January is usually a slow time for me at work and with most of my colleagues all clambering for time off during the summer when the schools break up, it is easy for me to get time off after all the festivities and disappear for nearly a month.
My parents have always been creatures of habit, hardly ever changing their ways, which included year after year returning to Alcudia in the north of Mallorca for their summer holidays. So smitten with the place and the fact they were both nearing retirement, they surprised everyone by purchasing a small one bedroom flat in the nearby blue-flagged beach town of Playa de Muro.
This, of course, was great for me as I now had a place in Mallorca to use when they were not there. The only trouble with this was that the flat was only unoccupied during the winter months and as anyone who lives in the north of Mallorca will tell you there is not too much going on in January. Still, I enjoyed the empty beach and the time to unwind from the stress of having to commute into London each day.
With plenty of time on my hands, I began putting together what I thought would be a fantastic winter holiday that would combine time in Spain with a tropical escape to the Malaysian island of Penang.
A couple of my friends at work had been talking about a golfing holiday they had just been on in Marbella, a place that conjures up images of Ferraris and elegantly dressed woman shopping for designer clothes.
Having never been to the Costa del Sol, I thought, why not fly to Marbella, check out what all the current news hype is regarding the super yachts in the marina at Puerto Banus and then take the high-speed Renfe train to Valencia. Then, do the one thing I had not done before, catch the ferry to Mallorca. It's just one of those crazy ideas I have occasionally, simply to say 'I've done it', and then my usual trip from Palma airport with AT Palma airport transfers to our little holiday home in Mallorca.
Being about as far south as you can get in Spain, Marbella is the equivalent of Boca Raton in Florida, a place where northerners sometimes fly south for the winter. With my holiday now booked it was time to put my plan in motion and get to Luton Airport for my Easyjet flight to Malaga.
Never being one to waste money on expensive hotels, unless of course it was a work expense, I looked for a reasonably priced place to stay near where all the action would be. The 2-star Hotel Lima fitted my criteria to the letter, and at just 42€. per night, it was close to the beach, nightlife and the Old Town.
I pre-booked a taxi online with Marbella taxi transfers so that I would not have to worry about how I would get to the hotel or how I would find it in the dark. The driver met me at the airport and after a pleasant journey I reached my destination.
Around the corner from the Hotel Lima is the Plaza de los Naranjos, a tiny square full of trees and fountains, surrounded by restaurants and narrow winding streets that wander off in all directions before meeting the town's medieval walls.
Filled with shops selling everything from cheap souvenirs to antique typewriters, it is easy to picture how packed with tourists it must be during the summer months.
Another Spanish phrase you have to learn is "Menu del Dia"( meal of the day), a Spanish institution that owes its origin to the dictator Franco. El Generalissimo decided that workers must be provided with a nutritious meal at an affordable price, a custom that is still in place today.
Franco may now be long gone and forgotten, but the Menu del Dia lives on proving a three-course lunch with a beer or glass of wine for around 8.50€. Restaurants in Spain serve lunch from 2 pm until 4 pm, which is awful if you are English, but if you learn to eat like a Spaniard you can save a tonne of money while also sampling some new and exciting foods. A great tip for you is to stay away from places on the tourist route and keep an eye out for where the locals go for lunch as it is an indicator of not only good food but reasonable prices as well.
Having now had my fill of Marbella, it was time to make my way over to Mallorca for a few days before the big trip to Malaysia. Now I know it would have been far easier to fly from Malaga to Palma but my parents had decided they were going to spend the entire summer in Mallorca this year and wanted to take the car with them from the UK.
Their plan was to take the ferry from Portsmouth to Santander, drive to Valencia and then board the Balaria ferry to Mallorca. Apparently I was the guinea pig given the job of finding out what they needed to do at the port in Valencia.
I weighed up my option of taking the train to Valencia, a journey of nearly five and a half hours, which involved a change of trains in Madrid, or a direct one hour flight on Iberia for the same price. In the end, it was an easy decision as the flight arrived in Valencia with plenty of time to spare before the ferry departure, whereas should I have taken the train I would have been cutting it close. Rather than take another taxi to the airport, I found out that there was a regular bus service from Marbella Bus Station direct to Malaga Airport every two hours and that the fare was a very reasonable 8.20€.
Having been to Valencia on several occasions, I knew the city quite well and was very familiar with the metro system.
The metro station at Valencia's Manises Airport is directly below the arrivals hall, with trains to the city centre departing every 20 minutes. Luckily for me, the number 5 green line runs directly from the airport to the port, with a one-way ticket costing 3.90€.
Ferry journeys in the Mediterranean out of season are nothing to write home about and with most sailings being overnight affairs, it is best to get a cabin and some shut eye, as there is not much to see and do.
I have to say though, that the Port of Valencia was very passenger-friendly and quick, unlike Barcelona, where you are bombarded with many tourists all preparing to embark on their once in a lifetime Mediterranean cruise.
The journey time from Valencia to Palma is 7hr 45m, with the boat arriving at 6 am, which gave me loads of time to catch the bus from the Port of Palma to the main station at the Plaza Espanya and connect with the number 351 bus to Platja de Muro via Alcudia.
Now firmly encamped in my parents flat I am starting to think about my holiday in Malaysia and all the wonderful Indian influenced food I will be eating in Penang.
Whenever I visit Malaysia or Thailand I fly out with only carry on luggage, as I know that I will be hitting the street markets for the ridiculously cheap authentic looking clothing. Lacoste polo shirts, shorts and beachwear are what I will be looking for, as well as a large cheap nylon holdall in which to transport my goodies back to the UK.
Flying to Penang from Europe is not easily done without making one or two stops along the way and with me being in Mallorca it would mean flying on three different aeroplanes and plenty of time at the airport.
Having scoured the Internet looking for a combination of best fare and flight time, I managed to book what I think was a fantastic deal for a round-trip flight from Barcelona to Abu Dhabi-Kuala Lumpur-Penang- Kuala Lumpur-Abu Dhabi-London for just over £700 with Qatar Airways.
Qatar Airways has one of the youngest and most modern fleet of aircraft, which together with a friendly multicultural staff go out of their way to ensure that you have the best possible in-flight experience. On arrival in Penang, I picked up my hire car from the airport to my hotel in Georgetown, having searched for deals on car rentals in Penang I was pleased with myself for finding this cheap car hire option.
The colonial capital of Georgetown is an urban cocktail of cultures that combines British Raj–era architecture with some of the best Chinese and Indian food you will find in all of Southeast Asia. I selected the recently renovated Muntri Grove Hotel for its location in the historic Heritage District, a short walk from the Red Garden hawker centre where I was told I would find the best Satay in all Malaysia.
When travelling abroad, I always try my best to pick up a few words of the local lingo, yet while in Penang, I decided it was better to stick with English rather than try to talk to someone in Malay, when Hokkien, Mandarin and Tamil might have been their native language.
After two great fun filled days exploring Georgetown, it was now time to head to the beach and get down to the serious business of doing nothing but relax for a week while recharging my batteries ahead of another hectic year in the city.
Batu Ferringhi beach is close to Georgetown and packed with locals on the weekends, so I splurged a bit and stayed at the fantastic Shangri-La's Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa, an oasis of peace and calm where I did nothing but relax, eat good meals, swim and go for a daily massage.
All told, it was a great trip, capped with a little self-indulgence in the end that has left me eagerly anticipating my next adventure.
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