Menorca Report

Menorca Report

 

 

Arriving promptly at 7:15pm on the daily ferry from Mallorca we waited outside for about 20 minutes for even a single cab to show up and take us into the main city.

It might be best to hail one ahead of time before you dock as taxis in Menorca really do come few and far between; it’s been the only island where cabs have to be called ahead of time.

After a leisurely walk into town we then checked into our lodgings at Rifugioazul & Rifugioazul Boutique at 8pm.

 

 

And from there, we wandered. And this is a place where that’s very easy to do.

 

 

Ciutadella was the former capital city of Menorca when it was occupied by the British. It’s now the “second city” of the island and one of the best preserved medieval cities of the Mediterranean. Make sure you stop by the Catedral de Santa Maria de Ciutadella as its centerpiece.

 

 

For 6.5 euros per person you can visit both inside Catedral de Santa Maria de Ciutadella above, the Bishop’s garden behind it…

 

 

…and the Convent of Sant Agustí a few paces away:

 

 

Visiting the convent also takes you straight to the heart of the town market:

 

 

By the water (a 15 minute walk outside of the historic old town center) you can also visit the 17th century Castell de Sant Nicolau, once used as a defense tower:

 

 

Or you can walk down Avda de la Constitucio to Placa Alfons III, where you can sit and watch the world go by.

 

 

Thanks to 15minutetest.com we were able to walk 5 minutes over from our lodgings inside the old town and get our rapid antigen test for our return flight homes (good for 72 hours if you’re a USA citizen returning to the USA, regardless of vaccination status). True to its name, results came in our e-mails within 15 minutes.

 

 

At 2pm we then headed to Placa de Pau for the hourly 5 euro TMSA bus #1 to the city Maó on the eastern side of Menorca.

 

 

We arrived at 3pm to Maó, home to the Port of Maó, the 2nd largest natural deep water port in the world after Pearl Harbor. It is considered the finest natural harbor in the Mediterranean and one of the most reliable in protecting entire naval fleets at the time.

 

 

While here you can also visit Mercado del Claustro de Mahón, a market located in a former monastery in the city center of Maó. This is where you can sample their local cheeses and cured sausages, such as “sobrassada” or “carnixulla.”

 

 

But really, the theme of this trip have been the winding, evocative, alluring alleyways of old towns. And we kept to that: The group of monsooners seemed to find a favorite in Maó.

 

 

It helped Maó’s case that tonight would be a Tuesday, where live music takes place at every plaza, square and street corner in the old town beginning at 8pm every Tuesday night.

 

 

Too bad Jeanette was asleep for most of it. Good job sangria.

 

 

And with that we kicked back in the remote regions of nowhere and everywhere as the world continued to turn.

 

 

- At time of posting in Menorca, it was 29 °C - Humidity: 24% | Wind Speed: 21km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny

 

New Yorkas in Mallorca, while in the Palma of my Hand

New Yorkas in Mallorca, while in the Palma of my Hand

 

 

Taking the 8pm ferry from Ibiza via Balearia, we arrived about nearly 3 hours later at 11pm (don’t let them fool you with the 2 hour listed time; the boat got in 1 hour later than scheduled). And FYI, they’re not very clear about this but the arrival port isn’t anywhere near Palma but rather a neighborhood south of central Palma called Portopí.

 

 

After a little verbal scuffle at the taxi stand with a group of teenagers who tried to cut in front of our group, two cab drivers rallied to our side and denied them service, taking us instead. We then headed out from Portopí and finally reached our lodgings in the center of Palma by 11:30pm.

 

 

Finally settling into our Airbnb in the city center by Llotja, we pushed ourselves for a worthwhile midnight stroll around the city to get ourselves acclimated.

 

 

The next morning we took advantage of the free entry and public art exhibits in the open air 15th century Llotja de Palma:

 

 

Then about a 4 minute walk over is an obligatory visit to the 13th century architectural masterpiece La Seu Catedral de Mallorca.

 

 

With its tremendous edifice built in a Gothic style overlooking the sea and a facade designed by Gaudí, this is the de facto symbol of Mallorca and worth the 8 euro entry fee to visit inside for even 15 minutes.

 

 

Get there at noon, just as when the sun can shine directly on you through the central stained glass window:

 

 

Adjacent to the cathedral lies Palau de l’Almudaina, an Islamic fort turned palace where the Spanish royal family used to spend their summers.

 

 

Keeping to the Islamic Arabic theme, Banys Àrabs, a tiny 10th century bathhouse and only building in Palma dating to the Arab settlement, lies one block over and costs 3 euros to enter:

 

 

The true sights here, however, are the hours I can spend wandering the evocative alleyways of the Old Town:

 

 

Once you had your fill of saudade, regain your senses down glitzy pedestrian mall of Passeig del Born:

 

 

Eventually Passeig del Born will lead to Plaça del Mercat, a church surrounded by art nouveau buildings.

 

 

We then ventured west for a pick me up breakfast at the 1700s café Ca’n Joan de S’Aigo, a favorite of Artist Joan Miró.

 

 

They’re known for ensaïmada, a flaky Mallorcan sweet bread. Fill it with custard or powder it with sugar, either way you can then dunk this bad boy into thick hot chocolate.

 

  

If you want to venture beyond the capital city of Palma, take bus 4 or walk a steep 35 minutes to Castell de Bellver for its panoramic views of Palma. We took advantage of its free admission on Sundays although it closes early at 3pm.

Because of both the time crunch and the steep climb, we said screw it and hailed a 7 minute, 8 euro taxi ride up instead.

 

 

Notice how its circular style is unique to this castle and the only one of its kind in Spain:

 

 

Built on the ruins of a Muslim site, the castle contains a museum of archaeological finds, 3 large towers, and a central courtyard.

 

 

Start with a walk around the moat…

 

 

…before heading to the top of this castle to a patio area for its distinctive architecture.

 

 

Then on our leisurely stroll back into central Palma, we passed through Passeig Marítim as Alex has a thing for windmills in the same way Youssef loves castles:

 

 

We then kicked back like the Spanish do with a long afternoon siesta before heading back out and down the harbor promenade of Parc de la Mar for sunset.

 

This is where you take it all in: an unobstructed vista of both the palace and cathedral from afar as a talented singer with his guitar fills the air with Spanish music. 

It doesn’t get any better than this.

 

 

You can also find a mural by the aforementioned Joan Miró here:

 

  

However, if you’re looking for something cute to do way outside of Palma, consider the 1 hour narrow gauge tourist train from Palma to Soller for 25 euros per person (18 euros one way):

 

 

After a spirited dinner at Beatnik and drinks at our place (our Airbnb gave us free champagne and local wine!), the next morning the rest of us slept in as Ayra and Youssef went out for a hot air balloon ride. They then got a PCR test for their flights back to Canada at the nearby Clinica Rotger and we reunited for a quick visit inside the Cathedral as it opened at 10am.

Once we were done with the Cathedral, we enjoyed a 4 course brunch for 15 euros per person at Ca n’Ela Vegan, retrieved our belongings back at the Airbnb thanks to a very late check-out, took a quick 4 euro cab up (otherwise a 20 minute walk) to Estación Intermodal, which happens to also be right next to the tourist train station to Soller.

Barely making it to the 3pm Bus 302 (which runs hourly anyway), we then drove 45 minutes north to port beach town of Alcúdia.

 

 

After a few drinks soaking up the sun at a local beach club, we then caught the onward 6pm ferry to Menorca.

 

 

This ferry is far less crowded and more on time than our bustling floating palace from Ibiza to Mallorca 2 days ago.

 

 

- At time of posting in Mallorca, it was 26 °C - Humidity: 10% | Wind Speed: 15km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny

 

You Now Have “Ibiza” My Heart As We FormanTERA-FFIC Relationships

You Now Have “Ibiza” My Heart As We FormanTERA-FFIC Relationships

 

Traveling during a pandemic understandably requires flexibility. So when the UK announced on July 19th that they were keeping Americans on its amber list and that people were concerned with the way they were reopening, we made an executive decision to err on the safe side and return to our continuing success stories with traveling to islands with low rates.

Since the Balearic Islands has been operating at a 0% death rate for the past 1 month and we were coming in as a fully vaccinated group, we felt to go now would be better than to not go at all.

Just make sure you got everything prepared before your trip:

 

 

After finishing a 12 hour shift at 9pm, I took a cab directly to the airport still in my scrubs. More comfy to sleep in on a redeye anyway.

It was just only 3 weeks ago I was last here in Terminal 7 on a flight to Portugal via Spain. Deja vu all over again.

 

 

Catching an 11pm flight to the UK, which only needed a negative PCR test a day before, we transited briefly at London Heathrow Airport for 3 hours before catching our onward 2:50pm flight to Ibiza. Getting all my liquids in a sealed plastic bag through the LHR security at connections was the hardest part.

 

 

Still wearing my scrubs from work.

 

 

Arriving at 6:20pm, we then caught the bus L10 outside arrivals for 3.5 euros per person for the 20 minute ride into Ibiza Town.

 

 

We immediately checked in at our lodgings at centrally located Urban Spaces Ibiza (right across from the Necropolis open-air museum).

 

 

After walking to the edge of town at the Olympic Park and then back, we were saved by a late dinner at nearby Las Gastroteca.

 

 

Then once Ayra and Youssef finally arrived on their 9pm flight to complete the group, we went for a midnight stroll around the UNESCO World Heritage neighborhood of Dalt Vila, a walled fortress surrounding our little town.

 

 

Cobblestone streets, seaside vibes, ancient architecture, bustling nightlife with a Mediterranean history all merged into one place. I wish they told me about this part of Ibiza in my formative years: Would’ve came a little sooner.

 

 

The main “sight” to see here is a walk along the fortress walls, through the arched gate Portal de ses Taules and the narrow streets of the old city.

 

 

Hike up to the top for views over Ibiza:

 

 

The next morning we decided to walk over to the port and take a 30 minute ferry ride across to the nearby island of Formentera.

 

 

There are multiple competing carriers you can choose from; luckily our hotel made the decision for us by offering a 50% discount via FRS for a 10:30am departure.

 

 

Once we arrived into Formantera, we started our day with coffee and breakfast at the tranquil Cafe del Lago:

 

 

Feeling a little stuffed and eschewing bikes around town with our bags, we decided instead to take the main tourist bus service to visit one of the many beaches on Formantera. They have 3 bus routes costing 8€, 12€ and 15€ depending on how much time you have and what you want to cover (for example, the 15€ option would have allowed visits to 2 beaches and photo stops at 2 viewpoints). The latest departure for a tourist bus tour is 1:45pm and you can buy tickets with cash on the bus as you board.

We chose the route that would take us directly to Platja de Ses Illetes, which FYI, is somewhat of a nude-friendly beach if you’re okay with that.

 

 

And yet despite the crowds, it also earns its credibility for being one of the best beaches in Europe:

 

 

After a few hours here recharging on our Vitamin D, we headed back to Ibiza. If you have enough time, we suggest to hail a 35 minute taxi or rent a car to visit the Torre des Savinar viewpoint to see Es Vedrà from afar:

 

 

Luckily since we included Formantera in our itinerary and bought our onward tickets to Mallorca from there instead of in Ibiza, we also got to be part of an unexpected package deal: If you arrive back into Ibiza from Formantera on any of the Balearia ferries leaving every half an hour, they include a 7pm bus that takes you straight from the main port by the city center (in the parking lot next to Club Naútico) to the opposite side of the port.

It would have been a brutal 30 minute walk otherwise.

 

 

After departing at 7pm, we arrived at the other ferry terminal on the other side of the harbor by 7:15pm.

 

 

We waited for a while in many many different lines before finally boarding our 8pm ferry to Mallorca.

 

 

But like many other European long haul ferries I’ve been on over the years, the interior is worth the wait to board and 2 hour ride to follow. Writing this onboard as you’re reading this!

 

 

- At time of posting in Ibiza, it was 24 °C - Humidity: 76% | Wind Speed: 10km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny

 

Feeling Stupid In Barcelona

Feeling Stupid In Barcelona

 

SO I SCREWED UP.

2 days ago after arriving into Barcelona, I ranted how sad I was to have discovered that what I thought was one of my favorite restaurants, La Xampanyeria, was closed the night before the Catalan Independence Day. It had been my favorite because we all had a special night there 5 years ago where one of our monsooners finally fell in love with all of food after eating here (while the rest of us fell in love with Iberian Ham).

But that restaurant that I actually was thinking of was the similarly named (and equally popular) El Xampanyet, which was only a few blocks away from La Xampanyeria. Even Gabriela and Ramón, my two local friends who live in Barcelona, had assumed I actually meant La Xampanyet when we all met up 2 nights ago but since I was so stupidly insistent, we almost went to a closed La Xampanyeria instead.

So when I tried to go back to La Xampanyeria tonight to dine at what I thought would be a reunion at long last, I started to get vibes that it was not the same place. The first clue? The restaurant we went to 5 years ago had seats, and this one did not.

 

 

Although equally popular and equally packed, it’s standing room only, and it’s known for serving crazy amounts of free-flowing champagne with great food coming second.

And yet, we still enjoyed our time here.

 

 

But alas, when Ramón and Gabriela arrived and I showed them photos of the epic dinner we had 5 years ago, the 2 locals immediately recognized the interior of El Xampanyet and took us there, only to find it…

 

 


…closed on Mondays.

Was it actually open 2 nights ago and could we have dined there? I don’t want to know. Instead, I’m going to believe that like La Xampanyeria, El Xampanyet was also closed on Saturday night in observance Catalan Independence Day and there was no way whatsoever I could’ve eaten at El Xampanyet on this trip. Ok?

As I licked my wounds, we instead ate at neighboring Bodega La Puntual, which is run by the same people who own El Xampanyet. I guess I’ll settle for second place.

 

 

A few hours later we were joined by a South Korean named Hyungjung, whom we first met at Rodámon hostel when we checked in 2 nights ago — she was staring in our direction “as if [she] knew us” and when she said no, the only reply I could think of was: “Well, you’re about to!”

And who knew how prophetic my words would be at the time, because we would then keep running into her again and again over the course of our weekend: once more at the hostel, twice at Barcelona Sants Station while heading to Andorra, and twice more back at the hostel after returning from Andorra. WTF, mate?

Since these were obvious signs of a travel angel out there pushing us to get to know one another, we then exchanged few e-mails back and forth about meeting later for drinks. Although Hyungjung at first turned us down (she had an early flight back to South Korean the next morning), she eventually relented and brought another fellow South Korean whom she also just met at the hostel.

And of all the jobs out there, this friend is also an ER nurse!

 

 

But here’s where it gets even wilder with this supposed travel angel nudging for all of us random people around the world to get together:

1) To preface, Christina, Venkat, and David, and myself are the 4 monsooners who all went to Andorra — this is their first time all meeting one another and among their striking shared interests and similarities — 3 of us graduated from Columbia University, 2 attended Ohio State University, 2 served on Columbia College Student Council, and 3 served on EC/MAASU boards — Christina, Venkat and David all hail from mixed ethnicities as well: Christina and Venkat are both half-Korean, Venkat and David are both half-Indian, and David and Christina are both half-Central European.

 

2) With our 2 new guests, Hyungjung and her friend, both being South Korean nationals, it started to feel like this travel angel could actually exist when we found out that Venkat would be visiting South Korea next month for his cousin’s wedding at the same time that Hyungjung and her friend would be there. Venkat, however, doesn’t speak Korean to easily make that point across (although he packed a special little translation app that only made things hilariously more lost in translation)

 

3) Nevertheless, Christina is fluent in Korean and was able to fully integrate Hyungjung and her friend in our conversations. Connection made. Venkat now has more friends to hang out with (hopefully) when he’s in Seoul.

 

4) And given all these random but seemingly fateful connections, the 6 of us — from all around the world speaking 2 completely different languages — were able to spend the next 4 hours bantering like old friends over drinks and shisha at cozy Ziryab Shisha & Cocktail Lounge, all the while knowing in the back of our minds, we would never get together like this ever again.

 

5) (and Gabriela and Ramón are just awesom for meeting us two nights in a row and putting up with our general craziness

 

After things began to close at 2am, we ignored the calls of a convenient taxi ride and decided instead to take a leisurely stroll back to our hostel through the many beautiful neighborhoods of Barcelona.

 

 

And with that, we close the next chapter to another memorable travel weekend.

 

20 Hours In Andorra

20 Hours In Andorra

 

Getting some much-needed rest after a late night in Barcelona, we woke up at 10am to catch an 11:45am Direct Bus (that’s the actual name of the bus company!) from Barcelona Sants Station to Andora la Vella.

 

 

Once you arrive at Barcelona Sants, the bus station to Andorra sits adjacent to the main train station on the right:

 

 

You should pick up your bus tickets to Andorra at the small office located in the bus station, regardless if you bought yours ahead online or if you want to buy them in person:

 

 

Line up by 11:30am as the bus arrives about 10-15minutes early from the Barcelona airport:

 

 

Once you load your luggage on the bus, it’s off to Andorra without ANY bathroom breaks or stops on the way! FYI, the free wifi on the bus works great…but only when it’s in Andorra.

But enjoy the views! The whole ride takes about 3 hours.

 

 

At about the 2.5 hour mark, the bus smoothly glides through the border between Spain and Andorra with not even a quick stop; if you’re sleeping at this point you could miss the entire border crossing.

 

 

Andorra is famous for being the tiny country wedged between Spain and France along the east Pyrenees mountains. It’s Europe’s 6th smallest country covering 181 square miles and its population of 85,000 speaks French, Spanish and Catalan. 

Its capital, Andorra la Vella, is the highest capital city in mainland Europe. Although Andorra is not officially part of the EU, it uses the euro as its official currency, and it’s regarded as an EU member in trade/manufactured goods but as a non-EU member for agriculture.

Most importantly, it’s the second part of my microstate tour of duty, having already visited Gibraltar and most recetly, Liechtenstein.

We arrived in the capital city of Andorra la Vella exactly at 2:45pm.

 

 

We then got our bags off and walked 15 minutes to possibly Andorra’s only hostel with character, Barric Antic Hostel.

 

 

So what is there to see in Andorra la Vella? Not a lot, but the city itself is quite quaint and charming.

You can start fittingly in its Park Central:

 

 

From here, walk north to the very modern Parliament Building at the edge of its western Old Town.

 

 

Then there’s quaint Old Town, lined with narrow and charming streets that all date back to the original settlement of Andorra:

 

 

Right by our hostel on the western part of Old Town is Casa de la Vall, the 16th parliamentary house and seat of the Consul General that overlooks the modern Parliament building.

 

 

Step out into the plaza in front of Casa de la Vall and you’ll get sweeping panoramic views of the Pyrenees valley and the capital city below:

 

 

Close by and still in Old Town is The Church of Sant Esteve from the 11-12th century, open only during mass in the second half of the year.

 

 

Extending from the church is Town Square, where you can get more panoramic views of the valley.

 

 

At this point we got a bit hungry, but where do you eat when nearly everything closes on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of a siesta on Catalan Independence Day?!

At reliable Mama Maria, of course:

 

 

After a quick dunch/linner, we headed east from Old Town into Andorra’s eastern New Town:

 

 

This “new town” is essentially one huge shopping mall, given Andorra’s recently former status as a tax-free merchandise haven.

 

 

Along the northeastern part of the town is Caldea, supposedly one of the largest spa complexes in Europe.

If you go anytime after 7:30pm you can pay a discounted price of 31 euros to enter (with massages starting at 28 euros for half an hour and 50 euros for an hour) for a 2 hour stay.

 

 

It’s essentially one huge futuristic indoor and outdoor playground for adults that’s a cross between Spa Castle and Iceland’s Blue Lagoon.

 

caldea-blog-31

piscina-caldea

 

We spent a good hour here taking it all in: the main Grand Pool with all its smaller spaceship-style jacuzzis, multiple outdoor jacuzzis, multiple outdoor pools, a large steam room hamam, 2 dry saunas, a water massage room, a cold room, a cold plunge pool, 3 nap rooms, a restaurant, a Roman/Turkish Hot Pool, and a Roman/Turkish cold plunge pool.

Not a bad way to end your day.

 

 

If you’re walking around Andorra this late at night, it becomes almost surreal how empty the streets are:

 

 

Along the southwestern part of town, climb up a set of stairs and a bushy, rocky hill to get on Rec de l’Obac, a 2.5km long paved illuminated path that overlooks the city (there is also an identical one in the northeast called Rec del Solà).

 

 

After about 10 minutes along this path, we headed back down to the main city:

 

 

Then we headed up north again into Old Town:

 

 

And to end our night, we lavished over a dinner outdoors in the terrace of Papa Nico restaurant.

Although it serves a similar menu as Mama Maria, the service and quality of ingredients are noticeably superior.

 

 

After a few more beers, we’re going to head back to bed before getting on our morning bus back to Barcelona!

 

An early morning in Andorra

 

 

- At time of posting in Andorra la Vella, it was 19 °C - Humidity: 96% | Wind Speed: 6km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy

 

Reunited In Barcelona, 5 Years Later

Reunited In Barcelona, 5 Years Later

 

Oh Barcelona: It’s been 5 years! That trip was special — it was the first trip I ever done with a large group (and look how far we’ve come!).

And now I’m back. While 4 of us would meet in Barcelona tonight to begin our weekend trip to Andorra, our group size somehow still grew twice as large, because you know — it’s the monsoon way.

After an 8am-8pm shift in the ER, I got on a overnight TAP Portugal flight from NYC to Barcelona via a 4 hour layover in Lisbon. Upon arrival, I had already made plans for our group to meet up for a 9pm dinner at one of my favorite places to eat, La Xampanyeria (Edited 9/13/16 — I realized that I actually was thinking of the similarly named and equally popular El Xampanye with 2 other friends I had met back in NYC, Gabriela and Lillian — Gabriela had recently moved to Barcelona a year ago and Lillian was finishing up a work trip.

But once I checked into impressive Rodamon Hostel at 8:45pm, I got a facebook message from David that La Xampanyeria was closed in observance of the Catalan Independence Day the next morning. Apparently nobody knew this was going to happen last minute and every other tourist was apparently freaking out about so many unannounced closures of their favorite restaurants. So in a texting firing circle among me, Gabriela, Lillian, and David, we decided to meet instead at Bar Bitacora at 9:30pm.

 

Reunited!

 

We soon were joined by Ana and Carolina, 2 friends from Portugal whom David had befriended on his walking tour earlier that day, because why not?

 

 

And no meal is complete without jamón Iberica! A reunion so so delightful.

 

 

After dinner, we then waited for Christina who had just flown into Barcelona and was supposed to meet us at Bar Bitacora after checking in. But when a hour passed by and we were kicked out of the restaurant for loitering, we decided instead to head to a nearby bar and wait for her there. 

Another 30 minutes passed and Christina at this point, was still lost. So I went out into town to retrieve her. After a good run and a few points of both of us stealing WiFi at random bars and cafés and momentarily messaging each other our progress and dropped pins, we eventually found each other. Relieved, we then rejoined the group and finished the night off with drinks in the Gothic Quarter and lazily walking around the area at night. Mission Accomplished! 

Tomorrow we meet with Venkat at the Barcelona Sants station for our weekend trip to Andorra.

 

- At time of posting in Barcelona, it was 32 °C - Humidity: 40% | Wind Speed: 14km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy