Sunday, August 30, 2009

Simple Guide to Mallorca

I went over to Mallorca again to visit mother and so that I could travel back with my daughter Melody, who'd been over for some weeks..

On the flight over I heard some kids talking 'So they talk Mayorceese do they? Spanish?' and I thought, well... not a lot of folks know much about Mallorca beyond the hotels and beaches on the holiday channels. So here's my simple (slightly tongue in cheek) guide

1. Is Mallorca part of Spain? Think of Mallorca to Spain like you do Wales to England. Own language, own culture, own history, but governed by the local 'big boys'. The Mallorcan (pronounced mayorkeen) language is a derivation of Southern Spanish language. So, like Welsh and Irish are both Gaelic languages, so Mallorcan is a Catalan language.

2. How do you tell the difference between a Mallorcan and a Spaniard? Not easy for visitors! The difference is accent is hard for a non-Spanish speaker to tell. But there are more blondes (natural) in Mallorca than in Spain. But be polite, do not assume everyone on the Island you speak to is Mallorcan or even Spanish. If you can, ask.

3. Are the natives friendly? I have found them to be so. When you walk down a small town street, people will say hello. Say 'Ola' to the younger generation, and 'Buenas Dias' to the older people (show respect). If you are in a really far flung place, where they may only speak Mallorcan, just smile.

4. Can I get egg and chips in Mallorca? Of course you can - there are plenty of English bars and places that will sell you all sorts of international foods - but if that's your cultural exploratory limit in cullinary tastes then forget going to this lovely island, pay for a few sessions at your local tanning club and stick with your local chippy.

5. What is good Mallorcan food? There is good Spanish fare and good Mallorcan food on the island. Fritos Mallocan are lovely - but bear in mind it is chips and liver! The rabbit and meat roasts are wonderful (not great for vegetarians). The traditional Spanish tappas, tortilla, paella and, of course, marvellous fish dishes from the ports are also highly recommended. Pan bolli (phonetic) is a plate and then lots of cold meats, salads, bread (the pan bit) and olive oil instead of butter.

6. Mallorca is just beaches and hotels. Wrong... it has some amazing beaches and some super hotels I'm sure, but it is an amazing island with wonderful mountains, fantastic little bays and ports and lots to explore beyond the pool and the hotel bar. If you can, go on trips away from your resort and explore what your locale has to offer - for example the Monastery at Lluc, the Cathederal and the Arab baths in Palma, the extraordinary caves and the wonderful architeture of towns like Alcudia and the beautiful Pine Walk in Pollensa. The island is a haven for those who are sailing enthusiasts, and anyone who loves the sea. Explore a little!

7. What is beach etiquette? The first thing that I notice is that the sandy beaches are accepted as one giant ashtray. Though they clean the beaches every night, you will find that everyone leaves their fag ends on the beach. This is disgusting. But the beaches are still cleaner and tidier than any English beach I've been on for a long time.

You may bathe topless at most beaches. I recommend if you want to that you don't sit next to another English family though - as long as no one knows you are English (or a visitor of any non-residential kind), then unless you have startlingly white skin (as per me) then no one will bother. If you are heard speaking English and go topless, they will think you are weird. This is just my take on it though... try it for yourself and see.

Dogs are mostly not allowed on the beaches. Watch out for the 'jellyfish flag' which means that there are jellyfish in the water and you may get stung.

8. What's the sea like? Wet. Apart from the odd jellyfish, it's pretty clean and warmish - though if you go into deeper water it can get quite chilly. Sometimes it can get quite rough, and there are hidden currents further out from the beaches, but make sure you follow beach safety rules wherever you go swimming. Little hidden beaches are wonderful, but make sure someone knows where you are and don't fall asleep on your inflatable and end up drifting towards Africa! There is some flotsam - but mostly weed and the occasional plastic bag; the latter is not the sea's fault.

Here's something that may be a surprise to you... There Are Fish In The Sea! Swimming in Illetas I love to snorkel over the weeds and watch the fish (I counted about seven different types, quite pretty). They also swim around you in the water but you don't know they are there. When returning to the beach after one little snorkling session I told a friend how wonderful the fish were. "You mean there are fish in here? I don't like the thought of that..." said one British woman. Der... it's the sea?

9. Do they like animals? Yes, especially roasted, grilled... but as a nation they seem to prefer dogs to cats. Cats are everywhere and a useful pest control population, but they need control themselves. There are many places where feral cats multiply and they are not the most hygienic of creaters. However, there are usually some ex-pat do-goders around who will either feed them or otherwise look out for these feral felines.

Dogs are everywhere and where I stay they are a nuisance... they bark day and night and the poop on the pavement doesn't get cleared up by owners. Dogs are used for guarding empty properties, dogs are companions and dogs are also taken into places like restaurants and shops, but not all.

10. Can I smoke in a bar in Mallorca? Of course you are not allowed to by law. Which means, broadly speaking, yes, if anyone else is. Restaurants have areas for smokers, bars don't seem as worried about the non-smoking regulations as they are in the UK, but for goodness' sake ask before lighting up.

11. Why should anyone go to Mallorca? Because the people are friendly, the architechture is amazing, the history is troubled and fascinating, the beaches are great, the sea is warm, the food is great (unless you are vegetarian) and the mountains beautiful. If you want to sit on the beach and suntan, you can. If you want to swim, you can. If you want to cycle or climb or run or explore - you can. There are water sports, land sports, equestrian centres, every kind of activity you could possibly imagine.

12. Why should anyone not go to Mallorca? If you want to avoid the English, German, Spanish or Smokers, this isn't the place for you. It is a hugely popular holiday and retirement destination. The island is crawling with expatriot residents who have happily lived there for 40 or more years and will still have strong opinions on the economy and government of their home country, even though they've not lived there or participated in the democratic process since they left. However, they do expect to be cared for by social services or the NHS when they return 'home'.

OK, a light-hearted look at Mallorca - but seriously, don't just book your hotel and flights and head for the beach. If you do, you will be missing out on a lot.
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