Palma, Mallorca May 2007
Mallorca, (or Majorca as we all used to call it) wasn't somewhere that I had a strong desire to visit. The comedy line "The water in Majorca don't taste like what it oughtta" was alone enough to put me off.

The mere mention of its name is tarnished by images of mass tourism hell holes and cesspits of humanity. It's enough to bring me out in a rash! Of course I base my enitre perception on reality TV shows (so it must be true!) scandalising the nightclubbing excess of Brits abroad in Shagaluf .

These Areas of Outstanding Unatural Depravity have given Majorca a bad reputation but the charming beauty of the rebranded Mallorca is alluring.

At the forefront of this boutique island is its capital city Palma, a real gem. But also towns such as Soller, Deia and Polenša looked so picturesque from their guide book photos.

So much so in fact that we are certainly planning a return visit to explore more of this Balearic island.

Palma de Mallorca

We spent two relaxing afternoons wandering around the charming streets of Palma.

It was rather unexpected to find it full of such character and history. From the wide designer laden boulevard of Avenida Jaume III to the medieval houses along the tree lined Passeig des Born. The city had a good welcoming vibe to it; a very comfortable familiar feeling.

It's also small enough not to overpower you whilst having plenty of interesting little gems to discover.

The oldest part of the city is considered to be the area behind the cathedral.

Meandering down its narrow alleyways you stumble across courtyards of the stately homes of old Mallorcan nobility, hidden churches and convents, perfect places of refuge, and a gathering of small specialist museums.

It's here also where you would find the Arab Baths, the only genuine piece of 10th century architecture remaining intact.

Not all the old buildings have been preserved for their heritage. The renovated 15th century windmills above Paseo Maritimo are now being used for a more modern grinding. The bump'n grind of a nightclub.

The largest square in town is Plaša Major.

A small market is set up in one corner, as cafes spill out in another, and beneath the paving stones, believe it or not, lurks a shopping centre.

We sat here in the shade for quite a while, people watching and sharing a sandwich, before moving on past the tourist stalls, buskers and mime artists and finding our way to Mercat Olivar.

We always enjoy strolling around a local market buying fresh fruit & veg and gawping at the offal on offer. The curiosity of wanting to see a Sheep's Head on a plate is difficult to explain?

La Seu Cathedral
The cathedral is without doubt Palma's best known attraction. It is such an immense gothic structure, it rivals any cathedral for its presence. A fitting tribute to the enormity of God.

Whilst the exterior made such a strong statement about their faith the interior was more subdued.

That was until 1904 when they hired Gaudi to add a splash of his unique colour to re-designing.

The wrought iron canopy was quite spectacular and the cross on which Christ is crucified is undeniably Gaudi.

Other touches are more subtle and restrained but it still didn't stop his critics. Eventually he left acrimoniously leaving several projects unfinished.

The Gaudi influence certainly brought an extra dimension to La Seu, making it just that little bit more interesting.

Other non-Gaudi features were equally as impressive.

The stained glass windows here were beautiful, as they always are.

There's just something hypnotic about them.

Even the marble floor was fascinating.

Although I'm not too sure what the skull and cross bones represented. (Usually pirates but in this case ... I don't think so!)

Whilst I took countless photographs Julie sat on a pew in reflective contemplation. God knows what goes through her head.

We left through the cloisters which was a wonderfully peaceful space.

I've always wanted such a space in my home; an inner courtyard, a sanctuary. Complete with columns and arches, where every room opened out into it, and the soothing trickle of a fountain could be heard.

Dream on. Dream on. Dream on.

Almudaina Palace

Opposite the cathedral on the site of what was originally a citadel built by the ruling Moors now stands Almudaina Palace.

After the Catalan conquest in the 13th century it became the official residence of King Jaume and to this day is used by the Spanish Royal family during their summer vacation on Mallorca.

It also houses the Museum of National Heritage.

Despite walking straight past the entrance we didn't go inside. We were too busy studying the incredible detail on the front of the cathedral.

Between the Palace and the Cathedral weary horses stand in line waiting to take the visitors on a short ride. Despite the sweltering sun I saw no water nearby for them. Surely they had access somewhere to water?

Arabian Baths

Despite being of great significance the Arab Baths can not be described as spectacular. There's not even a bath here!

What you do get are two rooms. One, a square, the other, a little more interesting.

Twelve columns, connected by arches, hold up a brick dome that allows two beams of sunlight to brighten up the room. But before dismissing it as nothing special, when you consider that this steam room is a thousand years old you soon return it back to its rightful importance.

 

The baths are located inside the idyllic walled garden of Can Fontirroig. It was so tranquil here we thought about pulling up a chair and having a siesta.

Bellver Castle

Castell de Bellver stands atop a hill, 3km west of Palma and was built in the 14th century for King Jaume II to protect the newly formed Kingdom of Mallorca.

Now if I were to build a castle it would have been like this one! Strong and impregnable from the outside but beautiful and ornate on the inside. It's also circular which apparently is a rarity amongst castles.

Several of the rooms housed a small museum retelling the history of the castle and of Palma in general.

It's difficult to imagine that this was used for a long period as a military prison. It was still used as such as recent as the 1950's when they incarcerated political activists who stood against the fascist dictator Franco.

It's quite strange but I can actually remember what Franco (in his latter years) looked like.

In the early 70's my father and a bunch of his mates travelled down to Spain in a Volkswagen campervan. I remember being entertained by his tales of picking oranges straight off the trees and eating exotic new fruits such as pomegranate.

He returned home with a stuffed donkey, a huge sombrero and several other gifts but also coins and stamps bearing the head of Francisco Franco.

As a young boy I was very impressed that this man had been in power for around forty years. I hadn't quite grasped the meaning of the word "dictator"!

In 1978, three years after Franco's death, my dad took my brother and I to Torremolinos on the Costa del Sol.

Apart for a day trip over to Tangier, Morocco and going to Malaga to watch a bullfight the thing I remember most was that I spent the week with involuntary bowel deposits. Good old-fashioned Spanish Tummy.

The views from the top of the ramparts were worthy of the effort to get there. We could see to the east how Palma spreads out along the bay.

From this vantage point the cathedral didn't dominate the city as it seemed to do nearer to the sea level.

To the west were the hills that rise steeply towards Genova and below us to the south was Club de Mar, where Bill (Julie's brother) moors his boat, and also near where the large cruise liners dock.

As we were leaving I noticed some graffiti carved onto the walls and wondered what was their story? Who were they? Who was H.M. Adkins ? (It's probably a more recent hammer and chisel wielding vandal!)

Fundacio Pilar i Joan Miro a Mallorca

The Miro Foundation, a gallery and resource centre honouring Mallorca's most well known artist, is not the easiest to find on foot!

We began our trek from Club de Mar walking all the way into Cala Major, only to be told by two helpful traffic wardens (using hand signals) that we had to go back half a mile.

We eventually found the road that went straight up the hillside towards Genova.

We could have caught the no.3 bus, then the no.42 or something like that but wandering aimlessly down the wrong road during the hottest part of the day did made us feel like we were on a proper holiday!

It was some hike up the steep Calle Joan de Saridakis. We only just made it before collapsing but we were glad we made the effort.

I like artists like Joan Miro. He's been described as the most surreal of all surrealists but his child-like paintings make me think "Hey, I can do that"

Of course, anyone can mimic but it takes a genius to be different. Or at least have the balls to unveil a painting that could have been drawn by a five year old and fully expect it to be declared a work of art.

Miro's connection with this island was his Mallorcan mother.

Born in Barcelona he moved to Paris in the 1920's to be amongst like-minded artists and mingle with the surreal poets and writers of the time. Then in the 1950's, off the back of his growing popularity, he returned to his spiritual home and built himself a modern villa and studio here on the hills overlooking Palma. This is where he lived and worked until his death in 1983.

Bill's Boat

Bill very kindly put us up for three nights at the yatch club of the exclusive Club de Mar at Palma.

It was ideal. Nice rooms with a balcony with great views over the marina. We could see Bill's Sunseeker yatch moored a short distance away.

Now I'm not particularly excited by boats, possibly because I can't swim to save my life, but there were a few stunning yachts here that were something special. But I suppose for "millions of pounds" you would expect a little extra special.

Bill's boat may have been just a little more modest than a "super-yatch" but even so it was really impressive. It was very luxurious inside and also surprisingly spacious with enough beds to sleep six. (albeit two on bunk beds.)

On the Monday morning we joined Rach & Nath and friends for breakfast.

Then with our captain and his first mate (aye aye) on board we set off down the coast to spend the day experiencing the lifestyle of the rich and famous.

©Rachel Welch

It was nice to just relax on the top deck, reading a book, having a few beers, and burning any unprotected areas of my pasty skin.

I always forget to sun block the recently exposed skin of my receding hairline!

Every now and again we'd spot some amazing villas on the cliff's edge but the remainder of the coastline wasn't exactly dramatic .

Our first scheduled stop was in the bay of Santa Ponša, where we weighed anchor so that a few brave souls could swim in the sea. The water looked clean enough but I'm sure I could smell shit.

The beach here was heaving and every now and again someone would venture out towards us in their pedalo and hurl obscenities at us.

I don't wish to be discriminative but some people just don't help themselves, do they?

And yes, it goes without saying that they were British!

We moved along down the coast and soon pulled into a cove near Port d'Andraxt for a delicious lunch at a resort called Gran Folies.

Captain Sensible parked the boat a safe distance from shore and then had to row us all to dry land in a small inflatable dinghy. This bit was a little less glamorous, especially the disembarking!

Due to my non-swim status I was offered a life jacket but not wanting to look pathetic I refused.

Instead, I stubbornly chose to sit there grasping on for dear life to a rope, praying for the boat not too capsize. I just thought that even if we did flip over I would still be clinging on to a very big inflatable thing anyway.

©Rachel Welch

Thankfully I didn't have to put my theory to the test.

The treacherous journey may have been over but the trickiest part was yet to come.... getting out!

With one foot firmly planted on the dock Julie's other foot didn't quite follow as planned. It was worryingly caught under the seat and with the lapping waves pulling her then pushing her, there was a moment when the dinghy drifted further out than her leg span.

For a split second there was fear in her eyes as a soggy disaster was imminent.

After what felt like a titanic struggle, total embarrassment was only just avoided when the rubber boat, buoyed by a slightly larger wave, was lifted further onto the launch and she managed to release her left foot.

Thankfully the return journey was less eventful.

Bill's House

On the Tuesday Bill showed us around his stunning house near Polenša. With sliding iron gates w/ intercom, steam room, sunken bath, roof terrace, swimming pool, gym, orchard and many more quality features, it was stunning and he was justifiably proud of it.

The stiletto shaped loungers were a questionable faux pas but everything else was very stylish; especially the double-bed hammock.

We absolutely loved that!

The house is set in such a peaceful and private location that it felt like a perfect place for getting away from it all.

I would also imagine that it's ideal for entertaining. You could have some great parties here! There was even a music room set up ready for when he invites old band mates over for a session. Now for that I was envious!

I must admit to having a quick bish-bash on his drum kit but it came to an abrupt end when Julie ran to shut the door because I'd set all the neighbourhood dogs a howling.

Easy Peasy

This was Julie's first no-frills flight but it proved to be probably her best flight so far!

Despite believing that no-frills meant no safety, no care, no hope as soon as she discovered Easy Jet to be as professional as any other airline she gathered confidence.

She followed the same pre-flight diazepam routine but she certainly didn't feel half the anxiety. Is she finally conquering her fear of flying? ... no!

Hotel
For the Wednesday night, (the evening of the European Cup Final), we had booked Hotel Jaime III on Passeig Mallorca. It was in a great city centre location and the rooms were very comfortable and contemporary. We'd totally recommend it. [Hotel Jaime III link]
 
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