Palma de Mallorca
10 Day Rome to Lisbon cruise


Palma de Mallorca

Our fifth port was Palma.  We arrived at 9 AM and were able to dock right in the port.  Mallorca (pronounced Mah-YOR-ka, and also spelled Majorca) is the largest of the three Spanish Balearic Islands (actually there are a few more small ones).  Situated almost equally between Italy, Spain, and Africa, it has somewhat of the atmosphere of a Caribbean island and certainly seems to be a primary vacation spot for the Spanish tourists and cruise ships.

Historically, Mallorca is a place everyone invaded along the way to somewhere else until the Spanish decided they wanted it in 1229.  Each invader left something historical behind.  In 1115, with the help of Pisans, Conde Ramon Berenguer III invaded the island, cleared out the Moorish pirates and freed 30,000 Christian slaves (I assume the 30,000 figure was his estimate).  Ramon left the following year and the island returned to Moorish rule for another 60 years.  In 1276, Jaume the Conqueror (of Spain) willed Mallorca to his son Jaume II while his other son, Pere the Great (of Aragon) succeeded him in Spain.  Nine years later his greedy nephew Alfons III decided he wanted it, and took it from his uncle.  Ten years later (in 1295) the successor of Alfons III (The Greedy?) returned the kingdom to Jaume II, who ruled until his son Sanc became king in 1311.  This squabble in the family went back and forth until everyone in Jamie II's line died out (with a lot of help) in 1349, and the island became permanently part of Spain.  Today, they are only invaded by tourists; five million a year.

Our group split three ways for different tour options.  Vera and Sarah  saw entirely different aspects of Mallorca than did Tonya and I, or mother and Mikelle.

Vera and Sarah's tour: Pearls and Dragon Caves

Vera & Sarah crossed the island on a bus tour, going about 30 miles to see the Cuevas Del Drach (Caves of the Dragon).  Along the way were many windmills, built to pump water before the arrival of electricity to the island.  They are being restored, using the uniform colors of blue and white on their sails, and add to the island's charm.  There were almond orchards similar to the valley where B & V used to live in California, and the fields across the dry, rolling hills were separated by unmortared stone walls.

The bus stopped in Manacor to allow the tourists to tour a pearl factory.  Rather than diving for oysters and finding a rare pearl that had been decades in the making the natural way, the factory where Mallorcan Pearls are produced starts with a pellet-sized base core.  These sit atop what appeared to be a kind of stiff wire, so the pearls-in-the-making look like dozens of hatpins stuck in a tray, which are inverted and dipped many times into a fish-scale-based coating.  In this manner, they create various uniform bead sizes and unusual colors, and when the "pin" is removed, they are ready to string.  They brag that one cannot tell Mallorcan pearls from "real" ones, and they certainly do have a luster and quality unlike cheap fakes.

Straight east of Palma on the other side of the island is Porto Cristo (wasn't there a Count from there?).  Near the port are three sets of caves:  Coves d'Arta (several miles up the coast), and Coves dels Hams and Coves del Drac.  (The caves are also spelled "Cuevas," depending upon which literature you reference, just as Mallorca is also spelled Majorca).   These caves are supposed to be known all over the world, because of the expert lighting and the beauty of the delicate formations (one of which supposedly looks like a dragon), but Vera found the caves to be one of the most memorable experiences of the entire trip for another reason --  Martel Lake, one of the largest underground lakes in the world is there, and provides the ethereal setting for a concert of classical music.

They set up the final leg of the tour  masterfully, with minimal lighting as the tourist lines approach the concert area; you can't see much ahead of you, and have no idea of the size of the cavern.  Then the lines take you among rows of benches, and you begin to get an idea -- it looks as if the cavern seats at least 500 people, just in the area clear of stalactites and stalagmites.  On an incline much like a natural amphitheater, seats curve to face a still lagoon, with a low light upon a cathedral-shaped formation near the center.  When they are ready for the show to begin, the lights go completely off, and you sit for a moment in the black silence.  Then the far-away sounds of the classical music starts, and in the distance, your eyes seek the source of a strange-looking procession of flickering amber lights that move silently closer, and the sound of violin, organ, and perhaps cello, seem to come from all around you.

This is one occasion where it is, perhaps, better NOT to "do your homework," not to research why this attraction should be on your itinerary.   To go into the caves without an inkling of what's to come keeps the mind unable to figure out the source of the lights, adding immeasurably to the impact of the concert.   The lights snake ever closer, until they finally clear the forest of limestone formations that caused them to appear to flicker as they pass behind them, and they take the shape, at first, of an elongated, open mouth filled with jagged, illuminated teeth!

Finally, when they are close enough,  the mind and eyes together discover the source of the lights -- large, dinghy-like boats carry the musicians, and they are expertly paddled so as to glide silkily along, making not a sound.  Lights are strung along the slightly up-curved top rail, and with the reflection in the water from a frontal view,  create the gliding, "dragon-jaws" effect.    They pause, and subtle lights come up around the lagoon to play among the limestone formations, as they perform Chopin, Bach, Mozart, Handel and other soothing selections, whose sounds create a beautiful mood, restful and uplifting.

Vera's conclusion was that she was fortunate to have chosen this tour.  She has seen other limestone caves, even riding little trams through the ones in Barbados, that also have dramatic lighting, and still actively drip throughout.  At the conclusion of  this one, however, she eagerly shelled out some tourist bucks for a CD, "La Musica de las Cuevas del Drach," and enjoys listening to it as she falls asleep, remembering the eerie beauty of the concert.

Mom and Mikelle's tour: Mallorcan Monastery

Mom and Mikelle opted to see a monastery, heading north across more rugged terrain to the belvederes of Valldemosa.  A museum of the Carthusian Monastery at San Bruno is there, founded in 1399 by Catalan King Martin the Humane, and erected in its present form by the monks in the 18th Century.  A book Vera bought about Mallorca describes the interior as the refuge of the "amours" of Frederic Chopin and Georges Sand, filled with "lively reminiscences of the romantic pianist and the exalted authoress."  Museums include a piano Chopin imported from Paris and one from  Mallorca, which he used for composing when he wasn't dallying, I suppose.

The varying terrain of the land, from the rugged heights of Puig Mayor (4741 feet), to fruitful valleys and  the terraced hills covered with citrus and pomegranate trees, to the blue waters of remote coves surrounded by cliffs, or palm-fringed resort-quality beaches, attract tourists today, just as the light and the views also attracted artists for hundreds of years.

Bill and Tonya's tour: The Cathedral and Bellver Castle

The Moors built a mosque, which Jaume the Conqueror built around to make the Cathedral.  Located in the old quarter, near palaces and mansions with gated inner courtyards, it dominates the bay, and is said to be the "Jewel of Palma." It is dramatically illuminated at night to shine with its reflection in the harbor, massive and bristling with towers and buttresses like a temple and a fortress at the same time.  Yet its stained-glass windows "cast rainbows of light between the powerful pillars," yielding a mellow light to soften the interior.  Its construction lasted from 1230 until the 17th Century, with later touching up to its Gothic design.

Although not a large castle, Bellver is kind of quaint, being round with two moats that are empty these days.  Perched on the top of a hill, the inner moat is against the structure's walls. The draw bridge was replaced somewhere along the way with a permanent concrete bridge.

The castle was built on the orders of Jaume II in 1300-1309 as a royal residence.  In 1717 it became a military prison for over 100 years.  Today it is a museum, with a fantastic view of the bay, the town and the Cathedral against the backdrop of the sea.