Our New Home on the Costa Blanca

Our hosts, Esmeralda and Raul showed us this apartment in Villajoyosa, just south of Benidorm.  Too bad we could not afford it.

Our hosts, Esmeralda and Raul showed us this apartment in Villajoyosa overlooking the marina, just south of Benidorm. Too bad we could not afford it.

Our greatest experiences in the countries we have visited have been the people we have met.  Spain has been no exception.  We were fortunate to have found a room to rent for our first month in Alicante with a welcoming couple, Raul and Esmeralda, which served as our base to search for an apartment.  After a few days decompressing and learning the terrain, our apartment search began in earnest.

Benidorm is a lovely spot overrun by expats.  Most of the high rise buildings are apartments.

Benidorm is a lovely spot overrun by expats. Most of the high rise buildings are apartments.

Benidorm, about 30 miles north of Alicante, is one of the coast cities that has been taken over by the British, either on holidays or as expats.  We liked the city well enough, and there is just as much English spoken as there is Spanish.  However, we became disillusioned with the housing options.  They were either above our budget or just plain dumpy.   

Sensing our frustration, Esmeralda phoned her sister in Torrevieja, about 30 miles south of Alicante, who had an apartment to show us.  We knew the moment we saw the apartment and the neighborhood that we were home!  A city of 100,000, Torrevieja is also a favorite British landing spot.  They have an English language cinema, an English weekly newspaper and several British pubs and restaurants.  An expat city like Torrevieja would not be our typical move.  However, it is pretty with lots of areas to walk and shop, and there are lots of places in and around the city to explore.

The view of the sea from the Castle of Santa Barbara

The view of the sea from the Castle of Santa Barbara

Having found a place to live freed us up to explore a bit more.  We took the oceanfront elevator 500 feet up to the hilltop Castle of Santa Barbara, about the same height as the ride up Seattle’s Space Needle.  However, the elevator shaft was cut through solid rock, so there were no views until we got to the top.  Although artifacts pre-dating Roman times have been found on the slopes of Mount Benacantil, the fortress was established in the 9th century, a time of Arabic Muslim control.  The castle was taken by Castilian forces on December 4, 1248.  That was the feast day honoring Saint Barbara, patron saint of the military, and that is how the castle came to be known.

A 450 year old church, the Cathedral of St. Nicholas is picturesque and beautiful inside.

A 450 year old church, the Cathedral of St. Nicholas is picturesque and beautiful inside.

I visited the Museum of Archeology, an award-winning museum that captures the evolution of the Alicante area from pre-historic times up to the 20th century.  The ancient Roman city of Lucentum is only a mile or so from the museum, so there are plentiful artifacts depicting the Roman Era. 

Further exploration has taken us to The Explanade, the city’s colorful mosaic pedestrian walkway along the waterfront.  We explored the nearby suburb of San Vicente del Raspeig, Alicante’s university district.  We discovered the Mercado Central and the downtown walking and shopping areas.  We took in the Museo de Taurinos, the Bullfight Museum, which is operated by the City of Alicante and free to the public.  We visited the 17th century Cathedral of Saint Nicholas on the ABC tour (the Another Blessed Cathedral tour for newer readers).  We have also visited the Museum of Chocolate, shopped at the Open Market, and we have eaten tapas, empañadas and seafood paella.

Bullfighting still takes place in Alicante.  The city runs a bullfighter school for young aspiring bullfighters.

Bullfighting still takes place in Alicante. The city runs a bullfighter school for young aspiring bullfighters.

The Valor Chocolate Company is still family owned.  They produce a variety of chocolates including these designer goodies.  The ones in front use various liqueurs.  The quality compares with the best we have tasted.

The Valor Chocolate Company is still family owned. They produce a variety of chocolates including these designer goodies. The ones in front use various liqueurs. The quality compares with the best we have tasted.

There is much more we can see and do in and around Alicante.  Unfortunately, our sightseeing was cut short when Florence caught the flu.  Other than catching the flu, our first month in Spain has been pleasant by every account. 

All photos copyrighted by Florence Lince

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Playing Tourist in Our Own Country

The Getty Villa is modeled after the country home of a Roman aristocrat.

The Getty Villa is modeled after the country home of a Roman aristocrat.

Our imminent trip abroad will take us to faraway lands and keep us on foreign soil for what may be years. Before we depart we are taking in sights that are well worth our time, including some trendy vegan restaurants. Our most recent outing was a visit to the Getty Villa in the stylish Pacific Palisades community nestled between Malibu and Santa Monica, California.

Mike in the East Garden of the Getty Villa

Mike in the East Garden of the Getty Villa

Billionaire oil tycoon, J. Paul Getty, was an enthusiastic patron of art and an avid collector particularly of Greek and Roman antiquities. In 1954, he opened the original J. Paul Getty Museum out of his home adjacent to the current villa. By 1968 Getty had decided to build a villa modeled after the Roman country villa, the Villa dei Papiri, believed to have belonged to Julius Caesar’s father-in-law. The Villa dei Papiri, located in ancient Herculaneum, like Pompeii, was buried under 100 feet of volcanic rock and ash from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79. After partial archeological excavation of the villa, some papyrus scrolls were found depicting the layout of the original villa, thus the name Villa dei Papiri.

The Outer Peristyle provides gardens and shaded walkways for relaxing conversation and contemplation.

The Outer Peristyle provides gardens and shaded walkways for relaxing conversation and contemplation.

The Getty Villa underwent a decade-long renovation and reopened to the public in 2006. The first thing we notice as we approach the villa from the parking garage is that no expense was spared in providing a realistic depiction of Roman luxury. There are reflecting ponds, fountains, arbors, gardens, and statues throughout the villa in addition to a café, bookstore and amphitheater. Visitors are also given access to several balconies offering dramatic views of the grounds and out to the open ocean.

Detailed mosaics typically decorated the floors of Roman villas.

Detailed mosaics typically decorated the floors of Roman villas.

Getty’s art collection is recognized as one of the finest private collections in the world. There is a separate Getty Museum in Los Angeles for displaying artworks. The Villa is dedicated specifically to Greek and Roman antiquities. Museums throughout the world trade exhibits with the Getty Villa and other museums of note.

The special exhibit from the Museum of Catania on display during our visit was Sicily: Art and Invention between Greece and Rome. It would take a student of art history to adequately describe the sculptures, ceramics, jewelry and fine metalwork on display. Our photographs provide a sample of what we were able to view. Suffice it to say our trip to Sicily last year gave us a special appreciation for the intermingled histories of Greece and Rome.

The Trojan War is portrayed around this sarcophagus. The faces on top are left unfinished until the deceased are known.

The Trojan War is portrayed around this sarcophagus. The faces on top are left unfinished until the deceased are known.

I heartily recommend a half day tour of the Getty Villa. The only charge for admission is $15 for parking. An advance, timed ticket is required at the Villa. Check their website for details. No reservation is required to visit The Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and if you find time to visit both sites on the same day the parking fee is valid for both sites.

J. Paul Getty was living in London during construction of the Villa which opened in 1974. Getty died in 1976 without ever having seen it.