Copyright © 2009 Adam Paris
My girlfriend and I are both
mature students and amidst the English January ‘Big Freeze’ and the
post-Christmas university and mental lull, it was time to visit Ryanair.com. I spent fifteen minutes scanning their website
for tax and fee free bargains before finding return tickets to Alicante for £15,
flying out sixteen days later. (A good way to avoid card charges with Ryanair.com
is to find someone who owns an electron card.) I booked up tickets for us both
and waited impatiently to escape the English freeze. I booked up two hotels,
one for each night, costing £80 in total on Booking.com.
The night before flying out we
realised that our flight was earlier than first thought… 11.45am. I checked in
online at midnight. My girlfriend and I were tiring from a two hour argument
about an old Skype message. “The holiday is off!” I was going no matter what! Then
we had to find a student in the house who had ink in their printer to print our
boarding passes. At 1am I think I fell to sleep. Four hours later I set off on
the tedious drive from Norwich to London Gatwick… with Charlotte.
Three and a half hours later we
were in Gatwick’s long term car park. En-route the previous night’s argument
was resolved. Once through airport security we visited Boots and breezed
through their sunglasses range, it was at this point that Charlotte realised
she had lost our boarding cards. “How?” I asked. I was blamed for the
mysterious disappearance of the tickets.
We backtracked into the security area
assisted by an official; a large woman appeared, waving our lost boarding cards
happily. Charlotte was now backtracking… “I must have left them there?” Back in
the terminal The Flying Horse pub was the next stop, a quick pint was required.
We were called to the gate and boarded our plane at 11.45am.
The flight was fine until it
approached Alicante. Gale force winds turned the plane into a rollercoaster. I
knew it was bad when the men on board started nervously glancing at each other
waiting for the first to break into blind panic. Charlotte was openly
announcing that we were heading into the sea. The pilot assured us that were
going to land safely. The plane lowered onto the runway and all oxygen onboard
was drawn by every passenger in anticipation. We landed on the runway as if it
was a mountain range. The plane stopped to a standstill and I joined the party
of celebration in applause and cheers which I had only once previously
encountered on an Aeroflot flight. The Ryanair theme tune quickly hooted across
the loudspeaker system trumpeting their re cord of on-time flights. We were
alive… although most passengers felt ill!
It was now 3pm Spanish time. What
a start! Getting out of the plane was like sticking your head out of a car
window on a motorway. The gales were ripping metal billboards off their scaffold
stands in the distant dusty sun drenched landscape.
Outside the airport the C6 bus
costing a reasonable 2.40 Euros each took us into Alicante centre, a 20 minute
journey. When we arrived in the centre the thin city lanes sandwiched in
towering balcony lined buildings acted as a fortress from the wind. The
afternoon warmth hit us and the sweet smell of an English mild summer day was
in the air.
I immediately began approaching
local Alicante residents for directions to our hotel. After six people, several
lanes, and a pleasant stroll through the Alicante old town a friendly old man
pointed us in the direction of our 4* Eurostars Mediterranea Plaza hotel. The
hotel was enclosed in the beautiful town hall square that bows before the grand
Santa Barbara Castle built in the 10th century and stands to the
attention of the famous town Hall.
Our room was beautiful, Room 508
(smoking). We were certain that our room was the location from which the
hotel’s website pictures had been taken, of all the rooms ours was most
perfectly aligned for an optimal view. Two large single beds that didn’t slide
apart created an enormous king-size bed. A shiny black flat-screen television
and impeccably tiled bathroom gave a defined sense of luxury.
looked perfectly up to the Castle of Santa Barbara and as the sun set the
lights lit the castle with a spellbinding power. I sat on the balcony and
appreciated the evening March air, warm and fresh. The beeping scooters gave a
truly foreign feel. At that point Charlotte and I realised we were hungry.
We left the plush hotel lobby and
head into the direction of the centre. Upon arriving a swish neon bar called Pinocchio’s
drew us inside. Confused at the immediate Spanish menu we were drawn to a
mojito advertised above our heads. I had never tasted a mojito, we were unaware
that the major ingredient was an expensive 23 year old rum. I sipped the drink,
digging my straw to the base of the glass drawing the piles of sugar diluting
the rum among the mint leaves. It was refreshing but cost around seven Euros
each. As the mild warmth of evening Alicante set, locals wrapped in scarves
bemused us. In a supermarket close by we bought two bottles of 80cent wine,
bread, sandwich ingredient, salad bags, pistachio nuts, and fruit. We then got
lost in the interconnecting lanes and breezed around several quiet shops. There
were endless bridal shops. I contemplated how so many bridal businesses could
compete and stay afloat; either there were humongous amounts of singles that
fell in love with Alicante as a wedding destination, or the divorce and re-
marriage rate was as frequent as the shifting English weather patterns!
An Irish bar caught our fancy
after I caught Tottenham Hotspur playing Manchester United on the television. I
joined in with the roaring sighs and excitement with several locals, and was
amused by Charlotte pointing out a woman leaving the loo with her skirt tucked
into her floral knickers. I sipped the last drip of beer, agreed with a local
on the universal sign of handball after a controversial last minute suspicious
handball in the box. The full time whistle blew and after the day’s antics
Charlotte and I decided to head back to our hotel room.
Back at the hotel Charlotte
managed to get locked in our room’s bathroom. Quickly her laughter subsided
into panic while I struggled to contain laughter and maintain my concern at her
predicament that seemed to be a stroke of karma after her ridiculing the woman
in the Irish bar flashing her underwear obliviously. Charlotte broke out of the
bathroom, red faced and quite shocked. While Charlotte ran us both a bath I set
up my essential travel ingredients, ipod and speaker system. The chill out
playlist was perfect, I opened the balcony doors and stepped onto the romantic
balcony planks, the wind had died and I stood in a t-shirt beaming at the
illuminated Santa Barbara Castle lit in spotlights. I lit a cigarette and the
ipod switched to Enigma’s Return to Innocence which wisped through the balcony
doors into the mild winter night. We enjoyed a bath together, had a nut fight,
snacked from our supermarket buffet , and some romancing preceded a
contemplative period on the balcony, sipping our 80cent wine and stooping into
deep, philosophical talk induced further with each sip of wine.
At midnight we
retired into the enormous bed.
I was woken by the sound of
rolling curtains, streaming sunshine, and then a wave of banter broke into the
room as the balcony doors slid open. Charlotte was peering down onto the
square, the Sunday market was setting up. It was 9am. After quick showers and a
homemade fruit and salad breakfast we ventured downstairs with our rucksacks and
approached the receptionist to check out and to obtain information on how to
get to Tabarca Island, the only inhabited island off the Alicante coastline.
The receptionist spent 20 minutes ringing companies and bus departments to help
us get to the island. She even rang the police! We were given a map and
encouraged to try and catch a ferry from the seafront. If there was no ferry in
Alicante we were advised to catch a bus to Santa Pola where regular ferries to
the highly recommended island were almost guaranteed. Wrapped in a map we left
the hotel and walked directly into the market. Stalls of coins, papers,
pictures and books spread the square’s perimeter. After one lap of the market
circuit I agreed on buying an old Famous Five Enid Blyton ‘El Secreto De La
Montana’ classic for three Euros in Spanish as a souvenir.
The ferry service to Tabarca at
Alicante was closed until April so we took a windy walk around the pier and
harbour contemplating whether to travel out of the city in search of the other
ferry service in Santa Pola. The howling warm winds burrowed through boats masts
as hypnotising chimes. Fresh-faced we referred to our map and decided to head
to Alicante’s main bus station in search of the ferry to Tabarca. At the
station both of us leapt straight onto a bus bound for Santa Pola. The ticket
was 2.20 Euros each for the 30 minute journey. Behind the glass we slowly burnt
in the crisp sunshine, stripping jacket, and then jumper. We travelled through
desolate villages into bustling glorious seaside towns. When we arrived in
Santa Pola I was being followed two feet behind me by a mental stranger who I shooed
away like a dog. A local man carrying his son around his neck like a snake led
us to the ferry terminal. Here we discovered we had missed the last ferry.
Dismayed we started walking east
in the direction of Alicante. There was a striking appeal to the Santa Pola’s
seafront. It was quiet and seemed warmer and calmer. Small fishing boats were
moored and the spreading apartments facing the sea were less intrusive and
seemed more suiting to the area than in Alicante. To our delight a glorious
beach sparking in sun yellow and dotted with palm trees emerged. At a bar we
ordered two beers and I lit a smoke while beaming out to sea.
behind us cut out the wind and the sun was invigorating, particularly for
English citizens in the month of January. I could see a hardcore group of sun
worshippers in bikini’s and Speedos against the beach’s concrete bank basking
under the rays. We dragged our drinks out before walking on.
Initially we had planned to walk
along the beach for ten minutes before stopping at a bus station but the walk
was so pleasant, we kept on going, meandering in and out of small pocket
beaches, stopping and sipping the leftovers of my 80cent red wine at intervals.
The main road was blocked by an extensive slice of mountain. It was yellow and
dusty scattered in green splodges of bush. I imagined Clint Eastwood rising
from a lookout. The scene was extremely Wild West. Set back from the minor road
along which were houses engulfed in fortress fencing, they resembled cheap
palaces. We strayed through a parking area spread in caravans and large
families discreetly sipping drinks and talking. Several nationalities smiled and
winked in our direction as we casually cut through the social gatherings. After
3 hours our legs were tired, not being accustomed at walking we found a bus
station. I could see Santa Barbara Castle in the distance but the distance was
no longer drawing closer. After several confusing exchanges with locals neither
of us were wiser on whether a bus to Alicante arrived at the stop we sat at. A
bar close by called us and we decided to take time out.
The bar and restaurant was small
and cute. The first drops of rain on our trip tapped the tables outside as the
barman explained that a bus would arrive, probably late. So we waited… and
drank to his pleasure. As the sunset and the rains died the bus slowly emerged
climbing over the hill and I darted out to flag it down. It stopped. A faint
rainbow arched over the ocean facing Africa as we snuggled into the comfy soft
seats of the bus.
Back in Alicante it was time to
begin searching for our next hotel, Kriss Alicante (3*). The route scathed the
perimeter of Benacantil Mountain that housed Santa Barbara castle upon its
summit. We stopped at a restaurant en-route, ordering whatever the barman told
us, the language barrier was beyond bridging here, and we sat waiting for our
surprise meal with a beer in hand. A burger filled in egg and kebab, salad and
other strange combinations landed at our table. On the television Seville were
playing football while wafts of nostalgic cigarette smoke swum the air from
several customer’s tables.
The first impressions of Kriss
Alicante Hotel were good. The lobby was stylish and impressive. We checked in
and were elevated to our room. I was slightly disappointed with the room, it
wasn’t as grand as Hotel Mediterranean and the sea view was framed by a rather
undesirable view. The room was spacious but the balcony was enclosed in covered
framework. I didn’t appreciate this touch.
Charlotte and I bathed and relaxed
with the ipod sending us off to an early sleep.
The night however was far from
I woke to grumbling and
shoving…it was Charlotte. Then I heard it... a deep roar… my eyes fixated on
the glass of water on my bedside table… it was like the scene from Jurassic
park, the water trembled with motion. Again the roar thundered… the water shook
again… I sat up and gazed into the bed headrest wall… this was not a wall… it was
a speaker surely! “That guy snoring is driving me mad.” Charlotte began
pummelling the wall like a desperate prisoner breaking escape. I watched amazed
as the roar grew louder into a growling commotion. Soon I was back in the lobby
requesting a room transfer; the receptionist’s English was limited as was my
Spanish so I resorted to a snore impression. He nodded acknowledging he
understood my bizarre grunting noises, he accepted my request and I was given a
new room card. The new room was two levels higher and positioned on the
opposite side of the building from the growling beast we had neighboured. We
drifted back to sleep with our ears twitching for the next event to entertain
this lazy night. There were no more disturbances that night.
We slept in until 1o am and
dashed downstairs to grab our buffet breakfast that was included in the price.
I managed four rounds of breakfast, two coffees, two fruit juices, and a bowl
of fruit dessert. It was then time to explore the hotel, taking the lift to the
highest level in search of a sauna or something extravagant. Surprisingly we
found ourselves on top of the building’s roof looking out over Alicante aside
the birds. The sea was vibrant and glowing, sparkling in white flashes of sun.
The mountain-like exterior of the city was laid before us. Ten minutes was
spent wandering the rooftops before collecting our bags from the room and
checking out, forgetting to inform the staff we had raided the mini-bar… the
free drinks were payment for the growling beast. We then set off to climb to Benacantil
Mountain, to the city’s treasure; the castle.
Char and I shared an earphone
each and I selected Feeder Hole in My Head to inject some walking power and
began the ascent of Benacantil Mountain to the castle through a twisting path.
Small curved stone hideouts dotted the dusty hillside of the path. Wild West
sets again came to mind. At the great gates of the Santa Barbara Castle’s
entrance we were blown away. The wind was unbroken and drove our hair into
frenzy. Meandering into the castle’s hub was blissful, there the wind was
defeated by the high rising stone walls and the sun’s warmth struck back with
vengeance. Through an unmarked doorway we examined an enclosed cabinet of memorabilia
and picked up a complimentary map.
We then strolled back into the castle’s
grounds stopping by a large pineapple-like tree at a kiosk manned by a largely
unsociable attendant; she sold us two printed drawings of the castle for a very
reasonable 3 Euros. We grabbed a can of San Miguel each and sat to examine the
surroundings. The cacti and bushes were a vibrant green, the sky was baked
blue, and the castle walls shone a creamy yellow. The colours were inexplicably
Spanish and delightful. We continued up the mount of pathway that strayed on a
tangent towards the Castle’s peak. I peered into an old dungeon, the dungeon
door was bleak and blackness beamed out the caged door window.
I admired the sun dried mountain exterior of
Alicante from my vantage point. The city planted in its heart, poured with buildings
and high rise structures of terracotta, whites, creams and greens. The bustled
cityscape was contrasted with the bare green foliage and contours that
surrounded it. At this perfect photograph location Charlotte’s digital camera
ran out of batteries. A new set at the kiosk would have cost 8 Euros, so we
decided to resort to using our camera phones instead. Charlotte then got a text
informing that a friend had caught her boyfriend cheating on her a day after he
actually did it. Pictures had been posted on facebook damning the man caught
red-handed with the mysterious girl. Facebook is people perpetuated Big
Brother- for better or for worse. At the castle’s peak summit on the Look-out
we stood beneath the flapping Spanish flag and beside a canon we looked over
Upon our descent down the
castle’s grounds we engraved a cacti with our initials ‘A.S 4 C.G’ as had many hundreds of others like
the Romeo and Juliet house walls in Verona (an acceptable form of graffiti)
before stopping at another pleasant kiosk hidden from sight and largely shielded
from the wind. Another two cans of San Miguel were ordered before being invaded
by an army of white pigeons of whom I further encouraged with a collection of Pistachios
that remained in my bag. We left the castle and jumped off the main pathway
back to the city to explore the thin tracks in the woody terrain below. The
off-road track was interesting and felt rather more adventurous.
I was then interrupted by a call
from a bailiff demanding money from an unpaid parking ticket that had been
processed unknowingly through the Magistrates Court. We headed through
Alicante’s old town and disappeared into a quiet restaurant for a quick pasta
dish and another beer. From the restaurant a grand inspiring square appeared.
It was filled with ancient trees that looked like props from ‘The Lord of the
Rings’. The trees trunks were enormous and ran to the root like tendons flexed
from their mighty necks. The scene was romantic and beautiful. I was then to
discover that the square was dedicated to the famous writer Gabriel Miro
(1879-1930) who was born in Alicante. Out of the poetic square we immediately walked
past a group of scantly dressed middle-aged women with blood red lipstick and
dry dyed hair, they were itching for custom.
Three women occupied each side of
the dead street. ‘How poetic,’ I thought.
Finally we arrived at the bus
station and prepared our goodbyes for Alicante. The C6 bus wasn’t arriving for
fifteen minutes so we darted into several shops and purchased a wristband each
(our travelling custom) and several Ben 10 and Gormiti treats for my son. The 2
Euro bus journey took 20 minutes. At the airport Charlotte and I slumped
silently with a beer and some crisps. In our sleepy daze we became confused
with which of the two terminals we needed to be in and began running through
the terminals and queues thoroughly confused and frantic, eventually discovering
where we were meant to be. I threw my bag on the conveyor belt. I was beeped at
by the metal detector and inspected, uncovering keys, coins, and lighters out
of my pockets. The remains of my 80cent wine was dangled before me by an
airport official, “Sorry…In a rush! Chuck it,” I responded. Charlotte and I then
sprinted for the gate and caught the tail-end of the last passengers
disappearing down the stairwell to the runway and the plane bound for London.
The flight was reasonably steady and we arrived home safe and sound and
thoroughly impressed with what Alicante offered us. The entire trip including,
flights, hotels, food and spending money was £100 each. There is not a lot you
can do with £100 these days, with careful consideration, planning and
refraining from needless spending it is truly amazing what you can achieve.
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