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Barry's Blog # 21 – Words are all I have

Words are all I have

I really do try to refrain from being a spelling/grammar Nazi when it comes to reading the comments section on YouTube videos, various forums and Face Book pages... But there are two specific things which whenever I see them incorrectly used in written form, make my eyes bleed and cause brain fluid to begin flowing out of my nose and ears.

Apart = Something that is separated from something else.

i.e.; Please move those two tables apart.

A part = Something that is a 'part' of something bigger.

i.e.; I need to buy a part for my engine.

Don't even get me started on...

Your, you're.

There, their, they're.

Where, were, we're.

I feel like I'm in some sort of comedy routine writing this blog... And that's just the English language.

In this neck of the woods, the Sailing A B Sea temporary base of operations in Spain, there are literally two ways of spelling everything. The reason for that is because we are in the geographic area known as the Valencian Community and although now part of Spain, Valencia still likes to hold on to its own dialect. So for example in Spanish, the town we are staying is Jávea, but in Valencian it is Xàbia and all road signs carry both spellings. The same goes for other towns and cities in the area and it’s kind of cute in the beginning, but the shine soon wears off when you’re trying to drive to somewhere and when you look at a road sign you’re not sure if it’s the town you’re looking for with a Valencian spelling, another town with a similar sounding name or the actual town you want with a Spanish spelling.

Valencia road signs

All that aside, the history of this area is fascinating. The (now) city of Valencia, one of the oldest cities in Spain, has a history dating back 2,100 years when it was founded as a Roman colony under the name "Valentia Edetanorum" on the site of a former Iberian village. It’s been controlled on and off over the centuries by the Romans, the Visigoths, the Moors and the Christians up until the 16th century when the kingdoms of Spain were united to form Spain as we know it today.

The first references to Javea as a village date back to 1304, but the local area has an even older heritage. Although maybe not as civilised as the Valencia Roman colony, there is evidence of human habitation since prehistoric times, 30,000 years ago, by cave dwellers on Montgó mountain. Subsequent residents of Javea have included stone-age and bronze-age peoples, Romans, Greeks, Phoenicians, Visigoths, Germanic, Carthaginians and Moors. Today the population of Javea officially stands at 33,000 with half of this number being made up of none Spanish people. The annual influx of summer tourists temporarily increases this number to well over 100,000.

Roman fish salting pool with channel
Roman fish salting pool
Channel dug by Romans for flushing out fish salting pools

Fun fact: For a small town, Javea actually played a very important role in supplying the Roman Empire with a very popular food condiment called Garum. Like modern fish sauce, Roman Garum was also made from fermented fish, the fish guts specifically and salt. Romans cooked with it either as a straight flavoring or by combining it with other ingredients. And even today as we walk along the coast from Javea port to the Arenal we can still see where channels and pools were carved out of the Tosca Sandstone to be used in the Garum making process.

A typical street in Javea old town

So where am I taking you with all this fascinating history? I’m taking you to Javea old town. Just like the game of football, Javea is a town of two halves. There's the original old town site set back about 1.5 kilometres from the coast and there's new Javea which has grown up around the old town as the population increased and tourism blossomed.

Beautiful, picturesque, quaint, stunning, charming and pretty don't even begin to paint a picture of the old town. Strolling along the alleyways lined with very old two and three story buildings, it seems that every time a corner is turned there's something else that causes your eyes to widen and the word 'wow' to be uttered for the hundredth time. One particular favourite moment for me was turning a corner and looking up along the length of a gently sloped alley that was so very pleasing on the eye. It seemed that all of the residents had gone to great lengths to put lush flowering potted plants outside their front doors and hanging from every possible wall space and tiny window ledge.

The plant lined alleway in Javea old town

In its beginnings the old town used to be walled with just three main gates, these fortifications were to protect the inhabitants from marauding pirates that frequented this coast. There is still evidence of these fortifications and stone crosses now mark the locations of the three original gates.

The streets and alleyways are home to both residents and a variety of small shops and traditional Spanish tapas bars/restaurants. Some of the bars/restaurants could easily be missed by the unobservant, as the restaurant facade is really no different from that of the homes on either side of it. Generally the only clue to its difference will be a menu of some sort inside a small glass fronted wooden box mounted on the wall next to the door. One of these restaurants in particular is called La Cajita Azul and I first heard about it from my brother Phil, who told us it is a 'must visit' place because the food is fabulous and the low prices are almost embarrassing.

La Cajita Azul restaurante in Javea old town

You must book a table well in advance at this little restaurant as it is so popular and always packed every evening that it's open. In our naiveté Aannsha and I rocked up at 7:30 one Saturday evening in January asking for a table for two, only to be politely told by the owner/chef that there were 80 people booked in and it was only him and one waiter working that night. A couple of weeks later, as we wandered around the old town on a Tuesday evening, we chanced our luck again only to receive the same reply. "Sorry we're fully booked."

Third time works a charm, especially when you get smart and pre book a table for a Wednesday evening. On this visit Aannsha and I were accompanied by my brother Phil who had popped over from the UK to spend some time with his big brother. Stepping out of the slightly damp and chilly evening air and into the warm and cosy restaurant, we were shown to a corner table. Local red table wine was ordered and it wasn't too long before Miguel the owner came over with a hand written chalkboard. There is no fixed menu, Miguel goes shopping locally every day and whatever he likes the look of ends up being on the menu that evening. We ordered several plates to share and for the next 3 hours various tasty creations were brought to our table along with several more bottles of local red wine. The whole bill came to just 71 Euros (AU$111). Fantastic value and fantastic food. Especially when you get a look at the 'kitchen'; there's hardly enough room to swing a cat and certainly no fancy equipment. How Miguel manages to prepare and cook his creations in such a small space is nothing short of a miracle.

Javea's Fortress-church in the old town

The following day we went back to the old town to wander around some more. At the town's centre, mostly built in original Tosca stone hewn from Javea's rocky shore, is the ancient fortress-church of Sant Bartomeu which is an impressive sight. The church's structure mostly dates back to the late 14th century, although there is evidence that some of the structure may date back a further 300 years. Looking at the imposing church walls you can still see signs of the extensive damage inflicted during the Spanish Civil War (1936 - 1939). In particular its southern and western walls remain pockmarked with bullet and shell holes. Inside the church is impressive too, especially the vaulted ceiling, designed to resemble palm tree fronds. There's also an unverified local story that a church chaplain threw rocks from the top of the bell tower at Napoleonic troops who had marched into the town in 1812; once those French troops gained access to the church, the chaplain himself was apparently thrown from the tower!

Surrounding the church square is a maze of narrow streets featuring fine gothic architecture and prolific use of the local Tosca sandstone. Just behind the church is the covered market which still offers fresh local produce on a daily basis. There's a stall in there that has become Aannsha's favourite place to purchase marinated olives. If your sense of direction is not the best, I would suggest picking up a free map from the tourist information centre on Javea's seafront because it's quite easy to lose yourself in the old town. Or if you prefer a little excitement at getting lost, just start wandering. You're never really too far from a main road and from what we've experienced there's no danger lurking around any of Javea's corners, day time or night time.

Javea old town is a maze of narrow alleways

Thursday day time is market day in old town too. As you would expect there are heaps of stalls selling local produce like cheeses, hams, nuts, spices and a myriad of pickled and marinated foods. As we wandered around we got the wrong impression about the size of the market, thinking it to be a little on the small side. Then we noticed a steady stream of people all walking along one of the side streets, which at first glance didn't appear to lead anywhere. Our curiosity piqued we followed the throng and came upon an even bigger square tucked out of sight behind the main post office. More market stalls selling all sorts of different things and it was here that we found all the stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables. Aannsha has a shopping list already written for next Thursday's visit.

Romanesco cauliflower

As we get closer to moving on board our yacht and our time here draws to an end, our four months stay in Javea has been a great opportunity to relearn the excitement of exploring new places and it will stand us in good stead for when weeks and months from now we drop anchor in some distant destination and take our dinghy into the local port on market day ready to stock up on local fresh fruits, vegetables and other tasty delights.

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