Moving from Córdoba to Granada marks the gradual appearance of the Sierra Nevada, a mountain range that spans southwestern Spain. And despite the fact that it was 35ºC…the name says it all: sierra nevada means snowy range. There’s still snow on the nearby mountains!
But yes, the heat. Before we get to that…
I got to my hostel and was given an overview of Granada by the manager: there’s the Christian quarter, which is overflowing with tapa bars, the Albaicín, the famous Arab quarter with twisty disorganised roads of a magnitude I had yet to have experienced, Sacromonte, the gypsy quarter with the flamenco caves, and Realejo, the old town.
Before I headed out, some girls at the hostel stopped me and asked if I had reserved my tickets for the Alhambra, the biggest attraction in Granada. I hadn’t. They told me that I would have to get myself up to the ticket office at 7:30 am the next morning and line up. Yikes! Then we got into self introductions, and I mentioned South America, and of course, starting with Argentina-
The hostel manager’s husband, Gustavo, had overheard me. He’s from a small town 300 km south of Buenos Aires that I can’t remember the name of, but he loves his whole country. Then he mentioned mate, and I couldn’t help but blurt my enthusiasm…
Fast forward one hour later, and we’ve been talking the whole time in Spanish, with him recommending me places to go in Argentina in the future (and of course, “What were you thinking, not going to Iguazu Falls?”), an introduction to his family, and things to do in Granada, over several calabaza-fulls of mate, shared with him, the hostel manager/his wife (Asia, from Bulgaria), and their amazingly adorable 4-year-old son Nahuel (who can speak Spanish, Bulgarian, and English!). Ah, mate.
Asia recommended that I sign up for the tapas tour starting at 8 pm. I obliged…but that meant only having two hours to sightsee before then.
So off I went, to the Albaicín and Sacromonte. Beautiful…but of course, I got lost. Verrrry lost. Never trust me with a map. I enjoyed everything I passed – the river and the stunning Alhambra looming way above on the east side, the clean white buildings of the Arab quarter, and the road-less, disorganised, stair-filled hills of Sacromonte, with random flamenco-influenced street art.
The heat got more and more intense…and ah, so many hills! I lost track of where I was going, thinking that down must just go towards the city centre…well, nope. I made it back to the hostel with barely any time to spare for rest before the tapas tour.
The tour was led by Tony, a Granada local with Irish and American ties, and we were accompanied by Persia (NYC), Carla (Melbourne), Daniel (Milan), and Merve (Istanbul) – a very diverse group. Tony took us to a few bars and showed us how it works in Granada – you order a drink, and it comes with food! Cheapest I’ve had in Spain too…with a tinto de verano (“summer wine”, basically wine heavily diluted with lemon Fanta) and a yummy tapa, the bill only comes to around €1.70 to €2.50. After a couple bars, I was done – I had to wake up early the next morning to go to the Alhambra. I left the group early, but Merve said she would meet me the next morning to come with me…
Unfortunately, she didn’t wake up, so after waiting 15 minutes for her (as we agreed), I left by myself. On the way up the big hill to the Alhambra, I met See-young (South Korea), and we hung out while waiting in that long lineup… We arrived at 7:30, but didn’t get in until 9:10. Strangely enough, we received different times for entry to the Palacios Nazaríes, so we had to split up. I ended up meeting another guy from her hostel, Philippe (France), and we ended up walking around together.
The Alhambra – palace grounds constructed by Arab sultans in the 1200s during the 800 year long Arab rule in current-day Spain – is enormous, and it took me three hours to walk them all. There’s the Generalife (spectacularly colourful gardens looming on a hill above the rest of the fortress/palaces), the Palacio de Carlos V, the Alcazaba (a giant fortress with many tower lookouts over Granada), and the crown jewel, the Palacios Nazaríes (royal palace with stunning architecture). I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
The heat was overbearing, so I took it easy for the rest of my stay in Granada – and I had a whole day and a half left. Rest in hostel, walk around for a bit. Rest in hostel, eat. I even ran into Happy and Mimi, whom I met in Granada. I walked around the Albaicín, Sacromonte, and Realejo a few times more, headed to a public free park (the sheer number of flowers really puts any other kind of public park to shame!), ate more tapas, joined Tony and Persia for more tapas, ate some more tapas… I think I’m addicted to the idea of ordering a drink and getting free food! It isn’t much, but I’ve drank more alcohol in the last week than I probably have in my life…
Persia and I raved on and on about Spain to Tony. However, he wasn’t so enthusiastic – he complained at length about the economic situation here, and how the jobs are. Companies ask for people with experience, but won’t give anyone a chance without any experience, unless they work for below a living wage – vicious cycle. He mentioned a scandal with Tesco (a British supermarket chain) where they did not pay their new employees at all – people could keep taking their unemployment benefits, and work at Tesco just for the experience that they could put on their resume. According to him, that’s pretty much where Spain’s headed. He’s graduating soon in chemical engineering, but he’s already planning to move to Texas for work. Prospects for all his friends in Spain all do not involve Spain. How sad for such an otherwise wonderful country!
At night, I wanted to appreciate the Alhambra some more. The second night, I headed to the Mirador San Nicolas – a place I headed to four times in the three days I was in Granada, yet I got lost every single time on my way there. The third night, I headed to the Alhambra itself, and chose to pay again for admission to the Palacios Nazaríes – a little expensive, but absolutely worth it. The palace is sensitively lit, and there are far fewer people than in the day. Very peaceful, and the atmosphere is completely different. If you’re in Granada and have the time to go in the day and night, I’d recommend it!
Only one more city left in Spain…