Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Camino de Mallorca - Walking to Magaluf

When I tell people I don't know how to drive, their eyes widen in surprise and I can see them trying to resolve the problem.

"You'll have to get a motorbike then," they say. 

I used to enjoy the idea of riding a Vespa over the cobblestones of some idyllic Italian town, but now I'm convinced I'd be a danger to myself and everyone else.

"Does your husband drive?" is the follow up question. They relax once they know one of us is useful.              

From the response, it would seem that living in Mallorca without a car is madness. Well, today, without husband / driver, I was determined to overcome the obstacle of distance. I needed to get to Magaluf for research purposes.  The characters in my novel are on a hen party and they may well end up there. It was necessary I checked it out.

How far away was Magaluf? Well, nearer than I'd previously thought, since I'd previously thought it in Greece. I saw a clip from a documentary on the resort once; drunken teenagers comatose on the floor, police breaking up fights, vomit and litter strewn across the streets. I remember feeling very sorry for the Greeks. 
After rifling through a drawer of maps and leaflets the previous German occupants had left (stopping to giggle for a bit over a 'Gute Fahrt'), I ended up with a map of Mallorca. Magaluf looked a finger print away. I got a ruler and tried to calculate the distance using the scale. I estimated 8- 10km. It would take time, but physically, I was capable.
Equipped with water and an orange, I set off.
It was a long walk, but it was very pedestrian-friendly. Much of the journey took place on a tree-lined path, with box trimmed hedges coated in fine dust separating me from the road. It was hot but there was a gentle breeze. I saw vineyards and the first signs of mountains in the distance. 
An hour later, I paused to eat my orange under a tree and thought of my Dad, because he'd always peeled the oranges on walks when we were little. Was this nostalgia or heatstroke? I sipped my water and pushed on.
I arrived at Palmanova two and a half hours later. The sea was a stunning blue, the distant boats a blinding white. English voices carried in the air. Restaurant menus offered options familiar to the British palate like pizza and roast beef. Topless young men paraded burns so bad I had to stop myself suggesting, in a maternal voice, to put on some aftersun and cover up for a bit. I was clearly closing in on Magaluf and it was time to eat and get my energy up before the final leg.
On my way over to Mallorca, I'd met two young girls heading out to work in Magaluf on the plane and they'd warned me about Spanish food. Funny as it's the food I've grown up on and it's one of the things that excites me about living in Spain again. 
Among the British pubs and tributes to Blackpool, I sought out a tapas bar, tucked into a deliciously spicy frito de marisco and a caña, and basked in the great sense of achievement that came with having fulfilled my mission WITHOUT A CAR. And I seriously considered the idea of walking around the whole island, a sort of alternative to the Camino de Santiago.
Of course, by the time I got to Magaluf, I was far too knackered to do any exploring. I got the bus straight back, which for only 1.50, seemed a bit of an affront to my aching legs.

For more Mallorca Pics follow me on Instagram @emilybenetauthor


Saturday, 16 May 2015

Alone in Mallorca - Blogging to Stay Sane

First evening alone - a good start!
What do you do when you move to a foreign land and you don't know anyone? 

Obviously you go get your nails done. At least that's where I went to seek out emotional support. I had hoped for a lively woman my age who would chat easily, invite me out for a drink that evening and within days become a really great friend. Too much to ask from a manicure? Yes. 

The reality was a surly, middle-aged woman who wasn't interested in talking, but did say I was bound to meet other Brits soon enough. I felt a bit miffed. For the record, I haven't moved to Mallorca to seek out an ex pat community. I've come to meet all nationalities. Technically I'm not even an ex pat anyway, as I'm half Spanish, though evidently my accent needs a polish. 

The woman only softened when it was time to pay. Did I seem too desperate? I hadn't spoken to anyone in two days and I have no reliable internet connection at the moment. In fact if this blog goes up, it's because I've found an internet cafe*. (*The noughties called, it wants its internet cafe back!) 

As I left the nail salon, a treacherous voice whispered: Why did you leave the country where all your friends are? But another voice, who has been through this once before, replied, Patience, it will all be worth it... 

Since my time at the nail salon had failed to fulfill my emotional needs, I embraced retail therapy instead. There's a brilliant Chinese shop beneath our flat. In Spain, a Chino shop sells everything under the sun; from mops and buckets, to earrings and dog food. I LOVE CHINO SHOPS and I started to feel more upbeat as I wandered up and down the aisles finding things on my list. 

My Trainers' First Outing in Mallorca
Lists, I feel, are key to survival while alone in a new place. Well, they are for me. Maybe you're unfazed by being alone. My husband is arriving in 4 days and I'm really looking forward to his company. Meanwhile I'm writing lists to focus myself and not succumb to a strange urge to just sleep. 

My list ranges from going for an exploratory run (TICK) to buying rubbish bags (TICK) to writing a blog (TICK) and buying a cork board to carry on plotting my novel (TICK). 

I feel much better for writing all this down. It was either blog or start talking to myself. Thanks for reading lovely people. 

Right, next on my list is finding an internet cafe... found one!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

House Hunting in Mallorca – A Dollop of Destiny

Destiny; do you believe in it?

After a crack of dawn flight, a total of seven hours travelling, I arrived at my air bnb in Mallorca to find no one to greet me with the keys and the owner not answering their phone. My husband was flying in later that evening, so I was alone, the first to set foot on this island we hoped to soon call home.

48 hours previously we'd cleared out our London rental flat. You don't know how much stuff you've got until you move. It had been a race against time packing up and cleaning the flat and I hadn't slept properly in three days. I was knackered, hungry and bursting for the loo. I just wanted to get inside the apartment and put my suitcase down.

I rang the owner again. No answer.

Welcome to Spain, I thought, feeling sorry for myself.

When the owner finally did call back, half an hour later, it was to tell me I would have to get a taxi to pick up the keys since she was currently away from the island. It was 2pm. I had left my parents' house in London at 5.30am that morning and I had already been in a car, a train, a plane and two buses. Since I wasn't trying to set a record for how many modes of transport I could take in a day, I certainly did not want to now catch a taxi.

“What do you want me to do?” she said sulkily. “If you get the taxi then you can get on with enjoying your holidays.”

I told myself that this was just a little obstacle and I wasn't going to let this rude woman dampen my enthusiasm for my new life. So I rolled my suitcase down the hill to a better area to hail a cab and waited for her to send me an address for the pick up. The address didn't come.

“I'm trying to solve the problem,” she said, when I called her again. “Go back and wait outside the apartment.”

So I wheeled my case back up the hill, hid in the shade outside the block of flats and tried to forget my aching bladder. And I waited...

And waited...

And waited...

40 minutes later, still no one had appeared with the keys as promised.

“Oh, my colleague can't come now,” the owner said when I called again. “Can you get a taxi?”

I lost my temper. Fat lot of good it did too.

She said it wasn't far. The taxi driver said it was very far. Guess who was right?

By the time the taxi metre had hit 20 euros I had told him my life story. How we had spontaneously decided to pack up our lives in busy London in favour of the climate and lifestyle of Mallorca. He sighed wearily and told me I had come at the worst time, that flat prices would be exorbitant and that living in Palma was una mierda because of the noise.

This is where the destiny bit comes in. The taxi driver then gave me the number of his friend, Pedro, who had a flat to rent.

Pedro's flat was classic A Place in The Sun material. In the right location outside of the city, a good size, a great price but with the décor favoured by Spanish Abuelas in the 1950s. You know, garish tiles all over and ornaments you want to bury in the ground. Still, we considered it as we wandered down the road, not knowing quite where we were going. A few minutes later we stumbled upon an estate agent, an estate agent we wouldn't have come across if we hadn't visited Pedro's flat, which we wouldn't have known about if it wasn't for the taxi driver which... well, you get the idea. 

 We went inside.

“No I don't have anything,” the lady said, when we told her what we were looking for. But then she sat down at her desk as if she'd suddenly remembered something. “Actually... there is one.”

Five minutes later she had driven us to it.

“It's a good life for a car,” she said, referring to the car park which had an incredible view of the ocean.

In we stepped into a polished flat with the terrace of my dreams. I was drawn to it, completely and utterly distracted by how perfect it was. Large, covered and with a sea view. I imagined myself writing out there, working long hours without feeling like I was working at all. My heart swelled with excitement. Looking over the terrace, the elegant, communal swimming pool glittered below, perfect for a quick break from my word count.

We went back to visit the flat that very afternoon for another look and made up our minds there and then that it was the one.

We've been told to tell people that Mallorca is horrible so we won't be inundated with visitors all year around. I think I'm going to struggle to be convincing though. If you don't like sea, blue sky, friendly people, delicious food, it really is hell on earth.

As for me, if all goes well, I'll be moving into the flat next week. I'm beyond excited.  

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Pen Heaven Competition: My Workstation Photo Entry

If I'm ever accidentally locked in a shop, let it be a stationery shop! I would happily spend the night scribbling and highlighting and sticking and glittering and cutting and stapling and folding and felt-tipping! Are any of those real verbs? Who cares! 

LOST - Replacement needed!
Frankly, I'm still in mourning after losing my beloved leather bound notebook after it fell out of a badly zipped up suitcase on a plane. A 3rd year wedding anniversary present and something I thought I'd have for life. I have yet to replace it, which is why I really want to win this competition!

Yes, this is my entry for Pen Heaven's Competition for Stationery Week. The photo is also going to serve as a memento of my time writing in North London. This Sunday I'm moving to Mallorca and tonight my beloved workstation will be packed up. 

I've had my £19 Ikea desk for 10 years and I've written 3 books on it, two of which have been published. The cork boards are what I plot on, one post-it note for each chapter. The mug, which reads Go Away I'm Editing, is always topped up with tea, and although half my life is online, I always, always, have a physical notebook on the go! 

I'm sure it won't take me long to recreate my work station whichever country I'm in, but some lovely stationery would be such a treat!

Check out the delicious Pen Heaven Stationery at penheaven.co.uk/

Monday, 20 April 2015

10 Horrible Things That Are Still Nicer Than Katie Hopkins

There's a cloud hanging over me and it's shaped like Katie Hopkins. I'm annoyed with myself for being annoyed with someone so insignificant. Or maybe I'm annoyed that someone so insignificant is being given so much significance with such a massive platform in The Sun. 

How can the language of her column be described as anything other than hate speech? I wonder how much more tolerant people would be of her if she wasn't white and wealthy. As it is, she'll probably flick her blonde locks, flash her eyelashes and say, 'so what if I sound like Hitler? Hate me, see if I care.'

To make myself feel better about living in the same country as someone so odious and lacking in humanity, I've decided to catalogue 10 things which are unpleasant to many, but still more pleasant than Ms Hopkins:

1. Mole Rats  

Katie might identify with the female mole rat since the queen mole rat isn't born queen, but fights her way up to the top. 

However, mole rats are nicer, because they don't squeak about gunning down desperate men, women and children.

2. Cracked heels 

Unpleasant? Yes. But better to have cracked heels than a cracked heart made of ice.

3. Slow Internet Connection 

A first world disaster... and yet at least it delays the possibility of Hopkins popping up in your browser and calling you a cockroach. 

4. Cockroaches 

Unpleasant but a manageable size. If Katie Hopkins skuttled out from under a cupboard I'd have difficulties trapping her under a glass.

5. Street Hot Dogs 

You can only stomach them when you've had a few drinks, but at least you can stomach them, unlike the bile spewed out in that column.  

6. Faulty goods  

I know. It's such a pain when you get home to find what you've bought is broken. But as long as you've got your receipt, you can take it back. 

Has anyone got a receipt for She-Who-Will-Not-Be-Named*? 
(*I worry I'm giving her too much publicity.)

7.  Dirty Ovens 

A domestic nightmare. However, with elbow grease and will power you can transform a dirty oven from the inside and make it sparkle again. 

No amount of polish will make a rotten heart twinkle.  

8. Post Office Queues  

Often made up of people with hacking coughs, no sense of personal space, bad tempered 'tutters' and deodorant dodgers.  Still a more welcoming bunch than Ms Hopkins.

9. Damp and Mould 

A common problem in UK  flats, but as long as you're just renting, you can usually get a reluctant Landlord to remove it on threat of ringing Health and Safety. Easier than removing Ms H from The Sun... 

Or is it?

10.  Online Petitions 

My hotmail account is so choked up I've stopped using it, but still, there have been many successes and happy endings for both humans and animals thanks to online petitions... just one more then?

Saturday, 11 April 2015

To Worry or Not To Worry - Is it a choice?

It feels strange to set a novel in a place I've only ever been to once, let alone up sticks and move there!  With three weeks to go until we head off to Mallorca, I admit to feeling a little anxious. 

The longer the wait, the more time I have to wonder if we're mad to leave behind a thriving capital city in favour of a country whose economy has been in intensive care since the crisis of 2010. Then there are our beloved friends who support us when sober, then tell us not to go after a few drinks.
When I'm crushed between rucksacks and sweaty armpits on the rush hour tube, I get a thrill that it won't be for much longer. I close my eyes and dream of mountains and sea. I fantasize about rollerblading along Palma's promenade...  
Then I wonder if I'll feel isolated in a city where I know no one. I think how I'll need to learn to drive as soon as possible. I worry that in Spanish I'll mix my left and right and drive off a cliff. It's not even the language; I mix them up in English. Poor driving instructor, he had so much to live for.
I think about jobs I've applied for and feel my stomach clenching as my comfort zone slip away into the distance.  

In moments of doubt, I turn to my trusty Eckhart Tolle book Stillness Speaks and open up on a random page. Today it reads:
              "What will be left of all the fearing and wanting associated with your problematic life situation that every day takes up most of your attention? A dash - one or two inches long, between the date of birth and date of death on your gravestone.
                To the egoic self, this is a depressing thought. To you, it is liberating."
From amazing-time.com
Crikey. Not as upbeat as I'd hoped. But I suppose it's putting all that worry into perspective. I've already spent too much of my life fretting over things that might never happen, or did happen and weren't worth the anxiety.  

We don't have much say over what life throws our way, but maybe we have a choice about how we deal with the present moment - the only moment we've really got. Remind me of this philosophy when I haven't found a job and I'm constructing elaborate sandcastles on the beach for spare change.  
We're not in danger of changing our minds about the move. Thanks to the wondrous eBay we sold our sofa and our bed on the Easter Weekend!  
To be honest, what makes me even more anxious than the thought of moving, is the thought of not moving.  Despite my fears, I'm hungry for adventure, eager to escape routine, determined that I'll look back one day and think:  my life might well be summed up on my gravestone as 'a dash', but it was a bloody brilliant dash...                
I'm rambling, aren't I? I'll stick the kettle on. Living in the moment is a great antidote to worry, but so is a cup of tea.

I wonder if tea will taste as good as Mallorca... Well, we can live in hope.  

Sunday, 29 March 2015

What Annoys People Most on Twitter

With one cupboard sold, half my clothes in piles across the floor, I have stopped to prepare a Twitter for Beginners workshop. It is hosted by Southwark Arts Forum and there are still places left for this Wednesday 1st April if you would like to attend.

One thing I love about Twitter is how engaging people can be. Today  I wanted to find out what everyone found annoying about this particular social network so I could warn those at my workshop.

The responses flew in immediately and they were so spot on. I'm guilty of a few of the things mentioned. It's always good to be reminded that you're not tweeting to yourself but to an audience who isn't afraid to unfollow you when you ignore Twitter etiquette! 

Is that everything? Please feel free to tell me what annoys you in the comments and together we can make Twitter a better place! 

You can follow me @EmilyBenet