Timeless: Meeting old friends in sunny Spain (including Columbo, Ali and their watches!)

While the rest of us were nervously preparing to go to  Hyde Park for the recent big Roscommon-Galway clash, our man Frank – no doubt quietly confident of maroon success – calmly took to the skies with his wife Carol and soaked up the sun in Spain. Here’s how that went…

It’s Sunday afternoon week, and as the footballers of Galway and Roscommon take to the field in the Hyde in Roscommon, Carol and myself are airborne over the seas en route to a few days of a break in sunny Spain. Exactly what I need a break from I’m not sure, but anyway we hop (in my case literally) onto a Ryanair flight in Dublin Airport, and at about the same time as the ref blows the final whistle in the Hyde, we are touching down in the new Murcia International Airport.

For many years, planes going to Murcia used what was effectively a military airport which always reminded us of Knock, being small and compact and very easy to get through. Thankfully the new airport is the same. Comparing it to Alicante – the other airport that serves the Costa Blanca region – is like comparing chalk and cheese. We were gone through in a matter of minutes. One of the many free local papers that are to be found around the place effectively revealed the reason why. Apparently in the month of March, just over 1.1 million passengers passed through Alicante Airport, while in the same period less than 40,000 went through Murcia.

As always, the first thing that hit us was the heat. When we left Dublin it was a very chilly 9 degrees (can’t find the degree symbol on my phone) while we landed into around the mid to high 20s. At time of writing we are now here five days or so, and the good news is we have had unbroken sunshine. Indeed Spain is having the hottest April on record, with consistently high temperatures.

Columbo and Ali

We have been coming to Cabo Roig for a good few years now, and while some things obviously change, fundamentally the place is still the same. It’s a typical seaside resort, where people enjoy themselves without any of the loutish behaviour that can spoil some of our own popular Irish hotspots.

There are a couple of beautiful beaches within easy walking distance of everywhere. For the more energetic and fitter people (of whom I am not one) there are amazingly beautiful seaside walks where, I am reliably informed, the scenery is breathtaking. If you are so inclined, you can walk for miles.

Then there is the renowned Cabo Roig Strip, where there are plenty of bars and restaurants, and where you are liable to meet as many people you know as you would at home in Creggs, and where the street vendors are constantly selling their wares (providing the police don’t pay them an unexpected visit). On any given night you can pick up a totally ‘genuine’ Rolex, Armani or even Rado watch for €10 to €15 – and if you are into handbags, you can fly home with a Prada or a Louis Vuitton designer bag for about the same price.

Now I am not sure if the 24-hour guarantee is applicable back home, but our good friends Columbo and his nephew Ali always tell us there is a guarantee with all their jewellery. Since we started coming to this part of Spain nearly 20 years ago, we have dealt with Columbo and Ali. Columbo, in particular, is a legend in and around the strip.

A Moroccan national, he seems to know everyone by their name, has learnt a few words of Irish over the years, and always has a welcome for every returning holiday-maker. Everyone that comes here seems to know him. So successful have himself and Ali been at selling their watches, I could nearly open a jewellery shop myself, given all the purchases I’ve made from them over the years. How long of a guarantee I could give is a bit uncertain, but watch out (forgive the awful pun) for news of a new jewellery shop about to be launched in Creggs.

Local hostelries

The strip is also famous for its many bars and restaurants, although restaurants, in particular, seem to come and go, and a few of our favourite eating haunts – like Beef or Salmon, Panache, and the outrageously good value Wok – are no more. However, everything is replaceable, and one thing for sure is you won’t go hungry!

There are establishments all along the strip to suit all tastes and budgets, but for us, if you like your traditional fish and chips it’s hard to beat the old Orange Tree, or the Kliv Inn as it’s now known. There are Asian, Indian, Chinese and Italian restaurants as well as places like YOLO, Manuela’s, and an Argentinian steakhouse, as well as KFC and two or three regular chippers. Occasionally we eat at home. There are two big supermarkets within walking distance of the house we are staying in. The bigger of the two, Consum, has everything one could want, and at a decent price.

As for the pub scene, I am a creature of habit and despite several new Irish pubs opening I seem to stick with just three – the Cabo Roig Inn, O’Riordan’s, and McCafferty’s. For many years the latter was the Olde Bog Road – owned by the O’Shea family – and the undoubted number one pub in the area. It is now part of a huge Irish success story. Owned by Declan McCafferty, who has pubs all over the world, it still maintains a lot of the characteristics that made ‘the Bog’ what it was. With music every night, this venue is still a huge attraction for Irish holidaymakers.

Old friends

The other night, while enjoying a quiet pint, we ran into one of the original owners, Paul O’Shea, whom we have known since 2005, and who, along with his sister Caoimhe, is now running the famous Paddy’s Point pub in La Zenia for Roscommon man, Rory Lee. We reminisced about the many great nights we had in the Olde Bog Road.

As ever, there are loads of Irish out here. We ran into two ex-Corinthian teammates from the 1970s (mine, not Carol’s), namely Jarleth O’Connell and Pat Considine, and their respective wives, Grainne and Lily. We also met up again with long-time residents here, Offaly natives Dermot and Monica Moore (and dog Penny) of the El Faro bar and restaurant.

At time of writing we still have five or six days to go, but so far the weather has just been marvellous, and although we set a much more leisurely pace for ourselves now, we are thoroughly enjoying the break. If you would like a beautiful, peaceful seaside resort to visit, then get out here to Cabo Roig, tell them I sent you, and you will love the experience.

And finally…

Last Saturday night we were lucky enough to get to see the wonderful hurling game between Clare and Limerick, which Clare won. We watched it in the Cabo Roig Inn, a lovely pub that is run by another member of the O’Shea family, Gerard.

We would not have been there at all only we had to take shelter from a big thunderstorm which was accompanied by torrential rain. One thing we have learned over the years is that there is very little rain in Spain, but when it comes it does so in style. In a matter of minutes, the road was like a fast-flowing river.

When the hurling was over, and properly analysed by ourselves and Dermot Moore and Gerard O’Shea (and a few others), all was back to normal and we walked home on a beautiful, moonlit night. By the time you get to read this (if you do), we will hopefully be back in Creggs – and Cabo Roig will be just a lovely memory!