Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Puerto Pollensa Diaries: Day 4 - Saturday 19th September 2015

Another day, and another day trip.  Today we're once again using the local bus service which will take us to Pollença town which is a short journey of 4 miles inland.  PP and Alcudia share the similarity of being coastal resorts with lovely inland old towns.  The weather is again a bit hotter today and I'm struggling with the heat after arriving in Pollença so it's not too long till we thankfully have a lunch stop on the main square which is anything but quiet today.  There's some kind of cycling event with a number of information stalls and there's also a BMX-style stunt display accompanying our lunch, which is a good old Spanish omelette!

After lunch we take a stroll around the old town.  I'm particularly taken with this old town street view.

Here is a plaque which I discovered on our travels which was dedicated to those who fought for democracy in the 1936 Spanish Civil War.

One of Pollença town's main attractions is a stairway of no less than 365 steps up to a chapel at the top of the hill, known as Calvary.  A few people were attempting this but we were not among them.  I managed a bog-standard 50 steps and that was all I could manage, what with the dodgy knees and carrying all this extra weight, :( coupled with the baking heat, anyway it is quite a challenge for anyone who is fit enough to manage it so good luck to them!

By the way, the shop on the left was a bag shop which caught my attention because the radio was playing "Regrets" by Mylene Farmer - a fantastic song which will always be very special to me.

So having abandoned the steps it was time to do some more exploring around this very pretty small town, where life is lived at a deliciously slow pace if this tapas bar is anything to go by...

Time for coffee and cake at a cafe on the square....

...during our coffee stop I received a text from one of my lovely old friends, the "ladies who lunch", who was also on holiday in another part of Mallorca with her husband.

But time was ticking away and it wouldn't be long before we were heading back on the bus to PP, back to the hotel to get ready for another warm and pleasant evening in the resort.  Tonight we had dinner at an Indian restaurant on the main square, and very tasty it was too!

Of course there is a pattern developing here.... the restaurant was literally just a few yards away from the now-legendary Bony's.  No cocktails for me tonight though; but I thought this mini-wine bucket was pretty fab and worth a photo opportunity!

In the next instalment: a lazy Sunday in PP.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Puerto Pollensa Diaries: Day 3 - Friday 18th September 2015

Today brings the first of our 'day trips' although we're not heading too far out of PP as it's only a 15 minute bus journey to Alcudia town.  The local buses are very frequent but also get very busy. Alcudia is a familiar name to many British holidaymakers but the main tourist area is actually Port d'Alcudia and Platja d'Alcudia, which are different from Alcudia town, which is inland, and where we are today.

The first thing which greets you on arrival is the town's medieval wall, which we later walk a section of - I found it a bit scary though, and didn't last very long!

Time for a coffee stop at one of Alcudia's many outdoor cafes.  The weather is a lot warmer today and I guess that the fact that we are inland means we're missing out on those sea breezes.

Alcudia is a lovely old town with lots of little narrow winding streets.

Within the centre of the town there are lots of little shops and a good selection of restaurants.  Some cake shops too: unfortunately to this day I still haven't tried the Mallorcan spiral speciality Ensaimada for one reason or another - so here's a picture of some instead, from a cake shop in Alcudia.

One thing I must mention is that there has been a severe lack of Spanish hunks so far during this holiday.  Most of the waiters in PP have been a bit too old :((((  Finally though there is some hope as one of the waiters in the restaurant where we're having lunch today catches my eye!

After lunch we explore Alcudia further, including that very short stint on the town's wall.  We then walk around the perimeter of the wall around the town.  By late afternoon we have a very welcome stop where I enjoy one of my traditional holiday faves - a fresh orange juice.

A short journey back to PP on the bus and then it's back to the hotel to get ready for our Friday night out.  Would PP be jumping tonight?  Party central?   Umm....no.  But do you know what?  That's fine by us.  We are really enjoying this most laid-back of summer holidays.  And tonight it's tapas time!

After the past 2 nights trying and failing to get into this very small tapas restaurant on the seafront, it's third time lucky as we've pre-booked.   We have a lovely meal - so far we've really had good luck with our meals in this resort.

Dinner over and we have a stroll up the Pine Walk area where there are more posh and pricier establishments, before ending up at where else but Bony's. Now I don't drink cocktails in 'normal' life but on holiday I like to have the odd one or two.  In the absence of my old fave Blue Lagoon, I order this lookalike Bony's special which was called a Lady Gaga.  It certainly gets my "applause, applause, applause" and after a couple of these I guarantee you'll want to "just dance" and you won't have a "poker face" any more (right Laura - that's enough!)

It's after midnight, but you'd never know it was Friday night as the journey back to our hotel is as quiet as ever!

In the next instalment: we're off to Pollença town.

The Puerto Pollensa Diaries: Day 2 - Thursday 17th September 2015

Our first full day in PP starts with a bright sunny morning and it becomes very hot very quickly, which scuppers my plan to get a bit of balcony time before breakfast, as the balcony gets the direct sunlight at that time of day.  After breakfast we go out to discover some more of the resort.  After our traditional coffee stop we check out the marina area, where there are lots of nice little boats moored.

Today we're lunching outdoors at a nice little pizzeria behind the promenade.  But the big question today is: "do you want flies with your meal?"  For the minute our pizzas arrive, an army of those pesky flies descend and it quickly becomes very annoying.  Since we arrived in this otherwise lovely resort, that is the only down-side.  Flies are absolutely everywhere.  But on a more positive note, they are not wasps.  Or mosquitoes.  Thank flippin' goodness.  Anyway it's time for my first sangria of the holiday....

 Some other sights from the prom today:

Over the week I would become quite fascinated by this very spooky tree outside a house on the promenade!

The layout of PP is also a little strange, as it is cut in half by a nature reserve/wetland called La Gola, which is home to rather a lot of ducks whom I would get a bit obsessed with as the week went on. Here are just a few of them.

After just 2 days the Gran Cafe 1919 - a perfect people-watching spot overlooking the promenade, harbour and bus station (OK it's a big bus shelter, but hey!) - has become one of our hangouts.  And on a hot day, what better than to chill out with a Strawberry Slush?  The cafe is at the very start of a long row of restaurants and hotels at the 'pine walk' side of the promenade.

If the one thing missing from your life is a cow-patterned wheelie bin, then feast your eyes on this!

Tonight we face rejection at dinner-time yet again :( and we eventually give in and book a table for tomorrow night at one of those highly-rated tapas restaurants.  In the meantime we end up with some very nice tapas at another restaurant, just across from where we had dinner last night.

I decide to try a local speciality called Pa Amb Oli (pictured below) which is bread with olive oil and topped with razor-thin slices of serrano ham.  Unfortunately due to my other very large tapas portions including mushrooms and patatas bravas, I don't manage to finish it off.   Faithful travelling companion offers me some kind assistance!

The very noticeable thing about PP is that there is not much in the way of traditional 'nightlife' - very few bars and little in the way of the 'British pubs' which you see in many a Spanish resort.  Which I'm quite glad about, as it means the resort has a more Spanish flavour than many.  But there is one particular legendary bar which ends up becoming our nightly hangout - the one and only Bony's Bar! Owner Jose Bony - who either wants to be Elvis or Shakin' Stevens with that hairdo (!) is a crazy character and his bar is truly unique.  He has a happy hour every day - lasting 6 hours no less!! - and has his own individual way of signposting a vacant table...

In the next instalment we're off to explore Alcudia town which is just a short journey from PP by bus.

The Puerto Pollensa Diaries: Day 1 - Wednesday 16th September 2015

Here, at long last, are my posts about our summer holiday from two months ago. Sorry for the delay, the last two months have been very busy but also have been a personally difficult time; I didn't really feel like blogging or any other hobbies which I enjoy, but time is getting on so I thought I'd finally publish these posts.

Our summer holiday destination this year was a place with an identity crisis.  In the English language it's known as 'Puerto Pollensa' but once you arrive there it's known as Port de Pollença - however for the purposes of these blog posts I will refer to it as 'PP'. Whatever you want to call it, PP is a resort on the north side of the island of Mallorca. Two years ago we spent a very enjoyable week in Palma city (on the south of the island), so it would be interesting to compare and contrast the island's capital city with one of its quieter and classier resorts.  For PP is certainly no Magaluf - it sells itself as a family-orientated resort with no 18-30 culture in sight.  After the dark and turbulent past few months, it was time to try something new - yes you may not believe this, but in all my years of travelling, I've never visited a conventional Spanish holiday resort.  In the planning stages - after Croatia and Portugal were ruled out due to financial and other considerations - PP ticked all the boxes.  A small, fairly quiet, compact and walkable resort by the sea, with good connections to nearby towns and cities, seemed like the perfect place to hang out for a week and unwind.

It's an early morning flight from Glasgow Airport to Palma.  Of course being the big Frankie and Benny's fans which we are, we don't need an excuse to pay a visit - and there's something wicked about eating hash browns and potato scones (pictured above) for breakfast just after 4.00am!

After a fairly quick flight, we arrive at Palma airport and passengers are then transferred to the appropriate coach for their particular resort. And it isn't long before we're enjoying the delights of the Mallorcan countryside, with its spectacular mountain backdrop.

After what seems like an eternity of dropping passengers off at the numerous hotels and apartments, we eventually arrive at our hotel.  The weather is bright and sunny, with a strong breeze - certainly very different from home where it's dull and typically becoming cool for this time of year.  PP has a long promenade stretching from the 'Pine Walk' at one side to the end of the resort at the other, before heading into Alcudia town.  But more about that later in the week.

It is wonderful to be here, and the healing qualities of a summer holiday quickly become apparent.  I wasn't really sure what to expect, but I'm surprised at how quickly I begin to feel relaxed.  The seafront is lovely, the beach is just minutes away and there are lots of little boats out at sea.

The seafront is packed with restaurants and shops, small supermarkets, souvenirs and clothes shops as you would expect from a resort.  My immediate impression of PP is that it is a very laid-back resort and the main categories of holidaymakers at this time of year would be either families with young children, young couples, middle-aged or older couples.....and there's one particular type of actvity which is very popular here.  PP is cycling-daft, professional and amateur cyclists come here to train in the winter months, and over the week the 'peloton' of various different cycling groups dressed in all their proper cycling gear is a regular sight.  There is one particular cycling-themed bar/restaurant here - but more of that later in the week.  

After getting our bearings, and my 'expert' navigation getting us lost in the back streets, we eventually find our way back to the hotel to get ready for an evening out.  

What we're not prepared for is the need to pre-book a table at many of the town's restaurants, particularly those in the top 30 on Trip Advisor (and I don't even mean the uber-posh ones).  SO just when our evening was turning into 'no room at the inn' we eventually find somewhere to eat.  It's Gazpacho time!!

Gazpacho is a cold soup which isn't to everyone's taste, but it's perfect on a warm Spanish night.  The other great thing about a warm Spanish night is being able to eat outdoors.  I was surprised at how early people eat out in PP compared to the traditional reputation which Spain has for eating out late at night.  Perhaps it's the 'family' nature of the resort which will also explain why the seafront is deserted by 11.00pm in September!  But back to dinner...

Yes we are doing some very cliched Spanish dining tonight - that's some of our vegetable paella pictured above.  Having checked out a lot of restaurant menus there is a great choice, something for everyone, lots of vegetarian options and tapas are everywhere.  We are going to love it here!

After a late night drink at PP's most famous and wacky bar, we make our way back to the hotel via a very quiet seafront.  We also quickly discover that although PP feels like a very safe resort, it's not always a very well-lit one, so the 'assistive light' on my phone comes in very handy to guide us home, once we leave the seafront!

In the next instalment: exploring the resort.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: September-October 2015

You didn't need to check the calendar to know that autumn had officially arrived - just check the TV schedules for that.  X Factor and Strictly battling for Saturday night ratings, and ITV wheeled out their reliable Sunday night ratings winner "DOWNTON ABBEY" for its 6th and thankfully final series.  This series was particularly notable as in a recent episode, Downton didn't only jump the shark but it leapt to an unbeatable Olympian world record in shark-jumping.  Who'd have thought it that we'd get a "distressing scenes" warning before Downton of all things, but that's what we got when where Lord Grantham's ulcer burst, with projectile vomiting and blood all over the place.  Yuck.  I'm posting this on 08.11.15, when coincidentally the final series of Downton will come to an end. Hopefully with no exploding ulcers.

I loved the first series of "EMPIRE" (E4) and couldn't wait for the second one to start.  Although if I'm honest, it took a little bit of time getting into its stride, complicating the story with just too many tangents and not one record company but two.  But otherwise it's as you were: everyone's battling for the 'Empire' empire, Cookie is as wild and wonderful as ever, and the music (masterminded by old favourite of this blog Timbaland) is still as authentic.

Remember "Wanted" - that very addictive Channel 4 show from the 90s where people went on the run and were followed by the 'trackers'?  Well it's now been updated with a more sinister twist.  The back story for "HUNTED" (Channel 4) is that we are now living in a surveillance society and every move we make in the real and the digital world is being monitored.  But can you escape the hidden lens of big brother?  (As opposed to "Big Brother" which remains one attention-seeking laughing stock of a TV show).  But anyway the  real hero - or is that anti-hero - of the early weeks of Hunted was Dr Ricky Allen, a G.P. who managed to outwit his hunters all the way up to the Highlands, laying false trails and putting them off the scent.  It was only when he got on a train from Glasgow to London that his time was up.  Several others tried and failed; but thankfully there was a happy ending for two of the pairs who in the show's nailbiting finale managed to get away.  There will be a second series but I can't help but think it'll lose the novelty and magic of the first one as potential runners will know how to act, where to go - and where not to go!

Daniel Radcliffe continues with his quest to prove that there is life after Harry Potter.  Looking like a slightly more puny version of Zach Galifianakis, he starred in  "THE GAMECHANGERS" (BBC2) which was the strictly unauthorised story of the guys responsible for the Grand Theft Auto game.  I am aware of this game and the controversy which follows it around with every new incarnation, but at the end of the day I didn't really see the point of this rather overlong drama.  But then I'm more Pac-Man and Space Invaders so it's not my demographic.

I really enjoyed "MUSIC FOR MISFITS: THE STORY OF INDIE" (BBC4) and my only problem with it was that it only ran for 3 weeks.  So what is indie music?  Is it about the indie labels or the sound or the ethos or the lifestyle?  Or is it all of them?  Or is it just a state of mind? Whatever, I loved this series but then I have always loved what is described as 'indie' music, particularly during the 1980s when I rejected mainstream music for most of the decade.  This was a wonderful nostalgic journey for me.

Hot on the heels of this came "GIRL IN A BAND: TALES FROM THE ROCK N'ROLL FRONT LINE" (BBC4) which was basically a potted history of women in rock bands.  I enjoyed this very much because (a) it briefly featured New Order's Gillian Gilbert, my all-time favourite female musical role model, and (b) the wonderful Lush were in it - but shock horror, Miki Berenyi is now a brunette and has ditched her blazing red hair.  (But then I couldn't possibly comment as I have done the same.....)

Back in 2007 the nation was horrified by the news of the killing of a young woman, Sophie Lancaster, who was murdered for no reason apart from looking 'different', for being a goth.  "BLACK ROSES: THE KILLING OF SOPHIE LANCASTER" (BBC4) was a compelling dramatisation, with a heartbreaking performance by Julie Hesmondhalgh as Sophie's mother, and the young actress playing Sophie narrating her story through a series of poems. The shock of this hate crime has not reduced. So why was this excellent programme hidden over on BBC4 at 10.30pm?  This should be compulsory peak-time viewing.

Due to my large telly backlog amassed while I was away on holiday, I missed the much talked about hell-hath-no-fury drama "DOCTOR FOSTER" (BBC1) but caught up with it due to good old iPlayer. Each episode cranked up the unbearable tension which resulted from the lead character (played by Suranne Jones) discovering her husband's affair.  The final episode delivered the dinner party from hell and several red herrings, but in the style of many recent television dramas, it didn't deliver the ending that we quite expected, and it all ended in surprisingly civilised fashion.  If the TV bosses had any sense they wouldn't bring it back for another series (three words:  Broadchurch series 2) but yes, such is the modern-day greed for ratings at all costs that one successful series inevitably leads to an inferior follow-up.

Finally, I want to mention "YOU, ME AND THE APOCALYPSE" (Sky 1) which is a genuinely original and inventive drama on Sky 1, cleverly weaving a number of stories from Slough to the Vatican (Rob Lowe excelling as a cynical priest) to the USA, with the world facing imminent extinction, and rattling along at a cracking pace.  It's one of the year's best, and most underrated series.  I feel sometimes as if I'm the only person watching this but it really is well worth sticking with.

NRJ Music Awards 2015

This year's NRJ Music Awards took place last night in its traditional home in the Palais des Festivals in Cannes.  It was the 17th edition of the awards.  Over recent years the NRJ Music Awards has attracted international media attention, although this is entirely related to the high number of international A-list artists who turn up on the red carpet, rather than a sudden interest in French music.

But here on this blog I only care about the French music and couldn't care less about those overexposed artists whose songs turn up on NRJ and every radio station, everywhere in the world, every day of every year!!

This year's winners:

French Newcomer - Louane
French Male Artist - M Pokora
French Female Artist - Shy'm
French Duo/Group - Fréro Delavega
French song of the year - "Conmigo" - Kendji Girac

International Newcomer - Ellie Goulding
International Male - Ed Sheeran
International Female - Taylor Swift
International Group - Maroon 5
DJ - David Guetta
International Song of the Year - "See You Again" - Wiz Khalifa & Charlie Puth
International Video Clip - "Bad Blood" - Taylor Swift

Special awards - Sting, Adele, Charles Aznavour, Justin Bieber

The thing you notice straight away in the French winners' list is the dominance and popularity of "The Voice".  Unlike the UK version of the show which has failed to produce a commercially successful artist (apart from Becky Hill who has been the featured vocalist on a few dance hits), France's "The Voice, la plus belle voix" started off the career of 18 year old Louane Emera who then went on to appear in the hugely successful film "La Famille Bélier" which in turn kicked off a solo career which has made her one of the biggest selling artists of the past year in France with her debut album "Chambre 12".

Above: Louane shows off her award.

The next winners rose to fame on the 3rd series of The Voice which was won by a certain Kendji Girac.  Acoustic duo Fréro Delavega went on to release a very successful debut album of bright and breezy tunes.  Now as you know I've never really been a fan of the 'acoustic' style of music which has been popular over the last few years but I find Fréro Delavega very agreeable as they seem to follow a more upbeat musical style rather than the dreary acoustic ballads which have me reaching for the off switch.  And even better, they do it in the French language!  Just one thing though....you do not turn up to such a glamorous occasion dressed like that!

Above: Fréro Delavega, who didn't get the 'dress smartly' memo.

Finally, it was another successful night for Kendji Girac, the 19 year old who's taken French music by storm over the past couple of years with his flamenco-flavoured pop with a modern twist.  After winning best newcomer and song of the year awards at the 2014 NMAs, his song "Conmigo" was chosen in a public vote as French song of the year.  I do love Kendji's music but "Conmigo" IMHO isn't really one of his best songs as it's more generic r'n'b than the flamenco style which I prefer. Nevertheless I predict a lot more success for him in years to come.  Kendji has just released his second album "Ensemble" which is packed with more latin-flavoured pop bangers and will soon be making its way to my record collection.  

Above: Kendji on the red carpet.

Who knows - he might even go on to be as successful as this year's top French male artist M Pokora, who's been winning NRJ music awards since 2006.  Matt's another artist with a talent show connection; those of us with long memories (!) will remember him from the French version of Popstars The Rivals in 2003 as a member of Linkup.  

Above: Another in a long line of awards for Matt Pokora.

Finally, there was also a rare appearance at last night's awards by the legendary Mylene Farmer, whose latest album "Interstellaires" was released just a couple of days ago.  The first single to be released from it was a duet with Sting on a remake of one of his songs "Stolen Car".  Here's Sting and Mylene on the red carpet:

There was some disappointment though for the fans eagerly awaiting Mylene's first live TV performance in a long time, as a) she and Sting pre-recorded their performance of "Stolen Car" and b) the vocals weren't live but were playback.

Nevertheless though it is great to have her back.  I haven't had a chance to listen to clips of the new album yet - I'll approach this one with some trepidation as the last couple of her albums haven't done anything for me and came nowhere near the greatness of her classic older material, from Cendres de Lune up to and including Innamoramento.  Everything after that has been a disappointment for me, mainly because I have compared it to those older albums; but then again I guess that even a relatively disappointing Mylene release is still better than most of the overhyped junk passing for popular music these days.