After being back in the United States for almost half a year, we jumped at the opportunity for almost free flights to Europe and a chance to visit good friends. Two stops for me, Mallorca and Berlin, and three stops for Haley, Mallorca, Nimes, and Berlin.
After returning from our big trip in November, neither of us were ready to dust off the resumes and start looking for jobs like the ones we used to have. Fortunately, both of us have been able to avoid a cubicle or office of any kind for the time being. Haley found a set-up where she flies to Europe or Canada or Mexico for 10 days at a time, 5 or 6 times a year, and I have started my own engineering and design business (Empirical Design LLC www.empiricaldesignco.com) working with tech companies in the Bay Area.
Because of this, Haley was able to turn 2 10-day work trips to Europe into a month-long business/pleasure European extravaganza, and I was able to join her using the ticket she didn’t use to come home in between. It’s a little convoluted, but it just means that we got 2 weeks of play in Europe together for not much money.
Our first stop was Alcudia, a small walled town on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, Spain. Neither of us had been and we probably never would have if we had not met honeymooners Tolo and Laura on a train in the north of Vietnam less than a year ago. You can imagine how many things had to go just right for us to end up buying train tickets (which were our second choice – we had tried to get a different time) from a nice lady at just the right time to get us in the same train car with two of the sweetest people you could ever meet. If I believed in a god or astrology or fate, or karma or any of that, I’d say that they must have all been on our side at the time. Instead I chalk it up to extremely good luck. Haley thinks maybe it could be parallel universes or something.
Because we knew we would be hosted by experts, we didn’t bother doing any research and had almost no idea what to expect. It turns out that Mallorca was an enchanting place for us – so much so that we agreed afterwards that we could be very happy living there for a very long time. Of course, the fact that we were being hosted and guided by our new(ish) great friends (NGFs) was a huge part of the rapid enchantment.
We packed in the adventure and activities with only the (extremely) minimal amount of downtime required to re-energize mixed in. Tolo, on the other hand, is superhuman and seems to need zero downtime. Two days after we arrived he competed in an Iron Man triathlon (2km swim, 90km bike through BIG mountains, and a half marathon) and beat his goal of 5.5 hours. The night before the race he was too nervous to sleep. After the race and a few hours of sleep we were right back at it, with late dinners, big hikes, etc. Not to mention Tolo works full time as a physical education teacher, so while we were sleeping in, he wasn’t.
There were many highlights and I know this is cliché, but the ONLY downside of the whole visit was that we did not have enough time. Fortunately, they’re not going anywhere (why would they?) and we will come back for a month? year? life? next time.
Some of the highlights:
Tolo’s aforementioned race: This was no rinky-dink 5K, this was a real deal triathlon with 3000 competitors from 67 countries giving it their all. We really enjoyed all 5.5 hours of it. We got to spot Tolo on multiple occasions and I even got to run with him a few times. The last time was in the last 3 minutes, when I snuck on to the course and got to run with Tolo almost until the finish line where I ducked out avoiding any penalties. That might have been my “best” if someone were asking (Jarod).
Hike to the cannon with Laura: About 10 minutes from their house is a protected area where you can hike and see this:
Hike to Deia with NGFs:
We took a beautiful winding drive up over the mountains to the other side of the island to hike a portion of what could be a 4-day hike. We were in search of a place that Laura wanted to take us for a rest stop. And we found it. It was a 400+ year old ‘house’ where they make multiple delicious flavors of cake that you get to enjoy while taking in views of the mountains and out over to the Mediterranean. It was total bliss. A few more highlights to this day….
-you end up at a picturesque cove where you can take a swim in the Mediterranean in case you may have perspired during the walk
– we had a fun lunch break and practiced pitching.
– a race against the bus to recover my sunglasses. I left my sunglasses (same ones that spent a night on the bottom of the sea in Indonesian Borneo) on a rock on the beach and made the choice to race back down hill 10 minutes and then back up hill 20 minutes in an effort to recover them and not miss the last bus back to our car. I found the glasses and we made the bus.
A 30K bike ride to Pollenza and St. Vincente:
– Haley and I ventured out on our own one morning while Tolo and Laura worked. We winded through gorgeous scenery, olive trees, green pastures, sheep, mountains, crazy-colored ocean waters, and then charming little mallorcan towns with orange stone buildings changing with the sun, and the same green shutters as every other mallorcan town. All of our navigation was done with an iPhone and our poor senses of direction. We were proud and happy.
Sailing: Lara, a dear friend of Laura and Tolo – who also did the Iron Man, by the way – works with the family business which is boat tours around the island. We got lucky and got to go out on the Catamaran – it was its first day out of the season and it was great. We got to lie out on the net and watch the crystal water go by as the catamaran hugged the perimeter of the island. We swam in the Mediterranean, didn’t get stung by medusas (jelly fish), drank wine, ate some Spanish BBQ , and napped. I even kayaked while we were moored in a beautiful cove. The wind picked up in the afternoon which meant we were happy we had brought our jackets. But it also meant sails up. I got to help pull up the sails and we went halfway home under the power of the wind. It was an awesome day.
Just for the heck of it, after the day on the boat, since we had not had nearly enough activities or exercise that day (not to mention the past week), we hiked to a cave with an entrance, say, directly above the Mediterranean – perfect for rock jumping. We headed out around 7pm because you can do that in Mallorcan summer. Sadly, the sea was too rough for rock jumping but Tolo and I thought about it. Tolo led us through lots of rooms in the cave and Haley sang two songs with the lights out which gave us goosebumps. Then we hiked out. We didn’t see one other person on the whole hike.
Dinner at the bull ring:
Still on the boat-ride, cave-hike day, Lara’s dad invited us to a home-cooked meal he was making for all his buddies in the town’s bull ring bar. He made a seafood extravaganza – with industrial-size pots of seafood broth and yellow rice and all kinds of fresh grilled fish that had been swimming in the Mediterranean that very morning. Plus homemade, local wine. I ate an entire bowl of seafood rice soup and didn’t get any allergic reaction. They really were intrigued to have Americans at their guys’ dinner so we had a great time chatting with all of Lara’s dad’s friends even though we could hardly understand a word their Catalan-speaking selves were saying.
Race to the top:
Laura and I made a wager as to who could win against the other on the course of an annual race in Alcudia. There was a lot of shit-talking and negotiating about what was fair leading up to the big race on our last night in Mallorca. Laura is competitive and reallllly wanted it to be fair so we calculated a handicap based on Tolo’s and Lara’s IronMan times. She got a 4 minute headstart and beat me by 2 minutes. I had to call her Senora Martinez and wait on her hand and foot for our last evening in Alcudia. So I lost to a girl but it was great. And Haley cooked up a great salmon dinner for the four of us plus Lara which we of course did not eat until 11pm like every other dinner that week.
If you have lived in a small town your whole life and you are very fun to be around, you will probably have lots of friends who live in that same town. We benefited from being instantly included in our NGFs close circle of friends. We were a bit jealous even that we didn’t live in a small town where you could run into a good friend on the street and invite them to walk the 3 minutes over to your house for dinner.
Mallorca was amazing.
When our time ran out in paradise, Haley and I parted ways temporarily. She made her way to visit her host family in Nimes where she lived 18 years ago via a day of sight-seeing in Barcelona. She had a great day visiting La Sagrada Familia and walking the old town and even found the restaurant we ate romantic dinners in every night when we were visiting Barcelona 13 years ago. Then she took the TGV to Nimes and had three great days with the Thibaud Family, eating fabulous meals, and catching up with old friends in Nimes during a very rainy and soggy Feria de Pentecote. She and her sister Anne even got home at 5:30am one night – just like old times. It was a great visit.
I headed straight for Berlin from Mallorca to see our good friends Ben, Ania and their daughter Natalia in their home town. Haley joined me three days later.
It was my first time and Haley’s second time in Berlin and it was fun to see our good friends living in a place that embraces their artistic souls. Ben explained to me that although Germans do live up to the stereotype of adhering to and strongly respecting rules (see other note about bike rental for evidence), they also mind their own business as long as you are not doing anything dangerous or setting a bad example. You’ll get some evil stares if you jaywalk in front of a kid, but you might not even get a second look for walking down the street in your underwear ( I didn’t try either, but it might be fun next time).
Berlin is super bike friendly and for the most part the weather also cooperated allowing for lots of riding around. Our main reason for visiting Berlin was to spend some quality time with our friends on their home turf and that was definitely the highlight for us.
Other than enjoying each other’s company, we:
-cooked lots of delicious and healthy meals together in their huge apartment
-got to see a couple of radical performances in the gallery below the apartment.
-played with sweet Natalia
-saw a little bit of the touristy parts of Berlin
–checked out the fairly new berlin wall monument, lots of very cool parks, gates, sculptures, blooming rhododendrons,
spooky cemeteries, beautiful cemeteries, crazy buildings
-ate at lots of cafes and drank record numbers of cappuccinos
-Visited Ania as she was selling her wool dolls and mobiles at the huge Mauer Park market – they were obviously flying off the shelves.
-saw lots of cool street performers – one night was especially cool when haley, ben and I were out for a night bike ride. We happened upon a guitar and accordion duo performing in a beautiful outdoor corridor apparently for no one but themselves and their pure love of music. Major highlight for sure.
The Warriors were in the playoffs while we were in Europe and obviously I had to watch all the games so there were a lot of late nights staying up watching or early morning wake-up calls when tipoff was at 4am our time. I didn’t miss a game and I was pretty sad when the Warriors finally lost.
I rented a bike my first day in Berlin and ended up keeping it for the whole week. I didn’t tell the guy I rented it from I was going to do that though. Mistake. Let me tell you, Germans take their rental agreements very seriously. He came and hunted me down and yelled at me and Ben for 10 minutes – he was shaking he was so mad – before he pocketed my 25 Euro deposit and biked off in a huff.
Also, it’s pretty awesome to be home too. Beach days with wet, sandy Dom, delicious dinners with great friends, and the cutest breakfast date around (Zoe loves her some strawberries).