Have Bag, Will Travel
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Category Archives: Cathedrals
“I think you are missing the fact that ex-pats in little England actually do enjoy their view and their way of life in Spain. What’s wrong with sunshine and cheap booze and cheap fags?” – fellow blogger, roughseasinthemed (Be sure to visit, you might like it)
I last visited the Levante east coast of Spain on a golfing holiday in May 2008. We didn’t play golf every day and we alternated playing days with sightseeing along the coast. One day we went to the seaside resort of Torrevieja and as we drove away I said that I would never go back.
I had to keep this ‘not on my bucket list’ thought to myself this morning when my sister Lindsay revealed that this was the plan for today.
In 2008 I still considered Spain to be massive holiday resort for the benefit of visitors from the north, it was only a year later when I began my travels into the interior and came to realise just how wrong I was.
Since then I have been fortunate to be able to visit almost all of Iberia, Spain and Portugal (except for Gibraltar, La Rioja and Navarre) and I am much better informed now and much less critical of the coastal Costas.
I didn’t like Torrevieja that day in 2008 because I wore blinkers and couldn’t see beyond the crowded beach and the long concrete strip overlooked by 1970’s high-rise hotels with towels hanging from the balconies like carnival bunting and littered with bars with cheap plastic orange furniture and tacky pictures of the food on the menu displayed on pavement boards.
To be honest, on that day I set out not wanting to like it and I successfully fulfilled my own petty ambition. So here was an opportunity to set the record straight.
One thing that I did like that previous visit however were the impressive sandcastle artists who had constructed the most amazing displays of castles, dragons, ogres and naked ladies and were diligently carrying out constant running repairs to prevent the things drying out and collapsing back into the sea.
I was glad to see that they were still there…
It was rather cold this morning, there was no sun so there was no question or debate about taking the swimming costumes and towels and I think everyone was relieved about that and appropriately dressed we drove the short distance to the coast where we parked the car and set off for a walk along the seafront promenade.
It was much as I remembered it, still concrete, still lined with high-rise. It isn’t an attractive place, it isn’t Alicante with its attractive patterned paving and palm fringed boulevards. It is much more utilitarian and functional. Sprawling and horizontal it invites a direct comparison with vertical Benidorm, fifty miles or so to the north. Benidorm is better (in my opinion).
In 2008 I wanted to snigger about Torrevieja but today I wanted to find the good in it. We strolled along the promenade, popped inside some tacky seafront shops because I wanted some postcards and then selected a café for a drink. There were no orange plastic chairs and no pavement picture boards and there was an impressive lunchtime tapas menu. We had a drink and as we left promised to come back later to eat – I wonder how many times the staff hear that?
So we continued the walk along the seafront and then Mick made the fatal mistake of taking us back through a shopping street and we were detained several times as Kim and Lindsay were distracted by shoes and sparkly things! How many pairs of shoes does one person need I always wonder?
We went back to the bar for lunch and where it had been quiet and abandoned earlier it was busy and vibrant now and we set about choosing our tapas. In this part of Spain a surprisingly high percentage of the population speak Valencian, a form of Catalan, and here the tapas were the northern Spain alternative – Pinchos.
A Pincho is a Tapas where the topping and a slice of bread is held together with a small wooden skewer (a Pincho). It is a good trick, you just keep choosing small dishes and lose all wallet control and when you have finished the waiter counts the sticks and makes a charge for each one at the same time as you pick yourself up from the floor and dust yourself down after the shock of the bill.
It is a system that relies completely upon a lot of trust! I can tell you that they were all delicious choices and I could easily have blown our entire daily food budget in that place if Kim hadn’t insisted on a bit of gastronomic restraint.
After lunch we made our way back to the car park and left Torrevieja. In 2008 I said that I would never go back but in 2016 I have moderated that and said that I wouldn’t rush back. That is a compliment!
As we left I snapped this picture of the clouds over the sea. Is it just me or can anyone else see an Angel smiling at my unexpected conversion?
A visit to any castle is not complete without a descent into the dungeons. Alicante is no different and the visitor route includes a visit to a dark chamber where as many as fifty prisoners were held during the Spanish Civil War. The information boards are not specific but they most likely were Nationalists because Alicante was a Republican stronghold and the last city to fall to Franco’s forces in March 1939.
One by one it is said that these prisoners scratched their names into the stone using a single nail which they passed around (must have been a strong nail) – graffiti which can now be found set into the floor of one of the castle’s highest terraces.
As a student of the past it is always an experience to come across something like this – genuine history left behind by the people that made it.
It was mid-November and the weather was just perfect. Shirt-sleeve weather in fact with sunshine and big sky so after breakfast we were away to the nearby city of Alicante which I was sort of surprised to discover is the eighth largest in Spain.
The short drive north took us through a wild landscape of lagoons and wetlands and for me this was another surprise. I would have to say that it is hardly the Camargue in the South of France but away from the urbanizations and the towns it wasn’t what I was expecting and it turns out that this is a region for bird spotters and wild life photographers and I could see why as flocks of vermillion flamingos strutted through the shallow waters like statuesque flamenco dancers.
We arrived in Alicante and found plenty of room in an underground car park – plenty of room because Spanish drivers object to paying for car parking in the same way they boycott toll roads and would rather drive around in ever decreasing circles wasting time and fuel until they disappear up their own exhaust pipe looking for a free spot than spend a couple of euro to leave the car in a secure place.
As we emerged blinking into the sunlight, even though I have never been to Alicante before I had a strong feeling of Déjà vu. We were on the Esplanade de España where the coloured floor tiles undulate like a rolling sea in a storm and I knew that I had seen them before. It took me a moment or two to drag up the memory but then I remembered – I have a picture of my granddad in this very avenue, perhaps even this very spot taken nearly sixty years ago.
In the photograph below my grandparents whose names were Ernie and Olive were probably about fifty years old or so and they were clearly having a very good time sitting at a bar enjoying generous measures of alcohol, the same sort of good time that I like to enjoy when I go travelling.
I’m guessing of course but Granddad, who looks unusually bronzed, seems to have a rum and coke and Nan who looks younger than I can ever remember her appears to have some sort of beer with a slice of lime and that’s about forty years before a bottle of Sol with a bit of citrus became anything like fashionable. With him is his brother George (no socks, very impressive for 1960) and his wife Lillian. Nan and Granddad look very relaxed and with huge smiles that I can barely remember.
We walked first around the marina and stopped briefly for a drink and then on to the beach, abandoned today because although the sun was shining it was perhaps a little too cool for a dip in the Mediterranean so we bypassed the opportunity of getting into our bathing costumes and made our way instead to the castle which sits on a rocky outcrop and looms large over the area.
Finding a castle to visit is not difficult in Spain because, according to the Spanish Tourist Board, there are over two thousand five hundred of them, for comparison there are eight hundred in the United Kingdom but France claims almost five-thousand but it includes a lot of questionable small Chateaux in that number.
It looked like a strenuous climb to the top but fortunately there was an express lift so we took the easy option and in a few seconds were standing at the very top of the city. Alicante castle turned out to be as good as any in Spain, there is a lot of reconstruction and renovation of course but I find nothing wrong with that and we enjoyed an hour or so walking around the battlements, looking at the exhibits and enjoying the elevated views.
We had return tickets for the lift option but walked down instead and at the bottom at around early afternoon we searched for the old town and somewhere nice to eat. We were looking for a tapas bar and found one that we liked in a pleasant square in the last of the Autumn sunshine where we ordered a beer and selected our favourite food.
According to legend, the tapas tradition began when the King of Castile, Alfonso the Wise (if I was King I think I would like to be called ‘the Wise’, so much better than ‘Andrew the Fat’ or ‘Bad King Andrew’) visited a tavern in the town of Ventorillo del Chato in the province of Cádiz, and ordered a glass of sherry. There was a gusty wind, so the innkeeper served him his glass of sherry covered by a slice of ham to prevent the sherry from getting dirty. The King liked it, and when he asked for a second glass, he requested another tapa or ‘cover’ just like the first.
This developed into the practice of using slices of bread or meat as a practical measure meant to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the drink. The meat used to cover the sherry was normally ham or chorizo, which are both very salty and activate thirst and because of this, bartenders and restaurant owners began creating a variety of snacks to serve with sherry, thus increasing their alcohol sales.
As we finished lunch the sun slipped behind the tall buildings and cast long shadows across the square so as the temperature quickly dipped we paid up and left and strolled for a second time around the marina before returning later to the town of Quesada where we were staying and spending an hour or so in the garden before preparing to go out for an entertaining evening meal.