Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Grand Old Granada

I think Granada may be close to the top of the list of my favorite cities in the world.

On Friday I took a super cheap bus (about 2€) from Daimiel to Ciudad Real and got in around noon. I then had a few hours to kill before everyone else arrived so I walked around the part of town I hadn't seen much of when I was living there. I walked through the park and also visited two museums; one had an archaeological exhibit, a reptile exhibit, and a dinosaur exhibit, and the other was the art museum. It was only 3€ to see both museums so it was a great use of time and money! 

They had a mastodon skeleton! 

Then I went to the grocery store and picked up a loaf of bread, some turkey, cream cheese, and a yogurt (for under 5€) for the best makeshift lunch to tide us over for the 3 hour drive. I met up with Katie, Elaine, and Hannah and we met our driver from BlaBlaCar. This is a ride sharing company that's much cheaper than taking the train! The drive was beautiful; we went from the low, red, plains, to the green hills, to the higher hills covered with olive trees, to low mountains with some fall-colored trees, and finally to Granada, where as we were driving past palm trees, we could see the snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains in the distance. The view and the weather were incredible; it was about 70 degrees the whole weekend.

Our driver dropped us off and we walked to the McDonald's to use the bathroom and get a snack before our Couch Surfing host, Jose, picked us up. Couch Surfing is amazing because you not only get the advantage of getting to know a local who can give you advice on what sights to see (and in our case take us out to his favorite tapas bars), but it's also FREE. His apartment also had the most amazing view. I still cannot believe it was free. Jose is in his last year of university in Granada and is studying Chinese, along with his roommate Carmen. Granada is a city of about 200,000 people, and he told us that 70,000 of that is students, so it empties out in the summer time and is much quieter. 

When we arrived we got settled in, took in the view from the balcony, had a bit of cheesecake and reveled in how lucky we got with everything. Then we got ready to go out! The apartment is in the historic Arab quarter of Albaicin, which has narrow, hilly, windy, cobblestone streets that are more like walkways and white-washed houses. I thought I was going to take a tumble a couple of times. 

We went to a wine and tapas bar where we ate like royalty: tortilla espanola, bacon and quail eggs, fried zucchini and eggplant chips, pork and red peppers, a garlic and meat stew, and bread with all of them of course. We met some of our hosts friends and some of the people who work at the bar, because our host was friends with them! Then we went to another bar where we had beer, fried fish, french fries, and clams with this great sauce! We were in heaven. In Granada you pay for the drinks and the tapas come free, but it's like a full dinner! We went to a fun disco and then headed back at like 7 in the morning!

Aftermath of the fish and clams, captured by Katie

We slept late and then went on a walk through the neighborhood with Jose and his friends and had a bit of a tapas lunch in a square. At this point the wind picked up to a ferocious velocity and started to blow away peoples' chairs, tables, bottles, and umbrellas, so we moved to a table inside where a family was having a birthday celebration for their 10 year old son. We sang happy birthday to him and in return they gave us some chocolate cake! 

Alhambra beer with Jose in the background

Then we went up to the Mirador de San Nicolas which is an overlook where you can see the Alhambra (more about that later). It was beautiful but also the windiest weather I've ever been in. Even the locals said that it wasn't normal at all. The beautiful view became a bit scary for a few moments when one of the plastic roofs over the restaurant one street below the overlook blew off and up to where we were. It was probably 6 feet long and 4 feet wide of half an inch thick flexible plastic and I thought it was going to take our heads off! Everyone was alright although one girl was very close to getting smacked with it. 

The 4 of us continued our walk while our friends went back to their house. We stopped in a few cute shops along the way, as well as talking to a street poet who had set up a table and was writing poems and doing art with a typewriter! We walked down the center of the city and got some dinner, and then excitingly, Katie and Elaine decided they wanted to get piercings while we were in Granada! We went to a very professional piercing/tattoo parlor and Katie got her nose and tragus pierced and Elaine got a bullring kind of piercing in her nose! Everything went swimmingly and we were very proud of their gumption and bravery! They looked great. To celebrate we got gelato! This was my first gelato of my trip and boy was it worth holding out for. I had dark chocolate and mint and it was a spiritual experience. 

We also stopped in a tea shop (Granada is known for their tea), and in what we thought was the Cathedral but was actually a smaller church next door. We felt a little silly that we were so impressed by just the church, but it was still beautiful. We found our way back to the apartment miraculously and spend the rest of the night on the balcony with some wine and good company.

We had to wake up kind of early to walk to the Alhambra, but it was a beautiful walk through the city and then through this beautiful park. Again, I can't stress enough how much the fall colors made everything even more beautiful. 

We made it in line just a few minutes after our scheduled time to enter, so we were all prepared to fight or cry if they weren't going to let us in. Here's some info from Wikipedia, so if you want to know more, have a look: "Alhambra was originally constructed as a small fortress in 889 and then largely ignored until its ruins were renovated and rebuilt in the mid-11th century by the Moorish emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar of the Emirate of Granada, who built its current palace and walls. It was converted into a royal palace in 1333 by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada....After the conquest of Granada by the Reyes Catolicos ("Catholic Monarchs") in 1492, some of the portions were used by Christian rulers....After being allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries, the buildings being occupied by squatters, Alhambra was rediscovered in the 19th century by European scholars and travelers, with restorations commencing."  

This is the view from the back side of the castle portion. I felt like I was on top of the world. 

This part used to be a convent and King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella were buried here until their royal chapel was completed in the center of the city next to the Cathedral. 

This is the view from a part of the Generalife gardens and palace that dates from the beginning of the 14th century. 

We spent at least about 4 hours exploring and I probably could have stayed for several more. But then we caught a bus to the city center again and visited the cathedral. I didn't learn much here because the audio guide cost several more euros than I was willing to shell out, but it was beautiful. Somehow I never get tired of the churches and cathedrals here. 

Then it was back to the apartment to pack up and get one last good look at the city from the balcony before we headed back to meet our BlaBlaCar driver. It's been awesome meeting new people and even making new friends on all the different trips we take and this was no exception. We couldn't thank Jose and Carmen enough for the experience. Three hours later we were back to Ciudad Real and I took a short 15 minute train ride back to Daimiel. 

Stay tuned for the next post about IRELAND!

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