Tuesday, January 27, 2009


We've been studying Catalan History and since King Jaume I invaded and conquered Mallorca in 1229, I decided we should go there. I did so with some trepidation since the last time I was there, in 1987, I had gone to the town of Alcúdia (with 10 high school students under my care) thinking that the farther from the big city we were, the more peaceful it would be. Only huge hotels and British pubs greeted me in that town.

So this time, I was pleasantly surprised. After an insanely cheap flight from Barcelona (20 euros! = about $25), we rented an incredibly cheap car (7 euros/day) to an amazingly small town with a single narrow windy street (both from curves and wind) on the northwest coast, called Banyalbufar. Our hotel (which was neither insanely nor incredibly cheap) had a beautiful view of the terraced hillside, full of orange and lemon trees and sheep, all the way down to the coast.

Banyalbufar, Mallorca

You could hear the sheep before you saw them... they all wore cow bells (sheep bells?) that made a lovely tinkling noise
off in the distance. They seemed to be free-ranging all over the terraced hillside. But the one time they got close enough for a decent picture, they took one look at me and bolted off to a different section.

Shy sheep and oranges

Our first day we took a nice walk down to the water, at the bottom of a cliff. There is a waterfall that empties out onto the spongey, seaweed covered beach, and a tiny dock with a few boats.

Banyalbufar, Mallorca

We also had lunch at the only restaurant that was open, Can Paco, whose translation as "Frankie's House" completely distorts the image of the small town restaurant it was. The place was almost empty and we got there late (maybe 3 o'clock), but they still were happy to serve us perhaps the most delicious Arrós Negre (Black rice, thanks to squid ink) we'd ever had. They were also particularly talkative, often coming over and asking us where we were from and suggesting things in town to see.

I loved listening to them talk. I'd often heard about "Mallorcan", the language, but very seldomly had heard it spoken. I had to really stretch my ears to catch it. It's not only the pronunciation that is different but also many of the words. Catalans say it's a dialect (of Catalan), and many Spaniards like to insist that it's a language (so as to reduce the influence of Catalans). Language is so political!

Cans no
I include this photo because in Barcelona, the word for dogs is gossos, not cans. We won't talk about Dogs Not.

I was particularly intrigued by our hotel keeper, who was German born but had lived there for 20 years. Married to a Mallorcan, with two kids, she told us that it was really important to her that her kids spoke German, English, Spanish, and Catalan, but that she had never learned Catalan herself because she found it too difficult. She had no trouble with English or French, Spanish or Italian, and yet she lived in a place for 20 years where they spoke another, very similar language and said it was too hard? She gave us this lame example that she said was like a pronunciation test, three words that sound very similarly that she couldn't quite distinguish and that seemingly, kept her from learning the language of half the people around her. And yet, she seemed perfectly comfortable speaking English, which while very good, was also imperfect.

And I couldn't help but wonder if Catalans (and Mallorcans) would really rather keep their language to themselves. Why else would they give her such a hard time about minor points of pronunciation? Or speak to her only in Spanish? How do you live in a place for 20 years and don't speak one of the languages that people are speaking around you? What do you do with very small children? Really old people? Interrupting a heated conversation with a different language? Language fascinates me.

Banyalbufar, Mallorca

On Day 2, we took a very long walk along the coast, with hopes for lunch at the other end. Alas, when we got there, it turned out that all the restaurants were closed (it being January) and there were no stores either. I lobbied for begginng for a ride from random strangers, but none was willing to drive us back, so we pulled ourselves together, ate our last cookie each, and dragged ourselves back. We had left around 11, and we got back about 5 with only an early morning pastry in our bellies. It was an adventure!

Coastline from La Volta des General

On the third day, we drove to the big city of Palma, affectionately called "La Ciutat" by the natives, just like Londoners and New Yorkers. It's much, much smaller, and while I expected the old part to be like the old part of Barcelona, it was much lighter, more open, cleaner, and shorter. Lots of tiny little allies, and many, many square wooden galleries (glass covered balconies), like in La Coruña. I liked it. I guess I didn't expect to.

Palma de Mallorca (from Bellver Castle) Ironwork detail in Palma de Mallorca High waves in Palma de Mallorca Bellver Castle, Palma de Mallorca Beautiful gallery detail in Palma de Mallorca 14th century cathedral in Palma de Mallorca Narrow street in Palma de Mallorca Cool fountain in Palma de Mallorca

The most fun was walking along the boardwalk. Huge waves crashed along the shore--perhaps inspired by crazy cyclones in the weather system--almost, almost drenching us, but not quite managing to, even when we stood in the wettest places and dared them to!

Lots of pictures on Flickr. Nothing like a new beautiful place for taking lots of pictures.


  1. Thanks for the wonderful tour!!!! I love posts like these!!! Geography has always interested me and I love learning about different parts of the world. (And adding them to my ever-expanding list of places I'd like to visit someday!)

    That side-shot of the terraces is amazing! Off to your flikr page now.... I'm sure I'll find more awesomeness there!!

  2. ...and I was NOT disappointed! WOW. Incredible photos!!!


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