It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m taking the train into the city of Alicante on the Costa Blanca. It’s a great place to explore and there are lots of museums and sights that are free. Unfortunately, it seems that today, most of them are closed. Still, there are beautiful Belen displays dotted around the city to discover and the Cathedral and Town Hall in the old district will be open until siesta at 2pm.
For the festive period, Alicante is hosting several nativity displays or Belens. The first is very close to the station in the Diputacion Provincial, a grand and imposing building with delicately carved columns and panels, bordered by tall palms and tangled fig trees. The displays are very carefully crafted and depict scenes such as the visitation of the angel to Mary and the shepherds, the flight into Egypt and the birth of Jesus in the stable, surrounded by farm animals and the three kings with their camels.
There’s another small Belen inside the entrance to the Town Hall, but I’m more interested in the main staircase. On the first step is an ancient mark (cota cero) which is used to measure the height above sea level of all other cities in Spain. Why Alicante? Well, in the 19th century, it was discovered that the difference between low and high tide on the Alicante coastline is smaller than anywhere else. Also, next to the stairs, is an unusual golden statue by Salvador Dali. Outside in the square, families are gathered around an ice rink where youngsters totter and glide around a large Christmas tree. Surrounding stalls offer tempting chocolate delights for the kids and cold beer for the parents.
Hidden in the narrow alleys of Barrio Santa Cruz is the seasonally appropriate St Nicolas Cathedral. The outside walls are daubed with ancient red script which could be religious related or just century’s old graffiti, I cannot tell. Inside, it is calm and serene. There are several small chapels and a 15th century cloister with a central well and large wooden doors featuring carvings of biblical scenes. The cathedral was built on the site of a former mosque from the Moorish period.
Santa Barbara Castle is closed today, but it can be clearly seen from the port, standing guard over the city. My disappointment at being unable to visit the castle and the Fine Arts Museum (also closed), is the sight of a large 18th century warship moored in the port. It’s a modern replica of the Santisima Trinidad, which was badly damaged and captured during the battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and sank just south of Cadiz while being towed by the British to Gibraltar. The amazing reconstruction serves as a floating museum and I’m enticed on board by the fact that a free drink is included in the entrance fee. Below decks there are displays of old navigational equipment, furniture and models of the ship while on the upper deck, I’m able to peacefully sip a chilled beer whilst admiring the tall masts, the numerous cannons and some great views of the city of Alicante.