( This is the nearest we could manage to a joint blog......Annie's comments are in blue, mine in black, and be warned....part 2 is currently in preparation )
This trip has been long awaited. (And eagerly anticipated.) Annie and I, having known each other for about 20 years, have become close since I started to follow her blog about moving from England to Spain. (After we’d bumped into each other in Kingsgate Car Park one day ...and suddenly discovered how easy it was to talk to each other. I could have stayed chatting there until we were asked to leave!) Then, she persuaded me to start blogging nearly 2 years ago, and our friendship has developed. As her life in Spain progressed, moving from place to place until she and her family finally found their chosen spot, near Alcala la Real, I have ended up living partly in England and partly in France.
So…..this long awaited excursion south, from my French home in the Minervois, has finally happened. At one stage we talked about getting together in Barcelona, or having a girls’ weekend somewhere we could both get to easily. However, with me being ill for best part of the last year, those plans were put on hold. (I think ‘best part’ is perhaps not quite the right term, Janice! The worst part of the year would be more appropriate… and thank goodness it’s over. ) (As you mention Barcelona isn’t it - or wouldn’t it be - still a wonderful venue for a meet up one day - maybe with a few other blogging friends..?)
My husband Mark, said he would be happy to take me to see Annie, so we started to plan a short visit for this autumn. (Mark really is part saint!)
We combined it with visiting another friend and her family, who live just north of Castellon in Benicassim. ( My blog about this part of the trip has already been published).
What can I say ? We drove 2,500 kms ( well, I drove about 60kms…..Mark drove the rest), and had an amazing time.
Tour guide Annie refused to let us find the guest house on our own. Her view was that even with the SAT-NAV, we would fail to find it. I am so glad she met us in town, in order to take us up to Sam and Dave’s guest house. It was at the top of impossibly steep and narrow roads, at the other end of town to the incredible fortress which dominates Alcala la Real. How people walk up to their homes, I have no idea. Annie said that there are often people with broken bones to be seen wandering the Alcala streets in the winter when things get a little slippery. I can believe it. (Actually Janice, it was a thinly disguised ruse to make sure I could meet you as soon as possible - and to share in that view you describe in the next paragraph…)
|Annie, emerging from our precariously parked car, after she had directed us through Alcala's narrow steep streets.|
However, the view from Sam and Dave’s terrace was amazing. After a pretty long and tiring drive from Benicassim, we were ready just to sit, chat, have a glass of wine and watch the light fade over La Mota. It was an excellent start to our visit to see Annie.
|Annie, with us, on Sam and Dave's terrace|
The next day, Annie met us and began her personalised tour of Alcala la Real. I know she had struggled to find the perfect house in which to finally settle……but I did not realise quite how many Alcala homes she had viewed in her quest. Dozens of houses were pointed out, as having been potentials at various stages. Some were no hopers because there was no garage/parking space/light/outside space, or there were not enough rooms, or as in one case, the children were so horrified by the steepness of the street that it had to be abandoned as having any potential at all.
|Mark, with our very special tour guide|
We explored one of Alcala’s churches….the posh one, apparently. Behind the altar was the most spectacular golden shrine I have ever seen. Along each wall were various life size madonnas and other saints. Some of them are taken out of the church for various processions during the year. We came across our first weeping virgin, our lady of sorrows, and watched the local women who must spend hours in the church each day, cleaning, polishing, arranging flowers and of course, praying.
|Forteza de la Mota, dominating all views of Alcala la Real|
Then Annie took us to La Mota. The words on the tourist information leaflet about the fortress are
“pasea, descubre y cuentalo”, meaning stroll, discover and tell.
|La Mota, with Annie's pine forest, where Darwin has been taken for many walks.|
I understand Annie’s passion for this amazing place, and it does need to be walked around and discovered and then shared with others. I loved it. (I SO enjoyed seeing it all again through your eyes too.)
|Annie and I nattering away.....which we did quite a bit of ! Captured by Mark who had wandered off up one of the towers.|
There are Neolithic and bronze age remains at the site, and of course, the Romans were there too. However, the majesty and power of the hill site were properly realised during the 12th and 13th centuries under Islamic rule. The remains of the town within its outerwalls reminded me a little of Carcassonne. There is evidence of the butchers, the pharmacy, of people’s homes as well as that of the military and defensive purpose of the actual fortress.
Annie loves every stone of the place, and easily transmitted it to us. Her grasp of what happened and when was a little more vague. It was pretty easy to forgive her though. Her overwhelming passion for this beautiful place was very powerful.
Actually, I’ve always been a historian more interested in why something happened than when it did, but her “ oh it was ages ago” or “ a long time ago Janice”……meant I needed to look things up a bit, so I at least had some idea of when the Christian arrived and when various sieges took place. (I’d forgotten I had two historians in tow...dates were never my strong point. I found it interesting to be asked ‘when, exactly’ and ‘what happened before this?’...but obviously hadn’t a clue about any of it. I shall endeavour to find out and remember for future visitors - but I suspect they won’t need quite so much detail!)
It seems that the Moslems were losing to the Christians, in Alcala at around about the same time as Christian crusaders were claiming land all over the place from French landowners who protected the Cathars further north.
The ruined, and now partly restored abbey within the fortified town was beautiful. Evidence of Romans, Wisigoths, Moslems and Christians can be found. A well produced film shown in the cavernous ruined abbey showed some of the changes that had happened over the centuries, and showed dear old Napoleon, personally lighting the match that burned the place to the ground. (And I did learn some things I didn’t know before even though I’ve seen this particular film three times already...the problem is that I tend to get all emotional at the end as the music swells and the film shows all the best bits of the town...I forget the detail then in the great swell of pride and amazement that rises up in me…)
|The stunning interior of the restored abbey building, destroyed by Napoleon, where the film show took place.|
I could go on…..about Alcala la Real, and about Annie…..but I intend to blog about Annie in her home village of Villalobos, as part 2 of this adventure. So, I will just add a few photos to our text, and promise a bit more of our adventures in my/ our next blog. (Looking forward to seeing the photos - and chipping in where I can!)
|la Iglesia Mayor Abacial, with evidence of the town outside.....homes from the 16th century.|