Tag Archives: General Franco

It’s Nice To Feel Useful – Top Picks

Before Google got nervous about web search findings and tightened up on sharing search results there was a lot of fun to be had looking at the questions that brought web-surfers to my blog.

Here are ten of my favourites…

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 probably 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. Obviously they didn’t realise that this had the potential be an ecological disaster on the same scale as introducing the rabbit into Australia!

Next is another historical howler…

“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.

There is however a monument to the French Emperor in France at Boulogne-Sur-Mer so perhaps that is where the search engine went looking?

Next, I like this one – “Lawrence and Gerald Durrell – how tall were they?

Honestly, what sort of question is that and unless you were their tailor or their undertaker why would you want to know. I did write a post about the Durrells when I visited Corfu where they both lived so perhaps this is where the enquirer ended up – “Corfu, In the Footsteps of Lawrence and Gerald Durrell” and as it is one of my favourite Greek Islands I will be surely returning so hopefully I can provide more missing detail!

“Did Vikings have large penises?”

Well, I am not an archaeologist or an anthropologist but what sort of odd question is that to put into a web search engine?

I find myself being completely unable to help with this subject, it is outside the limits of my expertise but on a visit to Iceland I did get to visit the rather odd Penis Museum but I don’t think that will have the answer to that one either.

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. 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 quite clearly 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 in 2015 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!

Mine is not a food blog but I am always happy to help out with culinary questions whenever I can and I like this one… Should I put vinegar on the chips or not?”

I include this one even though I do not find this to be not such a stupid question. What you should put on your chips is a matter of personal choice and a subject that I debated when I considered the origin of frites.

Staying with the food theme…

“What was General Franco’s favourite food?”

I am reasonably certain that this is a question that only his personal chef could realistically be expected to answer with any authority but my suggestions are…

• Roasted Republicans
• Skewered Socialists
• Char-grilled Communists

Some time ago I tried to visit General Franco’s tomb but the Spanish don’t like Franco anymore and it was closed at the time on account of the fact that it was being demolished.

When General Franco met Führer Adolf Hitler in possibly the most awkward ever meeting in history I can only assume that either they couldn’t agree on the menu or they were both on a diet…

“What does a postcard of the Grand Canyon look like?”

I am certain that I have put some dumb questions into Google myself but surely none as daft as this. I am tempted simply to say that a postcard of the Grand Canyon will look very much like a postcard and will most likely have a picture of the Canyon on it.

Anyway, I visited the Grand Canyon in 1995 and as always I am keen to help so here we go, it looks like a postcard and has a picture of the canyon on it…

For this selection 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?

… Have you spotted any bizarre search questions bringing unexpected visitors to your blog posts? – Do Tell!

Catalonia, The Pyrenees and Vall de Nuria

Vall de Nuria Rack Railway

Ribes de Freser is a pretty little town which is famous for spa water and paper manufacture and a number of redundant stone mills are squeezed into the valley of the river Freser where even in July the melt waters from the Pyrenees made it fresh and lively as the agitated water danced over rocks and surged across gravel beds as it swept the surplus water away.

We walked along the river and came across a young couple who had obviously made the same timetable mistake as me and were now engaged in a blame share conversation that was becoming quite heated and increasingly blue!

And so we dawdled through the streets, Kim wasted some time in a shop while a spotted a poster for a dancing festival that would start tomorrow – the day after we had gone and then we found a table in the sun and ordered some beer.  Nearby was a group of young people with a massive dog and I took no particular notice because it was lying peacefully in the sun and not annoying anyone. Not that is until it sniffed my pheromones and sensing my acute cynophobia stood up, arched its back, bristled its hairs and started to bark madly in my direction.  I really hate dogs and they clearly hate me, I had done nothing to provoke this act of aggression and the owners had to apply a muzzle, try to calm it down and failing completely, pay up and leave. Oh boy, I really hate dogs and they really hate me!

The two hours passed surprisingly quickly and we made our way back to the train station, purchased our tickets and waited for it to arrive and leave.

The Vall de Núria Rack Railway is a mountain railway line that connects Ribes de Freser with the mountain town of Queralbs and then finally Vall de Núria. As Queralbs is the highest point in the valley that can be reached by road, the rack railway is, except for the old footpath, the only way to reach the shrine and ski resort at Núria.

The line is twelve and a half kilometres long and the first half of the line is operated by conventional rail adhesion but then it becomes so steep as it rises through one thousand kilometres that the remainder of the line is operated as a rack railway using a system of cogs that interlock with the track to ensure necessary traction to negotiate the gradient.

The journey took forty-five minutes as the electric engine purred its way along the river valley with wonderful views of forests, rocky cliffs, bubbling waterfalls, river beds strewn with sharp boulders and fallen trees and narrow mountain passes which was once the only way that pilgrims made their way into the valley and to the chapel and sanctuary at the top.  Eventually the track levelled out and the train passed through a long dark tunnel before emerging into the sunshine once more and into the sanctuary of the Vall de Nuria.

This place was apparently once a favourite of General Franco and his pals and it is not difficult to understand why.  Beneath the craggy peaks where black walls of bare rock were separated by gullies still streaked with winter snow are lush alpine meadows where fat dairy cows gorge themselves on emerald green grass, where bubbling streams tumble down the mountain side through rocky gorges and under stone bridges and in the centre of the valley is a blue lake where fish swim and leap out of the water and it all reminded me of that American folk song ‘the Big Rock Candy Mountain’.  I liked it here, it was peaceful, it was gentle, it was tranquil and it was out of the way and off the beaten track.

There was a cable car ride to the very top where at two thousand three hundred metres the views in all directions were quite stunning, too stunning as it happens for me to be able to describe and then, as it was cooler at this elevation, we choose to walk back down and make several detours to enjoy the countryside, the waterfalls and the crisp mountain air.

Actually, the only thing that spoilt it was the hotel complex building which reminded me of Battersea Power Station on the River Thames and whose design didn’t seem to especially complement the natural surroundings but there were a couple of good displays inside about the history and the technology and we visited the sanctuary chapel and suddenly after a couple of hours it was time to go back down.

On the drive back to Campdevànol we stopped and purchased some wine and then there was a decision to be made about evening meal.  The hotel restaurant had a café feel about it but Kim was confident that it would be fine so we reserved a table and after a rest and a couple of beers we returned down stairs to a restaurant that was overflowing, that was bulging, that was struggling to cope with the number of diners and we interpreted this as a very good sign.  And Kim was right because the meal was exceptional and the staff, unaccustomed to English guests had gone to a lot of trouble to make us feel welcome even to the extent of translating the menu into an amusing English version just for us, which I thought was a very nice touch!

 

Benidorm, The War of the Bikini

The War of the Bikini…

“It was not only in Farol that brusque changes were taking place…they were happening at a breakneck pace all over Spain. Roads, radio, the telephone and now the arrival of tourists… were putting an end to the Spain of old.  And for those who wanted to see it as it had been, there was not a moment to be lost.” Norman Lewis – ‘Voices of the Old Sea’

If Pedro Zaragoza Orts is remembered for the Beni-York skyscraper he is even more famous for the so called ‘War of the Bikini’.  In the later years of the 1950s the icon of holiday liberty was rapidly becoming the saucy two piece swimsuit but in staunchly religious Spain, still held in the firm two-handed grip of church and state, this scanty garment was seen as a threat to the very foundation of Catholic society.

According to the official version the swimsuit, that was a little more than a provocative brassiere front with a tiny g-string back, was invented by a French engineer called Louis Réard and the fashion designer Jacques Heim.  It was allegedly named after Bikini Atoll, the site of nuclear weapon tests on the reasoning that the burst of excitement it would cause on the beach or at the lido would be like a nuclear explosion.  Plenty of fallout and very hot!

And it certainly had this effect in Spain and although occasionally allowable on the sandy beaches, it had to be covered up in all other areas; on the promenades and in the plazas and in the shops and the bars and cafés for fear of causing any offence.  In one famous incident, a British tourist, sitting in a bar opposite a beach wearing only a bikini, was told by a Guardia Civil officer that she wasn’t allowed to wear it there.  After an argument she hit him, and her strike for social justice cost her a hefty fine of forty thousand pesetas.

Benidorm Bikini Cover Up

Zaragoza needed tourists and tourists wanted the bikini and with more pasty-skinned northern European tourists arriving each year in search of an all over suntan the Mayor knew that the banning of the two piece swimsuit simply couldn’t be sustained or allowed to threaten his ambitious plans for development.

Zaragoza took a gamble and signed a municipal order which permitted the wearing of the bikini in public areas and in this single act he effectively jump started the Spanish tourist industry.  Zaragoza said: “People had to feel free to be able to wear what they wanted, within reason, if it helped them to enjoy themselves as they would come back and tell their friends about the place.”  In deeply religious Catholic Spain not everyone was so understanding or welcoming of the bikini however and in retaliation the Archbishop of Valencia began the excommunication process against him.

This may not seem such an especially big issue now but to get a better perspective it is important to contextualise it in terms of the time.  Spain was in the grip of an ultra-conservative dictatorship and the beaches at Benidorm were still managed in theory according to a decree of 1907 that had segregated the beaches into specific zones for men and women and where people could only bathe if, in the words of the decree, they were ‘decently dressed’.

L'Escala Costa Brava

Excommunication was a very serious matter in 1959 and his political supporters began to abandon him so the story goes that one day he got up early and drove for nine hours on a little Vespa scooter to Madrid to lobby Franco himself.  The Generalissimo was suitably impressed with his determination and gave him his support, Zaragoza returned to Benidorm and the Church backed down and the approval of the bikini became a defining moment in the history of modern Spain ultimately changing the course of Spanish tourism and causing a social revolution in an austere country groaning under the yoke of the National Catholic regime.  Zaragoza went on to become Franco’s Director of Tourism and a Parliamentary Deputy.

Not many people would have described Franco as a liberalising social reformer and perhaps he secretly liked to look at semi-naked ladies but not long after this lots of women on holiday in Benidorm dispensed with the bikini bra altogether and brazenly sunbathed topless and Benidorm postcards had pictures of semi-dressed ladies on them to prove it.

One thing I am certain of is that this wouldn’t have made a great deal of difference to my Nan because I am not sure that she ever possessed a swimming costume, never mind a two-piece!  She was rather old-fashioned and the human body in the naked form was only permitted behind closed doors with the curtains closed and preferably after dark.  If she ever went in the sea I imagine it would have been in one of those Victorian one piece bathing costumes of the previous century.

Grandad too wasn’t one for showing bits of his body normally kept under his bus conductor’s dark blue uniform and didn’t even concede to a pair of shorts, preferring instead to wear his colonial style slacks even during the day.  When he came home his impressive suntan stopped at the line of his open neck shirt and his rolled up sleeves.

For people who had never been abroad before Benidorm must have been an exciting place in the early 1960s.  Palm fringed boulevards, Sangria by the jug full and, unrestrained by optics, generous measures of whiskey and gin, rum and vodka.  Eating outside at a pavement café and ordering drinks and not paying for them until leaving and scattering a handful of strange coins on the table as a tip for the waiter.

There was permanent sunshine, a delightful warm sea and unfamiliar food, although actually I seem to doubt that they would be introduced to traditional Spanish food on these holidays because to be fair anything remotely ethnic may have come as shock because like most English people they weren’t really ready for tortilla and gazpacho, tapas or paella.  They didn’t really want garlic, olive oil or saffron and they certainly didn’t return home to experiment with any new Iberian gastronomic ideas and I suspect they probably kept as close as they could to food they were familiar with.

Benidorm is a fascinating place, often unfairly maligned or sneered at but my grandparents liked it and I have been there myself in 1977 for a fortnight’s holiday and then again on a day trip in 2008 just out of curiosity.  It has grown into a mature and unique high rise resort with blue flag beaches and an ambition to get UNESCO World Heritage Status and I hope it achieves it.

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More posts about Benidorm…

Benidorm c1960

Benidorm, Plan General de Ordinacion

Benidorm, The War of the Bikini

Benidorm 1977 – First impressions and the Hotel Don Juan

Benidorm 1977- Beaches, the Old Town and Peacock Island

Benidorm 1977 – Food Poisoning and Guadalest

Benidorm – The Anticipation

Benidorm – The Surprise

World Heritage Sites

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spain-poster

 

Benidorm, Plan General de Ordenación

Benidorm

“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’.

Sixty years ago Benidorm, although not a fishing village as such, was still a modest beach side community, a place of sailors, fishermen and farmers who patiently tended almond, olive, carob and citrus trees.  Early visitors would have looked out over a double crescent of virgin golden sand and rolling dunes that stretched out in both directions from a rocky outcrop that divided the two beaches where Benidorm castle is believed to have once stood.

Small fishing boats, the tarrafes, each with four large lanterns to attract fish at night bobbed in the water or lay drawn up resting on the sand.  In 1950, Benidorm didn’t attract many visitors and life was difficult, it had no water supply or sewage disposal system and waste was tipped in the sea or simply buried in the earth.

Old Benidorm

The watershed year was 1954 when the Franco loyalist, Pedro Zaragoza Orts was nominated as town Alcalde, or Mayor and he threw himself into his work and set himself an objective of improving the quality of life in the small town.

In terms of economic potential there wasn’t a lot to work with so he decided to concentrate on the first whiffs of global tourism drifting in from Northern Europe and spreading south along the Costa Brava and he imagined a dream of creating a bourgeois pan-European holiday utopia.  Benidorm had sun, it had beaches, it had sea but what it didn’t have was visitors.  Few people in Spain enjoyed the sort of standard of living to be able to take holidays in the 1950s, so he needed to attract overseas visitors.

Spain Beach 1940

The town had always been popular with veraneos, people who took a few days break to be by the sea, but by the 1950’s, visitors from Scandanavia and Germany were beginning to arrive in greater numbers and staying for a full week at a time, sometimes two!  Zaragoza recognised the potential of increased numbers of visitors and quickly created the Plan General de Ordenación, or city building plan, that would exploit that potential.

The plan ensured that every building would have an area of leisure land, guaranteeing a future free of the excesses of cramped construction seen in other areas of Spain and it is the only city in the country that still adheres to this rigid rule.  This vision for the future took six years to come to reality, while he waited he piped in domestic water from Polop, fifteen kilometres to the north in the mountains on the road to Guadalest and he ignited the building boom that followed and the flying start that Benidorm achieved in the package tour boom of the 1960s and 70s.

The vision for Benidorm was simultaneously brilliant and exciting and it gave the modern city its modern unique landscape because Zaragoza encouraged vertical construction of dozens of sky scrapers in a deliberate plan to make efficient use of land and to keep the city at ground level spacious and airy with green parks and open spaces and all of the accommodation relatively close to the beaches.

He explained his plan like this; ‘If you build low, you occupy all the space and have a long walk to the beach. If you build high, you can face the sea, and leave room for gardens, pools and tennis courts’.  This was in contrast to nearby Torrevieja and on the Costa Del Sol in the south, Marbella where excessive horizontal development led to great sprawling ugly urbanisations that have practically destroyed the coast by burying it under concrete and tarmac.  Zaragoza called this urban concentration instead of urban sprawl.

benidorm-holiday-poster

The first developments started at the centre at the rocky outcrop in the twisting narrow streets hemmed in by claustrophobic whitewashed houses, the San Jaime church with its distinctive blue tiled hat roofs, the old town promontory with the Balcon Del Mediterraneo, and pretty Mal Pas beach below and quickly spread east and west along the splendid beaches.  Today Benidorm has some of the tallest buildings not only in Spain but all of Europe but the first were fairly unassuming by comparison, the tallest reaching only a modest ten floors or so.

My grandparents were used to living higher up than most people because they lived in a first floor flat but I imagine that they found a high rise hotel in Benidorm really exciting.  In the early hotels there was a lot of utilitarian concrete and steel and I am certain that we would consider them quite basic affairs now but they had something that Nan and Grandad were not accustomed to – an en-suite bathroom, because they didn’t have the luxury of any sort of bathroom in their Catford flat.

The first hotels have mostly been demolished and replaced now but I imagine they enjoyed sitting on the balcony of their room and looking out over the inviting Mediterranean Sea because this was a thousand miles and a hundred thousand years away from reality.  They were certainly very relaxed because feet on the table like this would never have been permitted at home.  We were only allowed into the best front room once a year at Christmas and we weren’t allowed to touch anything so I am surprised by this.

Not everyone approved of the changes however and Norman Lewis may have had Zaragoza Orts in mind when he wrote in ‘Voices of the Old Sea’:

“The ancient handsome litter of the sea front had possessed its own significance, its vivacity and its charm.  A spirited collection of abandoned windlasses, the ribs of forgotten boats, the salt wasted, almost translucent gallows on which the fish had once been dried, the sand polished sculpture of half buried driftwood … was now abolished at a stroke”

Benidorm c1960

Benidorm, Plan General de Ordinacion

Benidorm, The War of the Bikini

Benidorm 1977 – First impressions and the Hotel Don Juan

Benidorm 1977- Beaches, the Old Town and Peacock Island

Benidorm 1977 – Food Poisoning and Guadalest

Benidorm – The Anticipation

Benidorm – The Surprise

World Heritage Sites

Click on an image to scroll through the pictures…

 

Castilla y Leon – Rivers, Dams and Lakes

After a while it became clear that we were going in the wrong direction so after consulting the map we turned around and took a road that we had previously missed and suddenly we had found the Embalse de Almendra, a huge cobalt blue reservoir with the waters held back by an enormous concrete dam.

Read the full story…