Have Bag, Will Travel
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“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.” – Norman Lewis
“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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“By the end…it was clear that … spiritual and cultural isolation was at an end, overwhelmed by the great alien invasion from the North of money and freedoms… 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’.
In the morning the lady at the shop seemed very surprised to see us back quite so soon to return all of the empty bottles and exchange them for a new supply of full ones. We were impressed as well that she had clearly been thinking ahead and with an eye to increased sales there were more bread rolls today and she invited us to buy as many as we liked.
We planned to take two more days in Portugal and spend three driving back and as Armação de Pera had been a bit too quiet for us the day before we decided today to drive instead to the main tourist town of Albufeira, which was about eight miles to the east on the way to Faro so we left the village and drove through the towns of Pera and Guia before turning off the main road and driving directly to the town.
Up until the 1960s Albufeira used to be a small fishing village but is now one of the busiest tourist towns on the Algarve and has grown into a popular holiday resort for tourists from Northern Europe and even though this was late November it was surprisingly warm and there were still a number of people about today.
We parked the car and walked through narrow streets of traditional Algarvean white and tiled residential homes, side by side with less attractive modern tourist developments – the apartments near the Marina e Bryn for example are a shocking mix of pinks, blues, and yellows and referred to locally as Legoland.
Portugal, then as now, is one of the poorest countries in Western Europe, and behind the tiled walls and the balconies with washing hanging like bunting as though as in anticipation of a carnival we could see that the houses were made of breeze blocks and tin sheet.
On the other hand, it is the seventh safest country in the world and after France, Italy and Germany the fourth biggest consumer of wine, and so, with the sun beating down we choose a table at a café to help them maintain this statistic.
The town was busy but down at Fisherman’s beach there was plenty of room for everyone and we stretched out our towels and lay in the sun and now and again went down to the sea for a dip. Anthony, who thought he bore a resemblance to Magnum PI, always fancied himself as a bit of a ladies man quickly found some girls from Leeds to chat to and after an hour or so Richard’s boredom kicked in and so the two of us went to the bar overlooking the beach for a beer while the other two stayed behind flirting.
On that first day in Portugal we spent nearly all day in Albufeira, on the Praia dos Pescadores, at the bar and walking around the pretty little streets of the old town behind the promenade and then we made our way back to the villa and tried the pool, which, on account of it being November, was a bit too cold and was only the sort of thing you would do if you were compelled to, and to test this theory we threw Tony in – several times I seem to remember.
Later we went back to Albufeira because Anthony had arranged to meet the girls from Leeds so we had something to eat and then went on to the bars in neighbouring São João, the modern tourist part of Albufeira, which is mad with activity in the high summer but in November was almost Saga like.
I liked Albufeira but I am not sure that I would want to go there in the summer months of crazy tourist activity.
As we nail down 2015, please excuse my annual self-indulgent post to begin the new year as I look back over the last one. I have ignored the WordPress annual statement to produce my own review.
The top ten most visited posts on my Travel Blog always surprise me but then I don’t pretend to understand how search engines work. I say visited pages rather than read because I am neither conceited enough or sufficiently naive to claim that a visit equals a read. I know that a lot of people will arrive here by mistake and swiftly reverse back out via the escape button!
Just to go back a bit, in 2012 the site recorded 170,900 visits and I was optimistic that as I kept posting this number was just going to keep going up but then in February 2013 Google made some devastating changes to its search algorithms and the numbers halved overnight and have never fully recovered. I finished 2013 with 79,470, a decrease of 115%.
I thought it was important to keep going so in 2014 I posted 320 times and the total number of visits recorded was just over 101,000 so there was some significant recovery. 2015 has not seen the same level of improvement but there has been consolidation. I have posted 311 times and the number of reported visits is 106,600, an increase of just 5.5%.
These are the Top Ten posts of 2015:
No change at the top this year and this post has recorded 8,715 visits which is over 3,000 more than last. I posted this in August 2013 following a week touring Catalonia and pulling in a visit to Barcelona along the way.
I’d like to think that this is because it is a knowledgeable and scholarly assessment of Gaudi’s architectural contribution to the urban World but I think it is more likely because the image attracts visitors as it easily found in a Google search and people seem to like it because it has been copied several times!
5,870 hits, up from 3,300 and staying in the Top Ten for the sixth successive year which by that measure makes it my most successful post.
In total it has 17,800 visits which makes all time second after my post about Norway, Haugesund and the Vikings. This one has been around for a long time ( since June 2009) and has always been popular especially around the Spring and Summer when invitations to the Royal Garden Party are going out and when people are wondering how to get one or what to wear if they have one.
This one has been around a while as well and with 1,610 hits and a fifth year in the Top Ten is becoming a stubborn stayer. A bit of a surprise to me really because this is the account of a day trip to Mount Vesuvius whilst on a holiday to Sorrento in 1976 with my dad. From my memories of the same holiday I posted several blogs about visits to Capri, Naples, Pompeii, The Amalfi Drive and Rome but these have only achieved a handful of hits between them.
A second top ten appearance again this year for the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi (maybe I am an expert on Gaudi after all). After I had taken a look at the official Twelve Treasures of Spain I thought it might be fun to draw up my own personal alternative list. I included Antoni Gaudi in a general rather than a specific way. I posted this in March 2013 and this year with 1,455 visits it has risen five places to number four.
This is the first of this year’s new entries with a surprising 1,325 visits and no convincing explanation why that should be.
I visited Southern Ireland in June 2014 and wrote several posts that I personally would consider more interesting than this encounter with a grumpy street entertainer and a worn out old collie dog. Once again, and rather disappointingly, I suspect it isn’t the words but the picture that grabs attention. It was a map of the Ring of Kerry which I noticed displayed on the front of a shop.
The second of this year’s new entries and I must confess that I am rather pleased about this one.
There are some posts that I have written that I would like people to read and this is one of few that have achieved that. Before visiting Catalonia in 2014 I read the book ‘Voices of the Old Sea’ by Norman Lewis which is an account of the Costa Brava in the 1940s and the approach of mass tourism. In this post I attempted some research and some interpretation of the book and the area. It has recorded 977 visits and in this case I like to think that this is because of the subject rather than the pictures.
This post has also been a consistent performer with five years in the top ten but in terms of visits is this year’s biggest loser, down almost 3,200 hits to just 790, dropping four places from last year’s number two and if that slide continues I expect it to be gone next year. I posted this in April 2010 after returning from a visit to Krakow in Poland. It was a good trip but I am not sure why so many people would hit on it. It is not as interesting as my trip to Auschwitz or the Crazy Mike Communist Tour.
I posted this in March 2010 and it finally made the top ten last year and I am glad to see it there for a second year. It has stayed in this year with 740 visits. It is actually one of my personal favourites and is a story about the Spanish seaside resort of Benidorm inspired by some photographs that I came across of my grandparents on holiday there in about 1960.
The last of the new entries and another one that I am pleased about. This is the story of the Italian singer Domenico Modungo. Domenico who? I hear you ask. Well, let me tell you that Domenico is renowned for writing and performing what is claimed to be the most famous, most copied, most successful ever Eurovision Song Contest entry and most lucrative in terms of revenue, Italian popular music songs of all time. Think about it…have you got it…
“Nel blu dipinto di blu” or most popularly known as “Volare”. With 656 visits it has only just about crept in to the top ten but I am happy to see it there.
Seventh place with 636 hits and four years in the top ten which demonstrates the importance of an ‘About’ page.
If you have read one of these posts or any of the 1,785 others on my site ‘Have Bag, Will Travel’, then thank you very much! I guess it proves that George Bailey (It’s A Wonderful Life) was right when he said: “The three most exciting sounds in the world are anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles.”
On reflection, not a bad year but I still haven’t been Freshly Pressed (Discovered). Do I care? Well, maybe a little bit!
I’d be interested to know about other people’s most popular posts in 2015 and the possible explanations why? Comment and let me know. I’m a sucker for statistics!
“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” – Norman Lewis – ‘Voices of the Old Sea’
Part way through the holiday we hired some cars and did some sightseeing along the coast. On the first day we drove east to a small fishing village that I had visited eight years previously because I remembered that it was especially picturesque.
This was the pretty little fishing village of Carvoeiro, which, as I promised, was quite stunning, especially when viewed from the craggy cliffs on either side of the town, so we walked all around it and from the top we admired the village layered with white-washed villas and buildings which seem to undulate in perfect harmony with the natural rocky landscape.
The houses rose in tiers out of the caramel beach, sun blistered and pock-marked by the corrosion of the salt water with brightly coloured paintwork, green, crimson and blue and window boxes where even hardy geraniums were struggling to deal with the midday heat.
The beach was a delightful golden colour with pristine sand scarred but not disfigured by the tracks of the ancient tractors which pulled the fishing boats in and out of the sea. It was small and compact but sufficient when there aren’t many people about to share it with and it was fringed with seaside cafés and restaurants with indolent umbrellas providing welcome shade against the fierceness of the sun.
This was a wonderful place and down at the edge of the water there was no mistaking that this was a working fishing village that was a million miles away from the nearby tourist resort of Praia de Luz.
There were local people swimming in the sea and the beach was decorated with tiny fishing boats that had been working the previous night and were now just resting before going out again later. At the back of the sheltered beach there were fishermen’s houses that were built next to the beach and in some cases directly into the cliffs and I had a sense that inside men were resting before working again later tonight. In front of the houses were creaking wooden railings, disgigured and cracked, where the nets were left to dry and be repaired and tables where every day the previous night’s catch was assessed, sorted and prepared for sale.
I understand that Carvoeiro is a lot busier now so I am glad that I saw it as the fishing beach and community that has now all but gone to make way for holiday complexes and tourists, where fishing boats have been replaced by jet skis and pedalos.
Before tourism this was a very small and intimate fishing village and in 1965 a foreign resident wrote about the place; “the mode of living remains essentially medieval”. Well, in 1994 it was a bit more modern than that but still very quaint and although I have never been back I understand that now, twenty years on, it has lost any resemblance whatsoever to its modest origins.
When it was time to leave we decided to check out the guide book claims that this part of the coast has the best beaches on the Algarve. This is a claim that is made by every town and village along the south coast of Portugal so we made straight for the Praia de Marinha or the Navy Beach and so called because of the colour of the sea rather than any military activity.
Standing on the top of the cliffs rising in golden tiers out of the surf, erosion gnawed into arches, caves and grottoes and looking down to the sand and the sea it was difficult not to agree with the Algarve best beach claim and a lot of other people would be inclined to agree as well because it is included in the Michelin Guide as one of the ten most beautiful beaches in Europe and as one of the hundred most beautiful beaches in the world.
We stayed only to admire the view and to nod our heads in agreement with the guide book and then we made our way back to Praia de Luz, driving through the marina resort of Portimao without stopping even for a quick look, for a late afternoon of sunbathing and swimming in the holiday complex pool.