La Tuna

After a week of early starts we woke before eight too alert for our planned lie in, so we set to and cleaned Lyra inside and out. Even the inspirational plant had a face wash. It took most of the day, with just a short break for a scratch lunch. Supplies were running low. After our evening shower we decided to treat ourselves to a posh meal out and set off into town.

Cartagena is said to have been built on five hills. In fact steep sandstone outcrops erupt into the town at irregular intervals, so one minute you are walking down a normal street and the next you turn a corner and are met with a bald mound of dusty rock, fenced off with industrial metal panels. Each of these piles looks much the same, so it is hard to distinguish them at first. Some of the houses backing on to the hills are just facades, propped up by a framework of girders from behind, like a film set, bringing the rocky intrusions closer than you are expecting them to be. None of this makes it easy to navigate, especially if, as we did, you forget to bring the street map. Prudently we started by heading down the main thoroughfare.

It was Friday night and the place was thronged. The usual promenading was in full swing, though not at the breakneck pace they set in Cadiz. We walked along with the crush and came to a narrower turn in the street, where people were perversely lined up in plastic chairs facing in and talking. Above on a balcony a throng stood, some leaning over entering into the conversations below. At the corner with the street, where we had turned off and found our tapas bar the previous night, stood a band of middle-aged troubadours, chatting to one another. They were dressed to the hilt in black mediaeval garb; tights, breeches, belted tunics with leg of mutton sleeves (slashed to reveal red inserts), cloaks and slouchy velvet hats. Across their chests each sported a red sash with an embroidered badge. A few younger men, self conscious in their costumes stood on the fringes. Suddenly came the sound of guitars and singing ahead. The promenaders parted and a group of similarly attired men with purple sashes were marching towards us. We hastened to one side as they swept by and came to a halt opposite the balcony, facing which they ranged themselves into a half circle and struck up a ballad. They strummed and harmonised, working their way up to a big finish, at which the crowd broke into enthusiastic applause. After a couple of numbers some of them wandered over and struck up conversations with the red lot. There was an aura of a Morris meet about the whole thing.

We moved on, wandered about a lot, kept coming across barren hillsides and failed to find a restaurant posher than a tapas bar. Dispirited we pushed our way back through the crowds and arrived at the performance area in time for another big finish, this one with a soloist arms wide holding a Three Tenors note. He threw is head back to rapturous applause. We sneaked by them and finally up a side street spotted La Tagliatella, definitely a restaurante, with its Arte Deco interior and Italian menu. We shared a salad and ordered bread, then I had pasta with pesto and John had lasagne, though we probably should have shared one pasta dish as the portions were huge and the bread turned out to be sticky fingers of different flavoured focaccia. It all tasted delicious, we hope to take Lara back there when she arrives. A waitress explained that the troubadours are groups called Tuna, which form in University and meet up afterwards to perform together. Each group represents one University town, with its name embroidered on the beca, or sash. She knew nothing about the nights revels; they may have been connected to the coronation of the new Spanish king, we were just lucky to run across them.

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