Saturday, our second full day on the island, saw both of us up and out early. The night before we had planned our route for the day, intending to drive along the western coast of the island, stopping at the towns of Valldemossa, Deia, Soller, and Pollenca, then drive to the Cap of Fomentera and spend the evening in the old Roman town of Alcudia. A little ambitious for sure, but we thought we’d have enough time…
After a pleasant drive through winding mountain roads, now bathed in complete sunshine, we arrived at the beautiful mountain village of Valldemossa. It was at this old monastery where feminist French writer George Sand and her lover the composer Chopin spent their disastrous winter. They hadn’t had a pleasant time, but we certainly did! Another breakfast of coffee and ensaimadas at a cafe next to the monastery got us started in the true Mallorcan fashion.
On a side not, I had the privilege of being our interpreter during the weekend spent on the island, and was delighted to finally put my Spanish to good use. Walking around the gorgeous little villages and small cities with the melodious Spanish language flowing around me was truly an incredible experience. I was also pleasantly surprised to find out how much of my grammar and vocabulary came back to mind – truly immersion is the best way to learn a language!
We walked up the hill to the old Royal Charter-house, which had originally been built as a monastery but had for several hundred years been owned by private citizens. The monastery had a beautiful view, but I couldn’t help thinking it seemed cold and cheerless – perhaps because there as no one living there now. We paid the entrance fee to the museum and main part of the monastery, but were dismayed to find a few minutes later that the rooms rented by Chopin and Sand were an additional charge. We decided to forego these, but were rewarded by attending a performance of some of Chopin’s most beloved pieces at 11:00am in a small Baroque concert room attached to the monastery.
Upon leaving Valldemossa, we struck the north road and continued through valleys that were increasingly steep and winding. Soon the glimmer of the Mediterranean was visible on our left, and it followed us all the way to Deia. This is when the bikers began to appear. I don’t mean casual cyclists, these were legit sporting bicyclists, complete with spandex suits and bananas poking out of pockets on the back of their shirts. To give you the full picture, imagine driving around the steep curves of the North Carolina Blue Ridge Trail and then suddenly turning a corner to find yourself directly behind twenty bikers… and then trying to pass them…
We arrived at last in Deia at the Robert Graves House, and after parking our little car (in a spot that I’m not sure was actually a spot?) we walked along the path up to the house. Deia is a mountain village in that it is literally perched on the hillside. Houses lean out over cliffs, or are perched on the steep tops of foothills. Some of them must only be accessible to the many mountain goats that one sees all around and beside the roads (and sometimes on them too!).
Robert Graves was a poet writing during most of the last century. He is most famous for his work of historical fiction I, Claudius, but I primarily knew him from my brief exposure to his war-poetry that I had during college. I’d only read his poetry, and always thought it middling, but his house…. my word… his house.
The house is perched on the gentle slope of a hill, facing the Mediterranean, and surrounded by gardens fenced in with stone walls. The sun shone brightly, but not too warm, on the garden, suffusing the air with the sweet scent of orange blossoms. The little garden shed that used to house Graves’ bike is now a charming ticket shop, and after we purchased our ticket there, we roamed throughout the garden, taking in the sights and smells with minds delighted and refreshed by what we saw. Around every loop in the garden path new vistas opened out, overlooking the sea, or burrowing down under tree roots in a tunnel, or climbing up stone paths into a lemon orchard. Oranges hung temptingly from the trees, but I contented myself with one that the lady in the ticket office had given us from a gleaming mound by the window. “Fresh picked today from the garden,” she announced with an obvious gleam of pride.
Although we ate many lovely or exotic meals that weekend, nothing, I think, can compare to the taste of that fresh orange eaten while overlooking the sea. As I stood there, leaning against a stone wall and feeling the soft breeze, I envied Robert Graves – how could one but write when surrounded by such beauty?
We entered the house then, and I admired Graves’ taste – every was simply and beautifully decorated in a mix of British and island decor. Each window had stunning views of the sea, the orchard, or the mountains sprawling behind. Instead of the stale, museum-like quality most historical houses seem to have, Graves’ house was airy, clean, bright, and so well-preserved and kept-up that I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had turned a corner to find the old author writing at his desk.
After an hour or more we had to tear ourselves away – we needed to hit the road if we were going to be at Alcudia by sunset – we planned to watch the sun go down behind the mountains during our dinner. As soon as we got back on the road, we noticed a dramatic increase in the number of cyclists. The trip from Deia to Soller which should have taken less than thirty minutes, took us almost an hour – a stressful hour, constantly worrying we’d hit a cyclist or five every time we turned a corner. At last we arrived in Soller. The town’s setting was absolutely beautiful – tall mountains completely surrounded it, giving it the appearance of a Swiss mountain town (sans the snow, of course). We had to park a bit away from the town center, so by the time we stopped for lunch, we were quite ready for it. I chatted a bit with our waiter while he was serving us, and found out he was from Puerto Rico. He served us a lovely appetizer before our meal: Mallorcan olives and crispy bread. I ordered the Mallorcan stew: much more like steamed veggies than soup, but absolutely delicious; it was mainly composed of eggplant, potatoes, cauliflower, a dash of garlic and some onion (everything I hated as a kid… how times change).
We didn’t spend long in Soller, and were soon on the road again northward toward Pollenca. The drive was stunning – mountains that looked like something from an old Western, wild goats bounding up rocks to our right, deep valleys on our left. Unfortunately, however, the most frequent sights on the road were hordes of bikers. We counted, and in one fifteen-minute stretch we passed over one hundred. I am entirely serious. I have nothing personal against cyclists, but after an hour of major stress, I was about ready to forswear ever hopping on a bike again in my life. We decided at last to stop the northward road, and head east towards our final destination, Alcudia.
We arrived around five o’clock in the small, walled city. We parked right by the wall, and had a reviving cup of cappuccino right inside the massive medieval gate. It was Saturday afternoon, and it seemed that the whole town had closed down for the weekend. A few tourist-style shops were open, but the afternoon sun slanted down on many more shops closed for the weekend. It was actually rather pleasant to stroll through the clean-swept and quiet streets, so different from the crowded and dirty streets of Soller. Before leaving, we walked five minutes to the Roman ruins that had been (somewhat) recently unearthed outside the town. The exhibit was closed, but we hopped on the stone wall and peered through the chain-link fence at the old necropolis and stone foundations of the town. I already feel as though I’m becoming a snob about old things – 1500AD just doesn’t seem that old any more, but looking down at these weather-stained and long buried stones, I was reminded how very old humanity is, at least compared to our own short lifetimes.
A fifteen minute drive brought us to the Port of Alcudia, a larger and more industrial town than the walled city that shares its name. The quay was pleasant and the waterfront held a fine view, but our attention was caught by the massive crowds streaming to the main street and the banners draped across the road. “What’s going on?” I wondered aloud. “Oh!” Aaron exclaimed. “I forgot! This weekend they were having a Cuttlefish Festival here, it was posted online.” So to the Cuttlefish Festival we went.
There was actually a surprising lack of cuttlefish-related items: we did buy a small Steampunk cuttlefish bumper sticker, because… why not? There were stalls typical of a festival in the U.S.: meats, jams, wooden items, crafts, even a large mobile bar made out of a giant beer-cask (though maybe that’s not so typical?). The crowds were a little much for us at the end of a long day, so we walked along the waterway to the less crowded area by the beach, and sat down under an awning-covered patio portion of one of the outdoor restaurants. The air was getting chilly, but a heater right by our table kept us warm as we ordered and ate. The sun gradually sank behind the mountains in the west, and we talked with each other and a British family at the next table over. A young man juggled lit-torches on the beach, and when we clapped for him when he finished, he came by and held out his hat for tips. We only had a few coins, but we dropped them in and he smiled and walked off towards where the more crowded area might offer him a better reward for his skills.
Soon darkness fell completely, and we walked along the beach and back to the car. The drive back to the flat in C’an Pastilla was quiet and uneventful, and we went quickly and gratefully to bed, full of the sights and sounds of our last full day on the island.