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.
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.
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.
“¿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.
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.
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!