It has become a tradition for me to seek a Mediterranean escape around this time, when Southern countries get ready for the carnival. I did not grow up with a similar tradition. There is a festival (called Užgavėnės) with scary masks and pancakes, but it is very different from the colorful costumes and street music of the South. I grew up hating Užgavėnės with a passion. My first experience of it was at primary school, when older kids stormed our classroom with cans of paint and threw it at our faces. I spent the next hour or so trying to rinse my eye. In middle school, we were paraded to a nearby forest in makeshift scary costumes to make campfire and play games – a tiring and quite pointless trip. And let′s not forget that people still make derogatory masks depicting Jews and Roma in the Lithuanian version of this festival, two generations after the genocide of these populations. Needless to say, the only tradition I respect from the Lithuanian festival is making pancakes.
Last year I spent the carnival days in a small town in the region of Murcia (Spain). Although it wasn′t quite warm, it was sunny enough for the whole town to be on the street. The local school paraded its children, dressed in various costumes. Parents didn′t have freedom to choose the costume – it was decided top-down. In my friends′ son′s class, all boys had to be nutcrackers, and girls had to wear ballet costumes.
After the procession ended, many girls were sitting around and posing for photos with these short skirts and heavy make-up, which in the adult world would be considered ′slutty′ if seen outside of the carnival. Mothers, many in hijabs, proudly took photos of them with their cellphones.
Having worked with Asian Studies over the past couple of years, I heard the argument that, when faced with a vast choice of European locations to visit, East Asian tourists take into account the UNESCO list of world heritage. So I was not surprised at all when I saw that many of our fellow passengers on the bus between Segovia′s distant train station and old town held guidebooks in Asian languages. The small town graces UNESCO world heritage list since 1985 because of its prominent Roman aqueduct and other remains of various eras.
Segovia is cute, and its winding streets easily absorb crowds of tourists so that walking there would not feel artificial and de-localized. The aqueduct, over 800 meters long and built, apparently, around 50 BC, is the most obvious tourist spot, where people make selfies, wait for buses or catch taxis to take them back to the train station. The station is notoriously far, buses run quite seldom and are poorly aligned with train schedules – this is probably an incentive to use taxis. Yet with more than two people on board, a taxi pays off. Solo travelers returning to their train could easily find company for taxi sharing by the aqueduct, since most people hanging out around the aqueduct will probably be tourists.
Nearly everyone I met in Spain praised the beauty of Cartagena. They said it was one of the most beautiful Spanish towns, with ancient history and freshness of a sea breeze. As I was planning my vacations in Murcia region, many travel websites directed me there. So Cartagena was certainly on my map. Perhaps only because of these high expectations it was the greatest disappointment in Spain so far.
The strongest impression that stayed with me has to do with lots of closed doors.
Locked doors in Cartagena
Ironically, as I found this perfect image to summarize the vibe there, it also captured a hint that something extraordinary and colorful will happen. Indeed, the trip started getting better and better from then on.
Cross-posted from Wonderland – the Cafe Babel blog.
Malaga, in South Spain, on the Mediterranean cost, turns out to be a particularly attractive place to settle for all kinds of people, especially Germans looking for a nice place to retire. But, according to my friend there, people from all over Spain say they would choose it as a place to live. It was the first city I visited in Spain, and I think I know now why Spain appeals to so many people in my life. Malaga has it all: the sea and mountains, cultural life and comfortable, walkable city spaces. Continue reading →