Unexpected Spain

Ok, finally, trying to get back on track, chronologically speaking.

Before the fiasco of the stolen bag, I spent nine unexpectedly glorious days in Alicante, Spain. Like many of you, I'd never heard of Alicante. It's a city of approximately 330,000 people on the southeastern Mediterranean coast, about 500km south of Barcelona.

Why did I go there? My dear friend, Thako and his fiancé Erica, were vacationing there and we had dreamed many, many months ago about meeting up to "take a ni" (drink Negroni's) if it all worked out.

Well, it worked a charm. Having just finished my historical journey through southern Wales, I needed somewhere else to go and the timing to visit Alicante was perfect. Unexpectedly, there was a direct flight from Cardiff to Alicante. I say unexpectedly because if you read my Wales post you'd know that the Cardiff airport is insanely small. Add to that having never heard of Alicante, and it seemed pretty darn serendipitous.

I've also previously mentioned I'm a non-practicing Catholic (sorry grandma). I've also already completely lost to plot when it comes to days of the week, let alone weeks in the year. Turns out we were arrived in Alicante during Semana Santa. This is Holy Week, and quite honestly, the American Easter has NOTHING on this. To say it's intense would be like saying the ocean is big, a complete understatement.

It's a week long event, replete with amazingly choreographed processions each night of the week, which go until late in the night. These processions start in different neighborhoods each night and wind their way through the narrow, tangled streets ultimately making their to the main drag. This main road is lined with viewing stands on each side of the street, some reserved, some open to all.

The people participating span the generations from elderly men and women, right down to the youngest children. All of them either dressed to the nines, or more likely wearing some sort of religious robe.

There are marching bands, dripping candles, and floats carried on the shoulders of the people. These floats each depict Jesus in some stage of his week's long struggle for life, many with him on the cross.

It's not possible to find words to describe the grandeur and intensity of these events, so here's a gallery of images that also likely don't do it justice.

So then, Alicante itself ... having never heard of it, I didn't know what to expect, so naturally, it was unexpectedly brilliant. Part gritty port town, part sparkling vacation hub, it blends these two opposing ideas seamlessly.

The old town is a romantically mesmerizing maze of cobbled streets. They make their way from Castillo Santa Barbara high on its hillside perch down to the docks at the water's edge. The plaza's abound seemingly around every corner, wrapped with all manner of tapas, bars and gelato shops.

I imagine during the peak summer months, this place is simply buzzing. Chockablock with the rest of Spain, looking to enjoy its charms and the gloriously aqua blue water of the Mediterranean.

After a few days of strolling aimlessly around and through Alicante, we decided to take a day trip north up the coast to check out the sleepy town of Calpe (Calp in Valencianno). The region has a pretty great tram system which stretches well over two hours north past Calpe.

As much as the rest of my time in the part of Spain, it was unexpectedly amazing. The train ride provided some epic views of the Mediterranean and the tiny towns precariously perched on the cliff's edge.

Our train stop left us at the top of one of these cliffs and we were made to make our way down into the town. I'm starting to find a pattern with train stop in the middle of nowhere!

We descend down through the town, to the unexpectedly beautiful beach front. A stunning white sand beach, sandwiched between cliffside houses on one side and Penyal d'Ifac, a Gibraltar sized monolith, on the other. The Phoenicians referred to it as the Northern Rock as the way to distinguish it from Gibraltar.

Lunch was a deliciously prepared paella Valenciana at Restaurant Blau Mar, known to be the best in the region. We enjoyed cold beers and epic views, while devouring the paella.

Post lunch we made our way to the giant rock with the idea of hiking up some of its trails. We missed the turn to the path leading up one side and by the time we realized, it was too late to attempt it, as we needed to make our way back towards the train station.

As we made the 4.2km journey back towards the station, we feared the weather had finally caught up to us. The weather report has called for showers all day, yet somehow we had avoided that. With each footstep it looked increasingly likely that we were about to get drenched. Fate was on our side, however, and the sky literally opened as we set foot on the train.

I have felt so incredibly lucky to have enjoyed my travels to this point with friends and family. Spending these 10 days in Alicante with Thako and Erica was simply magical. Our time was filled with epic views, tasty food and plenty of Negronis. But what I will remember far longer than any of that will be the endless laughs, inside jokes and deep conversations. I look forward to our next unexpected adventure together.