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Carnival in Alicante

Carnival in Alicante starts with a parade on Saturday before Ash Wednesday. It appeared to be mostly for the children who were dressed up in costumes although many of their parents were too. It seemed the focus was just to have fun!

There were a few other gatherings that I missed, but I did go to the final celebration on Ash Wednesday. My friend from England – Sal, and my Alicante friend -Pilar, went for some tapas and beer to fortify ourselves for the festivities. The fun does not start until around 10pm.

We started at the endpoint but with only a few people there we decided to go look for more fun. Just a few blocks away we ran into the parade. The celebration is called Entierro de la Sardina (Burial of the Sardine). The participants wore black costumes (to mourn the sardine), face paint, and there was a band playing music as we all paraded through the streets of the city center, gather more folks (like us) as they went along.

Close to midnight, we arrived back at the endpoint- Plaza Carmen in Casco Antigua-the oldest part of Alicante. The Sardina was removed from its throne and put in the dirt. There were readings about it and then they poked holes in it with what looked like knives. I assume this was so it would burn better. Suddenly it was lighted on fire and we watched it burn as participants with sparkler type things walked around it. It sounds crazy but it was a lot of fun!

When it was mostly ashes some folks jumped over it – one woman fell backwards into it but seemed unhurt- and then danced around it. Sal is there dancing in the last picture!

We made our way home, smokey and cold, but happy to have participated in this unusual festival. The explanation is that it is a parody of a burial procession. The burning of the sardine represents the end of past problems and vices, and society transforms with a new beginning.

Alicante – Random interesting sights

I walk everywhere. I do not have a car but there are many buses and a tram system. I like walking and need the exercise. Because of this, I see a lot of things that I might miss in a car.

These are metal plates in the sidewalk. I get the bike path one, there are bike paths on all streets and many are on the sidewalk so you need to watch where you are walking and not stray into the bike path. The other one is in the neighborhood of San Blas where I lived a few years ago and I do not know what it is. The white bridge is a pedestrian walkway from the city to the beach, which is right in the town. There is excellent infrastructure for those without a car.

There is art everywhere. The first photo is of art painted on the rocks and concrete supporting a very steep retaining wall and the second is on a wall in a neighborhood. Occasionally you see bright colored buildings but not like you do in Nicaragua. The tile bench is old and there are several of them outside the building in the last picture. These are built right by the harbor and bus station and are partially abandoned. I am guessing they were company built homes for workers but I don’t know.

I love the way they have everyday pieces and sculptures to decorate the buildings and public space. There are many gorgeous window displays near my home.

I live in the center which is the tourist area. Very amusing. The yellow street is a block from my home and is now a pedestrian street with play areas for the children – the mushrooms for example. The model of the man at the restaurant fooled me at first – I thought he was real!

Castile Santa Barbara is sometimes lighted with colors at night. It is pretty but I prefer the plain light as it shows it’s magnificent better in my opinion. The fence photo is of an area where neighbors feed the feral cats. It is in the city and fenced off. There do not seem to be any homeless dogs-only cats. It is hilly here and there are normal stairs or the easier back and forth stairs shown in the photo with the brown railings and trees. These are both taken in the oldest area of the city, just underneath the castle.

Some of the people who make a big difference

When you leave your home country and live in another culture there are a lot of highs and lows. Even though I have done this before and I now have a place to live, it would be so much more difficult without the people who support me. Here are some of them.

These are some of the people who have helped me with the logistics of living here – whether home repairs and services or personal services (my haircut).

My goal is to be conversational in Spanish and to that end, I participate in “intercambio” which is an informal language exchange. I started this by putting my information on a website 4 years ago and I have become friends with some of the people who responded. Here some of the folks who display unbelievable patience with me as I speak their language, and whom I try to help as they speak mine.

Here are some people with whom I have been speaking only English. I try not to associate frequently with English speakers so that I force myself to communicate in Spanish, but it is nice to take a break too.

And finally, here am I on my balcony and a friend of my friend-no language needed.

A few delicious foods

I have been fortunate to have lovely friends here in Alicante who treat me to some yummy food and drink. When I went looking for photos to show you, I realized I did not take many. Probably because I was enjoying it.

My friend Pilar recently made me a special dish called Gazpacho Manchego which I assumed was some type of the cold tomato soup we have in the US. It seemed odd in February as it is cold here (but sunny). Nope-it is a stew made of chicken and rabbit and served over special tortillas (tortas). She bought the tortillas in Caudete which is where she is from -about an hour from Alicante. Some of the tortas are torn up in the stew and the rest are laid in the dish and the stew is ladled on top. You can eat the soaked tortas when you have finished the stew – so delicious! And of course, we had something special for dessert-chocolate bizcocho (like a sponge cake) and fresh strawberries with whipped cream.

One of my other friends had a small gathering at her home with many kinds of awesome desserts and tea. So delicious and lots of Spanish practice for me.

I have had several other fabulous foods and coffee. I will try to be more diligent in taking photos before consuming!

Alicante City Neighborhoods

The main difference in neighborhoods in Alicante is that those in the city are not enclosed but open to all. You still have to have a key to enter a residential building but there is no fence around it. The apartment buildings in the center are usually less than 15 stories tall with only a couple of exceptions. You very rarely see a single family home. Below are photos from a walk around the city.

One awesome thing here is that public services are great. They clean the streets frequently and there are trash containers everywhere. It makes life so much nicer. And there are frequent buses and a tram to make travel easier as many people do not have a car (me).

Another concept I enjoy are the various miradors or plazas where you can sit and enjoy the view or the people.

These are a few aspects of life in Alicante.

A Typical “Suburban” Neighborhood in Alicante

I live in “El Centro” in Alicante, meaning the tourist, commercial, older area. I do not live in the oldest area under the castle of Santa Barbara but next to that area. It is very convenient with the big market, theatre, and shops. It is also very loud, especially on the weekends.

Many people live in the neighborhoods that are a part of Alicante. Like Boston, they have different names and it is difficult to know which one you are in. They are different in that they are quieter and more families live there. There are two types that I have observed. One is with the large apartment buildings and self-contained garages and playgrounds with local commerce on the ground floor. The other is with taller buildings along the street interspersed with commerce – more like in the US cities.

Above are pictures of one of the self-contained apartment areas in the Babel/Florida area of Alicante. The fenced ones seem to be totally residential, but I am not sure because I cannot get in to look. It is difficult to see into them because of the locked access and the walls are usually solid-excellent for privacy. There are businesses and cafes on the street level in some of the buildings that are not gated.

Spain is awesome about maintaining their infrastructure and there are wide avenues and roundabouts in these newer areas with wide sidewalks. They also have bike lanes everywhere – even in El Centro where I live. They are often on the sidewalk so you have to watch where you walk so you aren’t in the path of a speeding bike. They are also totally into recycling. You collect your own recycling and take it to these large containers on the street. The green is for glass, gray is for general trash & food trash, blue is for paper, yellow is for cans and plastic. The orange is for clothes and shoes. There is another orange that is round and that is for cooking oil. The bins are generally located every few blocks and often there are only a couple of the types (unlike this photo) so you have to know which ones are where so you are not walking around with your recycling for 20 minutes as I was.

I will do a separate post on other neighborhoods. Above are photos of the neighborhood called Benalua which is just outside El Centro, and some typical scenes -stores, garages, parks. To me it similar to South Boston.

Nuevo tarjeta de residencia

The other not so fun chore I needed to accomplish was renewing my “visa”. It is not actually a visa but that is easier for me than the residence card. In Spain (and any other Schengen country which includes all of western Europe) a non-EU resident can only stay for 90 days unless they get permission to stay longer. To do that involves a lot of paperwork, time and money of course.

I have a “non-lucrative” visa which means I can live in Spain as long as I do not earn money there. There are a lot of different categories which are too detailed to explain now. I have had this visa since 2014 (with 2 renewals of 2 years each). The most complicated was the original application, but every renewal brought problems, and once I only received it 2 days before I had to fly home. I have my fingers crossed that I got it right this time.

My biggest problem was health insurance, so I have been paying for private health coverage in Spain and the US for the past two years. We shall see if it is worth it. You also have to prove you have sufficient funds to support yourself without working. All the information needs to be in Spanish of course. Duh! That was one of my issues last time. Then you have to go to a bank to pay the fee to apply. This must be done prior to going to the foreigner’s office to submit your paperwork.

The picture above is the building where the office is – this is only where you apply for the visa. Where you actually get fingerprinted and apply for the physical card is in a totally different location. Two different locations, two different appointments, requirements, and fees. I live a little less than 2 miles from here so I usually walk over. I could take a bus and walk a much shorter distance, but the weather is generally nice and I like the exercise.

Once you arrive you go through a metal detector and then you get a number from a machine. This is a change from 2 years ago when I got the number from a person. You have to declare your reason for requesting the meeting and the numbers begin with different letters. Mine was a P. In the front of the room is an electronic board showing what numbers have been called and as the newest number is announced it also shows on the board. This is a great system so that you know approximately how long you will have to wait.

Renewing your visa
my goal is to go through the doors of Sala 1

I was very lucky and only waited about 20 minutes – it can be hours. I met with a lovely man who looked through my papers and said they seemed to be in order. We spoke in Spanish and he told me that he only speaks Spanish which I thought odd as he is working with foreigners and English is a universal language. Apparently it works out for the applicants.

Now I am to wait at least one month, possibly two, for the decision on whether I can renew the resident card. They will send a letter to my apartment and then I will need to make the appointment with the policia to apply for the physical card. Once I am fingerprinted and give them my photos I will again wait 3-4 weeks for the card to be returned from Madrid. The good news is that this renewal should be for 5 years instead of only 2 years as it has been. I just got the lock changed on my mailbox a few minutes ago as I had no keys to open it, so now I am waiting for the good news.

Hot water needed

My intent is to document real life here in Alicante, Spain. As with life anywhere it is not all roses contrary to what it appears on Facebook and Instagram. In these first few weeks, I have had to replace my hot water heater and go to the Office of Foreigners to apply for renewal of my residence card (which I often refer to as my visa). Both necessary and neither were any fun.

First up was the hot water heater as I could not finish a shower without depleting the supply of hot water. In addition to coffee at the start of the day, I must have a hot shower at the end of the day and that was not possible! I had an electric hot water heater (calentador de aqua caliente). It was small. I have no idea how my former tenants (3 females) were able to manage with such a small unit. It was located in the galleria-an area off the kitchen where I have the washer and next to the outdoor clotheslines and airspace at the back of the building.

original calentador

I chose to have a gas water heater installed as you never run out of hot water (as long as you do not run out of gas). They are small and heat the water as needed. It is not stored in the tank as my original one worked and as most of the ones in the USA work. The way this is accomplished is to decide what company you will purchase the heater from and then a person comes over and checks all the wiring, plumbing, space etc and decides if you can do what you have chosen. The boss man came, looked at the plumbing outside and saw that the building is plumbed for natural gas. The natural gas company agreed we have it and so we arranged for the workmen to come the next day to install.

pipes outside galleria for natural gas

The workman worked for hours removing my old water heater and preparing to install the new one. He drilled holes in the tile wall, installed pipe and fittings, hung up the new gas heater -had to move it as it ended up not fitting where the old one was and needed to be vented out the window. Then the woman who lives below me called up (she is the President of the condo association) to tell us that there is NO natural gas in the building. For three years they have been trying to get it and it is supposed to work but does not. There is some kind of problem between the street and the building. The workman tried it and she is correct! Oh-oh! Now we have to get the boss over to approve changing the guts of the gas water heater to accommodate butane instead of natural gas. Otherwise no hot water period! This was finally accomplished late in the day.

I paid the boss and got a paper that I was to show to the inspector. I was told not to use the heater with the butane tank (I did not have one anyway) until the inspector showed up the next day. The boss was to return with him and bring a butano (butane tank) for me. This never happened! No shower for me that night, or as it turns out, the next night also.

I finally called Conchi (my realtor who manages the apartment for me and is indispensable) and she called the boss several times. After another day of waiting, it turns out they are not coming because that inspection is for natural gas. Conchi’s husband, Jesus, came to pick me up in his car and we went to Cepsa to buy two tanks of butane. You have to put a deposit on the tanks and pay for the butane too. We hooked one up and after a few seconds out came hot water. It worked – even without the inspection. The only drawback is you never know when the butane tank will run out (no indicator) – hopefully not in the middle of a shower & shampoo (it has happened to me!). I now have plenty of hot water which makes me very happy! The lesson here is it always takes longer and is more complicated than you expect and have a friend who speaks the language to help you.

Mercado Central

One of my favorite things about Alicante is the fresh food. There are many fruiterias (fruit and vegetable stores) that have a large variety of fresh produce. There are also street markets in the different neighborhood on specific days of the week. These are set up in the street with various stalls and open from early to about 1:30pm. They then dismantle them and leave a huge mess, as you can imagine, and the city workers come and clean the streets. Those markets also include stalls with clothes, shoes, household items, linens, etc. Not just food.

I really love Mercado Central. This is the permanent central market in the center of Alicante. It is two floors with an escalator. It is all food – meats, fish, vegetables, marinated items, eggs, baked goods. It is open daily except for Sunday (most stores are closed on Sunday) and closes at 2pm. It can be very crowded on a Saturday but everyone gets served.

I watched with fascination as this older woman in a fur jacket, pushed her walker in front of a fish stall, turned it around and sat down to wait her turn to choose her fish.

There are also regular grocery stores and bakeries with everything baked fresh daily. I love the chocolate croissants. And who knew you could buy carmelized onions in a can?

I get it all home in my trusty red carrito. It holds an amazing amount and has a really smooth ride. Since I walk everywhere it gets a lot of use!

Alicante harbor

My apartment is two blocks from the Esplanada which is across the road from the harbor. So I am very close to the Mediterranean Sea which means a lot to me. I don’t know who owns all these beautiful yachts and sailboats, but I wish I did. The harbor is always full of them.

Next to the Esplanada with its beautiful tile walkway and many restaurants and shops is a park with huge ficus trees. There are two different kinds of ficus and  they are very old. There are also several play areas for children.

The Volvo Ocean Race museum is located on the harbor – behind the casino. It is a fascinating museum dedicated to the amazing around the world yacht race held once every 3 years. The last one was 2017-2018. The headquarters is here in Alicante and the race usually starts here in October. This link will give you a better idea of how challenging it is: Volvo Ocean Race. It is known as the “Everest of Sailing”. There are some very stringent rules-like no fresh food allowed on board and only one change of clothing. The crew has to be more than just sailors as they are self-reliant during the racing legs. There are 9 to 11 legs and often short races and activities are held at the ports along the way.  The race takes almost a year to complete.

The harbor has a beautiful promenade along the side of it with plenty of seats for resting and enjoying the view. These are only a few of the reasons I love being so close to the sea.

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