Once upon a time, George Sand escaped to the Spanish island of Mallorca with her lover, Frederic Chopin, to escape the nosiness and scorn of the French over their scandalous relationship. But apparently her hideaway wasn't as pleasant as she might have hoped, given that Sand wrote about how much she hated her time on the island in her book, A Winter in Mallorca.
If it's the weather she didn't like, then I can understand a bit. It rained during our stay there…and then it rained some more. Despite the raindrops, it was considerably warmer than Northern France. And I didn't travel to Mallorca to "escape" the French. But it was nice to change up the climate, culture and language a bit.
Although, I didn't get the language adjustment I was expecting. Granted, my Spanish is far rustier than it was on my trip to Spain last June, but I was looking forward to brushing up and seeing how much I could remember. Yet, after less than an hour or two on the island, I noticed something peculiar about the language on the signs and being spoken around our hotel in Palma, the largest and capital city of Mallorca. And I'm not talking about Catalan.
Everything seemed to be in…German.
I'm not quite sure how Palma is advertised in Germany, but during the off-season at least, it seems to be the biggest tourist demographic on the island - by far. All of the signs were in at least Spanish, Catalan and German (and usually English if there was a fourth option), and several of the restaurants around the beaches were all German establishments. I went to Spain with the idea that we'd be eating tapas and drinking sangria out of a faucet, whereas there seemed to be just as many schnitzel and strudels abound. Not that this was a problem - it was just definitely not what we expected.
But I was right about my Spanish being rusty - to the point where I was ashamed of myself. I had to call my mom via Skype on my iPhone several times asking for words and phrases I'm quite sure I knew up until I moved to France. Strange how the two romantic languages I adore and am fascinated by so much seem to map over each other in my brain. Why can't I ever get the two straight? At the same time? After a few days, lots of it was flooding back to me. But after a few days, we were already heading to Portugal.
It wasn't too much of a hindrance though given that most people on the island were very friendly. And by the time we reached our second hostel, the Hostel Tierramar, everyone spoke English given that its run by English people and seemed to be a haven for English, Australian and other English-speaking travelers. We were the only Americans at the hostel…and I didn't come across any others while on the island. One German lady in the elevator even asked if I was from London. (Maybe I should have just gone with it, but I said I wasn't.) With the smoke-filled bar and pleasant characters with multiple accents, the hostel could have been a good setting for a sitcom.
Along with speaking Spanish, my main objectives for my trip to Spain were eating tapas upon tapas and drinking lots of sweet sangria - both of which were well accomplished. One night we even went on an impromptu tapas/sangria crawl. All I can think about now are dates wrapped in bacon. Genius…
The rest of the time was spent sightseeing on the island, mainly in Mallorca but with a few rained-out excursions to some other villages on the Mediterranean coast. During the offseason, Mallorca is supposed to be filled to the brim with tourists, particularly young ones, all along the soft and sandy beaches. But being that we went in the middle of February (when it's extremely cheap since no one is there) it's also quite wet. But not because of the ocean.
Our first and last days of our time in Mallorca had blue skies, but the middle two were gray and dreary. We foolishly brought swimsuits, even though the highest temperature during the trip must have been somewhere in the high 50s Fahrenheit. Within the city, we traversed many cute, narrow alleyways so typical of Europe that somehow always entertain and delight American tourists to no end. Sometimes we stopped to buy jewelry on sale or bought locally grown, giant and juicy olives at a farmer's market. We also learned that February is the big sales month in Spain and Portugal, whereas January is in France. I guess they rotate in Europe.
Two of the best things I noticed about Palma: first, it's very clean. It's an old city, and in some ways shows its age, but its also well-taken care of. Very few buildings had paint peeling off the sides and the streets, even the tiniest passageways, were very clean. Second, the transportation system is very efficient. One hardly waits for a bus (the longest we must have waited for one to arrive was five minutes), and the buses take you almost anywhere you want to go in the city. Plus, they have a well-organized and very new-looking train station and system to other cities on the island, and commuter buses to most other places nearby.
The first village we took a day trip to was Estellencs over on the coast. After an hour-long bus ride winding along curves reminiscent of Highway 1 on the way to Stinson Beach, we finally got off the bus in a tiny town that appeared to be deserted. But it still looked very posh with a few restaurants, a four-star hotel and many empty, yet expensive-looking homes. It must be a summer home town and I can only imagine how lovely it must be in late July, just a walk from the beach down the hill and watching the sunset over the Mediterranean Sea from this little town tucked into a cove along the coast. After walking around the tiny cobblestone streets and meeting a friendly cat along the way, we stopped into a café, where I had the most amazing lemon sorbet in a champagne flute for only a few Euros. Then we were back on the dizzying bus to Palma.
The next day, we went to Valldemossa, which could have been mistaken for a lovely tourist-centric town in Napa Valley. And this town is lucky it's so cute to begin with, given that it was raining cats and dogs outside. And none of us had umbrellas. I'm thankful I brought my Columbia zip-hoodie sweatshirt on this trip. After trying to dry off in a restaurant with some tapas and hot chocolate, we ventured back outside into the rain again and quickly up a hill to the monastery that Sand and Chopin lived in together. This building was seriously huge and a multi-purpose facility over the years. It was once a monastery with a chapel, and then turned into a hotel of sorts by the state after the French occupation, at which point the happy couple moved in. Now they also have a modern art museum upstairs with a few Miro paintings on display.
On the last day, the sun came out again, and being that it was just Rachel and I by this point, we saved the best outdoor activity for last. We went to a castle. From there we could see the entire city with the sun shining down on it. There weren't many people up there, and it was a bit windy, but it was one of those times where I felt like I was on top of the world. Far from any troubles or worries. Or reality.
Ever since I moved to France, it has felt like I've been away from reality. Or at least the realities I am familiar with and I didn't feel again until I went back to New York for Christmas. That isn't to say things in France aren't real for me, as I've had plenty of hurdles to jump here that are as real as any other. Housing, bank accounts, sorting out bills, the CAF - all in my second language. None of these things are easy, but they're just the realities of life.
But for a short time on the top of that castle, overlooking all of Palma and out towards the sea with the mid-afternoon sun providing gentle warmth against the winds blowing about, everything was fine.
After four days in Spain, we said hasta luego and headed on another Ryanair plane to Madrid to connect to an easyJet flight to Lisbon. The terminal we were stuck at in Madrid was very representative of the city itself: there wasn't much to do and people were rude. There were two places to eat total, both of which were ridiculously overpriced. I paid 6€ for a chorizo sandwich the size of my hand, and I was constantly shoved without apology in the duty free shop. It was worse than Manhattan in there.
Thus, I was quite relieved when we finally took off from Madrid, and then an hour later I when I got my first glimpse of a new country.