With hours to kill before our night flight back to Blighty, we plumped for a day trip to Sóller and its coastal sister, Porto Sóller on the north side of Mallorca. The touristy thing to do is ride the antique tren that runs from Palma railway station so that’s exactly what we did. The vintage rolling stock slowly pulled out of the station, chugging through the burbs and breaking free of Palma’s grim industrial hinterland towards a verdant agro-plain bursting with olive groves and pretty market gardens. Thirty minutes into the journey, we began to ascend towards the lush, pine-smothered mountains, passing through a series of long damp tunnels on route. For no apparent reason (Freudian?) Liam was visibly excited about the tunnels. After a couple of photo opportunity pit stops, we arrived at our destination.
Built in 1912, the railway is quite the engineering feat but I do wonder if it was a bit of a folly back in the day; the end of the line is a sleepy village in the middle of nowhere. Still, it’s doing a roaring trade these days judging by the international crowd shifting uncomfortably on the hard wooden benches. Note to self: next time, take cushions.
Sóller itself is a picture-postcard hamlet with a handsome main square given entirely over to tourism. A spot of lunch was on the agenda and we sat down at one of the many eateries ringing the piazza. Our set-price tapas plate was a huge disappointment – overpriced, underwhelming and partially inedible. If you ever find yourself milling around Sóller, avoid the Sacova Restaurant. The next leg of our grand tour was by tram to Porto Sóller, a non-descript purpose-built resort set around a stunning bay in the shape of a Celtic bracelet. The sandy beach was packed with marinated sun-worshippers. Parasols and sunbeds, like much of the clientele, had seen better days. As the sun gave up the ghost, we hopped on an air-conditioned bus back to Palma (half the journey time and a fraction of the price) sated, slightly sozzled and steeled for the Sleazyjet scrum.
You might also like other posts in the Palma series:
I’m So Excited
Jack and Liam go to Palma
Old Palma is a place in which to wander and explore. This is just as well. Our hotel, the Costa Azul, hadn’t quite finished constructing the bar by the miniscule pool or supplied enough parasols to avoid third degree burns on the sun terrace. We spent blissful days meandering through narrow cobbled streets, along grand boulevards, over battlements and across elegant piazzas. Palma is a city with art at its heart and the evidence is liberally littered around the streets.
Come nightfall, the Santa Catalina ward – once down at heel but now dressed up to the nines – seduced us with her trendy bars, cool restaurants and laid-back vibe. Upmarket Old Palma is a far cry from downmarket Palma Nova and eating out comes with a West End price tag attached. We stuck with the set menus to keep a check on the check. Still, a palatable glass or two of Rioja was very reasonable priced wherever we watered, and we did quite a lot of watering. Generally, the crowds were good humoured and lively, without being raucous. The one exception was a small bar called The Escape, a roadside inn tucked into the corner of a pretty piazza and frequented by pissed-up Brits from the yachting fraternity. Typical.
Towards the tail end of our stay, we pushed the boat out to visit Ábaco, a cocktail bar in the old town. Occupying a palatial former merchant’s house, part bar, part museum, Ábaco is a bit of an institution with guests being serenaded by light opera in Baroque opulence as they sip lethal cocktails served by snotty waiters in gold lamé cummerbunds. The entire experience was Disney kitsch with a crazy Catalan twist and only slightly marred by the continuous procession of camera-toting tourists wanting to stand, snap and gawp (image courtesy of MallorcaHoliday.com).
We took the opportunity to venture out of town to the small resort of Ca’n Pastilla to surprise an old friend. Welsh rarebit, Bernard, gave up butlering for bar work a few years back and now owns ‘Thai at the Tavern,’ an unassuming little establishment at the end of the promenade. It does exactly what it says on the tin. Pop in if you’re in town. You’re sure to get a warm welcome, a cold beer and a spicy Siamese from the friendly valley boy. Bernard and I used to step out with the same fella (but not at the same time, obviously). I call Bernard El Presidente of the First Wives Club. When the bar closed, we ended the evening in a backstreet dive well away from the main drag with Bernard, a bunch of jovial locals, a bottle or three of cheap plonk and a strong whiff of weed. The next day we had wine flu.
Following our fright flight, we arrived at the Hotel Costa Azul in Palma at 2am. Our smart room was a little on the bijou side but we were tired and thought little of it. The next morning we awoke to a rotating mechanical clunk and the sound of persistent banging. Liam leapt out of bed and swung open the balcony doors. Decibels came flooding in. He looked about. Our room was at the side of the hotel with a restricted view of the marina. He looked down over the balcony to the ground floor. A cement mixer was going ten to the dozen and a loud gang of labourers was racing about, fetching and carrying, shovelling and hammering. This isn’t what quite what Liam had in mind when he booked a few months back. Miserable tales of unfinished Spanish hotels are the stuff of legend but here we were staying in an unfinished Spanish hotel. My husband must have missed that little detail in the small print of the glossy brochure. Welcome to Palma. We made ourselves decent, marched to reception and politely asked for the room we’d actually paid for (rather than the room they couldn’t give away). After a bit of tutting, wringing of hands and head shaking by the pretty concierge and a lot of stubborn insistence from us, we were moved to a larger room with a view. And what a view it was with not a cement mixer or sweaty worker in sight.
Liam’s possesses a fine pair of lanky lalls and doesn’t look good with his knees wedged against his chin so I booked emergency exit seats for the flight to Palma. You can do that on Sleazyjet these days (for an extra fee, obviously) and this helps to mitigate the scrum at the gate where it’s every man for himself and the Devil takes the hindmost. Senior citizens have been known to break a hip in the sprint. As Liam enjoyed the extra inches, our neighbours gathered around us: a squawking clutch of bottle-blond Essex grannies with fake nails, fake teeth, spray-on tans and spray-on micro-skirts. They hit the bottle as soon as soon as the captain switched off the fasten your seat belt sign. Drinking the plane dry, they even demanded a discount as they polished off the bar. The saintly cabin crew indulged them with grace and patience. We were relieved that an emergency landing was not required since these pissed-up ladies would have struggled to see the doors, let alone release them and the only brace position they knew was chucking up in the gutters of Magaluf. One senior attendant, a slightly camp Spanish trolley dolly with an Andalucian lisp, had clearly seen it all before. He looked over at us with a wearied expression, throwing his eyes up to the clouds in resignation. Almodóvar met Essex and lost every time.
Google, that arrogant, all-powerful, tax-evading internet colossus that has come to dominate our lives like the Catholic Church of old has decided to bin Google Reader, their handy application that allows surfers to aggregate and sort their favourite content across different sites. As of 1st of July, users will be left high and dry. Are you one of them? Fret no longer. Feedly is a worthy successor. Check it out here. Also, if you currently receive Pansy updates via a reader, why not subscribe via email instead? Simply click on the ‘subscribe by email’ on the right and away you go. Easy.
We’re back from Palma now so stay tuned for some delicious (and not so tasty) Catalan titbits coming next.
Liam and I are taking a welcome break: a week or so in the stroller’s city of Palma de Mallorca. I intend to leave the hinterweb alone for the duration, soak up the shade and take in the vibe. We’ve bagged ourselves a bijou boutique hotel overlooking the smart marina and spitting distance from the posh shops and fancy bars. Why Spain? It needs all the help it can get. Had we known what was about to go down in our former foster home when we booked our Iberian getaway, we would be Turkey-bound instead. Too late now, unfortunately. I’ll be reporting on our island misadventures when we return (assuming there are any to report). In the meantime, Perking the Pansies will be off the air. No need to fret. It’s June. We all need to get out more.