Travels With Myself

A Personalized Periodic Update, just for my family and friends, of the Ongoing Adventures of Your Favorite World Traveler

Location: Budapest, Hungary

After nearly 30 years in the financial industry in the US (mostly California and New Mexico), I decided it was time for my second life. I sold my house, sold my car, sold all my furniture, took a TEFL course and moved to Budapest to teach Business English to the business people of Hungary. Amazing mid-life change! I taught for about eight years, then pretty much retired. Since then I have traveled extensively, and have been to nearly 75 countries. I have had six books published, mostly about my travels - see my author's page on I have made friends all over the world. Becoming an expat is the best move I ever made and I plan to continue my travels indefinitely. Come join me on this blog and enjoy the places I've been and the people I've met in the past and present and hopefully will meet in the future.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Another Island Paradise in the Med

Hola! Yes, it was back to Spain for my August break. But this was a Spain unlike any I’d ever visited before. The island of Mallorca, off the eastern coast of Spain in the Mediterranean Sea, must surely be the jewel in Spain’s crown. Plus, although it is part of Spain, and a definite tourist destination, it feels totally different from the mainland.
Hordes of German and British tourists, a scattering of Scandinavians, lots of local expats and Spaniards, but, strangely enough, Palma doesn’t have a tourist feel. It feels more like an island paradise, just a good place to relax and stroll the marinas and beaches, to sample the local cuisine, to sit in a local pub (air conditioned, of course) and watch Man United annihilate Arsenal, to take it easy and work on your suntan. In short, it feels…..comfortable. Just the way Paradise should.
I spent the last week of August 2011 there, doing all those things and more. The sightseeing was great, the crowds were controllable, the food was outstanding, the weather was perfect (90 degrees – 30 C – but with a cooling sea breeze all day and night), the people were happy and smiling and courteous and chatty and just overall enjoyed being there to meet and talk to you. What a great place.
Anyway, I set off jauntily, with a happy traveler’s smile on my face, on Thursday, August 25. Got to the Budapest airport to find out Wizz Air had changed the rules on me again and was now going to charge me 30 euro (about $45) to check my bag. Damn. And that was just the one-way charge; there’d be another coming back. Guess that pretty much gives the lie to the term ‘discount airlines.’ So, my smile now tightening at the corners, I checked in and paid and caught my plane for the summer sun.
It was 97 degrees F when I left Budapest, and not a breath of air was stirring. It was only 90 in Palma when I arrived around 5 PM, but at least there was a nice sea breeze to cool things down. I caught the airport bus I had researched online to what looked like a stop near my hotel; turned out I still had to walk aways uphill, dragging my bag. Hot! But made it to my hotel, stopping along the way to ask directions from the bartender at Sindi’s English pub, to which I would return often during my stay.
I checked into my just-under-3-star hotel, the Hostal Pinar, just off the Calle Joan Miro, on the western side of Palma’s marina. A nice small place with a swimming pool (Thank Bog), adequate rooms, friendly staff; just what I needed. I then found my way back down to the marina, only a short walk away, and this time downhill. Stopped for a beer at the Shamrock Irish pub, then had another at Hogan’s Irish pub, farther along. You know how I love my Irish pubs. Finally stopped at a small tapas place for a yummy dinner of various types of seafood and meats and other goodies, along with a Mahou (pronounced ‘Ma-ow’), one of the local beers. I watched the cruise ships and myriad of boats tied up in the large harbor, drank my beer, munched my tapas, and all was right with the world.
I did get back to Sindi’s pub later on, and talked with Mickey, the bartender. I also met some of the customers, among them Terry from Antigua, who worked on the yachts. I was definitely getting into the island mood.
Friday, my first full day in Palma, was my usual Get Acquainted Day in a new place. I caught a local bus (my hotel was right on a major bus line) to the Plaza Espana and walked from there down to the Plaza Mayor. Then it was over to the Passeig de Born, one of the premier strolling streets of Palma, lined with tall trees and benches and people strolling and relaxing. At the end of the street is the Plaza de la Reina and the Hop On/Hop Off tour bus, which I took for the next couple of hours. It’s always a good way to get oriented when visiting a new city, and I saw all of the big sights, most of which I would return to later. I did hop off at the Castle Bellver on the western hill overlooking the town and the bay, which was a nice interlude.
Lunch was more tapas at El Pilon restaurant, near the center of town; Spanish meatballs, calamari, pa amb oli (like a hot, spicy bruschetta) and some jamon slices taken directly from the deer leg as I watched (the deer was dead, of course). Yum. After my meal, the waiter offered me an ice-cold digestif called Herbes (pronounced ’yer-bayss’), which was…interesting. But that Spanish hospitality, gotta love it.
The first thing one notices when walking about a Spanish city is its cleanliness; almost no trash or graffiti, which indicates a certain degree of respect for their homes. Of course, there’s still dog waste on the sidewalks, but at least it’s a start.
After lunch and a swim in the hotel pool and a short nap, I strolled the marina again, snapping pics and taking it easy. I topped off the evening at Sindi’s, which reminded me of my local expat pub back in Budapest.
Saturday was the flea market I’d read about, not too far from the Plaza Espana. The bus got me close, and a short walk was all it took. I had a nice English breakfast first, then delved into all that wonderful tourist junque. The sellers were locals and Africans and other nationalities, not all of which I recognized. But it was a typical flea market, and, of course, they had heard of my coming to town from the other flea markets around the world, so they were ready for me. The giant hoses crept out from behind the booths and started sucking the money out of my pockets as soon as I arrived. Damn, how do they know? So I bought my gifts and souvenirs, and then walked over to the Plaza Mayor’s flea market, which was much more upscale and therefore expensive. I passed on by and took a ramble down La Rambla, another wonderful shady tree-lined street nearby, still inhaling the wonderful ambience of Palma.
A sandwich for lunch and then Sindi’s again for the Ireland/England rugby match and a few more beers. A good afternoon in air-conditioned splendor. After a swim and cleanup, I walked down to Hogan’s for one of their well-advertised hamburgers; the cooking time was supposed to be nearly 30 minutes, which wasn’t quite that long, and it was definitely worth it after all. A giant five-ounce burger with all the trimmings. Succulent and juicy and tasty. A great find. After dinner I walked the marina promenade again and found the office for booking cruises around the island. It was closed, but at least now I knew where to come back to make my plans.
Sunday was another beautiful day in paradise. It was, in fact, a perfect day to take the old-fashioned train to Soller on the northwest coast of the island. I found the tiny old train station, next to the new train station at the Plaza Espana, bought my ticket, swung aboard the wooden-carriaged train and we took off for the coast. The train was crowded with tourists and even some Spaniards, and the ride was a nice journey through the countryside, replete with trees, hills and even some long tunnels. It’s touted as the Number One tourist attraction in Mallorca. It was nice and restful and relaxing, but Number One? If that is Number One, the rest of them must be somewhat disappointing. It was adequate, but to be Number One you’d have to have never, ever been on one of these old-time railways in your entire life, Disneyland included. Anyway, a nice trip.
We arrived in Soller, another small sleepy Spanish town, around 11:15 AM. I walked around awhile, but there really wasn’t a whole lot to see or do, so I caught the next tram for the port area of Soller, which was much better. Marinas, boats, restaurants, promenades, lunch along the marina walk; very peaceful. I whiled away a few hours, then decided it was time to head back to Palma. I’d read of a better way back, so attempted to find the bus stop in the port area to catch the Palma bus. I walked past the damn stop at least twice before I found a line of people waiting for the bus my third time through. It could have been marked better. Anyway, our driver, Fireball Fangio, made it back to the main station in Palma in about 30 minutes or so.
While walking along the promenade next to the boat harbor later that afternoon, I caught sight of two women sitting in a window with their feet immersed in large aquarium-like tanks. They were having a fish pedicure, and I knew this was the time to try it. So I did. Weird! Having those tiny little fish nibble at your feet is something that has to be experienced to be believed. Try it, you’ll like it. Dinner at a Colombian restaurant near my hotel and a drink or two at Sindi’s and off to bed again. Sightseeing wears me out.
Monday was my Day at Sea, a pleasure cruise aboard a large motored catamaran. I had breakfast on the promenade, then we took off around 9:30, with the boat about 1/3 full. A nice cruise, around the southwestern tip of the island, to a sheltered cove with a sandy beach, frequented by other locals and tourists. Some swimming, some lying in the sun, and a really good lunch of seafood paella, sangria and cava (Spanish sparkling wine), more swimming then back to Palma around 4:30. Good way to spend the day.
Tuesday was my own personal beach day, and I decided to spend it at Illetes, a lovely little secluded beach at the end of the Number 3 bus line. Illetes was empty in the morning, but filled up quickly and by noon was fairly crowded, although not so much as to be uncomfortable. I whiled away the day on my lounge chair and in the cool Mediterranean water, had breakfast and lunch at a nearby restaurant and generally took it easy --- again.
After a swim and shower at the hotel, I bussed into town to check out the Lorien beer hall, advertising more than 100 types of beer from around the world. Yeah, they had them, in .33L bottles at .5L prices. Rip-off, don’t bother going there. I wandered down to O’Brien’s Irish pub and found they had Belhaven Best on tap; I was home! Bar snacks, a couple of Best beers, and I was a happy camper.
On the way out I checked out Abaco, hailed as one of the most interestingly-decorated restaurants in town – and most expensive, with a cocktail priced at 13 euro! Took some snaps, passed on the drinks, and headed home.
On Wednesday I did all the things I hadn’t done so far. Checked out the local used book store (and, of course, bought several books), checked out the Arab Baths (major rip-off, don’t even consider going there), then strolled the back streets of Old Town Palma, finding a new and interesting square or street or shop every time I turned a corner. Stopped at the Bar Bosch for lunch, at the top of the Passeig de Born, and it was another taste treat: tapas, with meatballs, chicken, potato salad, tempura, lots of goodies, along with a glass of ice-cold fruit juice. Nice.
Back to my hotel for a nap, a swim and a light dinner, then on to Sindi’s again, where I helped close them down. Getting to be a regular there. Mickey introduced me to another local drink called cana, which is something no tourist should ever have to try.
So, another successful trip. I whiled away my final morning in Palma and caught the airport bus around midday. And to finish up a perfect vacation trip, the airline check-in person didn’t even charge me for checking in my suitcase. Saved 30 euro. Cool.
Be sure and add Palma de Mallorca to your list of places to visit before you die. It’s really and truly a sight worth seeing.