We handed our hire car back after a week of exploring the area. We enjoyed having it and we saw some great places but we weren’t sorry to hand it back. There’s something about paying for a hire car that makes you feel that you have to use it, even when you really want to sit in the sun and read a book. We’ve also got used to using our bikes to get everything we need and having the car made us realise just how stressful driving is, compared to cycling on the back roads to the small towns nearby. Of course there is the added benefit of the warm dry climate for cycling. If we were in Scotland the bikes would be gathering dust by now in the shed. Having said all that, we did see some lovely places and had a few adventures.
El Castille de Guadalest
We had heard that this mountain village high in the hills overlooking Benidorm is an absolute gem of a place so we decided to take a day trip to explore it. Before we left we walked the dogs, then gave them their usual run around the site beside the bikes, to make sure they were exhausted and ready to sleep in the back of the car. Benidorm is about 65 miles from here and then Guadalest another 15 miles up the mountainside so we weren’t going to be getting there any time soon. After the daily bike run, Poppy throws herself into the van and lies down with her chin in the water bowl slurping the water up for about five minutes. After that she lies and pants fore a few more minutes before she’s ready to do anything. Boo, despite being middle aged, is taller and thinner and definitely more athletic. He has a small drink and then seems to be back to normal immediately. If they could bottle whatever it is that makes poodles so long and lean and fit we would be first in the queue. That’s as long as they could separate the fitness from the other less appealing tendencies such as licking his bum loudly in the middle of the night and humping Poppy – but that’s another story.
Off we went with the dogs in their harnesses on their blanket on the back seat, water and dog bowl, camera, monocular and money – what more could we need? We found out pretty smartly that we had forgotten my phone and dog poo bags, except for the small crinkled one that had accidentally gone through the washing machine and was tucked deep into a pocket. We were just passing Benidorm when Poppy started to cry. Within a hundred yards she was moaning softly. What could be wrong? She is the hardy one in the outfit that doesn’t make a sound if you stand on her, sit on her or fall over her. She even got under the front wheel of the bike the other day and just snorted a bit. ‘Something must be terribly wrong’, we thought as we pulled smartly off the road to take a look at her. She had a desperate look in her eye so I popped a lead on her and let her out of the car door. That’s when the truth dawned – all that water she had drunk was in dire need of exit – she peed an absolute river, sighed with great satisfaction and jumped back into the car and settled back down to sleep.
As we had come off the bypass road and were on the way into Benidorm we decided to go and look at it. I had a holiday here in the 90s, one January when the lack of light in Scotland was getting me down, but Shirley had never been before. I quietly suggested that she might not like it much but sometimes you have to experience something for yourself. We inched our way through the town and could not believe how busy it was. The place was heaving with people and cars and we could see nothing at all that would inspire us to return. The tower block hotels are a sight to behold but not in a good way. It’s true that Benidorm old town is very pretty but the bit we drove through was reminiscent of Blackpool without the roller coasters or the Tower Ballroom. We know people who love it there so I don’t want to be too rude about it – it just isn’t our kind of place.
I’d like to say that we were quickly on our way out of the town and on to the open road but it would be a lie. We got lost in the winding streets and it took us longer to get out than it had to get in. A metaphor for life I guess. Finally we found our way to Altea, a much more pleasant resort a few miles north and stopped to walk the dogs on the sea front and to have something to eat. We saw a number of eating places with outside tables where we could sit with the dogs under our seats, so we wandered happily along, trying to decide where to have lunch. The first three were rejected because a man with a guitar was “serenading” the diners in the hopes of earning a few euros. To be honest we would have paid him to stop but decided that the simplest thing by far was to dodge the minstrel who, to our horror, had started to invite people with mouths full of food to join in with the chorus. Further along the sea front we found a little Chinese restaurant offering a three course meal with a drink included for the princely sum of €6.50 each. We hadn’t had a Chinese meal since the Wimbledon final so we thought we were due a treat – and it really was a treat. Well cooked, very nicely presented and served, a view of the Mediterranean and no sign of the wandering minstrel.
It was a good bit later than planned when we finally wend our way up the mountain and drove into Guadalest. Getting out of the car we got an unpleasant surprise. It was absolutely freezing up there. The temperature must have dropped to about 10c, which won’t sound cold to most people reading this but to us, now thoroughly spoiled by all these weeks of Spanish warmth, it was positively arctic. We only had fleece tops with us and the wind whistled right through them, so it seemed pretty obvious to me that we wouldn’t be staying long. This decision was vetoed by Shirley who pointed out that having driven all the way there we should have a proper look round. For the second time in one day I was jealous of a poodle when a family walked by with a huge standard variety wearing a proper wool coat with legs (or were they arms?). Once we got up into the old village and checked out the views and wandered round a few of the touristy shops we were captivated. It’s a beautiful place and well worth a visit. Just don’t go up at five in the afternoon in late November.
Is this the way to San Isidro?
Having returned the car to reception the next morning we decided to get on the bikes and find our way to San Isidro, a small town we had been told was just a short bike ride away. Directions had been given to us by a lady in the dog walk area and following them to the letter we got thoroughly and hopelessly lost. A possible explanation for our failure to find the place for about two hours most likely lies in a comment she made that we didn’t pay proper attention to – “I’m not very good at left and right”. You can say that again. We cycled eight miles before I consulted the map on my phone and found we were miles from our destination.
Our confusion wasn’t helped by the fact that we were cycling on paths between orange groves and pomegranate trees that don’t appear on Google maps, so we couldn’t see a route to where we were supposed to be going. Finally, having cycled nearly 12 miles we gave up and turned for home, only to find a sign post to San Isidro in the exact opposite direction. To our amazement it turned out to be a relatively short distance from the campsite, just not anywhere near the direction we’d been told. San Isidro has two major appeals for us. The first is that the train between Alicante and Murcia stops there and we’re told either city make a good day out for a change of scenery. Now we know where it is we can plan a little trip. The second is a little restaurant we discovered called La Toalla (I believe this translates as The Towel so I might have got the name wrong). We gratefully got off our bikes, now 17 miles into the ride and asked the waiter what the Menu del Dia had to offer. He disappeared for a few minutes then came back and explained in his best English what the choices were. We opted for a very Spanish selection that included the following:
Margaret: Meat ball soup (much nicer than it sounds), variety of fried fish with chips and veg, salad, creme caramel and coffee.
Shirley: A paella style dish made with rice pasta, variety of fried fish etc, salad, cheesecake and coffee.
Because there was going to be a delay with the starters they also gave us a free shared tapas of chicken and mushroom in cream and pepper sauce served with bread. We could have had wine included in the price but decided that water was a more sensible option. The total bill for all this? €17. Frankly at that price it isn’t really worth cooking for ourselves, especially as we were so full we didn’t eat again all day. The food was delicious and we were very sleepy and happy by the end of it.
The most interesting bit of this jaunt into the real Spain, where ordinary working people stop for two hours to eat enormous lunches, was the incident with the inebriated man. We had chosen to sit outside to eat and were merrily munching our way through numerous plates of food when a very drunk man came weaving along the road in our direction. He could barely walk and stumbled and lurched along with a car key in his hand that he held like a weapon. To our horror we realised he was aiming for a car parked close to us. After some minutes he managed to open the door and climb into the driver’s seat. Shirley ran into the restaurant to find our waiter, shouting “Come quickly!” The waiter ran out and took in the situation immediately, peering in through the open passenger window and speaking firmly but warmly to the man. The only thing I could translate from his gentle persuasion was “It’s better if you don’t drive.” The man acquiesced quickly, rested his chin on his chest and went immediately to sleep. The waiter came back to our table and thanked us, telling us that the man had consumed at least 15 whiskies that morning. Judging by the man’s inability to walk in a straight line there could have been carnage if he’d tried to drive. We were so impressed by the waiter’s people skills, his warm and helpful service and the quality of the food that we plan to adopt the place as our favourite eatery. Not too often though – we’ll be coming home twice the girls that left if we’re not careful.
Shirley’s got a new toy
On the approach to Shirley’s big birthday I had broached the possibility of buying her a new bridge camera. The one she had was a bit dated and I thought she would enjoy one with all the bells and whistles. Shirley, being a frugal kind of girl, refused the offer telling me that her old one suited her just fine. Two weeks after her birthday it was that very same old camera that got stolen back in L’Escala and so she’s been left using a little compact camera that we normally use to pop into a bag when a bigger one isn’t practical. She was pretending to be happy with the compact one but I knew otherwise. The final straw came when we finally saw some flamingos and the zoom wasn’t good enough to capture them in any detail.
I got online and researched Bridge cameras and then found a company in Valencia that sells the model I’d seen at a good price. After persuading Shirley into a local, more expensive, shop to look at them and show her the reviews I ordered one from Valencia to be delivered here. It arrived yesterday late afternoon and here is one of the first pictures. Shirley is as happy as a pig in …. mud.