Find your festive in Mallorca

Looking around our valley, you’d never guess that Christmas was less than three weeks away. No inflatable Santas climb plastic-rope ladders up the side of house chimneys. No country properties around us are adorned with twinkly-lit reindeer or other festive characters. All looks peaceful, normal, and…rural. Of course, it could be a different story behind closed doors!

We knew from visits to Mallorca before moving here that we were unlikely to find a Christmas tree for sale – real or fake. I had always had a real tree in the UK and the annual visit to the side entrance of Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, to select one of the numerous trees for sale, was guaranteed to make me feel more festive.

Faking it

Before we left the UK, we bought a high-quality artificial one from an Oxfordshire garden centre, ensuring that we wouldn’t be without a Christmas tree once here. In a week or so’s time, it’ll be released from its cardboard prison at the back of a little-used cupboard to be pressed into decorative service for its 14th Mallorcan Christmas. Fingers crossed it will still look perky – and won’t have lost all its artificial pine needles!

More than a decade later, Papá Noel’s sleigh GPS has located Mallorca: many lucky children now receive presents from the red-suited one as well as those traditionally brought by The Three Kings in early January. Must be an expensive business, being a parent on this island…

Baking it?!

And, you guessed it, you can now find Christmas trees – even real ones – just about everywhere in Mallorca. I thought the one below – made from the traditional Mallorcan pastries known as ensaïmadas (and spotted in a bakery window in the town of Artà) – was just a little bit different!

Ensaimada Christmas tree

An edible tree (but don’t count the calories!).

©Jan Edwards 2017

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Mallorca’s equivalent of the British MOT

Preparations for winter have begun here at our finca in rural Mallorca. Yes, The Boss was once a Boy Scout – and just as well, as I’d probably leave these things until the first northerly blasts of wind were battering our country home.

Most of the year our trailer sits in our field, acting as a good look-out perch for one or more of our cats but, in winter, it’s pressed into service to carry logs back from our supplier.

Cats on our trailer

“You mean you didn’t buy this for us to sit on?”

Before we can head onto public roads, we have to take the trailer for its ITV. In the UK, ITV is a television station (for which I worked as a regional continuity announcer for several years). Here, ITV stands for Inspección Técnica de Vehículos – the nearest thing to the British MOT. Even though a trailer doesn’t have an engine, it still has to go through this periodic inspection at an official ITV centre – of which there are three on the island: in Palma, Inca, and Manacor.

Wheely important

Whatever type of vehicle (or trailer) it is, the process takes a bit of time. When we first moved to Mallorca, booking an appointment for this obligatory test meant turning up at the nearest ITV centre and standing in line with lots of other bored-looking people. Not my favourite activity, to be honest, but today at least it’s possible to do this part online.

Unlike the MOT in the UK, you don’t just leave your vehicle in the hands of some boiler-suited mechanics, with fingers crossed that it’ll pass the inspection and not require a major injection of cash. Here in Spain, you’re with the vehicle every step of the way, able to see what’s involved, as you drive through a building open at both ends and equipped to test the different functions of your vehicle.

The last stage involves driving your vehicle over an inspection pit, where a clipboard-wielding inspector (who clearly doesn’t suffer from claustrophobia) takes a good hard look at your undercarriage. Or at least your vehicle’s…

Having driven your vehicle over this open pit (praying you don’t somehow misjudge your steering and squash said inspector), you land on some movable metal plates that shake the vehicle (and those inside it). Presumably it’s to test the suspension – or see if anything drops off. Perhaps the inspector should be wearing a hard hat? I find it a disconcerting experience and wouldn’t recommend going through this after a decent-sized meal if you suffer even remotely from motion sickness.

Go figure

Privately owned vehicles between four and 10 years old have to go through this ITV process every two years. Bizarrely – given that it has no engine – a trailer has to be tested every six months.

Meanwhile, although Mallorca is currently bathed in warm October sunshine during the day, we’re off on a log-buying mission. As Robert Baden-Powell used to say: “Be prepared.”

©Jan Edwards 2017

 

Useful books for a life in Mallorca

Which non-fiction books about Mallorca would you recommend to someone moving to the island? That’s a question I’ve been asked a few times, so I thought I’d answer it in this post.

We arrived to live in rural Mallorca in 2004 with one thumping good book about the island (in English): Majorca – Culture and Life (Könemann). It had been a farewell gift from a BBC work friend (Julia) and was so interesting that, before we left the UK, we bought another copy to give to my dad – destined to spend holidays with us on Mallorca; you can also find this book for sale on the island.

Over the years, we have added further books about Mallorca to our bookshelves and, if it’s of interest, these are some others we’ve found to be practical, inspiring, and interesting:

Mallorca books

Just a few of our books about Mallorca.

A Home in Majorca by Tomás Graves (La Foradada)

Written by the son of the late writer Robert Graves, this book is fascinating for anyone with an old Mallorcan finca. Its strapline is ‘A practical guide to the traditional house and rural life’ and that about sums it up perfectly.  This is a book to pick up and dip into just for the interest of its contents, or to scour for a possible solution to a domestic ‘situation’ – such as cleaning a chimney or dealing with a crop of olives. It’s available in English (and probably quite a few other languages by now) and I can thoroughly recommend buying a copy.

Beloved Majorcans – Guy de Forestier (La Foradada)

Here’s a book that gives a useful insight into the character of the islanders themselves. Described as ‘An outsider’s guide to social and personal relations on the isle of Majorca’, it should help you avoid making any major social gaffs and go some way to explaining greetings such as what The Boss and I call ‘the chin cock’. Guy de Forestier is a pseudonym; the book was written by the Catalan architect Carlos García Delgado, who has lived on the island since he was a child.

A Birding Tourist’s Guide to Majorca (www.birdingmajorca.com)

If you live in the Mallorcan countryside, chances are you may be curious about some of those feathered friends you’ll see around your land. This book is the perfect twitcher’s companion, explaining which birds may be seen on the island – where and when. We bought our copy (19,50 euros) from the visitor centre at S’Albufera natural park (which is well worth a visit as it has the island’s greatest diversity of birds).

El Litoral de Mallorca (geoPlaneta)

This is a complete guide to Mallorca’s coastline, illustrated with aerial photographs. The text is in castellano but even if you don’t speak the language, it’s fascinating to look at the images, which also show footpaths and some points of interest. When we first arrived we went through it page by page, identifying beaches that looked promising. Nautical sorts will also find it useful, as it includes basic information about marinas around Mallorca.

Todas las playas de Mallorca – Miquel Ángel Álvarez Alperi (La luz en papel)

If you love spending time on a beach, you have 262 to discover on Mallorca! And this book will help you find those that most fit your tastes – whether it’s a popular resort with all the facilities you could want, or a hideaway cove where you may share the sand with a gull or two. As far as I know, it’s only available in castellano, but each beach has its own page, illustrated with a photograph and annotated with symbols that are easy enough to understand.

Gardens of Mallorca – Charlotte Seeling and Carina Landau (Feierabend)

This will look good on the coffee table, but it’s also a useful book if you’re interested in gazing at gardens of a Mediterranean nature, or seeking inspiration for your own patch of paradise. It’s in three languages – English, castellano, and German – and is illustrated with lots of beautiful photographs. Useful if you want to identify the type of trees and plants that grow best on Mallorca.

Country Houses of Majorca – Barbara and René Stoeltie (Taschen)

With texts in German, English, and French, this is one to inspire the interior décor of your rural home on Mallorca. Each chapter is dedicated to a country property, with a description and photographs. Be prepared to drool a bit…

Living in Style Mallorca (teNeues)

Larger and glossier than the above book, this one earns a place on many coffee tables. It’s packed with lots of full-page photos of gorgeous properties (not all rural) and will give you plenty of ideas for decorating a home on Mallorca. Be prepared to drool quite a lot!

If you’re in Palma, it’s worth popping into the lifestyle store Rialto Living to check out the books section – which usually has a choice relating to Mallorca.

Anders – a loyal reader of Living in Rural Mallorca and also a finca owner – got in touch with me to share the list he has compiled of books about Mallorca. Whilst mine is of  books we’ve found useful and informative for practical purposes, Anders’s list comprises a broad spectrum of books about Mallorca and it’s surprising how many there are! Check the list out here – the season for reading a good book, sitting by the log fire with a glass of good Mallorcan tinto, will soon be here!

©Jan Edwards 2017

 

Royal Navy warship docks in Palma

Sometimes The Boss and I do things that seem a world away from our peaceful daily life in rural Mallorca. In recent weeks we’ve been to see singer George Benson in an outdoor concert in the superyacht marina Port Adriano; I didn’t expect to be doing that when we moved to the island.

Last Saturday we attended a gala dinner and concert at the beautiful 5-star Castell Son Claret hotel near the small village of Es Capdellà. Six young singers from the Salzburg Festival performed on the hotel’s huge terrace to an appreciative international audience; that’s something else we never expected to be able to do here.

Castell Son Claret

Huw Montague Rendall and Anita Rosati of the Young Singers of the Salzburg Festival on stage.

Drinks on a NATO warship

But last night’s experience was as remote from rural living as any I’ve had since we moved to Mallorca in 2004: I was a guest at a reception on the British warship HMS Duncan, which docked in Palma on a stopover on Monday. The ship had just led a NATO task force through one of the largest naval exercises staged in the Black Sea. HMS Duncan is the flagship for Standing Maritime Group 2 – one of two task forces for larger warships operated by NATO.

Ship's bell on HMS Duncan

Was tempted to give this one a little ring…

I must confess I hadn’t heard of HMS Duncan – not being very well informed when it comes to matters military. A few minutes’ research later and I discovered that this was in fact the seventh Royal Navy ship to be named after Adam Duncan, the 18th-century Viscount Duncan of Camperdown, who defeated the Dutch fleet in the Battle of Camperdown in 1797.

This latest incarnation of HMS Duncan is a Type 45 Destroyer, although it looked quite benign under the early evening sunshine in Palma’s port, docked opposite a cruise ship. It has a crew of around 200, led by Commander Eleanor Stack (quite a few of the ship’s senior officers, including the Logistics Officer, are women). We guests (sadly, The Boss wasn’t on the invitation list) were able to chat and mingle with officers and crew, as well as each other. Oh and there were drinks (although I didn’t spot a drop of rum) and canapés.

Surprises all around

I had no idea what to expect of this evening, never before having been on an active Royal Navy vessel. Dress code for guests was ‘smart’. I avoided anything navy blue or white and opted for a long summer dress – perfect for the warm night. Luckily common sense prevailed in the shoe department and I shunned the strappy high-heeled numbers for something flatter: ever tried walking up a naval ship’s metal gangway? It’s slippery…

Fears that I might accidentally knock a button or switch and launch something of an anti-missile nature were allayed shortly after wandering around the deck. It seemed surprisingly devoid of controls and equipment – apart from a rather impressive helicopter. But there was information in spades, as the hospitable members of the crew readily answered questions fired in their direction.

Helicopter on HMS Duncan

HMS Duncan’s impressive helicopter.

Helicopter pilot and his machine

Trying to persuade the pilot to let me inside his helicopter. Note his special pilot’s cummerbund.

Of course, security was tight – we had to provide ID papers – and a few heavily armed guards patrolled the area around the entrance to the ship. Assuming that photography wouldn’t be allowed, I’d left my faithful Nikon at home, so was surprised to see other guests avidly snapping away in all directions. I checked with a crew member that it was OK to use my phone camera and he laughed, pointing out the flags lining the hangar area: “Look, we decorated the place especially!”

HMS Duncan

Decorated for the visitors.

Duncan tartan

Not my hand on this sailor’s Duncan-tartan cummerbund!

Royal Navy

No idea what these mean, but they look impressive.

HMS Duncan

On the canvas-covered deck of HMS Duncan.

Guests at reception on HMS Duncan

Long-distance swimmer Anna Wardley (centre) was among the guests.

RN sunset ceremony

Time to lower the flag. The cruise ship passengers probably enjoyed this too.

Towards the end of the reception we watched the ship’s traditional sunset ceremony, as the flag was lowered for the night. I found it quite moving and it prompted one of those proud-to-be-British moments that have been a bit rare since the EU Referendum. It was almost time for some of the sailors to prepare for a fun night out in Magaluf.

My phone-camera photos weren’t too good but they’re a reminder of a fascinating evening on a Royal Navy warship. Can we top that experience in Mallorca? Only time will tell…

©Jan Edwards 2017

Media calling Mallorca …

My UK broadcast media links have not been completely cut as a result of our move to rural Mallorca in 2004. On a few occasions BBC local radio stations have interviewed me by phone about some topical aspect of being an expat. I hope that my years’ experience of being a radio presenter have given me a good idea of what the interviewer wants from a guest contributor. It’s always fun to be back on radio in the UK, broadcasting from our country home in Spain …

The Only Way is … a Farmer and a Goat

Mallorcan farmer at work

TV-star-in-the-making? Far too busy.

This blog has also brought a few media requests my way. Recently, someone from the production team of UK reality TV show The Only Way is Essex (popularly abbreviated to TOWIE) contacted me. They were coming to film for a couple of weeks on Mallorca. Did I know a typical Mallorcan farmer here they could film? Oh, and would I be able to locate a goat as well? The mind boggled – not surprisingly, because there was no explanation as to how these ‘locals’ would be used in the filming …

‘Auntie’ Beeb abroad

Adam Kirtley in interview mode for the BBC on Mallorca

Adam Kirtley in interview mode for the BBC on Mallorca

Our latest request for help came at short notice, when BBC News journalist Adam Kirtley arrived on Mallorca yesterday to do a story on the likely effects of Brexit on expats. Adam and I spoke by phone mid-morning yesterday and we arranged to meet outside Palma’s Sóller train railway station at 3pm. He said he’d be wearing a checked shirt and Geoff-Boycott-style hat. Despite the fact that he’d clearly mistaken me for someone who knew something about  the headgear of the former cricketer, I managed to pick him out from the crowds of sightseers emerging from the station.

Meeting expats

The Boss and I drove Adam down to Palma Nova, where we visited the Amadip Esment café and recorded some interviews. We then attended part of a meeting in the town hall in Calvià – the southwest municipality that’s home to Mallorca’s largest number of British expats.  There, British Consul General Lloyd Milen addressed an audience of Brits and listened to their concerns. Of course, there were more questions than answers – because it’s still too early to know what our home country’s eventual departure from the EU will mean for those of us who live abroad.

A bit of bureaucracy meant we couldn’t record any of the meeting itself (we didn’t have enough notice to obtain permission from the powers-that-be), but Adam was able to gain enough information for one of several reports he was compiling for BBC local radio and the World Service.

So I’m going to be on the radio briefly again in the UK, answering questions from Adam. And The Boss makes his BBC radio broadcasting debut …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating midsummer on a Mallorcan beach

On the day of the UK’s EU Referendum we did something we’d never done before – despite living on Mallorca for 12 years. Yes, of course, we voted on the in/out decision (having lived here for under 15 years we were still entitled – and had sent our postal votes several weeks ago). But we also took part in a popular tradition in Spain: la noche de San Juan, held on the eve of the feast of Saint John the Baptist.

This evening – June 23rd – is, for most, a magical celebration of midsummer: a chance to get together with friends or family, head to the beach, light a bonfire or some candles, share a picnic, and generally have fun – with a few little rituals in which to indulge (one of which involves leaping over the bonfire’s flames).

People starting to gather on Playa de Muro for San Juan

People starting to gather on Playa de Muro for San Juan

We chose to celebrate San Juan at a favourite beach restaurant: Ponderosa Beach on Playa de Muro, in the north of Mallorca, which – like several beach eateries – was offering something special. For that night they had two invited chefs – Ariadna Salvador and Pau Navarro – who created two tasting menus (one for vegetarians), with the option of matched wines. There was live music from the local Masé Jara Llinàs Trio and, following that, music was under the control of popular DJ Fernando Gullón.

A relaxed beach setting for summer dining

A relaxed beach setting for summer dining

It’s a place we’ve been to many times during the day for lunch, but this was our first time for dinner (so two firsts for that night then). We enjoyed a leisurely meal, with our toes buried in the sand beneath our table, as we gazed out at the lights around the Bay of Alcúdia and the people who’d brought their own food and drink to eat on the sands in front of Ponderosa Beach, in the light of bonfires and candles.

Having eaten a good dinner of several courses, we weren’t quite up to leaping over any bonfires, but did watch a party of people egging each other on to jump over the flames. One guy (who’d clearly forgotten his swimwear for the obligatory post-midnight dip) bravely – or foolishly – did his leap in the buff. We heard no screams so assume he survived intact …

DSC_9940

We headed home late, happy and relaxed, having felt the magic of this celebration of summer.

 

 

 

Five tips for home-in-the-sun owners hosting house guests

“Have you ever thought about running a little B&B?” It’s a question we’ve been asked several times since we moved to rural Mallorca. Our small finca really isn’t large enough for such an enterprise and, in any event, we have neither the inclination nor the energy to do so. So the answer is always an emphatic “no”.

That’s not to say we don’t have people staying with us for their holidays. These occasions are the closest we’ll ever get to running a bed and breakfast establishment, although our guests are always known to us – friends or family members – and we enjoy them being with us.

Having visitors to stay is a popular summer topic of conversation among expats and I’ve heard some horror stories. One friend told me just last week that she would now accommodate only those to whom she’d given birth; one can only wonder what experience led to that decision …

We’re now in our 13th summer here – every one of which has been peppered with guest stays. I pass on the following tips in the hope they’ll be useful if you too open your home-in-the-sun to house guests:

  • Allow at least a week between one lot of visitors leaving and more arriving. You’ll need to shoehorn any neglected activities – work, domestic duties, social life, exercise etc – into the gap between visits and these things will always take longer than expected.
  • If budget permits, using a local laundry service for bedding and towels will save time and effort (summers are too hot for ironing board marathons).
  • Visitors from cooler and wetter climes are often so thrilled to see that big yellow thing in the sky that caution is cast to the breeze and they end up with a dose of sunburn. Make sure they keep the sunscreen topped up and wear a hat. And nag a bit, if necessary.
  • If your visitors are flying with cabin bags only, they will probably appreciate your offer to buy locally any toiletries they may need during their stay. This saves them luggage space and the effort of finding airline-size-compliant potions and lotions.
  • To save any tug-of-war-over-the-bill moments when eating or drinking out with friends, consider having a kitty to which all parties contribute equally at the start of the stay, and top up as necessary. It’s fairer, helps with budgeting, and does avoid those awkward whose-turn-is-it? moments when the bill arrives.
And here's a kitty of another variety. Pip loves having people come to stay ... more fuss for her!

And here’s a kitty of another variety. Pip loves having people come to stay … more fuss for her!

If you have any tips relating to having house guests, please feel free to share: it’s only another three weeks before we’ll be back in hosting mode …

 

Jan Edwards©June 2016