Archive for October, 2010

Going Underground

October 2, 2010

I’m in the process of updating the information in my guidebooks, Inland Trips from the Costa Blanca, and Small Hotels and Inns of Eastern Spain, which means that I’m spending a fair bit of time on the road. A few weeks ago I was reviewing a route that goes through eastern Valencia, and calls at the Santuario Cueva Santa, which is a chapel in a cave 20 metres underground. It’s a couple of years since I’ve been there, so I thought I’d update the photos.

The sanctuary is dedicated to the Virgin of the Holy Cave, known as the White Dove, and, unsurprisingly, she is the patron saint of Spanish speleologists (cavers). The whole thing is built around, both spiritually and structurally, a small bas-relief stucco image about 20 centimetres high that’s housed in a lovely Doric-style temple built in the cave, where the image now sits, surrounded by jade and gold. The stairs down into the cave are lined with tile votive plaques giving thanks for prayers answered and ailments miraculously cured.

Being a cave, it’s pretty damp, but it’s said that if a drop of water lands on you from the ceiling and you rub it over the part of your body that’s ailing, you will be cured. Drops taken from the puddles on the floor will also work but without the same efficacy. You’ll also be cured if you hear the tinkling of a bell when visiting the cave by night, which will be a bit difficult as it’s only open during daylight hours.

My arrival was one of those remarkable moments of miss-timing. I’d driven there specifically to take photos, and not another living sole or a car on the car park were to be seen. But just as I began to go down the stairs the cleaner arrived to do the weekly full dust and polish.

I sat on a cold and damp metal bench waiting for her to have a quick flick around with the duster, but no…she’s going to do a proper job. All the bouquets in their vases are taken out, alter cloths are removed and candles taken down from the holders.

I sat patiently in my shorts and T-shirt, listening to the drips hitting the puddles at my feet as the chill raised goose bumps on my arms. After fifteen minutes of watching Mrs. Mop do a thorough top-to-bottom of the whole fancy chapel, giving a little nod of adulation to the Virgin each time she passed, I decided that I’ll not bother. Nothing had changed since my last revision a couple of years ago, and I sincerely doubt anything will change in the next two years till I’m due back around again.

I put my damp camera back into its bag and re-entered the land of the living and a beautifully sunny day.

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, , and Spain Uncovered


Mr Greenfingers

October 1, 2010

By the very nature of city life, if you want to enjoy a bit of greenery more than a couple of dangling geraniums and the odd cacti, you have to visit a formal garden or – in the case of Valencia – the dried up riverbed that now sports a whole series of horticultural endeavours. 

Having been forced to spend childhood Saturday mornings grubbing weeds out of my father’s enormous veg patch, I abandoned the idea of life in the greenfinger trade, but not to the extent that I can live without a few plants around to allow me to get my fingernails dirty and feel like a real son of the soil, when most of the time those fingers are banging away at a computer keyboard. 

When I lived in Manchester I had a wonderful roof garden where I could sunbathe in the altogether without being overlooked. (I can’t guarantee I was never seen but I’m pretty sure that those who did get a glimpse of the beached whale wouldn’t have come back for seconds!) It was right below the flight path to Manchester airport, but I was never able to spot my little green patch whenever I flew into the city. 

My first attempt at greenery in Spain was the Hanging Gardens of Villajoyosa, much appreciated by the locals but eventually so full that I could only water the plants from a distance, which thoroughly pissed off the punters in the patio of the bar below if I missed. A friend once asked if I wanted some pot plants because the light on my terrace was so good and my fingers a verdant shade of green. There was I thinking of a few clematis or a nice jasmine when what he meant was pot plants – marijuana! As I lived opposite an emergency hospital that had police coming and going at every hour of the day, and with that particular pot plant having a very distinctive leaf, I declined. 

One of my criteria when I moved to Valencia was that I must have a terrace of some description as home for some of the more unusual plants that I’d collected, among which was a five metre palm tree I’d found abandoned on the streets of Alicante. 

I rescue plants from the street, swap cuttings with all and sundry, and I’m happy to give a good home to the plants of any friends who are moving on. Now my mini garden is about to overwhelm the space that once seemed to offer so much opportunity for greenfingered dalliance. 

But it’s not only me who enjoys it. Señora Ruiz, the pensioner who lives on the floor above absolutely dotes on it. Many’s the time I’ll be out there doing a bit of deadheading and I’ll hear a voice from above saying, “Señor Derek, I hope you don’t mind me saying so but I think the lestilocrimfalmaldia in the corner is looking a bit jaded and could do with a bit of a feed. Personally I’d recommend duck’s blood with added amonito salvate and with just a touch of decomposted clorofilia, but of course that’s only a suggestion. I’m sure you have your own preferred remedy. The English usually do.” For gardeners, please don’t rush to your ‘Everything you should know about gardening but don’t understand the Latin’ book. Lestilocrimfalmaldia, amonito salvate and clorofilia don’t exist – at least I don’t think they do – and whilst duck’s blood almost certainly does it probably departs this world with the duck’s carcass and not as a soil nutrient. I made them up because I don’t have the slightest idea of plant names or what you put on them. I work on the premise of ‘that big green thing in the corner will look lovely in a pot with the little speckly whotsit with the floppy leaves’. I have a son who is a professional gardener and landscape designer who admits that I have a real crap knowledge of horticultural terminology – but boy, can I make the little buggers grow!

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, , and Spain Uncovered

Dedicated followers of fashion

October 1, 2010

I was reading a letter in a local newspaper a while ago about the Brit’s appalling ability to deal with summer fashion, whether it’s Hawiian shirt or Speedos barely containing anything other than the family jewels. And I’m not keen, either, on seeing a pair calf-length cotton-mix showing below the straps of sandals, but, you see, in this tasty little fashion style we Brits are just dedicated followers of fashion.

The letter ended by asking, in a rhetorical way, if anyone in the history of fashion has ever pulled off the sandal sock combo. Yes, they have, although it was more through necessity than any thought of what was a la mode at the time. And who’s to blame?…..Those terrible fashion fops, the Italians. Or at least in the days when they were known as Romans. Apparently the northern winters were too severe for their poor southern tootsies, so they wore socks with their open-toed hobnailed sandals. We know this partly because of a tablet found at Vindolanda on the Roman wall, which has a message, presumably from some mum or wife, far away in the sun, saying, “I have sent you … pairs of socks from Sattua, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants”

What would we do without the ladies?

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, , and Spain Uncovered