Junior QB

TD Juniors

Junior Team Game Photo

Our Juniors opened the action with a sound thrashing of the blue-clad Molina Vipers by a score of 33-18.

Our Seniors then strutted their stuff in throttling the Muxtamel Mustangs 46-20.

TD Cobras!

TD Cobras Again!!

If You Are the Designated Blitzer,

 Mustang Offense

Tanque at LB

Go Jesus GO!!!

 Angel with Helmet Cam but No Helmet

Nice Grab

Tanque SACK!!!


Amaros on the Reverse

Senior Flag Team Picture

Both games were fun to watch and the Cobras definitely have good skill players at both levels.

Upon returning home after our two games, I roamed the mean streets of Murica to check out more of the neighborhoods including the Plaza de Toros.



Comic School

The Black Nail is the GOOD Jamon

 El Corte Inglés Department Store

Black Cat
A lucky place to buy a lottery ticket

The Patron Saint of Murcia

Murcia City Hall

Interesting Palms

 The Murcia Plaza de Toros

Toro Art

The Old Football (Soccer) Stadium 

I checked into the local panaderia just for giggles and the irrepressible Belén talked me into buying a Loteria Nacional ticket for Monday’s huge “El Gordo” drawing worth millions of Euros. Can’t win if you don’t play, correct?

In the late evening I rejoined Oscar and Rosa for a tremendous meal near the Cathedral. The streets were alive with a combination of Christmas shopping and the famous Spanish tradition of a Saturday night paseo.

Church Lights

Episcopal House Lights

 Oscar and Rosa

A great dinner with lots of Murcia specialties with great new friends. 

So much fun on this warm Saturday!

So that is just three days worth of discovery in Murcia and I still have five more days of catching up to do.

Otro café con leche, por favor.


David said...

I've been wondering where you've been. Should've guessed it was an internet issue.
Hope this sometime in January means sometime in January, not the Catania-style sometime in January of a year to be determined later.

George said...

Internet in La Hacienda soon I pray.