Not all who wander are lost – Part V

Is late always better than never?

What about the christmas cards that arrive after the big day? The guests who turn up at the party at the moment when people are beginning to leave?

There are times when – given the choice – you’d go for never!

So the fact that I’m posting about the last day of our drive through France and Spain to Majorca this summer, with November just round the corner, might feel a bit pointless to some. But one day I will read these posts back and remember what a great time we had. And if I don’t write about the last day I will be sorry. So I’m doing this with my fingers crossed that in this case late is the preferred option.

The last day of our trip is a Sunday. And we’re in Barcelona. Is there anywhere better to spend a Sunday? I really don’t think so.

We start with breakfast at the hotel. If you read my post about our stay at H1868 last year you will know that the breakfasts there are something of a thing.

Breakfast at H1898
Where to start???

Suffice to say they continue to be something of a thing. The only challenge is to keep it reasonable! Because it would be easy to go a bit mad. And we’ve got lunch booked at another of Colin (you remember Colin?)’s recommendations. And experience tells me to hold back in preparation for something special.

So I stay focussed and ignore the siren call of pancakes and muffins and eggs and bacon and waffles and ham and cheese and…. It takes a lot of restraint.

After breakfast we split with our friends who are off to the Sagrada Familia. We’ve been there before so we head for another Gaudi classic, La Pedrera.

What to say about La Pedrera? Except OMG. In very very big letters. It is sensational and extraordinary and completely bloomin’ fantastic. And you just absolutely have to go.

Here’s the thing for me about Gaudi. Before coming to Barcelona – and going to some of the sites of his most famous works, and visiting the museum next to the Cathedral that guides you through his life and work, and beginning to get really interested in him – what I knew about Gaudi was that he was a Spanish architect who had designed some rather weird and mad looking buildings that I wasn’t entirely sure that I liked, I knew that people talked about places being Gaudiesque, and I thought I knew what they were talking about. But I didn’t really get it.

Well, now I do. Now I’m thinking that Gaudi’s buildings might actually make more sense to me than any others. Because he takes his passion for the natural world as his inspiration and uses it to structure his work. So there’s an intriguing reason for everything being the way it is, and when you know that inside and out this particular building is a constant curve with no straight lines, and that the facade is self supporting which means that the floors inside don’t need load bearing walls, which means that the walls can go wherever the owners feel like putting them, and that everything functional on the roof has been turned into sculpture, well you get it and you fall in love.

So we spend a wonderful couple of hours at La Pedrera, and then we jump in a taxi and head off to meet our friends at the Picasso museum. But the queues are long and we have missed them, so we go nearby to the Fundacio Gaspar

And discover Anthony McCall.

Anthony McCall is an English artist who does stuff with light. Intrigued? No. Graham wasn’t either. In the first room we watch a video of a middle aged man in front of an audience pinning sheets of white paper to a wall. He takes a long time choosing each sheet, holds it up, turns it, considers it, pins it alongside the previous sheet. Then he attaches a piece of string coated with black paint/powder? across the entire width of the wall and pings it against the surface of the paper so that it leaves a dusty black line. Fascinated? Graham most definitely isn’t. And at this stage nor am I.

On to the next installation. Another black and white video of people in white boiler suits on a headland throwing flares into holes in the ground. The camera is hand held, the picture shaky, people in white, it’s getting dark. The woosh of the flares as they light is the only sound. Graham has given up and gone.

But  I stay. And as the holes light up I begin to see a pattern. And begin to watch for the next one. And as I watch I’m filling up with a rather pleasant sensation of calm. And I begin to enjoy myself. And find it rather hard to tear myself away.

The next installation is in a dark room. I push through a screen to go in. I’m the only person there. Two lines of light on the floor, an arc and a straight line. At first I think they are white tape stuck down. But as I watch, I realise that very very slowly the lines are moving – towards each other, away from each other, converging, crossing, changing all the time. It’s mesmerising. By now Graham has come back to find me and he gets hooked too. It takes other people pushing in through the door screen to make us move on.

Look out for Anthony McCall. This is a wonderful show. The last room is another blackout space with scrunched up newspapers filling the floor so that you shuffle through, kicking your feet like a child. It’s like walking through fallen leaves in autumn. Mirrors walls reflect dark images of yourself back to you. A screen in the middle shows another black and white film… of the installation in use. You watch people doing what you are doing. It’s absolutely fantastic.

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You have to be there!

There are other installations on our way to the last room but I won’t describe each one. As much as I would like to. I’ve probably lost you already. But when we leave I am filled with peace and calm and happiness. Which is rather wonderful, and the last thing I expected.

We walk down to the shore. Beautiful Barcelona with its seaside vibe and beach side promenades. We find our friends at Kaiku, (click on this link – it’s a really great website!!) a Colin recommendation and right up there with the others. Sitting looking out towards the water, surrounded by locals, eating terrific seafood, with the Barcelona Sunday crowd out in force, it’s hard to imagine that life could get any better.

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Sunday Barcelona beach

After lunch we wander along the promenade, drinking in the sights and sounds of people enjoying themselves in this unique place.

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Beach style Barcelona

Then it’s back to the hotel, and we pack up our stuff and load it into the car. Up to the roof terrace to chill, read a bit, sit a bit, consider a bit about how much fun we’ve had since we left England. Then we say goodbye to our friends (who have failed to get a cabin on the ferry so are flying to join us in the morning) and we drive to the port.

This year we’re more familiar with the bizarre procedure that goes with taking the ferry to Alcudia, of finding the queue for cars, separating to get on board, and reuniting once we’re there. It still feels a little strange to wave goodbye to Graham and head off on my own in the dark.

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The last leg

But it goes to plan, and we find each other, find our cabin. And we sleep a bit and the boat slides through the sea and we arrive. Our journey is over; our holiday in Majorca is beginning. It’s been the most fun we could have imagined. Nothing we would change about any of it. Would we do it again? You bet we would.

Not all who wander are lost – Part I

I used to be terrified of flying. Any time I was on a plane was absolute torture, even when it was on the ground. I’d spend entire flights with my head screwed round on my neck, scanning the faces of the cabin crew for signs that the plane was in trouble. I was convinced that it was only my vigilance that was keeping the plane in the air, and that the moment I stopped paying attention it would plummet to the ground. Not the most relaxing way to travel.

These days I’m much more chilled about it. Thanks to the great good fortune of having a house in Majorca for the last eleven years, I’ve flown backwards and forwards enough to recognise that the thumps, bumps and lumps are a completely normal part of a plane’s functioning and not an indication that it is about to crash. But given the choice I still prefer to drive.

So this new thing we do, the once a year at the end of the summer taking the ferry and driving to our house in Puerto Pollenca rather than flying thing, is right up my street. In 2015 we took the ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao and then on through Spain (which you can read about in The San Sebastian Crawl and Taking the Long Way Round). This year we decide to be a bit more leisurely about things, to take our time and a couple of friends, and explore France on our way. Should be fun…

But when the alarm goes off at 4.30 in the morning, on a sticky night at the end of August, I’m wondering if this driving to Majorca idea is really such a good thing. We stagger out of bed, dress and get ready in the dark, climb sleepily into the prepacked car, and set off as the sun begins to rise. We call in to pick up the friends who are joining us on our trip, and head for Newhaven. As we drive across the Ashdown Forest the sky is beginning to glimmer with the promise of a stinking hot day to come. But for now it’s cool and clear, and at this hour of the morning the only word for the view across the rolling gorse and heath of the forest is… what is it, stunning, glorious, absolutely blinking sensational? We don’t know it at the time but this is how it’s going to be from here on in, until we get to our house in Puerto Pollenca. Wall to wall sunshine. Just bloomin’ gorgeous.

The sun is properly up by the time we drive into Newhaven. The ferry port at Newhaven is much smaller than Portsmouth; the harbour is smaller, the ferry is smaller; it’s all on a reduced scale compared to last year. Seats on the boat not as comfortable, cafe more basic, food less appetising. But it does what it says on the tin and we’re only on board for four and a half hours. And boy oh boy is the sun shining; the sun is shining as hard as it possibly can. There simply cannot be a better day for setting off across the Channel.

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Leaving the harbour at Newhaven

We arrive in Dieppe at 2pm; the ferry driver/captain/steering person performing an amazing feat of reversing and side-shifting a largish vessel into a smallish space in the harbour. By the time we dock the four of us are back in the car and ready for the off. This stage of the journey we’re not going scenic, we’re heading for our first stopover by the quickest route possible. We’ve been up for a long time and it’s H.O.T. Outside it’s 35 degrees. In this heat the only sightseeing we’re doing is from the inside of our air-conditioned car.

We’ve chosen our stopovers en route through France with the help of Alastair Sawday’s guide to French B & B’s. For our first night we’ve booked rooms at the Chateau de St Frambault in Roeze-sur-Sarthe near Le Mans. It’s looking very promising as we turn between wrought iron gates and head up the long drive towards a rather lovely lemon coloured chateau looking down at us across sloping lawns and ancient oak trees. The grounds aren’t grand, there’s little planting to speak of apart from topiary, grass and trees, and the grass isn’t mown to English standards, but the building and its setting have an easy elegance and charm which suggest that we’re in for a treat.

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Chateau de Saint Frambault

As we pull up at the back of the chateau it’s 6 pm, and the car reading shows the temperature at 37 degrees . It’s like getting out into an oven. We are met by the very delightful Madame de Goulaine who takes us inside to the mercifully cool interior of her very beautiful home. She tells us that they have only been doing bed and breakfast for a few months, but they seem like old hands at the job. The rooms are gorgeous, the bedrooms beautifully and individually furnished with good linen, very comfortable beds and excellent state of the art bathrooms. There is a very stylish salon and a beautiful double aspect dining room with tapestries on the walls. It’s not a big, grand chateau, more a characterful home with a real sense of the people who live there.

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View from our bedroom window

Madame offers us a dip in the pool but we’re too hot to go to the effort of changing in and out of swimming things, so we settle into our rooms and then head out for our first dinner on the road. This turns out to be the worst meal we will eat in the whole of our trip, also the most expensive – on the hottest evening we will encounter. But the setting is incredible. We sit on a terrace beside a river whose surface is turned to gold as the sun slides down behind the trees.

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Sun setting over the river at Malicorne-sur-Sarthe

We have a bit of a moment on our way back to the Chateau when the satnav seems to lose its head and take us into the middle of nowhere. Which is where the Chateau is located, but a different middle of nowhere to the one we find ourselves in. In the dark one remote french lane looks pretty much like another, and we have a panicky moment where we begin to think we might be spending the night in the car. But it turns out that the satnav isn’t quite as deranged as we think, and we are actually very nearly where we want to be. We turn between the iron gates to the Chateau with profound relief.

It’s a hot night. Our room is on the third floor, up in the eaves. It’s lovely, comfortable, beautifully done. But who can sleep when it feels as if you’re lying in a sauna with the temperature turned to maximum? (Well actually Graham can, but today he’s been doing all the driving and has been awake since 4.30!) Even with the fan going at full pelt I lie in a pool of sweat and try to conjure up icebergs and snow covered mountains. It’s not hugely successful.

But it’s been a great first day. And we’ve got tomorrow to look forward to. And more tomorrows to come. And our journey is only just beginning.

 

Bay Watch

At 8.30 this morning, as I swim out across the millpond still surface of water that might actually be warmer than my bath, there’s a song rattling around my brain. It goes something along the lines of

‘It was thirty years ago today…

…dum di da…

That I first came to Pollenca Bay…’

Now I’ve got to be honest and admit that I can’t be precisely sure that it was thirty years ago to the day that I first came to this island. Thirty years is rather a long time. And some of us don’t have the memory they used to! But it must have been pretty close. Because the first time I came to Puerto Pollenca I was pregnant with my son. And it was September. And he’s going to be thirty in December! (How it manages to be possible that I’ve got a son who is going to be thirty is a whole other question? But we won’t go into that one here!)

So as I was saying… It was thirty years ago that I first came here. My mum and dad were renting a one bedroom apartment behind the Ila d’Or and I came and slept on the sofa-bed for a few days. We did pretty much the same sort of thing we still do today. Wandered into town along a Pine Walk that looked not hugely different to how it does now. Could it have been narrower? My memory says it was. I do know that the path was of beaten earth, with here and there the roots of the pine trees twisting up through the surface. There were certainly no sunbeds or umbrellas on the beach; the villas along the sea front were not so smartly dressed as they are now. Were all the apartment blocks there? Most of them I think.

I do remember that thirty years ago there were boats moored in much closer to the shore, so that when we swam we had to negotiate our way between them. Was the water quite so clear and sparkling in those days? I’m telling myself it’s cleaner now than it used to be. Not all change is unwelcome!

Sis Pins and Miramar – definitely both there; been there a lot longer then I have. Corb Mari was called the Bec Fi – in those days my dad’s favourite restaurant. We used to go to La Lonja for dinner, but the jetty was wooden and we sat at tables by the water’s edge and threw bread to the fish. On the way home after dinner we often stopped at Katy’s Bar (now a private house just after you get to Little Italy) for a late night lamumba. We ate lunch at the Ila d’Or – beaten earth under the pines, plastic chairs and tables, and the bar was built of wood with a straw roof rather like the swanky new beach umbrellas that have appeared on the beaches this year. The food in those days was simple: squid, sardines, tortilla. But the white painted hotel was as quietly elegant as ever and the view from the bar at sunset was – as it still is today – impossible to beat.

So there have been a few changes. Which in thirty years is inevitable. But the one thing that hasn’t changed is the way that the water of Pollenca Bay has stayed blue and beautiful and better than anywhere else in the world.

I wish I could show you some pictures of what it used to look like. Unfortunately back then I was more interested in taking pictures of my family than the view. But for those that are interested here are a selection of more recent pictures taken at various times of the day from various locations around the bay.

 

And if anyone has any old photos or memories from those far off days I’d love to hear about them.

 

 

 

 

The Curious Behaviour of the Cycad on the Terrace

So I know that paraphrasing someone else’s title in order to attract attention is a cheap trick. But I have a sneaky feeling that if I called this post something like ‘The Life Cycle of the Cycad’ people not so interested in cycads (of which I recognise there may be many) might not read it. And I’d hate for you to be missing out!

Because who would have thought that a garden terrace in downtown Puerto Pollenca would see so much action? We’re not just talking sightings two days running of a Pine Marten, (see Pinch Me post) which is one of the creatures that David Attenborough has never seen in the wild but wishes he had. There’s another extraordinary thing happening out there which I simply have to tell you about.

A couple of years back, when I arrived in Majorca after a winter at home, it was to find that the cycad (for those cycad novices that’s the frondy green plant in the black planter) on the terrace was behaving rather strangely.

Hmmmm?
Hmmmm?

A cycad with a head the size of a football. Is that normal?

Cycad
…???????

I kept a close eye on developments. The head grew bigger. It was unnerving.

Then the following year this…

........?
Alien eggs?

Even more unnerving.

Then…

Nothing.

By the beginning of this year the weird eggy looking things had gone a bit flaccid. When we arrived from the UK in June the few remaining leaves had began to go brown. I prepared myself for the worst. Clearly this was a cycad on its last legs.

So imagine my surprise when I returned at the end of August

to this…

Cycad explodes on terrace
Cycad explodes on terrace

And it’s not just one cycad. Now there are four!!! Three little baby cycads are battling it out for space in a very crowded planter.

Now if you happen to be an expert on this kind of thing, you will probably tell me that this is entirely normal behaviour for a cycad and only to be expected. But to me it’s… well, quite frankly, it’s very curious.

Taking the long way round…

It’s a funny thing…

You do the same thing for years. And then one day you decide to do it differently. And it’s like a door opening to a whole new world. A world on your doorstep that’s been there all along, only you just didn’t know about it.

Take this summer, when, after many years of flying to our house in Majorca, we decided to take the car and drive instead. There were practical reasons – we had stuff we wanted to take with us that we couldn’t fit into a suitcase, we were going to be out there for a while so it made sense to have our own car. And we had had enough of airports; we felt like a change.

But it wasn’t just about practicality. We were looking to combine function with some fun. What we didn’t realise was quite how much fun was in store for us.

I’ve written about our boat trip to Bilbao with Brittany Ferries, and our first night in San Sebastian in my post The San Sebastian Crawl, so I won’t go over it again. Suffice to say we had a ball!

San Sebastian
Stunning San Sebastian

But the Pintxos bar tour we enjoyed, in the company of the lovely Esther from San Sebastian Pintxos Tours, turned out to be a good metaphor for the journey. Bite sized portions of experience; little tasters of amazing places. There and back we didn’t stay more than a night anywhere. But thanks to the meticulous research and careful planning of my top-notch concierge (aka my husband), our experience of each place we visited was memorable, enough to give us a real flavour without overfacing us.

After our unforgettable night in San Sebastian we headed south, stopping for coffee on our way in the mediaeval town of Olite with its fairytale castle.

Fairy tale castle
Castillo de Olite

And then on to a blow out lunch at Restaurante 33 in Tudela (described in my post A Serious Case of PTS). The drive to Barcelona took us about five hours in total, taking us away from the wooded mountains of the north into the flat, dry expanse of central Spain. Not always the most exciting of scenery, but great roads. And we kept ourselves amused listening to podcasts of Cabin Pressure with Benedict Cumberbatch playing a useless pilot and Roger Allam as his cynical, world weary co-pilot. Greatly to be recommended; the time flew by.

BEAUTIFUL BARCELONA

We came into Barcelona in the late afternoon, negotiating our way through this busy, beautiful city with the help of the satnav (absolutely essential bit of kit without which we would probably be filing for divorce by now. How did people manage without them?)  A few hours to fill before heading for the port to catch our ferry to Majorca, a bit of anxiety about where to leave the luggage filled car in notoriously thief friendly Barcelona, a complete lack of hunger due to massive eight course lunch eaten in Tudela; we were a little uncertain of what to do with ourselves.

So we headed for the Olympic Park area which is near the port, found a secure car park to leave the car, and went for a stroll. This part of Barcelona is part beach holiday, part super modern, stylish city. Look to your left as you wander along the esplanade and there are people playing volleyball on the beach, couples strolling barefoot along the water’s edge hand in hand. Look to your right and there are skyscrapers and fountains and wide boulevards streaming with Friday afternoon traffic.

Sun sets over Barcelona beach
Sun sets over Barcelona beach

We went in to the achingly stylish Arts Hotel for a drink, feeling a little out of place in its hushed corridors and elegant reception. We were carworn, battered and dusty, and ready to sit in a heap and rest up a bit. This hotel was crawling with the beautiful and the best of Barcelona, and we couldn’t help feeling we were not quite fitting in. Still it was an experience, and a beautiful place, and worth a visit if for nothing else than the stunning flower arrangements in the lobby. After a drink in the bar, and a promise to ourselves to come back when we were a little less scruffy, we went back to the car and headed for the ferry port.

ANOTHER BIT ON A BOAT

This was the trickiest moment of our journey. Roads are mega busy, night has fallen, and the satnav takes us to a road closed by a barrier, and a mean looking policeman is waving us away from where we want to go. Luckily we’ve left lots of time, and the satnav rethinks and leads us through tunnels and around roundabouts, so we get to the port with time to spare. Which is a very good thing. Because there seem to be no signs and no way of knowing where we are meant to go and what we are meant to do. We just follow the herd, hoping that the herd is going where we are going. Graham stops and winds down the window to ask directions from a guy in a reflective jacket, who could be anyone but fortunately turns out to be someone who knows what’s going on. He tells us that we have to swap our printout ticket for a proper ticket or we won’t get onto the boat. We park and Graham goes off to do the necessary, comes back and informs me that I’ve got to go on board by foot.

This is going to sound daft, but it was a weird and rather unsettling experience, leaving him in the car on the dockside and heading off in the dark to a building in the distance, to stand in a long and extremely chaotic queue, which snaked in and out of the building and seemed uncertain whether it was a queue for Alcudia or Cuitedella. Turned out it was the queue for both; the ferry was dropping off in Alcudia and then going on to Menorca. Phew!! I stood at the back of it, played Tetris on my phone and tried to look unconcerned, while the people in front of me argued in angry Spanish, and children screamed around me.

Graham and I found each other on the boat and fell on each other with relief. We had to queue to hand in our ticket in exchange for the key to our basic but perfectly acceptable cabin. This ferry was not in the same league as the Brittany Ferries boat from Portsmouth but we were only on it for six hours. As we pulled away from the dock and slowly made our way towards open sea, we slid past a long, lean, multi-decked boat that was crying out to be stared at. It was moored alone against the quay, well away from any other boat. It’s five decks were lit up, and we could see spacious seating areas with fabulous furniture, a beautiful dining table with inlaid wood, a super cool bar. There seemed to be nobody on board until we caught sight of a couple of figures leaning on the rails, watching as our ferry went slowly past.

It was too dark to take a decent picture. But I found this photo online so you can see for yourselves. Because of course we googled the name!

One of these isn't enough!
One of these isn’t enough!

It’s called Eclipse. And it turns out it’s one of Roman Abramovitch’s fleet of five. Five!!! This boat has two helicopter pads, two swimming pools, 24 guest cabins, 70 crew, several hot tubs, a disco hall and a mini submarine. How have we managed all these years without a mini submarine???

Once we were under way we found our cabin and slept. Up at 4.30am (!) in time to peer out of the porthole as Pollenca Bay loomed up and past us in the darkness, lights twinkling in the distance to tell us we’re nearly there. Back down to the car, dock in Alcudia, drive off ferry straight into dark streets, twenty minutes to our house; only sign of life in Puerto Pollenca at this hour is staggering teenagers weaving their way home after a long night at Chivas.

And we’re there. Three days journeying as opposed to six hours. A fair bit of time in the car. But what a great way to travel.

BEING THERE

We’re in Majorca for just over three weeks. Weather unsettled for some of the time, but not so it’s a problem. We do what we usually do, which is enjoy ourselves. Make a few new discoveries: walking over to Cala San Vicenz before breakfast, eating tapas by the side of the lovely bay of Puerto de Soller, enjoying a spectacular dinner at the fantastic Marie Nostrum restaurant in Sa Pobla.

Puerto de Soller Panorama
Puerto de Soller Panorama

The wonderful Mare Nostrum
The wonderful Mare Nostrum

We spend a lot of time sitting by the water’s edge in our own lovely bay of Puerto de Pollenca, enjoying some truly spectacular sunsets, and telling ourselves for the umpteenth time that there really is nowhere else we’d rather be.

Sunset from the bar at the Illa d'Or
Sunset from the bar at the Illa d’Or

Breakfast view from Cappucino
Breakfast at Cappucino

And all too soon it is time to think about packing up and going home. But the great thing is that this year the holiday doesn’t end when we leave our house to head for the airport. This year it started when we walked out of our front door in England, and will end when we walk back in again. The getting there and the going home are as much part of the holiday as the being there. Which means that, as the day approaches when it’s time to leave, we don’t feel blue at the thought of it all coming to an end. Instead we feel excited at the thought of our journey home.

BACK ON A BOAT AGAIN

We leave on one of those perfect days you get in Majorca at the tail end of the summer, when the sun is just beginning to lose its intensity, the air is soft and clear, the wind has melted away so that the sea in the bay is as still and reflective as a mirror, the temperature in the shade is spot on body temperature, you feel completely at one with your surroundings, and very very happy. It’s hard to say goodbye on such a day. But rather than feeling sad to be going, we feel blessed to have such great conditions for travelling by boat, because we will get to see the island at its best.

Fifteen minutes drive to the ferry port. The same weird procedure where passengers have to go on board separately from the car. But this time when Graham and I say a temporary goodbye to each other it’s in bright sunshine and we’re prepared for it, so it’s not quite so traumatic! I find a spot in the bar on the top deck, and gaze out at people on sun loungers, sunbathing in their bikinis and swimming trunks (this is a ferry with a swimming pool!). Do I miss Palma airport? NO I DO NOT.

When Graham joins me we go and find a place to say a proper goodbye to the island. The boat slips gently out on a turquoise blue sea. We lean on the rail and drink in the view with our eyes. On a day like this one there simply cannot be anywhere in the world more beautiful than this glorious island of Majorca. And we feel incredibly lucky to be seeing it this way.

Passing the Cap de Formentor
Passing the Cap de Formentor

Pollenca Bay Panorama
Island Panorama

We watch for as long as we can, while the island softens and dissolves into the distance, until there’s no trace of it on the horizon. Then we find a spot to settle down and talk and eat and read for the six hours it takes us to reach Barcelona.

RETURN TO BARCELONA 

Barcelona. It’s a wonderful town. The skies as we approach give a hint of what is in store for us. They’re eye catching, dramatic, beautiful.

Sunset coming into Barcelona
Sunset coming into Barcelona

We drive off the ferry and check in to the supremely comfortable, very friendly and welcoming, couldn’t be in a better position, H1898 hotel; located a matter of metres off La Rambla, the street that is the soul of Barcelona.

This is the old town, very different to the super modern and stylish Olympic area that we had visited on our way out. But equally as stunning. We have dinner on the roof terrace of the hotel: really good tapas (and we’ve eaten a fair bit on this trip so we know what we’re talking about!) and great views across the city. The tower of the cathedral is close by, piercing the roofline, changing colour before our eyes, one moment pink, one moment purple, one moment green; a light show to let us know (as if we didn’t know already) that we are in a pretty extraordinary place.

View from the terrace
View from the terrace

After dinner we go for a quick ramble down La Rambla (has to be done – walk and pun!) and then back to the hotel and our completely gorgeous bedroom. Oh, it’s a tough life!

Breakfast the next morning was in a class of its own. The spread that met us as we entered the dining had to be seen to be believed. It was tempting to spend the morning there scoffing. The pastry table in particular… OMG!!!

Where to start???
Where to start???

Still Barcelona was calling us. And we only had a few hours. So we enjoyed our breakfast, and then went out and strolled again up La Rambla, with its crowds and its street traders and its nifty flower stalls.

As we wandered Graham suggested going into the Mercado de la Boqueria. Now if I’m honest I’m a bit myeh about markets. In my book a somewhat overrated experience – too often they’re full of the same old tat. But not this one.

Enough oysters for you?
Enough oysters for you?

Fruit?
Or maybe some fruit?

Ice Lollies?
The ice lollies look good.

But please not sheep heads
But please not sheep heads!

Then on to the cathedral to wander and marvel.

George fighting his dragon
George fighting his dragon

Geese in the cloisters!
Geese in the cloisters!

Next stop – a walk with Gaudi at the Gaudi Exhibition Centre. When you don’t have much time in a place you have to focus. So we did – on the unique architect who has had so much to do with making this city what it is. A Walk With Gaudi is a brand new museum/exhibition, right next to the cathedral, which takes you through the story of Gaudi, his life and influences. And it’s excellent.

We left the museum, grabbed a taxi, and headed to the Sagrada Familia. Because when you’ve been given such a great taste of Gaudi, you have to go and see his most famous building.

The Sagrada Familia
The Sagrada Familia

It is his unfinished masterpiece. Showcases his passion for the organic, the free flowing, the natural. The son of a coppersmith Gaudi had inordinate respect for the skill of craftsmen. So the fact that this building is work in progress, that the city of Barcelona is finishing the job Gaudi started, seems completely and utterly right, so that the cranes and the workmen seem as much part of the experience of the building as the building itself.

We headed back to the hotel, ate a light lunch on the roof terrace, and left Barcelona to drive north – making our way towards the extraordinary Marques de Riscal Hotel.

FINISH WITH A FLOURISH

Four hours drive, and we are deep in Rioja country: hills and valleys and a ridge of far mountains, vineyards on all sides, tractors pulling trailers loaded with crates of grapes, slowing the traffic to walking pace in front of us. We take the road to Elciego. On the hillside ahead and to the right something winks and flashes in the late afternoon sunshine.

This is the Frank O Gehry designed Marques de Riscal hotel. And it’s where we are spending our last night in Spain.

Stunning...
Stunning…

What a building!

As we drove towards it I wasn’t entirely convinced. Did I like it? I wasn’t sure. But the more time I spent with it, the more I liked it. Until I ended up completely smitten. You know the really great paintings, where the more you look the more you see. Well this building worked the same kind of magic. As we explored I could see the undulating hills and valleys of Rioja, wine pouring and flowing, red and white and rose, the foil peeling back from the necks of bottles. The gleaming surfaces reflected the sky, the scenery; the building shifted with the light, changing character from one moment to the next. It was utterly and gobsmackingly fantastic.

Different light; different mood.
Different light; different mood.

Our bedroom was super comfortable, ultra modern, teched up to the eyeballs so that even the curtains drew back at the touch of a button. Of course there was a bottle of wine to welcome us. And the windows opened out like an eye onto bodega and hills, framing the sensational view.

Framing the view
Framing the view

The only bit that didn’t work quite so well for us was the public space: the hotel reception, the Bistro dining room (where we ate an absolutely delicious dinner and drank, as you would expect, fantastic wine), the library/bar on the top floor. These areas with their towering ceilings were more high than wide; the white walls and minimalist decor, whilst completely in keeping with the building, felt a little lacking in character. We couldn’t escape the feeling that at dinner we were eating in a corridor. And the piped music that played everywhere – it was rather like being stuck in a lift.

We spent a very comfortable night, lay in bed the next morning and watched the sun come up on the hills, ate an excellent breakfast (although I was beginning to suffer from an overabundance of food) and headed to the stylish and elegant wine shop to stock up on a few cases before embarking on the last leg of the last leg of our drive.

View from the breakfast terrace
View from the breakfast terrace

An hour to Bilbao. We were going to stop at the Guggenheim Museum and add another Frank Gehry building to our list of experiences. But the traffic in Bilbao was stopstart, all the carparks we drove past seemed to be full, and we didn’t want to leave our loaded with goodies car on a street. So we drove past and had as good a look as we could, and then headed to the ferry port.

THE LAST LEG

You might have thought that this last stretch, twenty four hours on a boat, with all the fun stuff done, might drag. But it really didn’t. It was helped by the fact that it was a beautiful day, warm and bright and calm. It was helped by the fact that the ferry was half empty.

That night, in the restaurant, I was one of only two or three women. All around us motorbike enthusiasts and classic car buffs were enjoying their dinner. Conversation focussed on crankshafts and spark plugs and the best place to get a decent cup of coffee on the A3. My lovely lovely dad, who died four years ago this week, was a passionate lover of old motorbikes and cars. I grew up with these conversations. It felt very familiar and rather wonderful  and the perfect way to end a memorable holiday.

A good night’s sleep, breakfast, a couple of hours playing Candy Crush (there… I’ve admitted it) and we can see land on the horizon. We go past the Isle of Wight and come into Portsmouth in sunshine.

Coming into Portsmouth
Coming into Portsmouth

Down to the car, off the boat, back to driving on the left, back to bumpy surfaces and lots of traffic. And in just under an hour we’re turning into our driveway. And it’s all over. We’ve had the most wonderful time.

And we can’t wait to do it again.

A ducky and a horsie…

It’s been a big year for clouds. They’ve been everywhere. Even out here in sunny Majorca. When I’m here I’m used to waking up to blue skies without a cloud in sight. But this year it’s been the other way round.

Now you might think that’s not a great thing. But as with everything in life there are compensations. And the compensations are that when there are clouds around you get to see some pretty amazing sights.

In June it was this:

Genie cloud...
Cloud over Pollenca Bay…

We’re eating lunch at the Mirador de la Victoria restaurant near Alcudia when a cloud genie rises out of the Tramuntana mountains to hover in the skies above our heads.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, as we headed towards Alcudia early one morning, the sun was negotiating with the clouds for the day ahead.

Morning sun over Pollenca Bay
Morning sun over Pollenca Bay

Later that same day, the clouds were winning. But we weren’t complaining.

Sea shimmer
Sea shimmer from Val d’Or

Because, as with so many things in life, you’ve got to have clouds. If for no other reason than to give the sun something to work with.

Sunset strip
Sunset strip

Without clouds you wouldn’t see this:

You gotta have clouds...
You gotta have clouds…

Sometimes it helps when man joins in:

Strip lighting...
Strip lighting…

But nature does a pretty good job on its own. As we made our way to the ferry port in Barcelona on our way here the sun was setting over the sea.

Barcelona sky
Evening sky in Barcelona

Even the moon was joining in!

I was looking for a quote about clouds to tie this post together. Something meaningful. Something worthy and deep and philosophical.

So here you go:

“Aren’t the clouds beautiful? They look like big balls of cotton… I could just lie here all day, and watch them drift by… If you use your imagination, you can see lots of things in the cloud formations… What do you think you see, Linus?”
“Well, those clouds up there look like the map of the British Honduras on the Caribbean… That cloud up there looks a little like the profile of Thomas Eakins, the famous painter and sculptor… And that group of clouds over there gives me the impression of the stoning of Stephen… I can see the apostle Paul standing there to one side…”
“Uh huh… That’s very good… What do you see in the clouds, Charlie Brown?”
“Well, I was going to say I saw a ducky and a horsie, but I changed my mind!”
Charles M. Schulz, The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 5: 1959-1960

Pinch me…

Something so extraordinary has just happened that I’m sitting here wondering if I really saw what I thought I saw. Surely not! It couldn’t be! Could it? Luckily I’m not alone. If I was, I’d be telling myself I was seeing things.

Because I’m lounging on the sofa on our terrace, thinking about important things like where to go for lunch and whether my Candy Crush habit is turning into an addiction, when what looks like a cat slides under the gate and putters up the garden path. Most of the houses around us are unoccupied so maybe this thing that looks like a cat thinks there’s no-one home. Because it’s looking pretty relaxed. Until it catches sight of us, stops, stares, and slips away under the hedge while we’re still registering that this thing that looks like a cat isn’t.

The terrace in question is in Puerto Pollenca, Majorca. It looks out over a (very small) garden, with a gate opening onto the pool area we share with thirteen other houses about ten metres away from me. So we’re talking seaside, built up, urban – not pine forest, secluded, unpeopled. Which is the kind of habitat what I’ve just seen prefers.

Because this thing that looks like a cat is a Pine Marten. Honestly. I promise you. In Great Britain they are incredibly rare; shy, secretive creatures you might catch a glimpse of in Scotland if you’re very very lucky.

And I’ve just seen one. So close I could have reached out and touched it. Unfortunately I was too stunned to get myself together and take a photo. But even so…

Too exciting not to share.

A Serious Case of PTS…

You know that feeling? When you are so full you literally cannot eat another thing. Until somebody mentions pudding. Which is when PTS (or Pudding Tummy Syndrome) kicks in. It’s been happening to me a lot lately. On the bar crawl in San Sebastian, the following day in Tudela, and then a few days later in Sa Pobla, Majorca.

In San Sebastian it was the basque burnt cheesecake that I wrote about in my last post. Five pintxos bars visited in one evening before we ended up at La Vina, five different places where drink was drunk and food was eaten! And, as my kids used to say, I am full as an egg. No room for anything else. Until you wave a plate of the best cheesecake in the whole world in front of me. And I don’t hesitate.

Bar 6 - the best cheesecake in the world...
Basque Burnt Cheesecake at La Vina

Next stop – Tudela. Which is not the most prepossessing of places. But we’re searching out Restaurante 33. Great reviews on Trip Advisor for its food. And we’ve got a bit of time before heading for Barcelona to catch our ferry to Majorca. (And I’ve got hangover hunger from the night before!) So we settle in and go for their set menu. Which is a masterpiece of eight courses. Yes eight!

Only eight courses?
Only eight courses?

The plates are small and delicious but I’m struggling by five. By seven I’m completely stuffed. But then… Burnt milk! With chocolate delicious thing on the side!

All I can say is that you have simply got to try burnt milk. It’s up there with the basque burnt cheesecake in the list of puddings to bring on a very serious case of PTS.

Heaven is burnt milk and chocolate
Heaven is burnt milk and chocolate

And finally to Mare Nostrum in Sa Pobla, Majorca. Where I had one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.

Mare Nostrum
The Stunning Mare Nostrum Restaurant

No choice menu. Bread and aioli to start, then six exquisite courses. Each one is small and perfectly formed, and memorable in its own right. But still we’re talking five courses by the time pudding arrives. And, despite evidence to the contrary in the rest of this post, I’m really not the biggest of eaters.

But who’s going to say no to this…?

The Final Flourish
The Final Flourish

So. A marathon of eating. And you want to know what I’m thinking? PTS isn’t a curse; it’s a gift.

Happiness is….

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking. As you do. When you’re away for a month. With lots of time to sit around and do that kind of thing.

And one of the things I’ve been thinking about is the definition of happiness. And I’ve come to the conclusion that for me happiness is when I’m living in the moment, when the moment is where I want to be, and when there is absolutely nothing about the moment that I would change.

And I know what I’m talking about. Because out here in Puerto Pollenca those moments are blessedly frequent.

Like every morning. Because every morning I get up. And the sun is shining. And I put on my swimming costume. Wrap myself up in a towel. Leave the house. Walk the couple of hundred yards to my favourite view in the world.

First view of the bay
First view of the bay

I kick off my shoes, drop my towel on the jetty. Say good morning to the ‘the bird that isn’t a heron’ that always stands at the end of the jetty at this time of day. And walk into water that is translucent and gleaming and body temperature warm.

IMG_0917

This isn’t swimming, this is a daily baptism. I breaststroke my way out to the boats. Tread water, look back at the view of Pine Walk from the sea. The up and down roofs of the villas and apartment buildings, pink and cream and white and yellow, clustered along the water’s edge, shaded by the pine trees.

I swim back to shore, slide sandy feet into flip flops, pick up towel and head back to house for breakfast.

Happiness is….

Spot the difference….

So I’m on holiday in Puerto Pollenca. And I’m doing the things I always do when I’m on holiday in Puerto Pollenca, like swimming in the crystal clear waters of the bay,

Pollenca Bay
Pollenca Bay

wandering along Pine Walk to the Illa D’Or,

Pine Walk
Pine Walk

soaking up a bit of sun, trying not to eat and drink too much so that I don’t come home the size of a house. And it’s all pretty much how it usually is, which is pretty much perfect.

Except for something’s different. And the something that is different is that when I’m sitting in the sun reading one of the books I’ve brought out with me, and beside me other people are sitting in the sun reading one of the books they’ve brought out with them, some of them are reading…. MY BOOK. That’s the book written by me.

I cannot begin to tell you how extraordinary that feels. Extraordinary and unanticipated and…. kind of amazing. Because they seem to be enjoying it. And I get to have a lovely time talking about the characters and the places and the plot. Which I love doing, because I love the characters and the places and the plot. Because the characters feel like family to me, and we all love to talk about our family, don’t we?

So here is Sue. And she’s reading The Greenyards Legacy.

photo copy

And if you’re interested, (which of course you are, aren’t you?) you can find out what she thought about it by clicking here.

Exciting, huh?