After Moscow in February, something completely different – the Canary Islands in March! I needed to escape the cold weather and all the relentlessly miserable news about Coronavirus.
The first island on my trip was La Palma, also called La Isla Bonita (the beautiful island) in Spanish. I was rather dreading the early morning EasyJet flight from Gatwick, which made me get up at 05.30, but in the event, Gatwick was pleasantly well organised, and the flight was pretty comfortable. From a miserable 8C in London the plane touched down to a nice pleasant 20C and bright sunlight in Santa Cruz de la Palma. From the airport I hired a car and drove through the countryside, admiring the strange plants and bright flowers – the Canary Islands are a botanist’s dream, with many unusual species including palm trees, cactuses, wild aloe verde, the dragon tree, and other really strange things that I thought looked like a woolly mammoth’s trunk.
I was soon ringing on the door of the holiday house I’d booked, an old merchant’s town house in the centre of the city.
At the entrance was an old cast iron gate, then steep stairs leading up to a landing and a dining room with balcony over the street, kitchen, bathroom, a sitting area underneath a glass sunroof, and….. the house’s very own private chapel with a statue of the Virgin Mary and various images of Christ.
Another steep staircase up led to another bedroom, bathroom and a living room with large windows on all sides and views over the city. Yet more stairs led to a roof terrace with a table and a couple of sun loungers, with a pretty view of a nearby church, and the mountains in the distance.
The house was decorated with portraits and old photographs of the family that had owned the place and even the christening dress of one of them. The furnishings were antique – old wooden beds, old chairs and tables, a gramophone player and an ancient radio. There was a smell of old wood, and a sound of creaking floorboards whenever I moved. It felt like the house described in Isabel Allende’s book, the House of the Spirits.
Having explored my home for the next four nights, I set off to visit the town. Santa Cruz is a small but pleasant place. Old town houses like mine with balconies line the streets, reminding me a bit of the Middle East, but there was also a sprinkling of ugly modern holiday flat buildings. I walked East to the edge of the town. where on top of a rock bursting with brightly colours flowers, there was an old fort with nice views of the sea.
Next, I headed back into town, and found a very pretty square, lined with trees bearing bright red flowers, and with a church, a museum and a music school around its sides. In the middle was a large stone urn with a huge fern tree. Water dripped down the sides of the urn, offering a nice cool drink to some doves in the heat of the afternoon.
It was siesta time. Hardly anyone was out on the street, and had the square to myself to sit and enjoy the atmosphere. After a short rest, I continued my walk and found another pretty square in the centre of town. This square also had its own pretty stone church and was also the location of the old town hall.
In the street were the tables of bars and cafes; siesta was over, the streets were becoming livelier, and people were sitting down to beer and tapas. I continued my stroll until I reached the end of the old town, where the pretty town houses gave way to modern holiday flats. Then I retraced my steps and offered myself an aperitif sitting outside at a café in yet another pretty square. After 6 months of the London winter, it was so nice to sit outside and feel the sun on my fur. I was pleasantly surprised how cheap the beer and tapas were – mass tourism has yet to spoil La Palma.
When I finally I arrived home, it was dinner time. I popped into the Spar next door to buy some ham, cheese, wine and fruit that I enjoyed on my roof terrace. A nice end to a busy first day on La Palma……..