Hill towns and orange blossoms

For the last few weeks I’ve been sitting down to finish the second part of the posts from our Mallorca trip. I’ll look at the dot points and the photos I’ve collated, and a wave of indifference will wash over me. It’s not from a lack of things to say, but the energy to put towards anything that isn’t related to the move. Or The Move, as it’s written in my mind.

So rather than a longer, more usual post about our trip, I’m going to have a shorter set of snapshots, to conjure up the moments that stuck with me.

The train from Palma to Soller, winds over and through small farms and mountains with glimpses of pine-clad mountain sides and groves of ancient olive trees. Rolling along on the old wooden train it felt as though we were travelling through time. Soller itself is a small town sitting in a valley surrounded by mountains. At the end of every street we could see them looming above us, blocking all views except to the sea. It was orange season, so as we walked along the old streets we caught gusts of orange blossom perfume, which almost knocked out all my other senses. In the market, just prior to enjoying a delicious lemon and cinnamon icecream, I bought a pearl necklace hung on a thin string of woven flax, which looked as though it had been strung on a beach.

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Soller

Deia is also in a valley, though sitting on the top and sides of a hill rising from the centre of the valley. Restaurants, tourist offices, craft stores and delis, mostly closed for the Easter holiday, wind around the base of the hill, and then houses line the street that climbs to the top, where a small church and cemetery have pride of place.

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Deia on the hill

A famous resident of the cemetery is Robert Graves, whose grave has a little collection of flowers from visitors. Other graves, locals I guess, are marked by names and dates scratched into cement on the ground. There was no reason given for this that I could see, perhaps there wasn’t enough stone or money.

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Robert Graves' grave

The next day we devoted to Alcudia, which we reached by a bus that crossed the island, passing through one town that we were glad we had decided not to visit. Here’s a recommendation for possible visitors: don’t bother with Inca. Our destination was much more enjoyable, and even included Roman ruins. The ruins were the foundations of houses, the remnants of the forum and a theatre, spread out across fields of grass and flowers. It was hard to imagine the scale, but I could at least see what their view would have been, of the thickly green hills and wide blue sky.

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Polentia

From the ruins we wandered through the old town of Alcudia, which reminded us of Victoria on Malta. There were limestone houses and cobbled streets, with narrow windows and a feeling of the residents shutting themselves in from the world of the streets. Down one street we found a restaurant and there enjoyed the best meal of our holiday, local food and absolutely delicious.

On the bus back to Palma we both fell asleep, and though we had an early wake up for the flight the next morning, we got a chance for one final walk around Palma, to see the cathedral and feel the warm, spring air. Then we left, the sights, tastes and sounds coming with us to cloudy Gothenburg.

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Carpe diem in Palma

Months ago, it seems now to have been very many months ago, my partner and I noticed that there was a long weekend coming up. This raised exciting possibilities and as any sensible travel-fancying folk is wont to do, we hopped onto the net for cheap flights. After winnowing away Rome (been there), Berlin (too expensive) and Edinburgh (we could get the same weather here) we settled on Mallorca. I was a bit hesitant, images of Magaluf and incessant club music lurking in my mind, but the more we investigated, the larger we found the island was, and the larger the distance between us and them.

Mallorca, for those who have not been or have only been to the hotels, bars and beaches around Palma, is an island full of stunning scenery. Mountain ranges split the island, their steep sides covered in pines and ancient olive terraces and wildernesses crowding on cliffs overlooking the sea. Considering the thousands of years that humans have been living on the island, it’s surprising how tracts of wilderness still exist, whether because it’s too beautiful to inhabit or too difficult to reach.

An ancient olive tree

An ancient olive tree

Our journey began in Palma, and a little Airbnb apartment that we rented for our stay. To have a home in the old town, with the tourist carriage horses clopping past in the afternoons and twisting cobbled streets almost leaving us lost more than once, was exactly how we like to experience a new place. The bottle of wonderful home-made wine was a nice bonus.

Palma Cathedral close up

Palma Cathedral close up

Our first stop was the cathedral, which we would return to again and again, drawn to it’s towers and changeable, squatting silhuette. You can’t view the cathedral only from it’s feet; it has to been seen from afar. Only then do the pillars and buttresses that look so blockish and clumsy up close soar upwards, and the curves and arches can be seen. It’s fair to say that we both fell a little in love with the cathedral, or at least developed a crush.

Palma Cathedral at night

Palma Cathedral at night

It would take till the 3rd day before we made our way inside, but it was certainly worth the wait and the ticket. Much seems at first to be a typical European cathedral, with pillars, buttresses, windows etc… On a closer look the colours and cacophony of shapes in the windows gave a hint that they had been designed by Gaudi, as was the gigantic canopy that loomed above the altar. Plate sized iron leaves held candles, sheaves of wheat seemed to sway above them, and above that was a dove in a splash of colour. This and the wall behind, palms on a gold background, could have been a chaotic frenzy but instead spoke of, or rather shouted about, life and nature. Live! Wander in the fields! Sleep between the roots of an old olive tree! Don’t wait for tomorrow!

Gaudi's canopy

Gaudi’s canopy

An even more urgent display spread up the walls of a chapel to the right, intended to celebrate aspects of Jesus with a marine theme. In impression of Jesus was there, pressing through the clay on the wall, surrounded by symbols of his life, all in painted clay hung on the walls. Loaves of bread overflowed on amphorae of wine, and on either side wall racing down from froth topped waves were hundreds of fish. There were sharks, jellies, salmon, at least one ray and other un-namables seeming to skim just under the surface of the clay, with a fin or a fisherman’s hook occasionally poking through. Again, chaos and life.

A wall of fish

A wall of fish

Other days spent in the capital revealed shopping districts and a restaurant area full of tourists, and beyond that the sprawl of everyday life. Though apparently prettified within the last few decades, the new sheen on the elegant boulevards being a bit of a giveaway, Palma gave the impression of being once a centre of commerce and movement, but having in more recent centuries faded a little. One of the finest signs of this, and vying with the cathedral as my favourite building, was the 15th century hall of the merchant guilds or Llotja de la Seda.

A pillar in Llotja de la Seda

A pillar in Llotja de la Seda

Very rarely are there secular buildings that seem built with the same care and thought for a long future as this hall was, even now bare of the banners, paintings and colours that must once have filled its bare walls and floor. It does still have the 6 pillars holding up the vaulted ceiling, and large lattice worked windows letting in the afternoon sun. It felt, somehow, comfortable and peaceful, though I can imagine that hundreds of years ago it would have been full of shouts, chatter and the crash and shuffle of goods for all hours of the day and probably the night as well.

Hall of pillars

Hall of pillars

This then is my memories of the city, snatched from the few days we were there. The next post will tell about our journeys further away, to hill towns and Roman ruins beside Medieval walls, plus wonderful the scenery in between.

A window in the merchant's hall

A window in the merchant’s hall

Tangos and tientos

Recently I joined a choir. There are a couple of reasons for this, one of which is that I’ve always liked singing. Even if you know me and have never heard so much as a peep let alone a yodel of song pass my lips, it is true: when I’m sure that there is no one to hear I can belt.

(This is not entirely true. There is one exception, my sister. The reason she can be an audience is due to her own tone deafness and massive volume, and that I’m only ever allowed to sing backing vocals or secondary characters. May Walt protect those who dare to try Gaston, Mulan or Aladdin in her presence.)

Back before I got all self-conscious about singing I took part in the school choir, and first learnt the joy of joining my voice with others. I loved the feeling of being buoyed along by our combined song, and the strange sense of losing my own voice among the others. Is this is true of everyone else, that communal singing deafens the singer to their own voice, even though they can quite clearly hear those of their neighbours?
In addition to a love of choral singing that being in the choir gave me, I am to this day word perfect on Can you feel the love tonight, I believe I can fly and Colours of the wind. Which hasn’t come in handy yet, but you live in hope.
It was in high school that I was found unsuitable for the choir, in a moment that I still remember clearly. My very impressionable and easily deflated teenage self took this as a big blow, and forbore to sing in public again. My bedroom with the volume on high or in the solitude of an empty care were another matter.

Then I moved to Sweden and decided to make a new life, taking advantage of new possibilities and opportunities to do things that I’d long wanted to try. Much of which ended up providing material for this blog, through a chicken/egg cycle of doing things in order to write about them, and writing about the things that I do. In this mood of ‘why not?’ a friend suggested joining a choir that she’d be in for a few terms, to which I answered after a thoughtful pause, ‘why not?’ surprising both her and myself. As with any new undertaking there was a problem: I don’t speak a word of Spanish.

Lyrics

Lyrics

When you’re singing flamenco songs, it turns out that knowing the words isn’t all that vital. As long as you can sing emotion, you’ll make it. As you can well imagine there is a lot of emotion in the tangos, tientos, bulerías and fandangos, mostly longing, despair and the pain of love.

Our teacher can belt, raise her voice to the ceiling and bring it down with a flourish, leading us through songs that seemed impossible and out the other side. Other members of the choir have been part of it since it began and so know a number of the songs by heart, and know at least a smattering of Spanish. As their voices rise and fall I stumble along, trying to work out the pronunciation on the fly and realising how much energy real, proper athletic singing takes. As we pass from song to song I lose my voice among the others, trying to concentrate on the rhythm and tone of the teacher and the others, until all I can think about is the song, in words I don’t understand.

Colours and tastes of Andalucia

Years ago I was sitting in a jazzbar with a friend, enjoying a live band and chatting away as we finished our meal. On the spur of the moment I ordered a glass of port to round off the evening. The taste was a mix of sultanas and a hint of chocolate and extremely smooth. As I exclaimed over the flavour and urged my friend to taste it, I noted the name on my phone and decided that I had to have a bottle of my own. So began a quest that lasted years. That phone died and was replaced, but the name stuck in my mind. Bar staff were questioned, bottleshops explored, bottleshop staff asked, friends of friends who knew someone put out a word and time passed. It seemed as if it was unattainable. Then one day in a bottleshop across the road from my home at the time, there it was. Despite the gasp-worthy price tag I pulled it off the shelf and took it home. It was slowly savoured, after a nice meal or over a good book.

Then came the time when we were to move overseas and we threw a party, leaving our accumulated bottle selection on the bar. My port was nestled at the back, out of sight, but as the night and drinking wore on it was uncovered and someone assumed it was wine and, well, let’s not dwell on that bit.
Having moved to a new country my search continued, checking the back shelves in the government owned monopoly bottleshops and the menus in bars. It began a habit more than anything else and not a sight was seen.

Which brings us to an early afternoon in Ronda, a couple of hours north-west of Málaga in Spain. Lunch was finished and we had begun our slow wander back to the bus station. We stopped in a tourist shop and found a lovely bowl, decorated with bright red hues and dark grapes that now sits as a contrast to the whites and creams of our Swedish apartment. My partner also wanted a souvenir of the bottle variety, so we investigated a little shop selling wines, cheeses and delicacies. As I glanced around, admiring the local reds, I saw it. A bottle of Alvear Pedro Ximinex Dulce Viejo 1927.

My precious

My precious

It’s now up on the shelf nestled between champagnes, wines and port from all around the world. It seems obvious now that I’d find it in Spain – perhaps if I’d thought of that I’d have visited sooner.

Still aglow from my discovery we crossed the bridge to the new town, dodging tourists, cars, cyclists and horse drawn carriages. We had enough time to sit and bask on the pagoda overlooking the valley and canyon as the guitarist played Spanish melodies behind us. Finally we left, glancing one last time at the view, as he struck up Recuerdos de la Alhambra. It had been the first thing I hear when we reached the platform, so it was fitting that it would play for us as we left for the bus, a sort of goodbye from the amazing views, sun and flowers of Ronda.

Goodbye Ronda

Goodbye Ronda

Back in Málaga we rested for a while at the apartment and planned our final night. After a few sips of wine, we headed out for dinner and finally settled on a place specialising in paella. We continued the night on the terrace of the apartment, finishing off the last of the wine as we looked out over the city.

The amphitheatre and fortress at night

The amphitheatre and fortress at night

The next morning we packed, tidied and cleaned, leaving the apartment in as close to the condition we’d found it in as possible. Then we said goodbye to the lovely little place and wandered town with our suitcases, using up our final hours with slowly perusing shops and windows, and seeing the amphitheatre and fortress for the last time. Down at the harbour we found a seat in the sun and finished off the fruit, chatting, napping and making notes for this blog.
Then the time came for the bus, and we said goodbye to the gardens, horses, sunlight, bustle and citrus-scented streets of Málaga.

Colours of Spain

Colours of Spain

I hope we can return someday, to snack on fresh fish at El Palo, gaze out over the Mediterranean from Gibralfaro and finish off a bottle of local Rioja over a table full of tapas.

Beaches and almond blossoms

Last week’s post left us on a sunlit wall on Gibralfaro gazing out over the Mediterranean, sipping local red. I’ll let you pause and absorb that feeling, from wherever you are. Take as long as you need.

Ready? Ok, on with the journey.

A gull guarding Gibralfaro

A gull guarding Gibralfaro

Leaving a tip for the waitress and the comfortable wall behind, we descended the hill, winding down the twisting path that seemed quite a lot easier this time around. Our next stop was a place we had spotted from the fortress – El Palo. A lady at the tourist office recommended it as a beach that was more for locals and well worth a visit, so we hopped on what we hoped was the right bus and headed off along the coast. At what seemed a good stop we jumped off and tried to spot the sea. Between houses and across roads we caught glimpses, until finally a path by a dry riverbed lead us to our destination. On either side of us stretched seemingly endless boulevards of palms, shaded paths, sandy beaches and stalls selling local delicacies.

El Palo

El Palo

We wandered for a while, trekking across the sand to the shore and feeling the chilly water, being investigated in turn by small dogs, considering which beach side stall to stop at for a bite and taking photos. We wended along the beach and boulevards until the sun began to sink, and then turned around to make our way back. As we went most of the stalls were closing, the ashes in the firepit-boats cooling and the stereos turned off. There were last drinks at a few more permanent restaurants, but we decided to take our chances in the big city instead.

Back in town we did a little bit of shopping. A search of a bookstore managed to uncover exactly no English-Spanish phrasebooks and a grocery store produced exactly as much wine, cheese, ham, fruit and bread as we would need for a quick Mediterranean breakfast the next morning. It seemed as though even something as domestic as taking groceries home was an adventure of sorts in a city like Málaga, as we found out as we walked along beside the dried river bed. The Guadalmedina was empty of water when we were there, but full of people rollerblading, practicing badminton, skateboarding and walking the dog. A sort of below ground, open air leisure centre filled the space between the roads and under bridges, which seemed a pretty sensible use of a river that’s dry for most of the year. Close to the apartment we found a crowd who were gathered around for a match, and judging by the cheers and stacks of beer bottle it was a regular and competitive game. On each side of a volleyball net 3 men headbutted, thumped and shouldered a ball, trying to keep it off the ground. We watched for a while, admiring their skill and speed, and wondering what they must be like on a soccer field.

Guadelmedina in the morning

Guadelmedina in the morning

After relaxing for a little while at the apartment and planning the next day, we went out onto the street to find dinner. We decided to try the restaurant recommended by Plane-man and our host, which we’d located during our earlier explorations. We found it, took a table and spent a while drinking wine and eating. By the time we left I was tipsy and we’d decided not to follow all recommendations in future, especially when they were at touristy locations. As we would need to be up early the next morning we called it a night and, in my case at least, wobbled back to the apartment.

The next day dawned clear and sunny, and after a quick breakfast of fresh bread, salami and cheese, we went out in search of the bus station. After a bit of a fuss we found it, bought tickets and got on the bus with a few minutes to spare. As we drove out of town, the apartment blocks gave way to fields, scattered villas and far off hills. We passed through a few small towns warming in the morning light, and vast spreads of lemon trees full of fruit. Soon these were replaced by olive groves that seemed to stretch on forever, all in neat rows. Given the history of the area, we wondered how long farms like those had been there, and mused on the lifespan of olive trees. The road led us gradually upwards until we reached a built-up town and the bus suddenly pulled into a garage and stopped. It seemed we had arrived. Out on the street were groups of tourists, all headed in one direction, and only having a vague idea of where to go, we followed.
We passed shops, more tourists and some locals, and then the road ended at a small bullring. According to the brochures it was the oldest bullring in Spain, though we didn’t get a chance to have a look at the inside. Next to it was a small fenced off garden with a bull statue, and tied to the fence was a horse dressed up in tassels and decorations. After watching for a little while I realised that it stuck it’s front left leg out whenever a person stepped close, and my suspicions were confirmed by a man dressed up in a similar way sitting watching in the shade. A few tourists stopped for photos and to pat the horse, who obediently stuck it’s leg out and then waited patiently for the next visitor.

A view with a Spanish guitarist

A view with a Spanish guitarist

Beyond the horse and the ring was another garden, which slightly blocked our view of a small pagoda where a man was playing guitar. And beyond the pagoda was a view. A platform stood out from a cliff, a few hundred metres high and surrounded by a distant ring of hills. If we peered around to the left we could make out a bit of the canyon that made this town, Ronda, so famous. We stood there for a while, taking photos and soaking in the scenery and the sun, and listening to the guitarist playing Recuerdos de la Alhambra, the the occasional bah of sheep or snatches of singing from the valley below. It was one of those perfect moments that even crowds of tourists, selfie-sticks and worries about tomorrow couldn’t tarnish.

A hill of almond blossoms

A hill of almond blossoms

From the platform we followed the crowds around to the canyon, and saw the bridge for the first time. If you haven’t seen pictures of the New bridge at Ronda imagine a narrow, steep canyon between two halves of a town and then shove in an immense bridge a bit like an aqueduct. Or look at the photos coming up soon. We crossed the bridge and took a selfie on the other side, with terraced houses and hills behind us, and then continued on to the old part of town. I’d made out a path along the hill and guessed that there might be a viewing spot, so we wandered till we found it and then descended under the shade of almond trees in full bloom. Rather than go all the way down and risk having to then come all the way back up again, we stopped halfway and found a good vantage point for photos. The bridge was even more dramatic from here, and the steep walls of the canyon and the sheer size of everything began to make me feel a little vertiginous.

Puente Nuevo

Puente Nuevo

We then climbed back up again, hunger and thirst making us a bit more energetic and went in search of food. It was eventually found at a restaurant down a side street in the old town, which served us delicious tapas, a burger and wine, which we ate contentedly as the sun moved slowly overhead. Soon we would have to head back the way we’d come to get a bus back to Málaga, but not just yet, not when there is one more glass of wine and dessert on the way.

(Photos 2, 4 and 6 by JG31)

Sunshine in Málaga

A few months ago, staring out of the window at the dark skies and considering the possibility of the sun ever returning to us, my partner and I decided that we had to get away. Just for a few days, long enough to soak in the sun a little and get a taste of Spring. Last year we visited Rome, as a combined birthday present and escape to the sun, and this year for the same reasons we returned to the Mediterranean, and a country that neither of us had never visited.

It was my partner who decided on Málaga, a place that I’d never really thought that much about, and which conjured up images of dusty industrial parks and scrubby bush land (for those not familiar with the exciting industrial suburbs of Western Australia, consider yourself lucky). I have always had an interest in Spain, and so happily agreed.

We left on Friday night, amid a crowd of grey-haired explorers who seemed to be regulars. The man in the seat next to me on the plane over there had been 12 times already, and owned a house in a town just outside of Málaga. Once he realised that I was willing to listen (or at least not willing to tell him to stop talking) he proceeded to describe the surrounding areas, his house, his ‘lady’, good hiking areas, how much it cost to hire a car, the best places to eat and how long it took to get to Granada. He then showed me photos, mostly himself in front of dramatic landscapes and a pile of maps, pointing out nice villages and landmarks. We eventually landed and he disappeared with a bashful smile, as our fellow passengers did their usual headlong bag-grab-and-dash to the doors. On the tarmac the air was vaguely smokey, and thick with scents we didn’t recognise, a change from the clear air of Sweden. As we were the last arrival for the night it was easy to grab a cab and rumble off to the apartment where we would be staying.
As with our trip to Malmö, we were using Airbnb and again it worked like a charm. Our host met us at the door, showed us around and then left us to unwind. A quick trip up to the terrace revealed a breathtaking view of the city, from the dry river behind us to the walls of Gibralfaro on the hill, lit up in the crisp darkness. Having whet our appetite with the view, we then slept.

Morning over Málaga

Morning over Málaga

The next morning we began with a leisurely search for breakfast through sunny morning streets (just a quick warning; the word sunny may pop up a few times in this post. My excuse is winter and the fact that right now, behind me, sun is shining through the windows. It’s a northern Europe thing). Many places were closed, and when we found a tapas restaurant that we liked the look of with glasses of wine for £1 we popped in for a snack. Unfortunately the lady at the bar seemed unimpressed with our lack of Spanish and so, in a round about way, ignored us so we in turn, in a more direct way, took our custom elsewhere. A glass of fresh orange juice, an expresso and thick bread with cheese later we were over our snubbing and raring to explore the sights.

Málaga cathedral

Málaga cathedral

The first stop was the Roman amphitheatre which sits in the shade of Alcazaba. Just in front of that, visible through a triangle of glass, were the remains of stone basins used to make garum, the famous Roman condiment of rotten fish. I wonder if there was ever a whiff of it during a performance?

The amphitheatre, still in business

The amphitheatre, still in business

We sat on the steps for a little while, contemplating this and basking, and then climbed up into the citadel. The path twisted and turned through gates and arches, narrowing into dark passages and then opening into paths lined with orange trees. As we ascended we had views out over the city and the sea and could hear the loud strains of a Christian rock band playing by the harbour. Near the top we reached a garden overlooking the sea, with channels of water running to a bubbling fountain surrounded by shrubbery and climbing roses on pillars.

A fountain

A fountain

The gardens continued for the next few twisting levels, with pots of rosemary, fountains, channels, oranges and bowers heavy with years of growth. At the top we found the palace, a small maze of cool rooms around two open-air courtyards, one lined with orange trees and the other circling a pool. The crowds limited the sorts of photos that would have summed up the peaceful atmosphere it was trying to project, but it was still lovely and graceful and just the sort of place I would like to have if I had a summer palace in the Mediterranean.

Oranges in Spring

Oranges in Spring

After our leisurely stroll about the palace and citadel, were headed for the heights of Gibralfaro. It was reached via a winding, steep path up the hill, past eucalyptus trees and other tourists panting and taking off their winter layers. From a vantage point we had a view of the bull fighting ring, which filled me with a mix of distaste and historically relate interest, resembling as it did the ancient Roman equivalents. The sandy arenas and animal battles of the Empire haven’t quite disappeared yet.

Bull ring

Bull ring

By the time we reached the top we were feeling a little bit puffed and thirsty, so after a look around the walls and over them at the surrounding city and more distant hills, we found a place to rest and refresh ourselves. It was a small cafe, which we suspected of touristy expense and tastelessness, but which turned out to be the perfect place for a midafternoon break. We took wine and tapas, a bit of juice and an icecream and finally olives and more wine, while sitting in the sun and gazing out over the sea. The taste of herbs, warmth of the sun and sharpness of the wine blurred into a sort of bliss as we sat and did nothing much, and felt rather as though we had slipped into some sort of paradise.

View of the harbour

View of the harbour

And here is where I will leave this part of our Spanish journey, sitting in the sun and feeling the relaxation of a holiday seeping into our bones.