Thursday, October 14, 2010


Cartagena (bottom left is the newly discovered Roman Theatre)

On my first Saturday in Murcia, Erasmus organised an excursion for us students to Cartagena, a city not far from Murcia, about 40kms away. Two coaches full of students. I took a seat in the bus and two girls sat down in front of me. I thought I’d try and make an extra friend or two and introduced myself to the girls. Laura from Australia, Victoria from Latvia and Laura from Argentina, later joined by Annamaria from Italy chatted the whole way to Cartagena. Once there, we were divided up into three groups so that the visits to the sights would be easier to handle. In my group were Laura and Pamela from Argentina, Victoria from Latvia, Luisi, Mercedes, Carlos and Miguel from Mexico, Lili from Germany and a whole bunch of Italians, whom I won’t name because there are too many of them. 

The group

First we walked up to the top of a hill where we had a great view to the entire city. Cartagena is surrounded by hills, but it is also a port which meant we were looking out to sea; a very pretty sight. Our next stop was the Tourist Centre where I didn’t find that half hour allocated to it very useful except for getting a map of the city. 

Cool tree

Next stop the Mairie. Built sometime in the XVI ͭ ͪ century, the Mairie was renovated and hasn’t been open for too long, which made us lucky to be able to see the interior of it.  It was very beautiful with its Roman staircase made of marble and velvet flags draped along the walls. We were led into a room and sat down; a woman introduced herself as our guide. She told us to look up; there were four huge chandeliers and we were told that each of them was made up of 10 million diamonds. 

The town hall
The town hall's chandeliers

A painting we were showed represents the tragedy that occurred sometime in the XIII ͭ ͪ century when a boat capsized and everyone in it drowned. All but one, a dog. Another boat, on seeing the wreckage went to see if there were any survivors. They found only the dog. On nearing Cartagena, the dog jumped overboard and swam all the way to shore, then all the way to his house; he had recognised it from the boat.

Painting depicting the XIIIth century tragedy

Our next stop was Cartagena’s museum, dedicated to the discovery of a Roman Theatre in the middle of the city. It was discovered in only 1991, a fact that I found hard to grasp; I mean, I was alive! Present day history! The Roman Theatre had many layers, from the many centuries. First it was a Roman Theatre then there were layers added by the Arabs, then in the end the Spaniards and finally present day flats were built on top of this site. The museum’s artefacts were bits of pottery from the different ages, so we could compare the cultures and the times. A statue of a man without a head stood tall and we were told that the head used to be sculptured separately so that when the man in question aged, his head could easily be replaced to adapt to the times. 

Beheaded statue
Underground passageway

We were then led underground to a tunnel that led us to the Roman Theatre itself. The city had to make a deal with the people living on top of the site for their houses to be removed in order to discover more of the Roman Theatre. It was very beautiful and very well preserved. There were areas we couldn’t walk in as excavators were still discovering them. There was a passageway at the back of where the audience sat, which was used as protection for civilians when the city was being attacked. 

Roman Theatre
Famous actors that happened to be there at the same time as us

For the rest of the afternoon we had free time. Little groups formed and we made our way through the city to an exhibition ground as there were festivities taking place where we could eat tapas and see all sorts of other food from the region, and artwork too. When we got there the first thing we looked for was food as we were all starving. We found a tapas bar where you could get a beer and a tapas for €1,50. They were making paella, another typical Spanish dish, originally from Valencia. There was a huge wok that they were making it in, for all guests. We got a large portion each, also for a mere €1,50. Me gusta mucho la paella!

Paella yummmmm

We eventually made our way back to the city centre and with my new-found South American friends as well as Victoria, the Latvian girl and Jan, a boy from the Czech Republic, we all sat down by the water and dangled our feet. Let’s not forget the ice-cream! We were to meet the rest of the group at another museum just before 6pm. We visited the museum and then made our way back to the buses which were to take us back to Murcia.

Laci's cute little boat

A day full of nice visits with nice people; I was beginning to be more open to the internationalism of Erasmus and looked forward to seeing my new friends again.

Nice flats

La Pasta Non E Un Gioco

Entertainment with Italians is not all about fun and games. There are serious sides to the matter as well, as I have learned. In other words: pasta. 

Fiesta de pasta

My first experience was at about 11:30pm on our first night together. While I was having my friendly conversation with Dickhead Diego, the two boys went to the supermarket. I met them afterwards, and saw that they had bought something. I peeped into the plastic bag, and what I saw made me laugh. All that they had bought to fill our empty fridge was two packets of pasta. I asked them why they hadn’t bought anything to go with the pasta for dinner that night, but they replied that this wasn’t for eating now, it was “just to have at home”. I have learnt that no Italian household gets away with not having any pasta in the cupboard. 

Team work

I have also learned that a specific sauce only goes with a specific kind of pasta. For example, Carbonara is only allowed to go with Spaghetti, Pesto is only allowed to go with Penne. I have learned never to cook pasta in this household, as when I offered to make tuna pasta or when I told them that I knew how to make Lasagna, I was simply laughed at. I have learned when and how much salt and oil goes into boiling water when cooking pasta, although the technique depends on what part of Italy you are from. If you are from Rome, you put salt into the boiling water and oil into the sauce. If you are from Florence, you put both salt and oil into the boiling water at about the same time. The concept of boiling water also differs depending on the region of Italy, of course. The only time I see Rocco and Stefano have an argument is when they are cooking pasta: “The water’s already boiling, put the pasta in!” followed by “You call that boiling?? You call yourself Italian??”.

Living With Benigni

Yes, I live with Benigni. Or at least with a younger version of him. 

Stefano eating Tapas

The two Italians I live with are Rocco, da Roma, and Stefano, da Firenze. Rocco is a comedy in himself. I would put money on saying that he talks all waking hours of the day; he simply does not stop! In a good way, of course! He is pure entertainment. An interesting fact about Rocco is that, on becoming friends on Facebook, we noticed that we have a friend in common. It is Tom Mercer, a friend from home. On Tom’s student exchange to Copenhagen last year, he befriended an Italian Ilaria from Rome, also on exchange. A friend of hers, Rocco, went to visit during her semester over there. Rocco meets Tom. Tom goes to Rome and spends a few days scooting around the city with Rocco and Rocco’s motorbike. It was pretty nuts finding that out :)


Stefano is our Benigni. He looks and gesticulates like the actor, or at least like the typical character the actor plays in his films. They are both short, thin and have curly brown hair. They both have the same shaped face. They are both from Firenze!

Los compañeros de piso :)

Many funny episodes have happened with them. Something I will never forget is one night when I stayed at home and the boys went out. I woke up to the sound of them coming home, but went straight back to sleep. A little while later, I heard their voices coming from the living room… they were talking about Spanish grammar… in Spanish. I thought that was odd and convinced myself I was dreaming. Again I woke up, this time hearing more than just two voices. I decided to prove that I was dreaming, and went out into the living room. There were five guys sitting on our couches: Rocco, Stefano, Aldo (a friend of ours) and two other guys that I had never met before. They were introduced as Alejandro and Jaime, both from Murcia. I burst out laughing at the sight! It was a Tuesday morning and it turned out to be 7:30am and they were indeed discussing Spanish grammar :)

Fiesta de pasta

Dickhead Diego

The next flat on my list was a little further away from the centre but with a park out the front. The price was also attractive (€150 a month, plus gas and water bills). The fact that I would be the first to move in gave me the opportunity of first pick for a room (the biggest one with the double bed and the view to the park, please). The flat was very big, 4 bedrooms, a large kitchen, a large lounge room and a balcony. Let’s not forget the big front garden either. I agreed with the dueño (owner of the flat) that I would be looking at a few more flats still but that this one was very nice. We agreed on keeping in touch over the course of the following day. 


The following day I called him as we had agreed, and told him that I was interested in his flat. He said we should meet and discuss the details. We met that afternoon and he informed me that a change had been made: two Italians had seen the flat and were going to move in. This would make only three tenants, which would mean dividing the price of the flat into three. I told him that we had agreed on €150. He was adamant that until we found a fourth tenant (and now he said he wasn’t too keen on that) it would have to be €200 per person. I felt ripped off, but because of my need to move into a flat as soon as possible, and that among all the flats I had seen this was by far the nicest, I decided to settle, but on the condition of looking for a fourth tenant. I gave him €200 deposit and €100 for half of the month of September (this was on the 22nd of September). I went back to get my luggage from the Matias’ and Julio’s place and then back again to my new flat. I had a cold shower, as the warm water wasn’t working. I had €5 left over for the next few days (due to the flat’s price change), so I went to the supermarket and bought myself dinner for €2. I was very sad and felt so small and alone; I wasn’t supposed to be feeling like that… It was only my third day in Murcia…

Church dome

In the morning of the next day I went to Uni and did all the administrative things that still needed to be done. In the afternoon, Diego called and said that there were two Italians interested in the flat. I pointed out that we already had two Italians who were going to move in, which meant that there was only one more bedroom left. It turned out that there were no Italians who were going to move in. Why, then, did I have to pay €200 a month?? I no longer only felt ripped off, I now felt betrayed as well. He can’t get away with this, I thought. I went to the flat to meet the “new” two Italians. 

El Puente Viejo

They wanted to know how far the University was from the flat, so I offered to walk with them and show them. I told them my story and they got very annoyed with Diego, and expressed in words what I had been feeling for the last 24hours: I should move out. I had no desire to pack my things and move out again, but I also felt very hurt from the experience. I weighed up the pros and cons, and realized that the only real pro that was keeping me from moving out was the nice park that was in front of the flat. Was that enough? I spent the day with the two Italians. I even saw a few flats with them. We found one that was right next to the University (literally 10 meters away), at the pleasant price of €166/person/month. I still didn’t know what to do. I had to talk to someone and get a second opinion. I talked to Béla, who helped me see that what the man had said and did to me was wrong, and that if the only pro was the park, then I could walk in one anytime I wanted, I didn’t have to pay an extra €34 for it though.

My flatmates Stefano and Rocco

I called Diego and told him of my decision. I would be moving out that evening. We met, I packed my stuff and left, giving him the keys on the way out. He told me he didn’t have my money on him, but that later on we could meet. I walked across Murcia with my 40kgs once again, hoping that it would be the last time in a long time. The new flat had no lift. It took the Italian boys, the owner’s husband and me to carry my belongings up five flights of stairs. The boys and I shouted with glee that we had found a place and that we were going to live together. 

Ant's view of La Catedral

I still felt a little uneasy about the whole Diego-affair, especially after having realized that I had moved out and handed over the keys, while he still had my €300 and no paper to prove it. The boys assured me they would come with me and be there for moral support as well as any other support if needed. I went to the designated place at the designated time while the boys kept watch somewhere else in the square. After fifteen minutes of waiting, I grew impatient and gave Diego a call. He said he was on his way. He arrived and gave me the €200 deposit. What about the €100 I paid for September? No. No?? No, he wouldn’t give it to me. I told him I would pay for the sole night that I had slept in his flat, plus an extra night, but that was as far as I would go. After half an hour of heated discussion, I, utterly frustrated and angry, offered 50-50, that way both parties would be more or less happy, or at least could walk away with a percentage. He did the walking away, but with all of my €100. I shouted after him that I would go to the police. “Ok” was his reply. 

Weird side of building

I will cut this chapter of the story short. Basically, I went to the police who told me to go to the justice department. I went to the justice department that told me to come back the following morning at 9am where a lawyer would see me. The following morning I got there just before 9 and saw lots of people standing outside. I was told to come back and wait in line; I had to get a ticket. I was also told that it is best to get there before 7am to make sure. Instead, I went to the University and told them of my problem. They gave me an email address that I should write to; it is the lawyer for students, employed by the University. 

Murcian birds

I wrote and made a meeting. I met the lawyer. It was an interesting meeting. He cracked jokes, he spilled coffee all over his computer, he was paranoid about a fly that was flying around the room and determined to catch it, and he answered the phone and chatted and laughed for a few minutes… while I was talking about my problem. Apart from being quite hilarious and reminding me of Mr. Bean, this all made me fairly uneasy, as I thought that he didn’t see my problem as a very big one and so wouldn’t take it seriously. However, when he called Diego, he was very professional. So much so, that Diego agreed to meeting me and giving me back my money. The amount the lawyer had told Diego he owed was €88 (€12 amounted to the price of two nights stay).  I said a million thank you’s, as I was convinced I wouldn’t see that money again. I met Diego and he handed over €50. What about the other €38? €50 is the amount you asked me for the last time we met. Dickhead Diego.

Plaza de las Flores, the Tapas centre of Murcia

Discovering Murcia

I woke up early and looked into the mirror, horrified. It was my turn to look like a little duck (just so you don’t feel alone Bécike). I walked to the university with a scarf around the lower part of my face, although instead of deterring attention I think I may have attracted it, for wearing a scarf in 31 degrees may seem a little odd to some. I checked my email and had a few administrative tasks to complete. I then went to the supermarket to get ingredients for making myself a sandwich, and by the time I had finished eating, it was almost midday. My duck-self had almost gone. 

Gran Vía

In the afternoon I had fun getting lost in the streets of my new city. The streets of Murcia are narrow and the typical colour of dry Spain (orangey-brown) is prominent. There aren’t many trees in the streets, but in many of the squares you can find a huge tree, higher than any of the surrounding buildings. Walking coincided with my visiting a few flats. I saw one place, in the centre of town, where the size of my bedroom would have been a bit bigger than a matchbox and where two people would have had difficulty standing. Another was near the Plaza de Toros, where my bedroom would have been the size of two matchboxes and where a bed could fit in and that’s about it. The fact that two boys and a girl, all Spanish, lived there attracted me, as this would be a good balance. This thought was pushed aside when I met one of the boys and he said that everyone lives their own lives, that they hardly see each other and that everyone keeps to their own rooms anyway. A combination of that, of the size of my bedroom, of my bedroom’s beautiful view to the back of the building next to it and of the price crossed this flat off my list.

Fountain in front of the Town Hall

Day Uno

El culito de la Catedral

It took me a while to find out that the reunion for Erasmus students I was supposed to go to at midday was not at the campus I was standing in, but Campus de Espinardo, a little way out of Murcia. By this time it was 11am, so I had to hurry. I got on the 39 bus which took me straight to the campus. The bus was packed with Erasmus students. Words from the world’s many languages were floating above me. By this time, I was only barely standing on my two feet, so I couldn’t be bothered making friends. Not just yet. There would be time for that later… I must admit, I was also prejudiced towards this whole Erasmus program. From what I’ve heard, it’s sex, drugs and rock & roll. That and the fact that I had imagined the language spoken among the Erasmus kids to be English, gave me the reason of distancing myself from this new international crowd. I was here to learn Spanish. Plus I already have my international crowd in Budapest. One of them is enough ;)


The reunion was held by the head of Erasmus at the University of Murcia… “Spain is hot, Spanish is cool”, we were informed. We were each handed a pamphlet in which we could find all sorts of Uni papers we needed for enrolment, classes, news of organized trips, of organized parties… After the reunion I headed back to La Merced. There I started looking for a flat. Lots of billboards with lots of advertisements fill the university walls. I jotted down some numbers. I saw two guys pin up an advertisement for Erasmus students. I told them I was looking for a flat, and they took me to their office and gave me a number to call. They also gave me some good tips about how to go about finding a place and other important things you need to know in Murcia. They asked me where I was staying that night if I didn’t find a room. I replied that I’d find a hostel or something. They shook both their heads and their forefingers at me and insisted I sleep at their place. They assured me they were normal guys by informing me of their homosexuality. I told them I wouldn’t take advantage of them either as I had a boyfriend. We agreed to meet later on in the evening, which gave me some time to get my suitcases from the bus station and start calling around about flats. 

La Catedral

I bought a Sim card and started calling the many numbers I had made a list of, and in turn organised flat-looking for the following day. When I arrived at the boys’ flat, I had to laugh: I was carrying 40kgs worth of luggage and looking at four flights of stairs. The building had no lift. Matias and Julio (my hosts for the night) were very hospitable: I was to take a shower, a long one; I wasn’t to help with dinner, I wasn’t to make my own bed; I was to sit and talk about myself. At this stage I was terribly tired (not having properly slept for almost 40hours) so I tried to defer ‘me’ and asked them numerous questions so that I could do the listening. In the end I’m not sure which one (talking-listening) would have been the easier one, as my ears were not yet tuned in to Murcian Spanish; concentration was needed. Whilst talking in the kitchen, I was offered an insight into the lives of four different households, as from the kitchen area I could see into four other flats, or should I say flats’ bedrooms. 


After a yummy dinner I told my hosts I was ready for bed. The living room was my bedroom. My wish of having a long-awaited great sleep was not granted however, thanks to my allergy to mosquitoes. I woke up sometime in the middle of the night and knew that I had been bitten. I couldn’t believe it when I felt two little bites on my mouth. One little bite on my top lip and one little bite on my bottom lip. From experience, I know that bites on sensitive areas of the skin are not going to turn out pleasant. My past golf-ball sized eyes are an example, for those lucky enough to have seen the freak show. Right now they were tiny specks on my face, but I knew they would grow. I got up and went to the kitchen, found some frozen food in the freezer and pressed it to my mouth, trying to prevent swelling. I went back to bed but had a very broken sleep, touching my mouth from time to time to calculate just how grotesque I would look in the morning. I was also woken up sometime in the early morning by a woman whom, by the sounds of her voice, if that’s what you can call it, seemed to be at least in her 50’s. She was vomiting.

The sardine fountain (Catedral in the background)

A New Beginning

I arrived here on the 20th of September. I caught a flight from Budapest to Madrid and then a bus from Madrid to Murcia. I arrived sometime around 5:30am. As I still hadn’t found a place to stay in Murcia, I didn’t really know what to do. I sat for a while at the bus station. A Romanian guy came up to me, and started talking. He started off with asking for my name, then by the end of the conversation he was asking for my number. After a while, I got tired of this first Murcian experience, and went to the station’s café, which had opened just after 6. My new “friend” followed me. He sat down at my table. There was a TV in the café and I pretended to be engrossed in what was playing, even though the same program was playing over and over again. He finally got the message and left. 

La Catedral

By the time I had finished my coffee, it was still only 6:30. I was told that the station’s information centre opened at 7. I waited, exhausted after the long travel from Budapest. I finished my book (“Eva Luna” by Isabel Allende, which I highly recommend!) over the last sandwich I had made for my trip. Once the information centre opened, I was able to put my suitcases into a locker. With a much lesser load, I rode off into the horizon (or sunrise at least) in search of my future university-for –the-semester. I had a reunion booked for midday. So I still had a fair few hours to kill… 

The ancient murals (the small one against water and the tall one against attackers)

I bought myself a map and got my bearings. Murcia looked pretty big. To my surprise, it turned out to be quite the opposite! On my map I located the river, Río Segura (Secure river), and decided to see some water (very rare in this region of Spain). There I found some native birds and a very pretty view. I walked alongside the river up until the oldest bridge in the city, named Ponte Viejo (Old Bridge – how original). I later found out that a long-long time ago this bridge was made of wood, and caught fire. Because the bridge was so important in the lives of the people of Murcia (it was the sole contact between Old Murcia and the then New Murcia), it traumatized them. To this day people cross themselves every time they cross this bridge, even though it is of course no longer made of wood, nor then a fire risk. Half a bus’ passengers can be seen doing it, too.

Río Segura

I found Murcia’s main street, la Gran Via, and walked along it. Somewhere to the right would be my university. The turn-off was closer than it seemed on the map, and I walked through some little streets until I came to the entrance of La Universidad de Murcia, Campus de La Merced. The university has three campuses, my one being La Merced, another Campus de Espinardo, and a third found in San Javier, a city on the coast. What campus you are assigned to depends on what faculty you are a student in. I was thankful to be studying languages, as my campus is smack-bam in the middle of the city :)

My university's courtyard