Travel

Au Revoir, Mallorca!

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When I first started planning my summer holiday, I was more inclined to visit Ibiza for a week. I had not even heard of Mallorca until April this year – when I saw a cliff diving video captured in the Playa De Muro area of the island. I remember being awestruck. The stunning landscape, which is still somewhat exclusive unlike other Spanish islands that are swarmed with tourists, knocked my Ibiza plan out of the park.

And so, I booked my flight and hotel for a six day stay. I ascertained to book a hotel within 100 meters of a beach (fun fact: there are over 200 beaches in Mallorca) because the primary purpose of this trip was to unwind from the recent whirlwind of busy life changes. That’s also why, I chose to stay in Can Picafort , which is a comparatively quiet neighborhood in the North East of the island, not yet discovered by drunken college tourists

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Mallorca’s coastline is at least 547 kilometers long and is lined by bustling shops, restaurants, cafes, and bars. The crystal blue shore waters deepen into various shades of blue and green which stand as a spectacular contrast to the golden and white sand at the beaches. The island is a heaven for cyclists due to its beautifully hilly topography offering some of the best road-riding in Europe. For walkers like me, footpaths interlace between orange-pink groves and hilltop mansions covered with Bougainvillea.

In the six days that I was in Mallorca, I spent most of my daytime bumming around in sunbeds, basking in the glorious Spanish sun, sipping fresh watermelon juice and coconut water, and playing in the waves. The beaches in Mallorca’s North East have shallow waters and gentler waves, which become slightly violent as the sun begins to set.

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Oh, the Mallorcan sunsets! I cannot describe the beauty of a sky that is torn between unexplainably deep shades of pink, orange, scarlet, and blue. When you look from a distance, the waves thrashing at the shores are a stark match to the troubled sky. One evening, I was dumbfounded at this glory and could not escape despite the cool wind repeatedly swaying my torso, sending shivers down my spine.

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As I tried swimming deeper into the water, the waves fiercely lashed my chest. I remember looking back and being awed by an aura of the pink sunset on the golden sand peeking through clear turquoise waters. Most people had already left the beach and the noise of the waves was more profound than ever. I do not know when I began singing, “Chhookar mere man ko kiya toone kya ishaara, Badla yeh mausam lage pyaara jag saara.” And I do not know for how long I was singing this exact line…may be a good fifteen minutes until my husband called me back from the beach.

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One of the days, I ventured into a larger, more happening part of Mallorca called Alcudia, which has an intricately preserved old town. This town is historically walled and can be entered through its rather imposing gates that lead to narrow, topsy-turvy streets lined by houses from the 14th century. Most of these houses have been turned into restaurants and cafes providing a contemporary characteristic to the area. Strolling alongside the houses that have survived the tourist wave, and boost their historical architecture, is truly like time traveling. The colorfully painted renaissance style mansions are dotted with vibrant potted plants and decorated with family crests and other local cultural heirlooms.

Due to limited time, I did not venture into Mallorca’s countryside, but I hear that even in the peak of summer holidays, it is peaceful; surrounded by vineyards, small villages and ranches, some adapted into bucolic retreats. I also did not have the time to visit caves, forts, and vantage points that are extremely popular in tourists visiting the area. Considering I plan to revisit Mallorca, I am not terribly sad about it.

When it comes to food, you have to be careful in Mallorca like any other tourist destination. There is an abundance of the usual pastas, pizzas, sandwiches, burgers, fries – most of the times the routine food is not bad. But if you want to taste true Spanish, more specifically Mallorcan, cuisine then you have to do some research in advance.

Since I ate most of my meals in Can Picafort, I can only speak to food options there. I had my best meal at Don Denis, which has a killer tapas menu and a great selection of local and popular wines. It’s located at the Can Picafort harbor and offers stunning views and impeccable service! Café Horizto also deserves a mention because of its delectable lunch sandwiches (tuna with caramelized onions was my fav!) and extensive cocktail offerings. Lastly, while the overall dining experience at Gran Bahia restaurant was disappointing, I was awed by the unusual flavor combination of my entrée of sea bass filets served over saffron cream and wild rice!

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This post would not be complete if I did not mention that I was pleasantly surprised at the finding of a restaurant in Can Picafort run by a man called Ali from Sahiwal, Pakistan. The restaurant is called Sabores De India and offers the most authentic Pakistani food I have had anywhere in Europe. His excitement at the sight of rare Pakistani visitors in Mallorca was almost endearing. Putting aside the usual menu card, he said that we just had to say the word about what we wanted to eat and he will serve. We left the restaurant stuffed with onion fritters, aloo samosas, chicken biryani, and doodh patii. During our stay, we did once return to eat some aloo palak and chicken kadhai as well.

Speaking to Ali, I discovered that Ali’s restaurant was an extension of the larger Pakistani Punjabi small business community that is thriving in Mallorca for over a decade. His revelation helped me notice many familiar faces at shops and restaurants, as I further explored Mallorca – what a rare and unexpected coincidence that briefly connected me to my roots!

Summer is such an eventful and joyous time in Europe. Most people take up to three weeks off to escape the daily mundanity and spend time with their families. Whether or not you live in Europe, I believe it’s crucial for our mental health to disconnect, and what beautiful time than summer to plan an Island getaway. If you are looking into exploring an island in Europe, I promise the understated history and splendor of Mallorca will not disappoint.

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Travel

Of Tiles, Souks, and Tajine

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While it was still cold and freezing in Amsterdam, I had the chance to enjoy a beautiful African sun getaway to Marrakech in January. But my trip to Morocco offered me much more than the warm sun, which is why I am writing about it six months later.

Only a few minutes into our drive out of the airport, I was overwhelmed by a familiar nostalgia. I experience this feeling every time I go back to visit my family in Karachi. The broad main roads leading to a packed and bustling city center, air filled with the smell of smoke arising from BBQ grills on every street corner, pavements lined with food stalls particularly fresh fruit juice, and walls plastered with all kinds of Arabic, French and English advertisements ranging from those about viagra to travel discounts — how could this possibly not remind me of Karachi?

Enough about my maudlin comparisons, I guess. Let’s get to what is truly exciting in Marrakech.

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While most people recommended visiting the souks in the evening to experience the hustle and bustle of countless street performers and the largest food court ever, I enjoyed the souks during daytime when they were less crowded. The souks are an extensive maze of shops featuring many different crafts and goods. I realized how extensive they were when I found whole blocks of streets designated to a particular craft. I enjoyed browsing through the wooden craft and leather shops.

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If you are planning to shop in the souks then you have to develop a thick skin and grow a muscle for bargaining. The shopkeepers can be very aggressive in order to sell certain items for unreasonable prices, so you have to play smart if you plan on shopping. I managed to score a one piece leather jacket and a stunning leather laptop bag for a price unimaginable in Amsterdam. I think bonding with the shopkeeper about the picture of Amitabh Bachchan on his wall helped bargaining easier.

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During the entire trip, I was in awe of the beautiful tiles I saw everywhere in Marrakech. From the stunning blues,whites, greens, plums, and browns, Moroccan tiles represent every single color group. The Bahia Palace has the most gorgeous tiled walls and flooring. The palace also features multi-colored glass windows and ceilings with the most intricate wood work and paintings.  Unfortunately, I could not find a guided tour of the palace, nor were there informational boards displayed around the palace to help tourists understand its historical significance. So, if you are planning a visit, it might be a good idea to plan ahead regarding the guided tour.

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When I was tired from the stirring medina, I headed to the calm and peaceful Majorelle Garden, or as popularly called, Jardin Majorelle. These gardens were designed over forty years by the French painter Jacques Majorelle. Strolling around in the garden is an experience; walking past exotic collections of plants like cactus (and others I could barely pronounce), breathing air filled with a sugared fragrance from a variety of flowers, cool January breeze playing with hair as the small, colorful birds sing to lift your moods.

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All paths of the gardens lead to a moorish edifice, which is the Berber Museum. It is small, but carries insightful collections that provide a good understanding of the Berber culture. The museum is divided into three sections: daily knowhow of the Berber life, jewels and what they represent, and the grandeur of the culture reflected through costumes and weapons. My favorite part was looking through the costumes and weaponry that enabled the Berbers to form grand empires in the Mediterranean. I would share pictures of the stunning Berber Museum, but photography was strictly prohibited there.

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In terms of food, I remained underwhelmed. On my first day, I tried a tajine which I did not like at all. The blend of spices just did not please my tastebuds. I kept trying different kinds of couscous and tajine throughout the trip in both touristy and non-touristy areas, but was never wowed.

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As for navigating the city, I would advise you to remain cautious. Tourist traps are prevalent. Street performers and sellers can be pushy and aggressive, so be careful about photographing them. Similarly, cab drivers over charge abundantly, so ask your hotel for what are reasonable fares and then decide accordingly with your cab driver.

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January is the perfect time to visit Marrakech. It is sunny during the day and pleasantly chilly in the evenings. The city landscape is stunning; for miles, the moorish, glowy minaret of the 12th century Koutoubia Mosque remains visible against the clear blue skies. Sometimes the scenery resembles a 90’s Yash Raj movie — palm trees line all main roads with a background of snow covered Atlas Mountains. How gorgeous is that!

All in all, Marrakech is a must-go if you’ve an interest in history, culture, and well….being warm during colder months. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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