Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Murcia: Real Bizarre Candy Land

Murcia, Spain (Murcia, España)
December 2015
On one of the days we were based in Albatera, we ventured further than the town and made a day trip to the nearby city of Murcia. The two reasons we made the trip were: we had intended to visit Murcia at some point, and it was cloudy on the day in question so sunbathing wasn't an option.
Parking in a centrally located underground carpark, we surfaced to find a plaza covered in poinsettias with the occasional fountain and/or atom sculpture. We were some of the only tourists there - most other plaza-goers were families pushing prams or elderly people reading newspapers.

Heading over the golden cathedral, we were immediately distracted by the world's largest turrón, which is a type of Spanish sweet similar to nougat that is traditionally eaten around Christmas. I guess the other world records were too difficult to beat.
But let's get back to the cathedral, which has a fairly interesting history. In the 13th-century, a Christian king called Jaime I the Conqueror rode in and did what he did best: conquering. He wasn't supposed to mess with any mosques due to pacts that had been signed, but he thought 'hell with it!' and did it anyway, deciding to build a church on the site. It wasn't completed until 1467, and since then various bits have been added on, so it's a melange of different styles. When attempting to gain access to said cathedral, we found the doors closed. Thinking there may be another entrance, we walked around and discovered some wedding-type goings-on.

You must be pretty fancy to have your wedding in a cathedral. I dig the car.

Moving on, we made for the casino but were drawn to a bakery that displayed mounds of volcanic rock in the windows. It wasn't volcanic rock, but a Crunchie-bar sort of material called Carbon, which tasted exactly like sugar and nothing else, and felt like biting into pumice. Waiting in line we had also seen a curious dessert called a 'membrillo', which looked like pâte de fruit. Upon tasting it, we discovered it was apricot flavour!

Sugared up to the max, we finally entered the Real Casino de Murcia, where no gambling takes place any more (for commoners, anyway). It was originally opened in the early 1900's as a gentleman's club, and now the ground floor serves as a kind of museum for common folk to be able to experience some opulence of aristocratic life. There was a staircase that was blocked off for everyone except "members", so I think the casino still serves as a club of some kind.

I felt pretty aristocratic.

Pretty damn aristocratic. (I feel the need to mention that this photo was taken in the tocador, aka "ladies' powder room", so I'm pretty much in an old fashioned toilet. Thank goodness they removed the gilded chamber pots.)

There were chandeliers hanging everywhere, and paintings of aristocrats in their most expensive outfits. Some rooms were golden, some peach, some white.

The ballroom had a piano, but nobody could touch it because most of the room was cordoned off. However, the snazzy wedding people must have paid an arm and a leg for their big day, because a photographer ushered them through the barrier and snapped a bunch of pictures of them being aristocrats in the ballroom made of gold and mirrors and pianos. You can't see it from the photograph, but there were tiny balconies up on the walls where musicians would have performed for partygoers dancing down below. Badass!

Yep, it was so large inside that we could get a panorama. Now, the 'real' comes into the scene when the casino was restored between 2006 and 2009. Before that, it was just a plain old casino but King Juan Carlos I of Spain dubbed it to be Real (remember, this means 'royal').
Needing a real-sized lunch, we squeezed into the buzzing Los Zagales and gave the waiter Blue Steel until he wrote our name on the waiting list. Ten minutes later we were seated, jammed into a space that would have housed 2/3rds of the diners in a regular restaurant. This is how you know a place is popular. We were handed a marking sheet on which we wrote down how many of each dish we wanted, rather than having an ordinary menu and then having to rattle off dishes to the server. We ordered three tapas and five bite-sized mini tapas (which were €0.90 each), as well as some red wine and dessert. It was worth the wait. 

On our way back to the car we strolled through a pleasant park lined with enormous trees! The roots were so large you could sit on them, so I did.
We noticed that the cathedral was now free from weddings and open to the public, so in we went. Strangely, a rock band was warming up just outside (between the cathedral and the start of the turrón), and a choir was practicing inside so if you stood in the wrong place your ears would be assailed by a terrible clash of melodies. But deep in the cathedral all we could hear was the choir, and it gave the whole place a wonderful ambiance! Yannick suggested that all churches should have choirs going all the time. Someone let me know if this is feasible. I feel like it should be considering how much money goes into gilding things inside churches. Just reallocate a little gilding money to choir hire.

Today's post was almost called: Hilarity Swank - Let’s Be Aristocrats