(Running two days behind.)
Sunday, 9 October: Palma de Mallorca. This is the city of Palma on the island of Mallorca, a largish island south of Spain and west of the better known islands of Corsica, Sardinia, and Sicily. Palma, we’re told, expanded considerably in the 1960s, and we saw dozens of high-rise apartment buildings resembling those in Malaga and Alicante; while the rest of the island, which we didn’t see, is apparently traditional and rural. We didn’t take an excursion, though one of those available was a train ride, across the mountains, to an ancient monastery, so we saw only the town.
We took a shuttle bus from the port to a city landmark near the cathedral. Like our previous stops, Palma has a cathedral, a castle on a hill, and an old-town with many tiny narrow streets. A difference here is that the streets aren’t windy, just straight — but intersecting at so many odd angles, we got lost a couple times, even with a map and iPhone, before we got our orientation and found our way to the city center. We had lunch at a sidewalk cafe, an open-faced sandwich and tapas, where the service was slow because there was a lone waiter for the many tourists needing service.
The cathedral in Palma is the largest of any we’ve seen — an enormous structure complete with a rack of flying buttresses — though, alas, closed on Sunday, so we didn’t see the inside. We also visited an “Arabian Baths”, a lone remaining structure dating from when the Muslims dominated the city. It was illuminating: it consists of three rooms, one a circular domed room, with holes in the ceiling, that served as a steam room; and two adjacent rooms, one where you would be soaped down and scrubbed, and a final one where you would take a cold shower to close your pores. It was a facility owned by a wealthy family, and those services were available only to the family and their guests.
Which reminds me of a comment by our guide in Alicante, as we walked through the busy town hall square where two or three wedding parties were gathering: until recent times, residents of the city might take only three baths in their lives: at birth, at death, and for their wedding.
We walked the shopping street in the rain, searching souvenir and shoe shops for a particular type of slip-on shoe that Michael’s girlfriend asked us to look for.
Our final stop was the Almudaina Palace, immediately adjacent to the cathedral. Built as an Arab fortress 1000 some years ago, it became a Spanish royal palace in the 14th century. I got a good photo of the interior archways in one of the main rooms.
Palma is apparently a busy tourist destination; the flight path into the airport was over the bay where we docked, and there was an incoming plane roughly every two minutes.
More general notes:
- Tourism is now a major industry of many of these cities, and I wonder how far this trend will go. We visit these many towns and cities, and think how charming it might be to live there — until realizing, your neighborhood would be overrun by tourists most of the year. Is this the future of all unique places around the globe? On the other hand, perhaps most people live in the suburbs, which might be just as pleasant as the downtowns, and never see the tourists. That’s our situation back in California.
- In Palma, many of the shops and cafes were indeed closed on Sundays, as we were advised might be true. But not all, at least not in the tourist areas, which meant the entire old town area of the city.
- There are indeed American fast food restaurants in all these cities — especially McDonald’s and Burger King, and less frequently KFC and Domino’s; and there seems to be one Hard Rock Cafe in each city, at the center of the tourist area.
- I was going to mention how unexpectedly warm it had been on this trip, October in Europe; we brought mostly long-sleeved shirts and worried about inclement weather. Instead, it was unseasonably warm and sunny the first several days of our trip — until Palma, and again Monday in Barcelona, when it was mostly overcast and sprinkled a bit both days. We even broke out our umbrella in Palma.
Monday we were in Barcelona; today, Tuesday, in Marseille. Notes on those to come.