Saturday, Oct 01, 2022

Our Man In Europe On Experiencing Freedom In Spain

Despite all the pandemics and wars, the escapist within us, forever seeking new experiences, will never die

The colourful lanes of Palma
The colourful lanes of Palma Shutterstock

Freedom. It’s this thought that came to me as I stepped on the labyrinthine lanes of Palma in Spain. As if some long-tied knot had opened up inside me. Why, I  wondered? Hadn’t I been travelling lately? What made me think differently on this week-long trip I took on a whim during the Easter break?

It was snowing in Sweden, where I live, in April. “Klassiskt aprilväder”—classic April weather—they call it here. I couldn’t step outside without wrapping myself in a woollen scarf and a thick jacket. I craved the sun. That’s how the idea to travel to the warmer half of the continent came about.

Travel in Europe is finally opening up. Not far from where I live, a partially underwater bridge took me to the Copenhagen airport. The airport felt like it had never experienced any pandemic. It was as crowded as it had been two years back. Perhaps, it was the Easter break. Or maybe, the suffocation of staying in one place was getting the better—not only of me, but of everyone. We all spilled over the airport which seemed to come off its seams, while trying to hold us back safely.

My destination was the breezy island of Mallorca, off the coast of mainland Spain—a haven for sun-deprived Scandinavians and Brits. This Mediterranean Island is home to ancient olive groves and rural mountain villages. However, for this short trip, I decided to stay put in Palma, the island’s capital, slightly unsure of how I would find it transformed after the pandemic.

When I reached Palma, I didn’t find it in any mood of despair. From my hotel window, I could see the palm-lined harbour, where yachts shilly-shallied in the cobalt blue water of the Balearic Sea. On the other end, I could see the Gothic spires of the Castell de Bellver, the 14th-century cathedral that marks the city. I decided to walk towards it.

It was while walking along the sunny, harbour-side promenade that the thought of freedom stuck me. Yes, I have been travelling in the Nordics, but the cold and the fear of catching COVID never left me in these trips. I had been to India, but there too, I couldn’t walk outside freely. Moreover, India was home, and I didn’t feel like I was stepping outside my comfort zone. Here in Mallorca, though, I experienced something different. I could stroll freely, I didn’t need to wear masks anywhere—and it felt like I had, after long, stepped into a world different from the ones in which I had spent the last two years.

Palma’s pink trees in watercolour
Palma’s pink trees in watercolour Illustration by Nitin Chaudhary

In Palma, spring was in full bloom. The narrow pathways of the city were tree-lined and, at this time of the year, the yellows, the oranges and the pinks streak these trees. As I continued exploring the side-streets, I came across art galleries, pottery stores selling hand-painted platters, bowls and, of course, restaurants. These restaurants (many of which were Indian) and cafes turn into party sites as the dusk gathers, and one could occasionally hear loud techno beats coming from inside. Otherwise, during the day, the seating area outside became a resting spot for both locals and tourists who sit there for long hours, sipping coffee.

I claimed a slot outside one of the cafes, among a sociable crowd that, perhaps, was experiencing the same sense of freedom as I. We sat there looking towards the horizon, sipping cava and eating bread with fresh tomato. Occasionally, we indulged in idle chatter, asking each other how it felt to travel again. “I feel lighter,” said the person sitting next to me on a long communal table, with whom I was conversing. “As if I am out of jail.”

I smiled when I heard him say that. Perhaps, he had exaggerated, but there was some semblance of truth in what he said. After being caged in our homes and cities, wearing masks throughout, staying in Mallorca felt different. Like my neighbour in that cafe, I too felt unbound. That’s where the beauty of travel lies, I realised—after all, is travel not a way to escape? Escape to a different setting, to experience a different perspective than what our original world offers; escape to grow. That’s why, despite all the pandemics and wars, this escapist within us, seeking new experiences, will never die.