Thursday, 15 January 2009

Ibiza: Space Doubt, And Other Dilemmas...

My hissy fit at having to leave Italy was hugely mitigated by the prospect of having the wedding-of-the-year to go to upon my return: Kate and James's Moroccan-themed nuptials in Lottisham, the bride's teeny-tiny home village in Somerset. Kaftan and bejewelled sandals packed, two car-loads of us (ours a very swish midnight blue Saab, driven expertly by Glenda) headed down the motorway for a weekend of love, laughter and lunacy - the latter in the form of the swarms of loopy New Agers and wannabe gurus who roam the streets of Glastonbury, where we were staying in a very agreeable hotel above an ancient pub. As weddings go it was a classic. The bride was stunning in a beautiful vintage style dress, and the tiny village church was pure Four Weddings. As was to be expected, the bride's side was packed full of The Gays, all clucking approvingly over the fabulousness of the hat worn by the one lady among them, Kate's old friend and sometime boss Christine. The reception, in a marquee dressed up in Moroccan silks with guests sitting cross-legged at low-slung tables, was utterly charming, made all the more enjoyable by all the guests mucking in to clear the tables and serve the food after a logistical mix up left the party staffless. Drunken dancing - yes, mothers were twirled - continued into the wee small hours; the hangovers the following morning bore testimony to the good time had by all. Back in London on Sunday evening, it was time to pack for the next foreign clime: Ibiza.

Now, somewhere during the organising process for this week-long Balearic jaunt, there transpired to have been a fairly spectacular break-down in communications. I had thought that it was to be just me, Richard and Simon, over from Sydney for a few weeks of family and fun in Europe. On arriving in the BA lounge at Gatwick, however, I found the boys in the company of three other chums, with another seven to be met up with on arrival. Our vacances a trois, therefore, was in fact to be a vacances a treize - a baker's dozen of us to keep entertained for the week ahead. Things didn't get off to a great start - the service on the flight left a very great deal to be desired - but before long we were sitting on the balcony of the boys' stunning apartment in Talamanca, sipping large voddies and looking forward to our stay on the White Isle. I wasn't checking into my hotel until the next afternoon so I stayed there that night, and was woken pleasantly the next day by the sunshine.

Day one was very pleasant and sociable; after a morning spent lounging around the apartment, we strolled en masse - nine of us - to Talamanca for lunch, tucking into paella while watching the boys on the beach. After that it was time to check into my hotel, El Corso, just a stone's throw from the beach and overlooking the new-ish, classy Marina Botafoch. As a base for the week it was fine, although unsurprisingly for somewhere booked through a travel agent it had been rather up-sold and didn't, in my opinion, merit its four stars; my room was very basic and lacked a minibar (horror of horrors) and although clean and bright, looked in need of modernisation. Still, it was only a place to sleep and so I headed across to check out the marina - very nice it was too - before repairing to the hotel bar for a few beers and to enjoy the views out to sea and across the bay to the old town.

Come evening, after drinks at the boys' apartment, we walked into Ibiza Town (I'm not enough of an arse to call it Eivissa as hard-core island goers insist on doing) and the full thirteen of us convened for drinks at the quayside Mar y Sol cafe bar before going on to dinner at Studio, a cute outdoorsy affair in one of the old town's myriad cobbled squares. Comedy ensued when I asked our very cute waiter, in Spanish, if it was possible to exclude the coriander from my starter salad; he replied - in English: "Your Spanish is excellent but unfortunately mine isn't - so could you say that again in English?" He turned out to be Polish; thank heavens for a common language. After dinner it was off to Angelo's, the sprawling multi-level bar in the shadow of the old town's ramparts, where the gay crowd flocks to catch the club parades which culminate in its huge courtyard and to see and be seen. What was left of the group, which inevitably dwindled as the night wore on, moved on to the island's only officially gay club, Anfora, where we dispersed among the club's various areas, some better lit than others...

Next day, after a very pleasant day spent sightseeing in Ibiza Town and dinner at the hotel (€15 all you can eat = happy Hugh!) we once again headed to Angelo's and managed to score free tickets to La Troya at Space, the 'world-famous' gay party and according to one guide I read, 'perhaps the best gay club night in Spain'. Well, all I can say is that that guide writer's experience of Spanish club nights must be fairly limited because I was seriously underwhelmed. Space, like so many clubs, has suffered from the island government's insistence that clubbing hours be limited to 6pm-6am and that all clubs be enclosed; this latter regulation has completely ruined Space's legendary covered terrace, reduced now to nothing more than just another room. I didn't like the music, the crowd - for a putative gay night - was very mixed save for the inevitable cluster of muscle Marys huddled together in a corner gurning at each other, and trying to find a part of a room, far less a part of the club, upon which the group of us could all agree was next to impossible and so reluctantly I split and went off to find a corner that I could at least be happy on my own in, before making a relatively early break for home. To be fair, the others all liked it very much more than I did - three of the guys didn't in fact return home until the following evening, having continued the party all day at various venues of varying salubriousness - so perhaps it was just me, but I wouldn't recommend it in a hurry.

Probably the highlight of the whole week came on the Friday when, after a morning spent browsing the town's jewellers and boutiques, punctuated with a couple of little beers here and there, I met up with Richard, Simon, Ron, Shane and Dr Yaz to take the Jet Cat to Formentera, Ibiza's neighbouring island and smallest of the Balearics. Although we all baulked at the eye-watering €41 return fare (day trips by pleasure boat, admittedly with very limited travel times, can be had for about €15), such qualms were soon forgotten as we whizzed across the turquoise water, docking in what felt like just a few minutes later - actually half an hour -at La Savina on the island's northwest side. We stopped off for delicious bocadillos at a pavement cafe, then walked for about fifteen minutes until we found a beautiful spot on Es Cavall beach where we pitched camp. For the next four and a half hours - the longest, I think, I've ever spent on a beach! - we swam in the cool, azure sea, snoozed under the beach umbrella, read our books and ogled the boys, until we decided it was time to pack up lest we miss the last boat home. Walking back past a very swanky looking bar-restaurant, Mediterraneo, none of us could resist temptation and we made a heavenly pit-stop, sipping beers and nibbling delicious, free tapas for an hour or so before scurrying along to the harbour for the 8pm boat. Dinner that evening, 'just' the nine of us, was at an anonymous Italian chiringuito at Talamanca, where we enjoyed good pizza, tasty fresh salads and lashings of sangria for a bargain €20 a head, including a deliberately small tip in light of slow, surly and inattentive service, characterised by none of the staff being able to agree on which of them exactly was supposed to be looking after us!

Saturday morning saw me waking late - surprisingly, as no-one had been up for going out after dinner the night before and thus it had been an early night. After another delicious breakfast at the hotel (I must say that for all my whinging about the facilities there, the food was superb) I took the boat into town to find an internet cafe and get a flight home booked, as for reasons too boring to go into, I'd only booked a single out. This achieved (via Barcelona for a night with Tigger, then home to - yay! - City Airport), I bagged a coveted pavement table at the town's hippest cafe, Croissant Show, and enjoyed people watching while lunching on their famous Bocadillo #1 - toasted tomato bread with olive oil, Serrano ham and Manchego cheese all for a fairly reasonable €4.90.

It was clearly destined to be a day for great food, as that evening, after a siesta, I dined alone at La Barraca, a restaurant on Talamanca beach which the group had discovered earlier in the week and universally raved about. The high praise was completely deserved; I was welcomed effusively by cool, kaftan-clad hosts, shown to an excellent table (not the crappy one in the corner by the kitchen many restaurants try to fob off on solo diners) and looked after by attentive, amusing as I tucked into two delicious courses washed down with a fresh, fruity Torres de Casta rose. For my starter, I indulged in foie gras sprinkled with truffle salt, served with wafer-thin toasts and quince puree, and followed up with a hefty 200g serving of excellent steak tartare, super-fresh as it should (and indeed, must) be and perfectly seasoned. Pudding didn't appeal but I happily sipped a coffee and read my book until Richard and Simon dropped by to join me.

The three of us boarded the boat across to town and started a bit of a bar crawl, not at Angelo's for once - I'd asked if we could at least check out somewhere else - but at Koko's just down the hill; we then moved on to Angelo's for a while, then to JJ's on the carrer de la Verge, the heart of the Ibiza gay scene. Flirting, in his native tongue, with the French barman was rewarded with passes for Anfora; after a couple of hours there, Richard and Simon called it a night while I - feeling intrepid, taxied it to Playa d'en Bossa to try out Deep, the island's only gay after hours. I have to say I loved it; it was dark, loud, cruisy but also, perhaps surprisingly, really rather friendly...when I staggered out the sun was up - and beating down - and I squinted my way back to the hotel and bed and slept well into Sunday afternoon.

My last full day was spent extremely pleasantly; after finally getting up I headed alone to the beach for a long swim in the warm, if (on the shoreline at least) seaweed-choked sea, then walked round to the apartment having received the kind of invitation I get so rarely but love so much - to help drink the place dry. Richard, Simon, Ron, Shane and I then returned to La Barraca (clearly everyone's favourite restaurant of the week) for a last supper, and while my choices weren't quite as spectacular as the previous nights, I nonetheless greatly enjoyed my steamed mussels starter and main of suckling lamb ribs with the kitchen's signature, delicious, char-grilled vegetables. We strung the evening out with coffees and some dubious Ibizan herb liqueurs (which I'd thought were on the house but turned out, embarrassingly, not to be), all brought to us by a cute and sweet, if inept but happily Hispanophone, waiter. Instead of pudding there we mosied back to the apartment for some very good red wine and cheeses before calling it a night to allow the boys to get some sleep ready for their departure at early o'clock next day.

On the Monday, having breakfasted and checked out of El Corso, I boarded the boat for Ibiza town and killed time in the best possible way - drinking, of course - before busing to the airport. This latter journey was achieved more through luck than design; I'd headed on foot, following the signposts, for Ibiza Town's new bus station, only to find that it had yet to open, and then having found the existing departure point for buses to the airport, struggled to get sense out of anyone as to how one might purchase a ticket - it transpires that one can perform this transaction at only one tiny, obscure and unwelcoming kiosk hidden away on a very unlovely stretch of road about three quarters of a kilometre outside of the town centre. But achieve it I did, and made my flight in plenty of time, landing in Barcelona just 55 minutes later. Matthew and I had a lovely, low-key evening - just a few drinks locally and dinner at his flat - and the next afternoon I took off happily for my beloved City Airport; I was home and sipping PG Tips by 3.

As I always do before clicking 'Publish'. I've re-read what I've written and am aware that in contrast to some of my other travel posts, this one doesn't read like much of a recommendation for the destination in question. Not so; I'd recommend Ibiza to anyone as a very pretty, sociable, Bohemian, elegant island, with the added benefit - no longer as all-consuming as it once was - of a great, if somewhat neutered, clubbing scene, all with the caveat that it is very expensive indeed. But this trip for me was, if highly enjoyable at times, a very strange quantity. I'd got so used to the luxury of travelling alone, with its freedom to be absolute master of how one spends one's time, that it was very difficult to adjust to having to fit in with others; even more so to find myself part of a group many times larger than I had ever envisaged. It's no-one's fault but my own, but lessons were learned, most importantly: next time you book a week of summer sun, make sure you know who, exactly, you're going with...

Right, that now brings us slightly more up to date but I'm still three countries behind, so I'd better get on with telling you about my next and perhaps most exciting destination to date: Mexico.

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