Today was a very much needed recovery day, though it had its share of frustrations. We got up late, cobbled together a breakfast from the nearby bakery and fruit stand (one thing I truly love about Europe – stalls selling only fresh produce all over the place!) then decided to go out and do a bit of souvenir/gift shopping.
Side note: I hate shopping. Of any kind. I can never find what I want at a price I’m willing to pay, and shopping for souvenirs makes me feel super touristy and all those tourist shops all have the same kitschy shit anyway. But I feel obligated to look at them all because may, just maybe, I’ll find something I like.
We had read about an area called Alcalceria, which used to be a Moorish bazaar where silk was sold and made. It is now lined with tourist shops, so we figured that it would be a good place to check out. As we entered the former bazaar, we realized that it was exactly like the Fez medina, only slightly less claustrophobic – down to the very goods that were being sold. Each stall had a rack of Granada- or Spain- specific postcards, sure, but most of the other items for sale were exactly the same as what we saw in the Fez medina – Middle Eastern style lamps, glass tea cups, leather slippers and handbags…I even saw the exact same wallet I had bought while we were visiting the tanneries in Fez. It made me angry…and sad. Where did all this stuff come from?! Did these stall owners buy their goods from people in Morocco? It’s possible, I suppose, given Granada’s Moorish heritage. Unlikely, I think. More likely is that vendors in both countries just buy from mass producers using child labor in China. Given my already high dislike of shopping, this whole experience was really disheartening.
Then we went to lunch at a place recommended by our guidebook and that we had passed several times walking to and from our hotel. It looked pretty nice, but the food was really just ok. We had a ham and cheese croquette (which was pretty good – I mean, it’s pretty hard to mess up a deep fried cheese ball), and a plate of potatoes with ham shavings and an egg on top. Now, I know I’ve said before that eggs on top make everything better, and the egg did make this dish better, it just didn’t make it good. Chris and I had a nice conversation about what we would add to make the dish better (red pepper flakes, a sharp cheese, salt, cumin, anything really…) but we definitely left the restaurant a bit put out (it didn’t help that the meal cost 30 euros. It was definitely not worth 30 euros).
After lunch, we took the afternoon off and just lounged around our hotel room. I finish reading The Truth According to Us, which I ended up enjoying after initially being skeptical. It was nice not doing anything, and not feeling like we had to do anything. Traveling for a month is tiring, and as Chris said at lunch, “If you’re not tired after a month of traveling, you’re not doing it right.” And I think we’ve been doing it right, seeing everything of interest to us and trying new things and going to less-visited places. It’s especially tiring because we’re doing it all on our own – at least with the American School in Greece two summers ago, we didn’t have to do any of the planning or get ourselves anywhere. Having to drive two or three hours a day in a foreign country is exhausting. So yeah, it was nice to just hang out and read and be on Facebook for a bit.
After our little afternoon reprieve, we hiked up to the Mirador San Nicholas. It’s a plaza at the top of the hill adjacent to the Alhambra hill and it is definitely quite a hike! (There is a bus that will take you up there, but we’re hardcore. And on a budget) But, despite the sweat and leg cramps, the view of the Alhambra and the surrounding Sierra Nevada is absolutely worth it. It was stunning, and I don’t think any photos can do it justice.
We hung around there for a bit before heading back down to attempt the free tapas bar crawl. I had read in various places that Granada is the place for free tapas – order a drink, and they also bring you a plate! Sounds so easy and economical, right?! Well, not exactly… We plopped down at the first place that looked open (we had misjudged the time and started walking around too early – how dare we expect to eat before 8:00!) and sure enough, along with our drinks came a plate of potatoes and sausages. Cool, we thought! We can make a dinner of this. But then Chris did some math and realized that if we each bought three drinks, that would put us at our daily dinner budget, and three small plates of tapas would definitely not be enough for both of us for dinner (not to mention the fact that I would be dead drunk after three glasses of wine after walking around in 100 degree heat all day). So, we decided to abandon the free tapas crawl and had some nice gazpacho at a vegan restaurant near our hotel (I can’t believe I actually went to a vegan restaurant. It’s not something I anticipate doing ever again).
Chris and I talked a lot about tourism and the impact it has probably had on the food culture here in Spain, but also in France and Italy. I had read so much about how Spanish food is so amazing and delicious and Spain is part of foodie heaven, blah blah blah…but I feel like we have only had a few really great meals and only a few actually good meals. It frustrates me that these restaurants in the tourist centers probably know that they can just slap down whatever quality food and that tourists will eat it (and pay for it). And it also frustrates me that you really have to know someone in one of these cities to really find any places of value – there are just too many options, and when you’re hot and tired and hungry, it’s hard to take the time to figure out if a place will be any good or not. And maybe Chris and I just have really high standards and we’re food snobs and maybe we should just get over ourselves or something.
Maybe it’s because we’re at the end of the trip. Maybe it’s because we know that Italy, and amazing food, is so close. Maybe Spanish food just isn’t as good as everything makes it out to be. Whatever it is, I’m looking forward to moving on to a smaller town tomorrow.