A Travellerspoint blog

September 2009

Thoroughly Modern Spain

storm 22 °C

Thoroughly Modern Spain

We have finally found Spain. Alicante is just a 30 minute bus ride from our holiday abode, but it could be in another country. For the first time since we arrived we encountered waiters who didn’t answer in English and we saw real Spaniards going about their daily lives.
Alicante is a manageable city with an ancient Arabic fortress and a palm fringed natural harbour - much like Cannes.
Here's the seafront ...
and here is a view of the castle from the sea-front …
The Romans built here long before the Arab Moors put up their castles, but most of the architecture is very modern. Here on the Costa Blanca sun seekers from northern Europe snapped up holiday homes faster than the developers could spit them out. However, when the U.K. economy imploded and the pound fell through the floor, many retired Brits were forced to swap their dream haciendas for a bed-sit in Brighton or a mobile home in Morecambe Bay. “For Sale” signs are everywhere as cash-strapped pensioners try to get a return on their investment.
But, despite 20% unemployment, there’s plenty of good news.
Sleek trains tear across the countryside at over 200 miles an hour and by next year this country will have the most extensive high speed rail network in the world. Further south in Almeria we witnessed an astounding sight - thousands of enormous greenhouses blanket the landscape as far as the eye can see. The arid hillsides and valleys have been transformed into one of the most productive areas on earth. With EEC funding, Dutch know-how and massive amounts of agro-chemicals and desalinated sea water, the Spaniards have created an artificial oasis that can feed half of Europe.
But who needs desalinated water when it just keeps raining?
No matter - it is supposed to stop by Thursday.

Here is Sheila in sunny Alicante - before it started raining again.


Posted by Hawkson 03:12 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

The Rain in Spain ...

sunny 26 °C

O.K. fans of "My Fair Lady." Sing along with us ....
"The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain, repeat ...The rain is Spain falls ...."
But we are not on the plain. We are on the Mediterranean coast.
It is a balmy 25 degrees. The sun blazes from dawn to dusk and the sea and sky meld into a beautiful azure blue. Unfortunately, that's not here. That's home in Canada. Here it's been peeing with rain ever since we arrived.
Before we left home a few weeks ago we were concerned that the couple with whom we exchanged houses, (Nati and Antonio), would find Gabriola so unbearably cold, wet and windy that we prayed to the weather gods to be kind to them. Apparently it worked. Now, if only we had thrown in a prayer for ourselves!
No matter, there are compensations ... the food is great, (although some of these hams cost a whopping 165 dollars a kilo), and the wine is so flippin' cheap that you can bathe the family donkey in it. Just one dollar will get you a fairly presentable bottle of local plonk or one and a half litres of rotgut in a box. Or, you can be like us and splash out three bucks for a 2006 Rioja. And, dear Canadian friends, before you put down the Kleenex, we should tell you that we paid two bucks fifty for a bottle of Cava, (Spanish Champagne). So, once you've dried your tears, take this to your nearest liquor store and ask who's picking your pocket - bet they blame Stephen Harper!
Life is certainly cheap here - though not Southeast Asia cheap - and there are few inconveniences. Drivers stop at red lights and pedestrian crossings; the beaches and streets are clean and uncluttered by motorbikes; and we haven't been accosted by a single tout or a beggar. Our only complaint, other than the weather, is that our quest for a meaningful conversation with one of the locals is still unfulfilled. The place is teeming with foreigners - but not of a Spanish persuasion. Today we even bumped into one of Jim's British police colleagues. All right - confession time - we knew that Gordon lived here and we planned to meet for lunch. Gordon and Jim served together in the Wiltshire Constabulary in the late 60's. Gordon is now a well known artist who lives in Almeria in Southern Spain. His website is: www.gordon-maddock.com/estudiocampana
Here is Gordon with his latest painting ... The last night of the Proms.
Now, we'd love to show you photos of ancient monuments, medieval streets and historical artifacts - but we can't. Everywhere we have visited so far has been ultra-modern urbanity; thousands of white, neat-as-a-pin houses and concrete apartment blocks that sprawl knee deep along the coastline as if they have been stranded ashore by a giant wave. But it is late September ... the shutters are down, the beaches almost deserted, and the "Kiss-me-quick" trinket merchants have packed up for another year. The ten-week tornado of summer tourists that began in mid-June has finally fizzled and the streets have been largely given back to the locals. But don't be fooled - local doesn't necessarily mean Spanish. Many Brits, Germans, Russians, Dutch and Scandinavians now call the Costa Blanca home and, judging by the numbers of BMW's, Mercedes and Audi's scorching past us at double the speed limit, many brought their piggy-banks with them. Psst! Don't get Jim started about the recklessness of German gas-guzzlers - especially the Audi's.
Now it's Thursday and the sun has returned in full force. The storms have drifted east to Sardinia and Sicily and we are heading to the beach.
Hasta luego.

Posted by Hawkson 08:32 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

Family Matters

sunny 25 °C

Family Matters
No trip to England would be complete without family visits and this time we greeted Sheila’s great nephew … just two weeks old. Here’s the proud great aunt, together with proud granny and newcomer Tobias …

And at the other end of the scale, relatively speaking, is Sheila’s second cousin, Eileen. Here she is with Sheila and Roger enjoying England’s late summer sunshine.

But we have left sunny England for Iberia where we were met with thunder, lightning and a hailstorm of biblical proportions. The streets of Santa Pola turned into raging rivers, while the pavements were coated in a thick crust of golf-ball sized hailstones. We sheltered in a restaurant and enjoyed our first real Spanish meal …Thai curry and Peking duck … cooked by a Vietnamese chef and served by a Chinese waitress. Jim’s Spanish proved useless as Sheila chatted to the waitress in Mandarin. However, he could easily chat to the other customers – they were all English.
Our journey from England began at Gatwick airport where the check-in clerk gave Jim’s linguist sensibilities a workout when she seriously questioned, “Has anyone put anything into your bags without your knowledge?” “How the heck should I know,” would have been a rational reply, but Jim recently caused a cross-border incident when entering the U.S. “Where are you going?” asked the humourless American Customs guy, after Jim said we were taking a round trip. “We’re going to home to Gabriola,” replied Jim truthfully. “That’s the nature of a round trip – you end up where you began.” The Yank was less amused than Queen Victoria and turned our car upside down, so this time Jim wisely kept his mouth shut at Gatwick.
It’s our second day in Spain and we have yet to meet a Spaniard. Even our host’s friends who met us at the airport are Dutch. Our home from home is just perfect – a lovely house with views over the ocean and mountains … like Gabriola. Same – Same, but very different.
Here is the view of Alicante from our swimming pool - Nice eh!

Posted by Hawkson 08:40 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Oh Yeah! Oh Yeah!

semi-overcast 19 °C

Oh Yeah! … Oh Yeah.
This Town Crier in the historic City of Wells, Somerset, is carrying on a tradition which has been unbroken for 700 years. Wells was already an ancient city in the 1300’s when the first Town Crier proclaimed that the Crusades had been a huge success and the Christians had finally defeated the misbegotten Muslims of the Middle East … “Mission Accomplished” as George Bush so valiantly proclaimed 700 years later. (A man whose knowledge of history wouldn’t land him a job in a kindergarten).
Wells Cathedral, like all of the great Norman cathedrals in England, was built in the twelfth century. But, like many English towns and cities, Wells stands on foundations laid down by the Saxons, Romans and Trojans. Britain is today one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world and we tend to think that this is a recent phenomena. However, two thousand years ago, legions of Romans came here to take the healing waters in Bath and, perhaps, to visit the ancient settlements of Iron-age, Bronze-age and Stone-age men … Nothing changes – only time.
Here are some relatively recent houses in Wells that were completed in 1363…
Nearby Wells is Glastonbury, famous for its Abbey. We would have visited this ancient building but from a distance we could see that most of it had fallen down so we didn’t bother. We did, however, walk the streets of this Medieval town and view some of the sights.
Here’s a sight…
......and here’s another…
Yes- Glastonbury is home to the largest community of weirdos in the world. They come here for the annual folk festival and most never leave. There are more pierced nipples and noses here than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. And then there are the shops! In the High Street there is one travel agent, a dozen charity thrift stores, a score of junk shops, and about a hundred new-age metaphysical emporiums bursting with angels, crystals and witches broomsticks. Just two minutes in the doorway of any of these incense-filled temples of the occult is enough to convince the average person that there is something very funny about this place and the people who live here.
This is one of the store windows …
We noticed that the travel agency was closed. Maybe no one ever leaves this place – not in this world anyway.
This, however, is the local hotel. It was opened in 1420 and we found lots of spirits there.
After Glastonbury we took a short drive to Cheddar. Hands up everyone who knew that Cheddar cheese originated here because the ripening curds could be safely kept in the limestone caves that bore deep into the gorge's cliffs.
Here is Sheila standing in the famous Cheddar Gorge. We would have stopped to buy some cheese in the village but fifty coach loads of Japanese tourists beat us to it.

Posted by Hawkson 10:39 Archived in England Comments (4)

Under a Spreading Chestnut Tree ...

semi-overcast 19 °C

Under a Spreading Chestnut Tree …
The sun’s shining and it’s conker time here in the southwest of England. Now … if you’re saying, “What on earth is a conker?” you are obviously not an old Brit.
In our first couple of days in England we walked the battlefield where King Alfred’s army fought in 878A.D.; viewed the battlefield where Cromwell’s Roundheads were defeated by the King Charles 1st’s Royalist in 1643; we’ve stood at the base of Silbury Hill – the World’s largest Neolithic monument – built 4,000 years ago, and we’ve meandered the Medieval streets of Lacock where the world’s first photograph was taken by William Fox-Talbot. Here is Lacock Abbey where William set up his pinhole camera and snapped a shot of his dining room window in 1835.
All of the above, plus the ancient circles of stones at Stonehenge and Avebury are within 10 miles of Jim’s boyhood home.
Every time we return to Europe we are stunned by the wealth of historical monuments – and by the increasingly exorbitant entry fees. However, much can be seen without payment because it is part of everyday life. Behind the modern facades of almost any High Street are buildings dating back to the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries. Five-hundred-year-old hotels and houses are ten a penny here and there are numerous buildings dating back to Roman times. Here is a typical scene…
And here is an example of another historical feature which can be freely seen…

Giant white horses like this, along with other allegorical symbols, have been carved into Britain’s chalk hillsides since Neolithic times. This is the Westbury White Horse and it marks the site of a 4,000 year-old Iron Age settlement. We marveled at the incredible artistic abilities of ancient man; of the symmetry and style of their carving; and, above all, the lasting quality of work which has brought this monument to us in such pristine condition. Then we climbed the hill and discovered that the whole thing was recently plastered in concrete donated by the local cement works. Oh well! Nothing lasts forever.
Now – back to “conkers.” From time immemorial English schoolboys have been rounding up the large brown nuts of the hors chestnut trees – not to eat, but to thread onto a bootlace with a knot tied in the end…one nut per lace. Armed with his conker the young lad would sally forth and challenge any similarly armed young man to a dual – Nut to Nut at dawn. Nowadays, the mere mention of young men smashing their nuts together could be considered unsavoury but, be assured, it’s all clean fun. The nuts are smashed together until one breaks and the triumphant nut goes off in search of his next victim. Jim was thrilled to discover that the spreading chestnut tree where he used to pick his nuts fifty years ago was still standing and still supplying conkers to the youth of the ancient market town of Devizes – little changes here.

Posted by Hawkson 08:13 Archived in England Comments (2)

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