Monday, 19 November 2012

Pap of Glencoe Photos

My Auntie Judy was over from Arizona in the United States a few weeks ago and she wanted me to show her Scotland and take her for a hike. We only had a few days so I chose Glencoe as it isn't too far and is one of my favourite places. As you will see from the photos below it didn't disappoint, we had all weathers and the glen was absolutely stunning in autumnal colours...

Clachaig Inn, Glencoe, Lochaber, Scottish Highlands

Aonach Dubh from Clachaig Inn sign, Glencoe, Scottish Highlands

Pap of Glencoe from Bridge of Coe, Glencoe Village, Scottish Highlands

River Coe from Bridge of Coe, Glencoe Village, Scottish Highlands

River Coe below Bridge of Coe, Glencoe Village, Scottish Highlands

Bridge of Coe, Glencoe, Scottish Highlands

Autumn colours on Tom Breac, Glencoe, Scottish Highlands

Judy ascending Pap of Glencoe with Loch Leven beyond

Loch Leven, Glencoe, Lochaber, Scottish Highlands

Weather moving in from The Mamores, Glencoe, Lochaber

Judy scrambling up the Pap of Glencoe

Judy and myself on the Pap of Glencoe

Weather moving away towards Glencoe, Scottish Highlands

Sun shining into Glencoe, Scottish Highlands

Loch Leven, Lochaber, Scottish Highlands

Sgorr na Ciche or Pap of Glencoe, Scottish Highlands

Judy admiring Loch Leven, Lochaber, Scottish Highlands

Judy descending the Pap of Glencoe, Bidean nam Bian beyond

Autumnal colours in Allt a' Mhuilinn, Glencoe, Scottish Highlands

Sgorr nam Fiannaidh, Glencoe, Lochaber, Scottish Highlands

Sun over Bidean nam Bian, Glencoe, Lochaber, Scottish Highlands

Sun bathed Pap of Glencoe, Glencoe, Lochaber, Scottish Highlands

Sunset meal at the Creagan Inn, Appin, Argyll & Bute, Scottish Highlands

Barrel signs at Clachaig Inn, Glencoe, Lochaber, Scottish Highlands

Ice climbing wall, Ice Factor, Kinlochleven

Climbing wall, Ice Factor, Kinlochleven, Lochaber, Scottish Highlands

Pap of Glencoe across Loch Leven, Lochaber, Scottish Highlands

Eilean na Moine Scots Pines in Loch Eilt, Scottish Highlands

Grey Heron, Arisaig, Scottish Highlands

Isle of Eigg and the Isle of Skye from Arisaig, Scottish Highlands

Ben Nevis from Corpach, Lochaber, Scottish Highlands

Blizzard, Glencoe, Lochaber, Scottish Highlands

Buachaille Etive Beag, Glencoe, Lochaber, Scottish Highlands

Judy hiding from the snow, Glencoe

Judy throwing snow balls, Glencoe

Judy throwing snow balls, Glencoe, Scottish Highlands

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Mallorca Day 1, Soller, Palma & Stim Fair

I was recently invited to Mallorca by the Spanish Tourist Office. The tourist offices of Spain, The Balearic Islands and their regional province rightly believe that Mallorca has a lot more to offer than just the stereo typical package holiday. Several bloggers, journalists and publishers from all over Europe were invited. The trip coincided with the first ever Sport Tourism Islands Motion Fair at the Palma Velodrome. "The fair is aimed at bringing together professionals from both the tourism and sports sectors to define lines of work, strategies and business alliances with a view to boosting and reinforcing tourism and sports business activities, innovating to meet the changing needs of the market, and combining synergies and efforts to offer the most comprehensive product possible for the Balearic Islands.". Mallorca is somewhere I had never looked up before before. I am ashamed to say my only previous knowledge of Mallorca was listening to amusing lads holiday stories from Magaluf and the Heineken slogan from the eighties "The water in Mallorca don't taste like what it oughta!".

Tramuntana Mountains, Mallorca

I typed "Mallorca Hill Walking" and "Mallorca Mountains" into Google's image search for the first time. This produced a photo mosaic of stunning landscapes. Browsing through the photographs I realised I had been missing out on something special. I spoke to several outdoor friends who regularly travel to Europe hill walking and they told me Mallorca is a fantastic destination for hill walking. After experiencing Mallorca myself I now know why they kept this information to themselves. I read the inventory that had been attached to the invite email. Activities included not only Hiking but also a cultural tour of Palma on Segway, kayaking, boat trips, cycling, visiting modern sports facilities and many other sports and outdoor related activities. I think it is great when a company or region is open and pro-active in promoting their product and Mallorca looked like a fantastic place to discover so I was more than happy to help them out. Hopefully my experiences and those I will share from the other bloggers, journalists and publishers who attended, will show you that Mallorca and the Balearic Islands are a fantastic destination for hill walkers and outdoor sports enthusiasts, especially this time of the year when the resorts are quiet, the sun shines most days and the temperatures are still relatively warm.

Tramuntana Mountains, Mallorca

One benefit of travelling to a warm climate is you can pack light. For a short trip to a warm climate like Mallorca the only clothing I take is a few Merino base layers, convertible trousers, wind proof jacket, underwear, micro fleece and sun protection. You really don't need much else. These items all pack down small and are very light so there is no need to pay for hold luggage and you can just carry on a rucksack as hand luggage. I had an early flight so had to be up and out of the door by 5am. I took a taxi to Terminal 2 departures at Manchester Airport where I joined the back of a long queue at the ever busy Monarch European flight desks. The queue was long but cleared very quickly. I really do need to modernise my way of thinking at the airport and learn how to do online checking and boarding pass print outs, I am old fashioned when it comes to the airport. I am always two hours too early and despite having just hand luggage I queue for up to an hour just to checkin and collect a boarding pass, both of which I could have done online in advance. After resisting gadgets in the VAT free electronics store I watched a film on my tablet whilst waiting for my gate to be called. I boarded the Monarch Airbus A321. We were welcomed on by the ironically named pilot Tom Holiday. The flight was good, just a short period of turbulence as we entered French airspace. I made out Toulouse and Barcelona from the plane window en route. There was also a brief glimpse of the Pyrenees. I was surprised by the lack of snow for such high mountains. The only snow visible was on the very highest peaks where year round cornices hung perilously. The short flight was nearly over when the plane banked sharply over the vast blue Mediterranean Sea to land in Palma. As it did I got my first views of the Mallorca landscape and in particular the northern coast and Tramuntana Mountains. I had read so much about the Tramuntana mountains. This was where our hike the next day was planned.

Palma Airport

Due to a delay setting off from Manchester my flight arrived late but as I only had hand luggage I sped through customs and went looking for the guide I was to meet for my connection to the hotel. I saw a lady holding a board with the Spanish Tourist Office written on it so went over and introduced myself. The guide, whose name escapes me unfortunately, was a lovely lady who spoke perfect English, as most people did over the weekend. She took me out to the minibus where three of the other bloggers, journalists and publisher who had already arrived were waiting, so I introduced myself to them. Jytte Flamshot Christensen is a journalist from Denmark. Jytte has written many travel guide books in Danish including one for Mallorca. Sari Venalainen is a travel, sports and fitness blogger from Finland. Sari is a fantastic photographer and has a passion for Latin America. Eduardo Perez is a travel blogger from Bilbao in Spain. Eduardo has a very popular travel blog, he has fantastic trip reports, photos and videos from his his regular and extensive travels and an infectious positive personality.

Hotel Marina, Port de Soller, Mallorca

The drive away from the airport was pleasantly quiet. We headed towards Palma on the Ma-19 road then turned onto the Ma-20 road to round Palma. We then turned on to the Ma-11 that heads north to Soller. As I was admiring the beautiful scenery of endless lemon groves, orange fields, vineyards and palm tress backed by blue skies and mountains from the minibus window I felt tired after my early start. Sari I really felt sorry for as she had been up since 3am to get to Mallorca from Finland. We came to a toll booth at the foot of the mountains and entered the impressive 3km long tunnel under the mountains to Soller. The tunnel takes over half an hour off the old route over the mountains, though the locals all said if you are there for a week it is worth driving the old scenic route over the Tramuntana mountains at least once. When the minibus exited the tunnel it entered an even more beautiful part of Mallorca. Soller sits in a bowl shaped valley surrounded by the Tramuntana mountains. We skirted past the town of Soller, where we were due to have lunch that afternoon and headed out to its port town Port de Soller. We were staying at different hotels so the minibus dropped Sari and Eduardo off first then Jytte and myself at the Hotel Marina. The Hotel Marina was lovely and I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to stay in Port de Soller. The staff all spoke excellent English and were very helpful. They are very accommodating to hikers. There are excellent maps available at the reception area, weather forecasts posted on the notice board and you will also find on the notice board excursions to the Tramuntana mountains with pickups from outside the hotel.

Port de Soller, Mallorca

I was jealous of Jytte as unlike myself she had a sea view room, I would highly recommend you book a sea view room if you stay at the Hotel Marina. Port de Soller is the perfect place to relax. It is a beautiful cove surrounded by mountain scenery. It is popular but has a certain laid back and respectful clientele. The Hotel is on the Passeig de la Platja on the front next to the beach. Sitting at a table on the Passeig de la Platja the next morning was probably the most relaxing place I had ever eaten breakfast. Waiting for us in our bedrooms was a welcome pack with information on Soller, locally produced Olive Oil and Orange Jam. Also in our welcome packs was a tram ticket to Soller, where we were due to have lunch. The Tren de Soller tramway also known as the Orange Express was built in 1913 and connects the port town of Port de Soller to the larger inland town of Soller, it even has some of its original wooden built trams in service. Unfortunately we missed the tram but the owner of the hotel who was also joining us for lunch gave us a lift to Soller. The owner of the hotel was a lovely lady, very friendly, helpful and accommodating. Again I am not good with names and sadly her name escapes me. She also joined us on the hike the next day. Driving through Soller was a real eye opener, I have no superlatives of high enough praise to describe how beautiful its streets are. We were dropped off at the very centre of the town the Placa Constitucio, a busy square with cafes, plane trees, water fountains and incredible buildings.

Placa Constitucio, Soller, Mallorca

One of those buildings is the La Vila restaurant. We had a large table booked at the back of the restaurant. Some of the other bloggers, publishers and journalists I hadn't met yet were at the table so we quickly introduced ourselves. Claudia van Tunen, originally from Holland but recently moved to Oslo, Norway. Claudia has travelled the world and runs a popular backpacking blog with her partner. She spoke excellent English and had a really infectious and enthusiastic personality. Neilia Domingues a travel blogger from Paris, France. We got on very well despite the language barrier which we both found a comical challenge at times. As we were enjoying our starter we were joined by the man behind WifiRental.Travel. One thing we had been promised whilst on our trip was our own personal Wifi. I was interested to see how they would guarantee this. WifiRental.Travel is a fantastic innovation. The technology isn't new, I've been using 3G modems and 3G phone tethering in Britain for years.

WifiRental.Travel 3G rental dongle

This is a brilliant solution for holiday makers, so instead of returning home to a horrific unexpected phone bill caused by roaming data bills, you pay a set amount for a gigabyte of data on the portable 3G device and carry it with you for the duration of your holiday. Giving you your own pre-paid personal Wifi hotspot. A fantastic idea and we all benefited hugely from it over the next few days. We were all able to share our experiences over social networks wherever we were. The 3G reception around the island was also surprisingly good. After our delicious meal followed by espressos the owner gave us a fascinating insight into the history of the building. The building was once a private residence. When the owner purchased the building for a hotel and restaurant he spent a lot of time and money restoring all of the original fixtures, fittings and decoration. It was an impressive grand building. As we left La Vila and made our way across Placa Constitucio none of us could resist the photo opportunity of the stunning church of Sant Bartomeu. We made our way to the minibus which would now take us to Palma for our cultural tour of the city on Segway.

Segway near La Seu cathedral, Palma, Mallorca

The minibus dropped us off at Placa de la Lonja next to La Lonja, one of the oldest buildings in Palma. The Gothic style Silk Exchange building was built in the 15th century. We were introduced to the guys from Segway Palma who kitted us up then gave us a quick lesson on how to control the Segway. At Placa de la Lonja we also met two more trip invitees. Jorg Baldin a travel blogger from Schonberg in Germany and Ralf Jergin a publisher from Munich in Germany. Jorg and Ralf were brilliant and provided plenty of entertainment over the next few days. It was like having two older brothers for me as for the rest of the trip they picked on me, the lone and defenceless Englishman! The Segway were so much fun. After practising in the Placa de la Lonja we set off at speed down the Passeig de Sagera. We turned right through a modern park area near then an open area with bizarre outside art sculptures. After darting through narrow back streets we made our way back towards the old town area of the city.

Basilica y Claustro Sant Francesc, Palma, Mallorca

The old town is a beautiful place. The buildings are absolutely stunning. In the old town area we visited the huge La Seu cathedral, the flamboyant Royal Palace of La Almudaina, the elegant Basilica y Claustro Sant Francesc, the spire of the Church of Santa Eulalia, and the city hall Ajuntament de Palma building. With well paved narrow streets and stunning centuries old architecture, Palma is the perfect playground for the Segway. When we returned to La Lonja the doors were open so we went in to find the buildings floor was covered in floor tiles with faces on them. This was part of an art exhibition by local artist Bernardi Roig. The faces on the tiles were part of his "walking on faces" work. By social media Bernardo Roig called for nearly two thousand volunteers to be photographed pulling one of three painful looking expressions. There was a tile for each face with almost two thousand in total covering the floor of La Lonja. Another work in La Lonja which also took on a dark theme was his "Hanging Practises to Suck the Light". This was an daunting sculpture of what I am guessing was a part naked suicidal man with his tongue out seemingly about to suck the light from his life, represented by a light bulb. It was certainly different and thought provoking. We had half an hour to spare so Eduardo and myself went to a cafe for a refreshing Macchiato. We spoke about our social networking and blogging activities and shared tips on photo management.

Bernardi Roig's Hanging Practices to Suck the Light

The minibus picked us up from Placa de la Lonja and took us to the Stim Fair at the Velodrome Arena in Palma. We had a bit of a moment in the minibus when someone realised Neilia wasn't with us. She had been busy taking photos in Placa de la Lonja. Luckily one of the other guides was en route and picked her up on their way. "Have we got the French lady" soon became a regular shout when we left anywhere. The Stim Fair reminded me very much of Britain's Outdoor Show in its infancy. This was the first ever and even the president of the Balearic Islands José Ramón Bauzà had turned up to show his support. Among the more famous sports stars present was Brigitte Yagüe Enrique, Spain's Taekwondo silver medallist at the 2012 London Olympics. She was a good sport and allowed me to take a photo of her pretending to beat up Eduardo which I quickly tweeted. There were plenty of stalls from companies who organise the vast array of sports available in the Balearic Islands. It was obvious that sport has become one of the Balearic Islands most impressive products after spending millions on impressive modern facilities and taking advantage of the pull of its warm climate.

Stim Fair, Velodrome Arena, Palma, Mallorca

The warm climate is not just a pull for tourists but also professionals. Teams from all over the world come here to train during the winter. Water sports, Hiking and Cycling seemed to be the most popular. This is of course due to the extensive coast line of the islands, Mallorca's impressive Tramuntana Mountain range and the flat well laid roads with huge horizons. As someone whose family has been effected by disabilities I was really pleased to see a presence of companies catering for those with disabilities. The possibilities seemed endless too, there were specially adapted equipment for most sports, in fact there was even Segways for those with disabilities! I think the Stim Fair will grow each year and hopefully become more of an interactive experience. The vast amount of sports and outdoor activities available to tourists and professionals whilst visiting Mallorca and the Balearic Islands was phenomenal. I started to write them down on my notes in Evernote but realised it would go on forever. One stall took me by surprise when I discovered Mallorca has its own outdoor gear company, Bestard. That wasn't me being blasphemous  by the way, they are actually called Bestard. I checked out a few samples they had on their stall and it all looked top quality. The boots in particular looked excellent.

Bestard Boots, Stim Fair, Palma, Mallorca

Obviously the thing I was most interested in was hiking. I asked one of the guides who would be best person to talk to about hiking in Mallorca, the Tramuntana Mountains and in particular the long distance GR221 route also known as the Ruta de Pedra en Sec, or Drystone Route. I was introduced to a Mallorcan walking guide who was very enthusiastic about the GR221. I asked him about its completion as most articles I read online said it hadn't yet been completed. He wasn't the first to tell me that this isn't true and explained that a lot of guide books and online material had not been updated since the completion of the route. In places there is a lack of refuges to stay at but he said in most places there are options to come slightly off the trail and stay in beautiful villages. Anyone thinking of doing the GR221 should check out Paddy Dillon's excellent Cicerone book Trekking Through Mallorca. He told me that work is already under way on creating the new GR222 route in Mallorca. This new route will be a spur from the existing GR221 at Santuari de Lluc in the Tramuntana Mountains and will head out to Alta on the north east peninsula of the island.

Mallorcan cuisine tapas style, El Club de Mar, Palma, Mallorca

After the Stim Fair we were taken to the prestigious El Club de Mar yacht club at the harbour in Palma. We ate exquisite Mallorcan cuisine tapas style which was absolutely delicious. I wasn't wanting to drink as I was already tired and I don't drink much anyway. The Spanish however seem obsessed with filling your wine glass so I had no choice in the matter. My lack of ability to handle drink somewhat amused the Germans Jorg and Ralf who thought all Brits were harden drinkers. The minibus took us all back to Port de Soller later that night, most of our heads dropping as we were all tired after a long day. Jorg and Ralf however would have quite happily stayed out all night! Especially if they had found Palma's famous German Mega Park that Jorg was obsessed with finding. At the meal we were joined by late arrival Felicity Allegri, originally from Bournemouth but now living with her husband in Bergamo Italy. Together they run a popular Adventure Travel blog in Italy. Felicity being a fellow Brit and like minded we got on very well over the next two days. When I got back to my hotel room I struggled to sleep as I was so excited about the the hike in the Tramuntana Mountains the next day. My first day in Mallorca was incredible, and I had already fallen in love with the place. I will upload all of the photos from Mallorca shortly and the trip report from my second day in Mallorca, hiking the GR221 in the Tramuntana Mountains coming up next...