It was great to see another part of England. Great Yarmouth is one of the most deprived areas in the UK, despite (or perhaps caused by) having a vast beach and heavily developed foreshore, with gaming machines and fried food outlets galore. I thought Glenelg’s old Magic Mountain was hideous – that had nothing on the moulded foam monstrosities at Yarmouth.
Entrance to a club was included with our tournament pass, so we went clubbing on Saturday night – the place was huge despite the town’s small population – no doubt a relic from the time when Great Yarmouth was one of the UK’s posh beach destinations, before the advent of Ryanair made holidaying further afield accessible for the English masses.
Yarmouth has problems with crime, so when we left the club there were police everywhere, keeping an eye on the groups of youths waiting to get into places on the warm summer night. It was a contrast to Cambridge, where the biggest problems are bikes getting stolen and people trying to scale old buildings in ball gowns.
Despite Yarmouth’s problems, wandering away from the glittery promenade towards our camping ground there’s a spectacular, vacant beach flanked by sand dunes.
Though the beach is empty the ocean is not – about a dozen wind turbines spin in the sea. My main concern about wind farms is the noise, but offshore the swishing is muted by the lapping of the water on the sand. It was quite beautiful.
Shortly after my last post about the beach in Salobreña, my French friend Delphine pointed out that I was generalising when I said that all European beaches are either grey or the sand is nonexistent.
“As you already noticed, Europe is very diverse. Go in the Landes (south west of France), Colioure (east French mediterranean coast), Erquy in Bretagne, or Algarve in Portugal and none of them look like each other,” she said.
She is, of course, completely right – and I had proof a week later when I went to the Great Yarmouth Beach Classic 2007. At Great Yarmouth the beach is long and wide with a good proportion of yellow hued sand. Unfortunately there are still a lot more rocks that I’m used to – certainly for a volleyball tournament – which meant my shins got shredded when diving for the ball.
I’ve been playing for Rhinos Volleyball Club in Cambridge over the last year. In summer, indoor volleyball teams tend to disperse into small groups who travel around doing beach volleyball tournaments – that’s what we did.
Our team won the mixed 4-aside tournament, which was nice – though the competition was underwhelming by Australian standards. Still, I have a plaque to show for my efforts. Though our competition was unspectacular, it was great to be able to watch one of the UK’s three Grand Slam beach events (the final is in Brighton this coming weekend).
European beaches are so unlike Australia’s rugged, vacant coastline. The sand is grey or nonexistent. If you lay on your towel or the beach itself you seem like a pauper, because of the array of deck chairs and umbrellas on offer.
In Australia, children are put through Nippers so they can survive the angry surf. In Europe, children are thrust into the sea with floaties, pool noodles or on giant pedalling slide contraptions, and many never learn to swim properly, despite the annual beach holiday. Hence on the day there was actually a bit of swell in Salobreña we suddenly found ourselves alone in the water.
I love beaches, and although, of course, European beaches don’t live up to Australian expectations, they have their moments. I was charmed by the beach huts that have developed along the Salobreña foreshore, which appear to take advantage of the sugarcane fields that flank the coast.
Tapas are a glorious invention. Why shouldn’t people get free food every time they order a drink? The United Kingdom could fell its drinking problems in one blow if you got good, free food whenever you ordered a beer. Of course, sometimes this works in reverse… some days in Salobreña we probably started drinking a bit early so we could fill up on tapas before siesta time.
We quickly learnt which places had good tapas and which had average. There were some places that served a kind of potato salad, which was okay. There were some places that did chorizo or anchovies on fresh crusty bread – that was okay too. There was a place that basically served seafood extender with mayonnaise – what, did they think we were English? We didn’t go back.
The best place for tapas was a café bar Ian and Kim discovered, next to the fish market, owned by a guy called Frank. Frank spent 20 years working in Ibiza before opening his bar at the market, and he maintains the party-loving, friendly attitude one hopes to find on a holiday island. But as well as pumping out the tunes and having some swish bottle-twirling skills, he also makes the best tapas and churros con chocolate I found.
This picture is of Frank stirring our chocolate with his exceptional churros on the foreground – but if only I’d taken a photo of his sardines. Oh! The sardines! You haven’t lived unless you’ve had fresh Spanish sardines grilled with salt, which you get free as tapas! Glorious.
His prawns were pretty awesome too.
Salobreña is a popular beach destination for Spaniards, rather than English, which was part of the appeal for us. It isn’t overrun with imposing beachfront hotels. Instead, we were staying in a villa in the old part of the town – a whitewashed jumble of buildings atop a steep hill.
Luckily we had Ian ‘don’t worry, I’ve driven in mines’ Cawrse as our driver, because the gradient combined with the narrow, walled streets and two way traffic were a challenge none of the rest of us were willing to take on – particularly in continental Europe, where automatic cars are like hen’s teeth.
Staying in the old town meant a steep daily trek that gave even my friend Sarah, who met us after hiking in Kashmir, deep burn on the back of the calves.
This daily exertion was probably a good thing, because it meant:
– we had spectacular views of the mountains from our rooftop terrace, which we made use of in the mornings and evenings, when the heat wasn’t too searing
– I didn’t gain weight despite excess consumption of tapas, tinto di verano, cervezas and seafood.
I like to stroll through old cities without aim, allowing the flow of the day to dictate what I see. As Ian and I were drifting towards the cathedral I saw some grand gates opening onto a garden.We wandered in, to find ourselves in the University of Granada’s botanic gardens. The fountains and greenery were a relief from the heat, and the descriptive signs were a good way to practice our Spanish.
After wandering for some minutes we returned to the gate, to find it padlocked shut. Ian was concerned, but as a resident of Cambridge I’m used to having the right to wander through universities at my leisure. So we went into the building, to find more wealth of Spanish architecture.
It’s a shame that in Australia so many universities have been boiled down to educational factories. Some, like the University of Adelaide’s main campus, retain the charm and detail that inspire deep thinking and wanderlust. But newer campuses, like University of South Australia’s brutal City West campus, are lifeless and anti-inspirational.
I’m used to Cambridge, but had considered it a kind of special anomaly. (Many within Cambridge encourage this perception.)
Discovering the University of Granada made me realise this is how universities are supposed to be.
Graffiti is not a sign of recent discontent in Spain – Granada’s famous cathedral, gated from the masses now, has its share.
It charms me that the graffiti on the church is muted and stylised, as much as part of the historic city as the pebbled walkways.