April 13, 2017
She's been knocked down many times through her very interesting history but she always gets back up.
We sailed through fog to get to Alicante but the sun fought through and we had a glorious day!
A week or so before we left for the trip I found a review for Alicante Free Walking Tour. We've been to Alicante before and had no plans to do anything except walk around so why not sign up for a walking tour? We easily found the meeting place and met our guide, Maria who was holding the purple umbrella.
Alicante has a big pirate themed market as you get off the ship and walk toward the city center. At first I thought it was odd and it reminded me of being in the Caribbean. On our tour I learned Pirates had a devastating effect on the city in the past so I guess they are acknowledging that? You can purchase new furniture from the pirates but we didn't think Holland America would appreciate us hauling on a new pillow top mattress.
When we were here in 2012 we took a hop-on-hop-off bus to get an overview of the city, walked around the city center, took in the "sights" at the beach and then sat in the sun sipping sangria and eating paella. Sounds pretty perfect. Unlike many cities we've visited, Alicante didn't seem very old and the modern buildings were frankly, kind of ugly. Well, I'm so glad we took the walking tour because now we know why!
Maria founded her company about a year ago. She is educated in tourism and completed her MBA and was guiding in other cities in Europe. She decided she wanted to share her home and its stories with others so she started her tour company.
Alicante has a fascinating history. The city has faced famine, drought, pirate invasions, it's been bombed and rebuilt many times. It was the last city to be occupied by dictator Franco's troops and it suffered (by being bombed heavily) because of that. I'm not going to go in to all the history but please, if you are in Alicante, take Maria's tour because there really is a lot more to Alicante than what you see!
The walking tour lasted almost 3 hours. We visited the two churches (one is a fake cathedral) and you can see holes in the sides from bombs. Maria shared the story of the face that you can see in the side of the mountain at Castle Santa Barbara. The tale includes the (Moorish) king not allowing his daughter to marry the man she loved. Both of them jumped off the cliff and the king was heartbroken so his face is etched in the mountain. That's the condensed version.
We learned about the animosity between the two Catholic parishes, the meaning of La Rambla. It's historical significance is not as a walkway for tourists like in Barcelona. Think more along the lines of an early sewer system! Alicante is used as the European reference for sea level measurements - something they are very proud of.
We visited a shop that has made torrone (an almond based sweet) for generations. The climate and soil in this area are perfect for almond production and Alicante produces delicious torrone!
Our last stop on the tour was the market.
In 1938, Alicante was bombed and the area outside the market was devastated. 300 people died but the market stood. There is a clock in the market that stopped at the time of the bombing and is on display.
My favorite tale of Alicante's resiliency is related to the introduction of tourism. In the 1960's northern Europeans (tall, gorgeous, blonde Scandinavians according to Maria) discovered the sun and beaches of Alicante. Spain had very strict rules under the fascist, Franco regime and women had to have their knees and shoulders covered always. No bikinis allowed! Alicante went to the government and received permission for tourists to bare their skin. Not just knees and shoulders, tourists could go topless on the beaches. This created a boom in tourism. The rest of Spain would tour to Alicante to witness the beautiful Scandinavians enjoying the Alicante sun. We visited the beach when were here in 2012. I can confirm that women still go topless but I guarantee there was not a beautiful Swedish, Danish, Finnish or even Dutch woman in sight!
Maria encourage us to try a dry cake/cookie that is made out of three ingredients. I can't remember the ingredients but it tastes like flour, lard, and salt. Basically it tastes like heavy pastry dough. Bob bought some - 5 for 1 euro and we tried them. They are dry.
James tries a cake...you are supposed to give it three bites before you decide if you like it or not.
After the tour we went for tapas and sangria/beer with Bob and Reggie. Of course I ordered a big plate of Iberico Ham and Manchego cheese...and two delicious glasses of sangria. The perfect end to our day in Alicante. I love Spain!
Back on the ship we enjoyed sail away!