I’m back after Wales – Spain – Mallorca

It’s been a while since I posted to my blog, due in part to the website code being broken after moving my hosting to a US server. It caused some issues with the date formats between UK and US, and because we were leaving to go on holiday, I didn’t have a chance to fix it. We have also just returned from a long and overdue holiday.

The first part of our holiday was spent bacj in Wales from the wedding of my brother to Catherine. It was an amazing day, and I managed to deliver my speech without any problems. My brother gave a speech that simply choked everyone, and put the majority of the audience in tears. The setting was amazing, next to St. Donats castle overlooking the sea, within the same grounds as Atlantic College. The weather stayed warm and bright and everything went without a hitch. I have some great photos of the day up on Flickr. They’re for friends and family though, so if you want to have a look, you’ll need to email me and I can invite you.

The second part of our holiday was spent in Spain, backpacking on the mainland. We flew into Madrid with EasyJet from Bristol, and spent two days in Madrid seeing the main sights. We found it to be a really nice city, and the late lifestyle really suited me. Seeing people start to eat at 10pm is quite strange though! We travelled by bus to Salamanca, which is a popular town for language students and a couple of hours north west of Madrid. Again we really liked the town, which has the best Plaza Mayor in Spain (apparently).

Our next stop was for one day only in Avila. Our main reason for stopping there was to make sure we saw the Germany v Italy game, but the town also boasts a quite outstanding medival defensive town wall. The town also stank, and seemed to have some major problems with waste water. The game itself was horrendously disappointing, and we amused by the lack of interest in the World Cup by the Spanish once Spain had been knocked out. We were almost the only people watching the match in the bar, and considering the Spanish reputation for loving football it seemed strange. This disinterest continued throughout the remainder of the World Cup, with the minor exception of minor support for Portugal against Germany for the 3rd place finisher.

We moved from Avila to Segovia by bus. Segovia is again a very old historic town with two major historical attractions. the first is the mortarless aqueduct, built by the Romans, and the second is the Disney-like Alcazar castle. We spent two days there, before heading north to Santander, via Valladolid.

Santander was a breath of fresh air, both mentally and physically. We had grown quite tired of the big cities, stale air and humidity. Everywhere we had been was settled around 35 degrees celcius and moving around with a 15 kilo rucksack was taking its toll. I expected little of Santander. I knew it as the only ferry port that British ferries sail to in Spain, and little else. My experiences with ports (the same goes for border towns) is that they suck. They often seem to have the weirdest and most dodgy people hanging around looking like they are waiting for the right opportunity to mug you. However, Santander was not that at all. The nightlife was busy and fun. The shopping centre was good. the se front was pleasant and it was nice to walk up and down the promenade. Then we found Santander’s beaches, and they rocked. This city really is a well kept secret. I will definitely go back there again.

From Santander we went by bus again to Bilbao. There guide book gave a less than mediocre report about the city and we expected very little. Our sole reason really for stopping there was to spend a day in the Guggenheim. We were pleasantly surprised by the city. The Guggenheim was the highlight, but the city itself was a joy. It has the most amazing underground system, recently installed and designed by Sir Norman Foster. It is immaculately clean and wonderously air conditioned, even in the stations. The old part of the city is completely quaint, with a maze of small narrow streets and great little tapas bars. We watched the World Cup final in Bilbao. The Spanish ignored the game, and we watched it with the sound off, and music blaring, accompanied by two French girls and an Italian couple. The rest of the bar were oblivious.

Our last stop on the Atlantic coast was San Sebastian or Donostia in Basque, because this is the Basque capital. Don’t expect to understand a word of Basque, as it is totally different to Castilliano Spanish, Catalan, French and any other languages within the locality – hence a “language isolate”. Luckily most people also speak Spanish so you can get by. The city itself is a tourist resort, and when we arrived it was at the height of the San Fermin festival. The San fermin festival is held in Pamplona, and is often called “The Running of the Bulls”, where a rather large number of crazy Spanish and foreigners decide to run with a pack of stampeding bulls. this is surrounded by copious amount of partying and drinking, which as you can imagine, makes for a fine cocktail of danger. The hotels in Pamplona get booked a year in advance, sometimes even more, so the only way to do the festival is to sleep out over night. This probably influences the amount of alcohol peopel drink, as it must be much easier to sleep on a park bench drunk than sober. San Sebastian is the nearest city to Pamplona, so many foreigners take the early bus on the day to experience the festical, and then return early the following day, so we found it rather hard to find a room. San Sebastian was also holding a concert called “Concierto Por La Paz”, with Bob Dylan as headlining, so putting even more pressure on us to find a room. We lucked out and Kerstin found a great hotel for us in the newer part of town. We stayed in San Sebastian for over three days. We enjoyed the beach there, we chilled out and saw Bob Dylan for free whilst sitting on the beach and we really liked one of the support acts called Macaco, who are a band from Barcelona. I also tried and failed dismally to remember how to surf for a few hours, quickly gave up and moved to body boarding for the rest of the day. I had a hell of a lot of fun.

Skipping Pamplona we moved directly to Barcelona, and again found that Pamplona was haunting us, because the weekend we arrived in Barcelona was the last weekend of the San Fermin festival. Every foreigner who had been to the festival seemed to be taking a plane out of Barcelona, and every single hostel was fully booked. We ended up after a two hour search in a standard hotel for 70 Euros a night. Our trip on the underground system had been at 50C degrees, and both of us felt like shit and completely dehydrated. My t-shirt and combats were soaked through. I dreamt of the underground in Bilbao to make me feel better!
With no bed in sight for the Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights we decided to rent a car and drive up the coast of the Costa Brava. Our aim was to get as far north as Cadaqués, but after a minor parking disaster on the first day, we only made it as far north as Palamós. We spent the Friday and Sunday nights in Tossa Del Mar, and then the Saturday night in Platje d’Aro.

We returned to Barcelona on the Monday early. We wondered around seeing the main Gaudi sights and enjoyed the afternoon and early evening in the district of Gràcia. Overall I was disappointed with Barcelona. It seemed like a city with plentygoing on and a really nice vibe, but underlying that seemed to be a city of broken dreams. I saw so many people who looked like they were on the edge of life, broken by the city, or drawn to it in some way. Many beggars and you often felt you needed to watch your back. I’d like to go back to Barcelona again, but next time we go back it will be in the spring or autumn – the summer is just too hot.
The third part of our holiday was in Mallorca. We flew from Barcelona to Palma with Iberia, and as with all buses and planes I slept like a baby. We stayed with my Uncle David and his partner Maria, who very kindly put us up in the appartment in the small but extremely beautiful town of Cala Rajada. Their appartment was amazing and we fell in love with the town. Maria and David are good friends with the owner of the local dive centre and we spent many days swimming and snorkelling there. David organised for Kerstin to have two dives too, as as she already has her PADI Open Water and Advanced scuba qualifications, it was pretty easy for her to get back into it. On her first dive she seemed a litrle nervous, but when she came back out she had a smile as wide as a car!

We also met up with our friends Max and Cécile, as they were over staying in the finca of Cécile’s parents, near Petra. We spent a day at the beginning of the holiday with them as David and Maria had kindly loaned us their car. We also went back for Cécile’s birthday on the last day of our holiday, and then Max and Cécile drove us to the airport for our trip back home to Dortmund.

We absolutely loved Mallorca. I didn’t really know what to expect, especially as you hear so many bad things about places like Magaluf and Arenal. What we did see, we loved and spending time with David and Maria made the holiday brilliant.

Now we are back in Dortmund and we had a cool party for my birthday (31) and on the following day we went to the Juicy Beats festival, which is a yearly electronic music festival held in the Westfalenpark. It was a great venue, and although there weren’t any big names, with the exception of Coldcut, we had a great time.
I’m now back to work and Kerstin has this week off before starting back. Speaking of which, I need to get my head down.