Spain 2010

Friday 13th August

It’s an interesting date to start out on annual holiday. There are people who would have postponed and avoid such a date. This attitude is abhorrent to us, we’re British dammit. We didn’t win and lose an empire by being threatened by a mere date.

We throw the cases into the boot and head to our chums to pick them up. We’ve been on holiday with them for years and are familiar with the amount of rubbish that both couples take.

The luggage goes in the boot without a problem – is it really the 13th?

We arrive at the Glasgow Airport Holiday Inn comfortable that the car is booked in to its holiday kennels and we can have a quiet meal, a couple of drinks (or so) and stock the shared purse that we always use for things like food and meals. This saves on having to review each day’s purchases to ensure the spending is equitable. This scheme has always worked well. We put a hundred Euro’s each in it and spend until it needs replenishment.

We have to take the car to its holiday home for the next couple of weeks. It’s an easy trip and they bring you back in a bus for free. There is a screen on the bus on a continuous loop advertising shows in London! Glaswegians have always puzzled me! The adverts are sandwiched between health and safety notices written for cretins on “how to stand on a bus without falling over by holding on to a rail”. Tony points it out but I’ve already spotted it. All this happened just before we fall over! We are amused.

Saturday 14th August

I like the ambiance of foreign airports. There is always a challenge to listening to the announcer as they struggle with Basic English. Glasgow is no exception. We listen to the announcements but struggle with the heavy stress on unfamiliar consonants, vowels and diphthongs. I look for a screen and the reassurance “in writing” that the aeroplane:-

  • is arriving;
  • has arrived;
  • is waiting for us at the gate;
  • is boarding and it’s time us to get our arse in gear as Easyjet waits for no one.

Frankie and Benny’s do an exceptional breakfast so we make a good start knowing that we’ll need a small mortgage for food on the aeroplane.  Most of it is excellent with the exception of the scrambled eggs which are rubbery – not a Chinese term – the scrambled eggs are not really ‘rubbery’ at all.

We decide to split up for a short while. Linda will go to the smelly area; I’ll go to look at books and magazines – no not those! – And our chums will go to the loo.

The change of status on the flight is like foreign traffic lights. None of your red then amber i.e. get ready to go but don’t go yet, then green. They go from red to green and you’re off. One minute we are ambling around Smiths and Boots the next we were expected to be ‘boarding’ and had to stampede to a faraway gate 51 which turns out to be fifteen yards down the corridor and no one is boarding yet anyway!

We get seats next to each other which are not guaranteed when you fly with Easyjet. They like to charge an additional £20 each for that sort of assurance. For the sake of a two and half hour flight we thought we’d be able to wave at each other with perhaps, a silent tear and an affectionate sob to pass the time. No need, we are sitting together and holding hands as the plane taxis to the runway; well Linda has my hand in a vice like grip and I am not able to let go as the plane takes off so I suppose technically we are holding hands in the plural.

The flight is uneventful with the exception of a gentleman a few seats in front of us who appears to be having chest pains and needs oxygen.  The stewardesses are congregating around him with various items of equipment obviously delighted with something that breaks the monotony of serving drinks and flogging smelly stuff; this apart, there is nothing particularly interesting.

As we taxi to a standstill in Alicante there is an ambulance waiting with attendant paramedics and we have to wait for them to escort our casualty off the aircraft.

We follow the snake of fellow fliers through to the baggage claim area then through customs that isn’t manned. I feel delighted with this level of trust.

Tony has pre-booked the car with a local company who advertise Peugeots but only have Fords. No matter as the car they have allocated is roomy and more than adequate for our 4 cases and supersized camera bag.

Our satnav, so conscientiously upgraded with current European maps and packed in cabin luggage so that it is available immediately we arrive has never heard of the villa address so we use the hand written directions and these prove very accurate leading us to the address with only minor detours.

At the villa, instructions are followed to unlock and switch on various equipment including fridge and, most important of all, the kettle.

A shopping list is produced and we head for Lidl’s. They have only some of the requirements and we head for Consum which is just over the way.

We return to cups of tea with real milk and a few treats to tide us over until we test a local hostelry tonight.

We drive down to the eating area where the interestingly named Bar Studz invokes an enigmatic invitation to join the rest of the barstudz for a meal. We decide no and drift around to a small pavement bar that does some beautiful steaks of every type along with some excellent beer called Mamou.

An excellent evening would normally be followed by a couple of games of Scrabble but we’re knackered and drift off to bed.

Sunday 15th August

Let’s not do much day.

Tony and I make our way to Lidl’s in Rojacles and end up at Carrefour in Torrodieja. Now the girls would like Carrefour. It’s the size of a small airport, all undercover and sells everything but cars. We park under the shaded car parking (posh isnit?) and make our way to collect the trolley; at a Euro a go it’s what we expect. First inside and we notice girls on roller skates ghosting their way between aisles of products. They have two way radios and seem to be in constant conversation with a disembodied host who is giving instructions about where to go next and what to retrieve or drop off.

There are female security personnel with huge vibrators strapped to their belts in case of the need for emergency relief from trapped nerves or muscular knots. It could also be used for a quickie down by the Aisle de la Bolts and Screws (could be a metaphor) should the feeling prevail.

We’re here with a shopping list of essentials but we’re drawn to the camera and accessories counter like fat folks to sweet stuff. We can, of course, like them, blame our hormones or metabolic rate (the girls would blame the bolic pat of the metabolic stuff). The testosterone/technology mix makes cameras and accessories more interesting; nay more important, than food. In fact; any man that can walk past a camera display without pausing to look, has had a leg added to his ‘Y’ chromosome. We check out the memory cards that we don’t need and the prices that are unimportant because we don’t need the product and follow this with observations about the speed of the device which, whilst being impressive, is also superfluous because it is unrequired. Ah well, back to the shopping list…

We walk to the satellite TV section and inspect the LED screens; very impressive and prices are good too. The gardening section has some very desirable BBQ’s and numerous solar powered thingies for the thinking man’s Mediterranean gaff. There are hundreds of bikes and several stacks of accessories for them including a kind of sidecar doobery for towing your kids behind the bike or tandem.

We’ve been here about 2 hours so we decide to make a proper attack on the shopping list which has largely remained unscathed and realise that we have been away some time so decide on a divide a conquer strategy. This would reduce the amount of time that it would take to retrieve the demands of the list and also reduce the possibility of us being understandably side-tracked by the necessity to discuss the finer points of the design features of a garden spade or how they could manufacture it for such a price.

The strategy works! Tony acquires the bottle of skimmed milk, I retrieve the fresh baguette and we regroup at the till with the shared purse that magically restocks itself with money each time it goes near the girls. We are on a roll. The shopping is loaded into the back of the car. Having bought a baguette and a bottle of milk it could have been a struggle without the help of the girls to pack the car.

Monday 16th August

We decide on a day trip to the beach. The weather is overcast and threatening. Rain would be a bonus and would take away the heavy oppression that drags at our minds. First stop will be Guardamar Del Segura, about six or seven miles from the villa. We make our way along a couple of dual carriageways and see where we need to be but can’t find a way of getting there.

Perseverance pays off and we eventually park near the beach. We walk along the foreshore then turn into an area that the signs indicate is the Centro. The road runs parallel to the beach and is like a down market Toxteth. There are grates missing from drains, various slabs missing from the pavement and the eating establishments look dubious to say the least. We walk for about ten minutes and don’t see any improvement so turn towards the beach which has been sitting invitingly to our right. The seafront is littered with eating areas but seems lacking. The tiles are cracked and frontages have seen better days but they are clean. We decide on a drink and take a seat overlooking the sea.

On the beach in front of us there is a priest next to a gorilla and a lady with her breasts displayed; I’ve sat in worse places! Sand artists amaze me. They produce something that has a lifetime of at best, a couple of days and at worst a couple of hours if it rains. These mini masterpieces in the sand are extremely detailed and we’re impressed.

The waiter arrives and we order “café con leché”, “té con leché fria” which is coffee with milk and tea with cold milk respectively. The waiter smiles his acknowledgement and disappears for a couple of hours to rustle it up.  Remember this as it will be repeated in interesting circumstances as we travel around this region. The white coffee arrives along with tea and the worst of all options, warm milk. He also brings some slices of baguette which we eye suspiciously for a while before Tony takes the plunge and eats some of one of them. It appears to be something with cold fish on it. It is not as bad as it sounds in as much as it is not really anything. The bread tastes of bread but that’s where it ends. I eat one and the olive certainly adds 100% to the taste but that’s it.

We decide to move on to Torrevieja which is a little further down the coast. We use the coast road as much as possible and some of the little beaches are sheltered behind small rocky areas that are too big to be rocks and not big enough to be cliffs – let’s call them ‘cliffocks’. We debate returning to this area later in the holiday.

Torrevieja is a small town which, on first impression, exhibits a rather more upbeat image than Guardamar, but we are only two days into our holiday. We eat at one of the café’s on the front overlooking the beach and sea. It’s populated with a gaggle of Spanish families that are capable of the most unbelievable volume and we christen them ‘los Dingles’. Their chatter and laughter add to the atmosphere and we work on the principle that if it’s good enough for the locals then it must be good for us.

We order pita bread wraps but it’s not straightforward. We can have chicken, veal, beef or mixta i.e. any combination or all and finally anything with cheese. I order “Tres pita ensalada y quesso” but I’m challenged with something about chicken or veal. I repeat the order and am challenged again. In desperation I look at Tony who looks equally perplexed. I try again and the waiter reappears with a photograph of the different types of wraps and we chose the one we want “ensalada y quesso” (salad with cheese). The discussion begins again until the penny drops. He wants to know what meat that we want with our cheese sandwich and finds it incredulous when it dawns on him that we don’t want any meat – just a cheese and salad sandwich. Now he understands and walks away shaking his head that we should want anything that didn’t also contain meat!

Tuesday 17th August

It’s a bit overcast and there is a serious threat of rain. The atmosphere is so close and damp however, that we’re actually hoping for what is being threatened. I spend some time writing this journal and discussing where we might want to go.

I look at the excellent information in the folders on the villa book cases and decide that Elche looks like an interesting town. At this point it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be called; Elx, Elche or Gordon? We set off for Elche at lunch time, we later realise that this is not the best time to be going to an inland town as they do like their siesta so the shops will be closed. What we didn’t know at the time was what an educational experience this was going to be! The road to Elche is a roundabout spotter’s paradise. There are all kinds. The Spanish never miss an opportunity to add a roundabout to any road junction with more than two roads, quite often where we would have one roundabout Spain has two. They vary in size. Some are so big that they have petrol stations on them in case you start the circumnavigation and need to refuel to finish it. Some are so small that if you blink when you approach it then you miss it. One of the common mistakes that we Brits make is when approaching the roundabout we look right, this is fine for checking out the rear of disappearing cars and adding to the rich tapestry of what is adjacent to the side of the road. The Spanish are surprisingly tolerant of the fact that you’ve just joined a major route control structure centimetres from the front of their vehicle and craning your neck the other way to avoid an accident. Other Brits who live in Spain are not so tolerant. You can always tell if you’ve just cut up a fellow Brit, they inform you with all of the tools at their disposal. Horn, lights, (Spaniards don’t tend to use lights), the human voice (though rarely intelligible) and body language (the Spanish do use body language in fact; if they had their arms cut off, they’d be mute).

So here’s a lesson in approaching a Spanish roundabout…

  1. On approach check out all of the entry points – is there anyone joining it?
  2. Slow down in plenty of time –
    1. Spaniards will not be upset, they always travel that close.
    2. Brits will be seriously pissed off because they are always in a hurry to get there – wherever ‘there’ is.
    3. In fact, if you want to create an evening of perplexity, reflection and consequent confusion, ask a Brit what he’s going to do with the time that he’s saved by rushing? I’ve used the masculine term as tarts don’t tend to be as bad. The men won’t have an answer…
  3. Look left as you enter the roundabout – you will immediately increase your circle (no pun intended) of friends and probably avoid being dead.
  4. Keep an eye on what is happening in the other lanes because the Spanish are really not good at lane discipline.
  5. Try to get into the outside lane before you need to exit and don’t be surprised if thee motor bikes, an articulated lorry, a coach with 52 tourists and four large saloon cars are in the space that was empty only seconds ago.
  6. Ignore the guy that’s throwing a tantrum and making signals that include
    1. the one fingered ‘spin on this’
    2. the two fingered international sign of decent
    3. the bulging eyed, red faced and overacted mime of something you’ve probably used yourself in the past
  7. get back into the inside lane (usually, that’s the one on your right) when you can and let the spring unwind

If the guy you cut up was Spanish he’ll be ready to take you for a drink within the next minute as if nothing has happened, if he’s a Brit he’ll talk about the incident and despise you until you die.

The road into Elche is quite pretty. Each of the roundabouts has a different theme and are well cared for. There are numerous palms and some of them have what look like condoms on their upper leaves so that the whole tree looks like it has no leaves and it culminates in a black, sheathed point. It looks like they are wearing a sorting hat. There appear to be several small holdings growing the inevitable palms and other exotic plants for either garden centres or to restock Elche which turns out to be very green.

We find an underground car park that, it has to be said, is not for the faint hearted. Once on the ramp descending to the subterranean world under the city and then beyond into the very bowels of hell, there is no escape, no turning back, you are committed. There is a ticket machine that has a small shelter above it that looks like it’s there for show as it couldn’t possibly do any good unless the storm in question is accompanied by rain that comes straight down from the heavens. We are later to experience that this is exactly how it rains in this part of Spain. It like someone has upturned a bucket and the resultant torrent is geometrically at a right angle to the brim of a hat. In fact a large brimmed hat should keep the chest of even the most amply endowed lady dry with the exception of, perhaps, just a small area of saturation at the very front guaranteed to keep the interest of any gentlemen who may be passing.

We park on the second floor below the streets and the heat is certainly challenging, if anything it’s warmer down here but with the added disadvantage of the exhaust gasses. Emerging from this dark and smelly home for delinquent cars we blink into the square. I take a photograph of the street sign so we know where to come back to when – not if – I forget where the car is parked; digital cameras are a God send.

Elche is shut or at least shuttish. If you are going to Elche then make if morning or late afternoon and you’ll really appreciate it. If you’re not bothered about shops being open then anytime would be good. However, even though I’m not the most avid shopper I always feel that a town has life when it is open.

The cathedral is on the list and when we arrive in the square we make the mistake of going into a small museum attached to the end thinking that it gave us complete access to the building. It doesn’t.  Our friend’s knowledge of embroidery makes it worth a visit but if you don’t have your own built in guide then I personally wouldn’t bother.

The cathedral is incredibly ornate and even has the Virgin Mary reclined in a made up bed – not quite Tracey Emmin and definitely not what I consider to be ecclesiastically appropriate – but who am I to comment? There is a walkway for people to walk around and touch the effigy. There’s nothing obvious to inform what this will be bring but there are stains on the hands so a lot of people have done this.

For two euros it is possible to go to the top of the tower and get what they profess to be best view of the city. I didn’t do that but would if I went again and recommend that you do it if you are there. It’s only a couple of euros and I overheard some people who had been to the top say that it was a long climb in the heat of the day but worth it.

There are two café’s in the piazza. One is French cuisine and the other Italian, we opt for the Italian. Our Spanish is nearly perfect by now and I ask for:

“Dos café con leche” (two coffees with milk) – no ambiguity there!

“Una jamon y quesso sandwich” (a ham and cheese sandwich) – another success.

“y Una quesso sandwich” – the waiter is not comfortable with this concept so I clarify “quesso sin jamon por favour” (no ham please) – we have a smile

In Dominican Republic I was given a drink with warm milk and was ill for three days so we have a avoided it since so here goes:

“Dos té con leche fria” (two teas with cold milk) – couldn’t be simpler – another smile

We wait for this feast to make an appearance and are quite impressed with the accuracy. The cheese and ham sandwich makes an appearance along with the coffee. The cheese sandwich is noticeable by its absence and we swiftly came to the conclusion that he’s misunderstood my request as “could I have a ham and cheese sandwich” then “No cancel it”. We re-establish the order.

He also brought along the drinks:

Café con leche – all present and correct…

Te con leche fria – hmmmm – this is far more interesting. He’s brought two silver milk jugs and they are cold so it is promising. However, there is a draw string with a label hanging out over the side and trapped in place by the lid. We lift the lid with some trepidation and inside is indeed, cold milk (leche fria). It’s also accompanied by a tea bag floating about and no sign of diffusion in the cold liquid…

I think we lost something in the translation!

By now the city has gone to sleep and with the exception of other pavement cafes it’s time for a siesta.

 

 

Wednesday 18th August

We have an invalid; hereinafter called Invy.

Invy (I’ve changed their name to protect the innocent) wants to keep today low key. Invy has joined the “Olympic – 500 metre Poo Squirting Team (PST)” and the mandatory exercise has left her dehydrated. The training regime includes a compulsory liquid diet for 48 hours followed by experimental solids and more liquids. The equipment is not sophisticated and consists of

  • a toilet – in the initial stages two toilets can give an advantage over other teams
  • fast action doors – locks are recommended but can be superfluous in emergency situations
  • dry floors are advantageous for grip during the initial acceleration stage on the way to the training area
  • sneezing at any time during the first 48 hours is not recommended and could be the subject of an official objection should other teams feel that there has been a breech (no pun intended) – this is especially true if the participant has entered the Saturn 5 Class and has opted for the 3.9 level of difficulty, crouched position with drumming toes and reverse pike. This is a platinum sub-division and sneezing can be considered to be stimulating an artificial propellant contrary to team orders
  • a cough is similarly discouraged
  • Imodium is a proscribed drug and participants taking it will be subject to exclusion if tests prove positive

The training regime for the above can prove enormously draining and due consideration must be taken when other events or excursions are planned.

We also had a barbeque!

 

Thursday 19th August

A trip out nearly to the mountains. Parque de Montaña. Stars in bars. Olive pip spitting competition.

Invy is still struggling a bit with the training. New foods and liquids are being tried to balance the electrolytes ready for the final push! The managers and trainers have been discussing the level of difficulty. Does it need review? The platinum class has not been attempted since George briefly and unsuccessfully attempted it during the Sicilian trials in the summer of last year. He too spent three days on special diets but had to return to normal foods following a relapse that nearly cost him some underwear.

As we drive through the pomegranate, lemon and orange groves there are cultivated areas randomly connected to areas of brush. It looks wasteful and odd and probably owes it to the EU who can, and probably should, be blamed for everything. There are also some fig orchards (if that’s what the collective term for them is) all with fruits partly ripe.

The oranges are the most interesting though as most of the fruit are green but the odd one is bright yellow as if it has been ‘switched on’ overnight.

The road is getting narrower and there are passing places. We come to a sign that says “no entry except service vehicles” and we choose to ignore it. The road is littered with small farm yard type areas on either side but also, occasionally the road passes through. Often, there is an assortment of dogs panting in the road who make their way through secret gaps in the fence enabling them to disappear like…er like disappearing dogs. I see them reappear again in the mirror as we get a few yards past. They carry on their panting and then collapse in the road raising a tiny dust storm that partially obscures them for several seconds before clearing to reveal a mouth and tongue working overtime to keep cool.

We arrive at a small parking area and the Parque de Montaña is resplendent through a kind of wooden gate on our right. The car is abandoned for us to investigate the Parque and as we pass through the gate we hear children’s voices. There are some kids sitting in the information shed and working through what appears to be a question sheet. We take the path that leads us past the majority of kids with their adult supervisors working on the principle that if we were not meant to be there then someone would tell us.  No one seems bothered and one of the adults even waves a hand in greeting as we walk by.  At the other side of the parque there are some gates with a sign saying “do not pass”. This time we heed the warning and walk around the side. When we get to the top of the incline we can see a full size swimming pool with seats scattered around it all looking clean if not particularly tidy. It looks completely abandoned. It is definitely bizarre. Like the Marie Celeste. No tumbleweed though – yet!

There’s a religious shrine to Mary of Rosario – apparently still a virgin – who overlooks the park and protects all within her gaze. There are some flowers immediately in front of her. All of these shrines seem to be well kept by an invisible missionary who replenishes the flower vase magically when no one is looking.

On the way back we stop to take photographs of pomegranates growing on bushes just at the side of the road. A farmer is reversing out of his drive and jumps out to encourage us to photograph his number three bush which appears to have the best fruit on it. He shows us a pomegranate which looks the same as any other to our untrained eye. He seemed to think that this was the best and if he was Welsh and it was a sheep he would probably be happy to sleep with it – if it wore stockings and a suspender belt.

We call at a truck stop type place just off the main dual carriageway. The coffee is exceptional and the cost very reasonable. There are posters on the external door and Tony comes back with a belly laugh. There’s a poster featuring Julian and Valarie – Stars in Bars – it makes you wonder how far Frank Sinatra would have gone if he’d had a strap line like that!

 

 

There’s also an invitation to take place in a competition over the weekend. We feel it’s the perfect activity to give the girls something to look forward to so we enter them for the Olive Pip Spitting Competition. When we get back and explain what we’ve done and what fun it’ll be we’re greeted with a stony silence – there’s no pleasing women.

Linda and I at the “Let’s Eat Restaurant”. There’s an element of pretentiousness as all of the tables are marked as “Reserved” and when we asked if we could have a table that night the waitress has to go inside to check the table plan. We are there two hours and one other table is taken up by a group that has a reservation but the rest of the tables remain unused. There is plenty of activity in the air-conditioned area though.

As we wait to be served a 5 series BMW purrs to a halt immediately adjacent to the restaurant. It has slightly tinted windows and there is the faint thud of some very large bass speaker from within its boot. The driver isn’t visible but imagination would have him as a black guy festooned in gold and this was immediately confirmed by the appearance of a Bet Lynch-alike resplendent in a tight fitting leopard skin body suit and very high heels. I ask myself if she’s in fancy dress as she scurries across the terrace in front of us using very short strides as the outfit impedes her ability to take proper steps. I swiftly come to the conclusion that no she’s not in fancy dress as she carefully looks everywhere to ensure that people are looking at her, she really, really wants to look like that. I do think she’s won the bet though and she can now go back home to change.

The waitresses are very pleasant and attentive if a bit slow. We don’t mind that though as we ‘people watch’. Linda orders her favourite fillet steak and I choose the house salad both of which are excellent. The prices are top end-ish for Spain but the quality is tremendous and I would recommend them. We are told that, pretentiousness apart, they do get booked up so if you do wish to go, ensure you do book. A good evening is had and the entertainment in the form of our leopard skin friend caps it.

Friday 20th August

Invy is still not too clever but there are signs of improvement. Sneezing and coughing are now well under control and access to the training area has been kept under scrutiny and free from obstruction for over 24 hours. It’s still an individual event though as no other potential participants have volunteered to join the training regime.

Linda and I go to the town centre to get a stamp and look around. We also need some blood pressure drugs as we haven’t brought sufficient for the full two weeks. Linda asks for the drug which is prescription only in the UK as a man further along the counter asks for some Prosac. Both are dispensed with only minimal checking, in Linda’s case the check consisted of pointing at the name on the packaging, the payment of €3.45 (less than three quid and much less than buying on prescription in the UK) and we were back out in the sun. The chap who bought the Prosac looks happy as he emerges and it strikes me that it must be really powerful to have an effect before he takes it. I still haven’t figured out the doctor and pharmacist model we have in the UK. Why doesn’t the doctor give you what you need when you are in the consulting room? What does a pharmacist do other than add a layer of obstruction to a system? Did man really walk on the moon?

 

Invy is still not ready for an evening excursion so Linda and I decide to go to the Texan/Mexican restaurant. Linda’s put on a long dress and looks absolutely tremendous. We’ve found that many of the women and girls make an effort when visiting the restaurants at the bottom, you won’t look out of place if you don’t but you won’t feel overdressed if you do. We go for a beer at bar Catorce where we’ve had some good advice regarding where to go and I feel great walking past the various eateries with her. We eventually make our way to the Mexican and have made the mistake of not booking. Unfortunately, they’re fully booked and we are turned away. Linda helps me with my bottom lip and we return to a small English run place (which we normally avoid in favour of anything ethnic). Bar Catorce (Bar 14) is excellent through the day and has free WIFI if you have a laptop but the meals at night are only average. Not unpleasant, you understand, just not top notch – the beer’s good though and my company is excellent.

Saturday 21st August

Alicante is on the bill today. It’s about 40 minutes away and most of the road is dual carriageway. There is a castle and a beach that need our attention and various museums and cultural things that we’ll probably avoid for the time being. The road in reminds me of other Spanish port towns with complicated junctions and some ambiguous signs but otherwise it’s easy to navigate. The under-round car park is eye wateringly expensive if you intend to stay for more than three or four hours and I’ll give you a tip in a minute.

The car is parked in the oven of the underground working on the principle that we will probably go for a wander around the beach area then return to go up to the castle. This plan works and we spend a very pleasant 40 minutes drinking coffee and fruit juice whilst watching the antics of the posers on the beach.

This beach, more than most, seems to attract the more interesting character. There are the usual suspects, the sun-worshipers glistening with the light oils that seem to be popular and should see them with faces like used foreskins by the time they reach twenty three. There are the more cautious but equally short sighted who are using the stronger creams and potions but will only postpone the event described above until they’re Forty. Most Spanish women have a propensity to reach the age of thirty nine years, seven months, three weeks and two days when a metamorphosis takes place through the night. It is as dramatic as it is profound. The beautiful and immaculately dressed and elegant girl who skips and weaves through the street smiling and flirting with all that she passes enters the dark hours and re-emerges five stone heavier in dowdy coloured robes with a face that has been affected by a walnut gene. It happens swiftly in only one night, there is no intermediate stage, there are very few average looking Spanish girls, they are one side of the transformation or the other. Spanish men undergo a similar transformation but five years later and, for me at least, the masculine transformation doesn’t seem so tragic.

We return to the car park and retrieve the car. For less than an hour it has cost 1.80 euro. It’s worth mentioning that when emerging from an underground car park it’s worth spending a couple of minutes to let your eyes readjust to the strong light. We’re on our way to the castle. If we are honest, this is due to the fact that this is where the road goes rather than a deliberate act. We arrive at the car park and there is no charge. Now here’s a tip – if you travel directly to the castle and leave your car there, you can then take the lift which is situated in the castle down to the beach level and you’ve got yourself a free car park!

The castle is well worth a visit. If you are feeling less energetic then take the lift to near the top and you can walk the rest of the way. The views are certainly worth the effort. The whole place is only relatively child friendly and you will need to take on the responsibilities of a parent. Judging from the experience of this holiday this may be new to some. Do keep a close eye on your offspring. It’s not a bit like the UK where the state takes care of things with guard rails, multiple warning signs, razor wire fences and watchtowers with alarms and armed guards – you’re on your own!

We grab a coffee and ice cream and are pleasantly surprised that it’s reasonably priced. Check out what’s happening on the web before you go as they have free concerts in the castle on certain nights and whilst we didn’t see one, I can appreciate the special setting and how nice it could be. If you are in the area where the stage is sited and you are looking at the stage, turn around 180 degrees and look up, you will see a café area where you can sit outside and enjoy a beer or two and you’ll have the best view in the castle.

Following our exploration of the more accessible areas we head back to the car. By now the locals are descending (probably more accurately, ascending) the place for the evening concert. It’s an interesting challenge extricating the car from the myriad of abandoned Spanish vehicles. If you are staying for the concert this will not be an issue although you may need to budget some extra time to get out at the end.

The return is via Elche where we prepare for the re-enactment of the “teabag in cold milk” escapade from last week.

We have mixed feelings when all goes well and we enjoy an excellent meal at the Paris restaurant opposite the Basilica of Santa Maria. This is a nice place to be anyway if you enjoy people watching. All the residents appear in the early evening. They are all dressed up in their evening code clothes which are probably their second best. Their best clothes are reserved for Sunday. Their children are also dressed up and promenade across and around the square. The adults are catching up on unfinished conversations from the previous evening and their children resume games and play together as if there’s been no break. There are skateboarders here, but not intimidating. They have an area that appears to be denoted by an imaginary line and whilst there is much showing off it doesn’t seem to be accompanied by any recklessness or threat and the whole scene is a delight.

Sunday 22nd August

Invy has had a bit of a relapse so we opt for a quiet day at the villa. Linda and I go for provisions at a different supermercardo for our meal tonight. At lunch time Invy feels OK enough for us to go to the WiFi bar (Bar Catorce has free WiFi if you have a laptop. Alternatively, the shop over the road has 4 computers hooked up to the internet that you can buy time on – similar to an internet café but without the café bit). I feel the need to pick up email and irritate others on Facebook with facts like the temperature (32C), the fact that we are at a pavement café drinking coffee and not doing much is probably an annoying bonus and we’ll slip in the fact that we are probably going for a swim in the afternoon in the excellent outdoor pool literally adjacent to the villa. We’re happy in the fact that the latter is probably the final act of egotistical superiority i.e. as we bathe in the thoughts that they’re probably cold and being rained on as we are here in Spain in the heat. As all of these things are forming in our minds and we smile the smile of the smug as we receive a text from Emma, it’s 24 degrees, a really nice day and summer has returned to Yorkshire – damn!

Monday 23rd August

Invy is still in training so is reluctant to move more than a few minutes away from the villa. Linda and I go to the WiFi bar and indulge in their excellent bacon sandwiches and BLT’s. Well, I suppose they’re excellent if you’re not a pig, Jew or a veggie. They do have alternatives; in fact you can have anything provided it has meat in it.  Whilst we are there I also take the opportunity to book a hotel in Valencia. There’s a new one which is four star and offering special rates through July and August. It’s the Sorolla Palace near the convention centre and I book a room for 65 euros per night. This is for the room not per person so I’m feeling really pleased. They didn’t even require a credit card to hold it.

The intention is to have a couple of days and one night in air-conditioned 5 star comfort and explore Valencia so I check out the tourist buses and there is one that stops outside the hotel entrance. The cost is 14 euros each; however, this is for a full 24 hours not like the London open-tops that used to be issued for just that day.

The evening is taken up with a salad meal with various meats and Invy has an omelette. The beauty of Spain is the availability of fresh food at reasonable prices and the supermarket experience is usually good too. Sitting outside when it’s a little cooler is wonderful. The Villa’s position makes it ideal for evening meals where we can all sit around and not do much apart from watch the actions of nature unfold. We can talk and listen to the slapping of the pool and watch the sun go down over some hills which I need to identify – or not. There is just enough mist to protect your eyes as it disappears as a dimming, perfect sphere and tonight we are treated to slivers of high cirrus cloud slashed across the surface like strokes from an artist’s brush. There’s an extra bonus tonight as it also lights up the underside of the clouds directly above us which gives them a strange, luminous orange glow. (By the way, all of this is real, we’ve only had a couple of beers and I haven’t touched any of the other stuff for years). I’ve take a couple of photographs and am so pleased with one of them I make it my wallpaper on the laptop.

Tuesday 24th August

Linda and I get ready for the journey to Valencia. According to TomTom it’s a couple of hours up the road and it seems to know which roads although they don’t seem to be the ones that I would have selected from a map. Linda does here usual trick of having everything in one suitcase and even has some alternative clothes for the emergency change of mind. We are away by 11 which means we will travel during the really intense heat – the temperature today is meant to be in the region of 38. The journey is wonderful and I would recommend it. On a clear day like today the hills are picked out in sharp relief and distant castles – of which there are many – look like they’ve been drawn on to the side of the hills or at the top of some stony outcrop like some kind of violent children’s game. We pass a huge flat statue of a black bull replete with horns and other tackle that is imposing if a little out of place. Then again could the statue of a bull be out of place in Spain?

I miss the turning for Valencia from the dual carriageway that we are on and decide on not turning back. I’m more aware as the next opportunity to peel off onto the side road arises and what a wonderful road this is. It follows some natural valley through the hills and the scenery is wonderful. I make a mental note to have my camera ready on the return trip to take some photographs as Linda drives.

The approach to Valencia is typical of a modern city, well sign posted and mostly dual carriageway. The Sorolla Palace is easily recognised from the pictures from the Web and I spot it in the distance. Here’s an added bonus; it’s easy to get to using line of sight and the inevitable roundabouts and we are parking in its bowels within 20 minutes.

If you venture up here try to get parked outside the hotel if there are no restrictions. I don’t feel 20 euros per day is good value but you may have other views.

The room we have been allocated is a twin and I had asked for a double so I ask for it to be changed. There is an awkward moment as I ask the receptionist for a double.

“DOUBLE!”, he repeated at a volume high enough to echo off the huge windows around the atrium. I felt like I’d asked for more gruel and wanted to explain to the people behind me that I wasn’t a sexual athlete, I just like the size of a double bed, and it’s so much more comfortable.

Anyway, with a mix of tenacity and purpose we got what we wanted and moved to a double room which is a small suite.

We venture out to the touristica bus stop and jump on the bus that has been waiting for us paying the driver and asking a few questions about the terms i.e. it does last for 24 hours from purchase and you can use it on all of the buses no matter which tour. Apparently, all of the drivers on the touristica buses speak good English so go with your list of questions.

We are issued with a new pair of earphones as part of the deal and the commentary is good if a little sporadic. We like these kind of tours. If you fit one in early then it gives you lots of ideas of where you may wish to go in the City when you get off and you also have an idea of where it’s going to and from if you want to use it during the life of the ticket as a hop on hop off service.

The centre of Valencia is beautiful and interesting. There are churches and museums if that is your lot but there is also the bonus of being able to wander around the narrow streets and take in the tiny squares that appear suddenly, where the narrow streets converge, these usually have a religious theme. This is all coupled with the large piazzas with impressive fountains. We like this city.

On return to the hotel we shower and get changed for a more formal evening. We want to test an eating establishment that is a little more than a pavement café so we dress to suit, just in case.

After drifting about aimlessly but enjoyably we find an Italian restaurant which shows some promise. It’s called La Vita e Belle and more than delivers on the promise. I have a perfect salad and Linda has what would probably be classed as the best fillet steak ever. I taste it and agree. We even manage a pudding, Linda with apple pie and me with sorbet. This was a really good evening. Recommended.

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