Hello June! How fast has this year flown by, as we are already through 5/12 of 2013! As you know from reading my other posts, I have had the good fortune to travel over a really good portion of Spain with my friend Ross, who was doing the same program as myself in Madrid. However, he starts medical school at Baylor in July, so his time in Spain was winding down and we decided to make our trip to the island of Mallorca the big finale. Mallorca is one of the Balaeric Islands located in the Mediterranean just off the coast of Barcelona. The other two major islands include Menorca and the infamous Ibiza. I flew in on a Friday morning to take advantage of a full weekend in and around the major city on the island, called Palma de Mallorca.
First order of business was to drop our bags off at our hotel, and we did so to find a small room with two double beds and a fabulous view into the interior light shaft and directly onto the wall on the other side of the building. Luckily, we spent a total of an hour awake and in the room, so the view wasn't the worst thing in the world. Plus, the hotel had a balcony on the roof, from which there was a panoramic view of the city, the Cathedral, the Palace, the port and the mountains in the distance. This view made up for the lack of one from the room.
That day, we decided to take care of the touristy things in the city, which amounted to the port, a castle on the hill, the cathedral, and the palace. Since the Balearic islands are very small, water transportation is stil vitally important, and the ports of these cities are huge. Rows and rows of sailboats, small motor craft and superyachts sit motionlessly on the aquamarine water-- Ross and I agree that someday it'd kinda cool to travel the islands in a boat like the blue one in the front as opposed to hoppin on the government buses to travel around the island.
Maybe for my next birthday, Ma and Pa? A ten minute trek uphill led us to the base of the Bellver Castle, a gorgeous stone building built in the 14th century for King James II of Mallorca. It is a fascinating place, built on a circular floor plan with spires and towers around the outside. Google it for a cool aerial photo of the shape of the castle that I couldn't effectively capture from the ground! Ross and I wandered around the castle for a while checking out a small exhibit on the history of Palma and of course the obligatory views of the city and the sea.
After the castle, we moved toward the center of the city to check out the the most imposing structure on the island: The Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma. In a country where you can find magnificent cathedrals in every moderate-sized town, it is astounding how each and every one can be stunnning in its own way. This one is incredibly large when viewed from the outside, and completely dominates the skyline of the city.
Although it is not the largest church we have been in, upon entering it seems to reach right up to the sky. It also has some of the coolest, most interesting stained glass work that I have seen in my travels. In a small chapel to the side of the main altar, the stained glass has been stained black!
There are also two huge stained glass windows at either end of the sanctuary, and twice a year the sun shines projects the light from one of the circular windows to the wall directly below the other stained glass window, creating a magnificent 8 pattern by the window and the projection. We weren't lucky enough to be there for that event, but the windows were still extremely impressive.
Also interesting and immediately apparent to us as soon as we entered the cathedral was that Gaudí himself had stamped his mark on the church after being asked to aid in reformations in the early 1900s. As a result, the main altar has some uniquely Gaudí themes that, as tends to be the case, lighten the mood of the Gothic style considerably.
After conquering the palace as well, which was honestly not particularly notable, we retired for a nap to the hotel (there is an infamous photo of me online getting a minute of shut-eye with a side of open-mouth). Naps are better with your mouth open-- and when your friends don't have immediate access to a camera and the internet. But actually, funnily enough, it was the second time that day that I got caught on camera napping and catching flies. On the flight in to Mallorca I was napping on the plane and I caught a group of guys passing around and chuckling at a photo of me in full mouth-open glory. Such is life. Here's the offending photo:
After said super-power nap, we adventured around the city for dinner and a drink before hitting the hay early in preparation for a full Saturday.
We had decided to fall into the nearest tourist trap and take the 'historical train to the magical Mallorquin town of the Port of Soller.' Cue the puke. But after being recommended this by several people we gave in and hopped onto the train the next morning which whisked us away toward the mountains in the distance.
After a beautiful ride through the foothills and small towns, we entered a tunnel and came out the other side into Soller, which is actually a small town nestled in the hills and another port town about a 10 minute tram ride. Unfortunately, the weather was a little funky, with thick cloud cover and a brisk breeze so Ross and I stopped into a coffee shop in the town+ in the hopes we could let the coulds burn off a bit before venturing outward. The town of Soller itself was not particularly noteworthy, with the exception of a local market happening in the center of the city. We wandered around the stalls, containing mostly artisan rings and bracelets and huge arrays of fake leatherery, but I was of course drawn to a stall with a huge variety of olives laid out before us. After talking with the worker for a minute, he made us up a small bucket of olives (maybe 2 pints?) with olives filled with each of the following (separately): garlic, cheese and sobrasada (shredded sausage). They were awesome and lasted all afternoon, which is good because I almost handed 'em back after he charged us almost 9 Euros for the bucket, yeehaw!
In about 20 minutes we felt like we had conquered Soller, so we hopped on the tram for the Port of Soller, unfortunately still under gray skies. We jumped off the tram and immediately both regretted the decision to wear shorts: the breeze was stiff and without the sun to warm us, it was a bit uncomfortable.
With the knowledge that another coffee might well put us over the edge of sanity, Ross and I put our engineering heads together and decided that the next best way to warm ourselves up was to walk around the beautiful port a little bit. Perhaps walking to the end of the windy docks wasn't the most intelligent part of said plan, but we found ourselves out there and talking to a man who was eating a sandwich in the back of his 30-some foot sailboat. One of the most fascinating things about traveling so much is the chance to meet people pursuing all types of lives. This gentlemen had sailed all over Europe and the Caribbean, making the transatlantic voyage 6 times. I neglected to ask how he earned the shekels to follow that kind of lifestyle, but when he talked about his boat and how it had come through his family years ago, the pride on his face was obvious.
Meanwhile, Ross and I were shivering on the dock, so we took our leave and walked upward through the buildings around the cove toward a lighthouse we had seen when we were arriving in the town. We couldn't get to the lighthouse, as it was actually part of a military installation there, but instead we found a lookout over the sea that looked almost straight down on the waves battering the coast in an endless series of waves and swells. It was spectacular, and made even more so when the sun started to win its battle with the clouds, and in short order I was having to put on sunscreen!
We had also seen another lighthouse on the opposite spit of land, so we decided to adventure up to it, and were not disappointed by the views as reward!
Having felt that we conquered the Port of Sollers, we decided to head back into Palma and gear up for the European club championship soccer game, which would pit two German teams against each other. However, instead of taking the train back, we elected the cheaper option of taking a public bus through a couple of coastal towns on the way back to Palma. Not terribly surprising given that we were still in Spain was the tardiness of the bus, but the ride would prove quite exciting! The vehicle of choice was a regular city bus, which was good because everyone was able to sit. Turns out that was terribly important, because there were numerous hairpin turns to be navigated, and the driver, though clearly experienced, was not a particularly patient or friendly man. Several times he came whipping around a corner before having to slow down considerably to allow a car to sneak past our flank with seemingly inches to spare. I wish I'd been able to take some photos of the road, but unfortunately I was quite busy giving my armrest the white-knucke treatment. We did survive the drive back to Palma, with many unbelievable views, but it may have taken years off my life.
The island of Mallorca is known as a hot and cheap destination for many European countries, but the majority of Europeans come from Germany and England. As such, the Champion's League final that night was fun, as Ross and I found a bar with some Germans to watch the game (honestly it would've been tougher to find a bar without Germans). It was a great game that looked destined for overtime, but a late goal from Munich sent Dortmund home disappointed. Having grabbed some greasy fish and chips for dinner from a little English diner, we were full and happy upon retiring for the night.
After considering another excursion for Sunday, Ross and I just decided to cool our jets around Palma for the day. In the morning, we went to a recommended cafe to try a few of the specialties of the island. The main one is called Ensaimilla, which is a flaky pastry with powdered sugar on top. The come plain or with other ingredients in the middle, and in ever size from small breakfast, tea-saucer sized to bring friends, double extra large pizza sized. We mostly stuck to the small ones, although I did get to try one with candied squash and spanish pulled sausage. Nothing I probably would have ordered if I'd known the translation of candied squash, but actually the sweet and salty actually made a nice combo! Sorry there aren't any photos, if you know me, you know that when food hits the table, I am not thinking about taking pictures of it!!
We spent the rest morning adventuring about a hour outside the city to another recommended attraction; this time a beach. Illeares is in a tiny cove that has been developed into a gorgeous resort around the public beach. We spent a while sunbathing, and then I got hungry and bored with just sitting, so we decided to investigate a little town up the hill from the beach. It was here that I had one of the more interesting interactions of my time in Spain. We went into a restaurant and I asked for two sandwiches to go, in Spanish, and the lady looked at me like I had six heads. So I repeated myself, thinking automatically that she didnt understand my accent. Two which she responded, 'pardon me, honey?' At this point it took me a second to fully comprehend that here was someone (English) living in Spain and working in the food service industry who can't even understand an order for a sandwich to go. Yikes! Later in conversation, we learned that she'd lived in Spain for 13 years... Pretty incredible!
A little longer on the beach near the city of Palma was all the sunning we had time for, and both of us had flights on Sunday night, so we stopped back at the hotel briefly for shower before heading to the airport to wrap up the great weekend.
So unfortunately that concludes (for now) the adventures of John Wayne and Harry Potter (nicknames given to us from the Moroccan vendors) as John Wayne heads to med school. John Wayne in Med School, whoda thunk it!! But seriously, I wish Ross the best of luck and look forward to more travels in the future!
Luckily, though, I have a few more months of adventuring, so stay tuned!!