Sunday, March 26, 2006

Peace (of a sort) in our time

The Fallas has (have?) been over for a week now, so the only disturbances are unsilenced mopeds at 3 a.m. plus a few hundred fireworks left over. Denia is almost empty in comparison, and it is sort of unseasonably sunny - well into the 20s.

La Tardor on Marques de Campo was one of our favoured haunts, but it's under new management as "Bar 11" and is a bit 1990s Euro generic style, which is very boring. No more pumpkin and chocolate tart (I said I was going to mention pies, and this is an authentic Mediterranean one), and the menu del dia seems to have disappeared. So we must move on...

Friday, March 17, 2006

Further afield

A trip to Javea or Xabia presents the opportunity to tuck into an English breakfast at the German bakery, Cafe Gramss. Next to the Policia Local and the Tourist Office on the Cabo de la Nao road.

It's very civilized sitting in the square, or there is also the option of going to the English Bakery across the road, which is very good for pies or a bacon roll. The downside is sitting outside nex to the main road, so that instead of happy chatter in various languages and a tinkling fountain, the soundscape features rather a lot of traffic. The trees also drop some sort of unpleasant white fluff.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Mediterranenan Healthy Diet part 2: Croissants

An essential part of the diet to counterbalance all this olive oil and fish - and now we have a new French bakery at the bottom of the Marques de Campo.

Just remember that a pain au raisin in Spanish is una caracola, and you won't go far wrong. Rest assured, they will not serve you a real snail. There are three sorts of caracola sold in the new French bakery: con pasas, con chocolate o con canela. In other words, your traditional raisins, choc chips where the raisins would normally be, or something like a whirly cinnamon Danish pastry.

There are also lots of cakes, largely based on chocolate ganache, and some sort of twisty bread called paillasse which is apparently very traditional in Switzerland. And of course, some serious croissants. There is plenty of space to sit down for a coffee, although it echoes a bit.

Meanwhile on Carrer del Mar we have Gomet, which has been there for years - croissants made with butter which almost drips out of them, a good selection of bread and some different cakes, a bit more fruit in evidence but also a lot of mousse. And hand made chocolates. Every so often they have Gateau Basque, which is like a big tart with extra rich custard in it. You can get a coffee here too, sit at the bar or at one of about four tables, but at the bar you may get shoved out of the way by someone with a pushchair. Lots of French people come here. It can get a bit frantic, an air of stress sometimes permeates...

The Spanish bakers sell croissants of varying quality, sometimes with a glaze of something like apricot jam, and as mentioned previously, Cafe Stocker is good - sensible sized. Part 3 will cover the subject of pies.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The case of the mysterious fish - solved

The place where we had the scorpion fish (described on the menu as "Escorpa", and eventually identified through the wonderful fishbase) is called Bar Restaurante Vareta, and it is indeed on the corner of Passeig del Saladar (which has two rows of palm trees down the middle) and Calle Diana. Also on Calle Diana (towards the railway) is an organic supermarket, which is very nice, where they have organic fruit & veg delivered twice a week, and you can order organic meat. There are Spanish and German people working there - the German lady seemed very suspicious when we said we'd found them through the papers, because they'd only advertised in the German papers. Anyone would think the British had a poor reputation as linguists.

Monoglot is worth checking out, by the way.

Let's Fallas the Music... (oh, never mind)

It's that time of year again, when a strange collective mood descends on Denia, and it's good to turn down the sensitivity of your startle response if you want to avoid a nervous breakdown.

Fallas is upon us - giant papier-mache statues which are tremendously satirical and witty if you are fluent in Valenciano, which of course I'm not, preceded by a week of small to medium explosions. All to do with St Joseph's day of course - I can't remember if that's Joseph as in Mary & Joseph, but then I'm just an ignorant English heathen. Well OK, I was "encouraged" to go to Sunday School until I was about 9 years old, but they were Methodists and didn't really do the saints thing. Apparently Fallas in Denia is more friendly & welcoming than the Valencia version (or a pale shadow if you ask someone from Valencia). The general plan involves a lot of open-air firecracker displays - mascletas - where they string up about 500 "firecrackers" the size of a drainpipe in a public car park, street or whatever and let them all off in 30 seconds - plus every child over the age of three is encouraged (if not compelled) to throw little firecrackers around in the street. They seem to have the knack of it, as I didn't notice too many little bandaged hands last year, and like most forms of comedy, throwing fireworks successfully is all about timing. And about choosing your fireworks carefully - small is beautiful in this case. Perhaps that's what inspired old Schumacher.

There are also intermediate level adult-sized bangs at regular intervals - the pattern is hard to work out, so "all the fucking time" is a fair approximation. In other words, this is the sort of behaviour which would get the New Puritans coming down on all concerned like a ton of bricks in the UK, ASBO's in all directions, neighbours from hell docusoaps, social workers etc. If only Esther Rantzen was still alive, eh? There is usually some sort of disturbance going on till about 4 am, but it was the same where we lived in Bristol, and at least people here seem to be enjoying themselves amicably (even if they are a bit manic and sleep deprived after a few days of it). As opposed to... actually, I'd rather not remember. There seems to be a lot of community spirit involved. Older readers may remember what that means, it dates back to the bad old days when there was such a thing as society.

So I'm turning into a curmudgeonly old git - so what, there are lots of role models in the expat community, and at least I don't read the Daily Mail. Not like, seriously, it's a sort of ironic gesture, and it's the only English paper they have in the new French bakery.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Unexpected pleasures

Everyone keeps going on about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, so of course the first thing you need to find in Denia is a German cake shop. We thoroughly recommend Cafe Stocker in Passeig de Saladar (they also have a stall in the market), and in the summer you can sit in the middle of the road (on the paved central reservation...) and wade into a serious piece of cheesecake, or something with fruit in it to maintain the illusion of healthy eating among the choking diesel fumes. Or if you prefer, you can sit inside of course. They also serve breakfast, and when the weather isn't too hot, Black Forest Gateau. You don't have to speak German, but it helps sometimes... If you can't then if you create the impression of being German (or Austrian or Swiss) the welcome is even warmer. Paul Stocker is an award winning Master Baker, and the bread's very nice (although it tends to be kind of German, rye and all that). Decent croissants too, but there is increasing competition on that front. More about that another time.

If you do want to go Mediterranean, there are a couple of decent cafes, or top quality tapas at Ramonal de Jamonet where you can sit down on proper chairs not plastic ones. Good wine list, too. In fact at one of the cafes we had some amazing fish - scorpion fish aka escorpao or rascasse. There wasn't an English translation of its name, so one of the chaps brought a couple over for us to look at. Ugly spiny bastards (the fish, that is) but we thought, give it a go and they were outstanding. Just grilled with some olive oil, then with some more olive oil gererously drizzled over, and chips of course. I will find out the name of the cafe - it might be Vareto, then again it might not. Probably on the corner of C Diana (after whom Denia is named).

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Arrivals/llegadas

For a while now, I've been living in Denia, Alicante, on the . There seems to be some controversy about whether this is in Spain or not, as some people are very keen on pointing out that we are in Valencia. The street signs are in Valenciano, and many of the towns have alternative names - not like "Bristol/that shithole" but proper alternatives like /Alacant or Javea/Xabia. The two forms are each very objectionable to some people, so someone will spray paint out the Spanish/Castellano version (Alicante, Javea). Then someone else spray paints out the Valenciano version in retaliation. As a result, on your way into Javea you know that you are 5km away from somewhere, but there's no way of telling where from the sign. There's also some graffiti on the harbour wall in Denia which says "Spain 200km" or something like that.

Anyway, I wanted to share some hopefully useful observations with anyone who might be coming here on holiday, or coming to the Costa Blanca to visit or coming to live here.

The weather is mostly very pleasant, although it's sometimes surprisingly windy and can be astonishingly wet in the winter. It's very changeable at present but it's always warmer than in UK. Always.

First things first, how to get here. The most likely place you will arrive is Alicante Airport, also known as Altet. It's about 10km from Alicante itself, but it isn't too hard to get to the AP-7 motorway - just follow the signs for Benidorm/Valencia (unless you're going to Torrevieja or Murcia, in which case you're going the wrong way). If you get a taxi it'll cost about 100 euros. You can get a couple buses or a bus and a train via Alicante. Or you can hire a car, which is probably the best solution. There are lots of car hire companies at Alicante airport, which seems reasonable because a lot of people go there. I have used Centauro, who are very good and the local office people are friendly (Hola Hector y Gloria). You can sort out your car hire in advance via Easyjet (or whatever), which may be cheaper.

There is a good choice of flights to Alicante airport from most UK and European airports. Most of the budget and charter airlines go to Alicante, although there are now more flights to Valencia (which used to be more commercial) including Ryanair. Depends where you're going and where you're coming from really. The car park at Valencia airport has mostly been dug up for "improvements" but I'm sure it'll be ready in time for the America's Cup....

Anyway, the car park at Alicante airport hasn't been dug up, and the car hire companies are (logically) all next to it. It is advisable to keep a really close eye on your luggage, apparently the car hire pick up areas are targeted by thieves. Hold on to everything basically.

Once you've got your hire car, for this part of the Costa Blanca you set off for Alicante, which you will pass, hopefully fairly quickly - not that there's anything wrong with Alicante as such but there are traffic problems sometimes. The toll motorway starts after about 20km and is very useful. The toll to Denia is about 6.50 euros, Benidorm is about half that.

OK, so you've come off the toll road, given your coins to the nice man or lady, and you're on your way. The exit to Denia is a bit deceptive, as you are on it before you see a sign saying Denia. (Benidorm is a also bit confusing the first time too, just go straight on.)

I'll say something about Benidorm another time.