Spain Extravaganza – Next Stop, Majorca

Finally made it to the Balearic Islands in Spain. We landed at the Majorca (also spelt Mallorca) airport and took the bus in to Palma de Mallorca. Our hotel, the TRYP Bellver, was in the port area. The port area is a long strip of hotels, restaurants, cafés and clubs along the marina with the big yachts, which is a 20 minute walk to the old town (at least it is from our hotel, depends where you are on the strip) and a 10 minute bus ride to the beach. Majorca is beautiful! The blue waters of the Mediterranean, green vineyards and mountains make it a gorgeous place plus the clear blue skies and 30 degree temperature certainly helps.

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First day was a beach day at Playa Major. It is a 10 minute bus ride from the port. The beach is in an inlet surrounded by cliffs and hotels. There are many chairs available to rent with umbrellas or you can choose to lay in the sand. We chose beach chairs, it was 12 euros for 2 chairs and an umbrella for the day. The water is amazing, clear, calm and warm. Not the best place if you want to surf or boogie board, but a perfect place for a relaxing day at the beach.

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The next day we took the hop on/hop off tourist bus around Palma. Sadly the earphones with the commentary only worked about 30% of the time but the tour itself was good. We only got off at 2 stops, the old town and Bellver Castle. The old town starts at the palace and cathedral which look over the port and continues for many blocks From miles away you can see the cathedral as it is raised up on a hill. There is a walk along the wall near the cathedral by the maritime park that can be accessed by going up to the cathedral or from a few of the streets through the old town or maritime park. The cathedral itself is impressive with some interesting statues, carvings and of course religious artwork. Wandering through the winding streets of the old town can feel like a maze but is a great way to spend a few hours or for an evening out. Plus there are many cafés or ice cream/gelato shops to stop at for a drink or snack along the way where you can people watch and relax. A wide boulevard parallels the old town and is a nice walk, again with shops, cafés and restaurants plus fountains and trees. The area is beautiful with all of the old Spanish architecture.

Bellver Castle is on the edge of town up a hill. There are great views over Palma and the surrounding countryside from up on the ramparts. The castle was used by the Majorcan royalty until the late 1300s when they lost independence. The palace then became a jail off and on over the years before becoming a tourist attraction. Inside the castle there is an exhibition of the famous political prisoners held in the castle when it was used as a jail. The views are the best reason to stop at the castle, you can see for miles in every direction showing the various landscapes in the Palma area.

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The next two days we did tours of the island. On the first day trip we went to Formentor, Alcudia and Pollenca. In the old town of Alcudia near the old wall there is a huge market selling everything from leather goods to souvenirs to food. It surrounds the town and continues down the Main Street. The town itself is a medieval Spanish town but it is hard to really explore much as the market seems to take over every area making it very crowded. Definitely go down some smaller side streets to escape the crowds and see more of the town. Formentor is a beach area with a narrow stretch of beach along a clear stretch of sea. The water felt lovely after the hot crowds of Alcudia. We spent the afternoon eating the lunch we bought at the market and enjoying the sun and sea. Next was a boat trip to Pollenca, which is a popular place for British tourists, and then back on the bus to head back to Palma for another evening on a patio with tapas and sangria.

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Our next day trip was an island tour to Calobra and Soller.  First stop was at a leather factory near Inca which had nice shoes and bags but was just a tourist shopping stop. Next we went to Santuari de Lluc, a religious pilgrim area with a beautiful church and grounds plus sectioned off rooms for pilgrims and travellers to stay in. The black Madonna statue was said to be found in the area and is now a relic in the church, people line up to see it and pray. We then took a winding narrow road through the Tramuntana mountains toward Calobra cove where we stopped for lunch and a swim in the cove at the mouth of Torrented de Parells. As Majorca does not have rivers, a torrent is where all of the rain water collects and then rushes down to the sea. The area is lovely with a few restaurants and two coves to swim in, one in the port, the other at the mouth of the torrent which is a 10 minute walk from the port along the sea and through two caves. One warning, there are no facilities at the cove by the torrent so change or use bathrooms in the port before heading over. We ended up changing on the beach behind towels, very awkward! Also, the beach is rocky so bring swim shoes if you can, something I sadly forgot and my feet paid the price. We then took a nice boat ride, about 45 minutes, to the port of Soller, along the cliffs, where we took an old tram to Soller to catch the old wooden electrical train back to Palma through the Tramuntana mountain range. The train was built in the early 20th century. It is a lovely trip with beautiful scenery, plus taking the old train is a great experience in itself.

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Sad to leave this beautiful place but it is one I hope to make it back to. Still so much to see, and I definitely could use some more beach and sea time!

 

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Spain Extravaganza – First Stop, Barcelona

Another Europe trip this year, very exciting! Back to the Mediterranean again but in the Western Mediterranean this time to the East coast of Spain. I met up with a friend in Toronto and we flew to Barcelona, our first stop. I was here once before in November 2007, it is such a beautiful city I was happy to return. Although it was nice when I came in November, I love the hot weather so I like the temperature in August much better, even if it has been a bit cloudy.

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Gaudi’s house in Park Guell.

We decided to stay at a hotel near La Sagrada Familia beside Hospital de la Sta. Creu i Sant Pau, an old hospital that looks more like a moorish palace than a hospital with its domes and mosaics. The area is convenient to get anywhere in the city as there are multiple metro and bus stops nearby. We walked to La Sagrada Familia which is the basilica designed by Gaudi that has been under construction for over 100 years and is still not finished. I recently read an article stating it would finally be completed in about 12 years. It is an awesome structure with soaring towers and a unique design. Everywhere you look there is another interesting, and often unexpected, aspect to the exterior, including bunches of grapes at the top of one of the spires created using a mosaic design or the tree which appears to be a Christmas tree over the main entrance. To see all of the intricacies of the design it would take a lot more than just one visit.

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Sadly the tickets were sold out for the day so we only saw the outside. We decided to head for the old centre and walked toward the Arc de Triomf. It is a beautiful walk from La Sagrada Familia along a wide boulevard with shops and cafés. We walked under the Arc and strolled along a wide path lined with trees between two green spaces. There were street performers and locals wandering around or sitting on the grass.

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We continued on towards the sea and walked along the water to La Rambla. We spent the rest of the day and evening wandering around La Rambla and Barri Gotic. There were street vendors and performers, shops, restaurants and cafés. It was a long walk from our hotel so we decided to stop for a sangria and watch the world go by.

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At the end of La Rambla we stopped for tapas, one of my favourite things to eat in Spain. I love picking a bunch of small dishes to try and it is a great way to sample the cuisine. We’re moved on to another tapas place back down La Rambla before heading back to the hotel on the metro. It was amazing how busy the area was even though it was a weekday.

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The next day we went to Park Guell which is a huge park with great views of the city and where you can escape the busy streets and relax. It was designed by Gaudi. The park is free except for Gaudi’s house (5 euros)  and the architectural area (8 euros) which contains the most famous and colourful of Gaudi’s designs in the park.

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View of Park Guell architecture area and Gaudi’s house.

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Spiral columns along a path in the architectural area.

We spent so much time in the park that all we had time for was lunch at a restaurant near La Sagrada Familia before heading to the airport. Next stop Majorca!

Lounging in the Shuswap

At the end of my Rocky Mountain road trip (see previous post) I arrived at Mara Lake in the Shuswap to spend some time relaxing in the sun. What better place than at a cabin (cottage for you Easterners) at Mara Lake which is surrounded by mountains and where the weather is almost always perfect.

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I have been coming to this area for years and it never disappoints. This year has been a particularly fabulous summer all over Western Canada and the Shuswap was the same. Clear blue skies and sunny hot weather are the norm in the summer in the Shuswap and this year was no exception (my coldest day while I was there was 27 degrees). An ideal place to go within a beautiful half day drive from Calgary. I started out with dinner at Moose Mulligans where there is a great patio looking out over the Sicamous narrows. There is a dock if you would rather boat over than drive. It is a great place to spend an afternoon or evening with food and drinks enjoying the nice weather and watching the boats go by.

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This beautiful area has so much to offer. From Mara Lake by car there are easy day trips to Salmon Arm, Enderby, Vernon, Kelowna and to the many wineries in the area. By boat the entire Shuswap is available to explore through the many lakes which are all accessible by heading through the narrows in Sicamous. Whether you go by boat or car, the beauty of the area is apparent everywhere you look. I went to Vernon one day for lunch and the drive itself was worth the trip. Vernon is great too as it has lakes, wineries, a ski hill (good for hikes in the summer) and lots of restaurants to choose from.

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I also spent some time in Salmon Arm. One of my favourite things to do there is to have lunch at the Shuswap Pie Company. Warning, they are closed on Sundays so plan accordingly. The meat pies and the dessert pies are both amazing! My personal favourite is the raspberry rhubarb pie, absolutely delicious.  My second favourite thing to do there is to go to DeMille’s farmers market. They have great fruits and vegetables as well as baked goods, organic meats, sauces, cheeses etc. I took my nieces for a visit so they could see the farm animals outside the market, which they loved.

There are some great walks in Salmon Arm down by the water. The pier area overlooking the marina and the lake is nice with lots of benches to hang out on and enjoy a coffee or to sit and read. The park beside the pier has picnic tables and benches as well. From the park you can continue to walk along the path, but you have to walk through the parking lot to get to the path on the other side.

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Another nice place to walk around is Enderby. There is a river walk that is lovely and there are some nice cafes to stop in at, my favourite is Cliffs on the highway through town. Starting in Enderby you can float down the river in a tube, on an air mattress or in a raft, it looks like fun although I haven’t done them yet. But be warned, the river is slow moving and it can apparently take up to 12 hours to get to the next town so plan carefully where you want to get out of the river.

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Although Sicamous is a smaller centre it is a nice place to stay or at least worth a visit, especially for the public beach area. The beach has a swim area as well as a kids park and a path to walk along plus there is a public boat launch. If you like trains or boats it is a great spot to watch the trains going over the bridge or the boats going under the bridge. Sicamous is the houseboat capital of Canada and there is a regular stream of houseboats going in and out of the narrows past the beach. The houseboats range from very basic to quite fancy, loaded with slides, sea doos or even speedboats. All around the Shuswap are areas for the houseboats to dock for the day or the night, there are even floating stores and gas stations.

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Another nice walk is to the waterfall near Sicamous. There is a sign off highway 97A directing you to the parking area. Unfortunately the area was flooded and is currently under repair so instead of a continuous walk the walk is split into two, one down the creek and the other up to the waterfall area. It is a short, easy hike so almost anyone can do it (I went with two 3 year olds and they managed just fine), although there are some stairs on the waterfall side. Once you are at the waterfall it is very beautiful and peaceful.

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Despite the many lovely things to see, I spent most of my time on the beach near the cabin or on the boat on Mara Lake. It was wonderfully relaxing to float around the lake, taking a refreshing dip in the water when I got too hot. The lake isn’t the warmest lake as it is mountain-fed, but by mid-July it is usually nice and this year it was even quite warm because of the hot weather this summer. Plus, you can’t beat the scenery!

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Rocky Mountain Road Trip

When I was a child summer always involved a road trip through the mountains pulling the trailer to the interior of British Columbia to spend 2 weeks in the Okanagan or Shuswap enjoying the hot weather, mountains and lakes. I continue to take this trip every year, although now it is usually only as far as the Shuswap. No matter how many times I do this trip, the scenery still awes me.

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As I have for the past number of years, this year I am heading to Mara Lake in the Shuswap. Starting from Calgary on a clear day you can see the mountains in the distance the entire way. Fortunately for me I set out with the sun shining and only fluffy white clouds in the sky. The mountains look lovely from afar but it isn’t until you pass Kananaskis that you really appreciate their size. Once arriving in the mountains every turn offers another amazing view. One of my favourites is when you first see Castle Mountain.

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There are many places to stop along the way, Canmore, Banff, Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and many other lakes, rivers and hiking trails. Sometimes I stop along the way but this time I didn’t stop until the spiral tunnels which is an historic site detailing how the railway route to navigate the steep passes approaching Golden changed over time. The information is interesting and the views stunning.

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Next stop was Golden. The town is surrounded by mountains and has a great ski hill, Kicking Horse, but I rarely stop there except for a rest stop and food.

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If I don’t stop for food in Golden I always stop in Revelstoke at Mainstreet Cafe for their baked goods, sandwiches or soup, or, if I’m really lucky and drive through on the right day, their amazing perogies and sausage. Sadly this time I wasn’t able to stop there, the timing didn’t work. So aside from a quick stop in Golden I drove straight through to Sicamous. But I still managed to snap a few pictures of beautiful Three Valley Gap on the way through.

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After a drive of approximately 45 minutes I arrived in Sicamous to end my road trip with a delicious dinner at Moose Mulligans pub on the Sicamous Narrows.

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Although I have been to many beautiful places in the world, the drive through the Canadian Rockies will always be on my list of the most amazing places to see in the world and an essential part of my summer.