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Have Bag, Will Travel
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My sister has a place in Spain near Alicante so we have been there several times.
In a week in Iberian Autumn we did the usual things, sat in the sunshine, walked the beaches, lunchtime tapas, joined the ex-pats Brits for evening meals and watched the golfers humiliating themselves on the first tee.
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.
“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’.
After almost two years we took the official paperwork challenge and risked a flight to Europe, to Spain, to visit my sister at her overseas home near Alicante. I was nervous about that but I have to say that everything about the outward flight went perfectly.
After a couple of days lounging around, drinking San Miguel and eating tapas Lindsay pulled a surprise – we were going on a bike ride. I like bike riding but not in the UK where the roads are dangerous but in Spain there are miles and miles of cycle paths where there is no real danger except for the occasional potholes.
Lindsay and Mick ride for miles several days a week but we are not used to long distances which after fifteen kilometres and sore butts accounts for our non smiley faces. And we had still got to cycle fifteen kilometres back home.
Anyway, back to Guardamar. I confess that I love this place. It fascinates me.
Like many Spanish villages on the coast it once relied almost entirely on fishing but it has the distinction of suffering three severe environmental disasters. The original village was built between the banks of the River Segura and the Mediterranean Sea but heavy silting from the river and the encroachment of sand dunes from the sea overwhelmed the village and one hundred and fifty years ago it had to be completely abandoned and relocated to safer ground.
This is the site or the original village today which is a palm forest planted to try and stabilise the ground but Guardamar has new problems.
The linear park of palms and cactus and succulents are withering away and dying back as they struggle to fight some sort of pest or disease which one by one is killing the trees and plants that (I am told) once provided a stunning green park for visitors to wander amongst. Such a shame. A warning of just how ‘temporary’ life can be on Planet Earth!
In the 1940s the municipality agreed permission for local fishermen to build houses directly on the edge of the beach, something that would not be allowed today and would be regarded as rather reckless.
The Casas de Babilonia are a string of elegant beach houses built perilously close to the sand and the sea and over the years the advancing Mediterranean has nibbled away at the fragile infrastructure and undermined the inadequate foundations.
Families lived and worked at the edge of the sea. Today the houses are retrospectively declared to be illegal builds that contravene the Spanish Coastal Law (ley de costas 1988) that defines a public domain area along the coast and a further zone beyond where restrictions apply to private ownership.
Moving on, later, in the 1960s came tourism but not from the North as Norman Lewis lamented but from the towns and cities of Spain itself and even today you won’t find package holiday deals to Guardamar de Seguara.
Trouble from the river and bother with pests has been followed by catastrophe from the sea in a massive wild Mediterranean storm in December 2016 which battered the coast and the fishermen’s houses and left them in a parlous state. Almost unrecognisable, nearly gone, the victim of changing coastal dynamics, the battering ram of the sea when twenty foot high waves crashed into the decaying properties and did massive amounts of damage, washing away walls, tearing down terraces, breaking beams, trashing tiles and crushing concrete.
This is the coastline today…
Such was the fierceness of the storm that it rearranged the seabed and the coastal geography and removed the beach and the sand where fishermen once rested their boats and holidaymakers put down their towels and pitched their sun umbrellas.
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Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.
In October 1977 I was in Benidorm on the Costa Blanca in Spain. I know that it was October but to be honest I cannot be entirely specific about the date so I have just chosen one at random.
While the current travel restrictions are in place I have no new stories to post so what I thought that I would do is to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.
On 25th April 2017 I was in Spain and took a walk to Guardamar del Segura.
The Casas de Babilonia are a string of fishermen’s houses built in the 1930’s perilously close to the beach and to the sea and over the years the advancing Mediterranean has nibbled away at the fragile infrastructure and undermined the inadequate foundations.
A massive Winter storm in early 2017 did a lot of damage…
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I have taken this drive before but here are some new pictures…
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We could have gone practically anywhere we liked, so long as it was within our restricted budget of course, but we choose to go to Benidorm on the Costa Blanca for two whole weeks and we selected the Don Juan hotel on Calle Gerona, just behind the Levante beach because Linda had been there some time before with her parents and had liked it.
Once in Benidorm we went through the tedious process of dropping people off at their hotels and as the Don Juan was at the far end of the eastern Levante beach we had to wait quite a while to arrive there. Forty years or so later the Don Juan isn’t there anymore and I might be mistaken here but it might now be the refurbished Diplomatic Hotel. It has a bigger swimming pool area and is dwarfed now by giant skyscrapers but it certainly looks similar and it is just about the right location.
The Don Juan was a typical 1970s Spanish seaside resort hotel with a cavernous reception and public area, a dining room that was little more than a school canteen and an entertainment room for evening activity. The hotel was a six storey concrete and chrome building and we had a room on the front about half way to the top with a good view out to sea. In the 1970s rooms could only be described as functional because these were the days before mini-bars, TVs, internet wifi access and complimentary cosmetics in the bathroom but it was nice enough and it was going to be our home for two weeks.
There was just one short morning left in Valencia. After breakfast we went our separate ways. Kim went to the shopping centre (don’t ask me why) and I returned the streets of the old town to catch anything that I might have missed.
And I had missed quite a lot…
…. It is only a small old town area but I have learned from experience that there is always something new to discover. While Kim went to the modern shopping Mall I went to the old Market District.
Monday morning must be big market day in Valencia because the place was crazy with stalls and buzzing with activity – locals and visitors, stalls selling rubbish, pickpockets eyeing a wallet snatch opportunity, beggars rattling jars and tourists looking obvious and confused. I guess I was a tourist so I left the street stalls and made my way to the Market Hall and not really wanting to buy anything found a vacant stool at a tapas bar and ordered a beer.
Drinking alone you can get through a beer quite quickly so I left soon after and returned to the streets.
Nearby was the Llotja de la Seda a late Valencian Gothic-style civil building, a previous silk exchange and now included in the UNESCO World heritage List as “a site of outstanding universal value as it is a wholly exceptional example of a secular building in late Gothic style, which dramatically illustrates the power and wealth of one of the great Mediterranean mercantile cities.”
It is hardly surprising that with forty-seven listed sites Italy has the most UNESCO World Heritage sites but for those who think of Spain as nothing more than a country of over developed Costas with concrete condominiums, aluminium and fibreglass marinas and pampered golf courses it might be a shock to learn that Spain has forty-three sites and is second highest in the exclusive list of places to see and visit and I was delighted now to visit this one.
With time running out I dashed through the streets, gobbling up heritage as I went, the city hall, the post office, the nineteenth century market and The Llotja de la Seda.
I then made my way back to meet Kim after her shopping expedition and to check out of the hotel. Kim hadn’t bought a single thing but I had added to my overflowing cultural reservoir of knowledge.
There was still a couple of hours to wait until our train departure so we returned now to the city market hall, much busier today than previously and we wandered through the stalls selling meat and fish and delicacies and regretted that it wasn’t really sensible to buy anything except for two bottles of cheap wine but surprisingly good wine that we would now take to my sister’s place.
We had been in a rush but now time seemed to surprisingly slow down so we stopped for a last drink in Valencia before collecting our bags and making our way to the train station. We were reluctant to leave but we had made our plans and now we were travelling south to Alicante.
We had booked reasonably priced tickets with the Spanish State railway provider RENFE but as the engine and carriages pulled in we wondered if this was a wise decision. RENFE maintains that it has a focus on improving traveller comfort and increasing the efficiency of its fleet of trains but as we climbed aboard and found our worn out seats I wasn’t so sure.
As it happened it wasn’t so bad, it was slow, almost glacial at times, the landscape was flat and boring as the train took a looping inland route away from the coast and towards the brooding grey mountains of the interior. There were frequent length stops next to vast citrus groves as our transport made way to give way for faster trains and the buffet car was absurdly expensive but eventually we were only twenty minutes late when we arrived at Alicante Terminus and a good job too because I had given wrong instructions to my sister and she was waiting at the wrong station.
Eventually they collected us and we made our way south out of Benidorm and to their house in Quesada just south of Alicante. I had enjoyed our time in Valencia but now we could slow down and relax .