Thursday, April 12, 2012

Joyeuses Paques from Mallorca

Before we came to Vevey, Paula received the 2012 Nestle Holiday Schedule. When we saw Nestle takes a 4 day holiday for Easter, we started looking at destinations last December. We were looking at the classic Easter destination-Roma. Regina said forget it...Rome will be mobbed with the faithful-try Mallorca. So we did and this is our report. 
 On Friday, April 6th, we arrived at the Palma de Mallorca Airport.  We experienced a little rain in the afternoon, but not enough to dampen our enthusiasm at being some place warmer. Incredible that one can fly over the snow capped Alps and in 80 minutes be landing on an island with a sandy beach and palm trees. 

A little information about Palma and Mallorca:

The island was originally named by the Romans, who referred to its size compared to the other Spanish islands – Major (i.e. large). “Major” in Latin is pronounced as MAH-yor – so the English spelling of Majorca is correct to its roots, but the pronunciation is won by the locals. The obvious spelling to follow the pronunciation in Spanish is with “ll”. So the name Majorca/Mallorca depends on if you are English or Spanish.  Mallorca is about 170 miles east of the coast of Spain, in the Mediterranean Sea.

The first human settlement of Mallorca is recorded as 3000BC (although there are records of burial chambers that could date as far back as 6000BC).

The Romans conquered Mallorca in 123 BC and their occupation lasted until the 5th century AD. The Romans were responsible for naming the capital city Palmeria (now abbreviated to Palma – meaning Palm of Victory).  They also built a wall around the city to protect it from invading armies. The city is located on the Bay of Palma, which is on the southwest side of the island.  Its population is about 517,200, making it the twelfth largest city in Spain.  The Palma de Mallorca Airport handles over 22 million visitors annually.  King Juan Carlos I and his wife Sophia, spend their summer holidays in Palma.

In 902 the Moors started their occupation of the island, which lasted some 300 years. The Moors had ruled mainland Spain since the early 8th century.

In 1229, King James I of Aragon drove the Moors from the island.  Upon his death in 1276, his son King James II ascended the throne. It was during his reign that the Chapel of Trinity in the Palma Cathedral and Bellver castle were started.

We decided to take a bus tour to familiarize ourselves with the city and surrounding area. Sounds cheesey but an easy way to quickly gain orientation, avoid wasting time and it only costs a couple hours.  

It is quite common to see the remnants of windmills that were once used to pump water.  With the development of municipal water systems these become obsolete.  In the country side, they were left abandoned, in the city, some with turned into bars and cafes.  Also, as we toured the city, we could see part of the wall that the Romans had built around the city.  In this picture there is greenery covering the wall.  In 1902, the city tore down much of the wall to allow tourist easy access to the Bay of Palma.
Bellver Castle (Bellver means Beautiful View) 
One of the stops on our tour was this castle.  It is located on a hill about 2 miles northwest of the city of Palma.  From the castle there is a panoramic view of Palma and the Bay of Palma.  This gothic style castle was constructed at the beginning of the 1300's by King James II. It is one of the few circular castles in Europe. Throughout the 18th to mid-20th century, it was used as a military prison.  it is now under civilian control, being one of the main tourist attractions of the island.

On the tour, we saw this statue of King James I, of Aragon, also know as King James The Conqueror, who liberated the city of Palma from the Moors, thus a victory for Christianity over Islam.  His statue looks in the direction of the city of Palma.

Blurry picture of Good Friday procession in the street with the priest bearing the cross. The faithful in somber procession behind.  

One of the many side streets in Palma.

The food of Mallorca was outstanding. Ordered fish at every meal as it is what they do best. The first night Paula ordered what was supposed to be a simple whitefish with fried came as this presentation so loaded up with extras, we thought it was the wrong food.

Menu of the day is common in Europe but normally we don't pay any attention and order a la carte anyway. In Mallorca, Menu Del Dia is impossible to ignore because it is such a great deal.  Starter, dinner , dessert, wine and water included in the fixed price. Unbelievable!

Dessert was usually something fruity so not a caloric disaster.

Easter Sunday dinner-Sea bass in salt crust...again another great meal for a pittance.  The waiter was gruff and funny. 

Mallorca reminded us both of Mexico vacations...warmth , friendliness, economy. There's always that little coffee place you find and go back to every morning. This spot, Crepe Suzettes, is owned by a little French lady that has been here for 30 years. She made us welcome every morning with Cappuccino and a croissant.

A view of the Bay of Palma from our hotel balcony.  There were a lot of large cruise ships docked at the port.

The Cuevas dels Hams (The Cave of the Fish Hooks).

Some of the most visited sites on Mallorca are the underground caves.  Most of them are located on the northeastern side of the island.  

This cave was discovered on March 2, 1905 by Pedro Caldentey.  Lorenzo Caldentey, a son of the discoverer, is a certified diver and has outfitted the caves with an electric lighting system for the roughly 500 meter walk through the cave.

The caves are being formed by water being forced through the entrance from the Mediterranean Sea, and some researchers think the formation may date back to the Miocene Period (23 million to 5 million years ago).

The name of the cave is derived from the shape of some its stalactite formations, particularly in the chamber known as the Angel's Dream which grow in all directions and curve into the shape of fish hooks.  Remember, stalagmites grow up and stalactites grow down.

In this cave is an underground lake, known as the "Venetian Lake".  I am not sure of its size, but it is about 40 feet deep.

I was not allowed to use the flash attachment, so these pictures do not do justice to the cave.

 Porto Cristo (Port of Christ).

Two popular legends explain how the town got its name.  One legend has it that at the time of the earliest Christian conquest of Mallorca, around 1260 AD, it is believed a fishing boat carrying a crucifix was washed ashore here.   Another legend says the town derived its name from when two oxen carrying an icon of Christ to Palma stopped here and refused to continue their journey.  Hence the people saw this as a sign and the name was derived from the belief it was a pure sign Christ wanted to be here.

The town is located about 40 miles east of Palma, on the Mediterranean Sea.  The caves of Hams and Drach are about a mile to the west.  The income for the town is not solely from tourism, as it still maintains a large fleet of commercial fishing boats.

We stopped for lunch here before heading to the next set of caves.

The natural harbor, at Porto Cristo, also is home to a lot of high-end boats.

It is said that Porto Cristo has the best beaches on the Mallorca Island.

The island is well known for having many caves that are formed from limestone. Of course Jim wanted to visit every one that was accessable to tourists.  I agreed to go to one only. He selected the right one for me, I think.

Cuevas del Drach (The Cave of the Dragon).  The name was derived from Mallorca fairytales where the dragon is believed to be a symbol of strength and a defence against intruders.

This is one of the most visited underground caves in any country and the most visited site on Mallorca.

In 1896, Luis Salvator who was the Archduke of Austria, encouraged French geologist Edouard-Alfred Martel to explore and map the cave.  He was the first to explore many of the caves in this area. 

The cave consists of 12 main areas and other impressive chambers such as the Black Cave, the White Cave, and the Luis Salvator Cave which are all inter-connected.  Martel made the world aware of this cave,  but he wasn’t the first to extensively examine the cave. In 1878, three people were lost in the cave and wandered there for more than 30 hours.  You can not believe how dark it is in these caves without the lights that have been installed.  I can only imagine how frighten these people must have been.

Jules Verne visited the caves in this area and got the idea for his book "A Journey to the Center of the Earth".

This is one of very few underground caves that are owned by a private individual.  We saw where the owner lived, he is doing quite well for himself.

A view of the Mediterranean Sea prior to going down into the cave.
You are not allowed to take any pictures in the cave, so these next two are from the Internet.

Thousands of visitors a year flock to the Cuevas del Drach to see these fantastic rock and limestone formations. During this underground expedition, you walk more than a mile through mysterious caverns, where rock formations reach down from the ceilings of the cave and grow up from the floors. At the bottom of the cave you are about 300 feet from the surface.
Throughout the caves, the humidity remains at a constant 80 percent, with temperatures at a comfortable 68 degrees.

Lago de Martel (Lake Martel)

At the bottom of the cave is Lago de Martel, one of the largest underground lakes in the world and the largest in Europe.  It is about 3,375 feet in length, 100 feet in width and 80 feet deep.  A novelty is a classical music concert provided by musicians floating across the lake in boats. A backdrop of beautiful lights creates the perfect atmosphere for enjoying a lakeside concert as we rested in a specially constructed auditorium.

After the concert, we were allowed to take a short boat ride on the lake.  Each boat would handle about twelve people, plus one oarsmen.  They said that the lake was about 2 percent salt, but we tasted it and both thought it was more salty.

On our way to the Cathedral, we saw this truck picking up garbage.  What was so interesting was that the truck had a magnetized lift so that all driver had to do was attach the magnetized lift to the top of the garbage bin and lift it up. It was lifted from a recessed area under ground.  Once it got to the truck, the bottom of the bin would open up and dump the garbage into the truck.  

This picture shows how the garbage bin fits into the holder on the side walk. We thought it was kind of neat.

The Almudaina Royal Palace. (Almudaina means "Citadel Outside the City Walls).
The Palace sits just to the left of the Cathedral. After James I drove the Moors from the Island, he had this Moslem fortress modified. During the XIII and XIV centuries it was the residence of the Kings of Mallorca and afterwards the viceroys and governors. In 1963, the restoration of the Palace was begun and now it is used as a museum plus the official residence for the King of Spain for official State Ceremonies and receptions in the summer.
The Palace has a square shape and stands out particularly for its facade and terrace with excellent views over the Mediterranean Sea, plus the Homage Tower crowned by a statue of the Archangel Gabriel. Inside the most outstanding elements are the Patio del Rey, the Gothic chapel to Santa Anna, the Throne Room, the Queen's Patio and the Saint James chapel.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma, more commonly referred to as La Seu.
The cathedral has its origins in the very beginnings of the Christian take over of the island.  In 1229, King James I and his men sailed to the island to defeat the Moors and it was on this crossing that the seed of the cathedral was sown. A storm raged so violently during the 3-and-half day journey that the young king feared for his life, so he made an oath to God promising, should his enterprise succeed, to erect a temple dedicated to the Virgin Mary. He was lucky, not only did he arrive safely but he also defeated the Moors. And as a God-fearing Christian he did not forget his promise and quickly set about putting into practice his oath.
The decision for the site was obvious. The Moors were already using the perfect position for their mosque. So by razing the mosque and constructing a house of God on its foundations, King James I knew he would be highlighting the Victory of Christianity over Islam.

Construction began in 1229, but was not completed until 1601. What was originally to be a Renaissance style ended up also being Gothic style. The church is about 360 feet long and 150 feet wide. The nave has a height of 130 feet (one of the highest in Europe).  The inside is around 70,000 square feet and will seat 18,000. The inside has three main aisles and separated into 24 vaulted sections. There is a rose window, which measures almost 40 feet in diameter and is made up of 1200 pieces of stained glass. The cathedral has 3 ornate entrances the most spectacular of which is the 14th century Portal de Mirador (Vantage Point or Lookout Portal) which overlooks the Bay of Palma to the south. Inside, the vault is supported by 14 pillars, in relation to their height they are still among the slimmest load bearing columns in the world today.

In the 1300’s, the Chapel of Trinity  was constructed.  It contains the royal tombs of the first dynasty of the Kingdom of Mallorca, King James II and III and crypts of other of martyrs and reverent persons tied to history of the church.

Rose Window on the East side of the Cathedral.

According to the locals, "If you catch the sun falling through the rose window on a bright morning, every nook and cranny in the Mallorca cathedral lights up like a rainbow and you will understand why it is commonly referred to as 'The Cathedral of Light'."  This rose window is the largest Gothic rose window in the world. It is divided into 24 triangles, half of which form the Star of David.  

The Antonio Gaudi Baldachin (Canopy). 

As is the case in most of the cathedral's we have visited, you are not allowed to use the flash on your camera, however, this is another set of illegal pictures taken by the "ONE WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED."

In the early 1900’s, Gaudi, designed this heptagonal ceremonial wrought iron baldachin, with lights and a multi-colored crucifix, which is suspended from the main alter of the cathedral. It is a symbol of the Holy Spirit and a replica of the crown of thorns. 

Another picture of the Baldachin.

Interior shots of the Cathedral after Saturday night Easter vigil....which incidentally is the longest and most beautiful Mass we have ever attended. Even longer than some wedding ceremonies which held the previous record. 
10:00 pm until 12:30 am-they made us stay until it was really Easter. 

Mass has ended and people are leaving the cathedral.

Finally finished touring by Sunday and we got a day to do nothing by the pool. 

You can see the Cathedral from the hotel pool view. 


Terri Reser told me the funniest story of this Fish Spa she saw in Mexico.  I remember quite a ladies night where she described the process and I had chills. The little toothless fish nibble on flaky dead skin and the result is perfectly exfoliated feet. In the end, everyone wins. 
We of course, saw the same thing the first day we were in Mallorca. By Sunday my curiosity was insatiable and I had to dare to try it. 
 This is me screaming at the touch of the fish at the first dip. 

I never saw how disgusting it was until the photo because I couldn't look. I had to pretend I was somewhere else the whole time. It does work but at such a cost to the nerves. 

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