The Long Way Down to Granada
Since we had to be cheapos, bus travel was our only real option for getting around Spain. Although the trains get you to your destination an hour earlier, the train ticket costs double (sometimes triple) the price of the equivalent journey by bus.
And it really wasn’t that bad. The buses are equipped with tiny, tiny bathrooms (oh the joy of trying to use these on a moving bus) and there is a midway stop in the middle of nowhere (the trip lasts just over 4 hours).
And I mean the middle of nowhere. There was a tiny cafe, and nothing else.
Whilst there, I had the strongest coffee of my life. It made my hair stand on end. And for this, I do mean it in the literal sense.
A note about the countryside: There are large cutout billboards scattered throughout the Spanish countryside, usually of iconic Spanish symbols, like the bull and matador. We observed these while playing a rather aggressive series of Uno.
Before long, we were pulling into the city of Granada.
But before we get into our activities there, here are some interesting bits and bobs about the city.
* Granada is the capital of the province of the same name.
* Where Madrid has the bear-and-tree, Granada’s symbol is the pomegranate. Oddly enough, I saw plenty of orange trees while I was in the city, but not even one pomegranate tree. Just saying.
* The city had the biggest mix of people out of all of the places we visited. The city has a Roma community on its outskirts, as well as a buzzing Arab/Islamic quarter. More on both of these later.
* Granada’s major drawing card is the Alhambra, a beautiful palace complex from the Moorish times. Note: I was mispronouncing this the whole time (right up until the last day), until our friend Mark corrected me on this. Fail.
Fancy Shmancy Hotels and Steep Walks
Again, my hotel-finding lucky streak led me to Hotel Presidente. This hotel was the fanciest one we stayed in during our time in Spain. The rooms were large and clean, the wifi excellent, breakfast was included in the price and we were close to everything else.
After freshening up, we started wandering around Granada. Our hotel receptionist was very sweet and helpful. He gave us a giant map (only slightly inconvenient) and said “it’s too, too easy” when he meant to say “it’s very easy”. Before I explained this to my mum, she had thought he was being condescending. She even turned to me, all a-bristle, and said, “Well, if it’s so easy, then why doesn’t HE do it?”
Anyway. Our first stop was the Capilla Real, or Royal Chapel. This lovely church is surrounded by small alleyways and orange trees grow along one side. The smell of spices from the many vendors selling their wares around the chapel complete the image of being somewhere completely exotic.
The chapel houses numerous relics, some dating back from the 1500s. It also acts as the mausoleum for the remains of King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I. The church itself is beautiful.
After our visit, we visited some souvenir shops while making our way to Albayzin, the Arabic quarter.
This quarter is (mostly) a pedestrian zone, with steep little alleyways leading upwards to a hilltop, with some impressive lookout points. Albayzin is the most unique section of Granada, with numerous tearooms, Moroccan restaurants and shops selling Arabic-inspired souvenirs and spices.
However, at this time, I realised that my feet were finished. Due to a combination of poor choice of footwear and what I call princess feetsies (seriously, I should’ve been royalty), my feet felt like they had been replaced by feet-shaped vessels of tenderised meat. It was not fun.
Regardless, I was a trooper, and dragged myself up those steep walkways. We had a dinner of pizza, and later I tried out some improvised pilates, using a chair and extra towel. It didn’t really work.
Religious Establishments and a Walking Tour Crew Reunion
The next morning, my feet felt alarmingly better, and we started the day off with a hotel breakfast. Just a note: most Spanish hotels will only do a continental breakfast. This is the norm.
We mostly visited religious locations on this day.
We first decided to visit the city’s cathedral, which is located right next to the Capilla Real. This cathedral is deceptively large, so much so that we all lost each other while looking around the cavernous inner chamber. Luckily, in varying degrees of logic and timing, we all decided that waiting for each other at the exit would be the best plan. I’m not naming names, but someone figured this out vee-eery late in the game.
Factoid: It took a whopping 181 years for the cathedral to be completely built.
After this, Anna (the sister) wanted to check out the plaza that shared her name. Plaza Santa Ana is a long plaza, vertically stretching upwards towards a small church bearing the same name.
At the time of our visit, a wedding was just beginning and Anna went into a photographing frenzy. This happens from time to time, so my mum and I just sat down at a plaza-side cafe and sipped some iced tea like the veterans we are.
Feeling refreshed, we took a rather lovely walk to the other side of the city in order to visit yet another religious establishment, this time the Monastery of Saint Jeronimo. The entrance to this building is rather confusing, but there are many hotels and shops in the vicinity where you can ask for directions.
The monastery is slightly off the beaten track, so we mostly had the place to ourselves. The inner courtyard has a stunning grove of orange trees, and we spent some time there, simply relaxing and talking nonsense.
That evening, after a siesta, Anna and I met with some members of the Madrid walking tour crew, namely, Emma, Dave (Diggs) and Mark. We decided to check out the best lookout point in Granada: the Mirador San Nicolas. In true Spanish spirit, we bought bottled sangria and beer to accompany us.
The lookout point is preceded by a steep climb, but is well worth it, as we were treated to a perfect view of Granada, with the Alhambra lurking in the distance. This is clearly a popular place to visit at sunset, as the place was packed with tourists and locals, with a smattering of street performers.
After that, we went out for drinks and tapas (even to a place called the Minotaur Bar – Greek mythology in Spain? I approve!). It was a great reunion of wonderful people.
Azkaban and a Cave Tour
No, you didn’t read that title incorrectly. Just be patient.
When you get to Granada, your hotel receptionist will terrify you into pre-booking tickets for the Alhambra. While this is what we did (you can do this online or through your hotel/hostel), one of our friends simply rocked up and got tickets at the gate. But, all in all, it may just have been sheer luck on his part, as access tickets to the Alhambra are limited to only a couple of thousands each day.
The Alhambra is a palace complex situated atop a hill. It resembles a tiny city, with three major parts: The Nazari Palaces (entry here is timed – check the ticket), the Alcazaba and Generalife.
Even though we went there early, the temperature was already reaching its highest mark of the day: 40 degrees Celsius. I kid you not.
Our first stop was the Nazari Palaces, which had a long queue snaking around to its access point. However, it was worth the wait. The palace is huge and features some of the most beautiful architecture I’ve ever seen, with intricate decorations throughout.
While on our way to the Alcazaba (the citadel and oldest part of the hilltop complex), my sunglasses broke. It was a sad, sad thing. My mum thought it was delightful.
While at the citadel, I renamed it Azkaban and made a couple of lame Harry Potter jokes. We also found Mark wandering around this part of the Alhambra.
Afterwards, it was onwards to the gardens of Generalife, which formed my overall favourite part of the Alhambra. The gardens are almost set out in a maze formation, with loads of different flowers in full bloom.
After a very necessary clean-up at the hotel and some delicious smoothies, we came across our first real language blunder. Our hotel receptionist had informed us that there was a big market right down the road.
Imagining a fabulous farmers’ market, we set off in the heat to find it.
It was a MALL. Mostly containing fast food joints, by the look of it.
In the early evening, we met up with everyone in order to go on a cave tour. On its outskirts, Granada has a hilly section called Sacromonte, where people mostly live in caves. Yes, caves.
This had been happening for a long time, where people dug the caves out of the soft rock, until they were sealed up by the authorities. However, these have been steadily reclaimed and are homes to a wide array of people. And some of these caves are pretty advanced, with water-heating systems and fencing.
The tour took us right into the centre of the community. By now, my princess feetsies were acting up again, but I struggled along up the steep paths, albeit at an embarrassingly slow pace.
After the tour, we all had dinner together. It was then time to go back to the hotel to prepare for the next leg of the trip: the flashy Valencia.
1) The fantastic kebap place by Plaza Santa Ana.
2) On that note, the fantastic Smooy smoothie store.
3) The fact that the city is filled with so many different people following such different sorts of lifestyles.
4) Granada is perfect for walking.
5) The Mirador San Nicolas and the fact that you can buy decent, bottled sangria at the convenience store.