They said it would never happen. The cost was toted across the world as a crying shame and it was. Several politicians stated incorrectly that it was not needed as Valencia Airport was only 60 kilometres away (incorrect – actually 108). Now that it is here everyone in this area wants it. It represents hope and economic regeneration. So I am happy to say we have got it! Castellon airport has finally received it first commercial plane in a frenzy of public and official euphoria.
At precisely 10.20 yesterday, 20 minutes early, the first plane slid remarkably quietly into Castellon airport against the emblematic backdrop of Penyagolosa mountain. A slew of people, half foreign and half Spanish, cheered through the wire fencing and across the unfinished public areas while another slew of photo journalists on a tiered metal dais on the inner runway pointed their very long lenses at the descending marvel. Two fire engines rushed to the scene and christened the inaugural flight from Stansted with hoses of water.
Inside the terminal families and friends waited excitedly for loved ones, 189 to be exact, a full flight. A plethora of English accents echoed around the pleasant hall, peppered with a bit of German, Dutch and even a bit of Russian. The first to come through arrivals was Mr Berry from just outside London, beaming ear to ear. Actually I think he was with his wife but the hovering press ignored her and descended on him. What do you think, they asked him? What does he think? “ I have waited 20 years for this to happen”, he replied. “And now Castellon Airport is here to stay”.
It was truly thrilling and brought home the amazing feat of air travel. This small airport plonked right in the middle of a serene mountain nature reserve with a band of excited, smiling people and a lone, pristine Ryanair plane being pampered and groomed attentively.
Of which. While the media circus hummed through the throng of tourists and locals inside, outside the plane was undergoing its usual fast turnaround, and passengers were being herded inside under the gaze of normal folks’ cameras, smart phones and video cams.
At exactly 11.12 the Ryanair plane taxied down the runaway and took off seawards back to the UK. Not a great shooting point as it disappeared into the surroundings before emerging suddenly faraway in the sky. I raced away up the mountain highway, turned left towards the nearby village of Vilanova and scouted for a better point to take a photo when the next flight came in.
It was due at 2.1, but I never made it (picture to follow when I do on Thursday). The village was simply too dreamy and fresh on this lightly clouded September day to pull myself away. I passed through the narrowish streets and ogled the impeccably renovated houses, clearly having benefited from sort of “airport compensation tax” – or so I thought, but actually could have not been further from the truth as I found out later from an ex-mayor. To date only 10 euros compensation for the essentially “land grab” has been forthcoming.
At a pleasant bar in the central bar I ordered a wine and relaxed. The wine was light and crisp and went down quickly so I ordered another. A table next to me filled up with local middle-aged women (like myself I hasten to add) and I asked them what they thought of the pivotal event. What event, one asked? Another said she had been there and thought it was the sign of things going upwards. Haha. “It can only be good for the region”, another piped in. “Best thing Carlos Fabra ever did, the rat”, she added for good measure.
A group of English expats took residence a few tables further, talking animatedly, full of good cheer. They had not come for the airport, they informed me, but the good food at Mas Roures about 30 minutes away. They wanted to know what direction the plane took off in and it transpired they lived in Alcossebre, by the sea.
This was the question everyone asked and I guess they were worried about noise, but no one had heard any. Just as I had not, much to my surprise. It was as if there was a kind of special wind tunnel that swept it away between the mountain passes. Much more intrusive is the grinding of the almond shelling factory on the edge of town.
I met a mature couple from the town, Angel and Vicenta. They invited me in to see a ancient house fronting the square. I followed them into a stunning space, solid beams of dense old wood, an interior well and amazing floors; it was of a standard seldom seen today. They invited me into their other four houses, one for each of their lucky daughters. And then we had lunch of home-made caldo, tomatoes from the “huetra” and sausages in their charming interior patio shaded by a giant fig tree.
So that is why I never made it to the perfect spot I found for the Bristol 2.10 arrival, where the hermitage is buried by the way. Neither did any of the other journalists/photographers. At least that is what I suspect as I have failed to find any photos in the papers.
Long live Castellon airport! The lady in the square is right; it is the one thing that Carlos Fabra (still in prison) can hold his head up high to, even if its inception was riddled with scandal. P.S. – its completion still is too.