Wednesday, August 8, 2007

FROM SUNNY SPAIN busy being robbed, blistered and
“Who is that woman!?” with Rose

The photos taken terrify me, Readers – the photos that is, that Don took half an hour to shoot on the ‘brillantly, so handy, so quick(?)’ digital camera, his latest toy…..
Digital cameras should be mashed to a pulp, half of them have to be deleted or dumped anyway as there’s never enough room on the chip… what was wrong with “2 for the Price of 1” throw-away cameras anyway? Don took photos of Yours Truly along the scenic coastline of Spain only when we downloaded the photos, it was someone else I saw – this cross lookin’ one, middle-aged, middleweight, squinting’ at the camera, one eye closed, teeth gritted in a threatening pose, the straw hat tilted a la Norman Wisdom style.

Me – this is me?? When did this happen, holiday snaps are supposed to be glorious photos of tanned and toned bodies, smiling happy faces – ok, that’s pushing it a bit. Lord, I am in shock - this couldn’t be me….Mid-life is upon me and actually, I look like I’m well on the way to ‘the other side’…. I just can’t identify with the stern faced biddy wearing a battered straw hat and she is wearing hideous thick sandals….The freckles are out in force – they don’t bother me, but the face is red, roarin’ red during peak temperatures not to mention the wobbles and the ‘yella’ hair (natural blonde colour starting to yield to sun rays).

With the exception of the ‘yella’ hair, I am Nell McCafferty-cum-Norman Wisdom in brighter clothes… I have even, may God Forgive me, worn white socks whilst the first layer of foot blisters healed…
Orthopaedic mules which cost an arm and a leg proved useless; the runners even with socks cut the heels off me so I went to the market and bought Scholl like footwear for the exorbitant price of €18 but they were robbed in Valencia where we fell prey to the latest tourist scam….

Driving along the main street, a much busier and longer street than O’Connell Street, we heard another driver beep at us and then a young man tapped the window and told us we had a puncture. We pulled in at the next block where amazingly there was the one and only car space on the entire street…. And yes, the back tyre on the pedestrian side was punctured – a brand new super tyre (only 7 miles on the clock when Don collected the car). We set about changing the tyre, taking the bags out of the boot and putting them on the back seat while Don changes the wheel…… you can see it coming….. a ‘nice’ man approaches us and tells us there’s a garage around the corner so I head off to the garage to ask if they can mend the tyre… the garage was closed but I managed to get under the grids and with much gesturing and ‘Pssssssssing’ out of me, the receptionist understands and tells me in vivido Spanish gestures that the mechanico is on lunch and will return, full bellied and ready for repairs in 15 minutes.

I return to Don Juan who had locked the car and was sitting in a café nearby watching the car…. “ Did you put the bags back in the boot of the car?” I asked “ What bags?” he says “They are in the car?” But of course, they weren’t, only the beach bag and towels, my bun bag was gone with a small amount of cash… so too was a carrier bag with a few bits n pieces, nothing major until you start to replace them… Female readers will understand this part - I had a bag with new swimsuit, new footwear, bag of cosmetics for when we went out for a meal that night – you know, favourite foundation compact, blusher brush, lippy and eye pencil. Then there was lip balm and Zovirax, just in case, my hairbrush, purse and the cooler bag of course, which was great for carrying food and drinks etc as it had foil lining…. Don’s sunglasses, my notebook and a set of keys also gone…

The tyre cost €203 as it had to be couriered down from another centre and it was 7.30pm before it arrived; the garage didn’t take laser so we were lucky Don had over €200 on him. But worse of all, the so-and-sos took my brand new Spanish dictionary and Spanish phrasebook – wait for it – entitled “Spanish Conversation – for DUMMIES!” .
Well, they got that right….

The garage owner, Javier explained in deep guttural sounds that the tyre was “STABBEEED, STABBEEED!”. Having spoken about 5,000 Spanish words to us at 90 miles an hours, we understood that young men – likely to be non Nationals – Javier was passionate they were not good Catholic Spanish boys – watch the cars stopped at traffic lights, identifying cars such as ours, with Alicante registration, white people driving with sunglasses and daft clothing…. Easy pickings, they slash the tyres at one junction, a young fella approaches to advise of puncture – it’s a one-way street and miracle of miracles, there’s a parking space free… and the rest you know. From the thieves point of view, they got sweet damn all but to me, losing me cosmetic bag, well, I suppose its like a golfer losing his clubs…. May they roast in Hell…

And the pity of it was, we had driven 3 hours to reach Valencia which is preparing for the America’s Cup, the port area alive with colour and atmosphere but all we saw was the inside of the garage…….. Maybe next year….

But despite a week of illness and being “STABBEEED” in Valencia, there are many beautiful places to see, aside from beaches.

Cartagena, historic town with Roman roots traced back to BC times, this town is a visitor’s paradise as it encompasses many diverse architectural influences from the remains of the Roman amphi-theatre and fortress wall to the Spanish bull-ring and the many different churches varying from Byzantine influences to Hispanic and Moorish styles. Also a busy port town, it is constantly undergoing more archaeological works and restoring finds so it combines old and new rather well. The University is worth seeing for the interior design which takes on the arched stonework typical of the Roman era.

La Mata for market day, a thriving beach town dotted with colourful little tapas bars and restaurants – and yes, the Irish have landed – and an expansive nature reserve and bird sanctuary for those of you who want to escape the tourist route.

We drove to Orihuela on market day also; its located scenically at the foot of the mountains with a beautiful old cathedral and town quarters behind the modern town square and a monastery located on the hill overlooking the town, the monastery still operating as a private college; Elche for magnificent gardens, trees and spectacular flora –they love their trees, they must have thousands of them…..Santa Pola for a lovely beach and promenade but if the truth be told, the coastal walk here from La Zenia to Cabo Roig and then on to Campoamar is just as lovely and only a few mins from the apartment – I can literally see the sea from the balcony…..

I have yet to explore Alicante but driving through it recently by night, we passed through the old quarters, a far cry from the busy modern shopping streets so this is definitely worth a return visit .

Since joining the EU a few years ago, Spain has got more expensive but its still a damn site cheaper to eat in top notch restaurants here than at home – Alicante Paella for two cost under €20 recently – total meal including starters, main course, bottle of wine and large bottle of water with dessert and tea still was way under €60 – and this was the dearest restaurant we ate in!!! And the markets are just brilliant, so colourful, loud and everything from cooked, cured meats, to herbs, fresh fruit, confectionery, lingerie, household, electrical, health products, clothing, giftware, leather goods, musical CDs and DVDs and of course, shoes, shoes, shoes…..Obviously, despite the hot climate, they do not have to meet with the same rigorous health and safety guidelines we do in Ireland – can’t imagine cured and raw meats displayed openly in markets at home, even during frosty weather.

I’m well tuned into current news affairs at home as RTE 1 features amongst the 30 TV station available here (and there is still nothing to view!) so it looks like a Fianna Fail – Green Alliance – now, if Pat wasn’t playing “Run Rabbitte Run”, Tim’s pre election prediction might just have been right…..

Yesterday I bumped into the Cregg contingent and today, Julie and I were chatting to a grand bunch of young ones from Louth – who were they on holidays with - my nephew Vincent O Donoghue from Manor Kilbride… the world is getting smaller….

Ann Daly is only up the road in Quinte de Quesada (not sure of spelling) and Mary Dooley should be out here by the time this Bugle goes to press. See, Ballymore Eustace folk are spreading their wings. If anyone is in visiting Matt Purcell before I get home, will you pass on my regards, please? I missed his articles in the May edition but I thoroughly enjoyed Michael Ward’s tribute to the late Mick Fennan and didn’t Tim get clever analysis of the election candidates?

Adios for now, mes amigos……

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