Back to Spain for my next sequence of posts. The Costa Blanca and a few days in Andalusia.
Have Bag, Will Travel
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“do flights landing in Naples fly over Vesuvius?”
Now, this seems to me to be an especially stupid question. I am not an expert on aviation or air traffic control but it seems very unlikely to me that aeroplane carrying over three hundred passengers landing at an international airport in Italy would want to fly over the top of a 1,300 metre high active volcano because it sounds full of potential hazards to me especially as the Naples airport is only ten miles or so from the crater and at this point would have an altitude of barely higher than the top of the mountain.
The page they were directed to was probably my post about my visit to the mountain.
Another dumb historical question next – “how wealthy are the Romanovs?” and dumb because most people know that the entire Romanov family were killed by the Bolsheviks in 1917 during the Russian revolution.
There are some claimants to the titles of the Russian Tsars but even if they were confirmed to be true descendants they would be extremely unlikely to be wealthy because the Russian communist regime confiscated all their treasure, money and valuables.
I visited Russia in 2012 and posted about the fate of the Romanovs so I guess the enquirer might have ended up on my post about the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg.
Some time ago my favourite was “can pubic hair grow more with regain?” and rather disappointingly I have nothing to really compete with that ever again.
I think this may have drawn the person with the question to my post about “Health and Efficiency” magazine
Actually that was a good thing about Health and Efficiency because there were never any pubic detail on show because until the mid 1970s this was strictly censored in British publishing. In retrospect, the most striking thing about the models’ anatomy was that they were completely without pubic hair, or, for that matter, any other details associated with the genital area of the body.
They were as blank as an ancient Greek marble statue in that department, and in pre computer photo editing days, this was achieved by skilful use of an ‘air-brush’ applied directly to the photo before publication.
Bottoms however were ok it seems…
Being a student of history I am going to begin with a selection of wildly inaccurate historical searches.
The first one is “Why did Shakespeare bring starlings to Australia?” I think I am obliged to point out here straight away that William Shakespeare died in 1616 and Australia wasn’t settled by Europeans for another couple of hundred years or so after that and although there is much literary speculation concerning possible visits by the Bard to Italy I think it is safe to say that he never went as far as Australia!
I imagine that what the question referred to was really about starlings in the USA because here there is a connection. The introduction of the starling to USA is said to be the responsibility of a man called Eugene Schiefflein who belonged to a group dedicated to introducing into America all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s works on the basis that they thought it would be rather nice to hear the sound of Shakespeare’s birds warbling their old world songs on the tree branches of new world America.
Showing a similar lack of historical knowledge is my second search term, “Was El Cid a Muslim?” Now, El Cid was the great Spanish hero of the Catholic Reconquista which drove the African Moors out of the Iberian Peninsula so I imagine any suggestion that he was a secret Muslim will have poor Charlton Heston spinning in his grave.
Following a visit to Castilla-La Mancha in 2009 I wrote a number of posts about El Cid and I expect the enquirer was sign posted to one of these.
Next on my historical howlers list is “Napoleon Monument in Moscow”! What? In his periods of sanity Napoleon did some rather good things but most of the time he was a tyrant and a dictator and a warmonger and in 1812 he invaded Russia and did unspeakable things to the Russian people who were unfortunate enough to be in his way as he marched his army to Moscow. When he got there the Russian people burnt the city down and so with nowhere to stay for the winter he was obliged to march all the way back again during which his army did more unpleasant things to the Russian people.
I imagine that the chances of there being a memorial to Napoleon Bonaparte in Moscow are about just as likely as there will be a statue of Adolf Hitler.
Moving on now from history to science – “see through girls’ clothes” and once again if I had the answer to this one I would surely be a millionaire. It reminded me of my post about X-Ray Specs which seemed to suggest all sorts of peeking opportunities but in fact never actually worked (or so I am told!)
For this category of search terms I have saved my favourite until last and this is it – “things to do in Tossa de Marr Spain for clairvoyants”. Now, call me a sceptic if you like but if you can see into the future what on earth does a clairvoyant need with a website of advertised events – why don’t they just look in their crystal ball?
I have been to Tossa de Mar and I have to say that palm reader, soothsayer or clairvoyant that it is a very fine place to visit.
One of my most successful posts is about the day I attended a Buckingham Palace Garden Party and I get lots of odd Google referrals about this one. This year my favourite just has to be – “do I get expenses to attend royal garden party?”
Let me take a moment here to explain. Just to be invited to a Buckingham Palace Garden party is a bit special in itself and believe me there is going to be a lot of expense involved – new suit, new outfit, overnight stay in London, taxi fares etc. and most people would gladly deal with this just to be part of the occasion so I have to say that expecting the Queen to pick up the bill sounds rather republican to me and whoever asked this should not have had an invite in the first place.
Next up, I really like this one – “what did the captain wear on the Titanic?”
I visited Belfast recently and went to see the Titanic Exhibition and Museum. It was a super place and I recommend anyone to go there and I think what I learned on that visit may just well help here.
Around the exhibition there are lots of pictures of Captain Smith in his White Star Line uniform so I am forced to conclude that except when he went to bed and most likely put on a pair of pyjamas that this was his favourite form of dress. Another thing that I can be certain of is that Captain Smith didn’t wear a lifebelt because after the Titanic struck the iceberg he went down with his ship and drowned!
To finish with this is probably my biggest ever favourite…
What was General Franco’s favourite food?
I am sure that this is a question that only his personal chef could realistically be expected to answer with any authority but my suggestions are…
Some time ago I tried to visit General Franco’s tomb but the Spanish don’t like Franco any more and it was closed at the time on account of the fact that it was being demolished.
When General Franco met Führer Adolf Hitler I can only assume that either they couldn’t agree on the menu or they were both on a diet…
Regardless of food, this has to be one of the most awkward historical meetings ever – just look at their faces!
Got any odd Google enquiries – please share!
We left Almagro with our souvenir water colours safely packed away. We don’t buy souvenirs any more because inevitably we get them home and wonder why? Most impulse purchases get thrown away but we do still have the water colours.
My grandparents first went to Spain for a holiday in 1960 or thereabouts. They brought back exotic stories of exciting overseas adventures and suitcases full of unusual mementos, castanets, replica flamenco dancing girls, handsome matador dolls with flaming scarlet capes and velour covered bulls that decorated their living room and collected dust for the next twenty years or so.
This is their story…
What is the worst souvenir that you have ever brought home?
About this time of the year (it is 1st March after all) I start to look back over my posts to review what has been going on. One of the things that I like to do is to take a look at the search questions that seem to bring web-surfers by the site and take a look at some of the more bizarre and unusual.
Before Google got nervous about web search findings and tightened up on publishing results this was a lot more fun and there were a lot more to choose from but over the last year I have spotted a few that amused me…
I am going to start with one about crime and this search request – “Is bag snatching bad in Krakow” and my response to that is bag snatching is bad everywhere so don’t do it because you can end up in a whole lot of trouble.
On roughly the same subject I rather liked this one – “How to avoid Pickpockets in Athens?” The answer of course is simple – don’t go to Athens!
Actually I have some experience of pickpockets in Athens and although I have always considered Greece to be an honest and safe place and Athens has always been regarded as a city where stealing from tourists was unheard of, yes, Kim and I were robbed on the Athens Metro and this is our story… “Athens Pickpockets”
I am being adventurous (or maybe just foolish) this year and have trips planned to Naples and to Barcelona, two cities with an unenviable reputation for street theft!
On a lighter note I offer you this one … “Can you see the Giant’s Causeway from the Car?” and the answer is yes of course you can but only if you are prepared to take your vehicle across a muddy field and then drive it over the cliff edge.
The Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland is free to enter but managed by the National Trust who don’t really encourage people to visit for nothing and make it as difficult as they possibly can to avoid the extortionate car parking and entry Visitor Centre entry fees.
Shortly after returning from a visit I wrote a post about visiting Giant’s Causeway and how to do it on the cheap and it has turned out to be one of my most successful with almost five thousand hits – “Top Tips for Visiting the Giant’s Causeway on a Budget”
Now, what about this one – “How often is the Titanic visited?” As almost everyone knows the RMS Titanic sank on its maiden voyage in April 1912 after an unfortunate encounter with an iceberg close to Newfoundland. It sank to the bottom of the Ocean and rests about two and a half miles from the surface. That is a long way down and requires specialist deep sea diving equipment to explore it so the answer is a simple one – Not Very Often At All!
It is possible that the enquirer was directed towards my post about my visit to the “Titanic Experience in Belfast” and on the subject of visitor numbers here I find that I can be more helpful because I happen to know that since opening in 2012 the Museum has had over four million visitors from over one hundred and fifty different countries.
Mine is a travel blog so sometimes people seek answers to questions about popular holiday resorts. This year I have picked out this strange question – “Where does the waste go in Benidorm?”
Benidorm was one of the first big Spanish holiday resorts and by the 1970s had acquired a dubious reputation for holiday lager louts and badly behaved visitors from Northern Europe and for that reason I am tempted to say that Benidorm waste goes back home at the end of a fortnights holiday!
Thankfully Benidorm isn’t nearly so bad these days and it has left its sordid past behind. I visited the city in 2017 and wrote a post about the changes that I noticed… “Travels in Spain, Benidorm and How Things Change”.
The next one wasn’t really a question it was a statement – “Italians don’t respect the Highway Code” and whoever said that was absolutely correct. In Italy, traffic regulations currently in force were approved by the Legislative Decree number 285 of 30th April 1992 and are contained in the Italian Highway Code called the Codice della Strada, but anyone visiting a busy Italian city or town would be certain to dispute that there is such a thing as a highway code in Italy.
I foolishly attempted car rental in Italy in 2013 and almost immediately wished that I hadn’t. Trying to be helpful I wrote a post about my nightmare experience upon my return… “Travelling – Car Hire Advice – Driving in Italy”.
In brief my advice was ‘DON’T!
Staying in Italy this search question caught my eye – “Prostitution People Dead Caused by Volcano” and I imagine the enquirer might have been researching Biblical plagues or judgments or something similar. I don’t know if prostitutes or sex workers are singled out in this way for natural disaster punishments but my post about Mount Vesuvius is my fifth most popular ever with fifteen thousand seven hundred hits – “Sorrento, Mount Vesuvius – Living on the Edge of Disaster”
I conclude this year’s list with a very bizarre search question – “Nazi Crisps”. I really don’t know if Adolf and the German High Command liked foil wrapped potato crisps (I doubt that they were even invented then) but if they did I imagine that there favourite flavours would have been Bratwurst, Cabbage and Brawn Cocktail.
I wrote a post about potato crisps/chips but I am certain that I didn’t mention the Nazis – “Chips, Crisps or Fries – How Do You Eat Yours?”
That’s it for this year, thanks for reading and I will do another round up when I have enough material…
… Have you spotted any bizarre search questions bringing unexpected visitors to your blog posts? – Do Tell!
Here are the previous posts in this series of weird internet searches…
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.
“(Catford) the only place in all of London and the south-east set to remain impervious to gentrification” – Lucy Mangan, Journalist (The Guardian)
One day in 1999 I was at work and driving through London and on impulse took a detour to Catford and to Barmerston Road where my grandparents used to live to see the house that I used to visit with my parents when I was a child.
It was having a bit of renovation work carried out to it at the time but although it seemed smaller (everything looks smaller as you grow older, especially Wagon Wheel biscuits) it looked almost as I remembered it and the memories came flooding back.
In 1977 I had a two week holiday in Benidorm on the east coast of Spain. I’d like to tell you that I had a really good time, but I can’t because I didn’t enjoy it that much.
About two miles out in the bay between Levante and Poniente beaches was the little island of Isla Benidorm, a triangular shaped wedge of inhospitable rock, a mountain top I guess, with a regular bright red ferry boat called the Bahia de Benidorm running across the short stretch for just a few pesetas each way.
Forty years ago I failed to fully understand the opportunities of travel and with limited imagination at my disposal there was so little to do that we made the trip twice and really once would have been quite enough.
It was advertised as ‘Peacock Island’ but I don’t recall seeing any on either visit and all we found there were a few scraggy chickens trying to get by in a very hostile landscape without any vegetation or water. Fortunately there was a bar on the island with really good views back towards the mainland so at least there was somewhere to sit and have a drink while we waited for the ferry to return.
Forty years on Isla Benidorm is an uninhabited bird sanctuary and diving centre for those interested in marine life and today we were going to visit another off-shore island which is a bird sanctuary and diving centre, the islet of Tabarca about six miles from the port town of Santa Pola which fortunately sounded a lot more promising than Isla Benidorm because it has a census population of about seventy whereas Isla Benidorm has none.
We just about made boat departure time, which was a good thing because the next one wasn’t for about two hours or so (in high season they run a lot more regularly) and after purchasing our tickets we made our way to the top deck and selected seats in the sun ready for the short thirty minute crossing and after being invited to view the marine life through the glass bottom in the boat (really not worth it) we arrived in the small port and disembarked.
Before 1700, the island was known as Illa de Sant Pau or ‘Saint Paul’s Island’ on the basis that this is where Saint Paul was washed up about two thousand years ago. He must have got around a bit because he seems to have been washed up in quite a lot of places in quite a short space of time which begins to make him look very unlucky and me sceptical about the whole thing.
Personally, if I was inclined to believe any of it then I would come down on the side of the story of St Paul’s Island in Malta. The Acts of the Apostles tell the story of how Paul was shipwrecked on an island (somewhere) while on his way to Rome to face charges. You can call me a coward if you like but I wouldn’t have been going back to Rome to face charges that might result in crucifixion or beheading and I would have been inclined to stay on the island wherever it was but to be fair you don’t get to become a Saint by hiding in a cave!
Anyway, with or without Saint Paul, Tabarca turned out to be a whole lot interesting than Isla Benidorm.
In the eighteenth century it was used as a convenient base for Berber pirates from North Africa who regularly raided the mainland coast so in 1760, to put a stop to it, Charles III of Spain ordered the fortification and repopulation of the Spanish island.
A group of Genoese sailors who had been shipwrecked near the coast of Tunisia, mostly coming from the islet of Tabark, were rescued and considered convenient settlers and the islet was renamed Nova Tabarca. The Genoese were moved to the island together with a Spanish garrison.
The King ordered a fortified town and as a consequence of Royal Decree walls, bulwarks, warehouses and barracks were built. The garrison was removed in 1850 and the buildings began to deteriorate and collapse through lack of maintenance but the Genoese stayed put and now a hundred and fifty years later it is a tourist destination and a thriving fishing community.
We maybe could have done with another hour on the island but if we missed the next ferry back we would be there for another four which was too long so we made our way back to the small fishing port of the island and boarded the boat back to Santa Pola where we had previously found a nice pavement restaurant with a vey reasonably price Menu Del Dia and we simply sat and let the afternoon slip through our fingers.
Later we sat on the terrace and drank wine and ate pizza and just wasted the rest of the evening away as well!
More cave stories:
The Costa Blanca is a stretch of coastline in the south east of Spain which is famous for attracting millions of visitors every year from Northern Europe.
The Spanish don’t mind that most of these visitors go to resorts like Benidorm or Torrevieja because there are others that they seem to keep exclusively for themselves.
One of these is Villajoyosa in between Benidorm and Alicante and after we had left the holiday hot-spot of Benidorm, all glass and steel and gleaming in the sunshine like a giant pin-cushion, we quickly passed from turismo to tradicional and called in on its nearby neighbour, just twelve miles or so away to the south from the Bling of Benidorm for a quiet afternoon stroll.
Villajoyosa is a wonderful place, an ex-fishing town, now a Spanish holiday resort of coloured houses with twisted rusting balconies, rattan blinds and decorated with washing lines and pot plants looking longingly out to sea and which reminded me of Burano in Venice, Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera and of Milos in the Greek Islands.
Gaily coloured houses that rub shoulders with each other and jostle for colour bragging rights that can be seen from way out at sea and which carefully guide fishermen home after a night working at sea, or so the story goes.
After finding a parking spot we walked along the side of Rio Amadorio, the water barely a trickle today, robbed on its way down from the mountains for irrigation, then through the narrow streets of pastel coloured houses decorated with pots of shrubs and Mediterranean flowers and on to the sweeping beach arching like a Saracen’s sword and a long walk along a fine promenade flanked on one side by the houses and the other by the crisp sandy shore.
It was a delightful place, close to Benidorm but a million miles away. The combination of quaint old buildings with multi-coloured facades crowded into a labyrinth of narrow streets, a lively fish market selling off the daily catch and its pretty location on the mouth of a river by a sweeping caramel beach were all enough to further convince me that the east coast of Spain has a lot more to offer than I had ever previously realised.
The name Villajoyosa means city of joy and I can understand why – it is impossible not to feel happy here!
I realised that this was the Spain I am always hoping to find but don’t dare count on. Old men sat in the street playing drinking wine, women hanging out their washing on their balconies and keeping an eye on the menfolk below, children and dogs played in the squares and cats wandered aimlessly around. I have been searching for real Spain in Castile and Andalucia and Extremadura and I found a slice of it here in Valencia which was most unexpected.
A bright yellow house leaned against a blue house with a bright green neighbour, across the street was a a red house and made the colour palette complete. A stroll through Villajoyosa old town in the sunshine certainly requires sunglasses.
And just how do they manage to paint these houses?
After simple breakfast at Pensión El Pirineo I persuaded the others now to join me on a voyage of personal nostalgia and rediscovery. I visited this part of Spain forty years ago when I went on a two week holiday to Benidorm and I thought it might be fun to revisit the places that I had seen in 1977.
First we went to Guadalest (picture above, 1977) a small mountain village with a castle which is a short bus trip drive out of Benidorm and a day trip that I took all those years ago. It hadn’t really changed a great deal, except it had had a few coats of fresh paint and the local ladies selling genuine lace products had been replaced by tourist shops selling junk.
We stopped for lunch and a walk around the narrow streets but it was much smaller than I remembered and it didn’t take long to refresh my memories and soon we were on the road into Benidorm.
Mick wasn’t looking forward to this at all, I think it is quite low down on his list of places to visit in Spain but I was really happy to be revisiting the place that I had hated in 1977 and Mick hates in 2017.
Back then 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 my girlfriend, Linda (later my wife) had been there some time before with her parents and had liked it.
Iglesia de San Jaime y Santa Ana near the Balcón del Mediterráneo in 1977..
And again in 2017…
Benidorm is one of the most popular tourist locations in Europe, today six million people go there each year on holiday but in 1977 it was even more popular and that year attracted the most holidaymakers ever and over twelve million people poured into the city. That peak in numbers has never been matched since and it is unlikely that it ever will be.
Arriving in Benidorm we left the motorway and found an underground car park with surprising ease (underground car parks are always empty in Spain because the Spanish refuse to pay parking fees) and with the anticipation of severe culture shock rising to near boiling point we made straight for the old town.
Almost immediately it was a huge let down. We had been expecting tat shops and British pubs, the distinctive smell of Hawaiian tropic, fat bellied lager louts with tattoos and peroxide Essex blondes with fake designer sunglasses and massive boob-jobs but there was none of that sort of thing at all. No rampaging bands of tourist hooligans just a pensioner choir singing on the beach.
It was a very a very civilised affair with predominantly elderly Spanish people sedately enjoying the sun and a few British left-over’s from the winter Saga tours where the length of stay could be measured directly in degrees of orange tan. Not even any ‘looky-looky’ men to pester us!
I have to say that Benidorm in 2017 was nothing like what I was anticipating at all but was really rather pleasant and the beaches were immense and spectacular with beautiful clean sand and blue flags flapping proudly in the breeze. It is an interesting fact that Spain has more blue flag beaches than any other participating country with five hundred and eleven in five thousand kilometres of coastline, the United Kingdom by comparison, has only one hundred and twenty-five in nearly eighteen thousand kilometres.
Balcón del Mediterráneo in 1977…
In the old town itself there were more Spanish tapas bars than British pubs and there was a notable absence of those awful places with tacky pictures of the food on the menu. There was not a bit of it and after wandering around the old town searching unsuccessfully for cheap souvenir shops we had to finally admit defeat and sit in a bar on the seafront and have the first beer of the day.
If Benidorm was a surprisingly nice place then the old town was an especially nice place with a blue domed church, reminiscent of those in the Greek islands, and a pedestrianised area that was positively delightful. I remembered this from my visit forty years ago but not much else I have to say and with refreshment time over we walked a short way along the Levante in search of what we were sure was the real Benidorm from the television series but without success we called a halt to the expedition and retraced our steps back to the car.
Although we were disappointed not to see what we had come for it was a pleasant surprise and we left with the confirmation that despite the tourists that flock in every summer that Benidorm is a very real Spanish town, with Spanish culture and a Spanish history of tuna fishermen and merchant sailors that was actually quite plain to see.
I wished that I had grasped that in 1977 because if I had then I am sure that I would have enjoyed it more then.