Monday, January 13, 2020

A Menorca Love Story

I may not get out this week.  Storm Brendan is on the way from Canada. I think it's payback time because we sent them Harry and Sparkle.

My gout has returned with a resolve to keep me indoors this week. For now here is a tale of Menorca with lots of pictures. Click the pics for a panorama.
   
Once the kids finished living the good life and made their way into the big wide world, Sue and I took a few holidays. It’s fair to say we got around a bit; Caribbean, Malaysia, Mexico, The Golden Triangle, Thailand, Goa, Sri Lanka, et al. I also spent a couple of spring times undertaking voluntary ringing work at Long Point, Canada, helping locals get to grips with handling wild birds. 

Eventually the long hauls became tiring and wasteful for us both. Two days travelling at either end of each holiday was no longer a thrill to tick just another spot on the globe. We looked around for somewhere to spend a couple of weeks in Spring or Autumn - a decent sort of place without Brits in Union Jack shirts or bars that promised “Full English” and 50 inch sport until 2am; somewhere we might relax, explore and discover. We found Menorca, a two hour flight away and where a 15 year love affair began. 

The Menorcan landscape is like the Yorkshire Dales on steroids, but with wall-to-wall sunshine and clear blue skies 24/7. The smooth as glass and super fast roads are no-expense-spared, courtesy of the EU’s mammoth unverified budget and thanks to a hefty contribution from long-suffering British Taxpayers.  In spring wildflowers dominate the landscape in countless shades and voluminous hues. 

Menorca 

Menorca

There is one main road in Menorca that links the capital Mahon in the east to the earlier capital but now second city of Ciutadella in the extreme west. Think of the island roads like the bones of a Dover Sole with the backbone down the centre and minor bones heading off north and south. 

The minor bones lead to the seasonal and coastal holiday resorts May to October because Menorca shuts up shop to sun seekers from November to April. A Menorcan winter in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea can be wet and windy, rather like a March day in in Blackpool or Brighton. 

https://www.map-of-spain.co.uk/large-map-of-menorca.htm 

We mostly based in the well-mannered south coast holiday resort of Sant Tomas where the sun shone hot and long, and from where we spent most days, or mornings at least until the afternoon sun beckoned. From here we explored the countryside and visited real Menorcan towns like Alaior, Es Migjorn, Es Mercadal or the fishing village of Fornells rather than sunshine resorts. Not for us the few plebby, honky-tonk resorts in the south west of the island that in part mimic the worst of both Ibiza and Majorca, Menorca’s sister Balearic islands. If we wanted that we could stay home and hit the M55 to Blackpool or Lytham St Annes. 

Es Migjorn 

 Fornells

Es Migjorn 

 Alaior

Es Mercadal

Often we’d drive into the second city, Ciutadella, a fine old city with an authentic vibe, a charming port, and an old quarter with good examples of Baroque and Gothic architecture. Ciutadella used to be the capital of culture and commerce in Menorca. It has supposedly been superseded by the official capital Mahon but any Menorca aficionado will tell you that Ciutadella or “Vella I Bella”, the Old and Beautiful, is the finer of the two. 

Ciutadella 

The Gothic cathedral of Ciutadella in Placa de la Catedral dates back to the 13th century. Although it’s impossible not to take photographs of its domineering presence, as an odd couple of lapsed Catholic and agnostic we never felt the need to enter, but rather to simply marvel at the awe-inspiring dimensions. 

Placa de la Catedral

 Ciutadella

The port of Ciutadella is both a fishing and leisure port with an abundance of waterside restaurants which line the quay. Early risers get to watch the fisherman bring in the local catch of the day. From here there’s a ferry over to Alcudia in Mallorca (Majorca), if you really have to. The Placa d’es Born is one of the most picturesque squares in Ciutadella, on what used to be a former Arab marching ground; an obelisk now stands to commemorate the Turkish invasion of 1558. 

Placa d’es Born 

In the old streets there’s a fish market and a row of butcher’s shops that sell free range chicken, pork and beef that once upon a time you could buy in any British town until out-of-town supermarkets destroyed them. And then there’s the serrano, air dried ham - choose your leg and gnaw away. 

Serrano 

We knew from previous visits that another day to Mahon (Mao) might coincide with a Med Cruise stop when spotless cruisers, released from captivity for the day, swarm along the lovely old streets looking for tat which local shops provide in abundance. After a couple of visits we gave it a miss just in case. 

Mahon 

In Menorca it’s impossible to buy a bad cup of cappuccino and where Costa Coffee is but a bad dream. We learned Spanish, or at least how to ask for “dos café con leche, por favour”. Y un ensaimada, Gracias”. We never did get the hang of Menorquí apart from “Bon Dia.” 

Ensaimada, Coffee, Bocadilla  

The two official languages of Menorca are Catalan and Spanish. Natives to the island speak the variety of Catalan called Menorquí, and they typically speak Spanish fluently as a second language. A 2014 survey carried out by the Government of the Balearic Islands found that 53.5% of participants identified themselves as Catalan speakers, 36.7% as Spanish speakers, and 7.7% as bilingual speakers. Quite where the islanders stand on the question of Catalan independence and that the EU insist Catalans are Europeans we don’t know. Suffice to say that in fifteen years we never discussed politics with a native, only with other British holidaymakers, more so since June 2016. 

Many Menorquins still practice traditional farming. Spring flowers and Mediterranean birds thrive, but even here this historic farming technique is on the decline in favour of agri-monoculture, the policy that has destroyed so much of Britain’s diversity of flora and fauna during the last forty years. Our fifteen years in Menorca saw perceptible declines in some species of flowers and native birds, although being on a migration path to and from Europe and Africa, the island still provides a stop-off point for birds on that journey in spring and autumn.  

Menorca in May

In 2014 I spent a morning with Javier helping with his local version of Constant Effort Ringing. In following years we always bumped into Javier on our travels as he led springtime birding and walking tours around the island  

 Sardinian Warbler

Mediterranean Flycatcher 

Javier 

In spring the valles (valleys) and roadsides throb with the sounds of warblers, Bee Eaters, Hoopoes and Nightingales, so much so that I swear the Nightingale is the most common bird of the island. Trying to see this highly secretive bird, day or night is another matter.  Fortunately there are other special birds to enjoy, and even the resident Hermann's Tortoise to admire, very often at the risky roadside where cars and oblivious occupants speed by. Sue became my dependable spotter and camera minder when the promise of a later glass of rioja worked like magic. 

Woodchat Shrike 

 Black-winged Stilt

Audouin's Gull 

Cattle Egret 

Egyptian Vulture 

Purple Heron

Stonechat 

Bee Eater

Mediterranean Flycatcher 

Corn Bunting

 Turtle Dove

Heerman's Tortoise 

Tawny Pipit 

Red-footed Falcon 

Scops' Owl 

Hoopoes - A Menorca Love Story

Menorca was quiet enough for us. From 2005 and all through the global financial downturn we found the peace and quiet we desired on an island we could discover with little help from brochures and tourist guides. A simple map and a hire car was all we required. We made friends of locals and tourists alike.  Hotel and shop staff greeted us like long lost pals and we to them. 

Menorca

And then in 2017 came changes. The self-governing Balearics decided that tourism should increase and that the tourists themselves should contribute to the cost of the necessary infrastructure. In came a tourist tax that added another Euro 90 to our not inconsiderable bill for two weeks at a four star. In addition, every year the price of our room increased by 10%. 

In came “improvements” and extensions to the once small and user-friendly airport. In 2018 and 2019, we lined up outside the terminal like naughty schoolchildren then spent two hours and three hours at passport control where two Policia youths scrutinised our pale British faces for signs of terrorism. Once cleared of extremist preferences, the queues for hire cars snaked through the hall but luckily we had a local contact who met us outside away from the madding crowds to lead us to a waiting Panda. 

Our self-discovered noiseless spots became loud and overrun with boisterous, shouty people. And then came the bikes, hordes of them riding in impassable convoy along once quiet byways and tracks, yelling so that all could hear their inanities; throwing their water bottles onto the verge or stuffing them into ancient stone walls along once deserted roads. 

Punta Nati

Menorca had become not quite a hell-hole, but not the place we grew to love. The island was in danger of killing the goose that laid the golden egg. 

Menorcan Donkeys

We may go back but for now have decamped to Greece where we found a new love.

Linking this post to Anni's Birding  and  Eileen's Saturday Critters.



20 comments:

eileeninmd said...

Hello,

I enjoyed your beautiful Menorca photos. It does look like a great place to bird and vacation. Traveling long distances can be a pain, I wish I could just blink and be there. Sorry about the gout, I hope you feel better. Wishing you a great day and new week!

NCSue said...

No wonder you enjoy vacationing there! It's lovely.
Thank you for joining us at https://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2020/01/from-archives.html

Sharon said...

Menorca sound(ed) lovely Phil, it's a shame when things change! Beautiful images. Storm Brendan has just about left us in central Ireland so I'd say you'll be getting it soon! Happy (belated) new year and look forward to seeing the photos of your future Greek holidays :)

Fun60 said...

You have shattered my image of Menorca. We used to go there during the 90s for our summer family holiday. I think we visited 7 years on the run and loved every visit for the reasons you so brilliantly described. I often think of returning but maybe I should just remember it for the beautiful quiet island it was 20 years ago.

Rhodesia said...

Hi Phil, A place I would love to go to and your photos entice me. We are thinking Italy later in the year but the places we are trying to make reservations at do not reply!!! Corsica has also been a thought.

Love the bird shots the falcon is always a favourite with me and the bee-eaters are just so beautiful.

My camera has an interchangeable lens which I understand a bridge camera has not but maybe I do not understand the definition!

Re the tern, not my ID I asked the expert who took us on tour and he said he was pretty certain it was a Common tern out of breeding plumage.

Have a good week despite the weather. Diane

Photo Cache said...

What a lovely place. Nice narrative too.

Worth a Thousand Words

Veronica Lee said...

Menorca sounds lovely! Love the beautiful photos.

Happy Tuesday!

Sandra Nachlinger said...

LOVE your photos of sunny Menorca. That's a place I'd enjoy visiting.

Angie said...

Phil - being married to a Brit and having lived in the UK, I totally appreciate your comments about "Brits in Union Jack shirts and bars that offer Full English". Folks looking for those bars are unlikely to share our interest in peace and nature! Your description of Menorca as the Yorkshire Dales on steroids is attractive, but it sounds like we might have missed our window of opportunity. Thanks for the tour and the nature photos (especially the adorable tortoise) before things started to go awry!

Ludmiła Jabłońska said...

Thank you for showing Menorka. Never been there. Congratulations on observing and I admire the photos.

Wally Jones said...

First, I empathize as you battle an enemy with which I am all too familiar. Pain is no fun.

Your travelogue was going along splendidly and we were just about ready to contact a travel agent, then 2017 happened. Our condolences.

As native Floridians, you can imagine what we have experienced over the past seven decades. It seems Paradise was not Lost, it was just rented out to the highest bidder. And, as you pointed out, "improved".

We hope the gout gets out and it sounds as if Greece holds promise as your new "Paradise Found".

All is good here as we continue our search for locales where birds outnumber birders.

Tanya Breese said...

What a beautiful trip and great pictures! Love the donkeys at the end!

Linda said...

Menorka looks wonderful! Love your birds.

Elkes Lebensglück said...

I am enthusiastic about this bird species and the foal how beautiful this country is, fabulous and interesting the photos!

italiafinlandia said...

What a delightful place...and so many critters!
The Hoopoes are my fav as they are the rarest to me, in this gallery.
All the best!

eileeninmd said...

Hello Phil, you have me wishing I could visit Menorca. The birds and scenery are gorgeous. The donkey are cute! Great post and photos.
Thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Happy Saturday, enjoy your weekend.

Anu said...

Hello Phil. I laughed when I read about the storm and Harry and Sparkle :)

Interesting post. And the photos are so, so great. Thank you.


Hootin' Anni said...

Personally, Greece sounds much more "romantic" a place to relax and unwind from daily life! I enjoyed all of your commentary & pictures...the birds & meeting Javier were highlights. Travel is not fun these days with world security issues...I mistakingly thought an ocean cruise would be less stressful...wrong! Each port we stopped at we had to be re-screened after dining & shopping on land in order to board the ship again. Each time!

Hope you feel better soon. And...
Thanks for sharing with us at I'd Rather B Birdin

Shiju Sugunan said...

Lovely place! Great shots and narration!

Lowcarb team member said...

I was reading through your post looking at all of the wonderful photographs … and thought there is going to be a but!!!

There was ...

Menorca sound(ed) so lovely, alas things never seem to stay the same. There are changes and nine times out of ten, unfortunately the change is not for the better.

I'm pleased that you have discovered in Greece something more to your liking, may it continue.

So sorry you have gout, that can be very painful.

Take care of yourself.
My good wishes to you and Sue.

All the best Jan

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