Thursday, 10 September 2009

Smoke-machines, schnapps and the search for something more - A Majorcan holiday part II

Having made it halfway through my week in Palma Nova I began to settle into this deeply foreign (in so many senses of the word) way of holidaying. I lay on the beach in the day (although I read improving philosophical books to kid my brain into believing I wasn't giving it some major time off) and headed out to eat in the evening, before taking a short disco-nap, then braving the clubs of the Magaluf strip. By Wednesday I'd even got used to watching people drink beer with their full English breakfasts before 10am. Well, almost.
But before long my attention span (equivalent to that of a small, overexcited child at the best of times) demanded a change of scene. Dusting off my rusty Spanish I procured a bus timetable and one morning, with a friend also open to a little culture, effected my escape. The bus (refreshingly air-conditioned but Hispanic-ly late) rang with the Italian jokes and chatter, and British whinges about weather, food and public transport, as it wound through the hot, rocky landscape. Finally, it drew down to a bus station overlooking a bright blue sea, watched over by an ancient stone cathedral; this was more like it - we had found beautiful Palma de Mallorca.
In place of English pubs and high-rise hotels, we explored tiny, windy streets echoing the old Arabic roots of the city's development. Gaudi, a great architectural hero of mine, was even drafted in to work on the stunning cathedral, "La Seu", and his influence notable on other buildings around the city as well. Surrounded by phenomenal architecture and a fascinating heritage mixing ancient Arabic influences with contemporary Catalan culture, I could not comprehend how this could be so near the hideous, English-ified modernity of Magaluf.
We lunched on fabulous paella, cooked freshly to order, in a small bar hidden away from the shops and museums, and the city's tourists. I heard Spanish spoken everywhere, and watched locals go about their everyday lives, shopping for supper, running errands, walking their dogs - this was a real place, totally independent of the islands braying holiday-makers, who are visitors here rather than seasonal taste-makers as in Palma Nova; they do not dictate what is stocked in bars and shops, or force the locals to speak a foreign language in their home town, and nor do they shatter their peace with drunken expletive-riddled rants about beer, kebabs and "skirt" at 4am.

I returned to Palma Nova thinking far more positively about this Balearic isle. There was more than "lads on tour" style holidays and greasy spoon cafes; you just had to make the effort
to look for it. That night however we embraced the chavvier side of the island, and around midnight set out for the Magaluf strip. We drank scarily cheap cocktails, although with surprisingly little effect. The schnapps and orange juice tasted rather like the orange squash I used to have at Sunday school when I was little, thanks to the staggering amount of watering down in which the bar-owners were obviously indulging, maximising profits at the expense of stupid tourists. We danced like maniacs to thumping club tunes, in a fog produced by smoke-machines and sweaty dancers, as lasers and flashing lights spun overhead. We finally called it a night (or rather an early morning) at 5am, hyped up and giggly, eating chips overlooking the neon lights illuminating the still-reveling revelers, and the ex-revelers now recovering on handy curbsides.

With my faith in civilisation restored I had a fabulous night out, poles apart from my peaceful day wandering cobbled streets mere hours earlier. In the knowledge that these cobbles existed however, I was able to throw myself into the bright lights and the pounding noise, safe in the knowledge that there was something more than smoke-machines and watered-down schnapps. More on this one island, and more beyond. And in three days time, I'd be home in London, where, at least for now, I belong.

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