Monday, July 16, 2012

Visiting Alicante, Spain

When I started this blog I wanted to write about my travels, both as they happened (or shortly after returning home) and as trips down memory lane. The idea was for this to both be a travel journal for me, and a place to share my experiences with other people who would be interested in hearing about or visiting these places. The thing about only writing about travelling though, is that it doesn't include writing about one's own hometown! I've often pondered what to do about this... So when I saw the opportunity to ask a friend to write a guest post about her visit to Alicante, you can bet I jumped on it! Annette is a family friend from Minneapolis. She has known me since I was 6 months old, when we moved there from Panama. Long, long time ago! ;o)  She and her husband Tim were part of the adventurous travellers who accepted my parents' invitation to join them on the week's sailing in the Saronic Islands in Greece to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. They also joined in the visit to Athens and Crete and then came to Alicante for a week to enjoy our crazy holiday the Hogueras de San Juan! Here's Annette's tale of their visit to Alicante. Enjoy! :o)

Visiting Alicante, Spain                                                                         July 19 - 25, 2012
by Annette Gagliardi

As part of a larger vacation sailing the Aegean Sea and touring Crete, my husband & I spent the week of “Fogueres de Sant Joan” in Alicante (June 19 - 24, 2012). If you find yourself in Spain, Alicante is a wonderful place to see and to visit. We are lucky enough to have friends who allowed us to bunk with them, showed us the sights and did a fair amount of translation as my husband’s Spanish is non-existent and mine is deplorable. Our friends, Len & Paquita, are the ultimate hosts. Len organized our week on the sailboat, the Stressbuster, drove us around Crete and still had the generosity to want us in their home for the Fogueres week.

And what a festival the Fogueres de Sant Joan is! With fireworks at 2 pm each day, statues erected around the city over the several days of the festival, and a final night of fireworks and bonfires as each Hoguera is set ablaze in its neighborhood. 

The Festival:
setting up the "official" Hoguera in front of the Ayuntamiento
Hoguera Oficial Plaza del Ayuntamiento
Hoguera Alfonso el Sabio

Smoke from the Mascletà at Plaza de los Luceros
The Hogueras is Alicante’s answer to honoring their patron saint, St. John. The week has a variety of contests, one being the daily "Concurso de Mascletàs" at the Plaza de los Luceros. (Cris's note: a mascletà is 6 very loud minutes of firecrackers and fireworks going off in sequence) Each day a new fireworks team shows their stuff, gets scored and the winner gets a prize – or at least bragging rights. Spectators gather round, applaud and provide the appropriate ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’.  Several folks told me to keep my mouth open so the air is equalized inside and outside my eardrums. You don’t want to get a busted eardrum, after all. One of the days, a TV camera and announcer came over to us and asked us how we liked the festival. She chanted the traditional “A la llum de les fogueres and we responded with “S'abaniquen les palmeres! (trans: In the light of the fires, the palm trees fan themselves)

So, I had my 5 seconds of fame on Alicante television, with some incoherent responses to her very fast Spanish.

Along with fireworks mid-day, there are the Hogueras downtown and in all the neighborhoods of the city. Each structure is created (planted) and judged. There is one children’s and one adult Hoguera erected in each neighborhood. These are also judged. And then on the last night of the festival, June 24th to 25th, they are torched. So, we went around the town viewing the fireworks and ultimate blaze of several Hogueras, and joined the crowd chanting “Agua! Agua! Agua!” and getting hosed by the attending firefighters.  

Hoguera Santa Maria, burning.
Me & my husband Tim
Len, Tim and me, Gabbi, Cristina

There is also royalty amid the Hogueras. Yes, ladies from each neighborhood (Cris's note: each one a "Bellea" for their own Hoguera) vie for the crown: Bellea del Foc.  I personally met and had my picture taken with the tall beauty who was this year’s Bellea for the Hoguera Mercado Central (central market neighbourhood). She went around town with her own band and accompanying ladies and gents.
Tim & me with the Bellea from Mercado Central
her marching band, in the Central Market
Elena, Bellea del Foc 2012

The royalty attend the 2PM fireworks each day, and go around looking at each structure. And on the final night, the Bellea del Foc lights the fireworks at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento that end in the blazing of the Hogueras. (Cris's note: each Bellea lights the mèche that starts the fire in"her" Hoguera)

It all ends in ashes

Other attractions:
The beaches:
Alicante hosts several beaches along the Costa Blanca (both with or without suits) where the water stays shallow for quite a ways out and bathers play along the shore or swim out past the breakers to enjoy the warm  and salty Mediterranean Sea. 

The castle of Santa Barbara:

The Spanish Galleon in the harbour:
In the Alicante main harbor, sits a replica of the Spanish Galleon the Santisima Trinidad, which was launched in 1769 in the Cuban Navy yard. For 5 Euros apiece you can tour the ship and get a beverage. The deck, and below deck are set up with tables and chairs to accommodate those who wish to tour it. There are genuine artefacts from the late 1700’s to the early 1800’s on display  both below and on deck. This ship was was the biggest (208 ft long, 55 feet across, and 27 feet tall) and most armed (140 cannons) vessel around the world in its day. The ship &  its crew of 160 men captained by Baltasar Hidalgo Cisneros “The Great”, took part in decisive historical events as the flagship of the Spanish fleet during the American War of Independence. It was also part of the English Channel missions late in 1780 and helped capture an English convoy formed by fifty-five vessels.
The Santisima Trinidad was incorporated into the Mediterranean Squad and fought at the Espartel’s Cape. But, in 1805, the Santisima Trinidad met its demise during the Trafalgar Battle and was seized by the English. It sunk at the Cadiz South, on October of that year. We visited the accurate replica which took over two years, and more than 4 million Euros, to build. Check it out at
It's also a good place to sit and have a beverage. Len & Paquita & my husband.

The Novillada Picad (June 23, 2012)
(Cris's note: bullfighting takes place twice a year in Alicante: during the Hogueras, and for the feast of the Virgin around August 15th)
The featured matadors were: Jesús León, Daniel Palencia and Borja Alvarez, who was the Dubuta Con Picadores, accompanied by corresponding Torres. We witnessed the spectacle that is bullfighting in a quaint 5,000-person arena. First the band strutted around the area, playing a lively tune and paying tribute to the president; then it continued out of sight. Next the Torres – the Picadores & Matadores entered, promenaded toward the president and exited, along with their bull-disposal team.

The bull entered with some fanfare and charged around the arena. He spied the hot pink capes and charged several times. After a short game of tag with the cape-wielding Torres, the Picadores entered and stabbed the bull in the shoulder. They had the advantage because they were riding atop leather-armoured horses. Although, the second bull almost got the better of them, by head-butting the horse just behind the right flank and tipping it over – not once, but three times. So, the Torres distracted the bull while the attendants encouraged the horse to get back up!
After the horse-riding picadores leave, there are another two Picadores on foot that taunt the bull and place decorated short picks into the bull --two at a time. In the end the bull has six colored pics hanging from his shoulders. 

Next the Matador came out (he is the star bullfighter) and did the dance of death with the bull. His mission is to show his superiority to the bull. This he does by coming as close to the bull as possible using his red cape to taunt the bull. And then he did the thing I thought was quite foolish; he turned his back  to the bull and walked away. I was thinking, “What? Are you crazy? You just made that bull mad at you and now you turn your back? But of course, that is the point. He is superior to the bull. Last, the Matador –if he is very good—will end the dance with his sword through the bull from crown to heart. If he is not so good, he will have to spear the bull at the base of the neck, as it connects to the shoulders, once or twice again to finish the job.
Finally, the Matador strutted around the arena receiving accolades from the audience.  He received the bull’s ears (some prize, huh?) and flowers are tossed down from the stands.

After that, the next bull came out and the ritual was repeated. They slaughtered six bulls in the time it takes to watch a baseball game.  

The tram is new and works really well. It streamlines getting from place to place for very little money.  You can purchase a one trip ticket or buy a card that gives you more rides. 
The city’s roads are bigger and better than when I was in Alicante about 10 years ago, and the city itself is bigger. Also, the cars are bigger. I remember exclaiming over the small (Smart) cars that looked like tennis shoes. Now, there are many other kinds of cars, such as my own Toyota Corolla, and Hondas, VW’s etc.
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Muchas muchas GRACIAS to Annette for writing this for my blog, and I hope you all enjoyed her view of Alicante! Annette has a hub page where she frequently writes prose and poetry, and has also written a children's book called The Three Betty Goats Griff. Check them out! :o)


  1. I really enjoyed this post, especially the bull fight section. Interesting perspective to see your town through the eyes of someone else.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it Kim! The bullfighting part was interesting for me too as I've never been to one! And it is cool to see things through someone else's eyes! :o)

  2. An interesting post, I enjoy festivals like this but not bull fighting!

    1. I've never been interested in the bullfighting either. I have vague memories of my grandfather watching it on TV in the '80s (they don't televise it anymore) and me not wanting to be in the room for it...

  3. Yes. I was interested in what happens to the meat from six bulls and was told that the bulls are butchered and the meat given to charity. I am now wondering how much different Bull meat tastes, than cow or steer. Hmm.

    1. Maybe we should try and look up one of those charities and ask them if we can try a bite? :p

  4. Interesting post, Cris. Your hometown looks brilliant!


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