Spain (Costa Blanca)

part 2 of our Birmingham (UK)-Spain-London trip:

Day 5 –

That slightly surreal feeling then as we waited in the lobby of the Burlington Hotel in Birmingham, England, at 3.30 in the morning after ordering a minicab. A young Irish woman chatted to us as she polished the tables in the lobby lounge. She said she was jealous of us living in New York.

Like all taxi rides were to be on this trip, the minicab driver was friendly. When we got to the airport, we asked the driver how much. He replied, “how much do you normally pay?”. We weren’t falling for that one, then after a pause he added “20 pounds’! We gave him 23!

For the flight, we’d paid for extra leg room and for a miniature full-English breakfast on board. Both great investments! For a basic flight, we were quite impressed with Monarch.

We’d done our research for the whole trip and Martyn had been helpful ahead of time too, sending us e-mails on directions and tips. At Alicante Airport we knew that you needed the second floor for the local buses and not get mislead by the buses running from the lowest level (which are charter). I didn’t know the upper level at all and at first we couldn’t find the exit to the buses. I asked Marie to wait with the luggage whilst I went to look. It was time to break out my Spanish so I said at the information desk, “perdon, busco las paradas de autobuses“…’s always worth asking and we were soon enough bundled onto the comfortable charabang headed for Alicante centre. Marie asked me, “would you like us to get the bus to Denia or the tram? You choose”. I decided on us getting the tram. Info on stops were given on the neon sign on the bus and the driver had also been jolly and helpful. We alighted at Luceros in Alicante centre, and we were scratching our heads as to where the tram stop was at first before we realized it was down an escalator across the road. Downstairs, Luceros Station was ultra modern and clean, and Marie wished New York subway stations could be like this!

We had to get the tram to Benidorm, then change across the platform for the second leg of the journey to Denia.

To sum up, the tram journey was wonderful in many ways, with breathtaking coastal views through large windows. We’re glad we did it and it was a perfect way for Marie to see a good tour of the Costa Blanca. We started on the sunny side, as most seats on the shaded side were taken, but once some became vacant we switched to shade and Marie was glad of the cool.

The downside of getting the tram was that it took forever! As we started the journey I looked at my watch and said to Marie that it was only (about) 12.15…we wouldn’t be meeting mum and Martyn in Denia until 3pm. So I was thinking we’d get to Denia early. At Benidorm we had a half hour change over. On the platform we admired the scenery and got a can of Aquarius orange juice from a vending machine. As we were just getting on the second tram to Benidorm we noticed we hadn’t got Marie’s hand luggage and several friendly locals chased the few feet after us, having picked it up for us off the platform bench! That was a close one!!! Marie had been impressed with how nice everyone we’d met had been so far.

Anyway, we continued to really enjoy the scenic journey but by the time we eventually got to Denia it was almost 3.00! I showed the way, as we trundled our luggage through to the main street of Denia, the elegant Marques de Campo, up to the top, turning right towards the town hall and left to Calle Loreto and to our Hotel, the Hostal Loreto, where we’d be meeting mum and Martyn. Fortunately, we caught them just as they were giving up on us arriving, and mum had left us a note with the hotel receptionist with mum’s phone number. So we all hugged, greeted etc and mum and Martyn sat down at their table outside the hotel again whilst Marie and I checked into our room. The Bulgarian girl said that we could go for our original room, or we could upgrade to a bigger, better room. She gave us keys to both so we could look and choose. The hotel was beautiful and both rooms were bargains. For about an extra 10 euros a night (60 euros a night total) we had a king size bed, fridge and bathtub (as well as shower) so we were well cushty.

Calle Loreto below (photo from google images)

It was great to finally see mum and Martyn and the last time we’d seen them – in Birmingham – had been almost 3 years ago! This was Marie’s first time in Spain. We also liked the look of the long narrow street, or alley, that our hotel was in. I thought I knew Denia very well from the past, but this part was new to me and Calle Loreto was full of life, bustling with bars and eateries. Few people sat inside, but outdoor chairs and tables lined up outside the bars for a hundred yards or more. Mum, Martyn, Marie and I had drinks and caught up on chat in the sunshine but Marie and I were obviously pretty tired and running on one bar of battery life today. So we were enjoying the afternoon but in a slightly spaced-out kinda way.

Needing some tucker, we moved down to a corner bar near the very attractive town hall square – also near the church. A bar that Martyn goes to quite a bit, called 100 Montaditos. On certain days of the week all drinks are one euro each! We ordered up a variety of tapas, small sandwiches, beers and wines and other drinks. and we all had our fill for a bill totalling less than 10 euros for all 4 of us combined!

Though we would have spent all day with mum and Martyn, we sorely needed to re-energise so later on Marie and I crashed out for an early night whilst mum and Martyn had made the 15 minute walk back to mum’s apartment in a different part of town. We made arrangements to meet Martyn after a late breakfast tomorrow outside our hotel again.

Day 6 –

below, Denia town…

photo by Adam Hardy

Much refreshed now, we also had a slight lie-in in the big and comfortable hotel bed and had the free breakfast in the relaxing and tasteful courtyard downstairs. A tostoda – which is simply a slim, toasted baguette, with cheese, ham and tomato – coffee and orange juice. We would be having the same breakfast every morning but delicious all the same. Spanish coffee is excellent too, full of flavour and always a caffeine rocket yet not overly strong.

Martyn arrived at the agreed noontime and he was to be walking us to where mum’s apartment is. The apartment is in a pretty nice location albeit not close to the sea front. There is an amazing view of Montgo Mountain (which looks vaguely like an elephant) from the apartment block, and beyond a nearer view of houses, shops, restaurants and a park. There was a problem with a new lock on the gates of the apartment block and Martyn acrobatically climbed over the iron fence to let us in!

Mum’s apartment is bright and cheerful and very modern Mediterranean. We liked it a lot. We had a look around, greeted Smudgie the cat and then we all moseyed on down to one of the local bars. After about an hour, we then had lunch at Casa de Oro, the Chinese restaurant very local to mum (update – this restaurant is now sadly closed down). The sun was baking down on us as we walked across the car park to get there. It was unseasonably hot in Spain for mid October. It gets very hot and humid in the summer in New York, and in Spain it’s not as humid but the sun is something else. In the past few years, when Marie and I have been sat in her family’s back garden patio under a New York summer sky, I’ve been telling Marie, “but it’s nothing like the sun you get in Spain”. It’s true, in Spain it’s a like a protective layer has been removed and the heat seems to be more intense and magnified. Great for sun bathers I suppose!

You find a lot of Chinese restaurants in Spain. The quality is very good and the prices amazingly cheap! We all had delicious meals, a small starter, mains and ice cream and a bottle of wine for…I forget exactly how much but about a third of the cost of a Chinese meal and wine in England or New York!

We tried black rice, which was pretty good.

After lunch, we walked mum back to the apartment. Then Martyn took another stroll with Marie and I along the narrow streets and alleyways back to our hotel. We arranged to meet later.

After regrouping and relaxing in our hotel room, Marie and I went into the local church to look, then a few streets down to Lizarran. Lizarran is a chain of bar-restaurants from Northern Spain, but found all over. My friend Clive and I went into one in Alicante in 2005. I’d always enjoyed them, and they’re distinctive in their tapas sandwiches; the multitude of small, creative sandwiches are behind plastic cases along the bar counter, so you pick the ones you want. There are cocktail sticks in each sandwich and some have more sticks in them if they’re more expensive…after eating them you leave the stick on the plate and take the plate to the bar to pay. I’ve mentioned this in travel journals from years ago and it’s a method of payment that surely couldn’t work in England and America. In fact, Marie found on the internet that there is now a Lizarran in New York near her office and, yes, you cannot pay there through the cocktail sticks tradition. It’s a payment based on an honour system, and we’re sure that in the UK or U.S customers would simply hide sticks so they end up paying less. Anyway, that was a lot of talk about Lizarran! We just wanted to see where it was for a quick bite to eat later.

Martyn had lent us his mobile phone for the few days, and we called mum and Martyn whilst sat on a bench on the Marques de Campo (high street/main street) down by the sea front end. We’d meet at 6pm at the Juan Miguel bar near our hotel. We all had a very nice time at that bar and then another nearby. Near our hotel nearly every building was a bar and the whole street/alley is vibrant with people sat outside: drinking, eating, watching life. Children and dogs too, and grandparents…Spain is a very relaxed, accepting, respectful and inclusive culture and it knows how to enjoy itself. I imagine that Italy and Greece – to name just two – are similar in that respect.

I was pleased that Marie seemed to be enjoying Spain too (despite the heat!). It is a refreshing change to experience that less serious, more laidback way of life for a while. Of course people work very hard too, but the emphasis is more on socializing than work. We noticed that very few people – even the younger population – were on smart phones or modern devices when they were in groups. Instead, it’s all about absorbing life, looking around you, talking, laughing and human interaction. As we sat outside bars in Calle Loreto, whole familes – as well as couples – stayed out til very late, whilst dogs ran around and came over to be petted, and young kids played together in the nearby plaza, unobserved by their parents but having fun and behaving themselves. And if they fell over they just got back up, uncomplaining. We think that parents take the kids to church after school, and then they’re free to play in public spaces with parents just on the periphery leaving them to enjoy themselves.

Marie was mostly loving having all the dogs around though!

One problem with Spain is getting money to live on, especially as unemployment is almost 30% – I think – though mum reckons things are gradually improving at last. Hopefully something will turn up for Martyn in the not-distant future.

A little later after mum, Martyn, Marie and I had spent an hour or two at the bars, Martyn walked mum back to their apartment and he would be coming back out to join us whist we stayed out til late. We said let’s make it Lizerran. Oddly, Lizerran was a bit dead and we found the sandwiches way overpriced so it wasn’t my best visit to one, plus Marie wasn’t that impressed. I had a Spanish cider though so it was good to get one in on the trip. Martyn appeared as Marie and I were finishing our sandwiches and drinks and we decided to move on straight away. We went back to Calle Loreto again and enjoyed the bar scene there until about 11pm (we had another couple of tapas, including very tasty ham croquettes).

side street mural in Denia

Day 7 –

This morning we’d be doing a bit of history! Marie and I had our usual breakfast then began the slow climb up to Denia Castle, through a narrow street, up steps and through the castle gate (where we paid the small sum to enter) and from there through various inclines gradually up further. Beautiful views of most of Denia could be had up here.

As we walked, ancient relics from the castle were just casually strewn along lower walls! It took us quite a while to get up, with breaks on benches along the way. Some – what we believed to be – eucalyptus resin got on our clothes and bags and it was a devil to get off! We were enjoying the peace, the views and everything else though. About half way up, there was a choice of very steep steps next or a slightly less steep road. A couple were coming down the road, and I asked them “se puede alcanzar el Castillo por alli?”. They replied, “sorry, we’re English”! I said, ‘so am I!” It’s a compliment to be mistaken for a native Spanish speaker for a moment!

Marie was especially determined to make it to the very top and we did. Well worth the effort though! The castle and grounds were much bigger than we expected.

Then back down to earth, we walked to mum’s part of town where we met mum and Martyn at the bar we’d been to before, had a nice hour there and then went back to mum’s apartment. Mum had cooked us all a paella and it was terrific, much better than my paella that I had cooked in New York now and again! We left mum’s at about 4pm, and later at about 7pm (with mum sleeping at home) Martyn met us at Juan Miguel again – or Miguel Juan – for more consuming. Marie and me were hungry again, but Martyn (and mum) are used to just one meal a day. We ate dinner outside of a café which is billed as a “pizzeria” but is run by an Indian family and it really specialises in curry. For now though, we tried their pizza and it was pretty good. Unlike any other pizza Marie had tried but she liked it. Martyn had a small taste of ours, and all of us supped on beer or “agua con gas”. A really nice spot to people watch from too, right next to the square by the church and town hall and several others bars and restaurants. Even as it got dark, kids were having a lot of fun on pedal scooters and tricycles whilst outside bars – especially 100 Montaditos – most outdoor tables were filled with customers (more locals than tourists I think; Denia is not overly ex-Pat and we mostly saw local everyday Spanish life unfold). We bade goodnight, and Marie and I got ice cream from a parlour and creperie opposite our hotel. We were to be frequent customers at the creperie.

Day 8 –

We overslept a bit and only just made the free hotel breakfast at 11am. First of all, we then shopped at Ale Hop (pronounced ‘a-lay-op‘) – a bright and modern shop I knew and loved when I’d lived in Spain. We went to the bigger branch near the castle, and Marie loved it too. It sells an eclectic mix of fun items, some novelty, some practical, from jewellery to household items, clothes…all sorts. Marie bought some great jewellery, of high quality at ridiculously cheap prices. Our wigwam lamp in our bedroom in New York had come from Ale Hop years ago.

Then Marie and I took a walk down to the sea front, along the esplanade and toward the coast known as Las Rotas (where you can walk along the fringes of the sea and get your feet wet). We didn’t quite get that far though. Our walk had started pleasantly along the esplanade before the sun came out from behind clouds. Marie doesn’t get on well with hot weather. Now along the sea front she was quite upset and the perspiration was running into her eyes as the sun got hotter. I was only doing slightly better. We decided not to walk any further and rested before turning back. A few minutes later, much cooler now on the shadey side of the street, we passed brightly coloured houses. Marie petted some little dogs that had appeared from someone’s home.

Back at the Marques de Campo now, we called mum and arranged to meet at 5pm at their local bar. In the meantime, Marie and I had lunch at El Comercio Restaurant. I was familiar with the Comercio from past visits to Denia over many years (Colin and myself may even have been here in 1991 – my first visit to Spain – and I’d definitely been with mum ten or fifteen years ago). We sat outside and ordered up a papardelle Bolognese and a gorgonzola pizza. The pizza was especially good and Marie enjoyed it all. She stated that she was done with tapas on this trip and found full restaurant meals – like the one we’d just had and the Chinese – much more filling and better value than tapas.

Then on to meet mum and Martyn near mum’s apartment, we started at the Boca Bar and then moved on to another bar flanking their local park and with a view of Montgo Mountain. Sitting outside, of course, we enjoyed the night. There was a fun fair going on behind the park. Mum chatted to an ex-Pat called Graham, whose dog was called Chelsea after his football team.

Mum went back to have an early night and Martyn, Marie and I hit the town again. We sat outside once more, where Marie and I had a chicken curry with papadams and naan. Martyn and myself had a fine couple of hours more, chewing the fat outside a couple more bars in Calle Loreto before calling it quits at about 11.30pm, I think. Martyn waited outside our hotel for a few minutes to make sure I could get in, though I was happy to find Marie awake in our room!

Day 9 –

After breakfast we walked up the few flights of steps up to our hotel roof terrace. We looked at the views from all sides (you can see the castle quite close by from one side of the roof) and then we lay on loungers for about an hour. We were the only ones up there.

Then the walk to meet mum and Martyn at an outdoor bar table, and to the Chinese for our second meal there. It was a bit cooler outside today and the restaurant was also more comfortably cool inside. We all enjoyed it again. I think Marie had spicy pork, myself lemon chicken.  

Marie and I left Martyn and mum a bit earlier in the evening, as we wanted to go back and pack in our hotel room. Later on we were peckish again and had another curry sat outside; methi chicken, which was great!

Day 10 –

We had a chance to spend just a bit more time with mum and Martyn, over breakfast in a bar by the bus station. Marie fell in love with a reddish brown hound that she petted by our table.

Marie and I had tickets for a 9.45 bus. We noticed a Spanish take on the popular American chain, Dunkin Donuts, overlooking the bus station…it was called Duffin Dagels!!

Anyway, it had been fantastic spending some quality time with mum and Martyn the past few days and we were sad to be going.

Marie and myself found the bus journey to Alicante Airport far quicker than the tram – if less picturesque – and it took us just 2 hours to get there with a change at Benidorm. We had an economy Ryan Air flight back to England, this time to Stansted. At Alicante Airport, for our sins we ate at Burger King!

Ryan Air was very cheap and cheerful – all bright yellow and blue -and somewhat cramped. When you land, they play a fanfare of trumpets over the loudspeaker on the plane. Our landing had been a bit wayward and the pilot jokingly apologized for it!

Sad to leave the Spanish part of our trip, we were excited about having 4 nights in London to look forward to though. From Stansted Airport, we got a coach to Finchley Road and then a taxi to Hampstead in North London where we would be stopping. The taxi driver was a really nice bloke and even gave us our tip back without us realising until after he’d driven off!

Published by heathgrip

An Englishman in New York for around 15 years, I met a wonderful, beautiful, cannily smart and talented girl from Flushing, Queens whilst I was living in Manchester, UK, through the internet in 2005 and we married in Spring 2006! We both have a passion for travel, restaurants, history, music, all kinds of fun events. Who doesn't? I'm an artist and photographer, and also love to write. Anything creative really (you can keep your science and technology!). I've sent journals back home to family and friends for many years and they've often suggested I start a blog with writings pasted from my journals. So here it is!

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