Wednesday, March 30, 2011

On The Town . . .

The Costa Blanca area of Spain is renowned for its beaches and warm weather on Mediterranean Sea, so it has become a popular tourist destination for Europeans from the Northern climes. When we looked for an area of Spain to come for a month, we were trying to find a mix of the “tourist” destinations where the reasonable accommodations are available to us “Foolish Foreigners” willing to rent someone else's “Summer” house when they do not want to use it, and hopefully find some interesting Historical Spain.

We actually did pretty well. El Campello is not really very historically significant, but this apartment is in an older part of town and is surrounded by typical narrow streets and quite a few older style Spanish houses and buildings. It has a feel of more of a seaside town than a tourist resort. If you walk down the beach you quickly get into a much more modern area built up with large high-rises and modern style tourist homes & condos. Walking the other way, up into the town itself, you find some of the original old houses and buildings, surrounding the old town church and the original town square. The nice thing about El Campello is that the tram system allows you to visit other towns and communities in the area very easily. We rented a car to get to Grenada and Valencia, but were able to use the tram to visit most places.

All of the towns and cities in the area have modern shopping areas and huge apartment complexes, and the communities on the coast all suffer from the “Tourist” areas, but a bit of walking will usually allow you to find the old towns within the cities and villages in the area.

The first thing to look for in any town is the biggest and oldest looking church. The churches were usually the central part of a town and the community grew around the church. In Grenada, our hotel was on the same square as the big cathedral and this allowed us to easily explore the historical part of the city. We could easily walk through old alleys and side streets that obviously were never designed for modern traffic. They were used by cars, but when you heard a vehicle on the street, you had to walk single file, and watch out that the car's mirrors did not clip you. One evening in Grenada we tried to find a “recommended” tavern, and started climbing up the streets towards the Alhambra. Many of these were footpaths with steep steps and cobble-stone paving twisting up the hills. The deep-set doors and windows all showed how old this area of the town was, and we finally came out onto another square with another old church and three or four tavernas, but could not find the one we wanted.

Alicante has a similar area when you walk up to the old fort instead of taking the road up the back side. You almost feel that you are walking through someone's yard or using their private drive. The old houses are built right into the hill, and the tiny walkways up the hill are only wide enough for foot traffic or a scooter. Obviously a sign of urban planning prior to the invention of the car. As you made your way up, it was so steep, you would climb in front of a house, and then find yourself looking over the same house from behind and over it.

We took the tram to Altea, a town up the coast from El Campello, and discovered the same design there. Altea has a beautiful seacoast and the promenade along the water is wonderful, with beautiful views and places to sit and relax or bars and restaurants to take a break, but this area is definitely a tourist area, and we heard almost more English than Spanish. A quick look around however when you exit the tram and you can see the beautiful blue dome of the church up on the hill. I'm not sure why churches always seem to build on the “high-ground”; perhaps it is to give you a head start towards heaven, or building a bit further from hell. We had heard about the beautiful old town of Altea and the walk up the hill was certainly worth the effort. Again, you climb through narrow stone paved streets switch-backing up the steep hill. Often the streets became footpaths with steps to help you climb, another indicator of the pre-car age of them. On the way up there are lovely little shops selling beautiful local jewellery and artwork, and interspersed with interesting tavernas and restaurants. When you reach the top, it is again the church on the top of the hill, with the original town square surrounding it. Most of the buildings around are now shops and tavernas catering to the thirsty traveller who just climbed all those steps, but you can imagine the original necessary town businesses here in the past, the bakery, the butcher, the blacksmith or the pharmacy.

We have been able to find this old part of the original “Town” in most of the communities we have visited during our travels. It is always worth the climb.

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