After Barcelona, we took a train to the southeastern coastal town of Alicante. Alicante is a town of approximately 335,000, with an additional density of European tourists. Is it hard to see why people want to visit here from the picture above? Situated on the Mediterranean, the sea shines like a turquoise gem, the sand is warm and pale, the atmosphere genuinely relaxed, and the food high quality. After being in the thick of Spain's major metropolises for several days, Alicante was a welcome change of pace.
If none of that makes you want to come to Alicante, consider Castillo de Santa Barbara. There is a giant hill (Mount Benacantil)--technically a hill, I would say 'mountain'--with a castle on top situated directly in the middle of everything. It is the craziest thing you'll ever see. You'll be walking down some random street and look down an alley to your left--BAM! Castle on a mountain! The first picture on this post was taken from atop Castillo de Santa Barbara. The views are flawless, breathtaking, and utterly addictive. I have lots of pictures I could post of the views, but I won't. I will say that being in a castle whose origins date to the 9th century while looking out upon the glorious white and red expanse of Alicante and the sparkling Mediterranean is one of the coolest things I've done so far.
Of course, after traveling, walking a 3/4 of a mile with baggage, and settling into our super sexy hotel (Hotel Eurostars Mediterránea Plaza--big rooms, GIANT marble bathrooms, french door balconies, worthwhile breakfast buffet, friendly service, cheap rates, all on a beautiful plaza), we were starving. Fortunately, the hotel has a cafe that runs pretty much all day long and offered cheap breakfast, tapas, bocadillos, pizza, desserts, and alcohol while you got to sit out on the plaza looking at a great view of Castillo de Santa Barbara. Definitely not a bad deal. Greg had some sort of sandwich that turned out to be enormous, and I had a Tortilla Espanola--a thick potato-and-cheese 'omelet.'
I asked for an entire tapa instead of the smaller racion. It was only 5 or 6 euros and I was flippin' hungry. Our waiter made me feel very self-conscious about this decision, even going so far as to bring one out after I'd ordered and say, "You want THIS SIZE?" As I've mentioned before, my public speaking anxiety/spanish speaking anxiety kicked in and I got quite flustered. I stuck to my guns and got the whole thing. Even though it was not that big in theory, I'm thinking it probably was over 2 pounds of sheer potatoes and eggs. While it was very tasty, I needed Greg to pitch in and help me out to save face in front of the waiter. We got close, anyway. I won't lie to you...I avoided eye contact with the waiter the rest of the time we were there--which was often, since he worked right next to the entrance of the hotel, and always seemed to be there.
Can you guess what happened next? I bet you can. We went out for beer on a nearby plaza! Surprising, I know. But, we wanted to try Cruzcampo beer, and even though there were signs for it all around Madrid and Barcelona, we never had the opportunity to order it until Alicante.
Naturally, we were given some olives. I, of course, was taken with this adorable star-bellied olive.
In our wanderings around town, we found the most fabulous Gelato place--Livanti. So fabulous, in fact, that we returned there the next night.
Later on, we headed out to La Taberna Del Gourmet, which I'd read about in advance (and I read somewhere that it had won the distinction of "Best Tapas in Spain"--who knows how true that is), and was conveniently located around the corner from our hotel. What I did know is that you could purchase a variety of tapas menus (I'm talking like 10 fancy-ass tapas) for 50 euros per person. Not wanting to spend 100 euros on a dinner, we opted for less "fancy schmancy" and more "cheap, but still delicious."
I ordered a salad with rocket and parmesan. It was enormous. Big enough for Greg to eat some, too...which was good, because his 'entree' was not very filling on its own. Fortunately, in addition to the nuts/olives plate, they brought the obligatory bread basket AND the most amazing little oily, spicy sausages. The 'free' stuff was almost a meal on its own. ;)
Greg ordered yellowfin tuna in a citrus-soy sauce. The English menu gave no indication that it was sashimi. It's a good thing that Greg likes sashimi.....this would not have made me happy in the slightest. On a funny side note, I just checked their Spanish menu...it definitely notes "crudo"--or, raw. Funny trick to play on the English speakers. ;)
I was told by my friend Carol that I *had* to try Jamon Iberico. I believe it went along the lines of "PROMISE ME! PROMISE YOU WILL TRY JAMON IBERICO!!" So, I ordered a Pan de Cristal - Jamon Iberico con Tomate. It's an open-faced toasted sandwich with the most amazingly light, crisp bread. The name "Crystal Bread" is really fitting...it seems like the bread crumbs explode in your mouth like champagne bubbles. The Jamon Iberico was, of course, delicious...especially when paired with this bread, olive oil, and warm tomato.
The next day, prior to our epic travel up and around Castillo de Santa Barbara, we stopped by Alicante's absolutely amazing, two-story covered market. If you read my post about Barcelona, you'll know that I was disappointed about not finding animal heads as promised by others. WELL. Alicante did not disappoint in this regard. Their entire top floor is dedicated to meat, and the bulk of the lower level to seafood. Unlike Barcelona's market, they had all sorts of undesirables just hanging out for everyone to see. It was awesome and horrifying. One of the things that I did NOT take pictures of (luckily for you, and for my friends and family) were the many skinned rabbits. Some were whole and skinned, some were mostly skinned but with fuzzy feet still left on, and some were skinned and halved horizontally like a science project (and for what purpose, really??).
If you are squeamish about gross animal heads,
SCROLL PAST QUICKLY NOW!
SCROLL PAST QUICKLY NOW!
I walked around a corner and ran into this enormous swordfish head sitting next to its giant body. I may have yelled, "HOLY SHIT!" and grabbed my camera, attracting the attention of many a Spanish shopper.
This is the worst one, I promise. I took it solely because my brother-in-law told me to eat "Cap Xai" while in Spain--which are these lamb heads. Very ghoulish with the eyes and teeth still in there and all.
This has nothing to do with heads. It just made my little Wisconsin meat & cheese-heart go pitter-pat.
Thoroughly sated with our fill of market heads, we headed off for a tiring and sunburning climb up to Castillo de Santa Barbara. Because I already posted pictures above from that, let's take a brief break and see another pretty picture of the ocean. Ahhhh.....yeah....that's the stuff.
Upon our return from Mount Awesomeness, we had the Menu del Dia at an Italian restaurant, Sale y Pepe. We really shot ourselves in the foot during our trip by not eating the Menu del Dia at places more often. It was 10 euros for a pizza (and I'm not talking "individual sized" here, but a big pizza), salad, beverage, and coffee. It was soooo satisfying to pay so little and eat so much. The food was delicious--especially the pizza. We had the same meal... pizza bianca with roasted squash and onions. Oh, my god.
Gianduja chocolate gelato.
Our dinner that night was not noteworthy, so no photos there. When we arrived in Madrid the first day, we had to buy train tickets from Alicante to Madrid while at the airport. The train ticket guy did not speak English, and Greg did an admirable job getting that taken care of despite the language barrier. One thing that was difficult to get across to us was that there was a sale on tickets the day we were returning to Madrid, and first class tickets cost the same as second class. SO, long story short, we got the fancy treatment on our 3 hour train ride back to Madrid. They give you so many beverages and snacks that 3 hours seemed like 1. It was great. Case in point, my own little bottle of 2007 Rioja that filled an airplane-sized glass twice. Spain likes you to get drunk, and I am okay with that.
She's my kind of town, Alicante is.