Here Comes the Sun – Mallorca, Day 1

Our trip to Mallorca this past weekend was the product of a great necessity for sun.

Several weeks ago, Aaron and I were driving back from Trier and we were both feeling discouraged by the continual rain of a German winter. Our South Carolina hearts were on fire with the need for sunshine, and we were getting desperate. “Look up cheap Ryanair flights to somewhere sunny!” Aaron suggested as we sped along the autobahn that cold February day. I did so, and ta-dah! There were some inexpensive tickets to Mallorca during one of Aaron’s first three-day weekends.
That night we booked the flight, reserved an AirBnB that looked promising (we had no idea what we were doing, more on that later…) and all we had to do was wait! The days passed slowly, but the weeks sped by, and before we knew it, we were stepping off our plane from Germany and into the cool, sea-fragrant island night of Mallorca.
Aaron had done some research on renting cars, and the best company he could find was Sixt. The only automatic car that they rented out however, was a Smart car. Aaron had booked it (not without some hesitation) and we both looked forward with interest to see what the experience would be like. It actually turned out to be a perfect car for the trip – the great gas mileage was ideal for all the driving we did, but the best part was its size: we could literally park that thing anywhere, which turned into a huge advantage on the crowded streets of Palma and Soller.
We picked up the keys for our fuel-efficient ride, threw our bags in the back, and headed off in search of our AirBnB. It was in a place called C’an Pastilla, about ten minutes from the airport and fifteen from the capital of Mallorca, Palma. After a somewhat sketchy ride through an area that looked like a bad mashup between Myrtle Beach and Florida (no offense to either place!) we found a parking place not too far away from the place we were to stay. The streets were dark and unfamiliar, but the crash of waves and the smell of the sea were comforting. Apparently we took a wrong turning though, because after walking around fruitlessly looking for No. 4 Calle Ovida, we had to call our host so he could help us find the place.
Our host, Martin, was a thirty-something native of Argentina. He took us to the flat and showed us around, and it wasn’t until we got there that we realized that we would be sharing it with him. Somehow on the website I had misunderstood his listing, and thought the entire flat would be ours. Instead, the living room, porch, and bathroom would all be shared with him during our stay. Every night of our stay a new group was there at the flat. The first night it was a friend, the second was a girlfriend, and the final night was an entire group of very loud and happy young adults enjoying the fact that it was the weekend. It was definitely an interesting experience, but I think I’ll be checking the box “Private House” next time I search for an AirBnB.
We woke early the next morning, and drove to Palma under grey skies that threatened lots of rain. We had both thankfully brought jackets, but we soon supplemented our wardrobes with scarves bought in town – the weather that first day was colder than we had expected! We parked by the gorgeous Gothic cathedral that loomed over the ancient city – it is truly one of the most impressive buildings I have ever seen! We later saw the cathedral in the sunshine of the following days, but I will always remember it under the looming clouds of that first day – the weather added to the solemnity the building already possessed.
We left our car and quickly found a cafe, where we had coffee and the famed ensaimadas (croissant-like rolls dusted in powdered sugar) that are the staple of Mallorcan breakfasts. Thus refreshed, we wandered about the winding, narrow streets, where brightly painted houses and businesses leaned over our heads, and Gothic buildings with worn stonework hid around every corner. Mallorca’s history is fascinating: now belonging to Spain, it has been in the hands of the Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, and Moors. Every people-group has left its mark on the place, but the Spanish influence (naturally) predominates. King Jaime of Aragon is assuredly its most beloved historical figure, and the island is littered with his statues and commemorative plaques.
We wandered serendipitously through the city, following whatever road or twisting alley took our fancy. We discovered old Italian-style villas with carved-stone steps, an old hotel that had been turned into an art museum, and a Moorish bath that was in beautiful condition and still had the original Roman columns the Arabs had recycled for their own use. Fruit trees, sweet-smelling gardens, and bright flowers peaked out of every place where enough soil had collected to allow them to grow. Lemons and oranges gleamed under dark leaves thick with raindrops. We stopped for lunch in one of the many tapas bars that opened into the street, and had a delightful meals of cheeses, olives, and island peppers.
By mid-afternoon our feet had grown tired, so we switched our plan and retrieving our car, left the city behind and followed the signs for Andratx, a small coastal town about forty minutes away. As we drove through the twisting mountain roads, the sun began to peep out of the clouds and shine upon a region that looked as though it came straight out of a picture-book of southern Italy. Sheep clustered by old stone troughs, or stood under the dripping boughs of olive trees. Rocky torrentes sent trickles of rain water down to the Mediterranean past fields of orange and lemon trees, and ahead of us the Serra Tramuntuna mountains began to shrug the clouds and mist and loomed large in the evening sunshine.
By the time we reached Andratx, the sun was fully out and sparkled brightly on the turquoise surface of the Mediterranean. We walked along the quays and admired the ships, and I sat for a while on the end of a stone wharf and sketched a wooden sailboat that I particularly admired.
We ate dinner over the water, and watched the sun sink lower on the horizon. Dinner finished, we made a last-minute decision to watch the sun set over Sa Dragonera, an island about fifteen minutes away and off the coast of Sant Elm. The local legend is that dragons visit the island every night, and as I watched the sun turn the waves about the shore of the island to fire, I could almost believe it was true.
The next day was my favorite we spent on the island, but I’ll save that story for next time.

The Long and Winding Road – Mallorca, Day 2

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.