“Whatever begins, also ends.” — Seneca
The 10th of September, yesterday, was a slow and gradual farewell to the island we grew to enjoy and love the past week. It was our last day in Mallorca, and we spent it filling in the gaping holes that we’ve yet to fill — cultural/ historical knowledge of the island, viewing the Southwestern regions and experiencing the beach during the golden hours because everything is always a thousand times more beautiful then.
The Free Walking Tour began in what used to be the ‘kitchen garden of the king’ and our guide, Carlos, who habitually said bien (meaning ‘okay’/ ‘alright’) before every sentence, commenced by giving us a quick summary of Mallorca’s history: in 123 BC, the first two Mallorcan cities were discovered — Pollentia and Alcudia; in 400 BC, the first species found to be endemic to Mallorca was something that seemed to have been a cross between a sheep (or a goat, my Mum insists) and a rat; any Gothic influence in Mallorca was introduced by Christians; in 1984, Parc de la Mar, a town right in front of the main Palma harbour, was built just so that the grand Catedral de Mallorca could be appreciated (Mallorquins actually just wanted to show off the architectural masterpiece)…
Walking around Palma, we learned that…
- The name of the island comes from an old Latin phrase ‘insula maior’ that means ‘larger island’, as Mallorca is the largest island in all of Spain. The phrase was mispronounced and the island became known as Mallorca. The British often call the island Majorca, whilst everyone else calls it Mallorca – there appears to be no other reason for this other than the fact that the British love of the letter J more than L!
- The island enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with a year round average temperature of 21°C on the coast and an average of more than 300 days of sunshine throughout the year.
- Nearly half of the Mallorca’s permanent population (1.2 million) resides in the island’s capital Palma, making it a vibrant and lively hub.
- Mallorca welcomes tens of thousands of cyclists each year for professional training and racing, as well as those that prefer more leisurely biking. The cyclists (including Team Sky & Bradley Wiggins) take advantage of the islands varied and challenging terrain. One of the favourite and most feared routes for serious cyclists is Sa Calobra, a 10 km ride that hangs down the side of a mountain. There are 26 hairpin turns and an average of a 7.1% gradient!
- The Cathedral of Palma de Mallorca (La Seu in Mallorquín; popularly called Cathedral of Light) was built with 87 stained glass windows and 7 rose windows, giving the cathedral a very spectacular play of sunlight at any time of the year. Twice a year — February 2nd (Fiesta de la Candelaria) & November 11th (Sant Martí de Turs), one can see an especially magnificent performance of light. On those two days, the early morning sunlight enters through the large rose window on the Cathedral’s eastern façade, presenting a most colourful impression on the opposite wall (aka. the sun’s performance of a Dancing Light), right below the smaller rose window (aka. Roseton) above the Cathedral’s main portal, forming a perfect figure 8 — all courtesy of the sun and the great mathematicians of the 14th century.
- More on the Cathedral: Gaudi designed a couple of floor mosaics and the royal altar; the south façade is unfinished and no one knows if it will ever be finished (currently, it looks as if parts of it had been stolen/ broken off/ missing); the south façade also has some ‘mistakes’, e.g. there are extra people (and three dogs) in The Last Supper; since July 2016, the bell tower has been opened for visits (251 steps to the top for a spectacular view of the city!).
- Bellver Castle (Castell de Bellver) is a Gothic style castle built in the 14th century for King James II of Mallorca, and is one of the few circular castles in Europe. Bellver, by the way, means ‘beautiful to see’.
- The Romans’ scale (the Roman folding beam scale) was a system of measurement in the past, and possessing one (or a few) at one’s home was interpreted as one’s economic wealth. The more the merrier!
- In Mallorca, if one engages in tricky/ bad business, they are considered to have ‘done the business of fried fish’. The story goes that a girl used to buy fish from the market at 6€ each every morning. She’d add spices (‘SPEE-CEEES’, according to Carlos) to the fish, fry them, bring them to the town square and sell them to others for 4€. People called her ‘the stupid girl’, not knowing that she had spread some sticky substance at the bottom of her tray (with which she carried all her fried fish) and every time she put the tray down, she was collecting lose change/ notes that the unknowing victims had left on the top of their tables.
- This is why the clock on Ayuntamiento (Ajuntament de Palma) reads “I, II, III, IIII, …” instead of “I, II, III, IV, …”.
- If You see one of these on the floor anywhere in a European city, You are in the Jewish quarter.
- The Art Nouveau house designed by architect Gaspar Moner Bennazar was inspired by Gaudi. There is a ‘face‘ on the second level’s façade which expresses nothing but intense fear. People say that it’s a tease for people who go to the dentist on that level fearful.
- At the main municipal market, Mercado del Olivar, one could buy their meat/ produce on the first level and head to the second level to have it cooked into a dish for them.
“Please let me know if you have any questions or curiosities,” Carlos let us know with a wide smile, and that was the end of the tour.
On the way to lunch, we stopped by at Mercado del Olivar for fruits (mainly pluots and mirabells because they’re extra delicious here), where our tourist status was highlighted pretty quickly because we were unaware that: 1) You have to take a ticket stub to enter a queue, according to which they fruit stall owners serve their customers; 2) NO handling of the fruits… Simply let them know what You want and they’ll get it for You. (Reminded me of the time in Florence Miriam and I got ‘scolded’ for picking the figs ourselves!)
Just like the sun, we raced to the West as the day came to a close. Our first stop was Magaluf, famously known for their Western Water Park, House of Katmandu and Go-Kart Racing Arena, but we visit any of those. Instead, Dad bought sports shoes and we enjoyed juices and coffee (only Dad) at Bondi Beach, a bar by the ocean. Moving on, we tried reaching the lighthouse at Cala Figuera but were stopped midway when the asphalt abruptly ended and all that was ahead of us was dirt road overgrown with shrubs and olive trees, making the path completely inaccessible by vehicles. We went where the wind took us and found ourselves in a nearby secluded yet unexpectedly buzzing beach, Cala Portals Vells. We sat on fallen tree trunks and gleefully ate some pears that Mum packed. 🙂
Now this was my favourite part.
6km west and driving down Gran Via de les Penyes Roges of Santa Punta Prima, we approach a part of this island that dramatically ends and plunges 20 or so metres downwards into the sea as cliffs. There was a smaller island amusingly shaped like New Zealand (aerial view) right off the coast on the right, and the sun was setting behind it, rendering us able to appreciate the offshore island’s silhouette, and only its silhouette. It looks like a man — a giant man (head on the right) — who decided he was tired of wading around in the sea and laid down as he was, where he was.
Later that evening, back at Cala Major, we walked down to Platja de Cala Major, just as we did on Day 1. The beach was glowing, the colours were warm… like a hug. Maybe it was Mallorca’s way of embracing us goodbye.
Oui and dinner? At the best Thai restaurant in the world.
It was incredible meeting You, Mallorca.