Day 5: Granada

We woke up after sleeping in just a touch, had breakfast at the hotel, then set out to see what Granada was all about during the daylight.  After taking in the Cathedral (from the outside), we sussed out a few squares, plazas, and random equestrian statues.  As it didn’t take long, we stopped for our usual coffee at a joint in the Plaza Nueva, then decided to make our way up to the Alhambra (Spain’s most touristed sight) on foot.  It was a great walk, mostly uphill, but only took about half an hour and we only got a little bit lost once.

Random Spain note:  as I’ve touched upon before, they love to put signs pointing you in the general vicinity of something impossibly old and famous, then they leave you to figure it out.  Along the way, you could pass dozens of turnabouts and 6-way intersections, but it is like a treasure hunt to figure out which one you need.  It’s the Spanish way and once we learned the rules we embraced and delighted in playing their game.

So, as stated in the RSN above, they put a few great signs pointing you to the Alhambra, arguably Spain’s most important site, then suddenly, the road split off in a few different directions and there were no more signs.  Oh, the fun began.  Instead of risking it, we asked a local woman who pointed vaguely to the right direction – clearly she was in on the game – and we set off (not before giving her a knowing nod).  We trudged up more of the hill, and after a while, we knew we were close – the signage started again.

The Secret Garden next to Alhambra

The thing is, the big sign saying ‘Alhambra – this way’ pointed up another little hill, so sillily, we followed it.  We wound up in some of the most beautiful gardens we’ve seen, complete with water features, peacocks, and a kitty in the distance.  And no people.  Hmmm.  This couldn’t be the biggest tourist destination in Spain, could it?  So we asked a guy who was blowing leaves around how to get to Alhambra, and he did the famous Spanish vague wave in one direction.  We followed his advice, getting further lost in the beautiful gardens.  Eventually we found a kind girl sitting on a bench and she gave us more detailed instructions on how to get to Alhambra.  She must have not been from Spain.  (By the way, it turns out we had found ourselves in the Carmen de Los Martires Jardin Monumental Romantico park, which I’d enthusiastically recommend for a visit.  Of course, the presence of the peacock helped sway my vote.)

We finally made it to the big Alhambra, collected our pre-paid tickets, and passed the time until we could get in (at 14:00) by eating a sandwich and some chipsies.  Promptly at 14:00 we filed in and checked out this large impressive compound.  First came the fort, which looked like it would have been foreboding to anyone wanting to infiltrate it.  We hiked up the stairs to the lookout points, where we were granted sprawling views of Granada and the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains.

Next came Carlos V palace, which wasn’t a palace at all, just a round building.  Kind of odd, especially given the nearby Palacios Nazaries was a PALACE.  Our assigned time to enter the Palacios Nazaries was 15:00, and we had been warned not to be one minute late.  It turned out to be the only place in Spain where they take the time seriously.  So with that in mind, we hung close to the entry to the Palacios, and filed in promptly at 15:00.

They really do things right at the Alhambra, limiting the number of people who can view the Palacios at a time – makes for a much more relaxing experience.  We took our time checking it out (even then it still only took us about an hour), oohing and aahing over all the Moorish alabaster designs on the walls.

Palacios Nazaries

After the Palacios, we headed to Generalife gardens, which turned out to be not nearly as impressive as the secret garden we had wound up in earlier in the day.  There were no peacocks, for starters, and a lot more people.

At this point, we had had about enough of the Alhambra, and really wanted to sit down for a beer.  So we exited and hopped into a cab destined for the other hillside (to the lookout of San Nicolas, where we’d be granted a scenic view of the Alhambra complex).  The cab ride only took about 15 minutes and we were there.  As it would have been a steep uphill walk, we were glad to have spent the taxi money.  We hung out with the hippies and grungy people at San Nicolas for a few minutes, snapped a few pictures, then found a bar that had a magnificent view of the Alhambra.  We settled in there for a couple of very expensive beers for Spain (bill came to €12 for 4 beers, the most expensive we encountered on the trip), then took the bus back down the hill into town.

Hanging with the hippies overlooking the Alhambra

We were pretty tuckered now so we headed to the room, dropped off our gear, and started to think about dinner.  Oh, boy, here it comes, our infamous Dinner Stroll.  And this one was a doozy.  Not wanting to wind up at that dreadful pasta place again, we decided to try to hone our skills a bit more and looked at dining advice given by our guidebook, Rick Steves’ Spain.  Not being very good at following advice, we ended up wandering aimlessly for a couple of hours, finally settling on the joint where we’d had coffee earlier in the day (on Plaza Nuevo).  They didn’t have an English menu, and the options in Spanish were a bit confusing.  So we flagged down the waitress, and luckily she spoke a little bit of English.  I pointed to this and that, and she explained things as best she could, but nothing was jumping out at me as sounding good, or even edible.  At one point something I pointed to turned out to be, as she described in broken English, little birds fried in olive oil and garlic.  Little birds?  Like, um, parakeets?  Not wanting to chance it, we ended up leaving after I had one beer and Jim had a water.  I don’t think the waitress was all that amused by our appearance.

Finally, in an act of sheer desperation, we settled on going to a churro con chocolate place.  At least we knew what we were getting.  The chocolate that came out was warm, thick, and decadent, and the churros (10 of them) were piping hot, sugary, and delicious.  Not exactly a traditional meal, but we were in a town that had no restaurants.  Or, at least, none that were suitable to us (and by us I mean me).

After all the events of the day, we now had an odd combination of complete body exhaustion and a sugar high, but we retired to our camp beds because we had to get an early start the next day…

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