Our first day of 2017, we once again awoke to frost on the window panes. We ate our last two hard-boiled eggs and what was left of the bread we’d purchased a few days earlier, then bundled up for a final walk around Paris. The streets were quiet, except for a few city workers cleaning up, and a handful of scooters and cars, and an empty bus tootling down Boulevard Saint-Germain.
We ducked down an alley, and were pleased to see the bakery and café, we’d identified the day before, open and full of people. We ordered two pastries, along with two baguette sandwiches. My baguette was a whole wheat, grainy wonderment, spread with butter, and filled with sliced brie, tomatoes, and shredded lettuce. Rich was the same bread, but with sliced salami and vegetables. We’d planned to eat our purchase on the flight from Paris to Barcelona. No more starving on planes!
After retrieving our luggage, and shutting the door to the apartment we rented, we scampered to the nearest metro stations and rode the train south to the Paris Orly Airport, passing snow-dusted fields, groves of deciduous trees, and lightly-populated suburban areas. It was a lovely ride, and made leaving Paris less upsetting. Paris is a magical city.
According to Wikipedia, “Prior to the construction of Charles de Gaulle Airport, Orly was the main airport of Paris. Even with the shift of most international traffic to Charles de Gaulle Airport, Orly remains the busiest French airport for domestic traffic and the second busiest French airport overall in passenger traffic, with 29,664,993 passengers in 2015.”
Smaller than Charles de Gaulle, Orly was easy to navigate, and we quickly checked in and found our gate. While waiting for our flight, we sipped café au laits, and nibbled on the pastries we’d purchased earlier.
It took just a few hours to fly to Barcelona on Vueling, a budget Spanish airlines. Vuelo means “flight” in Spanish.
Many of European and Asian airlines have dapper flight attendant outfits. For instance, Icelandair attendants don stylish pillbox hats when they greet passengers getting on and off flights. They also seem to carry three pairs of shoes. High-heels for greeting passengers in cities with jetways from planes into terminals. Flats when in flight, and knee-high boots when in Iceland where you need to climb down icy stairs to exit the plane, and then walk across the freezing tarmac into the marginally warmer terminal.
The only distinguishing element of Vueling attendants’ primarily navy blue uniforms is a large bright yellow scarf, which is akin to an ascot. WOW airlines, which flies out of Iceland, has striking fuchsia uniforms with sassy garrison caps.
Before leaving Seattle, we saw a dozen or so Asiana Airlines flight attendants – all about the same height and size with their hair in tight buns with sophisticated hats balanced on top – walking through the airport with several pilots, in equally snazzy uniforms. Check out the dress code for female Asiana flight attendants.
Traveling internationally, you see numerous groups of flight attendants from dozens of diverse airlines, all in distinguished uniforms to reinforce their airlines’ brand and country of origin.
Our flight and arrive in Barcelona was uneventful. The airport is fabulous! It’s large, easy to negotiate, and very futuristic (at least the terminal we were in) with mint green glass, two-story enclosures for housing restrooms, check-in desks, and other airport functions. This is a great picture of the Barcelona Airport taken from overhead.
I wished we had a longer lay-over because it would have been nice to see more of the airport. We had less than an hour to scurry to the gate, and then line-up to get on the flight.
Our Vueling flight to Mallorca, the largest island in the Balearic Islands archipelago off the western coast of Spain, was a quick take-off, even-out, and then descent. The clear weather made it possible to peer down at the lightly populated island, which was first inhabited during the Neolithic period (6000-4000 BC), and then by the Phoenicians who arrived around the 8th century BC. The island came under the control of Carthage in North Africa, but was then occupied by the Romans in 123 BC under Quintas Caecilious Metellus Barlearicus (hence Mallorca and the three, smaller neighboring islands being called the Balearic Islands).
During this time, the primary occupation was cultivating olives and wine grapes, and mining salt. The island was briefly captured by the Gunderic and Vandals, but was recaptured by the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire in 534, leading to the spread of Christianity and building of numerous churches.
Two hundred years later, the island was regularly attached by Muslim raiders from North Africa and was eventually conquered by the Moors in 902 under the Emirate of Cordoba. The town of Palma experienced a renaissance, with extensive building and introduction of irrigation to improve agriculture.
The key location of the island in the Mediterranean invited strife, and in September 1229, Spanish King James I of Aragon – also known as James The Conqueror – sailed to the Santa Ponca, Mallorca with 15,000 men and 1,500 horses, and three months later, annexed the island to his Crown of Aragon.
The island continued to be attacked, and in 1570, King Philip II of Spain considered completely evacuating the Balearic Island. Following the War of the Spanish Succession, in 1715, the Mallorca and the smaller Balearic Islands, were folded into a unified Spanish Bourbon Dynasty
Today, Mallorca retains much of the identity of the earlier conquers with churches, Moorish architecture, Roman terracing, and century-old olive groves and vineyards. It’s also become a popular holiday destination, attracting tourists from around the world, in particular Germany and the United Kingdom.
The Palma de Mallorca Airport is one of the busiest in Spain with over 23 million passengers in 2014. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, therefore, when we arrived at a sizable airport with numerous terminals for international airlines.
After retrieving our luggage, and stripping off our cold-weather clothing, we wandered outside into the warmth of the setting sun.
Luxury Resort Dominated Visit
Rich daughter, Stacey and her boyfriend, Shawn, are members of the Marriott Vacation Club, which enables them to spend time at resorts worldwide. Around a year ago, they reserved a week at the Marriott’s Club Son Antem in Mallorca. Since the villas have two bedrooms, they asked if we wanted to join them.
After ten minutes of thought, we said “yes!” Our ensuing European trip was “built” around staying in Mallorca for five days. One of the best parts of Mallorca was Stacey agreeing to manage all the details of our visit so we just “sat back and relaxed” instead of worrying about where to go and how to get from place-to-place.
Before diving into the details of our stay on Mallorca, it’s necessary to discuss the roads, cars, and parking in Mallorca.
Palma is the largest town on the island with modern, wide roads. The rest of the towns, villages, and points-of-interest are primarily cobblestone foot paths and lanes, paved streets, and gravel roads linked by nicely paved, multi-lane highways, bridges, and tunnels. Spain definitely invested in the highway system on the island. The towns, villages, and tourist sites are another story.
First, most of the cars you see are slightly larger than kitchen tables. They’re compact, energy-efficient, and come in a variety of colors. Along with Smart and Fiat cars, you see petite Renault (Clio), Vauxhall/Opel (Astra, Corsa), Mitsubishi, Peugeot (Evergreen), VW (Golf, Pollo), Lancia (Ypsilon), and Suzuki automobiles. The trucks on Mallorca are also demure, with a small cab, and cargo “box” that would probably fill a quarter of a traditional America box truck.
Parking along the narrow streets, the cars resemble jelly beans. Many have room for just four, average-size people, and a couple of bags of groceries in the hatchback. I had approached a man, driving one of these car, and commented on its adorability. In heavily accented English, he said, “It’s shit. It’s shit.”
“Okay. Sorry I asked!”
Because most villages and towns were traveled for hundreds of years by foot, horse, or animal-driven buggy, the streets are very, very narrow. And people park within inches of each other. For the most part, you can’t walk between two parked cars unless you have a low profile like a cat or walking sideways the width of your body is less than six inches.
Because cars are often parked on both sides of streets (more appropriately, a lane or alley), there’s barely enough room for two cars to pass in the middle, and when they do, it’s within inches of each other. And sometimes, they play chicken to see which car is going to make way for the other!
In this environment, Stacey skillfully drove around and parked in Mallorca. Many times, she parallel parked with just three inches between the cars in front, and back. I often closed my eyes as she drove – at breakneck speeds of 25-30 miles per hour – down narrow streets or parked in spots that could barely fit a tandem bicycle! Then again, Stacey has been known to sail a boat into a slip, which takes insane skill and courage! Most people drop the sail, and motor into a slip.
At any rate, after emerging from the Palma de Mallorca Airport, Stacey and Shawn zipped up in a small SUV to take us to our first destination, downtown Palma. The town, the capital and largest city in the Balearic Islands, was decorated for the holidays with a strings of white lights and dangling stars and globes. The evening before, Stacey and Shawn had celebrated New Year’s Eve in the light-strewn plaza.
We wandered around for thirty minutes or so, looking for a place to eat before settling on El Pilon, a seafood restaurant. We walked down a few steps to what could have been the basement for the building above or maybe a walkway at one time. The walls of the restaurant were thick stones with skylights in the ceiling.
El Pilon was very crowded so we had to wait to get a table. Once seated, Stacey and Shawn, who’d spent several days in Barcelona and a day in Mallora, expertly ordered tapas. What initially arrived was a platter of sliced hearty bread with a bowl of mixed olives, and a small saucer of aioli. Spanish aioli is a garlicky mayonnaise-like sauce, which is liberally spread on bread. I’ve found quite a few differing recipes for aioli. For the most part, it consists of finely mashed garlic, a drop of lemon juice and salt, egg yolks, and olive oil slowly drizzled into the sauce. Some of the aioli we had seemed more akin to mayonnaise with essence of garlic. The aioli we had at this restaurant was super garlicky and tasty.
Next, the waiter brought meatballs in a light sauce with potatoes, along with grilled vegetables (very good), seafood stew, bacon-wrapped dates, prawns in a lemony sauce, and slivers of jamon iberico, which is a type of cured ham produced in Spain and Portugal.
The whole leg of an iberico pig is cured, including the hoof. The resulting ham is secured in a wood and metal device with the hoof slipped through a donut-like holder. It’s then prominently displayed on the counter of a restaurant or bar. When a customer places an order, the meat is thinly sliced off.
The meat is sliced super thin so you simultaneously experience the fat melting in your mouth along with the saltiness of the meat. It’s also sliced thin because it costs $36 to $125 pound! An 16 pound ham can easily cost over $1,000!
To say I was grossed-out by seeing pig legs prominently displayed nearly everywhere we went would have an understatement!
Nevertheless, tapas is splendid. The dishes are very flavorful with lots of spices and rich sauces. The bacon-wrapped dates are salty and sweet at the same time. The stew and paellas have spices like saffron, cumin, cinnamon, and red and black pepper with lots of chopped garlic, onions, colored peppers, and tomatoes. My favorite were the slices of baguette with various things on top like pungent cheese and tomato sauce, tuna with olives, and other bits of other yumminess. Plus, the olives are heavenly!
After eating in El Pilon, we wandered over to the Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma, a Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral built by the Crown of Aragon on the site of a Moorish-era mosque. The nave (main body of the church) is 44 meters (144 feet) tall, which is 11 meters taller than Notre Dame de Paris.
The cathedral was started in 1229, and completed in 1601. In 1851, restoration of the cathedral began, and was taken over in 1901 by the famous architect (and pride of Spain) Antoni Gaudi. Some of his ideas were incorporated before he had an argument with the contractor, and quit in 1914.
The cathedral is more majestic than ornate. It’s placement on a hill, and the way it’s illuminated at night, makes it the centerpiece of the area. It was enjoyable walking around it and see the other historical buildings in the area.
As the evening cooled off, we zipped back to the car and headed to the Marriott Club Son Antem, a 680-acre resort with luxury villas, two golf courses, putting green, three pools, spa services, fitness classes, tennis and basketball courts, jogging trail, restaurants, and other amenities you’d find in a first-class vacation get-away.
The villa Stacey and Shawn rented had on the first floor a small laundry room, full-stocked kitchen, dining area, living room, and a large bedroom with an attached bathroom, featuring a sunken hydrotherapy tub. Also on the first floor was sizable patio with a seating area and large barbeque. The second floor, where Rich and I stayed, had an equally large bedroom, spacious bathroom with huge shower, and a patio with several lounge chairs.
It was very snazzy with plush towels, comfy beds, and everything you could need for your stay, including laundry soap, barbeque paraphernalia, satellite channels, DVD, and stereo. The only challenge was figuring out how to use the diminutive washer and dryer. The latter took two hours to dry a load of laundry, and completely steamed up the window in the laundry room. Every thirty minutes, I had to stop the dryer, clean out the lint tray, wipe down the window, and remove any clothing, which was marginally dry. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have crammed so many clothes into the dryer.