alicante spain

Why Visiting Alicante on Monday and Public Holiday is a Bad Idea

A SUDDEN TRIP

“Alicante, de ida y vuelta, por favour. Para tres.”  (Alicante, return, please. For three.)

It was my first time to purchase something in Spanish, nearly a decade ago, and I was so proud like hell because they guy at the bus ticket counter in Benidorm understood my broken version of Spanish. In the middle of our holiday in Benidorm, we would like to have a day trip to Alicante, the closest big city from Benidorm that takes merely an hour journey. Apart from that, Alicante was the main access to Benidorm, where we arrived and departed from Rotterdam Airport, The Netherlands.

We were satisfied enough enjoying the coastal breeze in Benidorm, yet suddenly I wanted a bit more. I mean, it would not hurt that much to spend another €12 round trip know more about the city we only visited the airport.

The guy passed us the tickets, pointing with his pen to each word and number written on one of the tickets confirming us the date, time, destination and platform number in his mother tongue. He barely knew English.

SUSPICIOUSLY QUIET

Alicante is the harbour and capital city of the Province of Alicante. It is one of the cities situated in Costa Blanca, stretching over 200 kilometers in a Mediterranean coastline, besides Benidorm and 16 other towns.

As suggested by an official at the station, we took a tram directly to the core of the city’s attraction. I hope I could find a nice historical site there (since I didn’t do any preliminary research), something that Benidorm doesn’t really offer. Finally, we heard the name of the station where we had to get off and saw its name mentioned on the digital board placed above the door to the driver’s room.alicante spain

However, instead of being excited, I smelled trouble. The place so-called city center was unexpectedly. All the buildings had their doors and windows closed. The pavements outside those buildings were abnormally empty. There were a small number of people leaning on the terracotta wall enjoying themselves smoking or talking on the phone. Some others just passed by to wherever they had in mind.

I decided to take an action by asking a young woman sitting on the pavement, “¿Donde esta el centro de la ciudad?”  Where’s the city center?

She quickly replied, “Aquí.”  Here.

I puzzled.

“¿Pero, por qué esta muy tranquila?”  But why is it so quiet?

On the day we arrived, Alicante was celebrating its festive holiday, that had something to do with the saints. I didn’t really catch the details since my Spanish was not good enough, but I got her. Spain is a devoted Catholic country and there are quite a lot of holidays related to verses in the Bible.

The bottom line was that nearly all shops, restaurants and attractions were closed because of the public holiday. Later on, she pointed the direction leading us to the main tourist attraction that is usually very crowded.

We found a harbour with unoccupied boats and a sandy mountain as a background, that happened to be a medieval fortress called the Castle of Santa Barbara, situated on the Mount Benacantil. I spotted a rack of postcards outside a non-operating souvenir shop showing the picture of the harbour. So the young woman was right, we were already in the city center as soon as we left the tram.

My friends advised me that we should leave the city afterwards because there was nothing we could do there. But we just got in the city minutes ago! I was aware that many places didn’t open, but I still believed that there must be one or two places opening for public.

alicante2

I MIGHT GIVE UP, BUT NOT WITHOUT A FIGHT

I might “lose the battle” and finally had to admit that the trip was a failure, nonetheless I wouldn’t give up without a fight. At first, we energized ourselves at the restaurant serving mediocre taste of pizza, as it was the only restaurant we found (so forget about paella!), facing the nice view of the harbour. We interchangeably took pictures of each other (selfie is not in fashion yet a decade ago) after that.

Strolling along the harbour shoreline, we accidentally found a bigger hotel next to us. We got in, hoping to find some answers on how to kill the time in the city and of there was other optional places to visit. I asked the hotel receptionist about everything I wanted to know, especially the possibility to take a closer look at the Castle of Santa Barbara. Thank God he spoke English pretty well.

He said something about the castle that struck me.

“Usually there’s a bus taking you up to the castle, but I’m afraid it’s not operating today. Plus, it’s Monday. Even if it’s not a public holiday, the museum is closed on Mondays.”

My gosh, Monday! I’ve known for some time that certain countries have museums with particular business hours, especially the closing days. Some do it on Mondays, some others on Tuesdays and so on. It just didn’t cross my mind when I bought the bus tickets.

Instead, he suggested that we could try to visit Explanada de España, situated just behind the hotel on foot. There were shops open selling beach wear, accessories, souvenir t-shirts and more, but nothing really particular that worth another one hour journey. Like any other places, the esplanade was not busy at all.

I guess it was the right decision to mingle with crowds in Benidorm afterwards.

alicante3

STRANDED AT THE BUS STATION

We ran for the bus with the huge “Benidorm” sign parking at the platform. But when we got there, the driver waved his hand and slowly shook his head. He didn’t let us in although the right bus had not left yet. He spoke Spanish very fast, explaining why we couldn’t enter the bus. Then, he raggedly translated in English,

“tw… twe…twenty minutos antes… be..fore… you have to report there.” He pointed the ticket counter inside the building.

I didn’t recall the guy at the bus station in Benidorm told what he said. But suddenly I remembered hearing words, “… veinte minutos…” (twenty minutes) and so on. At that time, I didn’t realize the connection between veinte minutos and the tickets in our hands. Yeah, screw my Spanish!

How come it was so complicated that we had to reconfirm our tickets at the counter twenty minutes before departure time? That was so unnecessary for practical reason. Oh well, that was the rules anyways no matter how silly it was. Instead, we had to wait for another one hour for the next bus.

The only advantage of being an hour stranded at the station was that one of my friends finally found a package of Marlboro Menthol in the supermarket. Apparently, Spanish people are not a huge fan of menthol cigarettes, causing their scarcity in the market.

Besides, I look at the bright side of the failed trip. At least I didn’t have to stay in the office or eat the same food at the cafeteria. I could chit chat and laughed together with my best buddies as long as I could without my boss watching me. In that case, I was really happy and grateful. Time flew so fast and before we knew it, the bus came, ready to take us back to Benidorm.

SO, WHAT’S THE MORAL OF VISITING ALICANTE ON MONDAY AND PUBLIC HOLIDAY?

No matter whether it’s Alicante or not, it is highly recommended to do further research about the city prior to your visit. Define the purpose of visiting the city, in terms of what you want to do there and check calendar of events of that city, such as festivals, public holidays, business hours of major tourist attractions etc. Every state or city may have a different agenda although it is still located in the same country.

In my case, things could be easier since we were in Spain already, but we didn’t use the opportunity properly. Ask the locals is the another great option to get all the information you need apart from Google. The locals may give you unwritten hints and facts never mentioned in any search engine.

No worries about the language barrier, you should not blame yourself that much. Have some pride a little bit because you may have a better local language skill than the locals’ English skill!

 

 

 

 

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Valencia – Beauty in Details

Valencia, the third largest city in Spain, has it all. It is the birthplace of traditional Spanish rice dish called paella, world-class porcelain craftsmanship called Lladró, Valencia oranges – that are widely distributed in markets and supermarkets in Europe -, and the only city in the country with a touch of modernism, thanks to The City of Arts and Sciences.

Moreover, my search results of Valencia from Google Images doesn’t lie. Thanks to this, I’ve learned the new way to choose a destination. Say, you search a city and what Google Images shows is one historical building or even just a particular beach in different angles and nada mas. What does it imply? Those places are the only thing the city offers to the world, most probably that’s all it has. In short, nothing much to see.

How about Valencia? Hundreds of pictures, taken by both amateurs and professionals, imply numerous buildings with astounding architecture and various city landscape from different angles. That’s the kind of place I wanna go!

Let’s begin with a closer look at the details of the buildings. Turn to your right, left, or just right in front of you, or even take a last look behind you before you continue walking. Don’t forget to look up and down as well. Valencia is rich in carvings and colours everywhere you go, so make sure you don’t miss this part although you claim yourself you’re not an art freak! Ready?

 

 1.

Built in 13th century, Valencia Cathedral underwent some transformations and restorations through the ages. My favourite part of the huge cathedral transformation lies on the lavish Baroque main entrance, which was only created about 500 years after its establishment, in 18th century. Did you notice that both wings of the façade look like a big hug? It never let you, pilgrimage and tourists around the world leave the site.

valencia cathedral

 

 2.

The best part of Valencia Cathedral interior is the altar and its surroundings, decorated with exquisite gold ornaments and original paintings from Spanish masters (not to mention the blue ceiling and gold carvings on the ribs). It is best to embrace it as a whole, in my opinion, rather than focusing on one or two particular works of art.

valencia cathedral interior

 

3.

One of the significant influences of the Arab world in Spain is the application of tiles in architecture, interior and also to mark the name of the district and commemoration of prominent events in local history.

virgin mary tile

 

4.

Originally the home of Marquis de Dos Aguas, a noble and wealthy merchant in Valencia, the palace now houses precious collections of Spanish and foreign ceramics that belong to a dedicated ceramic collector named González Martí. That’s how the museum gets its name, González Martí National Museum of Ceramics and Sumptuary Arts (Museo Nacional de Cerámica y Artes Suntuarias González Martí). 

Unless you have time to visit the museum, fear not. The Rococo style palace is already an open air museum, especially  the exquisite entrance gate made of alabaster stone by Ignacio Vergara.

Palacio del Marques de Dos Aguas
Palacio del Marques de Dos Aguas

 

5.

A closer look at the Virgin Mary sculpture. See what I mean?

 

6.

 Still from the same palace, wish I had this kind of window…..

 

7.

Valencia is not only about churches, it has a synagogue as well. Nice colours, right?

synagogue
synagogue

 

8.

Banco de Valencia. Probably the most beautiful bank I’ve ever seen! Does it look like a legendary five-star hotel?

banco de valencia
banco de valencia

 

9.

A tiny sculpture from Torres de Serrano, its real position is facing down on top of the gate arch.

 

10.

Another sculpture of Torres de Serrano with the same real position as the pilgrimage and his cross above: facing down on top of the arch. Somehow the lion reminds me of the wise Aslan of Narnia. I hope I’m right about it, and he’s not trying to bully the boy and make him his lunch later on!

 

11.

A ticket counter at North Station. Again, another application of tiles in Spanish design. The bluish interior made of tiles refreshes my sight.

north station interior

 

12.

“Fashion makes me uncomfortable”. I’m not sure what’s behind the rolling door, but I guess it’s a vintage fashion store, with a provocative statement to grab public attention.

 

13.

“Marenga Unisex Hair Salon, Beauty”. Wall-paintings are simply everywhere no matter how simple it looks like.

 

13.

Probably not the most famous architecture in the city, but I love this in particular. I think it does look like an Art Nouveau-inspired façade. Take a look at the stone-carved balcony, tree-shaped top pillars and flower paintings separating each window apart.

 

14.

Unless you notice there’s a modern part of Valencia, that means you simply haven’t seen it all. The City of Arts and Sciences is something you can’t offer to miss. It’s not as elaborated as Rococo, Baroque, Renaissance and all that stuff, but there’s a way to appreciate modern art. Think about bone structures, ribs of prehistoric animals turned into art d’oeuvre.

 

 

That’s not it! Everything I saw in the city is not enough to show in one post. There will be more to explore in my upcoming post. So, stay tuned!

 

 

Benidorm 2: British Invasions

NOT A TYPICAL SPANISH TOWN

Firstly, I remind you that what you mainly see in Benidorm as a tourist are skyscrapers, beaches, rows of restaurant, bar, discotheque and shop. Nada mas. So forget about medieval churches, palacio real, painting museums, historical buildings and so on. They are just not what it offers. The only signs signifying that you’re in still in Spain is the plaza mayor and the locals speaking Spanish. I was disappointed at first. However, it gives me unforgettable experiences with British visitors occupying the east coast of Spain.

plaza mayor benidorm
the plaza mayor corridor

BRIT NIGHT LIFE

Initially, I wanted to observe Dutch tourist behaviour in a Spanish town. But Great Britain was shifting to Spain. Their presence was not only marked by their accents, but also some bars and night clubs purposely targeting on British customers with Brit Pop and Beatles nights. Even one of the pubs is named after a British rock legend besides The Beatles: (The) Rolling Stones. I guess the only locals in those places were bartenders, janitors and bodyguards.

rolling stones pub

No matter where they go, they just love being noticed with their peculiar outfits. The bizarre habit doesn’t surprise me at all. I have seen British tourist dozens of times in Amsterdam. They usually come in groups with certain dress codes approved by their own peers: Playboy bunnies, Alice in Wonderland, Vampires etc. Santa Claus is no exception, even if it is not the month of December. By the way, did you notice Union Jack garland below the Bahamas neon lights?

“THIS IS MY APARTMENT!”

Next morning at 8 am, somebody knocked our apartment door. Nobody wished to be an early riser after a long night, drinking and getting dizzy at dawn. Nonetheless, the sound of banging door wouldn’t stop unless somebody opened the door. Unfortunately, I was the only one who managed to wake up.

“This is my apartment!” A half-drunken guy in his heavy British accent standing in front of me claimed that the room we were staying was his.

“The receptionist gave us the key yesterday and the room was empty!” I defended myself. My gals and I did nothing wrong.

The girl behind him kept trying to calm him down. “It’s OK, baby. C’mon, let’s go!” She said to him repeatedly.

He explained that he and his girlfriend stayed in our room earlier, then left for another city for 2 nights and planned to returned to the room after that. They said they had not checked out yet and couldn’t understand why we were in their room instead. I advised them to talk to the receptionist and deal with it. They agreed, and finally left me in peace. Phew!!

BEACH FIGHT

the main reason why people come to Benidorm

I’m not a beach person. Sunbathing and tanning my skin are not my things at all from the start. But my gals wanted it so badly.  As mentioned on the previous post that I had to skip working for this trip, I had a specific reason to avoid it. Can you imagine if the office people saw me getting tanned as soon as I recovered from illness?

Undoubtedly, the weather was perfect with lots of sun combined with heavenly wind breeze that made me feel relaxed and fall asleep like a baby. I couldn’t bare missing it. Again, I broke the rule. Fortunately, the rented beach chair was equipped with an umbrella to protect my skin from tanning effect.

afternoon in Benidorm

It was a perfect afternoon until someone pushed me to the right side when I was sitting on my beach chair. Before I knew it, my ass became half-seated. A guy coming out of the blue stole the other half of my seating space without permission. I was shocked and jumped from my seat. The gals were also surprised who on earth that guy was. I forgot what he said exactly. The point is that he and I should get to know each other more. But hey, please treat a gal with more respect! Even if he just won an Oscar last week, or he looks as hot as Ryan Gosling…- Wait! He’s British, so take Jude Law instead – I didn’t give a shit!

My days in the office were such a crap already. It took time and energy to find a perfect getaway to a dreamland where I could temporarily vanish from that crappy circle of life. My funding was in shortage, but still I forced myself to make the trip come true. In that kind of circumstances, I believe I deserve to get pissed off if anybody ruin my holiday. I usually didn’t sweat small irritating stuff, except this one. I really wanted him to get out of my territory.

“SHUT UP AND GET OUT! I TELL YOU, GET OUT!!!” I yelled it repeatedly while pointing the exit way of the beach area nearby. That guy was persistent at first to stay. But finally he walked out to the exit I pointed. Shortly after, I realized that other people sunbathing around me became spectators of the battle. Pretty ashamed, to be honest. My gals stared at me and were silent, couldn’t believe with what I just did.

There were abundant of topless women on the beach, both young and old. I was wearing shorts and tank top. Not even a bikini showing abs and cleavage. So why he locked his target on me, not my gals and other naked women, remains a mystery.

I didn’t mean to dislike British people by the way, so don’t get me wrong. In fact, I have met nice and friendly Brits in other places, been in love with London capital and have a relative living in the country for decades. If have bad experience with them, it’s just a random misfortune. If I only focus on one nationality in my story this time, it’s just coincidental since it was something significant during the trip.

In a nutshell, Benidorm is about having fun. Get used to with unexpected behaviour from its visitors!

spraying the last supper

Benidorm 1: First Night Out with Beautiful Strangers

BEST DEAL ONLINE: BENIDORM

One of the greatest thing about living in Europe is that the distance between countries is not so much to bare. The most beautiful cities in the world you see on postcards are much nearer than you though. Gosh, you have no idea how much I miss those good old days. Especially, when the trips are on low-season promotion.

evening in benidorm

“Do you know what to see in Benidorm?” Assuming I’m a very keen traveller, she expected me to know many names of places on earth.

“Huh? What is that? Haven’t heard before.” I replied.

Then, I checked the fantastic offer to Benidorm on internet: € 150 per person, including return flight from Amsterdam – Alicante, shuttle bus to Benidorm that takes an hour journey,  apartment for 3 persons for 3 nights.

I was like, “Really? This isn’t happening!” None of us had any idea what to do and see in Benidorm, yet what we really care about was to click the offer before it was gone.

FIRST NIGHT OUT: KFC AND SANGRIA

The most proper way to describe our apartment is we got what we paid. It was as simple as a spacious student flat with a huge balcony on 15th floor facing other hotels, swimming pools and a glimpse of sea water a few hundred meters from us. The kitchen utensils were adequate to save our budget on food and KFC was just across the street.

view from the 15th floor

As we decided not to take the balcony for granted, we bought a bucket of fried chicken from KFC, large coke from the mini mart and cooked rice with my own portable rice cooker. Oh, FYI, I purposely bought a small pack of rice in a supermarket in Holland the day before departure. Other people’s tea time was our first lunch time we had after checking in. It was the best lunch time experience ever!

As the sun went down, we started our night life with a typical Spanish drink: a pitcher of Sangria!

Sangria night

We took a long walk along the street with rows of bars, restaurants, cafes, pubs and discotheques on both sides opening until dawn, some are even closed at 5 am or 7 am. Asian tourists were very rare. Most probably we were the only ones that night. Well, the town is more popular among European visitors than Asians. Unless I lived in Holland, I would think Benidorm is a canned food brand.

Finding pubs with great music, lovely atmosphere and decent people inside all at once wasn’t as easy as we thought. There was a pub with decent people, but the music didn’t really suit us. There was a quite nice bar but we felt like power(less) puff girls entering a Mexican drug cartel community. Finally, we left that place in less than 30 seconds without ordering any drinks.

There was another bar where an Italian guy asked me to dance with him after my 2 gals refused him. He was not bad. The only thing he did was to make himself foolish by asking a silly question like, “Will you marry me?” only 15 minutes after meeting me. Was he spontaneous or drunk? Regardless, my gals somehow regretted refusing him after being approached by another scary pervert guy who seduced them while I was dancing with the Italian guy.

Finally, our night life ended up in the western food restaurant where we ordered fish and chips as our supper. I think that was the only place we felt more secure and comfortable. There were only 2 seats occupied, including ours, since less people eating heavy meals like steak and fish and chips after 1 am. For sure, nobody bothered us at all.

BEAUTIFUL STRANGERS

Strangers in Benidorm love camera. They did not hesitate to appear all of the sudden in front of my camera lens by the time I got the right angle. I couldn’t tell their nationalities. I only knew English was not their mother tongue.

a bartender posing while getting some fresh air
can I be the next cover girl?
evening joggers just wanna say “hi” to a stranger photographer

Sometimes we felt like tourist objects rather than tourists. Some people looked at us, wondering how we ended up in the beach town whose name sounds foreign among Asians. So who were the strangers actually? People in the photographs or the photographer and her gals?

It won’t be necessary to fly or drive to Benidorm just to enjoy night life. However, strangers we met on or off cameras, they made the difference, adding more colours of our travel experience.