Wednesday, November 28, 2018

¡Adios, Alicante!

Today we said good-bye to Alicante. It’s only Sunday and we don’t leave ‘till Tuesday, but Sunday is a good day to stroll around, with all the locals out on a pleasant sunny day. Paula wanted to visit a cafeteria (a bar that serves food; essentially, a small restaurant) we had passed a week ago (or was it two??) – the sign in front said caña y tapas   2€” (that’s a small beer and small plate of food – a snack – for about $2.30USD). While it’s not far from where we’re staying, we just never get over to that neighborhood. And here it is! Paula checked in with the owner: vegitariana? (Our broken Spanish for “do you have vegetarian dishes?”) No, only carne y pescado. OK, yeah, that one, the pescado thing!
The Cafeteria Kruna, unremarkable from the outside
Cold beer, good food! And, did I mention not expensive?
The beer was icy cold, the food delicious. Every time he passed by the owner told us, in his earnest but imperfect English, about all the fine dishes he had. ¡Fifty! he said (five fingers and a zero with his other thumb and forefinger). We had some bocadillos, little sandwiches made with rolls. Tuna for Paula, calamari for me. I wasn’t hungry when we walked in, but we kept ordering. The owner passed by, serving other customers, but always concerned about how we were doing, and what he could get us next. He was very proud of his food, and justifiably so! 

The owner and his wife. Never did get their names...

Well that was a fun encounter, and totally unexpected. Now that lunch was handled, we continued on our farewell trek through town, returning along the waterfront. The beach was well populated today, it being a warm Sunday. We took it all in, the crazy tile patterns on the walkway; the long sweeping sand beach; the clever spiral ramp bridge that crosses the highway; the tall buildings on the distant shore up the coast. We’re leaving soon, and who knows if we’ll be back…

View of Castillo Santa Barbara from the Alicante harbor, on a late November afternoon.

We had one more visit to a roof-top bar, which serves the best Mojitos. Admittedly, it was better last spring when we could sip our drinks in the warmth of the sun; now it’s almost dark by the time the bar opens. But we’d run into the bartender in town (at another bar…) a few days earlier, and we’d told him we’d be back. (Well, I would have come back regardless: I’d been waiting, all these past months, to have another of his Mojitos.). It was fun to see him again, he appreciated that we took the time to come, and he does make a damn good Mojito (generous with the rum), although the price has gone up another Euro to 6€ (almost $7USD).
World's Best Mojito? I'd vote for it!
Our bartender explains exactly what he's served Paula.

As part of our farewell tour we returned to the archeological museum. Aside from being just up the street from us, it is quite an incredible place (it won some European Museum of the Year award in 2004). It’s not so much about archeological finds, as about how archeology is conducted, with full-scale mock-ups of recent discoveries.

Our entry ticket included two “remote” sites we had not visited before, areas of archeological interest, both just a short tram ride up the coast. One, Lucentum, was a Roman town, considered to be the origins of the city of Alicante. The other, La Illeta, was a much older settlement, dating back perhaps 3000 years, on a tiny peninsula jutting into the sea. One point that particularly interested me was the ponds carved into the shore rock, to catch and hold fish – an early form of fish farming.
La Illetta. Not really a big place.

The fish ponds of La Illetta, still a good fishing spot.
We got a late start – the sites open at 3:30 after siesta – so the sun was low as we explored them. While I’ve seen a goodly number of Roman ruins, these are different in that they are in the middle of a city and surrounded by high rise apartments! It was kinda odd.

Lucentum (or the ruins of it), in the midst of the modern El Campello

Modern art on the ancient site at La Illetta

On our way to the second site we ran into some people we knew. (Nothing makes you feel like a local like running into friends on the street.) Michael and Grace, a couple of Scots we met while playing boules (we discussed the weekly boule game in an earlier blog), live not far from La Illeta. It was a pleasant surprise to see them! We chatted for a while, and we explained that this was our last hurrah and we would be leaving Alicante soon. It was a nice, and unexpected, good-bye.

Once of the treats we indulged in for Paula’s birthday was going to a movie, the first one we’ve seen in a good 18 months. While it’s a 20 minute walk to the town center, 10 minutes in the opposite direction takes us to a large American-style mall. Grocery shopping there is too convenient to pass up, but I find the many chain restaurants (only a couple of which are American), the clothing and jewelry and cell phone stores, the glitter and crowds, disagreeable. But the multiplex there does show foreign films in the “version original” (VO) with Spanish subtitles.
View from our kitchen window. The tram returning from up the coast, and, in the background, the Plaza Mar mall
So for this special occasion we braved the unpleasantness of the mall and headed upstairs to the movies. Not as hectic and noisy as the multiplexes I’ve been to in the US, but… what’s this? An automat for popcorn and drinks? A large empty room lined with little windows. Put your coins in, open the door, and take out your overflowing box of popcorn? No. That just doesn’t work for me! Where’s the machine with the popcorn cascading down into a huge pile, where an eager teenager scoops it into an overflowing box and dribbles a buttery-like substance over it? No. We entered the darkened theater empty-handed, and found our assigned seats. (Yes. Assigned.)

(OK, we saw “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the movie about the rock group Queen. I don’t want to turn this into a movie review, but the concert scenes are something fantastic. We went home and spent the rest of the evening watching Queen concerts on YouTube; the movie actors really nailed it!)

Now, what about Thanksgiving? Of course it’s not celebrated here, but oddly enough they do have Black Friday` in Spain, with signs in shops all over town advertising Black Friday specials. I don’t know what the Spanish think of the name*, but I suppose a sale is a sale. For the day itself we were invited by some American expats we met previously to a traditional dinner, along with some of their American friends. It was a lovely evening, and we greatly appreciated this celebration of a uniquely American holiday. But we did miss our family and friends back home.

* My understanding is it’s an accounting thing: many stores operate in the red (at a loss) until the Christmas season, which now in the US starts on the day after Thanksgiving (hurry! Only a month left to Christmas!) So Black Friday is the day stores get into the black which is to say, make up the deficit they’ve been running all year.

Thanksgiving Dinner at Michael and Robin's 7th=floor apartment.

And the view up the coast, just after sunset on Thanksgiving Thursday.

So do we do all our shopping at the mall? No, not hardly! Like all Spanish (and European) towns, Alicante has a permanent indoor market. We find it best for fresh produce and fresh fish. The mall supermarket has good prices on packaged goods, but for fish… can’t beat the stuff at the market, just off the boat! It’s more fun shopping there, too. Plus, they have this nice bar… Great place to have a coffee or a beer, or a few tapas, before or after a shopping expedition.

Alicante's indoor market building (from the back)

The bar/cafe in the market

Some of the fine tapas available at the bar.

It's all so good, it's hard to chose!

And there's always something weird, especially in the fish department!

So that’s pretty much it for Alicante. We’ve got our new suitcases mostly packed (yes, after some 20 months of travel we’re finally giving up our borrowed – thank you, Delia! – and thrift store luggage for some new, light-weight bags). We’ve got a plan in place for loading the rental car. We’ve said our good-byes, and it’s time to move on.

¡Adios, Alicante!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Back in Alicante!

We’re back in Alicante! (Spain) In fact, we’ve been here for over two weeks. It’s been a time of settling in and just relaxing. We were here a few months ago, in May, so the town and region are familiar: this isn’t a time for exploration and discovery; we’ve been spending a good bit of time at “home.” Our new home, at the top of a 13-floor building with fantastic views. It’s sort of like, we can keep an eye on everything from up here, why go anywhere?

Our departure in May was marked by rain and a fantastic double rainbow; our arrival in November, by a fabulous sunset!
We call it the Bird’s Nest, our apartment on the 13th floor* of a tower near the beach in Alicante. It’s right near the place where we stayed last spring. Only this time, we have a view!

Yeah, 13th floor. Don’t worry about that old superstition, though! That’s counting using the European method, where the ground floor is 0. We use the American system where the ground floor is number 1, so we are really on the 14th floor. It’s the folks below us that have to worry…

We can’t actually see the beach because of the buildings that line it, but we have a fantastic view of the ocean, and the coast for quite a ways up and down. Oh, and the castle. We’re practically at eye level with Castillo de Santa Barbara, on the hill overlooking the city (although we are on the side opposite the city, the eastern side). It’s always quite a sight, lit up at night, golden in the morning sun, or silhouetted by the sunset.

The Grand Panorama
The view we gaze at endlessly. The castle is off to the right.

View from the living room, complete with balcony, table, and chairs
Nighttime view of the castle
Lookin' out the window at the castle.
From our level we can easily see the “homestead” of a squatter, an older man who has set up a nice little camp on the slopes below the castle. It’s well-located, hard to see from the ground. We’ve watched his comings and goings – it’s a tough climb but the old fellow scrambles up the steep slope like a mountain goat. One day recently the police came by, looking up at the hill. We debated yelling down to them “He’s up there!” but decided to stay out of it (the language barrier would make things ever so confusing… besides, we didn’t want our guy thrown out!)
Same view, but note at the center bottom you can just see the plastic shelter...
Eventually we saw the fellow talking to the police, so we decided they were there on a different matter. A few days later there was a spot of rain, followed by some warm sunny days. Our guy was out shirtless, arranging his things to dry. Then he was gone for a while. And just the other day workmen were on the hill, removing his plastic shelter and all his things.

We have no idea what happened, or where he went. Off to a shelter? Victim of an accident? Or was it his time to pass on? We’ll probably never know. But now the hillside sits empty, seemly naked. A local mystery! And the question remains in our minds – what happens to homeless people in Spain?

Always thinking ahead, Paula found this apartment before we left Alicante last May. It was a bit outside our normal budget, but the views from the top of this tower make it worthwhile. As a plus, we were able to leave one of our suitcases here, filled with our wintertime clothes. That made the intervening five months of traveling a bit easier! Plus, when we arrived we had our own Christmas in October as we re-discovered all the stuff we’d left behind.

Our tower as seen from the street.That topmost window on the left is our bedroom.

View from the tram coming home. Our tower on the right; Castello Santa Barbara above.

It’s exciting to be back, to roam the now-familiar streets and revisit places. One of the first things we did was to re-activate our tram cards. These cards are available to anyone over the age of 60, and allow unlimited travel on the tram for 10€ per month (about $12USD). We got them when we were last here, in May, although it took about 10 days to process the application; see my earlier posting about Spanish bureaucracy here.  We immediately began exploring the coast to the north. This time we expect to explore a bit further (although after an hour or so those tram seats get very hard!)

We recently visited the coastal town of Altea, a little over an hour up the coast. The beach area is pleasant and modern; the old town, uphill a ways, has an 18th century church and the usual collection of tourist restaurants and shops. The whitewashed houses and blue trim – and the views of the blue Mediterranean – really gives a Greek feel to the town.

Paula in Altea. There's some interesting geography here...
Close up of the church of the Virgen del Consuelo in Altea
View of the church through the narrow streets of the old town
A private home in Atea (note the Moorish influence in that little planter!)

Some very fine large mosaic ceramic work outside a shop
The Old Town seen from the new town

Looking north over the Altea. Some interesting geography here...

What else? Ah, we attended a jazz concert recently, at a local café, Villa Vieja 6 (which, conveniently enough, is also the address). Jazz and Blues are not always well done here in Europe, but this group really knew what they were doing! The singer was very good, with a beautiful voice. And, turns out we were featured on the café’s Facebook page! Well, ok not featured, but there we are.

Jazz concert in Alicante (no, I didn't take this one...)
And it was Paula’s birthday! It was a major one, 70. Now we’re both the same age! We kept to our low-key schedule, but we did splurge a bit. We had a spa day! Paula found a place in the hills just above Benidorm run by two delightful British women. We were met at the tram stop and were driven the few minutes into the hills (where the lovely views did NOT include the skyscrapers of Benidorm!) It was a bit chilly to sit by the pool, but we enjoyed the sun room and snacks before our massages.

Thanksgiving is almost here. We'll be joining some American expats living here in Alicante to celebrate the day (and turkey IS available here!). We're looking forward to that. And very soon after we will be moving on, driving from here to Seville, one of our favorite cities. But we'll talk about all that in the next blog.