Day 0 – The Night Before
Welcome to Birmingham International Airport Car Park. Auto number plate recognition in operation for pre-booked customers, the sign read.
Emmy waited. The barrier did not move.
She was, of course, a pre-booked customer. Emmy booked everything as far in advance as humanly possible. And yes, her car was filthy – her pre-trip itinerary had lacked space for a valet – but surely the machine could still make out the number plate?
With a sigh, she pressed the Help button, hoping this was the entirety of her holiday hiccup quota.
A short while later, she walked into the Ibis airport hotel to a cheerful welcome. The place was heaving and she glanced into the restaurant. Best described as ‘functional’, its large ground-floor windows were imposed upon by a multi-story car park. The diners wore uninspired faces and exuded the air of being rushed through their meal so the next chunk of the queue could be seated. Emmy nodded to herself, buoyed that her decision to bring a picnic rather than take dinner in the hotel was the right one.
She let herself into her room on the second floor and was pleasantly surprised by its size. She had twin beds to herself, a clean en-suite pod with a spacious shower, and a desk at which she could eat. Basic and convenient – everything she needed for that night, as the real indulgence would begin when she reached her destination.
She showered, noting that nothing leaked – a vigilance of Vernon’s reflecting his detestation of bad design, and one that she had inadvertently adopted – and opened her cool bag to discover that part of her pack-up remained in Leamington Spa. An emergency stride to M&S Food in the terminal, which was well-stocked despite it being 9pm on a Sunday evening, solved the problem and she was soon spreading Marmite on naan bread to the dulcet tones of a BBC Four documentary on space volcanoes. Gazing onto the concrete yard in front of her window, the muggy grey skies of British summer overhead, her chest fluttered. This minibreak with her mother, who was at the time in similar surroundings at East Midlands Airport, had all the makings of a perfect elixir at that present time. Soothing seawater, balmy evenings of people-watching, elegant Mediterranean scenery and – above all – quality time with Mum. She had an odd feeling of disbelief that it was happening, and an overwhelming anxiety that something might go wrong. To this end, she called down to reception to request a wake-up call for 3.45am – best not to rely solely on the alarm of her aging phone.
Day 1 – Arrival
After a short but sweet sleep, she was woken by a friendly voice on the hotel telephone and bounced into the shower, excitement bubbling. Bubbles multiplied when she skipped into the warm dawn, the airport already a busy hub at 4.30am, and a taxi passed pumping ‘La Bamba’ from its windows. She grinned at the driver, grateful for his valiant contribution to the holiday mood.
The Express Security pass proved to be very much worth its £3.75 advanced-purchase fee, as Emmy was ushered past the hoards through a deserted lane and cleared the checks within minutes.
The departure lounge was bursting, but her habit for earliness awarded her just enough time to fulfil her designated tasks – she was to obtain shampoo and conditioner whilst her mother was responsible for sun lotion and shower gel. The queue for Boots looped around the shop and half way through the building. After waiting for another age to purchase an apple and a bottle of water from a café, it was time to head to the gate. Priority Boarding, purchased to guarantee her small case would travel in the cabin, was a disappointing miss-sell on Monarch Airlines’ behalf. Emmy and a handful of other passengers stepped forward at the call for Priority customers, only to board a bus subsequently crammed with the rest of them, to an aircraft that seemed to be parked as far as possible from the gate. Still, her back-up weapon of resolute determination secured her the position of second person on the plane, luggage parked exactly above her head. Texts between her and her mother confirmed that both were on time, both seated comfortably, and both feeling incredibly fortunate that this was all happening.
This is living, thought Emmy as the wings tilted, the wheels folded and the clouds parted.
“Over-eighteens and those without children only!” shouted the Palma airport official, holding a stern arm in the direction of a peaceful area sporting efficient facial recognition passport machines.
Perfect, Emmy whispered with delight as she parted with the chaotic rabble of families and breezed through Immigration. Half an hour later, mother and daughter were zipping through the sun-drenched streets in the hands of a lively taxi driver, haven chosen the 20-minute drive over the 45-minute bus journey. Every tick on the meter symbolised their 3-day minibreak growing shorter, affirming that their choice was worth the 21€ fare over the 5€ bus ticket.
They were given an amicable welcome by the Hotel Almudaina, luxurious and tranquil despite its premier position on a cosmopolitan street. Their luggage was stowed safely until check-in time and they were invited to use the bathroom facilities to change. Crumpled t-shirts were swapped for sundresses, straw hats were assembled, and the pair stepped out of the airy lobby onto the bustling pavement. By pure chance given that they had not yet bothered to consult a map in their giddiness, the ladies stumbled upon one of the original branches of Cappuccino café – a small chain born out of Mallorca – its vine-adorned terrace overlooking a square with the ocean dazzling in the background. Emmy’s parents had frequented this place during their visit a few years previous. It provided the perfect opportunity to devour a quick lunch before their exploring began, so they were seated and a photo of Emmy was sent to her father, who apparently used to comment that he wished he could bring her to that very spot. Emmy thoroughly enjoyed bright, juicy fruit coated in thick natural yoghurt whilst her mother found the simple flavour combination in her tuna sandwich – fish and Mediterranean vegetables, no overpowering mayonnaise – divine.
Their early flights permitted a decent chunk of time for assessing the lay of the land on their arrival day, so after lunch they made a beeline for the coastline and headed off on a 5-kilometre stroll to Cituat Jardi, a quieter beach than those closer to town. Emmy had read about the place beforehand and this was chiefly a reconnaissance mission to establish whether it would be worth visiting later in the holiday, armed with swimwear. The location did indeed seem more peaceful than the town beaches, yet still boasted a variety of eateries and facilities such as sunbed hire and public lavatories. They took a seat under a parasol in a cheerful beach café and allowed some delicious sherbet-spiked lemon sorbet to cool them down.
Arriving back in the main town, there remained time for a snack of luscious local fruit under the shade of a tree in one of Palma’s many quaint squares before Emmy darted off to the Tourist Information office to firm up the next day’s plans, and to purchase blister plasters from la farmacia for her mother. It was a running joke between the two that, whilst appreciating a burst of hot weather now and then, they did love autumn because of the welcome exchange of skin-slicing strappy footwear for sturdy boots. They then retired to the hotel to get ready for an exploration of Palma by night.
Upon entering their room – large, bright and cool – Emmy was disappointed at the lack of balcony as she felt sure she had booked a Superior room. Her mother seemed nonplussed and pointed out that this room was perfectly adequate, but Emmy – who had not inherited much of her mother’s easy-going attitude – hotfooted it down to reception.
It transpired that the mistake was in fact a mixture of the hotel not picking up on Emmy’s request for Superior, and Emmy not checking her booking confirmation thoroughly – so no-one was to blame and this Standard Double room was the only one available. The staff were wonderfully helpful and offered to swap them to a Superior should one become available on the following night, but Emmy refused – Mum was right, their current room offered ample comfort. They would come to agree, at the end of a holiday during which they spent a minimal amount of time in the hotel, that paying extra for a balcony would have been wholly uneconomical.
Once showered and wearing the type of clothing that hangs sadly in one’s wardrobe all year round, the stubborn UK climate deeming it impractical, it seemed only natural that they should toast the beginning of the holiday with an aperitif at Sky Bar. This was Hotel Almudaina’s intimate rooftop terrace with views over the glorious Cathedral, countless haphazardly pretty pale buildings, and the azure ocean. The best seats in the house – right next to the glass half-wall – were reserved for dinner later, but they bagged a prime spot just for one drink.
Afterwards they ate a simple yet tasty meal in a small restaurant in the Old Town – chosen based on it being one that was populated with other diners, given that there was an odd quietness to the evening, with many restaurants closed on Mondays. A staple routine for Emmy and her mother, dating from a minibreak in Nice 6 years previous, was to make the most of the wonderful continental tradition of late-night dessert cafés – something Emmy yearned Britain to adopt. They found a suitable establishment, far livelier than the restaurant they had been in. Every table was taken so they ended up on a stone bench on the main boulevard. Despite the unglamorous location the ice cream was heavenly – both double-scoop waffle cones adorned with Yogurette flavour, Emmy’s topped with Dulce de Leche whilst her mother went for cherry. The tangy Yogurette, swirled with rich berry streaks, was to become a firm favourite and proceeded to be the consistent choice for both parties during their visits over the next two nights, using the other scoop to sample a variety of the other colourful offerings.
And so they sat in a welcome breeze facing a fountain that had been turned off for the night, feeling every bit contented with their lot.
Day 2 – Over the Mountains and Out to Sea
That moment of confusion over who and where you are yielded joyous results for Emmy when she awoke early the next morning. The sound-proofing of the hotel windows and efficient air conditioning had granted a most rejuvenating sleep. They were soon sashaying down the white marble staircase and into the breakfast room, sun hats in hands, ready to fuel up and embark upon their day trip.
Over a selection of fresh fruit, cold meat and crusty bread they consulted Emmy’s faithful notebook, in which she had written timetables for buses, trains and trams. The aim of the day was to visit Sóller, a nearby town reachable by vintage train (Ferrocarril de Sóller) through the mountains, and continue to Port de Sóller, its neighbouring seaside village. During her research, Emmy had established that the standard tourist trail dictated catching the train from Palma to Sóller and then the old tram from Sóller to the Port. The first leg of the journey on the train took one hour, and the tram a further 30 minutes. Most guides then advised passengers to catch the more direct bus back to Palma – either the very quick 35-minute shuttle through the tunnels, or the more scenic hour-long journey winding along mountain roads.
Naturally, Emmy had devised a plan to avoid the crowds as far as possible, given her severe aversion to busy places, tourists and generally doing things according to convention. The first train did not leave Palma until 10.10am, which to Emmy seemed lazily late to be heading off when the destination would take a whole 90 minutes to reach. Therefore, she suggested they caught the direct bus straight to Port de Sóller – they began running around 7am at 30-minute intervals – arriving well before the tourist-sludge poured off the tram around lunch time. This would permit ample time for a leisurely coffee and an hour or so by the sea, before doing the olde-worlde transport on the way back. The only downside to this plan was the need to board the train in Sóller at 2pm, because they then stopped running until 6.30pm – and arriving in Palma at 8pm felt too late, as they still wanted sufficient time to explore the beautiful capital.
Besides, these were women to whom having time to pamper and preen before stepping out for dinner was imperative. So, the decision was to spend just the morning in the little towns – after all, from what they could fathom, they seemed to be places that would offer pleasant scenery, a few shops, and lose their attention after a while.
Neither expected to fall in love with Port de Sóller.
The bus, which they had caught from Palma’s Estació Intermodal, was cool, calm and quiet. In stark contrast, Emmy presumed smugly, with the first vintage train of the day. The stretch of the journey through the tunnels was comparatively short, with most of it soaring through the vast, dry terrain of olive groves and orchards, the odd white-washed building peeking out from tresses of violet and magenta climbing plants. They were deposited on a deserted side street and instinctively turned their back on the mountains to find the ocean. Five minutes of walking later, they emerged onto the sea front.
The bay, a mixture of sand and shingle, swept in a graceful curve, houses and small hotels steeped into the hills behind. As the beach at each end filtered out into the water, the terrain became nothing but rocks, with a lighthouse balanced on one arm. Dozens of boats of all shapes and sizes bobbled on a sparkling blue carpet. From the plethora of smart cafes and restaurants, the women chose one with tables in the sun, facing out to sea.
“Thank you so much for bringing me here” breathed Emmy as she sipped her coffee and drank in the view. It was her mother who had first heard about the place.
All too soon, after her Mum had sat on the beach for a while and Emmy had scrambled over some rocks with her camera, it was time to catch the tram. With its wood panelling and Victorian décor, the 30-minute tram ride was worth the 4€ fare. Upon arrival in Sóller they quickly established that they had made the right decision in their plan to catch the early train back – although cute, its cobbled streets proffered mainly souvenir shops and touristy restaurants. They opted for an incredibly good-value lunch from a takeaway bakery to take on the train.
Although charming, the journey did not really offer much more than the tram already had in terms of nostalgic beauty, and the scenery little more than the direct bus ride. Therefore, the 17.00€ price tag of the train in comparison to the 3.25€ of the bus was deemed by both to be something they would not repeat nor recommend.
Arriving in Palma a little after 3.30pm, they walked along the waterfront for a while and stumbled upon the launching point of the Marco Polo one-hour cruise that featured on Emmy’s shortlist of potential activities. Given that their plan was to source a refreshing drink to fill the next hour, they took the opportunity to hop on the final cruise of the day, which was just about to leave and served refreshments. Speeding past the coastline they were awarded majestic views of Palma’s stunning architecture and given warm-hearted commentary from the driver as they weaved through superyachts in the Marina.
Sitting on their deck of what felt like a private charter, given that there were only four other passengers on board, they were suddenly interrupted from daydreams.
“I don’t believe how small a world it is! Sue, from Little Stitches in Headingly”.
Emmy’s mother’s blank face reflected her own as they gazed at the lady who had approached them.
She spoke again.
“Sue! Little Stitches” she beamed, with a gesture almost bordering on jazz hands.
“Sorry, who do you think we are?” asked Emmy with a polite smile, anticipating the mortification this woman would soon be feeling.
“Oh my goodness…is it not you?! I’m so sorry. You have clones. They come into my shop in Headingly all the time! Sorry to have bothered you”
After the small round of small talk that ensued Emmy, who had always valued individuality, turned her attention back to sea with a hint of indignation.
As she showered for dinner later that evening, Emmy’s brain constructed the ideal plan for the following day. She knew her mother wanted some ‘beach time’, and in her opinion the ones around Palma just didn’t cut it in comparison to Port de Sóller.
“I’ve been thinking…”, she spoke as she emerged from a cloud of steam wearing her favourite summer dress, “how about we just make Port de Sóller our beach destination for tomorrow, travelling there and back on the cheap, frequent bus?”
Her Mum did not look up from studying her phone, she simply closed her eyes, smiled and raised a hand to her forehead in feigned despair.
“Our minds are just too alike. And great. I have been researching every available option and have come to exactly the same conclusion”.
“Fabulous – decision made” grinned Emmy.
They wandered into the Old Town and found Plaça de Cort – a fairy-lit square bordered by restaurants, an ancient gnarled olive tree in the centre. They took an al fresco table at Hotel Cort for a Champagne aperitif but ended up remaining there for the whole evening, enjoying plates of sea bass and herb-infused chicken whilst a steady stream of buskers accentuated the atmosphere with guitars and keyboards.
Day 3 – Ending on a High
A navigation error on Emmy’s behalf meant that they saw more of Palma’s backstreets than intended the next morning, and they just missed the 9am bus. Still, walking past the workers breakfasting on pastries in countless coffee shops provided a good glimpse into the local lifestyle.
“The work-life balance seems so much better than at home”, Emmy’s mum pined, referring to the contrast between the jovial, social vibe at these tables and the harassed, solitary takeaway-coffees downed by commuting Britons.
Upon arrival in Port de Sóller they chose to take morning coffee at Hotel Espléndido, given that over the previous 24 hours Emmy’s mum had been conversing via text to her father about the delights of the chilled-out seaside town and the pair had pretty much decided on this hotel for their next short vacation. Emmy’s mother then indulged in a couple of hours of reading on the beach, whilst the easily-distracted Emmy interspersed her reading with paddles in the sea and trips to browse the shops. At one point she took her camera along the shore, happy to discover that the birdlife in this craggy location was more exciting than the predominantly pigeon-shaped fauna of Palma. Spying what looked like a cormorant or shag on the tip of a rocky pier, she clambered with care over the hot rocks for a good ten minutes and eventually reached its vicinity, snapping away as it scoured the sea for tasty morsels. Realising it was indeed lunch time, Emmy strolled back to her Mum and the pair chose a simple café, rather than one of the many restaurants, for lunches of tuna salad and baguette.
To avoid the intense July heat after lunch they browsed the shops on the seafront. The wares on offer were essentially beachwear and holiday-themed home interiors, but not the tat that may be expected from a less salubrious resort. Emmy had intended to take some leather sandals back home, but during the trip it had become quickly apparent that there was far too much fun to be had and sights to see for them to trawl shoe shops, so had decided against that plan. Right there and then, however, she was drawn to the lacy dresses and used her sandal budget for a one-off, frothy pale pink one.
At least no-one in Headingly would have one like it.
Back in Palma later that afternoon, Emmy was consulting the Internet for where to head for their final dinner. Santa Catalina was promoted as a ‘young, hip’ area of the city – which Emmy interpreted to mean ‘loud, busy and the place to avoid’. They settled on a route into the Old Town that would take them up quaint steps toward the Església de Sant Nicolau church, as they had seen some attractive restaurants in the vicinity.
Later, wearing her new dress, Emmy chinked the glass of her fizz with that of her mother’s Aperol Spritzer as they sat outside Bar Nicholas.
“Palma really is the perfect place for a city break”, she mused as the wistful tones of a guitar wove through her bittersweet mood. Sweet because it had been wonderful and there was still that evening to enjoy, bitter that she just didn’t want it to end yet.
“A diverse mix of people – yes, there are tourists, but they’re from all over the place. For the majority I’ve not understood the language of others, which is always a good sign. And, being a capital city, there are plenty of locals going about their busy business to give it the feel of being a real place, not just a holiday destination. And of course, Port Sóller is just a short hop away and seems to be the place where the local Spaniards head to relax”.
After their drinks, they walked down the street they had spied earlier and the decision of which restaurant was made easy by the happy commotion of La Botana. There was just one small remaining table and they were squeezed in. What followed was the tastiest meal of the whole trip – hearty, honest Spanish cuisine. Emmy’s grilled cuttlefish gave a flavour that would remain with her, tantalising her taste buds for days after. She was not a huge drinker, so just one glass of good wine – at an eye-popping steal of 1.75€ – kept her happy for the whole meal. Her mother had a mini bottle of Champagne at a similarly scarcely-believable low price.
They ended the night with one final trip to the ice cream parlour – lemon and yoghurt all round this time – then a rest of their heads in the fresh comfort of their hotel room before a regrettable departure.
Day 4 – The Future
As Emmy boarded her plane, her ancient sandal – the one she had not replaced, having her heart stolen by a pretty dress instead – finally snapped.
She smiled and sent a quick text to her mother stating that they needed a re-run asap. The reply triggered a broad smile.
“Porto, maybe? Or maybe somewhere in Croatia. Will investigate. Xx”