Sometimes, I only get to a town because it’s on the way from A to B, but the distance from A to B is too long to travel in one day. Traveling from Málaga to Venta Micena, the town of Baza was such a convenient half-way point, inviting me to spend a day and a night there.
In Málaga, I had met a lady who had worked as a music teacher in Baza. “Solo hay dos estaciones ahí, la del invierno y la del autobus,” she warned me of the winter there with a pun that cannot be translated without losing the joke. It was September and I was not worried, because when Spaniards speak of winter, it means that it briefly dips below 30 degrees Celsius. “No, no, they even have snow in winter,” she substantiated the warning. Well, that’s what winter is for.
Three hours on the highway, in a car with three Spaniards, each of whom speaking faster than the other, that’s a more demanding test than the DELE exam. At the end, I will have a headache. But it’s interesting and fun. Bla Bla Car is a good way to get to know the country and the people.
When I arrive in Baza, my fellow drivers are worried that I would be bored in the small town. They drop me off almost with pity, like someone going to a monastery, and invite me for a Coke before they drive on.
The town really doesn’t see many visitors, it seems. Under the Moors, Baza was an important border town to the Kingdom of Murcia (now a Spanish region and province). But now, the streets and squares are deserted. (This was long before the corona virus, hence my surprise.)
At the hairdresser’s, a sign in the door says: “Won’t open until 5 today.” At the real estate agent’s, prices are marked down, a three-bedroom apartment from € 66,000 to € 50,000, another three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment from € 180,000 to € 135,000. The real estate boom in Spain seems to be over. By the way, the real estate agent has “closed until Wednesday, the 25th”, without specifying the month.
The large church on the town square opens only at 7 pm, followed by mass at 8 pm. I will stop by again in the evening, only for sightseeing. I don’t need any blessings.
Continuing the tour, I come across more churches in the vicinity, for example the Templo de nuestra señora de la Piedad – Patrona de Baza = Iglesia la Merced, where the service is also scheduled at 8 pm. Clearly, you have to decide between these two churches, there is no dual membership permitted.
I drop off my backpack at the Hotel Virgen del Pilar, where I am handed an extra blanket “in case it will be too cold at night.” It has 24 degrees Celsius. Of more practical use is the receptionist’s recommendation of a nearby restaurant. “You can have a cheap lunch there,” she adds, and I wonder how people can tell I’m stingy. Maybe the German passport gave me away. In any case, she doesn’t seem to be expecting any more guests today, because after my arrival, she closes the reception desk and goes to Casa Grande for lunch herself. This is a tavern after my taste. You ask the confidence-inspiringly stout innkeeper what’s on the menu today, and then you say “yes” or “no.” Written menus are impersonal frippery.
Across the road to the hotel, a banner advertises the Spanish distance education university, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, pointing the way to a regional center of UNED. An avid distance student myself, I’m impressed by the widespread network of the Spanish colleagues, all the way down to provincial towns. Baza has about 20,000 residents and is not of any other supra-regional importance, at least as far as I am aware of.
In the past, as I said, that was different. On the highest point of the town, I discover the ruins of the Moorish fortress Alcazaba. Remains of ruins, rather.
The view is all the more spectacular for that, with church spires, mountains and clouds like in a Photoshop. But everything is real. That’s Andalusia.
“Please forgive us that the site is so run down,” a lady kindly interrupts me while I’m taking a picture. And she is right. There is rubble lying around, and weeds are growing everywhere.
“We already have the plan to improve the square. See that circle on the ground? That’s where we want to put a fountain.” But as is the case with public projects, they take time. Any anyway, the Moors only left in 1489, so there is no rush.
The lady is wearing a colorful dress and a tin tray covered with aluminum foil. “For the kittens,” she explains, “there’s some meat left from lunch.” Judging by the size of the tray, that was no accident.
At the train station, which looks like it’s no longer active, I meet a very old man with two dogs and just as many teeth. The station has been closed for about 20 years, he tells me, and we agree that this is a great pity. He used to take the train to Alicante, to Seville, as far as Barcelona even, and it was a pleasure. Relaxing, comfortable, beautiful and safe, he says. Now, with the buses, traveling is no longer fun, and besides, he just heard it on the radio yesterday, 1,810 people died in road traffic last year.
We both stand in front of the now useless station building and reminisce about the heyday of railroads. As he shakes my hand in farewell, I’m afraid that my bones may break. The man, who must surely be between 70 and 80 years old, still has so much strength in his hands, if the tracks hadn’t been dismantled, he could push the train all the way to Alicante himself.
The beautiful, green and quiet park at Plaza San Jerónimo is the magnet, to which I keep being drawn back to on my walks around town.
Here, I can rest for a few hours and read a book. Because that’s the beauty of such small places: You don’t have to worry about missing too many sights, even if you take longer breaks. Although I shouldn’t make fun of Baza’s size and lack of bustle. Because I suspect that after a month in Venta Micena, I’ll be thirsting for a town like this.
There is something suspiciously intellectual about this small town, by the way. First, they have a branch of the university, then I discover a four-story library open until 9 pm. Well, only until 2 pm on Sundays, but these are opening hours that municipal libraries in similar towns in the rest of the world can only dream of.
A pub is called Rincón del Poeta, Poet’s Corner, and the graffiti on the church is by Pablo Neruda himself.
Opposite the police station in the old town, there is a well-stocked tobacco store. I may have to stop by here again in a few weeks. The police cars are parked next door in front of the “store for exotic birds”. All the cages in the shop window are empty, but according to a handwritten sign, they now sell Siberian huskies instead. People really think it’s freezing here.
“Se alquila por poco dinero” is desperately written on a store in the winding streets of the old town: To rent for little money.
At 6 pm, I am passing by the park again. Now, there is much more going on. The three bocce courts are busy, and the players are discussing each throw with more vigor than could be witnessed in the courthouse around the corner.
The church doesn’t open at 7 pm, after all. Maybe they are on summer holidays, too.
When I return to the hotel in the evening, I see that it is also for sale. I just hope it doesn’t change owners tonight, interrupting my sleep. After making fun all day of the Spaniards who think it’s cold here in September, I have to meekly and ruefully confess that I need long sweatpants and a sweater to fall asleep.
Conclusion: Baza is not Granada or Málaga, obviously. But you shouldn’t drive past it, either. Maybe you can even learn more about Andalusia in such a small town, because you don’t share the attention with other tourists. The apartments are also more affordable, as you have seen.