Sunday, May 31, 2015

Train for Madrid leaving on Track #1 . . .

Saturday, 30 May, 2015:

So, our great time in Murcia had finally come to a close. Today we started the long voyage home via Madrid.

After our wonderful meal last night with Oscar, Rosa, Alberto and Melky, we returned to La Hacienda for the final time to do some last minute cleaning and double check our packing.

We eventually got to bed at about 12:30 a.m. with our game plan for Saturday firmly in place.

The alarm was set for 6:00 a.m. giving us plenty of time to shower and take care of any last minute surprises.

We were all set to leave La Hacienda with a lots of luggage at 8:00 a.m. via taxi for Murcia's Barrio del Carmen Train Station.

That is when the surprise hit us.

Unbeknownst to me, my phone only had 0.01 Euros left and would thus not allow me to call for the much needed taxi.

Not to panic, Roberto who lives about 100 meters from La Hacienda graciously had volunteered to take us to the train station last night but I had respectfully declined. You see, Roberto drives in Nissan Micra and there is no way that three people and all of our baggage could possibly fit in his compact car.

At least that is what all logic led me to believe.

I knocked on his door and he was down like the proverbial shot, dressed and ready to drive!

The ALWAYS dependable Roberto

Roberto's logical, problem solving mind went to work when he got to La Hacienda.

It took him about a minute to come up with a plan and two minutes later, VOILÀ!

We were at the train station in no time given Saturday morning light traffic.

We said our goodbyes and still had another hour to wait before the train to Madrid left Murcia.

Only one thing to do, eat.

As we wound up our typical light Spanish breakfast we were visited by a farewell party.

Oscar, Alberto and Rosa

It was a nice surprise to see them there and they really helped us in getting all of our bags on board.

The only words to describe Roberto, Oscar, Rosa and Alberto are GREAT PEOPLE.

Laurie reading on the train

It took four hours and forty minutes to get to Madrid's Chamartin Train Station so we had lots of time to get into our latest books.

I had mentioned in previous posts during the Circumnavigation of the Iberian Peninsula Tour that we had met, in person for the first time, American football people in Santiago de Compostela and Gijón and a second cousin in Avilés that we only knew through Facebook.

Today in Madrid we had another first face-to-face meeting with a Facebook friend, Enrique Martin Alonso. Enrique is the President of the Osos Rivas American Football Club.  The Osos play in Spain's top league, the Serie A.

When Enrique heard that we were coming to Madrid he kindly offered to pick us up at the train station in his spacious LandRover and drive us to our hotel.

That is our hotel's street address

And this is our hotel's high-tech sign

We made here smooth as silk and quickly settled in to our nice accommodations.

I say quickly because Enrique invited us to take a drive with him once we were settled to . . .

. . . an Osos Rivas Senior B team game

Laurie, for once, said no. She would rather do some more shopping in Madrid's great fan stores.

So, off I went with Enrique towards Madrid's northern suburb of Tres Cantos, to watch the Osos B team do battle with the home team, Jabatos.  

The B team is is made up of Osos senior players who are young and/or inexperienced, and who are old enough to play on the Senior team but need more seasoning and playing time.

Along the way, I was reminded that our good friend, Chris Pagliaro and his son Vince, had been the Osos' coaches in 2001 when they won their only Serie A championship to date. It is amazing the way the paths of coaches the world over continually criss-cross.

The Osos have about 50 Seniors on their roster, so these nine-man games get these new players get some much needed game experience, while at the same time keeping them from quitting the sport altogether due to lack of playing time.

Osos B in red

Turning the corner, the Osos only
trailed 20-13 at halftime

A REALLY big Oso

Nice catch!

The Jabatos' coach may be a bit out of the Coaches Box.

Jabatos paraphernalia
for sale at half time

It was would have been worth it for the Jabato logo alone.

Mascot headgear

My first thought was, "Can I get that into the overhead bin on the plane?"

Post Game with Osos Rivas Head Coach
Fernando Guejarro, A team QB Blair Black
and President Enrique Martin Alonso

The Osos B team lost by a final tally of 40-13 but I'm sure that it was a good experience for them. They were competitive with the Jabatos but dropped passes let the game's score get out of reach.

It was fun talking football with Enrique all afternoon and meeting Fernando and Blair after the game.

The world of EuroBall is a small and friendly one indeed!

After the game, Enrique dropped me off near our hotel so that Laurie and I could go out and support the local food and beverage industry for a few hours.

Hen Parties were everywhere

"I see wonderful things . . ."

And I see wonderful architecture

The Tapas Crawl started promptly
at 8:00 p.m.

Then we ate the garlic shrimp

El Abuelo is a happy place

Tempting but no


Good atmosphere . . .

. . . better gazpacho and
patatas bravas con chorizo

We both wanted to try La Abuela
too, but were too full and a bit tired

So tired of Dia de los Muertos Matador
themed restaurants, aren't you?

Did I mention Madrid's
lovely architecture?

Plaza Mayor

Between ebola and e coli, we will
probably not eat here any time soon

Buenas noches Madrid

We had a good day and went to sleep excited about Sunday because, guess what, we were going to meet someone new from the world of the internet.

This time it would be meeting our long lost second cousin Lena who lives in Madrid. Lena is the younger sister of Geli, the second cousin we met for the first time in Avilés a few weeks ago.

It should make for a fun Sunday!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Our Last Full Day in Murcia

Friday, 29 May, 2015:

So we were down to one last day in Murcia.

As we have most of this week, we were still in the packing process with today being designated as Final Cutdown Day!

It was a struggle but we got everything packed with an eye on the maximum 23 kilos limit per bag for the flight home.

It is a good thing that they don't weigh the cary-on luggage!

In the morning I had to break away for one last trip to the Biblioteca Regional de Murcia to return our last five DVDs of the Spring.

While at the Biblioteca, I was surprised to see that they were displaying . . .

 . . . the Colorado Rockies new
avant garde baseball uniforms

I think that they'll be embraced by the sky-high Rockies fans.

It was also a day for good-byes . . .

Belén our beloved bakery owner

For one last dinner in Murcia, we met up with Oscar, Rosa and Alberto at their friend Melky's home for an Argentine style BBQ.

 Lots of meat is a MUST!

It looked even better on the grill

Interesting building construction
techniques in Melky's neighborhood

One way to patch up
an unwanted window

 Alberto mugging for the camera

Alberto with his two Moms

Rosa is Alberto's birth Mom while Laurie becomes his adoptive Mom when he comes to California to stay with us this Summer.

Enjoying the moment with
Oscar, Melky and Alberto

Postre . . .

Really BIG postre . . . DIOS MIO!!!

GREAT people indeed!

We shared a lot of good times with these folks over the last six months to be sure! By the way, nice shirt Oscar.

GRACIAS Melky for opening your
home to us tonight!

We had to cut dinner short at the two and a half hour mark so that we could return to La Hacienda to do a few last minute things.

Our trip home starts Saturday morning with a four and a half hour train ride from Murcia to Madrid.

We will stay in the Spanish capital for four nights before boarding our two separate planes for the flights to Los Angeles on Wednesday morning.

Because Laurie bought her round trip airfare months ago, she will fly on Air France from Madrid to Paris to Los Angeles.

The Cobras bought my return ticket after our season ended and were able to get me on a non-stop American Airlines flight from Madrid to Los Angeles.

It is time to see our family and friends back home in the USA.

We will never forget our time with the wonderful people of  Murcia, in general, and specifically our Cobra family!!!


Friday, May 29, 2015

Still Packing and a Trip to El Valle de Ricote

Thursday, 28 May, 2015:

Normally, Laurie and I have kept La Hacienda in a clean and orderly fashion over the last six months.

This week, not so much

We continue the process of separating and categorizing all of our worldly Spanish possessions in an effort to pack and return to Camarillo next week via Madrid.

Rummaging through our only closet

Some items have been donated to the Spanish equivalent of the Goodwill Industries, although I don't see to many XXL Spaniards roaming the calles of Murcia.

Some items we have given away to friends.

Some items we have simply thrown away.

Our living room serves as
The Sorting Center

Some items will indeed cross the pond with us next Wednesday.

In the evening, Cobras Team Photographer Catalina Gracia Saavedra had set us up with a special tour of the interesting Valle de Ricote about 25 miles north of Murcia.

Our guide would be Catalina's second cousin Miguel Angel is a professional guide who leads tours for tourists all over the Region de Murcia.

We were scheduled to meet him at 5:00 p.m. near Murcia's ayuntamiento (city hall) for our private tour in his car.

Along our walk we, as always, saw things . . . 

Cloister at the University of Murcia's
La Merced campus

The small sign at the top warns that
it is prohibited to post signs here

Murcia's Cathedral is old
but it never gets old

We arrived at the ayuntamiento a bit early so we shared, yes I said shared, a refreshing limon gelato to kill a little time. Miguel Angel was punctual, showing up at exactly 5:00 p.m. just as the Cathedral's bells started to chime the new hour.

Off to the Valle de Ricote we went!

First stop . . .


Miguel Angel was full of detailed information about all things Ricote including the fact that the pueblo of Ricote sits atop one of the Valle's mountains and is thus not actually in the Valle that bears its name.

Miguel Angel explained that the Valle de Ricote is made up of seven small pueblos whose inhabitants are 99% dedicated to the huerta's production of all sorts of fruit orchards. The biggest of these seven pueblos has about 16,000 residents.

The Valle features contrasts between the stark, dry, rugged mountains that surround the lush Valle floor, which is fed by a much mightier Rio Segura than we see trickling through downtown Murcia. We'll explain why a bit later in today's post.

A typical Valle de Ricote farmhouse

A small aqueduct from the Rio Segura
to the farm seen previously

Old hatreds die hard

As with much of Spain, the Moors still have strong ties to the land here even after being forced out during the Reconquista that ended with their expulsion in 1492.

In the Valle they introduced an irrigation system using the Rio Segura's waters to bring the Valle to life.

A Noria is the key to elevating the
water to a height usable to the farm

There are still 17 working waterwheels of various sizes that are in use today in the Valle. Note the holes in the side of the wheel at the top that allow the water to spill into the mini-aqueduct to this farm.

Miguel Angel pointing out the
details of this Noria

Plush farm office

A much bigger Noria
in the pueblo of Abarán

This one was less effective than the first one that we saw as it is in need of some repairs. Unfortunately, lots of water was spilling out before it reached the top where it was needed to irrigate the huerta.

Laurie and the Rio Segura

Fishing on the Rio Segura

No, that is not sewage pouring into the river next to our erstwhile angler. It is the clean water that flowed past the previous Noria without being lifted up to the mini-aqueduct return to the river from whence it came.

Santuario de la Virgen de Oro

At some point, a myth cropped up that there was gold in the mountains surrounding the Valle. Thus the Virgen de Oro was created to make sure that the Catholic church was well positioned should a strike occur.

This Santuario sits atop a mountain with a great view of the Valle. The road to it is narrow and has lots of tight turns. As a result, tour busses can not reach it and Miguel Angel admitted that this was only the second time that he had been up here. On his previous visit, the Santuario was closed.

Today the old caballero in charge of the Santuario was about to go home for an early, by Spanish standards, dinner. He told us that the reason for this breech of protocol was that he had recently seen a TV show extolling the health benefits of not eating anything for at least two hours before going to bed at night.

Despite his health concerns, he graciously unlocked the Santuario for us to take an unscheduled visit.

The Virgen de Oro

As with all such Virgens in España, she is walked down from her mountaintop retreat for festivals in the pueblos below at certain times of the year.

Not quite the bell tower
in Murcia's Cathedral

La Virgen de la Soledad

This was one of many different manifestations of Mary that we saw in the Santuario.

And another

Mary and Joseph

The view of El Valle de Ricote
from the Santuario

Heavy Metal Jesus?

The Rio Segura's split

It is at this point that the Rio Segura's waters are sent shooting off in different directions.

To the left, large amounts of water zoom towards Alicante.

To the right, water is forced towards Lorca.

Straight ahead, a relatively small amount of water proceeds to Murcia. 

Love couple on the viewpoint
overlooking the split of the waters

Laurie and Miguel Angel

Rugged, dry mountains

Oranges are big in the Valle

Water to wash clothes too,
in the pueblo of Ojós

Although quiet tonight, this community wash basin is still used by local women to do their laundry. They also gather to fulfill their social needs.

The slanted stones on the right is where the laundry is actually washed. At the far end there is a control valve that is used to raise the water if needed to help the ladies do their chores. At this moment the valve was open and the water was at a level too low to make washing easier. 

Ojós is a fun little pueblo

Locals selling homemade breads and sweets from their front doors.

Quaint Ojós calles

Some old buildings in Ojós

The pueblo was originally built by the Moors with typically narrow streets. Over the centuries, the buildings have been gradually replaced, but the pueblo's basic, confusing street layout has remained unchanged. 

Blue is nice

Another old one

Ancient huerta entrance

Jacaranda blooming

Hey, it must be the end of the school year.

Egypt? Morocco?
No, Ojós



According to Miguel Angel, this is the only place in the known universe that makes Bizcochos Borrachos.

Beer and a Bizcocho Borracho

There is actually no alcohol in the bizcocho, instead it oozes all sorts of locally produced sweetness.

I think that the known universe deserves a second branch in say, Camarillo, California.

Eiffel designed Casa del Cura
in Ulea

Yes, that Eiffel.

Apparently he designed it as a thank you to a friend who lived in the Valle. His friend knew that Eiffel suffered from joint problems and he recommended that Eiffel visit the thermal spa in the Valle's pueblo of Archena.

Eifel did and the mineral rich, warm waters did the trick.

Thus in gratitude, Eiffel designed this house for his friend that now is the home of the priest in charge of the pueblo's Catholic church.

Entering the Balneario de Archena

The oldest of the three hotels at this
still extremely active thermal spa

The spa even has its own chapel

Laurie next to a lush Bougainvillea

The Rio Segura's water makes it up here too. 

Which way to go Laurie?

Roman ruins of the original
thermal baths at this site

The spa's fun casino,
a meeting place not a gambling hall

We saw people in their robes
returning from the baths

They all looked so relaxed.

On the way home, we asked Miguel Angel to drop us off near one of our favorite spots, the D'Lola, run by the affable Don Antonio. The food and ambience were delightful as usual.

It was another great day in la Region de Murcia for us thanks to the efforts of Catalina and Miguel Angel.