I'm starting a new series of Rolling Armchair Travel pieces from Palma de Mallorca! Yes, Rolling Armchair. It means I'm kind of sitting down - while moving! I will show you Palma and Mallorca from a sedentary tourist/semi-active resident's point of view, without the risk-taking.
Cala Major is a kind of poorer country cousin of Palma. There is no Old Town, no cathedral; not much in terms of tourist attractions at all. But the little town, about 20 minutes away by bus from downtown Palma, is often the first port of call for tourists as well as people dipping their first tentative toe into The Big Move to Mallorca. Full of flats for rent for single people, with a decent amount of not super-expensive hotels, central but not too, with fantastic views of the Mediterranean and a decent nightlife without being Death-Boozing Airways Central, Cala Major is non-flashy Mallorca in a nutshell.
It was the non-flashiness that attracted the Norwegian cook Jan-Owe Jensen to buy a property and start Cala Major's first early morning café, Pan & Cocina (Bread and kitchen) here. The first thing you notice is that he loves dogs! He even welcomes them inside the sparkling clean, classic café-looking café. He is one of the few if not the only café owner in Palma baking his own bread, and that and the rather larger portions than is the norm in Palma, makes me go back and back. That, and to talk to the jovial and welcoming Jensen, naturally. Oh, and his superb coffee, strong as hell.
And unlike the typical local restaurants and cafés, he also serves healthy stuff like home made granola, egg and bacon (yes it's healthy!) and avocado this and that. I have to say though, his bocadillo (toasted baguette) with York ham and egg and tomato paste is not for the fearful! Six hours after eating it you will still feel full. Which gives you so much more spare time to explore and check out non food-related things! Or ride a bicycle to the other side of the island.
Cala Major Beach around 9AM
Koldbrann the dog loves Pan & Cocina and Uncle Jan-Owe!
Pan & Cocina
As we get out of the car and start walking towards New Slains Castle - a mere stripling of 420 years, whereas the old Slains Castle was built in the 13th century - my friend M remarks: "This was the inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula."
What? I thought Dracula was in Transylvania, not really fictional, and certainly not flapping around in a ruined castle near Aberdeen on the east coast of Scotland! But it turns out that Stoker had been staying near, perhaps even been a guest in, this bleak and eerie castle. The year was 1895 and the castle, having originally been built as a round tower, was in its last reincarnation as a "Scots Baronial Manor."
Think Rebecca, think the Addams Family and everything scary, creepy - but presumably with a roof, at least. That somewhat essential part of modern living had had to be taken down (or off) by the last owner, Sir John Ellerman, to avoid taxes. And without a roof there was only one way to go for this gaff, really.
Now it's sitting there, creepy as hell, protected from sea attackers by cliffs and a natural deep gash in the landscape forming a semi moat. Even if it had a roof, some floorings and maybe a window or two, I would think twice about living there.
Plans to restore it to its former (ugliness?) glory have been afoot since 2004, but so far it seems they have gone the way of all Brexit. Meanwhile, people have wasting no time in taking advantage of the remote setting, general creepiness and car accessibility.
"They just drive past the castle at top speed and keep driving", my friend M said darkly. Others have jumped or "fallen" from the cliffs. And indeed, on a weatherbeaten fence outside the castle hang a few forlorn teddybears and plastic flowers waving a sad farewell.
This is not the cheeriest part of Scotland by any stretch of the imagination, but a treasure trove for those who possess one. Especially one of the morbid kind.
New Slains Castle, Cruden Bay, Aberdeenshire
Open 24 hours a day - to the elements
I have only one principle in life. Well, two, but they are connected. One, I never go to fast food shops where the chairs are welded to the floor and Two, I never eat or drink anything out of paper or plastic.
Therefore I was dismayed, nay, a bit horrified, the other day outside Euston station in London, hungry as hell and starting to faint, when my friend A suggested we "get some food from S&M (or something) and eat it sitting on benches.
He probably thought I was an entitled whiner when I started moaning "Oh no... oh no, not on benches" as if it was the benches there was something wrong with. But remember, my blood sugar was dangerously low. We looked around us. Everywhere was fast food, people sitting inside and outside "restaurants," eating out of paper and drinking from plastic cups. Like, well, inmates in a lunatic asylum! Or people living under a bridge.
How has this paper and plastic thing completely taken over modern eating? I hate the idea of paying a five star price for a minus two star product, or "dining experience" as it's called now.
But then we spotted another establishment, slightly different-looking in that there was a notable gleam in metal cutlery and the twinkling of glasses made of - glass. Café Rouge. "There!" we said in unison. Oh yes. Although clearly part of a chain, the place had proper tablecloths, real glasses and all the other things I need in a restaurant.
My friend A, modest in everything as usual, just wanted sparkling water. Oh no, but I wanted to treat him to a meal after all he had done for me that day. 1. Pick me up at Stanstead, 2. Given me an Oyster card, 3. brought five packets of printer's ink over from Hong Kong. I knew the only way he would let me pay for a meal was if I passed it off as only for me, so I ordered a sharing board. And this is what I wanted to tell you: The Toulouse Sausage! Oh oh oh oh!
I'm not a sausage fan. I probably eat it once every two years, if offered me on a canapé or something. But these things are so wondrous, so bursting with subtle, sharp, medium and exotic and dreamy flavour that I will just have to go to Toulouse and become a regular sausage-eater now. Watch this space!
One of the many great things about Palma is the many churches. I don't know what exactly this thing is called - road icon indicating that a church is near? Unfortunately this and many other of the lovely icons or paintings on display, including on the churches themselves, have had to be covered in metal mesh because of vandalism. Grrrrr.
This particular church is about 15 minutes' walk from my house, and a place to which I frequently take the dogs. We now live in an urban environment, and unfortunately I can't let them off the leash everywhere because they are both traffic idiots who have been hit by cars, but outside the church it is safe.
Sunday morning we were hanging around the church when an unusual sight caught my eye: A young man dressed only in a beard and some kind of underwear, I think it is known as Y-fronts, wandering through the courtyard, looking a bit lost. No shoes. Oh no, another victim of stag night "fun"!
He immediately addressed me in Norwegian.
"Sorry to disturb, I'm looking for a hotel."
"That's the thing, I don't really know." I bet! I thought. "It was Mari, Mal... rosa?"
"Yes! I've been walking in my sleep. It's very inconvenient."
"So, this happens a lot?"
"Oh yes, all the time."
I walked him to the hotel, a few minutes' walk away. I wonder if he walks in his sleep in winter in Norway. That would be really inconvenient. Not least because his choice of underwear pattern. Cartoon characters with space ships, moons and stars? Come on! Who would be seen dead in that, let alone walking around the city asleep?
O people who don't want the Mandarin juggernaut to take over Hong Kong and the world: Please know that the fight for Cantonese world supremacy (in which, unlike under the Mandarin world supremacy, the other languages can do whatever the hell they want) rages on! Your Cantonese Fundamentalist (under whose non-leadership, unlike under other fundamentalists, everybody can do whatever the hell they want) may live in exile in Spain, but I have not withdrawn from the fight.
Now I have lived in exile for six months, and it's time to share my new life with the world. Warning: Contains the depiction of the enjoyment of alcohol - at 12:00 NOON!