Saturday, March 31, 2018

Puigdemont in prison in Germany, to the seaside for Easter, exploring the island of Tarbarca, Murcia, Alicante, Elche and Calpe, the Russian church in Altea and other stories.

Easter Sunday,  Santa Pola, 1st April 2018
On the boat to the island of Tabarca from Santa Pola with Pippa, her first time ever on a boat.
Good morning everyone and Happy Easter. 

Here I am writing from our seaside apartment in Santa Pola near Alicante, on the last day of our stay here. It has been a good one too as you will read.

It's amazing how fast the week has passed. Last Sunday we decided at the spur of the moment to come on Sunday rather than Monday. That meant we wouldn't be at home to greet our Airbnb guests, a family from England. But I left everything in order for their arrival. We said goodbye to my Father and Lucy who would take good care of him and our  guests. We also said goodbye to Oli and Miguel who we would be seeing yesterday in Calpe, a beautiful town on the coast between Alicante and Valencia where they were spending their Easter holiday. Normally at Easter we go to Montrondo but the weather forecast was not good. It was not good for most of Spain either, except where we are on the South East coast of the country. We have had great weather and lots of sunshine, something we both needed after all the storms and rain we have experienced in the last month or so. It was to be our second stay here in the past 3 weeks which is unusual as we don't often come here. However, I think, as we get older we like it  more and feel very much at home here. In fact I don't want to go home today but duty calls and besides tomorrow, Monday, I have my second eye operation. Tomorrow it will be goodbye to glasses for good. 

Once again we stopped at Mesón Los Rosales for lunch. It was lovely, as always, and expensive as always too but worth stopping for.
Mesón Los Rosales where we often stop for lunch on our way to or from our apartment by the beach
As we left El Mesón, news was breaking that Puigdemont, the fugitive ex Catalan leader, had been detained in Germany as he left Finland that weekend after the European Extradition Warrant was issued for the second time. He fled Helsinki as soon as he heard, ditched his flight to Brussels and took the ferry to Stockholm where he was picked up by loyal Barcelona policemen on leave. They had driven all the way from Brussels where he was self exiled. He was caught crossing the border from Denmark into Germany. This new chapter of the aftermath of the illegal referendum on 1st October last year would be in the news all week. He is now detained in custody in a prison in Schleswig-Holstein near the Danish border. 
The prison in Germany (Neumunster) where Puigdemont is in custody
It sounds like quite a good prison from what I read. The ex Catalan leader and rebel sleeps in a 7 or 8m2 cell with its own bathroom and TV and  has access to a mobile phone and even skype so no doubt he is feeling quite comfortable and not too out of touch although he can only see the news in German. 

Let's see whether the German judge sends him back to Spain or not. It all depends on whether the crimes he is accused of are included in German law. The main one "rebellion" is not but the nearest to it is "high treason". Well, he certainly committed treason when he illegally led the campaign for independence from Spain.  Meanwhile his cronies in Belgium and in Scotland have also been summoned on the same order. Countries outside Spain don't really understand the issue and I have a feeling the secessionists are doing a great job playing the underdog and accusing Spain of an unfair judicial system, lack of human rights, etc. All of this harks back to the image Spain gained under Franco. That was more than 40 years ago but give a dog a bad name and it won't go away. I live in Spain and can tell you that these accusations are totally incorrect. Spain is a very democratic country. Did you know, by the way, that in German separatist parties are actually illegal? Well there are many in Spain. It's ironic that the fate of Puigdemont is now in the hands of a German judge.  Meanwhile, in Catalonia there have been violent demonstrations calling for Puigdemont's freedom. So much for the separatists calling their protests peaceful.  

As Eladio drove, I read out the news to him. I then took to the wheel while he dozed and we arrived at our apartment at around 6 pm, new time. After settling in, unpacking and putting the heating on, we went for our walk with Pippa to the lighthouse. I enjoyed experimenting with my new S9 camera and got some great pictures this week. My first was this one of the view from the lighthouse cliffs at the Cape of Santa Pola which I never tire of.
The view from the lighthouse cliffs at the Cape of Santa Pola
It takes good dusk photos too and even those taken at night. It was 8.30 as we arrived home and this is the photo I got of the view of the Bay of Alicante from our apartment.
The Bay of Alicante as seen from our apartment at dusk last Sunday
I always love that view too.

We were glued to the TV while having dinner that first night, following the next chapter on Puigdemont's detention and the demonstrations in Barcelona.  It was like watching a soap opera or following a TV series except that the stories were real. In fact I watched until I fell asleep.  No doubt I got a better night's sleep than the ex Catalan fugitive hahaha.

Monday came, the first day of our holiday and we decided to visit the Island of Tabarca. Normally when we come to our seaside apartment we don't venture far or often but this holiday has been different with lots of exciting day trips. We were to return to locations we hadn't been to for years, as well as explore ones we had been to often  like Alicante or never before like Murcia. 

We had been to Tabarca, the smallest inhabited island in Spain, years ago when we bought the apartment in 1999. We didn't have a good impression at the time as it was very run down. However, we were lured by the idea of a walk around the island. Tabarca has about 56 registered inhabitants but we were told that only about 6 to 10 people live there all year round. It is about 1.8k long and only 300 metres wide and only a small part of it is built up. Since we were last there it has been spruced up, the streets paved and you can see a thriving tourist business. In the past the islanders lived from fishing. We took the boat from the Santa Pola port which would take 25 minutes. The distance is about 5 nautical miles from harbour to harbour. I didn't know it but we were on a catamaran or so Eladio told me. It would be Pippa's first trip on a boat and she was very hesitant. The photo illustrating this week's post is of me with her sitting on the floor of the boat. It was an enjoyable ride as the sea was very calm.
Eladio and Pippa on the boat on our way to Tabarca
Soon we approached the island which we could see up close, the island we can see from a distance every time we walk to the lighthouse cliffs on the cape of Santa Pola.
The island as we approached it by boat
The main landmarks are the church, the lighthouse and amazingly an old prison. That day we were to see the island with different eyes and we fell in love with it. I could even imagine buying a small house and living there for periods of time. Tourism thrives but we were lucky that day as there were very few visitors. We walked up from the harbour to the "town" and admired the newly paved and clean streets and pretty looking houses.
One of the streets in Tabarca
We walked through the main arch as the island was once walled towards the end, the nearest part to Santa Pola. From here we could see our lighthouse cliffs.
The view of the cape of Santa Pola from the island of Tabarca
We then walked to the other end of the island, passing the recently restored church and walking along the old walls. It felt like being in Formentera or Malta except that Tabarca is much smaller but it is just as beautiful. Once we had passed the built up part of the island we wandered in the other direction past the beach and towards the sea. This was the walk we had looked forward to and it didn't disappoint. I loved the flowers of which there was an abundance.
Flowers on the island
 Here is just a sample of what I saw. I wish I had known the name of the red ones but I don't.

Beautiful flowers everywhere on the island
It was a fantastic walk, warm and sunny and the area unspoiled. We had to take off layers of clothing as the sun shone down. At the end of the island past the prison and cemetery there are islets and I particularly liked one with a huge cross on it. I wonder how that was built. 
At the end of the island
Although the island is small as we walked all the way round we must have walked for 1.5h after which we were hungry. We had been recommended a place for lunch called Casa Gloria with a mirador by the sea and that didn't disappoint either. We loved the place and the food and no doubt will be back in the summer.
Casa Gloria in Tabarca
The obvious thing to eat in this area is rice and I chose "arroz a banda". There was so much on the dish I took more than half of it home in a doggy bag hahaha. 

After lunch we went to have a cup of coffee in the main square to kill time until our ferry left at 16.15h. There were some nice shops too with lovely clothes but I wasn't in the mood. This was the ferry we took.
The ferry back from Tabarca
We  left very happy with our visit. We had rediscovered the island of Tabarca and love it. No doubt we shall be going back many times, for a walk around the island and lunch at Casa Gloria. 

We were soon back in our cozy flat. I worked for a while. Dinner was a tiny affair after our big lunch. After the news - more Puigdemont - we continued our series El Príncipe and were up once again till past midnight watching it. Talk about binge watching, hahahha. 

Tuesday was a lovely sunny day and we did something different again. It was Eladio's idea to visit and explore Murcia the capital of the province of the same name some 70km south of here. I had been once many years ago but only passing through really and had never visited it from here. Some people say it is the warmest town in Spain. That day it reached 29ºc! It is also known for its fruit and vegetable growing and is sometimes called the orchard of Spain. It is by the way inland but not far from the sea. We set off with Pippa who we take nearly everywhere and, typically for us, got lost trying to get into the centre of the town. But we got there.  Eladio was not impressed with its streets and squares saying it was very provincial. Well, yes it was provincial but it has its charm. While Eladio parked I waited by the town hall and bishop's palace, the former known as "la casa consistorial" and it was magnificent. Gardeners were planting flowers which added to its beauty.
The Town Hall in Murcia is impressive
From the Town Hall we walked into the old town and into one of the main squares (Plaza de Cardenal Belluga) where the cathedral is located. Building began in the 14th century and didn't finish for centuries thus the mixture of architectural styles. Even so it is magnificent. Being Easter week it was full. We ventured in and I took Pippa in my arms. Eladio was alarmed I would be thrown out for taking in a dog to which I replied I thought dogs were God's creatures and that she should be allowed in. I must say though I was worried she would bark which would disturb the service going on. The service going on was none less than the ordination of priests which I am sure brought back many memories for Eladio hahaha.
The Cathedral in Murcia
From the cathedral square we meandered around the old streets of the city. It was Easter Week and I was hoping to see a procession, so famous in Spain. They are usually at night but my luck was in when we suddenly saw one with a group of people, called "costaleros" (carriers) from one of the procession associations called either "hermandades" or "cofradías". Nearly all of them wear pointed hats (capirotes) a bit like the ku klux clan. It's very medieval and seems like a throw back from the Spanish inquisition but of course it is also a thrill to see the traditions that still go on. The "costaleros" we saw were all wearing red.
The Easter procession we saw in Murcia
This would be another memory for Eladio from his priesthood days. He remarked to me after seeing the priests ordained and the procession that he felt a 1000 years away from when he was immersed in the church as a priest and that is was not for him. Thank goodness it isn't as otherwise he would never have become my husband.

I asked the "costaleros" which "hermandad" they belonged to to which they replied "los coloraos" (should be colarado with a "d" but in this area of Spain it is not pronounced in words ending in "dao"). Colorado means colourful and it refers to the red cassocks and pointed hats they wore. I later read this is the oldest "hermandad" in Murcia dating back to approximately 1400. The red, by the way, refers to the blood of Christ". In Spanish the offical name for the "hermandad" is the "Real, Muy Ilustre, Venerable y Antiquísima Archicofradia de la Preciosísima Sangre de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo" which is very high falutin indeed. We were lucky to see them close up and enjoyed both the procession and the playing of their drums. I took a video which you can see here

From the main streets of the old town we made our way to the famous square of the flowers, "la plaza de las flores" where we told we would find lots of places to eat, especially tapas. It was charming and teeming with people and had a lot of atmosphere. And here I am with Pips (short for Pippa) by the flowers which give their name to the square. I am sitting next to a  statue of a lady sitting by the fountain.
In the Plaza de las Flores - Murcia
Here we had lunch at a place called "La Esquina de las Flores". With our stomachs full we walked out of the old town towards the area called "El Barrio del Carmen" which we had been told was worth the visit. What was worth seeing was the bridge that crossed the River Segura to get there. It's called "el puente de los peligros"  (bridge of dangers). 
Bridge of dangers over the River Segura in Murcia
The views of the city are spectacular too.
View from the Bridge of Dangers in Murcia
There was nothing much to see in the Barrio del Carmen (Carmen neighbourhood) except for a pretty orange tree park with lots of shade where we sat down and admired the fruit trees. Ever since I first saw an orange tree in Spain many many years ago I have always found them exotic.
The beautiful orange tree lined park in El Barrio del Carmen in Murcia
A short while later we drove home. This time we didn't get lost. In the afternoon once again we went for a walk on our beach, just before sunset. I just love that walk and the beach which is one of the few natural beaches left in the area with no buildings.

On our beach and loving it.
All in all it was a great day. 

Wednesday would be another great day and one of the warmest of the week with temperatures rising to 26c in the Alicante region while it was cold, raining and snowing in the north and in Montrondo of course too. We had a lunch date there that day with my friend Julio from my Nokia days. He has a flat in El Campello and we had agreed to meet at the port, our favourite spot for dining out. My first time in Alicante was when I was about 15 when my Mother had bought a small house in Callosa some 60km inland from Alicante. I remember arriving in the heat on inter rail and knowing hardly any Spanish. With my heavy suitcase (no wheels in those days), I made my way to the bus station and caught a bus to Benidorm which took more than an hour. Once in Benidorm I took another bus to Callosa which probably took more than an hour. On the way I was mesmerised by the citrus trees and mediterranean vegetation all of which seemed so exotic to me. Little did I know then that one day I would live in Spain. That was when my love affair with the country began. With all that on my mind, we drove into Alicante and parked near the port. 
The port (La Marina) in Alicante
With time on our hands we walked to the nearby beach, El Postiguet which was full of people sunbathing. That day the temperatures reached at least 26c again and I wished we had brought more summer clothes. 
The beach in Alicante, El Postiguet, on Wednesday
From the beach we crossed the road to the Explanada which is a little like Las Ramblas in Barcelona. Here we had a coffee at the famous ice cream terrace parlour called Peret which everyone knows in Alicante. Pippa is on my lap while I am enjoying the coffee in the photo below.
At Peret in Alicante
When it was near the time for our lunch date we ambled towards the Port and chose a restaurant. I walked past each one, looked it up on TripAdvisor and the one with the best reviews was our choice, "Santi". One of the conditions was that we could have Pippa with us so it had to be a restaurant with a terrace. Otherwise we would have gone to Dársena. However, Santi, new to us, turned out to be a really good choice. Julio was soon with us and it was great to catch up on each other's news.
Elado and Julio at lunch in Alicante on Wednesday
We decided upon "fideua" that day instead of rice. Fideua is like a paella except that is made of very thin noodles a sort of vermicelli. This was it and it was amazing. 
Fideua at Santi in Alicante on Wednesday
We went back to Peret, this time to have an ice cream. I had my favourite flavours, pistachio and coconut. 
With Julio having an ice cream after lunch on Wednesday at Peret on the Explanada
Julio was returning to Madrid that day by high speed train and we dropped him off at the station before returning back to our apartment after another great day out.  I don't need to tell you how the rest of the day panned out. Yes you guessed, another walk, dinner and more binge watching El Príncipe before we retired to bed at past midnight. 

Thursday was a quiet day. It was also the day the local market comes to Gran Alacant very near our apartment. One of the highlights of being here is buying the local fruit and vegetable at the market so we always look forward to Thursdays here. We were keen to buy oranges as they are at their best at this time of year. These are the ones we bought at 3 euros for 5 kilos!
Oranges at the local market at 3 euros for 5 kilos.
We bought lots of other produce too such as tomatoes, local avocados, pineapple, runner beans, huge mandarins and lettuce. At the stalls you can help yourself so I had a field day hahaha.
One of the stalls at the local market on Thursday
That morning after shopping we went out again, this time to visit and explore the famous palm tree park in nearby Elche called El Huerto del Cura (the priest's orchard). We had visited it once before we got married and had never been back. So this was another trip down memory lane. The park is beautiful and very well kept with some amazing palm trees and well worth the visit. Here are some photos from our visit.

El Huerto del Cura in Elche
We came back impressed with our visit and wondering why we had not been there in all the time we have had this apartment. 

I came home to make an easy and quick meal of boeuf strogonoff which would last us 2 days. The afternoon was quiet, we rested, went for a walk to the lighthouse and continued watching our TV series until late once again. 

Friday of course was Good Friday. I had brought me with the hot cross buns I made recently and frozen. They were delicious. That morning we visited Santa Pola the town our neighbourhood belongs to and where we don't go very often. We have never really liked it much. It's a seaside town and little run down but we were surprised to see how much it has been spruced up in recent years and it's a lot nicer now. On Friday, although it was sunny, it was much colder and quite windy but as the sun was out we still enjoyed our visit to the town.  After parking we walked to the main square where the castle is and were happy to see there was a medieval market on, or at least I was happy to see it as Eladio is not into markets hahaha.
The Easter medieval market at the castle in Santa Pola on Friday
There was not much to buy that attracted me but I liked the atmosphere. From the castle we walked to the beach and along the promenade along with many other people. Here is Eladio with little Pips posing for me.
Eladio on the promenade in Santa Pola
There were more market stalls on the promenade and here I was attracted by some of the clothing and bought a nice black lace summer cardigan to wear over dresses. After lunch the weather turned for the worse and my goodness it rained and the temperature went down to about 15c which is not that low but added to rain and wind it felt very chilly indeed. Thus we skipped on our walk in the afternoon and spent the time binge watching our series instead with both the radiator and gas stove on and it felt very cozy. 

We would have stayed in the flat all night but we had a dinner date in Alicante at 9pm in the port. We were having dinner with friends, Roberto, Mari Carmen, her friend Aurora, her sister Chiqui and Chiqui's husband José. Impressed with the Santi restaurant I made a reservation there. I'm sorry to say I took no photos of our dinner.  Usually  after dinner out,  Eladio and I  head straight home but not on Friday night. We were having a great time with our dinner companions and decided to go  for a drink to the Melia Hotel nearby. During the meal I drank quite a lot of the local white wine (Marina Alta) which I loved and actually did not give me a headache. However,  at the Melia, I passed on the drinks and only asked for water. We chatted in such harmony that I didn't realise how time was passing and when it was nearly 2 am, we all agreed it was time to go. For me that was extremely late as I usually go to bed far earlier. 

Saturday would be our last full day here. Thankfully I woke up at 8 and not at 6 so got at least 6 hours of sleep. The sun was back but it was slightly windy. Yesterday we had a lunch date with Oli and Miguel who came from Valencia. Calpe is a pretty coastal town just north of Benidorm and Altea and I know it well from our "Callosa Days", i.e. the days when my parents had a house in Callosa (9km inland from Calpe) and we would often go to the beach there.  Many a time over the years we have revisited it and had lunch in the port.  But we hadn't been back for a long time and yesterday was another trip down memory lane. All day I had thoughts of my Mother, my Aunty Masha and my brother George and of being in Calpe with them. In fact I have been thinking of them most of this holiday. 

We were to meet at the restaurant where we had booked a table for lunch the rather swish Real Club Naútico de Calpe (yes the yacht club). No way would my Mother have taken us there in the 70's and 80's and if we ever did go out for lunch it was usually to have a hamburger hahaha.  With an hour of time on our hands before Oli and Miguel arrived we explored the port with its little beach and beautiful views of the coast.
The view of the sea as seen from the port of  Calpe
The restaurant was very nearby and just under the famous rock of Calpe called "El peñón de Ifach" and which is visible for miles along the coast. Here is Eladio just as we approached the yacht club and with the rock in the background.
Eladio in Calpe yesterday
Oli and Miguel arrived just after we sat down at our table. It was great to be with them during our holiday if only for a little while. We all chose the type of paella I really love called "arroz señoret" which is basically a shelled seafood paella.
Lunch in Calpe yesterday
After lunch we went for a walk in the port and on the beach which Pippa loved. Miguel, our personal photographer took this great photo of the 3 of us or should I say the 4 of us haha.
On the beach in Calpe yesterday with Oli our youngest daughter
We said our goodbyes at around 5pm but of course would see each other again this week in Madrid.

On the way back Eladio and I wanted to visit the Russian church which was built in 2007 on the road between Calpe and Altea for the huge Russian ex pat colony here. Called St. Archangel Michael, It really is beautiful and as I admired it, all I could think of was my Mother, my Aunt and my brother. My mother would have been astounded that a Russian Orthodox church had been built here as when we first came there were no Russians at all except for them. Now the Costa Blanca is packed with Russians. I think my Aunt must have seen it as she died just one year  after it was built.
The beautiful Russian Orthodox Church in Altea which we visited yesterday
I walked inside and because of my Russian orthodox background  - my grandfather had been an Orthodox priest -  I trembled and cried from pure emotion and memories of my Mother taking us to church at Easter. It was the candles, the incense and the icons that did it. I couldn't help remembering being in a Russian church with my brother and Mother and Aunt and singing and lighting candles. Once, George, nearly burnt my hair with one hahaha. Of course I lit a candle for each of them and just wished they could be with me. As I lit the candles and prayed for them I cried my eyes out. I couldn't help it. Just as I was standing at the main icon, a service began and out came the bearded priest with his incense which just added to my emotional feelings. I felt so much a part of being at that church and only wish my Mother could have seen it. She would have loved it as it was so beautiful.  It is rumoured it was built and paid for by a Russian "business man" from the mafia who lives nearby. That doesn't surprise me. I mean Putin is corrupt and is also a devote Orthodox.  I read later that the materials, the wood and the gold, were brought from the Ural mountains specifically to build an exact replica of a 17th century Orthodox church.  God knows how much it must have cost. For me it was beautiful but it was also like walking into my past and remembering church services with my family, especially at Easter. I couldn't help thinking too, once again, that it was thanks to Aunty Masha, my Mother's youngest sister, that I now live in Spain. Bless you Mummy, Aunty Masha and George. 

With these thoughts on my mind and my eyes still damp, we drove home to our flat, the flat my Mother never saw although Aunty Masha did. I wasn't hungry for dinner and just had fruit and nuts. Again we watched another episode of our TV series and by 11 pm were in bed.

Today is Easter Day so Happy Easter everyone whether you celebrate or not and whether you are a believer or not. Today we shall leave when we have packed up and cleaned and who knows what time we will be home as we shall, no doubt, encounter a lot of return Easter traffic.

Thus I shall leave you now to get on with the day, wishing you a great week ahead too.

Cheers till next Sunday,

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