SPAIN // A Day Trip to Elche

12.1.18

Often overlooked in favour of Benidorm and Alicante, last year's visit to the city of Elche sent it straight to my number one spot for locations on Spain's Costa Blanca. With a population of some 230,000 people, Elche has managed to maintain that 'local' rather than 'tourist' feel so rare for such a city - the cafes all loud with local language; the parks full of local children playing after school - and yet, with two UNESCO World Heritage attractions to its name, there is plenty for the average visitor to do and see.

We headed there one Tuesday and spent the day falling hard for this little city. Here's some of what we got up to..

Basilica de Santa Maria - Elche Spain

Basilica de Santa Maria 

Our first stop of the day was the Basilica de Santa Maria: an intricately carved church - with stonework by Nicolas de Bussy - and home to not only the first of the city's UNESCO attractions - the annual Mystery Play of Elche - but also to some stunning bell tower views across the city. We headed straight up the spiral staircase of this 350 year old church - our first impressions of this beautiful city forming somewhere at the top. With a 360 degree viewing platform, the panorama of this palm-filled place took my breath away for just a moment as my camera and I frantically took it all in.


Back inside the views are no less astonishing, with the interior of the church forming an ornately decorated cross, adorned with carvings, stained-glass and iconography from ceiling to floor. The details are astonishing and shrouded in history, with many artefacts linked to the Middle Age liturgical drama still re-enacted here annually.


I could probably have photographed objects and views here all day, but we were politely shooed from the nave by some quiet attendants trying to close up for the afternoon and so headed merrily on our way in search of a lunch break.


Quinoa Restaurante Vegetariano - Elche Spain

Restaurante Vegetariano Quinoa 

Unlike much of the Costa Blanca region, vegetarians are pretty spoiled for choice in Elche. We eventually settled on Restaurante Quinoa, where we sampled and enjoyed three courses plus a salad buffet from their "menu del dia" (menu of the day). I was pretty blown away by my visit to this little haven of all things veggie - so much so that I wrote it its own piece.


Elche municipal park
Elche municipal park

Parque Municipal 

On the way back towards the centre of town, we took a stroll through the city's municipal park, which makes up one part of the "Palmeral D'Elche" (more on that later!). The park is beautiful with plenty of shaded seating areas, a children's playground, water fountains and a number of buildings of Arabic-type design, but I must confess that my attention was most captured by the strange dove-come-parrot perched on the balcony of the dovecot!

Elche municipal park
Elche municipal park


Tourism office - Elche

Tourist Information Office

On the periphery of the municipal park - not too far from a convenient car park - lies the local tourist information office. Logic would have had this be the first stop on our trip, but Spanish siesta time dictated otherwise. That said, the free map we picked up from the kind lady behind the desk still came in handy for our last stop of the day..



Palmeral d'Elche - Elche palm groves

El Palmeral (The Palm Groves)

By far the most significant feature of the city, the 200,000 trees of Elche's palm groves earned the city its second UNESCO World Heritage stamp in the year 2000. The largest palm grove in Europe, it is recognised not only for its vast scale but also as one of the best preserved examples of Arab agricultural practices the continent has to offer. Divided into some 97 palm-lined plots, each "huerto" or orchard has its own network of ancient irrigation channels - mostly still-functioning - that were of particular UNESCO interest. No longer the mass producer of dates they once were, these days the groves are valued more for their cultural significance, with production limited to a much-reduced quantity of dates as well as "white palms" which are used decoratively around Palm Sunday.

Palmeral d'Elche - Elche palm groves

We paid a visit to the 'Museo del Palmeral' where many of these decorations were on display, alongside a wealth of historical information about the area. Housed in a traditional 19th century building at the 'Huerto de San Plácido', the museum is only 1 Euro to enter and I found it genuinely fascinating!

White palm decorations - Palmeral museum - Elche
Museo de Palmeral - Elche

The museum also marks the beginning and end of the 'Ruta del Palmeral' - a walking route taking in many of the most notable orchards - which is handily sign-posted and highlighted by foot prints in the ground.

Ruta del Palmeral - Elche
Ruta del Palmeral - Elche

We followed a large chunk of the route, before the heat (and my swollen ankles) got the better of us and we headed back towards the city centre in search of coffee and churros.

Palmeral d'Elche - Elche palm groves
Palmeral d'Elche - Elche palm groves

We concluded our time in Elche sitting at a cafe table overlooking a city square, soaking up the sunshine and the sound of Spanish voices all around us. Idyllic.

All in all, I had a great first trip to Elche. I certainly don't think it'll be my last visit to this beautiful little city! 

xo

30 for 30

3.1.18

30 for 30 2018 - Laura Whispering

New Year has often been a difficult time for me: a day in which I am painfully confronted with the reality of how little I've achieved; a reminder of all the times and all the ways in which I've failed to be the person I would have liked to be. It is a time for looking backwards and I, inevitably, never like what I see. The road behind me is paved with broken glass, reflecting memories that linger like a recent bad dream. My eyes are blinded by the glare of too many regrets; too much shame; too many missed opportunities; too many past hopes come apart at the seams. It is a slap in the face; a kick in the guts; the burn of hot coals beneath weary feet. It hurts. It is a dark and difficult period for me.

I was sectioned on New Year's Eve 2014. I was already in hospital, being nursed on one-to-one obs on New Year's Eve 2016. It is hard to buy the firework fallacy of "New year, new me!" at the best of times, but it's nigh on impossible when, for so long, this empty, hollow darkness is all you've known and been.

I find birthdays difficult for much the same reason: another harsh reminder of disappointments I'd rather not face. This year, in particular, has always threatened to be a tough one for me. 

I turn 30 this June, you see. 

The year of 30 has long seemed a significant landmark - the gap between us shortening, its shadow looming more powerfully over me. 30 became a number of great importance: after struggling through most of my twenties, I promised myself I wouldn't tolerate the same in my thirties. Things have to improve before then, or else.

For a very long time, I seemed to be ploughing head-first towards 30 in the dark. Things were not getting better. Nothing seemed to change. There was no light; no hope; just a constant succession of disasters and depression, played out on repeat.

Until recently. Recently, a tiny strip of light has risen on the horizon. Recently, things have begun to change, gradually, slowly. Recently, there have been baby steps in a different direction - small achievements stacking up encouragingly. Recently, a long-awaited treatment has arrived with the promise of fresh perspectives and new opportunities. Recently, glimmers of long-absent hope have been restored to me.

Hope is like a superpower. It makes you see the whole world differently.

It's certainly transformed my feelings towards '30'.

Things are not perfect, but they're better than they've been. Miracles have not happened, but there are certain signs of hope and change. The road is not always smooth, but I have a little light by which to face the bumps along the way. With all of that, 30 no longer feels like a self-imposed cut-off, set to make or break me.  30 seems like just another number; just another year; just another day. 30 seems like another opportunity - one I've decided to embrace wholeheartedly.   

Goal-setting has always been a troublesome concept for me and I'm wary of pushing myself too hard, allowing the "shoulds" to ask too much of myself too quickly. Life is a lengthy journey and I have a long way to go, with no real idea where I'd like the destination to be. Instead of setting myself a to-do list of demands to meet before I turn 30, I've decided to embrace the whole of 2018, writing myself a list of hopefully-manageable, predominantly-enjoyable aims and activities to inject a spoonful of focus and a healthy dose of fun into the coming year.

30 items for 30 years, to be attempted in the next 12 months.

30 for 30 2018 - Laura Whispering

The majority are fairly frivolous, but read between the lines of this list and you'll spot a certain set of implied intentions - perhaps more meaningful goals, necessary if I want to achieve these things. If I want to succeed, I need to remain out of hospital for extended periods. I need to fuel my body and maintain my haemoglobin above the level marked dizzy-and-breathless. I need to look after myself; to keep myself healthy and fit. I need to willingly, wilfully extend myself a little kindness, compassion and grace. 

These things are more difficult than I'd like to admit.

This list might look silly and insignificant, but to complete it will be an enormous accomplishment. I hope laughter and pleasure will show up to accompany it.

Unfortunately, I can't possibly know what the year will really bring. The road ahead - with all its peaks and troughs - isn't clear or predictable for anyone, but I'm ready and excited to face it for once!

Here's to 2018!
Here's to a year of fun!
Here's to facing 30 head-on!
Here's to embracing the future!
Here's to saying that - truthfully - for the first time in far too long!   

xo

P.S. I'd love to do some of this with accomplices. If you can encourage me, join me, travel with me, put me up for a night, direct me to relevant freebies (cheeky!), collaborate with me, stand by and laugh at me, or simply cheer me on, I'd be delighted to have you along! Hit me up.