All posts by reubenbeckett56

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My original intention had always been to ride back to Santander via Barcelona and the Catalan Pyrenees in order to see the Lammergeiers. This is no mean feat from my present position in Alicante, and a variety of reasons have prompted a conclusion to the journey here on the Costa Blanca.
It has been a memorable trip, the cast of people surpassing all expectations, the landscapes, wildlife and architecture enthralling. Yet I have seen just a fraction of this country. A return is inevitable, and the Lammergeiers will be waiting (photo courtesy of Google).

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Once again the Natural World has captivated by its sheer diversity, from wayside birds to shoals of fish, the countless plants, trees and geological formations. My lack of knowledge in no way lessened the joy of seeing them, the memories indelible. We live on a most remarkable planet.

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This has very much been a tale of two Spains. From the mountains of the Asturias to the endless plains of Extramadura, small villages little changed for centuries, and towns of sunlit squares in honey-coloured stone. Palaces, paradors and holy places, Alpujarran streets wandered by working mules led by ancient men, and the intoxicating sight of couples caught by the magic of flamenco. All this I have seen and more. Then the Costas, an homage to the sun and a break from routine. Endless miles of development that lines the coasts to the south, providing jobs to an unsure economy. They too have their place, and the contrast is welcome.

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My last bull appeared near Benidorm, standing proudly on its slope. I have come to like these creatures and their association with my own life, a reminder of the passing of the years. Spain has enthralled and surprised in equal measure.

Reuben

Alicante, February, 2016.

Sanctuary

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A 15 minute boat-ride from Santo Pola, south of Alicante, brings you to Tabarca, a flat island with a permanent population of maybe fifty souls in the off-season, and considerably more when the tourists invade during the summer months. It has a very calming atmosphere, as indeed many Islands do, and an interesting history.

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Berber pirates found refuge on these shores, and in the 18th Century King Carlos 111 ordered the island to be fortified and a town built to house families of Genoese fishermen held prisoner in the Tunisian city of Tabarka.
Some of their names remain to this day.

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Walking around the streets is a most relaxing experience, considering how close the bustling coast of the Costa Blanca is across the water.

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The waters surrounding Tabarca are so pristine that since 1986 it has been declared a Marine Reserve, the first of its kind in Spain. Even the harbour is gin-clear to the bottom, with shoals of fish much in evidence. Bottle nose Dolphins are regularly seen off-shore, though sadly not today.

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A most rewarding day, and a beautiful place, so close to mainland Spain. Even the animals seem adapted to it: Ralph was a sweety, and took a shine to my cycling jacket.

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El Barrio

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My home for a month, in Calle del San Antonio, where my neighbours take life slowly and I have made friends already, if only of the canine variety.

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A place of squares this, and al fresco dining, steps and side alleys. When I first arrived a young lad sang in Arabic in the street, unaccompanied. No busker this, he was singing for the sheer joy of it, and what a voice, rising upwards between the tall buildings.

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A jumble of architecture, new and old with the occasional dilapidated gem, windows open to the elements once again, a roost for birds. Imagine the enticing rooms inside and winding stairs long unfamiliar with the footfalls of former inhabitants. The same story the length of Europe.

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Old ladies sit in the street, noting your passing. Wise with their years.

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Sento, a tapas bar full of raucous life where as a lone traveller I feel welcome. The Spanish make no enquiries of you or demand your reasons. I like that. Seville enchanted me, but Old Town Alicante has something extra.

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A short walk to the harbour front, and a woman fires bread for the birds with a catapult. My trip is complete.

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Alicante City

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The clothing dried out eventually, although the shoes were still soggy as I headed off the next day. Bright sunshine was tempered by a chilly headwind coming from the north east, and this was to stay with me all the way. A reminder of what was happening in higher latitudes.
South of Alicante lie large saline lagoons, huge heaps of salt, and one of my favourite birds, the flamingo. They wander about filtering the waters, and in the process colour their plumage with the various nutrients contained in it. Some are almost white, while others turn a stunning pink, but all have that wonderful way of moving forwards with the head low-slung and that perfectly designed beak just below the surface.
Alicante is a vibrant living city as well as a tourist destination( and there are few of those at the moment). As soon as you enter, one of the most striking sights is the Esplanada de EspaƱa, created with an estimated 6.5 million tiles. The men who laid them must have been quite familiar with the job by the time they had finished. It has a disconcerting 3-D effect on the eye, and several times I have been tricked by non existent ridges under my feet.

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The castle dominates the hill above the city, with its profile of the the Arab King Ali clearly looking south, as legend would have it. A waiter told me the story which is quite protracted and something I would never have learned without listening to his tale. The walk to the top is leg and lung sapping but the view all around is breath-taking, the Old Town clinging to the base of the hill and mountains stretching as far as the eye can see.

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My initial wanderings around the Old Quarter in warm sunshine brought unexpected delights. The cathedral sits cheek by jowl with its neighbouring buildings, and is one of the first I have ever seen with ancient scripts on the outside walls. More interesting than the inside really.

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This place is a maze of small streets and squares, filled with bars and restaurants, many of which stay open virtually through the night. Characters inevitably inhabit them and there is a lively social scene. I have been staying in a one star Hostal hereabouts, the first I passed on arriving in Alicante. A tall,narrow archaic building with work in progress. Dust, noise, bags of cement and workmen on the tiny stairs. A room that could have come from a Dickens novel, with ill-fitting doors. My landlady has a heart of gold, and the sense of peace I feel here she attributes to the building: ‘ tranquillo’. I think she’s right.

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Tomorrow though, I move up the hill to an apartment, with a cave for a bedroom as many have in Southern Spain. The number is 13, not that I’m superstitious. Next door is also 13, and I haven’t quite worked that one out yet.

Rain in Spain

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I had become so used to waking to sunlight and blue skies, weeks of it, that a wet day was more than a surprise. Another night in the four star wasn’t really an option though, so the bike headed off north into persistent precipitation. Once you have become used to wet clothing, there is something perversely pleasurable about riding through it. Flat landscape on either side, farming country. The smell of brassicas and livestock, streaming roads, and labouring gangs in the fields cutting greens for market. All observed through misted glasses, while the legs kept turning the cranks, strangely filled with a new energy. A break for strong coffee and a pastry in a village panderia full of noisy locals, accepting of the soggy orange apparition that walked through their door. I would not have been surprised to hear Flemish spoken such were the surroundings, and had to remind myself I was in Southern Spain. A lady at my table with a fine tray of dark brown eggs, strangely comforting, and limited banter back and to about the rain; then on again to San Javier where a passing car sent such a deluge of water my way that I may as well have been in a bath. Enough, and for once at the right time, a modest hotel with welcoming staff and very hot water in the shower. Bliss. The rain passed, and a walk to the seas edge saw sunlight finally, missed already. A beach restaurant full of a dining party celebrating some event as only the Spanish can, and me watching, beer to hand contemplating the huge fish menu. Spontaneity is the stuff of life.

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Port

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Cartegena is a natural harbour long admired by seafarers over the centuries and still used as a Spanish naval base in the Western Mediterranean. Roman buildings of high status survive here and show how much importance they placed on it. The early 20th century left its mark with the wealthy adding their touch, and many of the details have me remembering Prague, with the quality of workmanship much in evidence.

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Walking past doors is always a temptation to enter that I can never resist, and nobody has ever shown me off the premises. Can’t you just imagine the well-heeled descending these stairs to be whisked off to some cocktail party with the A-listers of their day?

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Many contemporary facades in this city have been saved and supported, presumably for future development, which is a comforting sight. There are so many of them that funding must be the main issue.

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I am staying in a 4 star hotel tonight, which is a first. I was so tired of walking the streets looking for a room that I thought I’d treat myself. Other than a very well-stocked mini bar, there’s not much difference, except the phone next to the toilet. Can anyone explain that one to me? I’m more familiar with camp-sites where toilet paper is a luxury so this one has me intrigued.

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To affirm my 4 star status, I dined at a very inviting restaurant this evening dating back to 1935, with little change judging by the pictures. These two gentlemen served a very passable meal, washed down with one of the finest wines known to humanity. I could get used to this.

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Another costa beckons

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San Jose had been marked by strong winds and they continued as I resumed my journey. In retrospect it would have been wise to stay put. When a loaded touring bike is thrown physically three feet sideways by the sheer force of the wind, you have problems. The power of the elements never ceases to amaze me, and some of these roads give you little room for error.

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Southern Spain is noted for construction projects that either fell foul of illegal building or lack of funding during the financial crisis, or both. Rusting reinforcing rods sprout from acres of concrete poured in optimistic times.
There is a hotel just down the road here that was never completed, and it remains as it did when I last rode this way several years ago. Cranes immobile, materials disappearing into the vegetation and balconies returning to nature where tourists would normally be enjoying sundowners.
All this fascinates me. Buildings long disused, or in this case never used; rooms open to the wind and rain, purpose unfulfilled, have a pathos about them. There it stands, mute, testament to man’s greed and folly.

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Mojacar marks the start again of coastal development, although unlike further west this is of the low-rise variety. The old pueblo of Mojacar sits high on its hill looking down on its new namesake, which is not at all unpleasant, and virtually empty in January. I stayed in this unpretentious hotel and just two doors along was Bar-Restaurante El Deseo, where delicious food is served by a very friendly German lady. Give it a try if you’re passing.

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Today has been what I term a pay-day ride; flat roads, little traffic, no wind and a sparkling sea off to the right. Nothing to do but nose into other people’s lives as you roll past. These days make up for the grim ones, like yesterday. Lone cycle touring has huge highs and lows as I’ve said before, and it can do strange things to you.

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The large greenhouses of Almeria have largely given way to salad and greens in open fields. This one was being cropped by a cheerful bunch working at great speed. I was wondering how much they would be paid. Not a huge amount I imagine, but at least it’s an income.

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As befits an idle day, I stopped early, and find myself in the agreeable town of Aguelas with its crystal-clear harbour and large windmill on the hill. This seems like a good jumping off point for Cartegena tomorrow, but we shall see what the day brings.

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