A Travellerspoint blog

October 2009

Home from Home

sunny 28 °C

Our three week stint on the Costa Blanca is nearing an end and we are now headed south to visit the historical wonders of Alhambra, Granada and Cordoba. Our home exchange has been a great success and we would recommend the experience of swapping houses to anyone who wants to travel. Not only is it inexpensive, it is also much nicer than staying in cramped hotel rooms.


While rented holiday homes are often sparsely furnished and equipped, our home from home was comfortable and had everything we needed - including a car. And, while Nati was taking great care of Camilla, our cat, Sheila was religiously watering Nati’s houseplants. Here she is with watering can in hand .

But can you spot her mistake?


Yes … it only took Sheila three weeks to discover that she had a plastic thumb and had been carefully watering several imitation pot plants bought from Ikea!

Many thanks to our terrific neighbours, Bob and Mary Jane, for taking care of our guests in Canada. And thanks to Marg and Nico for taking care of us here in Santa Pola. Here they are with Sheila on the steps of our home from home.

Posted by Hawkson 10:40 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Once More Unto the Beach Dear Friends ...

sunny 29 °C

Once More Unto the Beach Dear Friends …

One sun-filled day after another stretches our summer and finds us lounging in the balmy Mediterranean sea. Ten days of unbroken sunshine, with temperatures flirting with ‘sizzling,’ have washed away all memories of our dreary start and, after shrugging off the deluge of rain and hail, the sea is still a lukewarm 28 degrees C.
A few miles off the coast is the island of Tabarca; a picturesque place renowned for its crystal clear waters.
This arid island was the haunt of the infamous Barbary pirates until King Carlos III ordered a garrison to be built there in the 18th Century.
But many swashbucklers remain - reincarnated into proprietors of restaurants and beach cafes who extort a king’s ransom for their victuals.
Here is a fixer-upper on the island that we are thinking of buying and turning into a lucrative restaurant!

This is a major holiday weekend in Valencia. Today (Friday) the Valencians celebrate their regional birthday, while on Monday all Hispania celebrates the discovery of America by Christophe Colon in 1492. (Note that puritanical yanks re-christened their famous ancestor ‘Christopher Columbus’ - but, in truth, would anyone want their country to be founded by someone whose name reminds them of crap).
However, judging by this sign, Spaniards also think Canada is a load of old bull!

So, with all stores and offices closed for the weekend, it’s not surprising that everyone is heading to the beach with their buckets and spades.
But wait … there’s a glitch in Paradise … Where are all the seaside amenities that were here last week? Where are the beach café’s and the ice-cream vendors; the pedalo and parasol peddlers, the beach-mattress merchants? What happened to the Thai Massage girls and the Moroccan trinket salesmen?

Autumn happened.

The fact that it’s 30 degrees and the seafront is packed with sunseekers doesn’t matter - summer is officially over and it’s time to pack up the beach and push off. “Adios y hasta proxima ano,” as they say here. “Goodbye and see you next year,” (Although, the Spanish word “ano” actually has a little squiggly thing called a tilda over the “n.” Our computer doesn’t have a key for a tilda over the “n” and without it, “ano” is the name for the bottom end of a Colon - and we don’t just mean Christophe Colon‘s bottom. (Anyone who still doesn’t understand what “ano” means will be sentenced to a month’s holiday in Benidorm. (airfare not included).

Posted by Hawkson 03:26 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Ten Fat Ladies and Castles in the Air

sunny 30 °C

This group of ex-pat British women, ardent followers of the BBC series, “Two Fat Ladies,” started a slimming club here sometime ago. However they should have realised they were doomed to defeat when they chose a restaurant as a venue for their weekly meetings. So, while we were celebrating Sheila’s birthday in one half of the restaurant they were celebrating their abysmal failure as weight-watchers in the other half. They were a happy bunch, wearing their failure with cheerful resignation as they tucked into pork chops and chips, so we asked them for suggestions about local places of interest.
“You’ve gotta go to Guadalest,” said one, and they all eagerly agreed, enthusing about a mystical medieval castle high in the mountains - a place so remote that we would need 4 wheel drive and nerves of steel to negotiate the alpine track.
“Thanks,” we said, and bid farewell just as their ice-cream cakes with chocolate sauce arrived.
Following a few days deliberations, we packed our high-altitude survival kits, plucked up our courage, and set off for the Spanish equivalent of Everest. However, we soon discovered that the ladies’ navigational warnings were as wayward as their waistlines and our little Ford glided easily up the snaking mountain road to Guadelest, together with coach loads of happy holidaymakers and half a dozen cyclists.
Here’s the castle …
But, as to their enthusiastic descriptions of the place, they were absolutely right. From a distance it appears no more than a crumbling ruin, but once we had threaded our way through the trinket stalls, climbed the steep stone steps and entered through a roughly hewn rock tunnel, we found ourselves in the streets of a perfect little medieval town …
… complete with a prison …
… and bell tower.

Our initial opinion of this part of Spain has been clouded by a week’s rain and rampant development along the Costa del Concrete, but today, when we headed to the mountains, we found wondrous sights. Verdant valleys lush with oranges, lemons, pomegranates and palms; terraced groves of olive and almond trees climbing the foothills; and, to cap it off, mountain peaks surmounted by ancient castles. Here’s another at Castellano ..

But, topping it all off, was the castle that the ten fat ladies spoke of - the castle at Guadalest.


Posted by Hawkson 03:10 Archived in Spain Comments (3)

Where on earth is Elche?

sunny 28 °C

Happy Birthday to Sheila from Christine who joined us in Spain to celebrate this momentous occasion.

Spanish is just one of many languages spoken in Spain - as if we weren’t confused enough - so most places have more than one name. For instance, here in the province of Valencia the locals speak Valencian and their name for Elche is Elx. However, just to make life more interesting for visitors they also put up road signs like this one …

It may be that Elche has an eternal identity problem. The Romans and their gods were here two thousand years ago - but they were all over the place two thousand years ago. The Arabs - the Moors of North Africa - were here next; they brought Islam and date palms and the knowledge to cultivate them. When the Moors were driven out by the Christian King James I of Aragon in 1265, they left behind their palms and their castle and mosque.
Here’s the castle…

The castle which is known as The Lord’s Castle, (Alcasser de la Senyoria) was completed by the conquerors between the 15th and 19th centuries. This building, like many historic monuments here, has been restored to within an inch of its life and now looks as though it was thrown up on the back lot of the Disney studios for a recent remake of Don Quixote.

The Moors’ mosque was flattened by the Christians and a Cathedral was eventually built on the rubble. This building is the centrepiece for the city’s annual mystery play when thousands flock into the cathedral to see a couple of guys, dressed as angels with wings and white skirts, playing guitars as they are hauled up into the dome on the end of a rope along with an alabaster statue of the Virgin Mary. The statue, which is claimed to have been sent by God, was found on the beach in a box marked ’For Elche’ … no stamp, no postcode, so it couldn’t have been someone’s misdirected Christmas present. It must have been a gift to the local merchants from heaven, because hundreds of thousands of fervent tourists turn up every year to worship it.
But the palms are the real treasure of Elche - more than 200,000 trees bearing hundreds of varieties of dates. Ancient palm plantations surround the city and we were able to eat sweet, juicy dates from their branches. Palms are everywhere in this place, including this one with seven branches which is more than 150 years old. It is called the Imperial Palm and these two people are not the first celebrities to be photographed under its shade.
We learned a lot about palms - most surprisingly that they are not trees at all. Palms are actually very tall grasses. Jim is glad he doesn’t have to mow this lot …

Posted by Hawkson 03:18 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Sheila's Happy Birthday

sunny 25 °C

Thanks to thirty of Sheila’s best friends who took the trouble to mail real birthday cards which, amazingly, all arrived, and to a group of family and friends who actually turned up in person to celebrate her birthday, Sheila’s coming of a certain age will be a cumpleanos to remember. Ruth‘s card was the winner in the “most appropriate feline theme” category and she was awarded this week’s first prize of a night in a hotel in Benidorm. (airfare not included).


Of course, some people went completely over the top and actually flew all the way here to personally wish Sheila a happy birthday.

Here we all are at the surprise party …

Thanks to family members Roger, Jenny, Emmeline and Patriot, together with very good friend Christine, for making this a very special occasion. Christine wins this week’s second prize for travelling the furthest to attend. The second prize is two nights in a hotel in Benidorm. (airfare not included). The booby prize of a week‘s holiday in Benidorm remains unclaimed..

Roger and Jenny brought the cake from Worthing…
while Christine brought the sun from Jersey…
Since Christine’s arrival the weather has been fantastic. Deliciously hot, cloudless days and warm moonlit nights. We had been assured that it only rains for ten days a year here. Well, it rained nine out of our first eleven; the most rain in 160 years, and the hailstorm we had our first evening was so intense that some cars now look as though they’ve been peppered by the shrapnel of an Afghani’s suicide bomb. (Relax Nati and Antonio - our hosts - your car is just fine).
Now for a couple of remarkable facts…Did you know that Sheila’s mother had difficulty remembering her children’s birthdays so she gave birth to Sheila on the same day in 1949 that the People’s Republic of China was founded.
And, secondly, the British Government has just declared that henceforth the 1st of October, shall be designated, “Older People’s Day.”

Posted by Hawkson 01:27 Comments (4)

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