Benidorm - A tale of two cities

Friday 21st July, 2023

A rite of passage that somehow passed me by in my hedonistic youth was the sun, sea, and sangria group-of-friends-go-large beach holiday. This was a great shame, as I loved drinking, partying, sunshine, and staying out late.

This was semi-rectified in my 30s when a friend was getting married and invited me on a hen week to Benidorm. Yes, that is right, a whole week. Some people are not satisfied with an afternoon tea, cocktail lesson, and a sweaty stripper in a VIP room in an even sweatier local club.

To be fair, there was also a "normal" hen night consisting of a village pub bus crawl. For the uninitiated, this involves a private bus that plays obnoxiously loud music and takes your party on a country tour, stopping at local pubs in 4 or 5 different villages over the course of an evening. This is a very popular tour to book for "events" like hens, stags, birthdays, and graduations, although they are mostly not loved by the normal local pub frequenters who were just out for a quiet pint.

I digress.

We went to Benidorm in the March of that year, which was a couple of months before the wedding but that was fine. We stayed in one of the stereotypical high-rise apartments that Benidorm is famous for, with a balcony joining our rooms allowing for enjoyment of the weather without having to face the stairs (there was a lift and I'm being dramatic). We could have lazy breakfasts, cheese and wine parties, and just sit for a while before going out. It was very relaxing.

The weather was warm but overcast, not hot enough for proper sunbathing but certainly warm enough for relaxed outdoor meals with a lot of wine. Sadly, we realised that since it was off main season and we were not the target 18-30 demographic, we were unlikely to cause any real havoc. We went to outdoor markets, had lie-ins and lazy walks to different places to eat, and generally had a lovely sedate time interspersed with mild hangovers and sitting-in-the-sun-but-not-in-danger-of-getting-burnt. It was very relaxing.

Okay, so there was that one night where we went out in matching t-shirts with the bride's face printed on them (HENIDORM!!), used plastic willy straws, had shots of 80-proof Absinthe that tasted like someone had set fire to a bunch of cinnamon, danced like no one was watching (they were), molested a statue of John Lennon, mock fought, real fought, laughed, cried, told people we loved them in slurred voices (each other, strangers, John Lennon), and the bride ended up in A&E with a broken ankle…but apart from that we were really restrained.

This is now all a pleasant hazy memory.

A few weeks ago, we were working out where to go on holiday with the children. There are a very limited number of places that you can fly to from Aberdeen, and as chance would have it we ended up in…can you guess?...can you see where this is heading?...that's right, Benidorm!

This time was to be very different. I stayed at a lodge resort with 3 very demanding and dependent young children. Okay, I admit, it was 2 children and my partner, but for all intents and purposes…

The weather was warm but not unbearably hot, fine for sunbathing but not with children. The place we were staying was right next to a zoo and a waterpark, and part of the deal (as well as all-inclusive food and drinks) was that we had unlimited access to both.

So, of course, this was a very different holiday. We mostly spent our days swimming in the pools, going to the zoo, and of course visiting the waterpark. There were also a couple of trips to town to go to the beach and do some shopping.

Pool days on holiday used to mean lazing on a sunbed, occasionally having a quick splash around in the pool, nice and relaxing. However, neither of the kids can swim. The older one thinks she can, but she hasn't quite mastered breathing without stopping and standing up. So there was a lot of grabbing her as she realised she was out of her depth and replacing armbands, while also keeping an eye on the other one (who didn't take his armbands off because he is sensible, but he is 3 and if you take your eye off him for a second he is halfway up a hill chasing a ladybird). It was not relaxing.

It was pretty awesome having a zoo to wander in and out of. An hour to kill before lunch? Let's go and have a look at the tigers! Going to the waterpark? Take a scenic walk past the marmosets on the way! I have been to loads of zoos before, but I did get that cliched kick out of seeing the wonder on my babies' faces as they saw these creatures for the first time that they had only read about in books or seen on TV. There were a lot of hills, a lot of walking in the heat, a lot of flies, and excited children that flitted between, "Mummy, MUMMY! There's an ostrich! There's a bat! Do yooo see that monkey?? I wanna stay here fowevah!!" to, "Mummy, MUMMY! I'm too hot! I don't wanna walk! Carry me! I WANNA GO HOME I HATE MONKEEEES AND I HATE SPAIN!!!" It was not relaxing.

When we went into town I expected to have fleeting feelings of recognition, even if just drunken flashes of whatever the opposite of inspiration is. But alas, I couldn't even remember where it was that we stayed, it seemed a lot bigger than I remembered. I did message my friend who said, "It was in one of the tall buildings." Thaaaanks! Shopping was difficult because the kids wanted to buy everything and my partner wanted to buy nothing, I had my usual crisis of what to buy as gifts in tourist tat shops that didn't look tatty or touristy, and we realised we had to carry anything we bought along with angry children. I was also very thankful that my children can't quite read yet, and that even if they could they probably would have just been confused as to why the t-shirts were suggesting people should be licking their cats. I didn't even find the statue of John Lennon to apologise to. It was not relaxing.

The beach was fun, my daughter immediately made several friends and started digging a hole with them. She makes friends everywhere, in fact she learned 3 Spanish phrases, "No hablo español muy bien" (I do not speak Spanish very well), "puedo acariciar a tu perro," (can I stroke your dog) and, "Seras mi amiga," (will you be my friend). These got her everything that she needed. I took both kids paddling in the sea one at a time. The 5-year-old screamed that she was terrified and made me carry her back. The 3-year-old did much the same, but when I pointed out that there were fishies swimming about he was instantly appeased. Although he did then make me carry him back so that we could get a bucket to catch the fishies, which made his sister cry because she had been using the bucket to take water from the sea to pour in the hole that she had made with her friends, then we didn't catch any fishies so he cried too. It was not relaxing.

Then I left the kids with my partner and swam as far out as I could without getting a lifeguard warning whistle and just floated for a while. It was very relaxing.

So I guess that a destination is what you make of it. You can go somewhere famous for partying and never set foot in a nightclub. I don't doubt for a second that the debauchery was there, but other than that one made night I didn't see it. In general, it is easy to find what you are looking for if you choose to search in the right places.

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