Friday, May 27, 2011

Mallorca

I’ve heard about Mallorca since I’ve been in Spain. Almost as famous as Ibeza, it is one of the nearby Spanish islands in the Mediterranean and a popular vacation spot for Germans, British and Spaniards. Pictures of Mallorca show the sandy beaches, the resort towns and the towering cliffs. One guidebook I read described tourism as so popular that agriculture was becoming a nuisance. I did a lot of research on this place and got the mental picture of it being much like Lanzarote turned out to be. Sure, there is a long Coney Island like strip with bad tourist food, but good, possibly crowded beaches that stretch forever into the distance. I pictured bike paths, a long sidewalk for walking above but next to the beach and then the hidden gems, the little known coves, the special old style restaurants that don’t cater to the hordes of tourists but serve authentic island food.

From the descriptions I’ve read, lots of towns fit this description on the island, the most prominent one being Palma. We didn’t want to stay in Palma because from the research we had done, it seemed like a good place to have a frat or bachelor party and sleep was nearly impossible since the partying went on all night long.

We stayed a half an hour away in a little town called Ses Salines (or six saltines as I like to refer to it.)

Rather than do my normal entry, I’m just going to throw out some bullet points and anecdotes about what we experienced and how the island was- away from Palma, since I can’t speak for what Palma is like and that’s where most people go. Let’s start with a charming encounter of the weird.

*Thanks to Trip Advisor and guide books we have found a wonderful seafood restaurant in the next town over, situated right as the port meets a small stretch of beach. Great people watching. We open the menu to see they have a full page, full color picture of their mariscada. A mariscada is essentially a big platter sampling of the restaurant’s seafood usually for two people minimum. In this case: mussels, two small pieces of sea bass, a grilled bogavante split down the middle, calamari and grilled cuttlefish. We browse the menu but know that this is what we are going to have immediately. The price is nice, will give us a nice feel for the place since we’ll be sampling multiple wares, and it has all the stuff we love. (Click for a larger view.)

A German woman sits down at the table in front of us and orders a coffee. A couple with a blessedly quiet baby sits down at the table to her left. We order and I excuse myself to the restroom. When I come back Wendy is talking to the lone woman who ordered the coffee. She is charming and effusive, late sixties, stout, short and smiley. We enjoy talking with her as she tells us about her love of the island, how she had to move here after visiting once, finding her long lost love after twenty years and now has been married to him for another twenty.

All of this is charming, but you can tell she is lonely and really needs someone to talk to and today – we’re it. The conversation is getting a little long.

Our food arrives and she goes back to her coffee saying she’ll let us eat in peace. Thank God. In a minute she is talking to the couple next to her, leaning over the baby, telling them her story as well. Wow, glad we escaped that.

Until their food arrives and she turns back to her coffee - for a full minute, then swivels around and starts talking with us again. We pleasantly chat with her all through the meal. She regales us with tales of her genius son who she struggled to get into the PRISM program.

“You wanted your son in a prison program?”

“No, PRISM,” she explains.

“He missed the cutoff but I was determined to get him into it. I camped on the principal’s lawn until he agreed to bend the rules a little bit and let him in.”

“How come he needed to bend the rules to let your genius son in?”

“You need an IQ of 120 and he only got a 117 on the test.”

“Ah, well, your dedication as a mother is to be admired, working so hard for your son’s education. What’s he do now?” Wendy asks.

“He manages a supermarket.”

“Ah.”

This continues to go on and Wendy is her usual charming self but I’m getting tired of this. Not to the point of breaking because it’s clear that she is just lonely and she’s not that annoying. But when she goes on about her son for the next ten minutes, now having moved her coffee over to our table as well as herself, it starts to get on your nerves a little bit. Hoping to distract her I ask if she eats here often? Oh yes. Since you have been here so long, what do you consider the best place to eat on the island?

“There is this wonderful Chinese buffet in Palma where the food is excellent, all you can eat, and only eight Euros!”

Really? That’s the best restaurant on the island?”

“It’s fantastic! Let me give you directions.”

We’re now done and she comments on what a lovely meal we just had. There is a lot left.

“Yes, it’s too bad we don’t have a refrigerator in our room or we would take it with us. Since it’s just going to go bad, would you like it?”

“Oh, I couldn’t.”

“Why not? They’re going to throw it away and it will go bad long before we have a chance to eat it. You’re welcome to it.”

“Really?”

We ask them to box it up for her and they bring the bill and as is typical of Spain, three shots of liquor for the table, compliments of the house. Wendy and I decline ours but our new friend sips hers down. Finally we depart company, her with her boxes of food, us with our peace and quiet.

“Holy cow.”

“I know, right?”

*Mallorca landscape impression: Imagine if someone took a volcano and filled in the caldera with fertile soil and planted trees there. Then they dropped it into the Mediterranean and built roads and windmills. Almost the entire northern half of the island can be described this way. You drive along narrow winding paths and over the edge of a three hundred foot drop is the sea. And it looks beautiful! For miles and miles you drive like this. Just don’t expect to find a road down to it, or a beach anywhere.

*Bike tours are huge. They are everywhere and unlike anywhere else we have ever been, they seem to think they can ride four abreast and chat and make long lines of traffic just line up behind them.

*The roads are about ten feet wide. On each side of the road (everywhere) is a five foot high light orange rock wall with fields and sheep and goats and orchards. Cars are about five feet wide. Passing by each other is an exercise in precision. Now add in pedestrians who are, say, about a food wide, but luckily they are soft and squishy and won’t damage the rental car. Now add in frequent bike groups.

The most harrowing experience involving all of this was driving almost straight up a winding mountain road, with a bike group climbing it at the same time, while tour buses suddenly appear in front of us coming down the curve as we are going up. “Jesus!” Wendy screams. (Luckily, I am awesome possum on a stick at driving.)

It was a 13 mile stretch that I am sure was 6.5 miles up, 6.5 miles down and no straightaway longer than fifty yards. Well, thirteen miles isn’t that long… Yeah, unless you’re going thirteen miles an hour!

*The Germans have invaded. None of this was mentioned by any of our friends or in the guidebooks. Literally, and I am using that word correctly, ninety-nine percent of the tourists we encountered were German. It turns out that Mallorca is also known as “little Germany” because so many Germans visit it and because they have bought up so much property on the island. We don’t have any problem with Germans or the German language. It’s just weird so see, hear and experience it so much when you’re not in Germany!

*Our hotel was both a mix of wonderful and slightly disturbing. Wendy found this lovely place out in the country, less expensive since it wasn’t on the beach, that had a nice pool, a restaurant and mostly wonderful staff. We had a big room, a sitting room, a terrace and a large bathroom. The pool had daybeds, a pool boy or girl who came over and took drink orders and a wonderful view of the next town over. It was filled with guests like us (except, you know, German) who were just looking for a quiet time, a base of operations and not a nightclub. Most of the food was good and the calamari was the best I have ever had. The disturbing part was they constantly played low background music and as near as I can tell they had three CD’s and one of them didn’t work most of the time. So, on day one, we listened to Frank Sinatra for dinner, then for breakfast, then for dinner when we returned at night.

I hate Frank Sinatra.

When he wasn’t playing… well, as Wendy said “They sure do love their Kool and the Gang.”

The bathroom was nice and spacious but the shower had no door and no curtain. Nothing. Taking a shower meant drenching most of the bathroom and the floors got slippery when wet. Wendy slipped once so hard she has a purple bruise the size of my fist on her right buttock.

The beds were comfortable and sleep came easily. Until four-thirty in the morning when a very proud rooster, quite close by, would announce that the sun would be coming up, well, sometime. Eventually. It might be soon. He didn’t care. He would announce this loudly every couple minutes. Sometimes he would take a fifteen minute break but then he would resume. He did this every day we were there. On the third morning I called the front desk and asked if they had a gun or even a club, I needed to go commit roostercide.

*The beaches were hard to find in a way you cannot fathom. “The coast is that way… but none of the roads seem to lead there…” We once got directions to a secluded beach that took us about an hour to find down back roads so narrow (with stone walls on each side) that cars had to stop at one end or back up to wait for another to pass because two cars wouldn’t fit on the roads. This wasn’t one road, this was all the roads to this beach. After multiple left’s, right’s, backtracking, swearing, consulting the GPS, etc, we finally found it. I felt like I had escaped the Minotaur’s maze. There were beautiful breathtaking views from the cliffs and one small beach that held thirty people. Thirty people who were already there. (Click for a larger view.)


*On our final day there, we drove to Palma to see the cathedral on our way to the airport. After seeing the very weird Gaudi art inside this cathedral that took five hundred years to build, we went out exploring. On our way to a place to eat recommended in a guidebook we found this cute little restaurant with three tables on the street. It was a quiet street away from the crowd and no one seated there. When we found our intended destination closed, we made our way back to it to sample some tapas. The owner “hippie John” as I like to refer to him, was smiling and gracious but totally bizarre. We almost left when he lectured Wendy on speaking too fast. "Relax. It’s Mallorca, take your time," his hands gesturing widely like a pastor to his flock. Then he talked extra slow describing a particular tapa to illustrate his point, smiling beatifically the entire time.

We wanted to beat him with sticks.

We ordered a few things and a very annoying and loud man and his two French companions took the seat behind us. As annoying as this was, it was worth it. They ordered some salads and they looked too cool for school. One of them we had to try. It just looked amazing. It turned out to be a Cambodian Khmer salad. It was phenomenal. One of the best things we have ever shared. As the meal goes on we learn that John used to captain a boat, but now just helps his wife run their restaurant. His wife (Cambodian/French I think) is a master chef who has cooked for the king of Spain. The food is actually priced way too low, the portions enormous and heavenly. John is still weird though.

“With food this good, how come Mallorcans don’t pack this place every day?” I ask him.

He thinks for a minute. “Well, food is like evolution you know?”

No, actually, I’m not following you, I think to myself.

“Sometimes, people just need time to adapt. Food is like that, you know?" He trails off… "I remember the first McDonald’s that came here.”

Fascinating. No, really, go on.

“So, you’re Irish, how did you come to Mallorca?”

“Well, you know.." pause "...rain falls, and it goes into a stream, and then it sort of just takes its own course, you know?”

I don’t know but I want some of what you’re smoking. I bet it makes the food taste even better.

“Hey, look John, Tripadvisor users have rated you the number three restaurant on the entire island. Look, you have fourteen five star reviews and one four star review.”

“I hate Tripadvisor.”

“Allrightythen. I’m going to stop talking to you now.”

In closing, it was great and relaxing and frustrating and weird. Agriculture is certainly not dead since everywhere we drove had beautiful crops as well as large farms, hay bales in the fields, goats and sheep grazing – totally beautiful countryside that was reminiscent of Vermont or Provence. It was weird driving so much and yet, none of the roads were next to the ocean unless you were far above it. After we got done visiting the lovely couple we met in Venice, and got done site seeing, and found a nice beach we liked, we spent the last three days returning to that wonderful seafood restaurant, lounging by the pool and taking it easy. The hotel during the day was spectacular, lying on a daybed with my wife, reading a good book, an occasional swim and the fantastic view. The staff was friendly and nice, and all the Germans spoke English. It was a great trip, but nothing like what you might expect when you go to an island.

2 comments:

  1. I told you about bikes Jamie, later in the year you will find almost no bikes on the roads but the months from March to June are crowded with those.

    If you had asked me about beaches I could have pointed you to some of the best ones, if you ever come back here let me know and I will recommend some places.

    Overall I think I like your review of my home island.

    ReplyDelete