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Spain-Andorra (Europe) report (rather long)

Spain-Andorra (Europe) report (rather long)

Old Jul 25th, 2003, 12:32 AM
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Spain-Andorra (Europe) report (rather long)

Left Holland by car on 20 June, one night S of Orleans and then a week in Andorra. Besides the expected mountains, valleys and bubbling streams, we encountered real tax-free shopping - booze, cigarettes, clothing, electronics. We made a number of walks/hikes in the meadows and mountains - lovely fresh air and great scenery while huffing and puffing. The combination of exercise, views and nature was great. The highlight was the plethora of early-summer "Alpine" flowers in the meadows. English common names found to be weird - Bladder campion; Bistort; Spanish Catchfly; Stitchwort; Field Mouse-ear; Decumbent treacle-mustard (seriously, I didn't make that up!!!); Tufted vetch (poor thing); Dog?s mercury; Viper?s bugloss; Lungwort; etc.

Then 2 weeks on the Costa Blanca in SE Spain. Week 1 was in Althea-Calpe. Good and cheap food. Sangria was tried and made. Since it was VERY hot we applied ourselves to less-sun and more-sea. Picture if you would, white houses on the slopes of limestone hills that drop straight into the sea. This is why tens of thousands of Europeans want to move to this part of Spain. We spent one day at a water park near Benidorm. The first ride frightened the crap out of my wife so she confined herself to making circuits in the "paddling river". My son was called on to extract value on behalf of the ?wrinklies?. Dad did some of the less hair-raising drops - at one stage shooting off before the guard had finished his safety story - "Pardooooooon!!!!!" Later, in Benidorm itself, the son had his hair cut for 1/3rd the price in Holland, by an old-style barber (snip-snip-snip-snip go the scissors (most snips wasted on fresh air); cut-throat razor does the final touches; oil is rubbed on hands and then on hair - the whole 9 yards). We did our first tapas "thing" that night in Benidorm's old town - complete with bone dry Basque cider. Now some ETA nut has blown it up. One night at the "local" in Althea we had grilled pork chops with mushrooms, a salad, ice cream and beer, all for the price of a very ordinary starter in Holland. An evening visit to historic Althea on the hill-top is a must - narrow streets; steps; white walls; blue-domed church; old folk sitting on chairs on the narrow pavements; kids playing everywhere; ice cold beer). Went inland to the Guadalest Moorish site - puff-puff up the steps; waterfalls and pools streaming straight out of cracks in the limestone; enormous loquat (nispero) plantations; pine forests on hillsides dotted with tiny white villages. Siestas.

The second week was spent a few 10's of kms further north at Denia. Flatter; more facilities; more tourist beds; but all within 200 metres of the long broad beach, i.e. a "strip" that is more "boring" to my taste. The heat did not let up - into the upper 30's most days with not a cloud in sight. A good part of each day was spent in either marine or fresh water - nice long beach; well-maintained pool. Dad and son did regular beach patrols to ensure that the topless ladies were not guilty of littering or other dastardly crimes. Spit-roasted chickens bought at the local takeaway; we learned the ins-and-outs of cured raw (Parma-style) hams - some costing 10 times more than others. Great salamis and cheeses. Tree-filled walking streets. Visit the local market. More ice cold beer. More sangria. Siesta. At peak season 50 000 cars compete for 2500 parking spaces - yeeech. Superb lamb chops in garlic, olive oil and salt - nothing more. Pimientos de Padron - small green very mild chillies done the same way as the lamb - eaten as a snack. Smoky Spanish brandy. Fall asleep under the rather rapidly rotating ceiling fan. Get lost driving around the town centre. Somewhere there are 15000 foreign cars all jammed into the end of an alley because a critical traffic sign was stolen.

Then 3 nights in Barcelona. It is a humming, pulsating, vibrant city. Huge amounts of varied entertainment - theatre, world music, jazz, opera, symphonies. As cosmopolitan as you could wish. The charm of the Gothic District versus the craziness of Antonio Gaudi and friends. The Ramblas - the most exciting street in the world, with its bird sellers, cripples, tables and chairs, tarot card readers, fire-breathers, the superb Boqueria fresh produce market. The buzz of dozens of languages. The shapes, sizes, colours, and clothing (or lack of it) of the tourists. Great coffee. Tapas bars on every corner. Movies; monuments; music; museums; malls. Smart shops. Discount dives. Flower sellers. Painters. Sea, hills and valleys. And unfortunately - odours (well, OK, smells), begging gypsies, and pickpockets (wife got stung for €50). An invalid using a monster tele lens taking photos of pretty girls. Crazy kids on skateboards, in-line skates and mini-scooters dancing with danger down a steep short street into a cobbled T-junction with passing pedestrians. The edge is taken off by washing hanging 20 metres above your head; dogs barking at you from the third-floor balcony; and one-way streets that defy navigation. Little dark-haired toddlers with pink dresses, bottomless dark eyes and golden ear studs. An old man listens to 4 young fellows playing wind instruments and starts to shuffle across to put his coins into their tin. He sees our car at the last moment. I signal him through. He gives an appreciative wave without turning his head and shuffles on with tiny steps, coins in outstretched hand.

Four weeks later (that?s European vacations for you) we?re back. And its still hot.
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Old Jul 25th, 2003, 08:40 AM
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Rockknocker: this is one of the most evocative and charmingly-written trip reports I've seen on this board. Great job (and sounds like a great trip, too!)
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Old Jul 25th, 2003, 09:57 AM
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Gail, that was very sweet of you - many thanks for the kind words. I was not sure that anyone would be interested in my scribblings. Nice to know that one was.

Peter
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Old Jul 25th, 2003, 10:12 AM
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I really enjoyed your stream of consciousness (but nonetheless well-written and punctuated) description. Sounds like a great trip all around.
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Old Jul 25th, 2003, 12:34 PM
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Very evocative--everything sounded wonderful (except for the heat!
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Old Jul 25th, 2003, 01:39 PM
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Wonderful report and so refreshing after the usual Rue Cler and Cinque Terre repeats!
 
Old Jul 25th, 2003, 05:31 PM
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Thanks for sharing Peter. I could see, smell and taste Barcelona from your vivid description. Your wife and I have something in common: I also lost 50 euros to a pickpocket artiste at the Barcelona Fortuna metro station. Live and learn.
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Old Jul 25th, 2003, 07:25 PM
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Man! When do we leave? I can hardly wait ,after this description.
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Old Jul 26th, 2003, 11:35 AM
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Rockknocker--what a delightful trip report. Thank you.

My husband and I love Spain and are going back in November and will be in the Costa Blanca area and I was wondering if you remembered the names of any of the good restaurants you'd recommend, especially in Althea.

Especially loved your description of Barcelona, where I plan to return someday (also plan to return to Holland some day--love Amsterdam and the people were so friendly and helpful!)
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Old Jul 26th, 2003, 11:57 PM
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Hi Artlover,
Try this web site (many others in Spanish - Google your way there):
http://www.bestinspain.com/entertain...ting_out.shtml

In Altea, Oustau is the leader by far. It is also situated in a precious area - about 75 metres downhill from the famous blue-domed church in the historic town. Take the opportunity to walk around the old town before or after your meal - enchanting.

The pizzeria Campanari lives up to its reputation, and this time you get to tour old-town Calpe (yes, it does actually exist).

If you have not yet booked accommodation AND if you will have a car, let me pass on the details of where we stayed. It is a fully self-contained and separate floor of a house. Victor and Janice, the owners occupy the floor below. They are the friendliest and most helpful people that you could ever wish to meet. And you get authentic Yorkshire accents thrown in for free.

The appartment is superbly equiped - down to sewing kit, sellotape and local maps. One drawback that should not be a problem in November - no airconditioning - it relies on ceiling fans and through-drafts. Heating is available. But you MUST have a car - parking is right there. This makes hotels look positively dour and unimaginative. The "local" restaurant 50 metres up the road is the best value for money food in Europe - at least that I know of.

Finally it is MUCH cheaper to book through them than via the on-line agents. Sleeps 2 to 6. The owners are:

Victor & Janice Cooper - [email protected]; Tel. 34-96-688 1700

I have no commercial links with them - promise!! - just new friends. Anything else - just give me a shout.

Peter
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Old Jul 27th, 2003, 01:35 PM
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Hi Rockknocker,

Thank you so much for the information. We already have a place, but others may benefit from this information (and maybe we'll use it next time--who knows?)

Will definitely try to get to the places you recommended.

Another question--Benidorm appears to be too overbuilt and less "charming" than other places in the area from what I've gathered so far in my research. Would you say this is true? Also, did you get to Allicante at all, and if so, how did you find it?

Thanks again.
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Old Jul 27th, 2003, 11:11 PM
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Hi Artlover,
Yes, Benidorm does have a reputation for being for the beer and sunburn brigade, but it is by no means soulless. Besides the high-rise buildings and chear souvenier shops, it has nice topography, broad boulevards with trees, curved beaches and, most importantly, the old town where real people live and work. I did not visit Alicante and Torrevieja and therefore cannot comment except to say that the countryside flattens to the south, which removes one of the main attractions of the Denia-to-Benidorm sector.

We found the visit to Guadelest (inland from Altea) worthwhile. The "moorish" aspect is over-emphasised. I am not sure whether in November you would want to include the nearby springs (fonts). We also went birding in the Marjal behind Denia, but did not get to the Albufiera near Valencia. The beach coves south along the coast from Javea (Xavia) are very pictureque. Benissa and other inland towns have many good restaurants. Probably the best place that we tried is El Raset in the main tourist area near the prot in Denia. When reading Spanish restaurant reviews they seem to give higher marks to the places specialising in rice dishes (Paella; arroz a la banda, etc.). I found these to be seriously overrrated. The local markets are held on a different day in each town. You need not bother visiting more than one. There are 2 Costa Blanca English newspapers for local events.

Peter
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Old Jul 29th, 2003, 11:57 AM
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Thanks again Peter for the information. Another question--were the markets mostly food or did they sell lots of other things besides food?

Best wishes,
Paula
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Old Jul 30th, 2003, 01:19 AM
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Hi Paula,

The food markets are usually Municipal markets (Mercado/Mercat Municipal). They are permanent. The markets that I was referring to are established on a specific day of the week at the different towns (Altea - Tuesday - I think). There they sell "everything" - mostly clothing, but also jewellery, hand-made items, used books, junk, footwear, ceramics, etc.

Also good places to watch the people parade.

Peter
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