Well, as you can guess, we survived Slut Mountain, just barely. The hotel stay at ol' Carlos III included breakfast, but after our less-than-enjoyable chef boyardee dinner, we decided we would be just fine forgoing an additional meal at this lovely place. So Dana set her alarm on her phone to give us just enough time to get up, get packed, and get OUT of town.
That morning the alarm went off as planned, we peeled ourselves out of bed and began getting ready (roughly translated = brush teeth, put on same stinky clothes you've been wearing FOREVER and try to re-cram things in overstuffed suitcase). I happened to peek at my phone as I was putting things in my purse and saw that it was 9:30 in the morning...not the 10:30am we thought we had set the alarm for. Dana's clock on her phone was still registering US time, and we had done math the night before to figure out what time to set her phone to wake us up. Why we didn't just use my or Brian's Spanish phones, I have no clue.
So lo and behold, we are apparently bad at simple math and the Universe wanted us to enjoy one more meal at this God forsaken place. We were already up, and it would save us a stop, so why not? Live on the edge, right?
We returned to the scene of the crime, same table and all, and I'm happy to report that it was not nearly as traumatic as dinner. They had all the fixins for do-it-yourself pan con tomate as well as some fruit and a bowl full of boiled eggs. Done and done. We slurped up our cafe con leche, bid adieu to the still-smiling staff, and said a giant PEACE OUT to ol' Carlos III and his harem of ladies.
By 12pm we were on the road and making serious progress. Setting records! I don't think Brian and I had managed a single road trip before 1 or 2pm the entire time we were in Spain.
We had only a short jaunt to make around Valencia and down Costa Blanca to arrive in Alicante that evening. Our little barrio apartment wouldn't be ready until nearly dark, so we planned to stop along the way and see a handful of beaches.
In his research about the area, Brian had discovered a little town called Peñíscola that was apparently famous for its fortress-like castle that had been featured in several well-known movies, including El Cid. Dana and I were pretty skeptical, considering Brian's last great idea was Alcanar and Carlos III, but we went along with the plan, if not just for the entertainment value alone.
We made it into the little town, and managed to navigate our way down to the beach and the narrow road with beachfront parking. I only had to reverse and re-park about 17 times to jimmy our giant monstrosity of a Peugoet into a parking spot along the beach, but we finally, FINALLY made it.
We hopped out, walked down to the beach, said "yep, that's a castle", snapped a few photos, and then left. It was pretty funny. I think we were there all of like 7 minutes.
Charlton, Sophia and the wildly famous Peñíscola castle....
We headed on the road for another couple hours and managed to find ourselves on the south side of Valencia. Progress! When I lived in Alicante before, I had always heard great things about the beautiful "blue flag" beaches dotting the coast between Valencia and Alicante. So after some investigation, we decided to stop in Denia and Altea, two places known for gorgeous beaches...just what we were looking for!
First stop: Denia. We veered off the tollway, turned down N-340 and found the sunny coastal town with ease. There was a great little restaurant right on a deserted beach, so we found a bright spot to enjoy paella and bask in the view. A-maz-ing...
The water was a symphony of blues extending out as far as the eye could see. And the sand was soft and silky. This was by far one of the sunniest, warmest days we'd had in Spain and we couldn't figure out why there weren't more people on the beach. We had all nearly gotten burnt already just sitting out on the patio enjoying our lunch.
It took only about 30 seconds on the beach to figure out the problem. WINDY! Like crazy, sand-pelting-you-like-shards-of-glass windy. We managed to fling shoes, handbags and boxes of sangria onto the corners of our sarongs to keep them on the ground long enough for us to plop down and peel off layers of clothes.
We were bound and determined to lay there and enjoy that beautiful beach dammit.
I think we lasted an hour all-in-all. I have to give credit to my sweet husband. He was a trooper. Brian absolutely HATES to have sand on him (we're working on it), and we were all COVERED in it after about 5 minutes. We were literally laying there side-by-side and with each gust, the wind would blow so hard that the sand was practically burying us. I seriously believe that if we had laid there for a couple hours, we would eventually have just become part of the sand dune.
So when I could see Brian twitching wildly in discomfort and about to blow, we all agreed it was probably time to move onto the next beach and (cross our fingers) find a less windy spot.
Welcome to Altea.
Less windy. Check.
Painfully beautiful. Double check.
Rocky beach means fabulously UN-sticky sand. Triple check!
Sunny and warm. Houston, we have a problem.
The ever-elusive "perfect" beach day always seemed just within reach. When we got to Altea we were so very hopeful that we could park ourselves for a little while and just be.
But it just wasn't in the cards. No sooner did we find the right spot, proceed with the sarong routine and get down to our swimsuits that it started getting chilly, like really chilly. Not to mention we were being lulled into relaxation by the loud, grumbling sounds of an industrious little Spaniard pushing around the beautiful, slick white rocks with a huge tractor.
But don't we look happy? What are we, if not good-humored?
While a goose-bump covered Dana and me laid stubbornly on the beach INSISTENT on getting some sun, Brian took delight in his rocky beach by skipping rocks into the Med. Boys will be boys, and he's a pretty cute one.
I think our friendly fisherman probably got a kick out of seeing our steadfast dedication to laying out. Here he is in long sleeves and pants and Dana and I are shivering in our teeny bikinis. Just so you know, he never caught a fish. So there.
When poor Dana looked near popsicle, we finally packed up our little family and headed back to the Peugoet. Alicante was waiting and we had checked off the boxes for our three beach stops en route. Even if we didn't have tans to show for it, we had lots of great photos and a good laugh or twelve.
Alicante!!! Oh, there isn't enough blog space in the world to write about the hilarity that was our arrival into my beloved city, so I'll give you the highlights.
I rented an apartment in the barrio, which is the heart of the Old City. I knew this would be the most fun spot for our weekend stay, but I also knew that parking would be a little challenging. The owner of the place had suggested a "wasteland" right behind the castle and near the new fire department, so we decided to give it a go, none of us really knowing what constituted a "wasteland" but figuring if it was free, it was worth a try.
We drove up the Rambla and circled a few times before finding our wasteland, which is basically a treacherous, rocky, mountainous empty lot. Empty except for the ridiculous number of vehicles crammed onto this odd-shaped piece of real estate. When in Spain, right?
I heave our brand-new RENTAL vehicle over the curb and into the wasteland, all three of us keeping our peepers open for an empty spot. We see a couple either loading or unloading a baby, and I make a sharp right up an embankment to get in the ready position in case they are indeed leaving.
Just as the car swings around to climb the hill, there is a huge BANG and we kind of bounce a little. I realize a little too late that I have managed to fling our shiny, SUV into a large, dusty hole, and we are now propped at an awkward incline with one wheel probably dangerously close to some expensive, irreparable damage.
It's at that moment that I realize two things. One: the couple is UN-loading their child and heading AWAY from the wasteland with their car happily parked and their child safely strapped in its stroller. Two: I am in a standard. Madre mia.
Even if I wasn't stuck in a large, gaping hole, there was no way to exit by moving forward. The only way out was to back out the way I came. Not happening. So I thought.
So with Brian and Dana's maneuvering suggestions and cheers of encouragement, I Austin Powered myself backwards and forwards about 17 times, giving it enough gas to pop us out of the hole while feverishly braking each time our car almost rammed into the trash dumpster and Mack truck parked precariously behind us. I was literally sweating.
On top of it all, the car has one of those mechanisms that beeps when you are reversing and close to hitting something. It begins violently shouting when, in its expert opinion, you are too near an object and then quickens the pace of its annoying warnings the closer and closer you get. Well, in the opinion of the car, I was warp-speed-beeping close to everything behind me. So if driving a standard vehicle that isn't mine out of a gaping hole in the earth in a car-filled lot wasn't enough to stress me out, I had to also listen to the shrill, piercing dinging before I had even moved the car an inch in the direction of the apparent peril.
How we made it out, I have no clue. There is no question, I made an absolute spectacle of us. One amused driver waited patiently throughout the whole 10-minute affair, intent on getting into the lot once I moved my giant Puegoet and shoving his car into a spot unknown to me.
We were all a little worn down and ready to be OUT of the car, but we still had to sort out the one tiny little detail of where to put the damn car before we could get out of it. I had seen a parking garage along the Rambla and although we were certain it would cost an arm and a leg, I was crying Uncle to the Alicante parking situation and was ready to throw in the towel.
So down, down, down the garage we went. Parking there was no picnic either, but by now I was a reverse and first-gear queen. So we shimmied into a spot, bound out of the car, said screw the luggage, and headed out to find the apartment.
Communication with the owner was a whole other issue. I had somehow transcribed the phone number wrong from the email, and we had no way of getting in touch with him. So Dana came to the rescue with her iPad international plan, and we were able to reach his teenage son. After a quick glass of wine in what turned out to be a wine store and not a wine bar (yet another story), our escort arrived and we took the quick walk over to the apartment. As you can see from the picture above, it was on the neatest little stair-stepped street. Neat to look at and enjoy a wine on the patio. Not so neat to heave 87 pounds of luggage up.
Long story short, after rummaging through our stuff in the garage, sacrificing the items that we deemed unworthy to drag up the parking garage stairs, through the streets and up our stair-stepped home, and then completing said trek, we arrived sweating, panting and laughing through curses.
The Explanada near the beach. This is the main pedestrian street in Alicante lined with restaurants, shops and lots of old-timers sitting in chairs watching the tons of young people and raucous nightlife.
All I kept thinking was PLEASE don't let this weekend suck! I couldn't possibly handle my beloved city being a black mark on our Spanish road trip. Not after the wonderfully romanticized spot it held in my heart since my 6 months there in 2002.
Castillo Santa Barbara. Our apartment was literally at the foot of the castle in the barrio.
Little did I know at that time, we were luckily in for a delightfully fabulous weekend, and my glorious little gem of a city would deliver yet again...