S‘Albufera Natural Park, Mallorca’s Wonderful Wetlands

While most people visiting Mallorca are out grabbing a beach chair, we decided to experience nature among the hustle and bustle of the Spring crowds in a quiet haven for wildlife called S’Albufera.

I guess I had neglected to visit S’Albufera Natural Park, because I usually visit Mallorca to hikes in the Tramuntana Mountains. After an injury put me on the hiking sidelines, I decided to take the chance to experience S’Albufera.

Getting to S’Albufera Natural Park

Getting to S’Albufera was a bit tricky. The point of interest to the entrance is Pont dels Anglesos (the Englishmen’s Bridge) which our navi and Google Maps couldn’t locate. Drive south of Port d’Alcudia on the MA-12. If you see Grupotel Natura Playa (Playas de Muro, 5, 07458) on your left, you have just passed the Englishmen’s Bridge. On the MA-12, you can also look for the signs Sector 2, Platja Sector 1 (V -1 VS-2 V-3). If you are still lost, you will see plenty of people entering the park near the Englishmen’s Bridge.

The parking lot is small but you can find places to park near the entrance of better yet, the Can Picafort – Port de Pollenca L352 bus stops near the main entrance.

Get your Visitor’s Permit

The park entrance is free but you need to get a visitor’s permit. You walk 1km from the entrance until you reach the information center. There you have a chance to view the exhibit of the park animal photos and chat with a ranger. Once you pass the information center, it becomes more tranquil as you roam the park past the center.

The Bird Hides

I was not an avid bird watcher before I visited S’Albufera Natural Park except for the occasional pigeons and crows that visit my balcony. Sitting in the bird hides gave me an appreciation for the hobby. You need a lot of patience to wait for birds and wildlife which is quite therapeutic. As a reward for my patience, I spotted many Black-winged Stilts. With a surface area of 1646,48 hectares, you’ll have to return many times to see it all.

In the Spring visitors are likely to see Woodchat Shrikes, Sandpipers, waders and several species of Heron which include Purple Heron, Night and Squacco as well as Little Bittern. Stroll along the canal footpaths to see Cetti’s Warblers, Nightingales and Blue Headed Wagtails. Birds of Prey are common with regular sightings of Marsh Harrier’s, Ospreys and Eleonora’s.

Sitting in a bird hide watching nature was for me, as peaceful as my daily meditation.

We visited three bird hides all of which are open to the public. They provide you and nature a natural barrier, still allowing human onlookers to get close-up look at nature. You are close enough to see the beautiful array of birds with your human eye, but binoculars are recommended. My husband rigged a one-eyed binocular from his camera equipment. After an enjoyable day viewing the birds, we decided to invest in a pair of binoculars for future bird watching.

In the reserve, you will walk among pine woods, see fresh water pools and lagoons, reed-beds, and salt marshes. There are numerous species, too many to list, too many to count. On one of the canal stretches, I heard male frogs croaking in the ponds, competing for females. It’s Spring after all, so love is in the air!

On your next visit to Mallorca, take a chance to escape the beach crowds and visit the S’Albufera Natural Park.

The 365 Calvary Steps

The 365 Calvary steps in the charming old town of Pollenca lead up to an incredible Good Friday procession.

Experience the charm of Pollenca and the 365 Calvary Steps (Calle de Calvari), one step at a time.

Up the 365 Calvary Steps, Pollensa, Mallorca
Up the 365 Calvary Steps, Pollenca, Mallorca

If you don’t look hard enough, you could possibly miss an important attraction in old town Pollenca, the 365 Calvary Steps (Calle de Calvari).

Worn down from thousands of Christian devotees and tourists, there are numerous steps required to reach the top, in fact, one for each day of the year. If you feel fatigued half way to the top, enjoy a rest under the cypress trees or the fourteen tall crosses evoking Christ on the way to his crucifixion.

Along your journey, catch your breath and view the gorgeous homes and shops dotted along the steps. You will also find the occasional cat enjoying a siesta under the trees – a welcome sight to get your mind off the steep trek. Once you reach step number 365, enjoy gorgeous views of the Traumantana Mountains.

A cat along the 365 Calvary Steps in Pollensa, Mallorca
A cat along the 365 Calvary Steps in Pollenca, Mallorca

The Knights Templar were the first owners of this mount. Today, it hosts one of the most impressive traditions of Mallorca’s Easter week celebrations.

On Good Friday, the Calvari steps is where the Davallament (Descent from the Cross) takes place. A carving of Christ is removed from the cross. Then, in a somber torchlight parade, the carving is carried down the steps. The ritual is performed in silence except for the beating drum. Locals and tourists follow the procession led by members of various brotherhoods dressed in hooded robes. The parade ends at Our Lady of the Angels, the parish church dedicated to the patron saint of Pollenca, the Virgin Mary, and St. Michael the Archangel.

What goes up, must come down.

You can retrace your steps down the hill or venture along the side streets back to Pollenca. Reward yourself for your efforts and massive fitness tracker step count at one of Pollenca’s many restaurants.

Tip: One of my favorites is La Font del Gall. Just look for the fountain with the rooster on top at Calle Montesion, 4.

The 365 Calvary Steps Pollensa,Mallorca
Down the 365 Calvary Steps Pollenca, Mallorca

Palma Super Yacht Show 2017

The Palma Super Yacht Show 2017, one of THE important events on the Mediterranean’s yachting scene.

The Palma Super Yacht Show is held again this year from April 28th to May 2nd, 2017 in Palma de Mallorca, Spain.

Just in time for bikini and summer yachting season, the 2017 Palma Super Yacht Show exhibition showcases an array of impressive yachts and super yachts. From the 70 yachts on display to purchase or charter, you are sure to find a style that best suits your preferences and price point too.

Obviously, this event is geared towards the super-rich, but it’s also suitable for anyone likes fancy yachts or anything nautical.

Yes, the yachts are outrageously expensive. Yes, to even place your foot on board to look around, you’ll probably need to present your American Express Centurion Card. I haven’t the money nor the AMEX card, but am going anyway. The Palma Super Yacht Show runs concurrently with the Boat Show Palma where you can purchase a ticket for only 6 EUR per person.

Palma Super Yacht Show Sailing Yachts
Palma Super Yacht Show Sailing Yachts

The beauty of the both boat shows is not only the premiere yacht designs, but the venue. The exhibitions are located at Moll Vell on the old pier. With the Palma Cathedral Le Seu in the background, you will be dazzled as the seas glitter and glisten on the beautiful Mediterranean.

And what about the food? Plan to hear a lot of cork popping and see lots of Champagne being poured. For us common folk, I’d recommend looking for a food truck serving fish and chips. 🙂

You may not be able to afford a yacht so check out some of the other exhibitions. You’ll find information on nautical tourism, diving schools, leisure fishing, a second-hand market, food, bands, and fun for all.

Ahoy for now mates, I’m headed to the Palma Super Yacht Show.

Santiago de Compostela (the Way of St. James)

Ever since watching the film with The Way with Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen, I’ve had a great interest in Santiago de Compostela (the Way of St. James) pilmgrage. The large network of ancient pilgrim routes are like a river system of brooks and streams which join together to make a larger body of water or in this case, the Camino Frances where pilgrims set out to the reported tomb of St. James (one of the one of the apostles of Jesus Christ) in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Way of St. James Shell
Way of St. James Shell

During the middle ages, people walked the “Camino” or “Ways” as a traditional penance and pilgrims received an indulgence to pardon their sin beginning by walking out of their front doors toward Santiago, which was how the network grew up.

Nowadays, people begin their walk all over Europe, hoping to complete at least 100 kilometers (62 miles) of a Camino to earn their Santiago de Compostela (the Way of St. James) certificate when they reach Santiago. The pilgrims carry a passport or credencial which is stamped along the Camino.

The Three Main Santiago de Compostela Pilgrimage (the Way of St. James) Routes

  1. The French Way (Camino Frances) stretches 780 kilometers (500 miles) from St. Jean-Pied-du-Port near Biarritz in France to Santiago. It’s the most popular route and gets very crowded in mid-summer). The route then continues through Pamplona and Leon to Santiago de Compostela.
  2. The Portuguese Way (Camino Portugues) stretches 227 kilometers (141 miles) from Porto in northern Portugal. It’s a sister trail that runs beside Portugal’s Atlantic coast before passing into Spain. You’ll pass along villages and towns along the way, and beable to view many cultural sites just as Queen Isabel of Portugal did when she walked the Camino Portugues.
  3. The Northern Way (El Camino Norte) is a very quiet and beautiful route along the northern coast of Spain yet is very hilly and mountainous. This extremely demanding El Camino Norte route is 825 kilometers and since it is situated on the Bay of Biscay, is prone to rain, fog and harsh weather conditions.

The Long Walk to Santiago

I’ve heard walking the Camino is not really difficult since most of the stages are fairly flat on good paths, but if you plan on completing the entire Camino Frances, from St Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela, you’ll need about 30 to 35 days walking between 23 and 27 kilometers (14-16 miles) per day. This means you need to train, train, and be prepared for inclement weather. Along the way, many of the overnight accommodations fill up quickly, so you’ll be stuck camping in the woods.

Some people walk the walk but not in its entirety or span the walk sections across years traveling to a point by plane. Others even travel by horse or even bare foot. The receipt of the credencial (stamp of authenticity) is rather difficult to come by when reaching the end of the route in Santiago de Compostela, but I just can’t help but think God will stamp a passport for you in heaven or your efforts.

On your next vacation across Europe, look for the routes marked with a yellow arrow or monuments with the traditional scallop shell, symbol of the pilgrim or bake a Tarta de Santiago cake at home.

Perfecting Paella

Perfecting Paella, pleez!  Is it all in the pan or is there more? If the dish is made correctly, it’s one of the most perfect comfort foods. If made incorrectly, it’s a disaster dish that just can’t be fixed. Maybe that’s why discussions about Paella recipes can go on until the wee hours of the morning, similar to the perfect New Orleans Gumbo recipea post I’ll get to one of these days.

Traditional preparation of paella

Historically, Paella the Spanish rice dish that includes different combinations of vegetables and meats, characteristically seasoned with saffron and good olive oil, originates from Valencia in Eastern Spain and requires the freshest ingredients and the best rice to make it truly wonderful.

Where does Paella come from?

The most common story of paella’s origins is that servants would take leftovers from Moorish royal banquets and cook them over open fires preparing delicious dishes to bring home to their families. Those must have been some seriously delicious leftovers!

The word “paella” may come from the Arab word ‘baqiyah’, which means ‘leftovers’. Some linguists though believe that the word ‘paella’ is derived from a Latin word ‘patella’, which was a flat plate used for religious offerings. So the dish name is actually for the cooking utensil.

What’s required to make an Authentic Spanish Paella?

For hundreds of years people not only argue over the origins, but on the ingredients and the perfect paella recipe since many different varieties of paella are passed on to the family cooks as best kept secrets. This includes for example, the Valencia version where fish and shellfish are an absolute ‘no go’ which makes sense because the laborers of the fields serving at the Moorish royal banquets were far from the coastline.

Therefore an authentic Valencia version never includes fish and seafood, but chicken and rabbit as well as snails and often beans and artichokes. Let’s not stop there, other varieties include Paella de Marisco (Seafood Paella), a vegetarian versions containing hearty white beans, artichokes, eggplant and peppers, or the mixed Valencian Catalonian version.

The Perfect Paella Pan

There are many different ways to prepare paella as there are little fishing villages in and around Spain, but first things first I need a Paella pan and I need it fast. I’m only in Barcelona for the weekend and want to make paella at home this winter.

Traditional Paella Pan
Traditional Paella Pan

I should go to a little Ferreteria (hardware store) to get my Paella pan, but I’ll head to El Corte Ingles, my favorite Spanish department store and ask for a ‘paellera’. I’ll opt for an enameled steel pans made of carbon steel and coated with a speckled black enamel finish. They won’t rust, are affordable, and make cleanup a breeze. It should also be a flat-bottomed pan, which is uniquely made for my modern burner.

If I don’t have luck finding a ‘paellera’ at El Corte Ingles, I’ll just buy a Gucci purse instead and head towards ‘La Boqueria’, Europe’s best food market which has been operating since the 13th century. No, I won’t buy a Gucci purse, that’s just the Diva in me is coming out. I’ll buy a Chanel.  Seriously, at La Boqueria I’m sure to find the pan, the rice, and a place to rest my legs while enjoying Tapas. I’m on vacation after all.

Perfect paella, it’s all in the Bomba

The perfect paella is not only in the pan but the rice they say and namely the Bomba rice, a short grain and pearl-colored round rice. Bomba is ‘the’ supreme rice in Spain, because it absorbs three times its volume in broth (rather than the normal two), yet the grains remain firm and delicious. Since Bomba can absorb much more liquid, it’s hard to overcook it an since I’m new to paella, this is the rice for me.

Bomba rice; Wiki photo by  J.P.Lon
Bomba rice; Wiki photo by J.P.Lon

Bomba rice grows leisurely in the village of Calasparra until it matures. This longer growing cycle produces dehydrated kernels which are ready to absorb the utmost flavors of paella broth. This is my absolute fear, the absorptions process which can be the difference between crunchy or mushy paella. I don’t know how to control the amount of liquid yet, but will soon learn.

Ay, yi, yi! I pray the primrose path to perfecting paella is a perpetual pleasure. 🙂

Just as paella historically melded unique ingredients, the dish is a union of Spain for the dish, the Romans, for the pan, and the Arabs, for the rice. Without the unity of these nations, we’d be living in a world without paella and that would be a pity.