Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Emotional messages from afar, celebrating our anniversary in Alicante, a trip down memory lane (The Callosa days), goodbye Santa Pola and other stories

Wednesday 24th August 2016

Dinner at Nou Manolin in Alicante to celebrate our 33rd anniversary on Sunday
Good morning everyone,

It is actually Monday 22nd August and I am writing this week's post at the crack of dawn. Whilst everyone is asleep I am sitting in our lounge at the flat in Santa Pola with my cup of coffee and waiting for sunlight.

On Sunday morning we were up early to enjoy the beach before the crowds came. We were down there by 8.45 and it was empty which is how we like it best.  That day the waves were very strong and the red flag was flying which is most unusual here.

Eladio on the empty beach last Sunday
Sunday 21st August was our 33rd anniversary as I wrote last week and we celebrated in style. But it was a remarkable  day for me for a different reason.  I was flipping through my phone that afternoon and came across 100's of unread, unfiltered messages on FB messenger that I had never read because I didn't know I had them.  Nearly all of them were about my performance on the TV programme Undercover Boss.  Some of the latter were full of praise but mostly people wrote asking for jobs, something I could not help with.  But there were also personal ones which touched me enormously.  There were four messages that had me literally gobsmacked.

A lady called Gail had written to me about my Aunty Masha, my Mother's youngest sister who is buried in nearby Alfaz del Pi and who died in 2008, the last of the family saga.   She told me her granddaughter aged 4 had died of cancer the day after my Aunt of and that she was buried just beneath her dressed in princess clothes.  She went on to say that she had searched for information on my Aunt and had read my blog where she discovered she was a real Princess (Her Serene Highness) which pleased her a lot as the child was now together with one. This must have been the entry in my blog that she read. You can read it here to know more about my fascinating Aunt.

 She also told me that she now puts flowers on my Aunt's grave.  Imagine!  How lovely. Of course I wrote back immediately.  Thank you Gail for writing and for this gesture.
My beautiful Aunty Masha, my Mother's youngest sister (Her Serene Highness Maria Andreivina  Lieven. Just after she escaped from Bulgaria - Paris 1959.
There was another message about my Mother's family and it was from a 29 year old Serb called Ivan asking for details of the death of my Aunt Olga (my Mother's oldest sister) and her father Prince Andrei Lieven.  He said it was for the Gotha Online genealogy site. I had no idea what the latter was but have since learned it is the site for the genealogy of the aristocracy.  We later messaged late into the night and he told me he was a fanatic about the monarchy and nobility and  that my Mother's title was HSH and that he was writing a book on the history of the Monarchy.

 I had no idea what it meant, looked it up and found "Her Serene Highness".  He explained that it is the title next down from HRH! Fancy that.  It seems to be used in Germany, the Baltic Countries and Russia.  It was an extraordinary conversation and this man, I know, will help me when I finally write that book about my Mother and her family.  He also wrote to me about our most famous ancestor, Princess Dorothea Lieven.  She was not actually a Lieven but married one. and thus became a Russian princess. She was the wife of the Russian ambassador in London and had much political influence at the time.  According to The Telegraph in a recent article "she slept her way to the top".
Princess Dorothea Lieven, our most famous ancestor, painted by the British artist Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1813
The next message was also from a Serb, a young girl this time, 23 year old Iva.  She wrote to say she was the daughter of the sole passsenger survivor of the plane on which my Father's whole family died, my Aunty Gloria, her husband Derek Orchard and their children, my adored cousins, Jacqueline aged 12, Michael aged 9 and Antony aged 7. It was a tragedy which my Father and I have carried in our hearts always.  I can never ever forget.
Aunty Gloria, my beloved Father's sister, who died in an air crash on 23rd May 1971 on a flight from London Gatwich to Rijeka (Croatia) together with all her family.
She had read my blog and the story of their death which you can read here. I couldn't believe what I was reading, so let me give you an extract of her message:

Hi there,
I don't know you and you don't know me, but i've found your blog when I was looking for some information about the air crash accident from 23 may 1971. And somehow I had the feeling that I had to write to you. Since you have lost so many loved ones
My father was as well at this named airplane flying from London to Rijeka after graduating from Imperial College. Aged 22. He was the sole surviver of this tragic accident.
I'm 23 now and heard about this accident just a couple of months ago. And now I tried to talk to my dad, to have an idea about that day, how he felt, what he'd seen... As you maybe can imagine and understand, he was not very talkative...he just mentioned a girl, he couldn't help...and then started crying. I didn't ask him for more details.

I have written back of course and am keen to get Iva's reply if only to find out what really happened in the last minutes before the plane blew up upon landing that fatal day.

The last message was also about Aunty Gloria and her family. They lived and were buried in Ickenham, a small suburban town outside London near Ruislip and Uxbridge.  A lady called Jenny who lives there wrote me this message:

A while ago I was searching on the web for the Orchard family as I have lived in Ickenham since I was 4 and vaguely remembered the tragedy that befell your family. There is a beautiful window in St. Giles Church dedicated to them. 

Of course I know they are buried there and I remember the church vividly which played such an important part in the life of Aunty Gloria and her family.  After all her Father, my Grandfather, Canon John Lloyd was a vicar.  But I didn't know there was a stained glass window dedicated to them.  I wrote back and Jenny kindly said she would take a picture of it and send it to me.
St. Giles Church Ickenham where Aunty Gloria, Uncle Derek and my cousins Jacqueline, Michael and Antony are buried
Next week I am going to London and I have decided I will visit the church, see their grave and the stained glass window.  I have to do it. Thank you Jenny for reaching out.

The messages touched my heart enormously.  But of course life went on. It was our anniversary and I had booked a table for dinner at Alicante's most famous restaurant, Nou Manolin.  We decided to go early and enjoy a walk on the Explanada on the sea front before going for dinner.

By the replica of the Santisima Trinidad ship which fought in the battle of Trafalgar. Alicante port 
I love the port at Alicante and the views of the sea and the sailing boats.
The port of Alicante 
I also adore the Explanada which is similar to Las Ramblas in Barcelona.  It was full of people, kiosks selling all sorts of stuff as well as black ladies offering to braid your hair.  The floor is made of marble and is difficult to describe, so here is a photo of Eladio, Toño and Dolores on it for you to see.

Eladio, Dolores and Toño on the Explanada in Alicante on Sunday night last
There was also a brass band playing and we stopped for a while to watch and listen.
The brass band playing on the Explanada in Alicante last Sunday
The last time we had heard it was with my Father who loves brass bands and with Suzy some years ago.

At the end of the Explanada comes Alicante's most famous and oldest park, the Canovás Park (a famous Spanish politician) where there are some amazing ficus trees with endless roots and branches.
The Canovas park in Alicante with its amazing giant ficus trees
 Here there was a man making huge soap bubbles to everyone's delight.
The man blowing giant soap bubbles in Canovas park in Alicante
Toño catching one of the bubbles
When it neared the time for our restaurant booking, armed with my mobile GPS we set off to find Nou Manolin on Calle Villegas number 3. It certainly lived up to my expectations and we loved it.

It was a great meal and a privilege to be accompanied by Toño and Dolores on our anniversary night.

Dinner at Nou Manolin in Alicante last Sunday
We didn't have dessert there as we wanted to have an ice cream on the Explanada.  We were to have it at "Kiosko El Peret",  the most famous ice cream parlour in town. Its 100th anniversary was on 12th May this year, one of the waiters told me.
Kiosko Peret on the Explanada in Alicante the most famous ice cream parlour in the area.
 It's a must when in Alicante and a great place to have ice cream, horchata or chocolate con churros.  Here are our ice creams which were delicious.
Ice creams at Peret in Alicante on Sunday night.
We were home by just after 11 and there was time for relaxing on our terrace before retiring.

On Monday morning I was up incredibly early at 6 a.m.  It is a time I love, time to begin the day on my own with a big mug of good coffee with foamed milk.  As always I read the news with my coffee and I was delighted to hear Spain had garnered 3 more medals on the last day of the Olympics in Rio which was on Sunday.  They got a  total of 17 but most importantly 7 of them were gold; 2 of them by women in what are considered the kings of sport; athletics and swimming. It was perhaps Spain's greatest performance at the Olympics since they were held in Barcelona in 1992.
Spain's women's rhythmic gimnastics team who got the silver medal
The medals were: silver in rhythmic gimnastics, bronze in men's basketball and bronze for mountain bike.  The GB team did extraordinarily well coming second after the USA with 67 medals, 27 of which were gold.

Monday 22nd August was to be our last full day in Santa Pola with Toño and Dolores who would be staying on after our departure.  I had planned a trip down memory lane for all of us. We were going to visit Guadalest, then Callosa de Ensarria where my parents bought a house in 1973, Algar and its waterfalls, finishing off in Bolulla where my Aunty Masha bought a house too.  As a family we started going there every summer and we call those times our "Callosa Days" the beginning of my life in Spain which if you are interested you can read about here. After University, I went there with José Antonio and Dolores when their children Miguel and Sara were toddlers.
Toño and Dolores with their 2 small children on the beach in Benidorm in July 1980
It was also where Eladio and I fell in love.
Eladio and I - the first photo of us together in July 1980 in Guadalest. I was 23 and he was a 35 year old Spanish Catholic priest
You see it was Dolores who introduced me to her husband's brother.   He was a 35 year old Spanish Catholic priest and I was a 23 year old English girl of Russian origin who had just graduated in Spanish and Portuguese at Nottingham University. We have been back often but it was to be the first time for them since the early 80's and we were all looking forward to the day tremendously.

We left at 10.30, having waited for the annual plumber visit to sort out the water problem here.  He did the best he could; the problem  being the scale in the plumbing of the whole block of flats.  Our first stop would be in Callosa.  To get there we went on the road from Benidorm to Callosa passing many well known places from my teenage years in Spain.  Particularly lovely is the view of Polop from the road.  Eladio stopped for me to take this great picture.
Polop de la Marina, breathtakingly beautiful view from the mountain road
This is very mountainous terrain and the area where oranges, lemons, olives, almonds and a fruit called níspero grow and are cultivated.

We reached Callosa, that small town of my youth where I first came when I was just 15 in 1973, There's nothing special about the town but it has so many memories for me; I consider it a part of me.

Before visiting my parents' house in Calle de las Flores, we stopped at the Jijonenca Ice cream parlour which serves the best horchata "(milkly looking cold drink made from tiger nuts) in the world. It also makes the best turrón ice cream I have ever tried.
Horchata from La Jijonenca in Callosa

 Here I am outside it for old time's sake.
Outside La Jijonenca ice cream parlour
It hadn't changed much and I was glad to hear it was still run by the same family.  We used to go very often when we spent the summers in Callosa all those years ago.

It was a quick walk to my parents' old house, past familiar streets and the old bakery where we would buy bread every day.
Calle de las Flores. Our old house was number 3, the second on the left going up.
I posed for a photo sitting on the steps as I used to do.  I have a photo of myself probably aged 17 or 18 sitting outside with a long skirt and stroking a kitten.  I must dig it out.
Sitting outside our old house in Callosa 
The house was very simple, what my Father used to call "holiday accommodation". My Mother bought it for about 1000 pounds, a song even then.  At the time there was a restriction on the amount of pounds you could take out of the UK.  As the only way to pay was in cash, she came up with an ingenious idea of how to carry the money over with her.  She stuffed the wads of sterling into a plastic bag inside a chicken she roasted for the journey.  When they passed the border, she had the nerve to eat some of it in front of the customs' officers whilst they inspected my Aunt's old and battered car! We never renovated it and today it looks abandoned.  The thought of buying it went through my head, maybe ....... one day ......

From the old house we carried on down the main street to see one of the town's most interesting landmarks, the old washing house. It was built in 1934. We used to go and sing there at night and during the day women really did do their washing; no longer so of course.
The old washing house in Callosa which has been lovingly restored.
The next stop on our memory lane itinerary was Guadalest, a drive up the mountains around steep bends which is about 12km away.  The views from the road of the rocky mountains and orchards are wonderful.
View from the road from Callosa to Guadalest
Guadalest or El Castel de Guadalest is a beautiful mountain village with a small castle and prison perched on the top. It's very touristy these days but still lovely.
We walked up the steep steps towards the castle and on the way had a photograph taken of the 4 of us at the obligatory stop; just where we took one with Sandra, Jeffer and Isaline a few years ago.
The 4 of us at Guadalest
It's quite a climb in the sun but when you get to the top of the village where the main square is, the view of the reservoir below, surrounded by mountains is to die for.
The view from the top of the small village of Guadalest
I always love going to Guadalest.  It is such a pretty, quaint and unique place.  But we had to leave if we were going to be on time for our lunch appointment at Don Juan in Algar.

Algar, or rather Las Fuentes de Algar (the fountains or really waterfalls of Algar), is an emazing gorge with waterfalls at the top in between Callosa and Bolulla. Today it is very commercial and exploited but when we first came in 1972 it was only really used by the locals.  George, Sasha and I couldn't afford to pay the swimming pool entrance fee at Casa Marcos, so would head for the natural swimming pools among the rocks by the main waterfall where the water is freezing cold.  But times have changed and instead of walking in the heat, we came in a BMW and went for lunch; unthinkable there.  We always go to Don Juan which serves some great rice dishes.  Our favourite is "arroz a banda", similar to paella but with no seafood to shell.  This was the arroz a banda we had there on Monday.
Arroz a banda at Don Juan in Algar on Monday
Before heading for the waterfalls we spent an hour or so resting by the pool at the restaurant.  José Antonio and I had grabbed some sunbeds, a table and chairs before our meal for that very purpose.  It was loud and crowded but I had to have a swim whilst the men slept their siesta and Dolores read the written edition of El País
The swimming pool at Algar (Don Juan)
Once rested, the next item on the agenda was a walk and swim in the waterfall and natural pools formed by the river Guadalest.  These days you have to pay to go in. I spoke to the ticket seller, a young girl from Callosa and mentioned how we used to go there because we couldn't pay for the swimming pool and she told me these days people go to the natural pools because they can't afford the artificial ones.  Kindly she charged us for 4 student tickets, hahahaha.

The most spectacular part of the "fuentes" is the first big waterfall.  This is where Eladio, Toño and I would enter first and it was a huge adventure as it always is.
The big waterfall at Las Fuentes de Algar, we swum practically under it. 
To get into the freezing water you have to make your way across slippery rocks and without glasses I couldn't tell what was under the water.  You also have to go in with water footwear; mine broke and Toño lost one of his flip flops.  Thankfully it later floated to the top. Swimming there is not for the  faint hearted.

We then walked up into the mountain to climb up to more natural pools and waterfalls.  I read later that the water comes from the river in Bolulla and is much used in  local irrigation of the fruit grown in the area.
Bathing in one of the natural pools at Algar
It is such a beautiful place and we were happy that Toño and Dolores liked it as much as we did. After our bathe and walk up the steep paths, it was time to come down.  The next item on the memory lane agenda was to buy fruit from a couple who live in Bolulla and have had a fruit stand there ever since I can remember.  The fruit they sell is just the best and we bought loads of it.
Buying locally grown fruit from the Bolulla couple in Algar on Monday
The last place we would visit on our trip down memory lane was the small village of Bolulla, nestled in the rocky mountains on a very quiet and windy road, just 3km away from Algar.
Approaching Bolulla 
This was the village where my Aunty Masha bought a house so many years ago. (1972 in Franco's Spain).  She was known as "Señora María", "Maria la inglesa", María la rusa" but never by the name Masha.  She was well loved and people still remember her. For them I am "la sobrina de Maria" and proud to be called that. Bolulla has a place in my heart from all those summers spent there as a teenager with my Aunty, parents, brother George, cousin Sasha and numerous friends both English and of many nationalities who came to stay and join us on our "Callosa Days".  For me it is a village where time seems to have stood still; a place of simplicity and rural living in the most beautiful surroundings possible, those imposing rocky mountains and the river bed where the fruit is cultivated. I fell in love with Bolulla when I was 15 and I am still in love with it today.  There is something enticing and magical about it.  No wonder so many of my Aunt's friends bought houses there too and then their friends.  At the time we were the only British people there (apart from Tony - another story) and we were stared at constantly and, I imagine, the main topic of conversation  at meal times in most families in the village.
The road that passes Bolulla.  The entrance to my Aunt's flat in Calle Mayor number 10 is just past the tree in the photo.
We were to coincide with the "fiestas" but first the obligatory stop was my Aunt's house (Calle Mayor 10).  There seemed to be no one there although we were told people did live there. I think my cousin rents it out.  We walked the lovely old streets of a village that is mostly unspoiled.  412 people live there now and it seems to be thriving.  The main source of income is the cultivation of oranges, lemons and nísperos and to a lesser extent almonds.  Everywhere there are jasmine trees and the smell of that delicate flower brought back memories of nights in Bolulla all those years ago.

My favourite street is the one I call Calle de las Flores but it has another name which I think is Rincón Coco.  Here Eladio and Toño are walking down it on our tour around the small village.
Eladio and Toño coming down my favourite street in Bolulla
After our little walk we made our way to the only bar for a drink. I'ts called Bar L'Era and I am happy to recommend it here.  We ended up having an impromptu dinner just as we did in July 2014 with our friends Sandra, Jeffer and Isaline.  The lady owner and chef is quite a personality and a wonderful cook.  She was very welcoming and we had a delicious meal of an assortment of dishes she chose for us from her kitchen for the paltry price of 27 euros!

I should also include here a tidbit of scandal. When I was 18 I fell in love with a young medical student from the village further up the road, Tárbena.  He was very good looking then. His parents were dead against it as being English I would of course never have lived there.  They made our relationship impossible and broke my heart in the process.  Meanwhile they married him off to a young girl from Bolulla with a decent level of education to compensate for losing me.  I heard the marriage didn't last but I wasn't surprised.  Today he is the Mayor of Tárbena and when I googled him I was horrified at the image and very very happy I never married him hahaha.  The girl serving us at dinner that night was a beautiful young Romanian.  She had married a man from Tárbena so we had something in common.  I told her of my failed first romance but of course she knows who the man is.

At 9 pm the fiesta procession was about to begin. How exciting and emotional to be there to be part of it and witness it too.
The church in Bolulla is magnificent.  It is from here that the procession starts with all the village joining
The procession is led by the villagers, walking on both sides of the small streets and carrying a candle in their left hand.  Very kindly, Francisco, a villager who we knew very well and who was delighted to see us, gave me one of his candles.  Behind the villagers comes the Priest and some dignitaries, then the Virgin which is carried out of the church and carried by pall bearers.  Fnally comes the village brass band and their music is so good.
The procession in Bolulla on Sunday night
It was very emotional to be a part of this.  As we walked slowly and in silence, except for the haunting music of the band, I cried tears of emotion as we walked past my Aunt's house and touched the stone walls as if I were touching my Mother and my Aunt.  I wished they were there and I wished they could see me there.

The procession ended at the church with some sort of short mass which ended with the words and shouts of Viva España, Visca Bolulla.  Toño, Dolores and Eladio told me the priest was from the Opus Dei.  That maybe also explained the playing of the Spanish national anthem at the beginning and end of the procession.

Then it was time to mingle with the crowd and to talk to our friend and neighbour, Francisco, also known as "el sacristán".  His Mother was called Elvira and always wore black. She would sit at her door by her house on my Aunt's street and would  greet us every morning saying "¿vais a la playa?" (are you going to the beach?).  At the time I knew no Spanish and only understood the word "playa" so we ended up calling her "playa" hahaha.  When the girls were small and we stayed at my Aunt's house it was Francisco, an orange grower, who once took Eladio out to his orchard to pick oranges in his old tractor at the crack of dawn.  He has always remembered and so have we.  It was nice to see him again.
Eladio and Francisco from Bolulla reunited after so many years

I spoke to so many people who remembered by Aunt, my Mother and myself.  It felt like coming home. It was getting later and later and we really had to leave.  But I had one more thing to see and it was the steps leading up to my Aunt's street from the main road where she always used to park.  It's by the old wash house and across the way from the river.  I rushed there, said a prayer for her and then walked slowly back inhaling the wonderful smell of jasmine as I walked towards our waiting car.

What a day, so crammed full of  memories and emotions.  I went home still feeling nostalgic but happy we did that trip down memory lane once again.  I keep going back there, like a criminal to the crime scene.  No doubt we shall go again next year.  I definitely want to to take part again in the haunting and magical nightly procession around this beautiful little village, the village of my heart. Goodbye Bolulla.  See you again.

Tuesday was to be our last day in Santa Pola or rather the last morning as we would be leaving after lunch to drive home. You see on Thursday I would be travelling to London for the next stage of my August holidays.

We got the most out of the morning.  We were down at the beach by 9.15
Eladio setting up our beach equipment on our last morning in Santa Pola
It was to be my last bathe and last walk on the Carabasi beach which stretches right on to Santa Pola but we go as far as the sand lasts.

We stayed until 11.30 when the crowds began to arrive.  Once home which is a few minutes' drive, we had a cup of coffee at the Antiu Xixona ice cream parlour opposite our flat.  Then it was time for my last bathe at the pool.
My last bathe at the pool on Tuesday morning
The others never really want to go to the pool but they don't know what they are missing. I'm not referring to the swimming pool itself but to the wonderful vegetation surrounding it and above all the amazing views of the sea and Bay of Alicante.
The view from the pool at Gran Alacant
After lunch it was time to pack and go.  José Antonio and Dolores would be staying on for a few days and I hope they enjoy the place together. So it was goodbye Santa Pola until we go again.

The drive takes 4 hours and we were home by 9 pm. Only the dogs greeted us as Salud and my Father were asleep in their beds.  Pippa was over the moon with joy to see us (well mainly me), Norah cried and Elsa jumped up all over us.  As always the best thing about coming home is sleeping in your own bed.

I was awake on Wednesday morning at 6.15 - my body clock is such a bore - I was appalled to read there had been an earthquake in central Italy.

The day was spent quietly.  The dogs were delighted to be taken on their morning walk again and even at 9 in the morning it was already very hot.  I had a nail appointment at 12 and whilst at Centro Oeste shopping centre bought some comfortable looking sneakers for walking in London. I would be flying to London on Thursday 25th August and would be home again on Wednesday 31st.  Eladio, my Father and the dogs I'm sure would miss me.

It is now Wednesday evening and I have decided to publish this post mid week so as to write a separate one on my trip to London starting tomorrow.  Thus I will be free of blog writing whilst spending time there.  I intend to visit Ickenham  to see my Aunty Gloria and her family's grave at the church there; St. Giles. I rang them this morning and they said they would open the church for me this Friday.  That will be a very sad trip.  But more about it in next week's story.

Meanwhile, all the best to you all and thanks so much for reading my blog.  It means a lot to me,


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