Monday, September 7, 2009


Oh Granada. It was so sad to leave such a lovely place. I have to say that it has become my favorite place we've been to so far, but let me start at the beginning. We took a full train from Madrid to Malaga and then jumped on a two hour €10 bus to Granada. We took another bus into the heart of the town and checked in to the hotel. By the time we got to out hotel we were already thinking that the town had a nice feel and look, so first impressions were good. After settling in we decided it was time to find a grocery store (pretty much always the first thing we do in a new city). We asked the lady at the front desk and managed to figure each other out despite the fat that she spoke only a very little English and Chuck only a little Spanish. In fact, we discovered that mostly no one speaks English in Granada which was actually kind of nice. The front-desk lady tells us that grocery stores are closed that day due to a festival that was going on. I'm still not sure what the festival was, but we went out to look for something anyways. It was very hot outside and the sun was incredibly intense. We sweated out butts off as we walked around some little back streets trying to find an open shop. About 90% of all the stores that lined the streets were closed! It was pretty amazing - almost had a ghost-town feel. We walked by a couple of fancy, old-looking buildings before coming upon one of the local points of pride: the cathedral. It's a big, gorgeous place that glows a beautiful golden color in the setting sun. It's surrounded on all sides by other buildings which makes getting a nice photo of it a bit hard, but I tried to get a few anyways. Around the cathedral were a lot of restaurants and little shops that were actually open. Of course, they were expensive places geared towards tourists, but we got a soda to take the edge off the heat. Between the buildings are narrow alleys lined with small shops packed full of bright and colorful scarves, shoes, pants, skirts, statues, hookahs, jewelry, etc. The goods are set up not only inside the shops, but also on trays and in baskets set in the alley-way. Above the alley are hung colorful squares of fabric to keep out the blazing sun. It has a very Moroccan feel, which makes sense as Morocco is actually not that far from Granada. It's just a two hour ride to the coast and a short ferry boat across the water to get there. After exploring the alleys we headed back to the hotel for a few hours break before our next adventure: tapas. We had to wait until after 8:00 PM before searching for tapas bars because in Spain dinner-time doesn't start until after then. We very hungrily went in search of tapas and were happy to find we were right next to a street filled with bars. Perhaps I should describe tapas, in case you don't know what they are. Actually, I'm still not exactly sure what makes something a "tapas" as opposed to it being an appetizer or small meal, but I'll describe what we've experienced with tapas. In most tapas bars in Granada, when you order a €2.00 beer, along with it you'll get an appetizer-sized food of some sort. It may be a ham and cheese sandwich with fries, or a pasta salad, or spinach dip, or chorizo on bread, or any other type of food they feel like making. Some places just surprise you with what you get and others have a list of tapas that you can choose from. The food is typically "bar food" quality, but the fact that it comes for free with your €2.00 beer makes it awesome. Of course, some places charge more, but we avoided those ones. And tapas don't work the same everywhere either. In larger cities you'll find tapas restaurants that charge for each tapas. At places like that you have a menu and order the tapas you want - it doesn't come with your drink for free. In that case it feels more like you're ordering a bunch of small appetizers. We liked the Granada style tapas!

On the 16th we stayed in the hotel until about 2:00 PM because most places don't seem to open until around that time. We went back to the cathedral to try and find a good restaurant to eat at around there. We ended up at a place called Cafe au Lait after a lot of searching - it turned out to be a good choice. They had a "meal deal" for €9.50 that included a drink, bread, first course, second course, and dessert. Deals like this are really common throughout all of Spain. Chuck said that lunch is the most important meal in Spain, so I suppose that's why they offer all sorts of good deals on it. I really enjoyed the first course which was melon con jamon, or honey dew melon and prosciutto. It sounds a bit strange at first, but the sweet melon with the salty ham was delicious! Yum. We sat outside on the terrace where we were politely approached a few times to be offered bootleg watches and bootleg CDs, and at one point a man playing a recorder did a little performance and then came around asking for donations. We didn't give him anything yet he still thanked us and said he hoped we had a nice time in Granada! A polite beggar?? What is this?? I was amazed. And the next time we saw him we did give him money. To be fair, he wasn't really a beggar per say, he did offer a skill for which he was asking compensation. I can much appreciate that than people who sit next to a train station with their hands out. After lunch we walked around some of those alleys again and then retired to the hotel for our siesta break. After 8:00 PM we went out for tapas again. This time we went to another part of town looking for a particular place that Chuck had read about online. We found it and were upset to see a sign on the door stating that they were closed for vacation until September! We went back to the area we were at the night before and tried a different bar. They ended up being expensive and not very nice so we went back to the place we were at the night before. About three beers and tapas later we headed back to the hotel for the night. I remember loving the feel of the place as we were walking around. In one area there were a few families all enjoying the after-effects of a good meal with good conversation while the children ran around playing in a public water fountain. It just had such an authentic feel to it - it was really lovely. I felt like we were seeing the real lives of people who just wanted good company after a hard days work with no pretenses.

The next day was rough because we woke up at about 6:00 AM to get tickets into La Alhambra. We left the hotel at 7:00 AM and the sun was just rising, luckily. That meant we could avoid the afternoon heat while we dragged ourselves up the hill to the entrance of the palace complex. The hill was really steep, too, so I was very grateful! At one point I collapsed onto a bench and told Chuck that I just couldn't go on any further. About three minutes later I was okay though and we made it the rest of the way. By the time we got there (about 7:40 AM) there was already a decent line waiting. Once the ticket office opened at 8:00 AM it still took about one and a half hours to get our tickets. I read online that they typically sell out by 10:00 AM in the summer, so I was glad we got there when we did. Once inside you're free to wander the 600 year old, Moorish built palace fortress. Well, you're almost free to wander. There is the Palacios Nazaríes that you can only visit during your scheduled time, ours being 10:00 AM. We got to stand in another line to get in there, along with all the other people who had 10:00 AM "appointments." Inside the palace was really beautiful though. The walls were intricately carved with small, repeating patterns, sometimes highlighted here and there with old, fading colors. Some walls were tiled with colorful geometric patterns. There were numerous Taj-Mahal-shaped windows that looked out onto the rolling hillside landscape of Granada. Other windows of the same shape weren't fully open, but were carved with hundreds of small holes making a lovely silhouette when the light shies through. There were a number of perfectly still algae-green ponds, fed by the gentle trickle of nearby, small fountains built into the ground. The style of the place was so different than anything we had seen so far. Although it wasn't filled with fancy old furniture, huge chandeliers, or painted ceilings it was really special. The rest of the complex wasn't as elaborate as the palace, but it still had some nice areas. The Alcazaba had the feel of a fortress with it's high walls and lookout towers. The Generalife was similar to the palace with carved walls and ponds, it just wasn't as extensive. All around the Alhambra were little channels for flowing water. Some would flow down small sets of stairs while others would flow along the hand rail of a stairway. And the place had a lot of wild cats. In fact, all of Granada had wild cats and kittens. They were so cute! But, of course, they won't let you anywhere near them. So after wearing ourselves out at La Alhambra we stopped at one of the many kebap places on the road back to the hotel. It was just about the best kebap I've ever had! It was stuffed with curried chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, grated carrots, grated beets, and white sauce, all mixed up inside the pita shell. Man it was good! We slept while we digested those and woke up in time for our favorite Granada activity: tapas. We went to the restaurant we had lunch at the previous day, Cafe au Lait, and tried their tapas. Unfortunately they weren't very exciting so we moved on quickly. We ended up at what turned out to be a gay tapas bar. It had the best tapas we'd had, in my opinion. There was a delicious spinach dip and they had a great pasta salad. The bartender was a rather butch woman, but with a great smile and attitude. I felt more comfortable in that bar than any of the others we'd been to! Although the one we went to our first night was really good too. We actually met two girls while there - one British and one Italian. We heard one of them ordering in English right next to us at the bar and Chuck was brave enough to start up a conversation. It turned out that the British girl was from London and lived very near to Kensington where we had stayed while we were "living" there. Small world!

The 18th turned out to be a stress-fest because we realized we didn't have a way to get to Barcelona yet. We ran around the city to the train station where we were told there were no more trains available to Barcelona for when we wanted to go. So next we went to the bus station and settled on a 13 hour overnight train that left that very night. It certainly wasn't ideal, but we bought tickets. So we had our last tapas that night and sadly made our way to the bus station to take the long bus ride to Barcelona.

No comments:

Post a Comment