JenSop: The Singing Traveler!

Idealist. Dreamer. Singer. Explorer.


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Palma de Mallorca, Spain

Earlier this month, MiloŇ° and I headed to Palma de Mallorca, a Spanish island in the Mediterranean Sea.  We’d been meaning to go for the past few years now, but never were able to make it work.  After hearing such wonderful things about this historically rich and lovely city – we had to see if for ourselves.  We have friends/colleagues who spend part of each winter in Palma, and we wanted to make sure our visit overlapped with their time there as well.

(A big thanks to Barbara, Marco, Robert, and Chiara for sharing your time with us while we were in Palma! We had such a splendid time!)

Here’s a brief summary of our time in Palma de Mallorca and some of the major sites we experienced.  Some restaurant reviews, too!

First – a handy map to show us where to find Palma – and just because I love maps! ūüôā

Mallorca is the largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands, and recorded history of the island officially dates from the year of 123 BC, when it became part of the Roman Empire.  In the 6th century, it was controlled by the Byzantine Empire, and later it was under Moorish rule.  It then came under the Crown of Aragon, and throughout the ages, it had quite the history of falling victim to piracy.  Such a varied background lends itself to a city with beautifully diverse architecture and rich culture.  The old town is made up of narrow streets, full of cafes and shops.  The old private homes have ornate inner courtyards, and the majestic cathedral lies along the town’s imposing city walls.

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(Scroll to the bottom for restaurant reviews!)

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Oddly, flights from Zagreb to Palma are limited, and of course require a layover.   Our only choice that did not involve an overnight layover (that’s right!), was an early morning flight.

We arrived in Palma in the afternoon, and were pleased to see our home for four nights – an airy loft in the center of the old town.  Here’s a view out of the window:

Our street in Palma

On our first night, we met up with Barbara and Marco, and their daughter Chiara.  They took us on a short walking tour of part of the city, culminating with a visit to Bar Abaco – one of the city’s most famous bars.  It’s bedecked in elaborate decor, while standard classical music hits play in the background, and a roaring fire keeps guests warm.  A visit to Abaco is a must-do for all new tourists in Palma.  We had a nice time enjoying our daiquiris and great conversation.

Bar Abaco

The next day, we wandered the town and explored part of the city and its fortress walls. It was an official holiday -Balearics Day.  As a result, there were craft and food tents all along the city.   We also took a long walk along the sprawling marina.  Many shops and restaurants were closed for the holiday, so we were lucky to find a well-reviewed restaurant that was still open that night. Here are some photo highlights from our day:

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On the next day, we started out with a short walk to the marina, then met up with Barbara, Marco, Chiara, and Robert at a coffee shop along the Passeig del Born. That was followed by a walk along the old streets, finishing at the Pla√ßa d’Espanya.  We had a very late lunch, as our dinner was booked for later that night.  In this part of the world, it’s customary to eat a late lunch, as well as a very late dinner.  Many restaurants close between 4:30 and 8:30pm each day.

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On our third full day in Palma, the plan was to meet up again with Barbara, Marco, Chiara, and Robert by the fish market.  Here we were to pay a visit to the oyster bar for fresh oysters and champagne.  It was my first time trying oysters, and I admit that I was a bit apprehensive at first.  However, I’m always willing to try new things – and it was Robert’s first time trying oysters too, so I wasn’t alone in being a newbie.  MiloŇ°’ stomach was a little iffy that morning, so he passed on the oysters.  I’m definitely glad I tried them, but I don’t think I’ll be having another one soon.  I think perhaps they’re an acquired taste.

After oysters, we went for a walk along the city walls.  We said good-bye to Robert at the edge of the city, and continued walking along the seaside with Barbara, Marco, and Chiara all the way to the next village in the El Molinar area.  It was a lovely sunny day, and after saying good-bye to our friends, we had lunch in the village.

When we finished our lunch, we walked back to the apartment and freshened up.  We grabbed a taxi up to Bellver Castle, and hiked down the hillside after exploring.   At just over 700 years old, this castle is definitely worth a visit!  MiloŇ° and I have seen many castles throughout all of our travels, but this one was certainly a highlight.  Not only does a visit here offer amazing views of the city below, but the castle is extremely well maintained, with exhibits within the different rooms along its circular courtyard, providing some education along the way.   Entry into the castle is 4‚ā¨  per person, and our taxi ride was about 10‚ā¨.  Tickets are available at the far side of the castle.  If you’d like to hike down afterwards, there is a well-kept stairway that leads down the entire hillside right across from the castle entrance, with a beautiful church about half way down.  On our way back to the old town, we stopped for a drink at one of the restaurant bars along the marina.  The evening was getting cool, and we headed back to the apartment to pack for our early morning flight back to Croatia.

Here are some photos from our third full day in Palma:

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DINING HIGHLIGHTS

We had some excellent meals while in Palma – you can certainly eat well in this city.  Here’s a look at our dining experiences:

Cafe Murada

We had lunch here on our first full day in Palma.  The restaurant is built into the edge of the city walls.  We snagged the only non-reserved table left in the place.  Service was excellent, and the food was just as good.  We started with a pear and goat cheese salad that was beyond delicious.  We shared it, but after tasting it, we wished we had ordered one for each of us!  We also shared a pizza and some grilled scampi.  Overall a wonderful meal at a restaurant we would love to revisit!

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Restaurante Peix Vermell

We were very lucky to find this restaurant when so many others were closed for the holiday.  It had a great rating on Trip Advisor, and we  were so glad it was open!  We shared another goat cheese salad, which was very good. (Although the one at Cafe Murada was even better!)  MiloŇ° had steak, and I had pasta with clams and garlic. The server made a fantastic wine recommendation, too.   The wine glasses were huge!  The overall service was top notch. Our server spoke several languages – not just English for me, but Croatian for MiloŇ°! Very impressive.  We’d recommend this place to anyone!

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Cappucino Cafe 

This seems to be a high end chain located around the city.  We stopped at the Palau March location, along the city walls near the cathedral.  They are open during the siesta afternoon hours, serving food and beverages.  I wasn’t too hungry, so I just had dessert (banana and caramel pie), while MiloŇ° had a chicken with quinoa risotto.  He raved about it – really excellent.  Plus, in all honesty, the ambience and setting are fantastic.

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Asador Bolixe Cocina Esencial

This steakhouse is a little bit of a walk outside the center of the old town, but it was rated highly on Trip Advisor, so we made a reservation.  Service was good, but our server didn’t seem to speak English well, so it was lucky that MiloŇ° speaks some Spanish.  MiloŇ° had steak, and I had the lamb chops.  Even though the chops had a good grill flavor, they were a bit gristle-y.  Not a poor meal, but our others were so great, that this paled a bit in comparison.

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Trattoria A Tarantella

This was the Italian restaurant where we ate in the little village just past Palma proper. We shared a mixed salad to start the meal – it was hearty and worthy of sharing.  We each had a pasta entree – mine was an excellent spaghetti aglio e oglio: simple, tasty, and a bit spicy.  MiloŇ° had spaghetti with scampi.  We ate out on the outdoor terrace in the sunshine.  A nice place to eat!

We had a wonderful time in Palma, and would love to return!  (And other cities in Spain are also on the list!)


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A Day in Milan, Italy

We just got back from a very short trip to Milan, Italy.  Milos had an interview about forty kilometers outside of the city, but we decided we HAD to book an extra night in town, so we could actually see some of Milan; even if it was only for a day.  (We had to make it worth that five hour drive to get there!)

 

Here are some of the top things to see when you’re in Milan with limited time, AND some helpful tips to help you with your own trip!

 

But first, some pics from the drive! ¬†As I mentioned above, it was about a five hour drive (longer with stops) from Milos’ hometown in Croatia to Milan. ¬†We essentially headed straight west, so for most of the time, we had the Alps rising up majestically to our right side. ¬†And if you’ve seen some of my past blog posts, you’ll remember that I am fascinated with these mountains! ¬†(Click on the pics to see them enlarged.)

 

Anyway, fast forward a couple days, the interview is over, and we have one day to explore Milan.  What did we do?

 

Milan CathedralThe Duomo (The Cathedral)

If you’re going to Milan, a visit to the cathedral is a must. ¬†It’s the largest in Italy, and fifth largest in the world; it took nearly 600 years to complete! ¬†What struck me so about the facade of the cathedral was its marble finish, lending a most beautiful look of pastel color variations, as if an artist’s chalk sketching had been realized and brought to life. ¬†Inside, it is expansive and impressive, with little details hidden all throughout its nooks and crannies.

But unlike so many other cathedrals in Europe, this one is NOT free. ¬†You need a ticket. ¬†For everything. ¬†But here’s a little hint – instead of getting in the long ticket line immediately next to the cathedral, head on over to the museum to the RIGHT of the cathedral (when you’re standing in the square looking at the front of the cathedral.) ¬†They also sell cathedral tickets, and we only had to wait behind two people in line, as opposed to about 50 people in line at the ticket booth. ¬†Entry into the cathedral is inexpensive (2 euro at the time of this posting) – going up to the rooftops is a bit more pricey (8 euro for the stairs, more for the elevator. ¬†Make sure you’re in shape if you attempt the stairs.) ¬†But going up to the top¬†was worth it. ¬†You can see all of Milan from up there and on your way along the side of the cathedral, before reaching the very top, you’ll be able to take in some of the amazing architecture this structure has to offer.

*One thing that I found different here than so many other cathedrals I’ve visited in Europe – the heavy military presence. ¬†There were soldiers guarding the area with machine guns and everyone entering was scanned with metal detectors. ¬†(I’m used to Vienna, where you just wander in to the cathedral at your own whim.)

For additional history on the cathedral, CLICK HERE to visit its official site.

 

 

 

Approaching the cathedral…

 

 

 

Then once inside, amazing sites await you….

 

Climbing to the roof…

 

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

This is one of the world’s oldest shopping malls, four stories tall, and covered by an impressive glass arched ceiling. ¬†It’s just lovely to walk through! There are not only shops, but restaurants and bars as well – some of which are located along the upper sides of the building, with balconies overlooking the cathedral. ¬†The shops inside are mostly high-end designers (although there are more economical options along the outside), but it still makes for an enjoyable time, even if you’re just wandering through.

 

La Scala

La Scala (Teatro alla Scala – The world’s most famous opera house!)

Well, you know, I couldn’t go to Milan without at least seeing La Scala! ¬†I’d never forgive myself for not visiting the world’s most famous opera house! Founded over 200 years ago, the greatest voices of the opera world have performed on its¬†stage, and it has had its fair share of controversy due to the booing and heckling of the loggionisti. ¬†Some singers even refuse to sing here for that very reason. Granted we didn’t have enough time to go inside, but just to be here was super cool!

 

 

We also spent a lot of time just walking around. ¬†We grabbed some pizza and bruschetta for a late lunch / early dinner at a little place called Cafe de Ville, just a bit up from the Duomo. ¬†We passed lots of places, but we always¬†check Trip Advisor first, as we don’t want to wander into a tourist trap, rip-off, or disappointment. ¬†This place got a very good rating, so we decided to stop. ¬†The food was good and so was the service. ¬†If you want to get into one of the highly rated top restaurants in the city, ¬†you need to reserve FAR in advance.

 

In the early evening, we decided to visit the Da Vinci Museum on the far side of the Galleria. ¬†Unfortunately, photography was not allowed. ¬†ūüė¶ ¬†Inside were all kinds of cool models of Da Vinci’s mechanical inventions. ¬†There were also interactive screens that let you see how many of the creations worked. ¬†It was really fascinating.

Later on, for dessert, we tried out a little shop called Amorino Gelateria.  They have delicious gelato, but also specialize in crepes and waffles.  Not only was it SO GOOD, but if you order your gelato in a cone, they scoop it out in the shape of a flower!  LOVE!  I had mango and strawberry, while Milos got chocolate and hazelnut.

 

We finished the night with a nice glass of wine in a busy cafe.

Here are some more photos from our day in Milan…

 

 

A few overall tips and hints…

  1. ¬†Don’t forget to buy your cathedral tickets next door at the museum – save lots of time!
  2. If you’re driving in the city, or anywhere in this region, be… prepared. ¬†No one seems to obey traffic laws, and there’s a bit of anything-goes type of chaos. ¬†No one uses turn signals and if it’s dark and raining, who needs headlights?! ¬†Consider yourself warned.
  3. If you want a reservation at a popular restaurant, book it way in advance.
  4. Along those lines, if you want to see DaVinci’s Last Supper, you need to reserve your spot¬†weeks in advance.
  5. I used the new international¬†data roaming plan from Verizon to enable Google maps when we were driving to and from Milan, but also during the day we decided to explore the city.(My smartphone is still hooked up to an American number.) It was really helpful – not cheap, but not horribly expensive – I’d say it’s a good option to use once in awhile when you really need it. ¬†I’ll write a separate blog on that topic, coming soon!