Friday, May 25, 2018

Meeting spanish family

Sasha is half Spanish through her dad.  Her extended family on that side still lives in Spain and she grew up with periodic family visits to see them.  The first time I met Sasha was the day before she flew out to Spain for a visit and it must've been my extremely charming and witty conversation online while she was away that led her to believe that seeing me when she got back was a good idea....
So it comes as no surprise that after a couple years together and with us finally starting to travel we have the following conversation:
Sasha: "I want to see my family in Spain again. My dad is going back to visit, we can stay with them and you can meet the family."
Ammon: "Um...."
Sasha: "It'll be fun.  Most of them don't speak English but they are nice."
Ammon: "Um....."
Sasha: "Oh, and my grandpa is really scary and will probably yell at you."
Ammon: "Um...."
Sasha: "But we'll have to pack more because we can't be sketchy backpackers in front of them. We should probably have a change of clothes this time."
Ammon: "Um.....Like a suitcase trip?"
Sasha: "Ya"
Ammon: "Um...."

Despite these intimidating, nay, panic-inducing conditions, we set about planning for another month away.  I did my best to hijack the trip with my own agenda and a suitable compromise was reached.  In late April 2016, only 2 months after Cuba we were back on a plane and headed to..... Holland?
It was a family visit after all so why not make a quick stop to see Savannah & Co. for a couple days?  We played the role of AirBnB guests and gave Sasha the whirlwind tour of Amsterdam, windmills and some of the cute smaller villages and fields on a little road trip to the country's lowest point (you couldn't tell) and largest steam pumping station (a Unesco site). We just missed the ideal time for all the tulips but were still able to see a few colourful fields scattered about the countryside.

 Dutch beaches are huge but still chilly in April
The Unesco-listed steam pumping station

An enjoyable couple of days there passed quickly and then it was a quick flight down to meet up with her family in Benidorm, Spain.  I didn't know anything about Benidorm but it turns out that probably everyone in Europe knows of it.  It is a major package tourist center for beach-seeking northern Europeans, especially the British.  The official population is less than that of Prince George, but it feels much, much bigger as it has to support millions of tourists annually.  Apparently it has the most skyscrapers per capita in the world, including the tallest hotel in Europe giving it a very non-European skyline.
It's a beautiful spot though with a large bay, divided into 2 by a rocky outcropping lending excellent views, lots of sand and at times what feels like half the retired population of the country.  The eastern part of town is very touristy with many British pubs and shops, while the western side, where we were, is more "local". 

One half of Benidorm

The other half of Benidorm

We stayed in an apartment a block from the beach with Sasha's dad and stepmom.  We were also within walking distance of where her aunt lives.  Most of the 2 weeks there are a food-coma blur.  The main meal is a late lunch, which means the first half of the day is for the planning, shopping and cooking for said meal.  We had one 5-hour lunch in a restaurant and the short ones still seemed to last a couple hours.  The only way to follow up a lunch of this magnitude is with a siesta of course.  Not that I'm complaining.  The food is great.  Lots of local ham, cheese, paella, potatoes.  It's not naturally inclined toward a vegan culture.
It wasn't all lazing around though.  We had a rental car and did small trips around the villages along the coast and in the mountains above benidorm, and spent some time in Alcoy where Sasha's grandfather and uncle's family live.  This is the small city where her dad grew up and despite being very close to the very touristic Benidorm, Alcoy has almost no foreign visitors.  It is old, authentic and we enjoyed hanging out for a couple of days. Her family is nice and I was welcomed with open arms.  Phew!  None of them really spoke any English so for the most part I just tried to stay out of the way and be the trophy boyfriend...

A palm garden in Elche

View at Guadalest

We timed our visit to Alcoy to see its biggest festival of the year, Moros y Cristianos.  It is part of their historical heritage but it seems a bit politically incorrect to have such a big event celebrating the reconquest of Spain from the Muslim Moors.  This festival is celebrated in many other parts of Spain and even in parts of South America and even a version in the Philippines, though Alcoy's is considered the best.  It is a huge, multi-day affair with the centre of town getting decorated and shut down for hours of music and reenactment parades with thousands of people in beautiful medieval Christian or Moorish costume.  I've never seen so much confetti thrown in my life either.  The final day is all about a mock battle in which the Moors are defeated, which takes place around a central "castle" in the square and the constant firing of old arquebus guns.  It was deafening and I don't understand how they didn't blow out all the windows in the centre from the noise.  It was really cool and the festival attracts thousands of visitors from all over Spain, but it is definitely off the foreign tourist radar.

After about 2 weeks in the area, Sasha and I made our break and jumped on a bus to Granada for a quick trip to Andalusia.