Costa Blanca: home or away?

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The most lively thing in Calpe

At the end of any trip to Spain, G and Grimble reflected on the possibility of this destination becoming a potential relocation. So it was with Calpe, and the Costa Blanca. After all, this was the favourite outpost of the Brits abroad, if the TV was to be believed. This was their mecca and the beast that was Benidorm their home from home.

Of course, this actual holiday had started as a potential trip to Benidorm, though G had been at a loss to explain why his Grimble, who had an aversion to collective boozy Brits on holiday, had even suggested this, let alone booked a flight to Alicante before she’d even contemplated accommodation. In the end, Benidorm hadn’t even warranted a day’s excursion, despite it being a short journey by tram, from Calpe. Why not? Well, the airport transfer had driven past the horizon of the town, along the motorway. This distant sighting was enough of Benidorm to confirm their views and fears.

Grimble was entranced by its ugliness and ill planning. Monstrous tower blocks blocked any daylight for their short and stumpy neighbours. At 5 foot, and pretty stumpy herself, Grimble felt an empathy for those short buildings. It was just how she felt, when she had to queue with the tall nations of Germany or the Netherlands. Overshadowed and shaded by girth, these buildings must have rarely seen the sun. It cast a grey shadow which contrasted with the azure sky and sea.

G had not really been paying attention to this emerging vista. He was busy, focused on his phone game, killing things happily. Grimble nudged him, a few times, as he endeavoured to ignore her, to show him the horror. He commented on its similarity to Hong Kong and she wasn’t sure if this was good or bad. Grimble compared it to Salford with sea, rather than the Manchester Ship Canal, which offered a clearer opinion. They both realised that for many folks this was holiday heaven and they loved their annual Benidorm breaks. This was great to have a chance to escape to high rises in the sun, drink lots of cheap booze, eat English breakfasts and roast dinners and zap around on a mobility scooter but, for Grimble and G, it was the equivalent of a living hell.

Thus they focused their attention on Calpe as a potential final resting spot. The signs were good. It’s location was awesome with the scenic rock jutting out to sea. It was humbly compared to a Spanish Gibraltar though it had two major differences: no lewd baboons fidgeting with their bits and stealing handbags and food and no territorial dispute over ownership. Aside from their multi level, high rise hotel, all was pretty low key in Calpe. However, as the week progressed, they became acutely aware that Calpe was not for them. True it’s climate was wonderful and the prices for dining out highly competitive. It had more real estate agents than Grimble had ever seen in one place and seemingly more properties available than residents.

However, as they sat in the morning sun partaking of café con leche they came to a joint decision and it was based on similar criteria. As Grimble simply put it: Calpe made them feel young. Rejuvenation and retirement might seem like an ideal partnership. However, it was not the warm sunshine acting as an elixir of youth for their aching arthritic limbs that gave them this sensation of youth. It was the fact that most of the population of Calpe was made up of very senior and ancient North Western Europeans. Their age profile was at least twenty years in advance of G and Grimble and, whilst their longevity might seem reassuring to two potential retirees, it hardly made for a hip (unless hip replacements were counted) and happening location. As G put it, there was no flange to observe. Withered bodies in Lycra hardly made for excellent eye candy of the flange variety.

G and Grimble often wiled away a sunny hour people watching. She’d observe the dress and design, commenting on its unsuitability or ill choice. In Calpe, in February, she had noted that, despite it heading upwards of 25 degrees, Spanish people were still attired in padded jackets, scarves, hats and all manner of winter paraphernalia standing next to holiday makers in shorts, flip flops, and ever increasing sun red skin, almost like an Iberian weather clock. G’s observation focus was on flange, which basically translated to a quiet noting of an attractive physique. In Calpe, this sedentary hobby was going to be rather limited in scope or interest.

Their tentative opinion on the Costa Blanca was affirmed when they ventured to a diminutive English bar one evening. Given the past experience at Calella (see ‘Grimble and G have a night on the Town’ for further explanation) this did create some apprehension though, comfortingly, the bar did have a Spanish name, Pueblo, and there wasn’t an inflatable penis or hen party gathering in sight. It was evidently a budget operation and the name clearly from a previous life form and not because the new owner had any intention of integrating with the indigenous population. It was a tiny bar with a huge pool table that filled most of the space, leaving only the bar as an area to sit and they did. It was affable enough, run by a formidable Yorkshire woman, assisted by her Cockney friend. Grimble noted and sympathised with this North South companionship knowing that, if her own experience was normal, there’d be times when this partnership would understand Spanish, or even Russian, more readily than each other’s accents.

Chat turned to the Calpe lifestyle and they learnt from a Dutch guy there that it was relatively boring. Every disco, late night joint and dance place had gone, closed down by a lack of enthusiasm, to be replaced by sandwich shops, coffee places and places to hire a bike or mobility scooter depending on the client’s needs. This might have sounded ideal but instead it made it seem quite dull and so old. The small Spanish bars serving late into the night didn’t exist in Calpe as there were few clientele who wanted to chat and drink until the wee hours. Accommodation was expensive, inflated by the affluence of the German and Nordic euro. Grimble was surprised that she recalled this conversation the following day, as fuelled by wine and ill advised shots, her head was rather groggy. G had a better recollection of the night’s events and informed her that there had been a brief moment when she had considered table dancing. Grimble had hoped that this was a fake memory but she did recall clambering on a bar stool in a quite undignified manner before giving up the final table ascent. She groaned to herself at this mad moment and wondered how British bars were able to transform even the most dignified tourist into uninhibited monster.

Once on the plane home, they reflected on the Costa Blanca experience. G and Grimble realised that there was a predominance of hurdy flurdy languages and that Spanish voices had been rare. In addition, from a point of view of Grimble making a small income teaching, there were two major pitfalls. Firstly, the ageing population had no secondary age offspring to educate, unless they wanted to send their holidaying grandchildren to school rather than the pool. Secondly, the Spanish population in Calpe had a fairly good grasp of English after five decades of Brit visitors, who refused to learn or even try the local lingo with the exception of “cerveza” and “por favor”, had saturated them with the nuances of their mother tongue. For Grimble and G, Calpe and the Costa Blanca was a pleasant holiday destination but not a lifestyle choice.

San Valentin versus the Grimbles

G, Grimble and romance were uneasy bedfellows. They had convinced themselves that it was the sheer commercialism of St Valentine’s Day that perturbed them when really it was the sheer slushy, gushy, gooey nature of this event that offput them. They’d hoped to escape this revelry in Calpe, but the streets lit with bright red love hearts, indicated that this was not to be.

In the Costas, where Brits abroad were predominant, there were always street hawkers attempting to offload some tat on an unsuspecting, or inebriated, tourist. One night, as they sat quietly dining, one man had produced a mini plastic disco light contraption from his supermarket carrier bag. He seemed much more impressed than they were by the bright blue lights swirling round their tapas. A firm, “Non” from Grimble indicated that there was no chance of any purchase: not even if he danced wildly for them. The other frequent visitor to the supper tables was the Rose Man: a bloke with a fake smile permanently etched onto his face, trying to sell less than fresh red roses to loved up couples. He did not seem to have much luck, usually, but G suggested to Grimble that this chap’s big night was fast drawing close and San Valentin was his major money day.

In fact, Grimble had obtained a card for G. She got it excessively reduced from the outlet place in Gloucester. It was a half decent one too. She had mentioned this spontaneous act of love to G to ensure he was aware, but knew that his systematic nodding in response meant he hadn’t listened to a word she’d spoken. On February 13th, when the shops in Spain were closed, she mentioned to G, again, the card. Suddenly, with no chance to rectify the single Valentine’s card situation, the penny dropped, the realisation sunk in and G grew a tad grumpy blaming Grimble for changing the rules. She patiently explained that her act of love had been well documented and discussed. Finally, they settled on a compromise. They’d share the bloody card. He could write some romantic tosh in after he’d read hers. Clearly, romance was not something they did well.

February 14th arrived. Grimble had forgotten to write the card herself. Hastily, she scrawled something. She made a quick acrostic complete with a made up word for E, but knew that all her efforts amounted to more than G’s. He read it and returned unimpressed to the hotel’s king size bed. Grimble decided to take a wander and happened upon a small shop where they cleverly mimicked posh perfumes with significantly cheaper oils. She got herself one and something that smelt like the ridiculously overpriced Creed for G. She was communicating in noddy Spanish to the nice lady who asked if was for her marido. She confirmed that it was, as trying to explain he was her partner seemed to always go same sex and confusing when Grimble ventured this information in Spanish and calling him a novio made them seem about eighteen years old. The lady immediately outburst: San Valentin! She grabbed G boxed perfume and proceeded to wrap it in shiny red paper, with bows and heart stickers. It looked unfittingly romantic.

Back at the hotel, Grimble presented this package to G who was even more churlish at the thought that Grimble was trying to trick him into some romantic gesture of his own. Grimble denied this but discretely looked at the now joint card where only her jottings remained written.

They took a brisk walk to the other side of Calpe where big apartment blocks and hotels dominated. This promenade was much more out of season than theirs so restaurants were limited. They selected one that had the most clientele, a cheap menu del dia and whose name was bordering on romantic: Tango. That was a pretty hot and spicy Latino dance if Strictly was anything to go by. After ordering, it soon became evident why it was so busy. No one had actually moved, been served or got a bill for several hours. There was a surfeit of wait staff, all particularly inept. One brought drinks to a nearby table, spilt the hot drink across the table and, as he attempted to wipe it up, dropped another drink from a tray which smashed across the terrace.

To some extent, G and Grimble got away lightly. They ordered shandy, a very clear clara…they got beer. They managed to prevent the waiter serving their salads to another hungry table by shouting a lot. When they wanted to leave, along with several others, Grimble almost yelled la cuenta across five tables. This was definitely the last Tango in Calpe for them.

In something resembling romance, they decided to indulge in a lovely drink in the Suitopia’s twenty ninth floor rooftop bar and watch the sunset. G indulgently and, possibly insanely, offered Grimble a bottle of Dom Perignon at 170€. He had banked, accurately, on Grimble’s lack of joy where champers was concerned, preferring a cava or prosecco. So, he saved his bank balance and gave a grand gesture of romance to his Grimble. They settled on a cava, served with sweeties and a lovely sunset despite the welcoming of children to the bar, who sobbed, shouted and screeched with no consideration of love.

The final stage of the San Valentin proceedings was dinner. Grimble had been eying up offers all week. It seemed that most places were offering a special of around 60€ for several courses, all of which involved some type of sorbet and a steak and a bottle of wine printed on a heart encrusted menu. What distinguished them was the extra alcohol treats ranging from a welcome glass of cava to pink gin. Uniquely, these dinners were being served until Sunday suggesting that either: romance never died in Spain or the owners were determined to sell the additional produce bought in for this event. G and Grimble hadn’t reserved anywhere as they weren’t sure what to anticipate. They wandered the streets of restaurants and it varied from places rammed very unromantically to places so quiet it would have been the equivalent of a private dining experience but with more tables. They pondered on what to do; there was an option of a tapas fusion place, which from past experience could signify a deeply troubled and culinary confused chef. Finally, they had a joining of minds as they both exclaimed, “Chinese?”. Well, Grimble said, “Chinese” being all PC whilst G stated, “Ping Pong” but the effect was the same. It was as if their minds worked in romantic harmony.

They knew that the food would be plentiful and scrumptious and the excuse for decorative love hearts ignored. It did have people in there but tables to spare. They were seated speedily and the even settled on the most expensive set dinner on the menu. After all it was a special night and deserved the six courses which included dim sum and shredded duck as well as a bottle of decent wine for a desultory 35€ for two. As they chowed down, they observed another bonus, the Rose Man had already visited if the table nearby was anything to go by. Two limp roses were in a glass. It was a table of six: four oldies, the Calpe indigenous population to be honest, a younger woman and a decidedly sulky teenager who had an expression like a slapped arse. She clearly was disgruntled at spending the holidays at her grandparents when Benidorm with all its vices lay so close. It was hard to decipher for whom the roses were meant or which woman had been exempted. Perhaps the cost, which possibly exceeded the price of one dinner there, was too much. As they left, it was clear as to their uncertainty of ownership, as the sweet lady waitress had to pursue them down the street, roses in hand. She presented them to the elder of the ladies, attired in a Bet Lynch imitation leopard fur coat, complete with peroxide blonde hair dye the colour of straw and a terrifyingly sun ravaged skin. The rose presentation was the nearest thing to romance G and Grimble had seen.

They returned to their suite. Grimble noted the card, still on its side as neither could work out how to make it stand, possibly explaining the discount, and still bereft of G’s musings on love. As she turned, she was greeted by G, small box in hand, which he presented with a cheery, “Happy Valentine’s Day, Grimble”. She lovingly accepted the box of two free truffles supplied by the hotel. A perfect end…

 

Birmingham: BENIDORM…Calpe, please!

Prior to any trip, Grimble scours the internet for deals.

Using a two hour radius from home, she checked every airport for deals. Using the ever trusted Skyscanner app, she commenced her search with UK to everywhere. Then, she realised for her and G, everywhere was simply Spain: predictable and perfect. Why go to such lengths to secure a good deal? Because they were at the mercy of school holidays: a novelty for G but not for Grimble, who was something of an expert at weeding out a deal despite every airline and tour operator attempting to thwart her.

Grimble was relentless and canny. The key to her success was early booking and a knowledge that different UK areas had slightly differing holiday dates. So it was that, the previous August, Grimble secured £90 return flights for them in February from Birmingham to Alicante, which given that the Bristol equivalent was already an unreasonable £200 each seemed a bargain. True, her cockney diamond geezer would have to venture up North somewhat, but providing he left the chat to her (not difficult) and stop calling everyone cupcake using a strange nasal intonation, they’d be fine.

They were still in the process of researching the different Costas of Spain pre relocation and the Costa Blanca was virgin territory. It was rare that virgin and the Costa Blanca were placed together, this being party central for the most terrifying version of a Brit abroad. Alicante was the landing point for the Torrevieja and Benidorm brigade. In fact, when the flight was booked the Grimbles had yet to agree a destination. In a moment of what can only be described as temporary insanity, Grimble decided that they should reside in Benidorm for the week. After all, February was a lean month in the holiday season, how bad could it be? There were pluses: it was reputed to be a 24/7, 365 days town. Spanish resorts did like to hibernate in the winter and have the mother of all siestas, lasting upwards of three months. Benidorm never slept.

Motivated by this, Grimble searched booking.com. The hotels alarmed and fascinated her. Trying to find anything that didn’t resemble a Salford tower block of 9 million bedrooms with little more than a dip pool was proving rather a challenge. Finally, she found a penthouse apartment, just off Levante Beach, designed like a ship, complete with portholes and a 35th foot private terrace. One click and it was booked. She sent links to G. He always left her to the arrangements and, as he put it, just turned up. He approved.

Thus it seemed by early September, the winter sun was sorted. However, Grimble spent the next three weeks in turmoil. She recalled and then recoiled from the classic TV series, Benidorm. She watched Bargain Loving Brits in the Sun and began to feel a sense of fear and foreboding. Added to this was a work colleague’s comments, who offered Grimble insights into her previous year’s out of season Benidorm trip.

She happily recalled a club night which transformed into a floor show. This was no ordinary floor show. It commenced about 2am, and her co worker was already half cut to the point where, if she hadn’t filmed it, she would have believed it was a Sambuca shots psychosis and not real. She revealed said clip discreetly to Grimble. They were, after all, sat in the workroom of a Catholic college and what was about to be revealed would have certainly been beyond the redemption of a few Hail Marys. Indeed, it was so bizarre, that Grimble wondered if a exorcism might have been required.

The clip commenced innocently enough. Typical of a Spanish club, they was evidence of a foam squirt…well she hoped that it was foam. Onto the dance floor, at some speed, was a muscular black man on a Segway, wearing a Darth Vader mask and little else, other than a Lycra thong. He did a few nifty spins until he was joined by another Segway. This was driven by a Princess Leila, of sorts. This was clearly not going to be a faithful adaptation of the Star Wars franchise given that Leila’s white gown seemed to be missing its bottom half and there was a cleavage of bike parking proportions being revealed. Grimble would concede that the hairstyle was as per the movie. The performance then began. Princess Leila descended her Segway, dropped to her knees at the foot of Darth Vader. Grimble wondered if this was symbolic of the Empire’s final defeat. Oh no. With speed, she deftly dismantled Darth’s thong and BJed his shlong. Grimble was so surprised, she nearly genuflected, and she wasn’t even Catholic.

And this certainly was live, real and bloody awful. Grimble wondered in which universe this was considered entertainment.

Convoluted images invaded her mind. This Star Wars adaptation was joined in her brain with the giant inflatable penis of Bar Alcatraz, Calella del Mar, from last summer. That was the sole bar representative of UK there but Benidorm was inundated with such novelties. She cancelled their Penthouse Ship apartment immediately and frantically google mapped the Costa Blanca hunting for an appropriate bolt hole. Bloody Benidorm and tawdry Torrevieja hogged all the sodding coastline it seemed. At one point, she wondered if she could convince G that a city break in the uninspiring port of Alicante could work. Suddenly, and without warning, she found it: Calpe. It was a good hour and twenty minutes from the airport and independent travelling meant getting to Benidorm and then tramming it to Calpe, but it looked the part.

It was Grimble’s lucky trip planning night as she found a colossus of a hotel quite literally. Twenty Nine floors and every room a suite. It was aptly and easily titled Suitopia and, given the facilities, a bargain at £400 for the week. Even more ridiculous, airport transport was included in the price. It was shown to G and booked immediately and the madness that had lead them dangerously close to Benidorm was over.

Now they were comfortably seated on the mini bus transfer with three civilised Dutch ladies wending their way up the motorway knowing it was the right choice. If nothing else, the flight had confirmed it. Birmingham Airport had presented itself as half term hell. They’d paid the £5 extra each to fast track customs and the mass of noisy Northern humanity which had traumatised Grimble. Even as they parked the car, in sub zero UK temperatures, there was a nutter from Blackburn (his Blackburn T-shirt and intonation gave him away), travelling to some resort in Egypt, already attired in shorts and sandals. He was shivering so dramatically that, in a desperate attempt to ward off hypothermia, his family had wrapped him in a lurid tartan patterned beach towel. He now looked like he was sporting a velour kilt and even more ridiculous than before. G, who thought he’d seen most things, having family in Essex, was lost for words. Grimble just felt an overwhelming urge to apologise to him for the North.

The plane was rammed and they wiled away the twenty minutes of boarding playing Benidorm: Torrevieja: Calpe, and identified who was heading where. They based their judgements on: attire, noise levels and inebriation. It didn’t surprise them that they were now sat on a minibus with three Dutch ladies with no one English in sight. In fact, Jet2 politely, but clearly, announced that getting pissed on board was not tolerated and the only alcohol to be consumed was their own sales. Given the cost of a drink, that effectively sobered up the whole plane.

Calpe and the promise of a luxury hotel was drawing near. They’d passed the high rises of Benidorm and they could just see the rock that marked their chosen resort jutting into an azure Mediterranean Sea. They were back, they were here, and they were happy.