Thursday, May 19, 2011

Entry 61 5.8.11

Entry 61, May 8th, 2011, 7:29am (ship time GMT +2)

We're docked in Palma de Mallorca today, for the first of what will be many times. I just finished breakfast and am on the back deck drinking in a scent I haven't smelled in a long time – the smell of summer. There's a land breeze blowing as the sun rises, and it carries the clean scent of fresh leaves and humidity to the boat. That is, when I can smell it over the cloud of cigarette smoke from the legion of crew members gawking at the shore and sucking down cigarettes at a prodigious rate.

God I swear no one does anything but smoke on this boat.

Anyway, the smell of summer reminds me of home. It's the smell of the playground during morning recess in third grade. It reminds me of a large stand of birch trees that I can see from my backyard. Summer in Michigan is one of my favorite things in the world, and I'm going to miss it entirely this year . . . although summer in the Western Mediterranean may be an acceptable substitute.

We begin our new pair of itineraries today. We have a seven day Spanish cruise, followed by a seven day Italian cruise. How odd it is to think that our passengers signing on board today have no idea that two weeks ago we were in Panama. As far as they know, the ship didn't exist until their bus pulled up to it at the dock here in Spain.

Anyway, we leave at 17:00, so I'm going to get on shore. I can see a fort from where I'm sitting; maybe I'll go take a look at it. Time to go add another continent to my list – this will make four (North and South America, Asia, and now Europe – I don't think that a few hours in Tenerife counts as visiting Africa).


I took a nice long walk down the shore to the center of Palma. They certainly parked the ship far enough away . . . it took almost an hour and a half to reach downtown. It was a pleasant walk, though – the city is quiet on Sunday morning, and there were lots of interesting boats moored in the marinas that I passed by. I saw a private yacht approximately the size of a destroyer (compensating a bit, are we?), a sailboat that had burned down (ouch!), and a bunch of small boats with a strange sort of rig that I don't quite understand. I'm not sure if they're sail powered or not – most of them were small wooden boats with no other visible form of propulsion, but they only have two short stubby masts with a long spar laid between them. Very odd.

I didn't have any particularly clear goals getting off the ship, or any sort of map besides what I had seen from the back deck this morning, but I acquired both of these things as I walked. I passed a bus stop with a nearly complete map of the city (*click* now it's on my phone) and over the masts of the pleasure cruisers I saw a tall, spikey stone building that looked to be pretty interesting.

The building turned out to be the cathedral of Palma de Mallorca. I circled around the cathedral, getting lost in the side streets before finally finding the entrance. It was shortly before mass, but I stuck my head in anyway . . .

I can barely describe the experience. I was stopped dead in my tracks by the force of four hundred years' accumulated solemnity. An architectural analysis of such a building would do it no justice. Neither would pictures . . . I took one, but quickly stopped. It isn't the stones, glass, or acoustics that make the building powerful, it's something else. The morning sun was streaming in through the windows, and the chanting Latin resonated in the space over and over again until it felt like the very stones were buzzing. I bowed my head in surrender; there was nothing else that could be done.

The cathedral vibrates one's soul down to your very shoes. It hums with the power of yearning towards a larger truth. It is a sacred place, regardless of credo or history or scientifically demonstrable facts. This humble Agnostic stood quiet, awestruck. It would be a bitter soul indeed that was not moved, standing in the light of a hundred stained glass windows in Mallorca.


I am back on board now, having just finished a rather anemic lunch in the mess. I am back a little earlier than I expected to be, but I ran into some friends who were headed back to the ship and decided to split a taxi with them. In a brand-new port, and with two thousand passengers coming on board, I didn't feel like taking any chances in getting back to the boat on time.

If Palma is at all indicative of what the ports on this run are going to be like, I am very excited for the rest of the season. The city is beautiful, clean, and absolutely fascinating. Not an inch of it (that I saw today, at least) feels fake or Disney. Winding alleys feed shade-covered avenues that all eventually meet the sea like a paving stone estuary system. The city is remarkably quiet and very busy all at the same time, a function of the omnipresent plant life and the natural gas powered mass transit system. The inhabitants of Palma clearly have money, taste, and a rich history, and so I look forward to spending a lot of time here.

Never have I seen so many quality restaurants in one place! For someone who comes from the food and cultural wasteland of the Midwestern United States, it is a bit overwhelming. The challenge will be budgeting in Europe . . . total cost today was 3.45 euros for a cup of coffee (it was good coffee!) plus 4 euros for the taxi. This works out to roughly eleven dollars, and I didn't even eat anything! I think the strategy will have to emphasize quality over quantity of experiences. Perhaps one well-researched trip per voyage will suffice, if I put the (admittedly paltry) weight of my entire weekly budget behind it.

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