Trip Start Dec 11, 2009
10Trip End Jan 26, 2010
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Monday 28th December.
A slightly cloudy day and we arose after a much needed night's sleep and left the hotel around 1115am. We quite liked Valencia and could have stayed a few more days but the noise incident had taken the pleasure off it for us.
We walked back to the station through the busy Monday morning crowds and waited for our train which was due at just after 1pm. I studied the many different types of train here, from the local to the fast inter city and they were all modern and well maintained. An AVE high speed link is currently being built, costing millions of euros and a display showed the investment in this line which will serve the west coast of Spain. Our 'euromed' fast train arrived from Barcelona and we headed south, past the great 'L’Albufera’ inland lagoon with its rice growing areas and bird habitat, our route again being well inland through the vast orange and olive growing areas and then turning east to Alicante, which we reached after two hours
A taxi to the hotel in the old part of the city and a modern, comfortable room overlooking the ‘Plaza de Ayuntamiento’ (the Town Hall Square), with its large, modern style Christmas tree and a display of small splurging fountains.
It was 16deg and cloudy sun, so we walked across to the marina and out along the promenade, where most of the tourist based restaurants were closed. We ate early, as we needed to sleep and back in the hotel the chimes of the town hall clock ended early and we slept well – oh joy!!!!!!!
Tuesday 29th December.
Not an early start, making the most of our sleep opportunity and after breakfast we found a tourist information office.
"Was there anything special going on in the town on New Year’s Eve?" "I don’t have any information on that but most restauraunts are open."
“We’ve heard that there is a special orchestral concert on New Year’s Day
Norah was struggling with a corn on a toe and we asked if there was a foot doctor nearby. “We don’t give medical information” but she did look on a ‘yellow pages’ type internet map and then showed us there was a clinic “probably on this street or it might be that street.”
“Do you have information on the tram that runs along the coast?” I don’t have any information on that, you’ll have to go to the tram stop down by the marina.”
Suffering from (a lack of) information overload, we set off into the city and along the wide main streets with their offices, restaurants and large shops. We turned onto another main street, past the main city market and then found a little foot clinic. An appointment was made for tomorrow and we sauntered back in 22 deg sunshine and blue sky.
I’d picked up a town guide and we found the theatre tucked away in the narrow streets of more shops and restaurants – there seemed to be more places to eat here than in Madrid or Valencia
Making our way back towards the hotel, through the narrow streets and hundreds of shops, bars and little restaurants, we walked along another pedestrianised stretch, the ‘Calle Mayor’ and stopped in at an interesting place for a tapas lunch. They specialized in Alicant dishes, especially ham and from the ceiling over the bar and tables hung nearly fifty hams drying, each with a little pot underneath it to catch any drips. Not for those of a nervous disposition it would have made a good setting for a Hitchcock movie (“The Invasion of the Killer Hams!!”) We had an egg salad, some octopus and a plate of this fabulous Iberian Jabon (ham), which they slice thinly from the full, dried leg of the pig. Delicious, as it should be, for when we got the bill our plate of jabon cost 19 euros (just over 17 pounds sterling)! No wonder it’s a speciality dish!!
A relaxing afternoon and we explored the sun terrace on the hotel roof, which from midday onwards at this time of year was in shade but still gave an excellent view of the ‘Castillo de Santa Barbara’, a mediaeval stronghold which is on top of cliffs overlooking the town and the adjacent town hall square
After a light supper another early night’s sleep.
Wednesday 30th December.
Another sunny, blue sky day and we walked for Norah’s clinic appointment. That sorted, we visited the big market building and decided to have our own ‘pick and pike’. We bought pate, cheeses, chirozo, salmon, olives, bread but we’d left it a little late, as everything still closes here from 2pm until 5pm. We needed to find some knives plus butter (and wine) and went out again after 5 where a friendly ferreteria (iron mongers) and supermercado filled the bill. Returning to the hotel we set ourselves up at a table on the hotel roof with our goodies, much to the amazement of other guests who were visiting the gym located on the roof. The night was clear and around 16deg and we feasted well, with a fabulous view of the floodlit ‘castillo’, where dozens of seagulls aerobatically floated round in the thermals, lit up like incandescent great moths. Down in the square below, people walked through to see the illuminated Christmas Tree and children teased the rows of small fountains, with the fountains usually coming off best
Thursday 31st December.
A dull start to the day but the cloud cleared mid morning to give a sunny, breezy day. Walking out to the tram stop, we sussed how that worked and then continued along the big pier, stopping to feed the fish amongst the supporting rocky base with bread left over from last night’s feast.
We still hadn’t decided what to do for this New Year’s Eve, many restaurants were offering full meal and drink packages at anything from 60 to 120 euros, depending on the calibre of the establishment. A quick sandwich at a touristy (and unusually unfriendly) little café on the marina front, where we sat and watched a few boats potter round the marina and aircraft after aircraft on the final approach to Alicante airport. They must have broken the bad weather blockade of Europe and decided they wanted some last sunshine for the year. We’d been watching the Spanish news and the north of Spain was blanketed in snow, Madrid was wet, if a little warmer than it had been for us but the south (including Malaga) had had days of torrential rain causing floods and landslides
Relaxing in the hotel room in the afternoon (I could get used to this activity called ‘relaxing’!), we watched workmen deliver a generator, followed by a set of sound and lighting equipment, which they speedily erected outside the town hall opposite. Asking at the hotel (as we didn’t want to bother the tourist (non) Information office), we found out that for midnight this is one of the main places that the town gathers, with music and fireworks going on to the early hours. Fair enough – it’s New Year’s Eve after all. We also found out that here was the centre of activity for the ‘Three Kings’ celebration on the 5th January, an event which is bigger than Christmas in Spain and when the children actually get their (Christmas) presents because it was the Three Kings who brought the gifts – “LogicaI Captain!” On this basis we decided to stay in Alicante, which we’d started to like (if you can overlook the ever present tourism syndrome) until after the 6th January. I did go out and buy a set of ear plugs though, just to give us a fighting chance after Valencia!
It is normal for many of the restaurants and bars, certainly at this time of year, not to open until 8.30 or 9pm and we wandered out around 8.45 into the reasonably quiet streets
Still not sure of what we wanted but not wanting a blowout meal, we strolled round the streets, which were slowly becoming busier as people came out. We stumbled on a modern, swish, tapas bar and it looked quite inviting. Sitting at the comfortable bar we ordered ‘Fideua’, a Valancian paella style dish but using noodles instead of rice. It was good but Ayo’s still has to be beaten. After a very leisurely meal we sauntered back to the ‘Plaza del Ayuntamiento’, which was now full of people and only had to wait some twenty minutes for midnight. A drum band was enthusiastically playing and on the stroke of midnight the bells chimed and everyone………………. ate grapes. The traditional twelve ‘Uvas de Suerte’ or Good Luck Grapes, are meant to be eaten one for every stroke of the bell and depending on the number you manage to down dictates how many months of good fortune you’ll have in the coming year
A great fireworks display against the backdrop of the floodlit Castillo and then dancing, We’re one hour in front of UK time and at our 2.00 am we went back to the hotel and watched the revellers from the hotel terrace. Not long after and it was time to road (bed?) test our earplugs for a not too bad night’s sleep.
To all our friends and to everyone, we wish you a Happy, Prosperous and above all, Peaceful New Year. It promises to be quite an ‘interesting’ Year for us !!!!!!!
Friday 1st January 2010
The ear plugs worked quite well and it was still dark when noise outside in the square awoke me. A big team of council workmen had cleared the debris left by the hundreds of people at last night’s celebrations and were now hosing everywhere down. The sound stage and gear had also been dismantled and removed. It was still dark but was nearly 8am. I’ve noticed before in Spain that after a big event rubbish is not left but cleared up immediately.
A slow start and breakfast, then we went out into the sunny but very windy day. We intended to go to the Castillo via a lift up the cliffs situated along the road from the marina. Guess what? Yes.. it’s Aardvarks again. A return walk along the very busy promenade with its street sellers and stalls and then a sit overlooking the marina. I’m always amazed at any marina and the number of boats worth millions of pounds that just sit idly moored. Here in Alicante were some fabulous super yachts and it seemed a shame that they weren’t being used. The only things we had seen regularly moving around the marina were racing kayaks, whose paddlers were very proficient and obviously in serious training.
It was too cool to sit for long, so we returned to the room and snacked on the left overs of our recent night feast before a siesta in the afternoon.
Going out around 9pm and in the streets were many people out for a New Year’s Day meal. We went to the small restaurant with all the hams and giving the tapas a break, enjoyed a wonderful steak meal before a stroll along the windy promenade before bed. A very pleasant day.
Saturday 2nd January
A cloudy start to a breezy day. After a late start we set off for Benidorm, as we had arranged to meet Norah’s sister who was staying there for a few weeks. We caught the tram in the nearby port area and then changed lines for the run along the coast. The comfortable, modern tram gave great views over the coast as we meandered on the seventy minute trip.
Arriving in Benidorm in early afternoon we set off down the main road towards the city. “We’re at the back of the indoor market” were the only instructions that we had and as all the tourist information places were closed we plodded on downhill towards the beach area, occasionally asking the few passersby where the ‘indoor market’ was. After an hour and a quarter, passing English pub after English pub and refusing countless offers of ‘afternoon bingo folks?’ we arrived at the indoor market. The next cryptic clues were to meet at some nearby traffic lights where we were finally met by Norah’s sister. ‘Challenge Aneka!!!”, ye gods, she’d have had no chance. We were rewarded with a good cuppa tea for our efforts though as we sat on the 18th storey balcony and surveyed the anglified Benedorm scene, including the hotel and pool where the recent tv series of the same name was filmed.
We spent the afternoon chatting and then went for a Chinese meal. Three courses including a half a bottle of wine each for 5 euros. Come on, who says that commercial competition doesn’t work?
We caught a bus back through the busy city, packed with fleeing brits enjoying some time in the sun and were back in Alicante by 1015. Wanting a nightcap I searched bars for a hot chocolate but no way. Then falling back on my developed local knowledge I remembered a mobile “churreiria’, a little snack bar down near the marina. Unable to resist the offer of an accompanying ‘porras’, which is like the big brother to the churros that we had in Madrid, I succumbed and we went and sat next to the water at the edge of the marina. The one inch thick porras were a bit of a wade, so I finished up feeding them to a passing shoal of fish who were scavenging the calm marina waters for their supper. The hot chocolate was good though. Then a reasonable night’s sleep, only interrupted by the lively teenagers who were gathered in the plaza nearby but at least they weren’t in the next room.
Sunday 3rd January
Another bright and sunny morning and after breakfast we emerged from the hotel into the plaza where an antiques fair was taking place. This was manna from heaven for Norah and we inspected the stalls enthusiastically. Funny isn’t it, old junk is the same the world over but it’s still intriguing to see what people are trying to sell.
Our plan to move on later in the week was based on a car and as I wanted to see if I could get a better deal by renting in Spain rather than as beforehand from the UK, we took a local bus out to the airport. We got a few (varying) quotes and eventually settled on a company and prebooked a car, before bussing it back to the hotel.
In mid afternoon it was still sunny and we decided to go and visit the ‘Castillo de Santa Barbara’. Along the marina road there was a 200m tunnel leading to a lift, cut inside the rock, that rose 142m to the castle entrance. That saved a lorra, lorra walking!
The Castillo is perched on top of the 166m Mount Benacantil and was started by the Moors in the late 9th century. There were fabulous views over all the area from the top and we spent some time enjoying the views and the warm afternoon sunshine.
Supper was at a modern Italian restaurant and finished with coffees. The standard European choice is ‘café con leche’ (coffee made with milk) but I’d discovered a while back the ‘café bombon’. This is served in about the size of a sherry glass and is half thick black coffee and half condensed milk, where the condensed milk sits in the bottom, giving a two tone effect until you stir it up. Some places deliver the half glass of coffee and give you a sachet of condensed milk, like the ketchup or mayonnaise sachets. I had one the other night and the sachet was labeled ‘leche condensada’, fair enough and then was added’ semidesdenatada’ – semi skimmed. I mean - low fat condensed milk? That’s as pointless as having a low calorie mars bar innit?
Monday 4th January
Rain overnight and a cloudy morning. I’d been impressed by the tram ride to Benedorm (but only the tram ride!!!!) and there was a further connection heading north to Denia. It took 70 minutes to Benedorm and then a further 70 mins to Denia, a port that serves the Balearic Islands of Majorca, Minorca and Ibiza. We had lunch and a walk around the town before returning back to Alicante by7pm. The tram ride in the northern part was mostly along the coast but cut through rock cliffs and past enormous terraced areas of olive groves, passing the great ‘Serra del Montgo’ mountain region that runs towards the coast. A really enjoyable day out.
We stopped at our little bar for a drink on the way back and heard the sound of drums in another area. This would be the bands announcing the festival of ‘Los Tres Reyes’ the following day and it should be quite a spectacle.
Tuesday 5th January
A cloudy start and we received some photos of thick snow back in the Radcliffe area of the UK (thanks H) but we fought off the desperate feeling of home sickness as the sun came out over Alicante !
A light lunch and then an easy afternoon, before we walked out onto the ‘La Rambla’ main street around 6.30pm. Joining the gathering crowds we had only a half hour to wait before the start of the Three Kings procession. It’s one of the main spectacles in the Spanish calendar and as the second city of the Valencia region, Alicanti really put on a show. There were eleven different bands, all of them good but especially the one dressed in Roman centurion costumes, complete with an attendant legion of Roman soldiers; several groups of riders on horseback; many of what we call in the UK ‘floats’, which are lorries or trailers decorated in different themes and the three kings themselves – each with their own specially robed entourage. All the while there are handfuls of sweets and toys being thrown to the crowds, causing the children to scuttle everywhere in pursuit of their prizes. I do however, think that the (limited) use of an upturned umbrella to maximize your catch is not really ‘cricket’. The finale ends with Los Tres Reyes being presented to the crowds from the Town Hall balcony and urging all the children to be good for the following year. Yes – quite a spectacle.
As usual there was an enormous amount of rubbish left in all the streets and again, as usual, it had all gone by morning and the streets were washed and clean. I find this really impressive.
Wednesday 6th January
A slow start and after breakfast we walked round the marina in the somewhat cloudy morning with a temperature of 14deg. Lunch and then an easy afternoon starting to pack and preparing to move on.
We planned to go to Javea, a small town we had discovered over 6 years ago and had returned to several times in the following two years, which was the last time we were there. We were interested to see how much it must have changed.
We wanted to rent an apartment and be more independent but all our enquiries, mostly to UK rental agencies, received no or little response. It is ‘irritating’ that these agencies offer places for rent (and take a commission from the owners for their ‘efforts’) and then can’t be bothered to provide clients with information or the courtesy of a reply if there is any difficulty. At the last minute we booked into a local hotel, so at least we would have a bed for the night.
We also had a suspicion that our internet access was being monitored by someone else connected to the hotel’s wifi link and consequently limited our use and avoided any sensitive access. We changed our passwords regularly to try and prevent any ‘hijacking’.
In the evening we got dressed up and visited the casino for the experience, something that we last did in Canada nearly twenty years ago. The casino was not quite as classy as in Canada and although we splashed a few euros on the roulette wheel, we were minnows compared to some of the big money going down. I saw one guy change a 500 euro note and put it all down on one spin – mesmerizing!!
Our final fling was a late supper at a restaurant where we tried the Alicante paella. Good but guess what? – not as good as Ayo’s. Ok – new game. Ayo is the yardstick, so we give him a rating of 10. Alicante gets 7. Let’s see how we progress from there.