Category Archives: History

Travels in Spain, Guardamar

Guardamar Fishing HousesGuardamar SpainGuardamar Spainguardamar-walkGuardamar Spain

Travels in Spain, Then and Now – Fishing and Tourism

Guardamara Fishing Houses

“By the end…it was clear that Spain’s spiritual and cultural isolation was at an end, overwhelmed by the great alien invasion from the North of money and freedoms.  Spain became the most visited tourist country in the World, and slowly, as the foreigners poured in, its identity was submerged, its life-style altered more in a single decade than in the previous century.”-  Norman Lewis, ‘Voices of the Old Sea’.

Visiting my sister on the Costa Blanca we visited the coastal community of Guardamar del Segura.  Carried away by the unexpected good weather I packed swimming trunks and challenged others to do the same.  There wasn’t a great deal of enthusiasm I have to say, Kim hid her swimsuit at the bottom of her case and claimed to have forgotten to bring it but my sister Lindsay promised to join me if I felt like taking to the water any time during the day.

As it happened the weather wasn’t nearly so good as the previous day so when we arrived and parked the car we left the costumes and towels in the back seat and went for a walk instead.

Guardamar del Segura turned out to be a fascinating place and once away from the modern concrete tourist beach front we found ourselves in an area of old fishermen’s houses, built almost a hundred years ago directly beside the caramel beach and now under daily attack from storms and water erosion as they crumble away into the Mediterranean. Some had already given up and surrendered to the inevitability of the assault of the sea.  A visual story of changing fortunes and times.

Fishing Boat Guardarma Alicante Spain

In preparation for visiting the Costa Blanca I read the book ‘Voices of the Old Sea’ by the travel writer Norman Lewis who (allegedly) spent three summers in the fishing village he called Farol and where he watched, recorded and lamented as modern tourism replaced traditional rural industries and he mourned the changes that take place.

The book is an account of catastrophic social change punctuated with recollections of conversations  and stories of strange customs – such as the local tradition of drowning of a mouse in the first barrel of newly pressed grapes, walking over red-hot coals and jumping over new-born babies.   Slowly over the three sections of the book he explains how he integrated himself into a community that had barely changed for hundreds of years, where people adhered to tradition, superstitions ruled, and the ageless rhythms of the year continued as they had for centuries.

He asks a local man to explain about life and he replies: “How can anyone put it? One thing is certain – here we have always been and here, whatever happens, we shall remain, listening to the voices of the old sea.”

Torrevieja Spain

But Lewis was observing life on the verge of headlong and irreversible change, the cork forests that were the life blood of their neighbours were suffering blight, the fish were not as plentiful as they once were and worst of all, the first waves of tourism were beginning to lap at the golden shores of the Costa Blanca and a way of life was heading for extinction.

By the third season there was no turning back – the fishermen’s wives were working as chambermaids at the hotel, and even his friend Sebastian had to abandoned his ambitious travelling plans and succumbed to the inevitable and become a waiter.

beach-walkway

We walked along the seashore and then into a pine forest, planted some time ago to protect the coast from erosion and now a site of special scientific interest.  It has done its job well because the sand dunes are piled high at the back of the beach and have stopped the encroachment into the land.

This reminded me of seaside holidays when I was a boy and we used to go to a cottage at Seaview Crescent at Walcott on Sea in Norfolk.  It was a crescent sure enough and every year that we went there were a few cottages missing as they had fallen over the cliff into the sea during the winter storms.  Luckily ours, which was owned by a man called Mr Bean (he was an old man and dad used to call him Mr has-been – well, he thought it was funny) was furthest away from the cliff edge so each year before we left mum and dad could always book a week there the following year with some degree of confidence.

Walcott on Sea Holiday Cottage

We walked right along the path though the pine woods and stopped for a while at the marina for a drink where the weather improved, the sun poked through the grey cloud and Lindsay began to panic about having to join me later for a swim in the sea.  As we left and started to walk back I think she was probably relieved to see the clouds coming back in and blotting out the sun and if I am honest so was I.

I liked Guardamar del Segura, it was good, it is a tourist/ex pat sort of place now but I could still get a sense of its history and fishing heritage.  It is a place that I would happily go back to.

Spain Tuna Fishing

I used to think that it might be nice to sell up and go and live abroad but as I have got older I have abandoned the idea.   I am English not Spanish or French and my character, behaviour and whole way of life has been shaped from an English heritage that, even if I wanted to, I could not lay aside and become something that I am not.

But, now I have another idea.  It always annoys me when I see a poster advertising something that happened last week, before I arrived, or will take place next week, after I have gone home, so I think I could be happy to live for a while, say twelve months, in a foreign country so that I could enjoy everything that takes place over the course of a year in a Spanish town or city and I would be very happy to place Quesada on my short list of potential places.

Spain Old Fishermen 1

Travels in Spain, Pictures From An Exhibition (Old Alicante)

Old AlicanteOld Alicante BeachAlicante Fishermen0ld Alicante bullfightFestival Spain Alicante

Travels in Spain, Images of Alicante

Door Detail AlicanteShip and Storm AlicanteAlicante Sea ScultpturePrisoner Engraving AlicanteAlicante CathedralAlicante Castle SoldierAlicante Postcard

Travels in Spain, Alicante Castle and Memories of the Spanish Civil War

Prisoner Engraving Alicante

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.

Alicante Civil warAlicante Castle prisoner graffiti

Travels in Spain, Alicante

alicante-esplanada-de-espana

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.

flamingo-flamenco

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.

Alicante Old Picture 1960Alicante promenade 1959

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.

Benidorm Bar 1960?

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.

Alicante Castle

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.

Wine and Tapas

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.

Alicante Tapas

Valentine’s Day in Warsaw

warsaw-poland

On arrival in Warsaw it was most noticeable was that it was very, very busy indeed and this turned out to be on account of the fact that this was February 14th, Saint Valentine’s Day.

Apparently this is a very big big day in Poland with lots of street entertainment, so many free roses distributed on the pavements that most girls were carrying an overflowing bouquet and bars full to capacity as families and lovers dawdled through the old town streets in the unexpected sunshine.

After completing a circuit of the old town just to get our bearings and to identify some potential restaurants for later we found a bar with a vacant table and ordered our first Polish beers.  The waiter tried to persuade us to eat but we said it was too early.  He was persistent and told us this would be a good time because later everywhere would be full.  In retrospect he clearly knew something that I didn’t.

Kim wondered if we should book a table somewhere but I passed this off as opportunist salesmanship and persuaded her that there was no real need.

This was a decision that I was going to regret later.  Life is like that, sometimes you miss an opportunity that you will never get again, rather like putting £100 on Leicester City to win the Premier League at 5000 to 1.  I didn’t of course.

Warsaw Old Town

So we made our way back to the Polonia Palace Hotel stopping off at a mini-market on the way to get some essential supplies and then we squandered a couple of hours enjoying the room and a glass or two of wine as there was no dining problems ahead at all.

Finally we made our way out at about eight o’clock and the place was heaving with people, the pavements were jammed and there were queues at the burger bars and pubs and that was when I first started to grow concerned.  We tried a restaurant but were turned away because it was fully booked and then a second with the same result.  At a third the waiter told us that everywhere was certain to be fully booked tonight for Valentine’s night and that without a reservation we had almost zero chance of securing a table because every restaurant was sure to be full to capacity with misty eyed lovers exchanging gifts and carried away by the occasion making ill-considered marriage proposals.

Slowly that “I told you so” look started to creep over Kim’s face like a red wine stain on a white tablecloth.

We had a debate and Kim decided that there was little point walking all the way to the old town just to suffer multiple rejections and my complete humiliation so we walked back to the hotel in the hope that there would be a spare table there.  My fingers were so firmly crossed that the blood circulation was slowly being cut off.  We passed the Palace of Culture which was bathed in Valentine crimson light and as I glanced across I noticed that Kim’s face was a similar colour, flushed in her case with irritation rather than passion.

Luckily the hotel restaurant could accommodate us for a special Valentine’s Day buffet and we enjoyed a fine, if rather expensive, meal and a glass or two of wine.  The day was saved!

One thing that intrigued me was that although this was Valentine’s Day with a special menu there were a number of people around us who seemed preoccupied with their mobile phones.  A young couple at the next table barely spoke a word to each other as they endlessly scrolled through their digital lives rather than attempt a conversation with each other.  I wondered if they had booked a table for four, him and her and their two tablets.  It seemed like a waste of money to me to pay for an expensive meal and spend so much time on Facebook!

Warsaw Palace of Culture