Spain

Here I Go Again: Granada

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Saturday 20th February

Watford seems to be the link with my travels so far this year. They are currently owned by the Italian Pozzo family who own similarly sized clubs in Italy (Udinese) and Spain (Granada CF), taking them to the top league in their respective countries and keeping them there. Udinese thrived becoming a regular Champions League team (though are struggling this year) whilst Granada always seemed to be bottom, somehow often inexplicably surviving on the last day (last season by 1 goal).

I’m not entirely sure when I first heard of the Alhambra but it was over 10 years and likely to have been just after my aunt moved to Spain or when I’d studied the Islamic conquest of Spain at university. It could even have been Age of Empires (as per Istanbul, Turkey). It’s obviously an iconic destination in its own right but really it was only with Granada CF looking particularly vulnerable again this season that I decided it was now or never if I wanted to see them in La Liga.

I left the house at 3am and the journey to Gatwick was uneventful but I had to get a dreaded night bus to Victoria and there was a fairly long connection before the Gatwick express which meant the journey took around 3 hours. I fell asleep on the train and my alarm failed to wake me so it was a good job Gatwick was the last stop. Security was hassle free and once on the plane I swapped with the person who had been allocated the window seat and fell asleep for another 2 hours.

As far as I am aware there are no direct flights to Granada so I’d had to book a flight to Malaga. From there I planned to get a bus to Granada which took another 2 hours and again I slept most of the journey. Arriving in Granada I then I to get another 2 buses before finally over 10 hours after leaving the house I finally arrived at the Oasis Hostel, recommended to me by my flatmate Steph’s friend Hannah.

After checking in I wanted to make sure that I was familiar with how to reach the Alhambra because I needed to collect the tickets at 8.30 the following morning and didn’t want to leave anything to chance. I started following signs and soon came to the river and took photos of a church, Iglesia de San Pedro y San Pablo, Casa de Las Chirimías and paseo de los tristes. I had followed signs and it had been a pleasant walk with the Alhambra in the distance on my right however had taken 20 minutes (the time it was meant to have taken). Eventually I powered up Google maps and realised I had taken the scenic route.

Crossing the river I began powering up the hill but by the time I reached the top the visitor centre was closed but at least I’d experienced a pleasant river walk along the Carrera del Darro. I returned back down the path and once at the bottom crossed the bridge and followed the path to the Mirador de San Nicholas. Another steep climb ensued but the views of the Alhambra and the snow capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada were worth it. Unfortunately I hadn’t timed it to coincide with sunset but it was already getting quite busy.

I returned back to the hostel where I quickly changed, said “Hola” to a couple from Seville staying in my room before joining a free walking tour that the hostel had organised. There were 8 of us in total, 4 Americans, a couple from Austria and a girl from Taiwan. The guide was from Argentina but was living in Granada as that’s where his family was from before they had fled Spain prior to the Second World War.

He was very knowledgeable and provided lots of facts and pointed out various observations that I wouldn’t otherwise have noticed or considered. The architecture of the old city is particularly interesting because Granada had been the Islamic capital of Andalusia for 800 years. After it was reconquered by the Christians most buildings were handed over to those that fought so adapted and Mosques were converted in to churches one of which we visited.

Overall the walk was three hours and we saw a lot and had to take in a lot of information. I’d only been in Granada a quarter of a day but I quickly understood why it was UNESCO heritage listed in the centre because nearly every turning was followed by a structure of interest. We passed an old cistern, which was heritage listed because the importance of ablutions for the Muslim culture made water a key element in daily life. For the second time in a day I climbed to the top of Mirador de San Nicholas and I also got my first glimpse of the Cathedral which wasn’t that memorable but our guide and others had told us as much.

Back at the hostel we all decided to visit Poe one of the Tapas bars the guide had recommended. A few more Americans staying in the hostel joined us and they started ordering in Spanish. I was starting to regret not knowing how to do the same when I realised the barman was actually from London. It seemed exceptional value, for every beer ordered the Tapas was free so for under €7 I’d drunk and eaten as much as I needed for the night.

When I got back to the hostel another couple were already in bed though none of us said anything. Shortly after the Seville couple returned and perhaps thinking everyone was asleep became somewhat loved up. One of the others snored loudly, the other coughed most of the night and finally to really make it the room from hell someone stumbled in around 3am and made retching sounds though as far as I am aware weren’t actually sick.

Sunday 21st February
I woke before my alarm from what had been perhaps my worst hostel nights sleep that I can remember. Rather than snoozing I jumped out of bed showered and left as quickly as possible. The shorter length walk to the Alhambra was equally as steep as the day before and by the time I reached the top I had started shedding layers even though it was 8am and quite cold. I ordered some breakfast from the cafe and at 8.30 collected my tickets as soon as the office opened. I had expected my allocated entrance to the famous Nasrid Palaces to be later that morning but instead they were for 9am so I was relieved I hadn’t wasted any time earlier in the morning.

I entered the Alhambra and after 20 minutes reached the queue for the Palaces. In hindsight I probably could have walked slower and taken the experience in but I knew I had the rest of the day to explore the other areas and I don’t like feeling in a rush. Once my ticket had been successfully scanned I finally relaxed though I was made to wear my rucksack on my front which felt odd and uncomfortable especially with my camera hanging to my left and the audio guide to my right.

The Nasrid Palaces are the centre piece of the Alhambra and I was glad that I had an audio guide to help me fully appreciate what I was looking at. I wondered through the elaborately decorated rooms even obediently sitting on the floor in one as the audio guide instructed me to in order to fully appreciate the patterns. Some of the most spectacular rooms included the Hall of the Twin Sisters (due to the marble columns).The outside patios and fountains were equally stunning in the early morning sun and perhaps the most famous of these “The Patio of Lions” didn’t disappoint.

After leaving the Nasrid Palaces I decided to have a stroll at my own pace around the Alhambra’s gardens known as the General Life. My expectations had been unfairly low for the General Life and I found it more interesting and enjoyable than I’d anticipated. Whilst the architecture was quite simple compared to Nasrid Palaces it was interesting to know the area predated the rest of the Alhambra although changes to the layout has meant it is not known how it once looked. The vegetable garden was the oldest part however I particularly liked the Water Stairway and whilst it wasn’t a hot day in summer I could imagine why it was important for the Sultan to be able to transfer water from different levels.

The Palace of Charles V initially looked quite grand due to the inner court yard however I quickly realised it was just a facade. Building began in 1527 and it was meant to be the palace for or the Emperor and his family following the reconquest of the city by the Christians. A lack of finance meant the Palace was never completed or lived in so unlike the Nasrid Palace there were no decorated rooms to explore. There was a museum in the basement however the signs weren’t in English and it wasn’t covered by the audio guide. I walked through in case something caught my eye but it didn’t and I was more interested in exploring the rest of the Alhambra.

The Church of Santa Maria the Alhambra was closed so I passed through the “Wine Arch” and made my way to the Alcazaba, the Fortress of the Alhambra. First I walked through the Arms Square which contained the foundations of houses used by civil population. Next I made my way on to the edge of the Arms Tower which was the main entrance to the Alhambra. From there I climbed the Watch Tower the highest point of the Alhambra and had some particularly good views of the city but couldn’t see the football stadium.

After leaving the Alcazaba I walked through the Square of the Cisterns visited the church and tried to find the bath house/Hammam of the old Mosque but it wasn’t well sign posted. What I found (which may have been it) was underwhelming however I was starting to feel a bit tired so decided not to search further despite feeling a little frustrated. I’d had a lovely morning and felt I’d fully experienced the Alhambra but I knew it was time to leave to experience some other Granada sights before the football match.

It had been a fascinating morning but I was drained when I left the Alhambra. I returned back down the hill from that morning and entered the town through the Gate of Elvira. I ate at another place recommended by the guide which the Americans had also eaten at the day before. Eventually I realised I could sit down and be served so I ordered a beer and a kebab/salad combination which I believed I had earned from all my walking. All in all it came to €8 which seemed ridiculously cheap.

After leaving the restaurant I knew I had a few hours before I needed to collect my tickets for the football so I decided to visit the Capilla Real (Royal Chapel). I could have done with an audio guide because everything was in Spanish so whilst I saw a lot, aside from the coffins of Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand II I’m not sure what was of particular significance.

Next I went to the Cathedral where I was given an audio guide but whether I had pre match tension, had overdosed on culture at the Alhambra or just found the descriptions and details boring I’m not sure but I just couldn’t take it in. It was pretty on the inside especially the Altar but unlike Valencia which had the “Holy Grail” there was nothing of note which I thought was interesting. I walked to each section and listened to a summary of the descriptions before leaving and feeling slightly guilty at my apathy to the experience.

This may sound badly planned on my part but I hadn’t actually established how to reach the ground in advance of arriving in Granada. Knowing it was quite small, and there was only one team I had assumed it would be easy to find. It actually turned out it was a long way out of the city centre and eventually I found a random football site which gave bus details because Google maps normally so reliable for transport abroad had only proposed a 45 minute walk.

As it was I ended up walking the entire route and after successfully collecting the tickets and buying a shirt I began to soak up the pre match atmosphere. First I saw the Granada ‘Heroes’ wall which featured two players now at Watford so I took a picture of me posing with Ighalo. Then the team coach arrived and I caught my first glimpse of three Watford players on loan at Granada who should arrive next summer. Personally though if I was a player I’d stay at Granada which is undeniably more picturesque and warmer than Watford. Entering the ground and finding my seat I saw that they had left out free programmes.

I could write an entire essay on the match. It was a weird experience not understanding what people were singing or shouting though I got the gist of the latter. Granada started off well but the defence looked determined to throw all the good work away and basically looked overly relaxed even though those around me were probably on the verge of having heart attacks. It didn’t help the Granada strikers missed some relatively easy chances. Bad defending and a toothless attack is a toxic mix and a recipe for disaster.

At half time it was 0.0 and Gary Neville randomly, recently appointed Valencia manager was looking tense and I think Granada fans were taking delight in that. All of a sudden though a calamitous piece of defending (I’ve seen similar at Watford) saw Valencia’s number 10 smash the ball in from close range. Granada fought back and missed another two easy chances and had a goal ruled out before in the 90th minute more calamitous defending saw Valencia score again. Granada did then score but there were no celebrations because the final whistle went straight away. They look dead and buried to me and I think I’ll only be returning to that ground if they play Watford in pre season.

During the match I’d decided to book tickets to a Flamenco show in the infamous Sacromonte District. This is the area of the city where gypsy’s had traditionally lived and they had built houses in to the surrounding caves. At the final whistle my legs felt ready for the one hour walk from one side of the city to the other which partly included the river path I’d taken the day before in the day. I hadn’t planned to stop for pictures but it was a good opportunity to take some night shots of the Alhambra lit up in all its splendour on top of the hill.

After a short steep climb I finally reached the venue and even though I’d only booked for a drink I managed to upgrade to get dinner included. It was quite pricey by Granada standards but I was hungry. The show was good and really felt the perfect way to cap off my final evening. The dancers, (especially the male who was visibly sweating at the end) had shown so much energy. The guitar player in contrast looked ridiculously laid back and made the quick playing rhythm look easy.

At the interval I’d got chatting to two Australians in the row in front. Having just spent two hours unable to express myself at the football it was a relief to speak to people that understood me. They were on a tour along with everyone else in the room which spoilt the illusion that I’d stumbled across a genuine venue. Still it was a good evening and we shared travel tips, particularly recommendations in Granada.

I had walked 40,000 steps by the time I arrived back at the hostel just before midnight. As I slowly opened the door I could hear the bathroom extractor fan but the bedroom was deserted and the beds were not made. I turned the light on and as there was no luggage I became overjoyed when I realised for the first time I had a whole hostel dorm to myself.

Monday 22nd February
At 8.30 I woke from a particularly good night’s sleep feeling refreshed. I hadn’t decided what to do on my 3rd day and whilst the hostel ran a day trip to the Sierra Nevada it didn’t return to Granada until the time my flight left Malaga. I looked on Trip Adviser and Lonely Planet briefly considering a visit to the Monasterio de la Cartuja and the Basilica San Juan de Díos. But remembering my feelings at the Cathedral I wasn’t convinced I would be overly enthralled.

In the end I decided to book a Arabic bath and massage because my legs were aching from the day before and I got a discount from the hostel. The girl at the hostel booked me in and after checking out I made my way at a fairly quick pace to the venue.

I had been expecting a Hammam experience similar to those I’d had in Morocco and Turkey. Instead once changed I entered a large room with 7 different swimming pools, six of which were hot and one which was cold. I wasn’t sure how long to spend in each and if I’m honest I got a bit bored getting in and out. In the end I decided to sit on the side and drink some sweet mint tea and waited for the massage.

I had opted for a leg massage because my muscles were in need of some serious TLC after the strain I’d put them through the day before. I probably needed a sports massage but instead this was a relaxing massage which did very little except to cause me to very briefly fall asleep. After the massage I briefly switched between the hot and cold swimming pools before I decided I’d had enough and it was time for lunch.

I still had plenty of time before I felt I needed to get a bus to the Granada bus station. I briefly considered walking to the Monasterio de la Cartuja however remembering my feelings after the visit to the Cathedral and Royal Chapel I decided not to. I realised that despite it being high on the TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet websites I probably wouldn’t appreciate it. I had come to Granada to see the Alhambra, to watch football and eat Tapas. I had done all 3 and was satisfied I was ready to leave.

I ate lunch at a bar/restaurant near the hostel, deciding against another walk along the river to a bar recommended to me by the two Australians from the flamenco night. The deal was ridiculously good but for one reason or another the bar staff took a distinct dislike to me and pretty much refused to serve me after the food had arrived. It took an age to get the bill but I was still feeling relatively stress free when I returned to the hostel and collected my bag.

I made my way to the bus station and along with many other people with suitcases boarded a bus which arrived almost instantaneously. It was crowded but I got off at the right stop so I could get the bus to the bus station and on to Malaga. What happened next I had a chance to reflect on for over 3 hours.

I knew I needed to go to the “estación de autobuses” (Main bus stop) and to get two bus numbers went there. One of the two buses came in so I jumped on and as it was busy thought nothing of it. Gradually people got off and a seat became free. I relaxed. It didn’t even occur to me to check the map. After quite a while, we passed the football stadium and I became anxious because I knew that was south of the city and I needed to be north. I looked at the map and it suggested I was only 20 minutes away if we suddenly took a turning on to the motorway. I clung to the thinnest of straws.

Unsurprisingly we didn’t take the turning. Instead the bus stopped and the driver turned off the engine and I got off. If all went to plan I could still get the 3pm bus from Granada which would give me 30 minutes to get through security and I was checked in I was still relatively calm. I got back on the bus and over 45 minutes later arrived at the bus terminal with plenty of time to get a ticket. Unfortunately I wasn’t thinking straight and made another error of judgement.

I knew I had to get a ticket to the airport and searching Malaga it only came up with the bus station. There were only 3 tickets left (it hadn’t even occurred to me the bus would be full) so I booked it, hoping I could resolve the issue. Rather than finding a help desk I tried the departure gate and I spent 20 minutes waiting for someone who could help to magically turn up. They didn’t and of course I was unable to explain my predicament to the driver and my fellow passengers probably thought I was trying to cheat the system.

For over two hours I was in a state of panic. I researched other ways to get home concluding the next direct flight was 3 days away, I researched getting a bus from Malaga bus station to Malaga Airport and tried phoning the bus company. The latter hung up when I assume they didn’t understand my Spanish. Half way in to the journey we pulled over in the middle of nowhere so the driver could check the wheels/have a smoke, neither of which were reassuring. I arrived at Malaga bus station and rather than arguing my point ran off to the taxi rank I’d seen on our approach. As it was I beat the bus I’d been on and as security was quick I made it to the gate as priority passengers boarded.

Ironically I was one of the first to board the plane. This was because we were ferried on to a bus to take us the length of a bus up the runway to the plane and I had been the last person to board the bus and so was first off when the doors opened. During that time I completed a survey and the prize was a Caribbean Cruise. At the time I wondered if this had been a test and I would be rewarded but on my flight I realised I’d actually had good fortune, or at least it could have been a lot worse.

Aside from a screaming baby on the flight there were no further dramas. I landed in Luton and made my way to Ealing where I ironically arrived at South Ealing station minutes before Steph who had been in Stockholm and landed at Heathrow. We exchanged stories on the walk home. For me Granada had been everything I had hoped and more. I thoroughly recommend it. The Alhambra is stunning, the food is great and I desperately hope the football team stay up because I would love a chance to see another La Liga match there.

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Bamboleo: Valencia and La Tomatina

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DCIM100GOPRO

Tuesday 25th August
When my alarm went off at 3.45am I felt tired. Really tired. It wasn’t helped that the night before a fox had kept me up, that I’d rushed around London to get printer cartridges to print out new boarding passes and not finished packing until gone 11.30pm. Thankfully the journey to Gatwick was uneventful for Summer, though I was slightly nervous when we stopped outside Clapham Junction for no stated reason and the time we had to change trains dramatically decreased. We arrived at the airport at 6.00am and waited around an hour for Lucy who it turned out had experienced the journey from Hell.

We dropped off one piece of shared hold luggage and after a quick bite to eat made our way to the gate. The flight was full of other people I assume were going to Tomatina and those arriving late had difficulty fitting hand luggage in. It appeared there were a number of stag do’s on board or at least I assume that was why one guy had to walk around in a pink baby out fit complete with over size dummy. Another group behind us dared the stag (I assume) to “get ‘Chloe’s’ (evidently one of the air hostesses) number”. He pressed the assistance button and eventually she hurried along. “Is there an emergency?”, “Yes Chloe, I need your mobile number”. I don’t remember the wording of the blunt response but no number was given and she quickly turned around and walked to customers really in need.

After we arrived at the airport we took a taxi to our hotel where we were given our documents for Tomatina and the rep helpfully provided us with a route in to the old town via the old river bed. His final piece of advice was “it’s great, just wonder around, get lost in there and find something awesome”. We made our way to the Jardines del Turta (the old river bed) where first we came to some modern looking buildings which housed various museums including the Museo de las ciencias. They were quite interesting pieces of architecture, all looking like something that would have been suited to a sci fi movie. Somehow they also all envoked the feeling of water even though there weren’t any fountains or any flowing water nearby. The river had been diverted after a flood in 1957  and to fill the extra space a number of parks had been created which made it an interesting route in to town.

After about an hour we arrived at the Puenta del Mar bridge on the edge of the old town. The Gothic looking style contrasted with the modern buildings we had left behind and we entered the old town, slowly wondering towards the Mercado Central (central markets) in search of a late lunch. The first building of interest was the Ayuntamiento (city hall) which was opposite a nice square the Plaza Ayuntamiento.

Spain is infamous for siestas and we quickly realised their slight inconvenience for tourists when we arrived at the markets and found them locked up. We quickly spotted an outside bar which smelt good and was busy enough to suggest the food was acceptable. Initially after hearing the wait was 10 minutes we carried on but as it had a €8 deal for paella and Sangria we quickly backtracked. Bamboleo by the the Gypsy Kings was playing in the background and I finally felt like I was on holiday living the life. Valencia is, apparently, the home of paella so we all ordered the Valencian version which contained chicken rather than sea food. We all agreed the food and Sangria was good and that the rep had been right in telling us to just stumble across somewhere.

Food cravings satisfied we started to walk towards the Cathedral Basilica where we came across a pleasant, quiet square with a church, the more lively Plaza Redona which had a fountain in the middle surrounded by various shops. It was here that I looked up and caught a glimpse of The Torre de Santa Catalina which we then walked past before arriving at the cathedral. The cathedral is said to be the home of the Holy Grail and as I’ve studied Arthurian literature my inner geek came out. Lucy and Summer weren’t so keen unless the display included the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch (a reference to Monty Python and the Holy Grail).

As it turned out the room had already closed and luckily I quickly found them and instead we decided to climb the Cathedral tower. The distance was 207 steps and when we arrived at the top we were greeted by a impressive view of the city below with a wonderful back drop of some mountains and cloud free blue skies all around (ed. there may have been one or two clouds I’d initially failed to notice). We could see the museums near our hotel in the distance as well as some of the taller buildings in the old town. A bell was also housed at the top though it didn’t appear to be in service which was probably good for the hearing of everyone at the top.

Once we were back at the bottom we began as route back to the main road to get the bus back to the hotel. First we stumbled across the Basilica and the Turia Fountain in Plaza de la Virgen. I particularly liked the statue/fountain and tried to recreate the pose for a photo. We arrived at the main road quite quickly but didn’t have any joy identifying where the bus we needed left from. Instead after a quick unanimous group decision I flagged down a taxi which we were surprised came to a price that was possibly cheaper than the bus and certainly more comfortable.

Each of us had a quick shower before we headed down for the pre event meeting. “Bomber” the PP rep provided us with some history of Valencia, of Tomatina and crucially the times & other important information for the following day. A pre festival party in the open part of the modern complex had also been arranged however as entry was free the 3 of us decided to get some dinner first from the nearby shopping centre. I also took the opportunity to get some cheap essentials for the festival (cap and shoes, total bill €10). We ended up eating at one of the few places still open, an Italian restaurant called Ginos however the pasta I got was good and the waiter was friendly. Skipping dessert we returned to the party.

We were all quite tired by the time we arrived and as there was no where to store the shopping we’d got we decided to just take a look inside by going in pairs. It looked quite pretty but not particularly lively and it seemed others had taken the sensible idea of not getting to drunk before the event we’d all come for. After spending less than 10 minutes we left and returned to the hotel where I think we all probably fell asleep quite quickly.

Wednesday 26th August
At some point in the night I woke up with Summer delicately shaking me, telling me I had started snoring and I obediently stopped and rolled back on to my side to prevent it. I’m not a regular loud snorer but I’m aware I’ve been guilty in the past if I fall asleep on my back which I had on this occasion and even in my sleep I think I was aware that I was snoring (though Lucy didn’t hear it). I’m not sure if I went back to sleep so I was probably in between state of conscious and sub consciousness when Lucy’s alarm started to go off at 5.30am signalling it was time to get up. There seemed little point in showering as we were about to get covered in tomatoes so once we were dressed we headed down to breakfast.

After filling up on a true continental breakfast (croissant, salami, chorizo, cheese, Spanish omelette and the triangular cheese which is like dairy lea we boarded the coach to Bunol. The La Tomatina festival began in 1945 to commemorate a food fight which took place in the towns 1944 fiesta, the origins of which have been forgotten in time. It was early so whilst I could feel my heart trying to pump a bit of adrenaline around my body at some point I fell dozed off for 30 seconds and Summer went “Rooaaarrrr” making me jump. I made a mental note to throw a tomato in a sneaky retaliation attack.

After just under an hour we arrived at the site and had a quick toilet stop whilst they were still relatively clean and before the queues built up. It felt like quite a long walk in to the part of the town used for the festival. We arrived at the entrance and decided to walk all the way through to the opposite side of town to get our bearings. On our way we brought some sangria and got caught in a crowd as we saw the Google Car taking pictures of the pre tomatoed streets.

We ended up back in the centre of the town just as the famous ham pole was raised. A guy climbed the lower half of the pole, already covered in grease and spread even more on. Once he was done the crowd surged forward slightly as members of the crowd started trying to climb the pole. Initially each gallant attempt was met by cheering, and then ultimatley a groan as each person failed. The objective was to work as a team and it seemed simple to me that strong people had to be at the bottom to hold up lighter people however the concept of team play was lost on one guy wanting glory for himself and he even pulled a girl by her hair in his feelble attempts to get to the top. One guy climbed the tree next to the pole but decided against leaping over and apparently another climbed up wearing nothing but a hip pouch but I have to admit without my glasses I didn’t realise he was naked.

The crowd steadily continued to build up and we got talking to members of another tour group before Lucy and I made our way back up the street towards an area that looked down on the street below. As we waited for the first truck we heard the gun shot which signaled the fight had begun and as it turned around the corner the carnage began. After it had passed I was initially surprised, almost slightly disappointed, that I and the surrounding area didn’t look so messy. There were a few tomatoes on the ground to squeeze and throw but the world’s largest food fight hadn’t really begun.

The street used was quite narrow and only large enough for one car to pass and from vantage point it looked jam-packed. It was slow progress to get the trucks through which meant Lucy, I and the others in our vicinity took a real beating because we were standing at the same level to those in the trucks throwing tomatoes. In fact one or two seemed to have picked us as targets possibly due to Lucy’s orange cap but Lucy got revenge when she landed a tomato one the back of one of their heads as they bent down.

By the 5th truck had passed I was a mess and the food fight was in full flow as adrenaline took over. We decided to head in to the crowded street and a liquid resembling tins of chopped tomato came over my feet almost up to my ankles in places. The crowd surged us forward as people pushed from the back and It felt mildly claustrophobic so I used my go pro as a slight buffer between me and the person in front to avoid being squashed. There were one or two times I tripped not realising that I was on the curb but luckily I didn’t go down though I felt slightly reassured that Lucy and I were constantly looking for each other.

Eventually we saw a side street which we escaped uo and after making our way through a park before we came to the main street. We couldn’t find an official shower so but a family were using a hose to clean individuals for a small tip so we joined the queue. We never did find a shower so this was a good decision though even though my cap had protected my hair I still felt rather filthy when I changed in to ‘clean’ clothes and boarded the coach.

Summer was one of the last to board and whilst she’d been able to get a hose down as well her normally impaculate blond hair resembled a pizza base. She told us she’d been part of a group at the end that made an attempt to get the ham when the crowds had died down. I got my tablet out and blinked a few times when I noticed the screen looked pink. I checked with Lucy and Summer and they confirmed it was to them as well. It’s funny how after spending more than an hour seeing pretty much nothing but red our brains had trained my eyes to see that colour.

We returned to the hotel and after a proper shower I made my way to the super market to grab us all some late lunch, though it turned out there was only one type of baguette available. After returning to the hotel I learnt that all the showers from those at the festival had caused the water pressure to crash and poor Summer had been forced to wait even longer to wash her hair. We briefly made our way to the swimming pool but it was quite shaded and surprisingly windy so we returned to our room where I had a nap.

La Tomatina organisers had arranged a after party. As we waited in the reception we first got talking to a group from New Zealand before Lucy and Summer recognised Jarrod And Beau who had sat near us on the coach to the festival. We eventually arrived at an industrial estate which randomly included a fancy resort that had been transformed in to a pool party. The pool area was nicely lit up but I couldn’t help thinking ‘who on earth would visit the rest of the year, unless it’s the best truckers rest area ever?’.

As Lucy and Summer queued for drink tokens I went on the hunt for food. It turned out that the chips took to long to cook so were off the menu, the pizza had been burnt to a crisp and as the paella hadn’t been delivered as with the supermarket there was only one choice, a burger. Eventually I found the others and we chatted for a couple of hours over a few beers. I couldn’t face the queue to get more beer tokens once mine had run out especially as it seemed some of the bars hadn’t stocked up enough. Ultimately Summer, Lucy and I were probably suffering from two early stbeachso called it a night but not before I tried the (now discounted) burnt to a crisp pizza.

Thursday 27th August
We decided to have a massive lie in at last because our only real plan was to visit the beach. Lucy had mentioned the day before the bath had been stained pink and initially I’d put it down to our eyes. I was surprised when I showered the next morning to notice a patch of pink seemed to remain. Once we’d had breakfast we got ready to go out and met Beau and Jarrod by the entrance.

We learnt they’d stayed quite a bit later than and whilst they looked to be paying for it, it sounded like it had been worth it. Eventually they decided to join us at the beach so we all made our way to the bus stop. My geography of Spain was quite poor so I hadn’t actually realised Valencia was on the coast so I tried to buy some beach footwear but we could only see restaurants so I quickly lost motivation and gave up. When I was younger I loved the Dorset sand and sea but I didn’t enjoy having sandy feet and I still throw an inner tantrum if I have to put socks on sandy feet.

There was a quite spectacular sand castle and a sand sculpture of the “Last Supper”. It turned out Valencia was on the Med so the sea wasn’t as cold as I expected and I practised using my Go pro under water in preparation for Greece. I had no idea how the footage was coming out but at least after a couple of days I was finally familiar with the buttons. Lucy’s was slightly more updated with a view finder so that gave me an indication.

We’d had a late breakfast but after a couple of hours relaxing and not using much exercise I began to feel a bit hungry. Fortunately Jarred and Bo? were as well so we went in search of some Spanish Tapas. The night before I’d set my heart in eating calamari and I initially showed little reaction when Lucy pointed it out to me on the Tapas menu. A few seconds later I reacted in the excited childish manner expected. The food portions were pretty good and we actually ended up with some food left over.

Jarrod and Beau went back to the hotel and Lucy, Summer and I returned to the beach. Whilst they went back in to the sea I stayed to look after our stuff and attempted to build a sand sculpture of Vicarage Road before turning it in to the old Wembley Stadium although in hindsight a bull ring would have been more appropriate. I had a final dip in the sea where I tried to create exciting wave videos because they were bigger than the afternoon. Back on the sand I built myself a chair (really a mound of sand) before we noticed it was much later than we realised after we’d lost track of time relaxing on the beach.

We decided to have a look further along the water front and found a market area that sold all the beach wear accessories we’d expected to find earlier in the day. We also saw a guy blowing bubbles which had generated a small crowd mainly of children. Things turned slightly sour when a kid kicked the bucket, went down quicker than Christiano Ronaldo clutching his toe and got his gran to shout at the bubble man. She was booed and a big cheer went up when bubble man started up again. We also saw a brass band playing music and I was impressed how Summer identified it as “Under the Sea” from the Little Mermaid so quickly.

We eventually went for dinner at a place called Destino 56 which had interesting décor. The wall was an under water scene and for reasons we weren’t sure little plastic figures hung from the ceiling. Summer and I shared another Valencian Paella and I had a glass of white sangria. I had no idea such a combination existed and whilst I enjoy Sangria I’m not that keen on red wine. I have to say I found the white Sangria one of the most easy to drink cocktails I’ve ever had and it reminded me of the juice from tinned fruit salad. Once we were finished we walked past the sand sculptures now lit with candles and got a taxi home.

Friday 28th August
Our flight was scheduled for the early evening so we had just over half a day to explore more of the old town. After another lie in and a good breakfast (where I made a ham and cheese toastie) we checked out, put our bags in to storage and caught the bus in to town.

The bus terminated at the grand looking train station which was next door to the bull ring which was an even more impressive structure. We followed the main road past the town hall as we had on the first day and came to the Central Markets. The markets seemed to have a variety of different foods available including somewhat predictably chorizo and those less expected such as live eels slithering around in a shallow tank of water. We brought some gifts and made our way back to the cathedral.

We took a different path to the first day and as we made our way passed lots of examples of street graffiti (certainly more street art). Some of it looked slightly sinister, some was slightly random such as a reoccurring little figure and other pieces were hugely impressive. Once we arrived at the Cathedral Lucy and Summer went for a coffee and I went to take a look.

I was quite impressed with the Cathedral and it was helpful that the audio guide was free. Obviously the highlight was the Holy Grail in the Capilla del Santo Caliz however predictably that was at the end. The Holy Chalice in the Cathedral is deemed by Christian historians to be the most likely used in the last supper and it has also been used by a number of Pope’s which has further strengthened the authenticity of the claims. As well as ‘the Holy Grail’ there was the preserved severed arm of St Vincent in the Capilla de La Resurreccion. A a number of other interesting Chapels also contained various pieces of art.

I met up with Summer and Lucy and we began a search to find somewhere nice but reasonably priced for lunch. We didn’t really have any ideas when all of a sudden someone in the street gave a business card to Lucy. In London I wouldn’t have considered this approach but we looked at the deal and whilst a 3 course meal and a drink for under €10 seemed to good to be true we took a chance. I was really impressed with my goats cheese salad, pasta and French toast with ice cream. It wasn’t the type of fried French toast I expected and it was actually much nicer but by that point I was too full.

We were in more luck when we quickly spotted an empty taxi. I chatted to the driver about football because I had noticed his Valencia pennant. He was particularly animated when he realised the Watford manager was “Ahhhh Quique Sanchez Flores”. As we chatted Lucy joked to Summer about how football is the international language in Europe. We made another quick stop at the cheap super market to get Sangria for Summer. Whilst we arrived at the hotel a few minutes after the designated pick up because it was Spain it didn’t seem to matter that we were late.

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Posted by Travels and Rambles in Europe, Spain, 0 comments