Monday, 27 October 2014

Marvellous Menorca: Less Known Balearic Beauty

The Balearic islands of Majorca and Ibiza are some of the most famous resort destinations in Europe and host a significant number of Spain’s tourists each year. However for those looking for something slightly less intense, the lesser known Balearic beauty of Menorca is the perfect getaway.

Departing regularly from many major airports throughout Europe, flights to Menorca are frequent and flexible. Visitors will be nothing short of mesmerised after landing, eager to explore the 270 square mile island, all of which is a UNESCO biosphere. Here are a few of the island’s very best activities for visitors to magical Menorca.

Flora and fauna
The island was designated a UNESCO biosphere in 1993 thanks to its wildlife and landscapes. The forests, gorges, salt marshes, wetlands, lush rolling hills and of course pristine beaches all serve as important habitats for all variety of wild things. Much of the island is accessible by foot if not by single track roads with the piece de resistance of landscapes (or its Spanish equivalent) being Mount Toro, situated in the heart of the island and reaching some 258 meters above sea level. The peak reveals staggering panoramas of the island, views which extend all the way across the sea to Majorca on a clear day.

Menorca has been shaped over the years by a series of visiting colonisers ranging from Roman to North African to Turkish, British, French and of course, Spanish. As a result the island’s culture includes everything from prehistoric sites to Gothic, Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture. Once more, UNESCO recognized the importance of Menorca’s cultural history in 2004 when it extended a protective reach over historic sites, in effect prohibiting the development of any large-scale high-rise resort development. This allowed locals to establish rural hotels known as agroturismos which are the accommodation option of choice for travellers looking to experience authentic Menorca.

Idyllic island perks
While Majorca and Ibiza have beaches packed with tourists, Menorca’s shores are significantly less crowded but boast more beaches than its busy neighbouring islands combined. The shores of the island feature a seemingly endless series of gorgeous small bays and coves away from the main resorts that range in size from tiny to sprawling. Some visitors may wish to undertake unmarked trails to arrive at a deserted beach while others may choose to explore the coast by boat, taking in the terrain from the surrounding waters. There are sea caves to explore, sea creatures to observe and endless Spanish sunshine to soak up.

Menorca is a well-preserved colonial gem in a sea of highly developed resort tourism. Majorca and Ibiza may have gained international reputations for the club-loving jet-set, but Menorca flies blissfully under the radar of major Mediterranean resort development. The island’s various cultural influences and natural beauty make it truly one of a kind for those seeking a peaceful, authentic getaway.


Friday, 24 October 2014

Camino Portraits: Slava & Irena

There were not many Slovenes we met on our way to Santiago. Only three of them to be exact. Actually since Slovenia is a pretty small country with a total population of only 2 million people, we were not expecting to run into many Slovene pilgrims anyway.

Slava and Irena are two friends who felt Camino might bring some variety into their retirement. They were also quite amused by responses from their loved ones. Everyone back home thought they have gone crazy and will not be able to make it to Santiago. This only fired them up more and off they went...

Apart from coming from Slovenia, there was one more thing we had in common - tendinitis. None of us was willing to quit the trip because of it and we just kept limping towards Santiago.

We ran into each-other for a few times within our second week and were always glad to hear our native language. Hopefully they were able to enjoy the rest of the way at least as much as we did.


Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The hardest day of the Camino

Actually I do not remember much of this day. It is probably better this way... it was pretty much all suffering.

This was day 11 of our almost one month long Camino de Santiago adventure. Click on the Camino de Santiago label to see all related posts.

The day began with moderate pain in my right leg. It seemed pretty much the same as the day before. A long evening walk we did around the centre of Burgos did not seem like such a good idea any more.

Since getting into the centre of Burgos took us forever the day before, we were expecting a similar exercise on the way out of the city. Luckily the suburban area on the western side of the city was not so huge. We were out in the countryside pretty quickly.

We definitely preferred walking down a country road when compared to hard asphalt surfaces of Burgos' suburbs. It is interesting how you start noticing different hardness levels of surfaces after a week of constant walking.

Once we got into the flat countryside the views stayed pretty much the same for the whole day. All was flat, with wheat fields all around us as far as we could see.

As kilometres went by my tendinitis problem was also getting worse with every step and soon enough all I was thinking about was: "Left, right, left and right again". I just kept repeating it... till the late afternoon. It seemed like forever.

I was walking pretty slow and stopping did not help either. It only made me suffer more once I started walking again. The whole walking procedure was draining so much energy I totally lost interest in taking photos. Visualizing a photo and taking it seemed pretty much impossible. The result is no photos from the walk.

Our plan for the day was to walk from Burgos to Hontanas. That makes just over 33 kilometres and for me it was one of the hardest hikes I have ever did. It was almost totally flat but it did not help a bit.

The final kilometres were really devastating. Since the landscape was pretty flat we could see really far. At some point we even started wondering if we were on the right track. When we came close to some traffic signs we just looked in disbelief. On one of the signs it was written: Hontanas 0,5.

No matter how hard we looked around us, we could see no sign of a town or even a building. Since it is pretty obvious one should see a town from half a kilometre away we did not know what to think. After a while we just kept walking and 200 metres down the road a basin with a small village appeared right in front of us. Hontanas does not look like much but for us at that moment it was the most beautiful place on the planet.

After we found a place to sleep in the first albergue in the village of Hontanas, we took even more time than usually for our daily stretching-shower-massage-laundry routine. I further extended it with a half an hour of ice massage. Massaging my leg with ice was quite painful but since I knew it would help, it was a no-brainer.

Before dinner I even found enough energy to snap a photo of the village church from outside of our room.

During a talk with one of the pilgrims we kept running into we found out arranging backpack transportation was really easy. All you have to do is ask the hospitalero at the albergue you are staying in about it and they will arrange everything.

You get an empty envelope, on which you write your information and the destination where you would like to pick up the backpack on the following day. You need to put 7 Euro inside the envelope and attach it to your backpack. The hospitalero in our case arranged everything else i.e. called the company and arranged the pick-up early next morning.

We were hoping this would help my leg recover a bit faster. At the same time we could both put all our heavy stuff inside my to-be-transported backpack and have an easier walk in the morning.

It seems like a bunch of companies offer this kind of service. Obviously there is quite a demand for it.
After I used the service for a day, I started noticing many pilgrims with suspiciously small backpacks. Some might even call it cheating but in the end it is all about how you see your own Camino.

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