The Ballards - Spain Murcia


The South Eastern coast of Spain is split up in to "Costas", and the terms "Costa Blanca", "Costa Brava" and "Costa del Sol" have been long established in the English vocabulary as shorthand for downmarket, cheapo, reliably sunny holidays that are not too foreign; so lots of lager, fish 'n chips and sweaty, overweight, pasty-faced Northerners getting sunburned, drunk, laid, or all three on a beach or around a swimming pool.

During summer 2009 we went to see the Costa Blanca: organising a villa in an "Urbanisacion" near Torrevieja we booked cheap Ryanair flights from Bristol. Say what you will about Ryanair, they do exactly what it says on the tin. We got 4 people to and from Alicante for £500 in peak season.

Bristol Lulsgate Airport: excellent facilities, lousy communications. Take your pick of "sit in a traffic jam in the middle of Bristol" or "go 40 miles further down the M5 then sit in a jam". For Goodness sake, someone either extend the M32 down there or build a dual-carriageway in from the M5, please?
Or better still, use Bristol Filton: that under-used, privately-owned expanse of tarmac nearer, much nearer, to Bristol City Centre. Lulsgate smacks of a political project that has suffered from insufficient follow-through: it's too far from Bristol, the roads are dreadful and the runway is too short. However, to their credit you can fly a PA-28 in there! One more interesting place to visit, then....

EasyJet deposited us neatly and efficiently at Alicante Airport (there's a C172 on the ramp, it can't be all that grand), and soon we were in our Seat hire car headed South for Torrevieja.
We had been given peculiar directions that appeared to have us exiting the autopista then crossing over it at the next junction... until we checked it out on Google Earth and realised there was a toll booth between the two junctions. French autoroutes are very carefully designed to prevent toll-dodging but the Spaniards haven't quite caught on yet, and when we arrived at the requisite junction it seemed the world and his wife were using the toll bypass route.....

And we ended up in San Miguel de Salinas, which.

Spanish shops are weird: many of them don't have signs outside, or any indication of what they are or when they will be open. And they open at strange times: some observe a siesta, but may don't. San Miguel has a chemist/hardware store on the main street run, in a slightly surreal twist, by chinese; and a huge English centre for the ex-pats


Ex-pats Brits are big here. Most of the housing stock built in the last 30 years, extending over huge tracts of the sparsely-watered countryside, is peopled entirely by year-round or holidaying Brits. The outward flow of Capital from the UK must be simply massive. And they nearly all live in "urbanisacions", or "ghettos". Upmarket soulless holiday homes on tiny plots with just enough garden for a plunge pool, chairs and a barbecue. These people have no contact whatsoever on a day-to-day basis with the indigneous Spaniards (who have a very low opinion indeed of these incomers), learn and know nothing of the local culture. An entire infrastructure has grown up around providing these entirely late-middle-aged couples with everything they might need. So building maintenance, UK satellite TV, cheap phone calls home, English beer and food, good chemists (old people need pills), efficient hospitals, English-speaking social events themed to suit the age-group (think ballroom dancing, golf, cocktail parties, showtunes with dancers)

The spaniards are to be found on the beaches in the evenings, just as the sun goes down, promenading before a late dinner