Mold, Processions, and Tow Trucks

Trip Start Apr 25, 2007
Trip End Oct 03, 2007

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

On the way to our next stop, Benissa, Dan and I stumbled upon a huge, outdoor Sunday market in Calpe, which was a town so full of Brits, Germans, and Dutch it rivaled Benalmadena. We wandered through part of the market, ate a newspaper cone full of churros for breakfast, and then escaped the Northern European madness to the coastal town of Benissa. The actual old town of Benissa was 30 km inland, so we drove back up into the hills to Benissa's central square where we got the key to our rental house from the owner of the optical shop. Back down the hairpin road to the coast again, and we found the house. When we opened the automatic gate and saw what it was, we looked at each other with wide eyes. The house was on an acre of land filled with pine trees and had a fantastic view over the other houses and of the ocean. There were benches, huge ceramic urns, incredible vegetation, and we smiled at our continued luck.
That was until we opened the door. The part of the house we were staying in turned out to be the basement, which looked and smelled like it hadn't been inhabited since Franco was in power. There was an old, peeling linoleum floor, décor that reminded me of the bad avocado/orange color palette so common in the US in 1965, and the curtains in the bedroom were in a heap on the floor. This is what we paid 70 (yes, 70) euros for? Were they insane? Since we had already paid, it was late, and we were verging on the low blood sugar uglies, we popped a cork on our bottle of wine and decided to take refuge in food. As usual, Dan saved the day, and we ended our evening enjoying the view from our table on the terrace and glad we hadn't decided to stay two nights in this moldy house!
The next day we returned the key and hastily drove straight to Valencia. Thinking we would have no problem finding an apartment to stay in (what is wrong with us???), we drove straight to our favorite lunch spot in Valencia, a paella counter in a booth on the edge of the central market. It was closed. In fact, all the outdoor booths were closed and empty, hopefully for renovation and not for any other reasons. Incredibly disappointed, we parked the car on the street in front of the market which we noticed was getting ready for some sort of parade or procession. When I asked some locals how long they thought we could park the car there, they told us confidently, "At least two hours!" An hour later, after wandering our favorite neighborhood, asking at all the hostels we knew and calling the owner of the apartment we had stayed in two years prior, we still had no place to stay. I casually thought we should just check on the car and......tow trucks!! Police and tow trucks were gathering around our rental car, the only one of two cars left parked on that street. I leapt like a gazelle and almost fell on my face over a rope barrier, but luckily our car had been spared. One minute later and it would have been gone.
Glad we had saved our little Peugeot from a horrible fate, we parked it on a quiet side street where no harm could come to it and went again to an internet place, where we booked a hotel for 60 euros. This was the Hotel Venecia, right in the center of Valencia, on the Plaza Ayuntamiento. Newly renovated, we had a small but nice room, with a bathtub and an incredible view from our balcony over the whole square. We were happy, even if it wasn't an apartment and we couldn't cook. Curious what all the hubub was about, we went down to the streets now lined with people and joined in.
The first thing we noticed was that everyone was incredibly somber. Not what we were used to from when we were in Valencia before, when every other day seemed to be a reason for fireworks, rockets, and general mayhem and celebration. This crowd was considerably older, very well dressed, and serious. When I asked what it was, someone said, "Corpus", with an all knowing nod of the head. Not being religious I asked Dan, who was technically Episcopalian, but as usual, any question I throw at him concerning religion got me an eye roll and a "How should I know?". So, we just sat down and watched. The first wagon we saw was a man throwing sprigs of some sort of bush (box wood?) at the crowd, sometimes right into their faces. Many people picked the sprigs up and kept them reverently. Dan stuck one behind my ear. Next came huge Paper Mache figures like I imagine during Las Fallas, and I was eagerly looking forward to them setting the figures ablaze, but no such luck. Next came various figures dressed like Romans, shepherds, women carrying the heads of beheaded corpses, men dressed as angels, men dressed as Tarzans, and men dancing around the maypole. Sometimes the various actors in the procession would receive an applause, sometimes a low grumbling or acknowledgment. All the while the old women lining the road fanned their fans and the old men fell asleep with their chins on their chests. I still have it in mind to figure out what it was all about, but at the time I happened to sit next to a Kiwi and his wife who were in town for the America's Cup, and so all we could talk about during the somber procession was sailing gossip.
The next morning we decided to head to the America's Cup port to see if I could find anyone I knew from my time in New Zealand, and......the car was gone from its safe little parking spot! *&^%)*&#$! This car was bad luck! 140 euros and a cab ride later we had retrieved the Peugeot from the tow lot and were depressed beyond belief. Nevertheless, we wandered around the port and I left notes for some of my friends, one of whom we eventually saw and had coffee with the next morning. Unfortunately, upon leaving the parking garage after having coffee, yes, you guessed it, we crashed the side of the car into a parking garage barrier........! We spent the afternoon in silence at the beach, vowing to never go near this car again. What happened to little Verdita, our first rental car that served us so well??!!
That night we strolled around Barrio Carmen, the area of the old town with restaurants, bars, and night clubs. We ended up at an "upscale" restaurant where the waiters cleared our plates before we were finished and the food was just ok. Strolling back to the hotel we decided that even though our time in Valencia had been a bit of a disaster, we still loved the city and wanted to come back again someday. Tomorrow we were on our way to Peniscola, the town of Papa Luna.
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