Having slept very little the night before—about 3.5 hours—meant yet another day of day‐travel full of dozing off. To get to Murcia at a reasonable time, I had to take the 7:00am train from Barcelona arriving at Alicante on 11:40am, then take the connecting train at 1:05pm arriving at Murcia just before 2:30pm.
7:00am train from Barcelona… meant waking up just before 6:00am. Woke up unwilling to do anything, packed, checked‐out and started walking towards the Collblanc subway station.
The city appeared dead‐quiet Saturday early morning. Exiting the hotel and looking to my left, I saw the Camp Nou—the glorious soccer stadium which is the home field for the world‐famous Barcelona Football Club, one of the most successful football clubs on this planet (if not the most successful one).
The occasional homeless still sleeping next to the entrance of yet another greyish‐looking closed restaurant; a few drunken guys messing around with a few drunken girls wearing clothes that just doesn’t ring “6:30am” to anybody. And among those, a wanderer is walking about carrying a big green backpack on his way to go south for Get Lucky’s 81st concert.
Arriving at Barcelona‐Sants, things now appeared easier than the previous day if only for the fact that there were much less people there. Short visit to a cafeteria to stock‐up for the road, and then to the platform.
Hmmmmmm… What’s that?
So here’s an interesting thing about train‐travel in Spain. I’ve seen it in Barcelona, as well as in Alicante later: for certain trains—actually, for most trains—your luggage must be X‐rayed, just like it’s done during security checks in airports. Therefore you must always allow extra time for boarding as this process may take a few minutes to complete. I suspect these procedures are in place due to the occasional terrorist threats courtesy of the Basks, but I’m not sure (I can’t think of any other reason; that’s the first country I took a train in, which implements this kind of checks. All other countries I’ve visited aren’t subject to terrorism so this circumstantial connection appears valid to me).
Boarded the train into the small first‐class cabin, along with four mature women that, I swear to God almighty, did not shut their stupid mouths for more than two seconds during the entire 5 hours ride to Alicante (we had some delays along the way). The constant chatter hindered any attempts to doze‐off, which made the ride seem like fucking forever to me.
12:00pm, we finally arrived at Alicante—a city of which I have never heard before in my life, but appears to be an important city at least when it comes to transportation. Lots of domestic flights depart & arrive at Alicante, as well as trains to and from all over the place.
Time was too early for a proper lunch in Spain (it’s funny how I have consistently missed meal times in France and Spain, making me eat garbage instead of proper meals), so I killed the time sitting at a cafe eating some “snacks”—a sandwich, plus a few fried Jambon & Cheese balls. Despicable cheese cake to finish and wait for the train.
The trains making their way from Alicante to Murcia (as well as to other destinations) are called Cercanias. In EURail’s website, I read that these are the “newest trains in Spain”; it was weird, however, to notice that the Cercanias do not appear in Deutsche‐Bahn’s all‐European train journey planner.
Deutsche‐Bahn’s journey‐planner (http://www.db.de) is known to be the best, most informative train journey‐planner in Europe. The Germans appear to have done it right—the website contains information about virtually all train stations in Europe, as well as up‐to‐date timetables. I used this website for all of my train‐travel planning—it has everything.
… Or so I thought. Apparently, the Cercanias isn’t known to Deutsche‐Bahn’s systems.
In Spain, your single authoritative source of train‐travel information is Renfe’s website (http://www.renfe.es). Renfe appears to be the organization under which all train travel in Spain is managed, and its website is considered by most to be one of the worst train‐information websites in Europe.
Spain’s newest trains… again, my arse. Whoever wrote that in EURail’s website and caused me to look forward for a 1:30 hours train ride from paradise should probably quit sniffing that “white stuff”. Sad little trains that make too much noise for my Bose headset to cancel.
A few minutes before 3:00pm, I finally arrived at Murcia.
Murcia (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murcia) is another big city in Spain of which I have never heard of before reading the announcement about Mark’s concert here. The seventh largest city in Spain, it features vast agricultural areas and relatively warm weather: the highest temperature ever recorded in Spain was 47.2℃ and it happened here, in 1994.
Fruits, vegetables and flowers are grown and exported from here in scores; the city itself is surrounded by two mountain ranges—Sierra de Orihuela and Cresta de Gallo—so mountains can easily be seen from within the city.
As I arrived at Murcia’s train station, I activated my BlackBerry and looked the hotel up. Walking directions: 1.7km, piece of cake. Weather was warm, but not too sunny, as I started following Google Maps’ directions, holding a large bottle of water in my hand.
And so I was walking and after two minutes already realized that this city isn’t quite the city I’d choose to live in, had I been given the choice. As soon as I took the turn to the main road and started walking, the general appearance of the place was somewhat repulsive, to the point that made me think what on EARTH went through the minds of whoever they were who suggested this town as a place for a concert.
Shady people walking the streets, all businesses closed. Grey buildings, almost falling apart; the occasional ugly painted red metal door; visible garbage here and there, on the road, on the sidewalks. Views more characteristic to third‐world countries.
In fact, I decided to take a few shots from the way just to show you what I was seeing. Put yourself in my shoes and try walking these streets in your minds.
Took another turn, crossed some railway tracks. Narrow streets and alleys, felt like any corner has the potential to contain some corpse in it. Scary‐ass shit, I tell you. Being stuck here at night must not be a good experience. I already started to feel that something isn’t right: my hotel was a 4‐star hotel, and I couldn’t see where it would fit.
25 minutes after leaving the train station, I arrived at my destination.
Unfortunately, it was Google Maps’ destination, not mine. Google Maps failed again. Later, I learned that it was because Murcia has a few neighbourhoods with duplicate street names or something of the like, confusing the living hell out of Google Maps.
I reached a dead‐end. No hotel.
A tired‐looking old man stood by the street, looking at the bizarre stranger exploring his neighbourhood. I approached him and named the hotel, hoping for a reaction from him that would mean “yes, I know this place, go there and find it”.
He started speaking in Spanish; he knew the hotel, but I couldn’t make sense of any of his directions. I thanked him dearly and started walking at the direction he gestured towards with his hand—basically, going back the same path I arrived.
Walking back… started to feel pretty annoyed. Sad little houses; here and there there’s a house with its front door open. A woman cooking in the kitchen, her two kids fooling around nearby the entrance. She’s yelling at them to stop, they’re not listening.
Where the hell am I?
On my way, I saw three men working on fixing something at the exterior of what seemed to be a restaurant. Approached one of them and named the hotel again; he didn’t know what to say so he led me inside.
If you ever watched a western movie, you must know the scene: a simple bar, a few flipper tables. TV broadcasting the news; old people, some of which completely teeth‐less, chattering non‐stop. Tired looks in their eyes, a bit suspicious of the humanoid entering their sanctuary holding a BlackBerry Bold in his hand. All that was needed to turn this into a scene from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was a saloon door; who knows, maybe they had one there.
Surprise, though. A young lady working there turned to have enough English skills to be able to communicate with. She informed me that I’m pretty much the absolute opposite end of town. Walking is no option—taxi would be my way to go. She went all the way to call the taxi for me, wait with me for the taxi’s arrival and talk to the driver to take me to the right place. I was very touched by her kindness, thanked her dearly and kissed her hand; she seemed to be very surprised and embarrassed of my gesture, yet I could notice the hidden smile there.
Hopped on the taxi and I was happy to be taken away from that shithole. Five minutes drive later, and the views around started resembling something that is more pleasant than the eye‐torturing views I had seen just half an hour prior. Not the prettiest town in the universe, but still manageable.
Arrived at the hotel—Silken Siete Hotel Coronas—and was happy to be alive. Thanked the driver dearly, checked‐in and enjoyed the space of a great room that went for the ridiculous price of €52.
Julio Bricio, a Knopfler fan who turned out to be my saviour as he worked very hard to help me plan for the travel in Spain, was going to make it to the concert in Murcia—staying at the very same hotel, located about 5 minutes walk from the venue. I was tired as a dog, so I emailed him saying that I’ll only wake up at 6:00pm so “don’t wait for me”.
Quick shower and, MAN, was it good to tuck myself in and embark in a 3‐hour journey into the world of sweet dreams. I don’t remember exactly what I dreamt about but I’m pretty sure there was a box of some sort involved in it and making me very happy throughout.
Woke up, feeling so much better. Now I had a tough choice to make: markknopfler.com had arranged for early‐entry privilege to the venue (general‐admission show; standing at the front, tribunes all around. Well, a bullring)—enter at 8:00pm, with the show starting at 10:00pm. I was hungry, still not fully awake, and with quite a bit of blogging left to do.
I didn’t really feel happy with the idea of going to the venue and stand for two hours in the heat, being hungry, sweaty and all. Therefore, I gave up the early‐entry privilege and decided to watch the concert from the tribunes instead; the bonus—being seated, and able to enjoy a full bullring experience.
Met Julio and a few of his friends at the lobby on 7:00pm, and started to plan my meal strategy. Even the hotel’s restaurant—offering a really interesting menu—was closed only to open at 9:00pm for dinner. I decided, then, to first go to the venue, pick‐up my ticket, then eat some “snacks” (again!), wait for dinner time, consume quality food and head to the venue shortly before the concert’s start time.
A plan that made sense, and I’m happy I chose it.
The venue, Plaza de Toros Murcia (website: http://www.plazatorosmurcia.com), located a few minutes walk from the hotel, is a bullring (well… “Plaza de Toros”… Duh); I was excited as it was going to be my first time ever in a bullring. I didn’t even know what a bullring looks like from the outside… until I reached the venue to pick my ticket up.
After picking‐up my ticket, went to a nearby restaurant offering all sorts of baked snacks and sat down for a really tasty experience. Three of those baked Empanadas‐style snacks and I was full—enough to carry me through to the next day.
On my way back to the hotel, took a few shots of the nice bridge they have there crossing the river.
Back to the hotel to blog my ass off, and went to the venue. Julio and his friends mentioned that they would save a spot for me.
The sun already started to set when I left the hotel, which made for excellent weather for a concert. Not too hot, definitely not too cold, good wind…
A few food stands around the venue, offering fast solutions to big problems of hunger. At some point along the way, I looked around me and saw a perfect setting for a picture, to demonstrate the atmosphere in Spain in general, and this place in particular. Simple life; nothing too fancy—yet you can still find a fair amount of authenticity.
Arrived at the venue, which was very nicely lit at this point…
… And then my task was to find Julio. Entering the bullring from the ground floor and looking around, a great sense of awe captured me. If I was to describe the scene in one word, it would be the word “massive”. Very crowded; to get to the tribunes from inside the bullring, I had to climb a short set of stairs that were wide just enough to fit me—and you all should know by now that I am not quite the chubby individual. Made my way through the crowd and got to my seat… and this is what it looked like.
Time passed quickly, chatting with Julio and his friend Marcos—mostly about Spain itself, its people, how things work here (or, more precisely, don’t work here). Darkness fell very quickly…
… And the show started on time, 10:00pm.
Overall a very good show in Murcia—the (now) usual setlist of 14 songs, identical to that of the few nights before.
First and foremost, the audience. I didn’t notice something of the like in Barcelona—maybe because I was at the first row—but yesterday I got proof to what some people told me about audiences in Spain: apparently, their hobby of moving their mouth in random directions and emitting words out of it is not limited to trains, but also to concert. There was chatter in the audience all throughout the concert; people talking to each other all the time—some even talking on the phone. Now, think about the beehive‐like noise of thousands of people chattering… yeah… I think you got it. Now imagine that for two hours (no, they didn’t shut up even in the quiet parts).
Sailing to Philadelphia was exceptionally pleasant, not as much due to Mark but more due to John who put in a bit more elaborate whistle work at the outro.
Sitting at the top, I counted a few dozens of people recording the show using their cameras and cellular phones—and that’s just at the ground level where people were standing. I can only imagine what went on on the tribunes; I guess that, in situations like these, the finger of death is really impractical as Mark would need to grow 500 extra hands to accommodate the sheer number of people recording the show.
Here’s two pictures—the second one zooming on the area close to Mark. Can you count the recorders?
On with the show to a good Hill Farmer’s Blues performance…
… And off to the first massive cheer extractor, Romeo and Juliet. A girl sitting one row in front of me, along with her boyfriend or whatever, started moving her hands in random directions—above her head, on her face (as if crying), clapping, then again over her head—as soon as she realized that it’s Romeo and Juliet playing. After the excitement was done (about a minute into the song), she pulled out her phone and called her friend to let her know about it.
Sultans of Swing made the audience throw such immense cheers into the air that you would think the bullring was about to implode. During the song, the number of visible recorders grew significantly, as you can see here.
The traditional “oe‐oe‐oe‐oo” routine here was again called for after Sultans of Swing as the band was ready to play Done with Bonaparte. Similar to the day before, it was Glenn, John and Matt leading the accompaniment. Done with Bonaparte then started, and good cheers came from the audience as Mark sang “Spanish Skies”.
Marbletown tonight featured a completely different violin sequence (courtesy of John McCusker) at the first part of the jam; that in turn led into a somewhat aggressive John‐Mike performance… I kind‐of miss the real quiet performances of the jam. Then again, perhaps it was a good idea to not play it too quiet; one would probably have difficulties listening to quiet music with all the chatter around.
Speedway at Nazareth then started playing and, for the first time, as Mark was naming North American cities and locations one by one—all of which are places that I have been to before—I started feeling a bit home‐sick.
Telegraph Road then followed; during the Pensa part, something must have gone horribly wrong as Mark was busy tuning the guitar right from the time he received it from Glenn through one minute into the outro solo. I noticed a few weird off‐notes while he was tuning, but once he was done everything was back to normal for a lovely performance.
The usual encore and there you go, a picture showing you what a bullring looks like when everybody’s cheering at the end of the show.
The show ended at around 12:00am; exiting the venue was surprisingly quick, considering the narrow pathways and entrances.
I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank Julio for helping me so much with planning‐out the Spain / Portugal leg of the tour. Without him, this part of the tour would probably be far more aggravating as it already is (being Spain a country in which it’s a total bitch to train‐travel in), if at all possible.
Back to my hotel and went to sleep early; next—Córdoba.