Autonomous Community Spotlight: Islas Baleares // Illes Balears

Not one to make travel goals, I did make one when coming to Spain: visit all 17 autonomous communities at least once before going home. While Madrid, Barcelona and Seville are the stars of the tourist dollar show (and my hard-earned euros, let’s not kid around here), I am a champion for Spain’s little-known towns and regions. Having a global view of this country has come through living in Andalucía, working in Galicia and studying in Castilla y León, plus extensive travel throughout Spain.

After Valladolid orientation, I struck up a conversation with Meg. We had many mutual friends and would be studying abroad together in Castilla y León, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to introduce myself.

“Hey, I mean, holaaaaa. Soy Meg. Want to come to Ibiza with me once the program is over?”

Sad but true: of the four islands that constitute the Mediterranean archipelago, I have been to just one. And that island is known for little more than foam parties, beaches and monstrous discos. I even turned down a position at a summer camp outside of Palma to return to rainy Galicia summer after summer.

Mallorca, the largest of the islands and home to its capital, has been on my Spain Wish List this year. Given that it’s a gateway to other parts of Europe, sounds like the perfect place to meet my cousin in a few months for our bi-annual European adventures!

(My apologies for not posting last month. As you know, life can sometimes interfere with everything from work to a writing hobby, so I’m a month late here)

Name: Islas Baleares in Castillian, Illes Balears in Catalán

Population: 1.1 million (including mi niño, Rafa Nadal, when he’s not off somewhere winning cups)

Provinces: Baleares consists of four islands: Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Fomentera

When: 4th of 17 regions, June 2005

 

About: It is believed that the islands that sit between 50 and 190 miles off of the eastern coast of Spain have been inhabited since the shipwrecked Boeotians, later taking its name from the Phoenician language.

Apparently everyone went around nude then, too, so it’s no surprise to me that the four big rocks that make up the island chain are touristic hot spots.

Anyway, given its strategic role smack dab in the middle of the Med, the Baleares constantly found themselves under different rule – Carthinigans, Greeks, Romans, and didn’t even escape Muslim rule until the 12th century.

During the Reconquist, King James I of Aragón captured the islands one by one, incorporating them into the crown once he had died and his will called for the Count of Urguell to give them back. Like marbles, the islands were wrestled back and forth between seemingly everyone in Europe – Holy Roman Empoeror Charles V, the British, Napoleon and even Turkish and barbary pirates – before 1802.

Interestingly enough, catalán is an official language, with some 75% claiming to speak it.

Must sees: The islands are no stranger to mass tourism – Palma’s airport is one of Spain’s busiest in terms of passenger volume – and it’s benevolent temperature yearround means it’s full of expat enclaves, particularly English, Nordic and German. Even the former Spanish king, Rey Juan Carlos, summers there!

Don’t let that throw you off, though. The impressive Palma cathedral and the port below it, Menorca’s calas and interior wild beauty, the club scene in Ibiza and the temperate waters seem to lure tourists to Las Islas Baleares, but the archipelago’s culture and sun sports have me itching to make it back.

You can tell from my Irish roots that I don’t lend well to sitting on a beach, but I’d love to learn to sail or scuba dive. It just looks like…a break from my computer?

Because the Islas have a distinctly Catalan flavor, the two regions share many popular traditions and festivals. Most notably, last week’s Nit de Foc, celebrating the feast of Saint John, where bonfires blaze throughout the night around the islands, and people burn things as a sort of rebirth that marks the summer solstice. There’s also a mock battle in Soller between pirates and the townspeople to commemorate the islanders’s win over Moorish seafaring folk, and parties and romerías seem to rage on throughout the summer. Oh, and did I mention a grape fight in September?

And, of course, there’s the cuisine. Mallorcan food centers around seafood, tumbet mallorquín (a version of pisto) and the sinful ensaimada pastry. Mallorca is also an up-and-coming wine region, protected under the Denominació d’Origen Binissalem.

My take: I’ve always equated the islands with partying, Rafa Nadal and pebble beaches, but I’ve seen relatively little of the comunidad autonoma. But with daily flights on several airlines, my biggest excuse is deciding which swimsuit to pack and then to actually go! 

Have you been to the Balearic Islands? What would you recommend seeing?

Check out the other regions I’ve highlighted: Andalucía | Aragón | Asturias.

Each month for the next 14, I’ll take a look at Spain’s 17 comunidades autónomas and my travel through them, from A to, um, Valencia. I’d love your take on the good and the bad in each one, so be sure to sign up for my RSS feed to read about each autonomous region at the end of each month! Next up for July is the other island chain, Canarias.

The Thing About Spanish Weddings…

I went to my first wedding when I was 20. I had never been asked to be a flower girl, and my older cousins didn’t get married until I was already living in Spain. I drove with a friend out to Waterloo, Iowa, for a study abroad friend’s nuptials. The following year, I was a bridesmaid in a high school friend’s ceremony. I was as wedding tonta as they come.

The Novio invited me to a friend’s wedding on Gran Canaria (!!!!) after we’d been dating for about six months. We took a long weekend and explored the island by car, but I was underdressed, had the wrong length dress on, and mistakenly didn’t eat lunch before we left.

Since then, I’ve tallied more enlaces in Spain than weddings in the US – three of fellow americanas who married Spaniards – and I’ve even photographed one! Just last weekend, I attended a bodorrio in the Novio’s village of San Nicolás del Puerto. He wasn’t there, but I went anyway because, who doesn’t love a good wedding?

Yeah, so the thing about Spanish weddings is…

Location

Weddings are typically held in the bride’s hometown. The Novio knows the father of the bride is the one who pays, so he’s promised we can do one back home, too. In fact, I’ve only been to three weddings in Seville proper! 

Invitations

It’s considered bad taste to send the invitations to your friends and family; instead, the happy couple are expected to hand out the envelopes to guests! There have been several weddings where I’ve not gotten the actual invitation until just days or weeks before the nuptials, and most are sent six weeks before (thanks for sharing this, Lynette!).

Attire

Ladies: if it’s a daytime wedding, stick to a short dress. If it’s at night, go long. Do not mess this up, or have the marujas in attendance forever tsk-ing you. If you’re really pija and daring, you can wear a nice pants suit.

El tocado

Those crazy fascinators are ONLY appropriate for day weddings. I know, just when you want to be bold and Spanish and wear one, you find out that you can’t because the ceremony is at 6pm. Sorry.

The wedding party

It’s not common to have bridesmaids and groomsmen; rather, Spanish weddings have a madrina and a padrino who sign the paperwork that legally makes you man and wife. When the Novio’s brother got married in a civil ceremony, I was his wife’s madrina, which also meant I got to fix her hair right before I took photos of them.

Gifts

There are virtually no gift registries – you hand the happy couple an envelope stuffed with money to start their nest egg (or pay back the lavish meal you just ate).

I was horrified when the Novio slammed 300€ into his friend’s palm at our first wedding together, but money is a lot easier to carry than an olla exprés, I suppose. Brides and grooms sometimes include their bank account number in the invitation, as well, so that you can transfer money in before the ceremony.

Food and Drink

They never seem to stop serving food or drink. Ever.

In Spain, there is usually a coctel where someone will inevitably be cutting a leg of jamón, and you’ll have beer, wine, sherry and soft drinks served, along with finger foods. Once you sit down, there will be more jamón and boiled shrimp before you get two dishes, a dessert and coffee before the champagne toast.

The bride and groom typically come around to your table at this time to give you a small gift, and this is where you hand them the envelope. Every time someone shouts, ‘Vivan los novios!’ you must shout viva.

Then it’s dance and copas time! Most weddings have a DJ or band and they always, ALWAYS play the same songs. I fooled someone into thinking I was Spanish last weekend because I knew every single song they played.

All the normal stuff we do back home?

The bride and groom have their first dance, you throw rice and the bride throws her bouquet, and someone’s drunk uncle hits on you. Like many Spanish celebrations, weddings are over-the-top and full of fun moments (usually brought on by a cocktail or two). And there is always a sevillana or two!

At Jesus and Macarena’s wedding last weekend, the father of the groom asked me how I was enjoying myself. I told him it was the exact wedding I’d envisioned for myself – right down to where the banquet was held (the father of the groom’s restaurant!).

Have you ever attended a Spanish wedding (or had one yourself)? Tell me about it…I am hopeful I’ll get my two parties someday and need some ideas!

Spain Snapshots: My Perfect Madrileño Day

Danny and I were on our third glass of vermouth in Malasaña when it dawned on me: Madrid had finally won me over.

Between the barrio life, the collision of old and traditional with new and different and the balmy late spring nights, La Capital is quickly becoming one of my favorite escapes in Spain.

Madrid isn’t as outright beautiful as Seville or as wildly gorgeous as the calas on Menorca. It’s not old and cobblestoned or dripping in Gaudí’s whimsical architecture. It’s a bit grandiose on one block, and a bit gritty on the next.

 Simply put, it’s a Spanish city that encompasses it all and is the epicenter for nearly everything in Iberia.

My most recent trip to Madrid was two-fold: I was coming back from an emergency trip to the US, and I’d be brainstorming and hamming in front of the camera for a project I’m working on with other social media darlings. But as soon as I’d touched down in Barajas, my jet lag dissipated, and I spent the day retracing my favorite madrileño haunts and finding new spots to love.

My perfect Madrid day, unfiltered: Strolling, snacking, meeting lifelong madrileños and other adoptive gatos who have decided to call Madrid home.

Like Madrid? Check out these posts: Mercado de San Miguel // The Saturday City // Casa Hernanz // Visiting Alcalá de Henares

A Weekend at Trujillo Villas

I spent two nights sleeping next to Francisco Pizarro. Well, next to the house where the Conqueror of Peru grew up on the hardened plains of Extremadura in a small town called Trujillo, not actually with him (he died almost 500 years ago in Lima).

Trujillo has always loomed from the A-5 highway towards Madrid, castle and ramparts rising from an empty extremeño plain. Noted for its medieval stone village, impressive Plaza Mayor and cheese smelly enough to make you think you’re eating feet, it was one of the places on my 2014 Spain wish list. Spending a weekend at Trujillo Villas, a series of luxury rental villas in the heart of Trujillo’s old town, was the perfect invitation to return to one of Spain’s most up-and-coming areas after four years.

Angela greeted us at the parador after we’d spent the afternoon in nearby Guadalupe; we showed up nearly an hour late. She was chipper as she showed us through the village, navigating ancient streets while pointing out places to eat. Yeah, we’d get along alright. The Novio was pleased to learn that our digs for the night, the Artists Studio, was two doors down from the childhood home of Pizarro.

For European travelers who forget that there’s a Spain away from the coasts, Trujillo Villas offers vacation homes and luxury, self-catered holiday properties in one of Spain’s undiscovered regions.

The building

Right off of Plaza los Moritos, the family built an open, contemporary space well-suited for a couple. The next door neighbor came to greet us each time we passed, his gaping smile (and the lamb his wife seemed to always have in her arms) just as warm as the car and service we received the whole weekend. 

The villa is just a few minutes’ walk from the Plaza Mayor, the castle and other major sites around town. Rectified from a pile of rubble, the Artist’s Studio can comfortably sleep up to four people, thanks to its sofa bed, and it’s suited for a quick city break or a longer stay in Trujillo. It’s modern, yet romantic.

The open concept main floor

Modern, airy and decorated with artists in mind, the Artist’s Studio’s mezzanine level is open from the front door all the way to the back door, which opens to a private terrace.

A small desk was a perfect spot to set up my laptop during siesta hours while the Novio camped out on the couch with the TV on. The unit is air-conditioned, but also has a pellet-burning eco fireplace, which was perfect for the chilly March nights where the wind seemed to whip right past the house.

I loved the detailing that alluded to the region in which Trujillo lies – the water fowl, the local products – as well as the blank canvases and easels, begging to be used. Angela and her family run self-catered trips that focus on cooking, painting and walking holidays, evident from even the paintbrushes that hung from beneath the mantle.

The bedroom and bathrooms

I hadn’t even taken my coat off when I climbed the metallic and glass stairs to the bedroom and bathroom on the second floor. We’d been up all afternoon driving and touring, so I needed to test out the comfort factor of the bed:

Yep, I could sleep here easily.

What blended well within the Artists Studio was its Old English Manor House comfort meets modern, open apartment.  The only doors in the place led to the outside or to a bathroom, so the whole place felt communicated and airy.

I could read while in bed, draw the curtains and listen to the Novio watching an old episode of Aída while I drifted off after a day or exploring Yuste and Garganta la Olla. 

The terrace

At the rear of the house, there’s a refurbished stone terrace with patio chairs, loungers and even a rainforest shower (lack of room for a pool, says Angela) with uninterrupted views of the northern extremeño countryside.

Late March was still cool and breezy, so we didn’t get to make any use of the inviting terrace. Some sort of party was raging all day Saturday, so I took a glass of wine out to watch the sun turn the nearby castle ruins light up golden and listen to Gangnam Style.

The specifics

Apart from the care Angela took in making sure we were looked after, the Novio and I were delighted to find a welcome pack the included a few bottles of local wine, fixings for breakfast and fresh lilies on the kitchen table.

Every appliance in the house was explained thoroughly, and Angela left maps of Trujillo and the region, information for day trips and things to do around town. There was plenty of logistical information for long-term stays, like where to get groceries or even play a round of golf – it’s evident that the Gartons love Trujillo and the weathered plains that surround it.

Our first question? Where to eat. Angela dutifully pointed out her favorite eateries around the city, clustered around Plaza Mayor and its labyrinth streets in the old city and even joined us for breakfast before check-out.

What I loved about our stay with Trujillo Villas – not counting the top-notch service and beautiful lodgings – was that we could explore the city leisurely and were staying in a rental villa with character in a town that had no lack of it. We spent more time than normal just relaxing in the Artists Studio and taking advantage of the space.

While we didn’t make it to the small museum around the corner, we did see the great city that Pizarro and Orellana built with the riches from the New World. I felt more local by forgoing the hotel option, and don’t think Trujillo would have felt so cercano and accessible if we’d stayed in one of the motels off the A-5 highway. 

My stay was graciously provided by Trujillo Villas for winning their Food Blogging contest with a post about my most memorable Spanish meal. All opinions are my own. Bookings at the Artists Studio start at £110 per night, and a minimum of three nights must be booked. If you’re interested in staying with them or in finding out about their package holidays, point your browser to their homepage

Have you been to Trujillo?

Spain Snapshots: the Feria del Caballo in Jerez de la Frontera

Call me a purist, but I love Seville’s April Fair, classism and all. Friends of mine had always talked about the jerezano equivalent, held a few weeks after Seville’s famed fête in mid May. Last year, M and I took the train to nearby Jerez de la Frontera for a day to experience the festival.

Being a celebrated horse breeding and training city, el caballo takes center stage at the fair, with both exhibitions and a horse auction. The biggest difference between the two is that the streets aren’t choked with horse carriages, so there’s less of a chance you’ll get hit by one or drag your dress through horse poop.

But there was plenty more: Jerez’s fair was a fun mix of eclectic and traditional casetas (we danced in a caseta run by a biker bar and drank margaritas at the Mexican restaurant’s tent), many different types of music, and much more wallet friendly. Not having to worry about appearances, we could just enjoy ourselves with all of the adorable, sherry-drinking abuelos.

Not much can hold a candle to Seville’s fair, but Jerez is as damn close as you can get.

If you go: The Feria de Jerez is held over seven days in May, typically during the second week of the month (this year’s festival is the 11th – 18th of May). You can take the train from Seville’s Santa Justa or San Bernardo stations straight to Jerez, with a round-trip ticket costing 17€. Entrance to the fairgrounds in Jerez is free. For more information, check the city’s festivals page.

Have you been to any Andalusian fairs?

My Five Favorite Feria de Abril Moments

The horses are still clip-clopping in my head, the piercing cascabeles echoing throughout the street. At the first hint of azahar and Spring in the air, my feet find themselves marking out the steps to sevillanas, and I start making plans for Seville’s fiesta más alegre.

Every experience at the Feria de Abril is different, and each year I live it in a different way.  It has to be said – the feria isn’t for everyone. Several other blogging friends of mine cry out about the private casetas, open by invitation only, about the inflated prices of food and drink, and even about the dusty alberothat gets onto their dress ruffles.

But I love it. I’ve been to other ferias in other cities – Córdoba, El Puerto de Santa María and Jerez de la Frontera – but nothing quite compares to first time you see the portada lit up, or the feeling of waltzing into a caseta without a word to the door guy. I adore Feria during the day and I rock out at el Real until the wee hours of the morning.

As the date of the alumbrado gets closer, the ganas I have to dress up and dance seem to skyrocket exponentially. At no other point in the year do I feel more sevillana or ready to drink it all in (and I don’t just mean the rebujito).  You know what they say: Yo quiero cruzar el río para bailer sevillanas!

5. Watching the Alumbrado at Josele’s house (2010 and 2011) For several weeks leading up to the fair, workers construct a huge wooden gate, erect temporary houses and string paper lights up on streets named for bullfighters. Ya huele a Feria, y olé, ya huele a Feria.

When I gave class at Edificio Presidente, which sits just in front of the main gate, during my first few years in Seville, I would watch out Javi’s living room window as the Recinto Ferial began to take shape. “Javi, do you like living so close to the Feria,” I asked him one morning before he went to university classes nearby. 

“It’s the best during the alumbrado and when you want to stumble home, but you can get so crazy with the sevillanas music.”He had a point, but I made a mental note to find a friend with a house close to the portada to watch it light up – I’d previously seen it while being crunched between a million other people.

The following year, my friend T was dating a sevillano whose family lived in the building next to Javi’s, and Josele invited us to bring a bottle of fino, plastic cups and 7-up to have a few drinks before midnight. I watched in awe as the larger-than-life NO8DO was lit up, piece by piece. People cheered and bands struck up all at once. I gulped down the rest of my rebujito and went to join the party.

4. My first ride in a horse carriage (2010)

I waved at Leonor from across Gitanillo de Triana street. I would never forget the address of her caseta, as she’d texted it to me half a dozen times and repeated it over and over again in the months leading up to the fair. As it turns out, she and her family were across the street and one door down from Los Sanotes.

It must have been six o’clock and just after lunch when I went over with TJ, who was visiting from Aragón. Leonor disappeared in the caseta and came out wielding a plate of jamón, a jar of rebujito and a few plastic cups. I reached my hands out for them, threatening to drop them into the albero, but she nudged me away with her hip.

“I called Jaime, he’s on his way to pick you up.”

Jaime was my student and just 14 at the time. He came with a sleek horse carriage and climbed down to help me into it in my traje de gitana. Tim followed, and Leonor handed us the food and drinks. I tried to refuse the plate of ham, but she insisted, saying we would need it to reverse the effects of the sherry and 7up mix.

Jaime and his two horses took us along the official carriage route, which snakes its way around the fairgrounds from noon until 8pm. From this vantage point, we could see the whole party comfortably while snacking. Taking a spin with them is something I do yearly, but I’ll never forget how cool it felt to be sitting high up, close enough to touch the farolillos that line the streets.

Plus, I saw the Duquesa de Alba and FLIPPED out. 

3. La Noche Más Larga (2010)

I’ve had my fair share of tipsy moments during the fair. Ha, oops. Even those “Oh, I’ll just go for dinner and come back at a reasonable hour” days seem to stretch on forever.

There was the time Fernando’s nephew took Kelly and I around the fairgrounds for 12 hours, or when I was invited into the largest caseta of them all, or when my students treated me like a princess (as in, they fed me jamón and beer for a few hours). The same day that I rode in a coche de caballos for the first time, I went from classy to trashy in what is, without a doubt, the best night of Feria in my six years going to the Real.

As soon as Jaime had whisked us around, I called to meet up with my guiri girlfriends. Meag, Jenna, Bri and Tiana were all at the same caseta, where the socios was one of T’s friends. There were no sevillanas playing when we arrived – instead, people were doing body shots off of one another in something more reminiscent of Spring Break Acapulco than the Feria de Abril. I resisted the body shots, but we were given mixed drinks for only 3€. For the rest of the night, we bounced around from one tent to the next, chattering away, sharing plates of food and  passing around jars of rebujito.

Around 4 or 5 in the morning, just as the tents were closing down, Meag, TJ and I strode to the churros stands at Calle del Infierno. Exapserated, Meag wished for “la penúltima” beer, a common Andalusian phrase when your real plan is to keep drinking all night.

The carny who was coiling the fried dough of the churros smiled. “I have a six-pack,” he said, “and I’ll sell you each can for a euro.”

We drank down the cold beers with the greasy churros (yeah, I know, ick), bought some gummies and started the slow procession home. Slow in the sense that it took us TWO HOURS to walk a kilometer back to my apartment in Triana.

I blame Joey the Little Chicken for such antics.

2. The birth of Club Social “Aqui No Hay Guiris” (2008)

Susana handed me another beer and asked if I was enjoying my first Feria. Despite dressing like a complete fool, I was enchanted and thrilled to have a place where I was welcome, regardless of whether or not I was a socio.

Llama a unas amigas,” she said, “so that they can see what Feria is like.” I pulled out my archaic mobile phone and sent a few messages around. Lindsay responded and said she’d be on her way shortly.

I finished my beer and asked Isra for another. He made yet another tick on the Novio’s tab and gave me a wink. “A que esto de mola, eh guiri?“  Thirty minutes later, an exasperated rubia sidles up next to me at the bar.

Tía!” Lindsay was sucking in air as I order her a beer. “I’ve tried calling you! I kept telling the guy at the door that I was a friend of the guiri inside!”

I glanced at my phone, which had not been plastered to my body to feel it vibrating. She gulped down some Cruzcampo and related, “He said there weren’t any foreigners here. You know, waved his hand and said ‘Aquí no hay guiris.’”

And thus, the greatest social club of my fellow extranjeros was born. We’re considering putting our names on the list for a caseta just as soon as the fairgrounds are expanded to Charco de la Pava. No more chico frito or tortilla – we’re stocking that tent with chicken fingers and hamburgers!

1. “Tu, que eres, de Chicago de la Frontera?” (2009)

My most memorable Feria de Abril moment came from a drunk socio of Los Sanotes, who has forever immortalized me – at least to my sevillano friends – and still makes my students laugh when they ask me to retell it.

Late one night during my second fair, I asked Manolo at the bar for another beer. “Should I add it to your boyfriend’s tab?” he asked, winking.

Not a second later, a drunk, balding socio who reeked of whisky and fried fish was offering to pay for my drink. He looked me up and down and made kissy noises while the Novio snickered behind me.

Oye,” drunken socio cooed, “I don’t know you. Are you from around here?” I tried hard not to laugh the beer right out of my nose as he shimmied and answered, “No, I’m from Chicago.” 

Olé, from Chiclana, right near the beach. That’s nice. Olé.” Drunk socio had confused my hometown with a beachside resort town called Chiclana de la Frontera, thousands of miles away from my beloved Sevilla.

I could see the Novio and his friend Alfonso making a slow exit to leave me to my own devices. By now, I was wedged in between the bar and one of drunk socio’s sausage arms. Avoid his gaze (and whiskey breath), I answered: “Nooooo, de She-cah-go!” I corrected him.

“Ya, ya, ya. De Chicago de la Frontera, quilla.”

And that’s how I became known as the gitana from the American town with the most rate, a nickname that sticks with me to this day.

Feria begins officially on May 5th at midnight when the mayor switches on the main gate’s 10 thousand plus lights. Don’t be fooled by the local name – Feria de Abril – we stick to tradition and start partying two weeks after Easter Monday. If you’re going, remember to dress sharply and bring enough money to cover your food and drinks. For more, check out my Dos and Don’ts of Feria, or how to buy a flamenco dress and its accessories.

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