“You? YOU are going to Alicante?” My friends continued to interrogate me in disbelief. “You do realise it’s full of retired British couples with faces so sunburnt you’d think they’d just finished running there from Scotland?”
Whilst I eagerly dismissed such comments, I had never been to Alicante before and thus found it difficult to supress completely the inkling that my friends could in fact be right. Being a Costa Blanca city merely an hour away from the infamous Benidorm, was I being unrealistic in my hopes that it would be as charming and unspoilt as I was imagining? After being herded onto my £21.99 Ryanair flight, I squeezed myself into a tiny seat between two passengers. With a plump middle-aged Brit’ in a sunhat on my left, taking up so much space that I virtually popped straight back out of my seat and onto his knee, and a perfectly bronzed Española deeply engaged in a book of José Espronceda’s poetry on my right, I could see quite clearly that my trip could go either way.
I stepped off the plane and into the warmth of a September’s sunset. Within half an hour I had descended from my €2 bus al centro and was hovering by the port wondering where to begin. Staring ahead at the typically overpriced restaurants drawing in tourists like moths to a flame, the still bustling seafront and a huge casino’s gaudy haze glistening in the dim red-tinted evening light, I decided to amble in the opposite direction in order to settle myself somewhere a little less cliché. Within sixty seconds I found myself wandering up La Rambla, bustling with people, shops and €8 dinner menus, but I still wasn’t satisfied…
I stopped to take out a map, reluctantly accepting to look like a true English tourist. It was at this moment that I was lured in by a distant rhythm of tapas dishes and glasses clinking, muddled with the continuous flurry of hearty Spanish laughter coming from a tiny cobbled side-street. I shot down to the end of the street faster than I could say ‘una cerveza por favor’ and eventually found myself in the centre of El Barrio, in the midst of a maze of tiny streets heaving with the city’s locals and the university’s students, all enjoying an evening of tapas and sangria for €1.50 a round. With an uplifting hum of Latino music seeping through my every thought, I ambled down each street and gradually up the meandering calles pequenitos, full of old-fashioned, pastel-coloured, tiny terraced casitas, leading up to the mountain on which the city’s castle, Castillo Santa Barbara proudly looks over the rest of the city. Under the deadly influence of music and moonlight, amongst wooden stools and stone-lined lanes, colourful cuisine and moustached men, I lost myself in the old town; a central part of an otherwise touristic city, which so remarkably sung out authenticity and felicidad. I could have stayed forever.