May 12-15: Granada, Spain
Wow, what an amazing city – one that you definitely need at least three days to visit. There’s so much to see, so much to do, so much history, and such an eclectic mix of people and visitors. Thousands of years of history that includes Roman, Moorish, Gypsy, Jewish, and Christian influences, provide an interesting intermingling of architecture, culture, language, and food.
Leaving Torrox, we drove along the Costa del Sol for awhile, then turned north at Motril. It was an easy drive of just over an hour. We had a small studio apartment booked within the city walls and had reserved underground parking. In order to do that, we had to register our car licence plate and passport information with our hosts and they arranged it so we could enter the residents-only part of the city. Luckily we only had to drive about 400m to our apartment. However, once we arrived, we couldn’t find a temporary parking spot by the church as planned, so we stopped to asses our surroundings for a moment, got honked at, quickly continued driving through a narrow alley, and pulled up onto a curb. I left Erik with the car and walked back to the apartment to check in. One of our hosts, Isabelle, returned to the car with me, and we carried our bags in, and then she hopped into the car with Erik and directed him around the block to the underground parking. We are lucky that we have a small car and that Erik is a confident driver in Europe, as I suspect the whole thing might terrify someone more hesitant (like me!).
Once we were safely ensconced in our room, we checked out the rest of the apartment, Carmen de Ramilla. It was a lovely old 16th century building, recently renovated into four apartments, while keeping as much of the original stone and woodwork as possible. Originally a moorish home, it had been owned for years by an old woman who had eventually died there before Marie bought the building in 2008 and went through four years of careful renovation and three years of approval process. We learned that it was designated as a “Carmen” which meant it had to have a walled garden with a grape vine, a water feature (ours had several small fountains and a small swimming pool), fruit trees (lemon and orange), flowers and shrubs, and an herb garden. The area was a beautiful, calm oasis in such a busy city and we enjoyed sitting out on the lawn chairs in the afternoon several times.
Our room had a double bed, another single bed we used for our luggage, a small kitchen area with a 2 burner stove, microwave, sink, dishes etc, as well a olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, coffee and tea. It had the prettiest oriental tea pot I have ever seen and I spent the rest of my trip looking for a similar one in the many shops of Granada but to no avail. We had a window in the bathroom as well as double french door/windows in the main room that opened up onto the noisy street below (we were on the second storey). All through the day, and into the evening, we could hear groups of young travellers wandering the streets, laughing and singing.
While on the coast we saw lots of wealthier tourists, primarily British and German folks, but in Granada, there were lots of young people, back packers, and gypsies in addition to the regular European and North American tourists. Granada is home to a large university which houses over 60,000 students which also plays into the large number of youths in the city.
We were staying in the Albaicin part of Granada (on the north side), and the tourist train went right by our apartment. For €15 total, we were able to get a 2 day pass to use the train any time we wanted. It ran every 15 -20 minutes right up until 11:00pm and did an 1:15 loop around the city. If you plugged in earbuds, you could listen to a commentary of what you were seeing in about 10 different languages.
The most interesting and exciting place to see in Granada is the Alhambra – a massive network of structures the dominates the hill on one side of the city. Originally built around 800AD, and added on to after that, it has been in ruins and rebuilt several times and now contains many buildings including palaces, halls, and gardens with both Muslim and Christian architecture. There are also several hotels and restaurants in the area.
HOWEVER, if you want to visit the Alhambra, you need to go online and buy your tickets at least a MONTH before you want to visit. We did not know this and so we missed out on visiting this beautiful place. We were only able to access the free part of the gardens and the Charles V palace. Ah well, live and learn. It gives us a reason to come back some day.
We found many of Granada’s restaurants on the pricey side, although we did have one great find down along Paseo de los Tristes, the street that runs along the creek below the Alhambra – called La Bella y La Bestia. We stopped for lunch and Erik ordered a bocadilla (sub sandwich) for €4 and I had a bagel sandwich for €2.20. The waiter also brought a free tapa – a large portion of fries with pieces of pork and tasty sauce. We had more food than we could finish and didn’t need to have more than a snack for dinner that night. We also enjoyed breakfast and a very good cafe con leche, fresh sumo de naranja (OJ), and a large toasted bun (tostada), split and served with tomato sauce or jam. All for only €4.30 at Cafe Marivi, just around the corner from our apartment.
One night we went to a restaurant nearby to watch a Flamenco show. It wasn’t one of the big performances that you find in Sevilla, but the musicians and dancers were talented and we enjoyed the show. It was €20 each, plus our drinks. Flamenco first began in the mid-1700’s and has a strong Arabic and Romany influence, in addition to Spanish, which I hadn’t realized before. It was really interesting and fun to watch the women’s pained expressions as they sang of their trials and tribulations. I would have loved to have understood the stories they told with their songs.
We were quite close to the Mirador de San Nicolas and got some great photos of the Alhambra from that view point, then we wandered down the streets to the bottom of the hill and found streets lined with little shops filled with colourful clothing, pottery, hooka pipes and souvenirs. I could have wandered those streets for hours.
There are several churches you can visit in Granada – the main one being the Catedral de Granada (€5 euro entry). It was Sunday when we stopped in so it wasn’t open for visiting but we were able to quietly stand in the back and take a peek during mass. It was pretty but nowhere near as beautiful as the Monasterio de San Jeronimo that we visited earlier in the day. For only €4 each, we wandered around the main cloister which was started in 1504, and then into the chapel which was absolutely stunning. I especially loved the altarpiece. Here, el Gran Capitan, Gonzalo Frenandez de Cordoba, and his wife, Doña Maria, are buried.
Granada can be a bit touristy at times, and is likely very busy in the high season, but it is a beautiful and incredibly interesting city. If you can find a little “carmen” B&B or apartamento where you can prepare simple meals once in awhile, and have a peaceful place to relax after a long day touring, it is definitely worth a 3-4 day visit. I would definitely love to go back.
Next up: Ronda