Day 23 – Granada

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.

Day 21 and 22 – Malaga to Granada and 1st day in Granada

Today (day 22) was great! Yesterday wasn’t much – we woke up late(ish) in Malaga, went to a fun little café for a real breakfast (bagel with egg, cheddar, and bacon!!), then drove to two fish salting sites (one was added en route – yay for more surprise vats…?!) at Torrox and Almuñécar. The second site at Almuñécar was pretty impressive – so many vats all grouped together in the middle of this cute little city park (also, the ancient name of the site is Sexi. hehe). I had a nice time reading on a shady bench while Chris did his thing. After a not-surprisingly disappointing lunch (we just picked the first spot we saw), we drove to Granada. The drive was stunning. Over the past few days, we’d been driving from place to place with the beautiful ocean on our left and impressive mountains on our right, but now we drove up into the mountains. It was gorgeous – and a bit scary too! Pretty windy roads (and I mean “windy” in both senses – as in, the roads curved around a lot AND there was a ton of wind), but luckily driving in Spain is a lot saner than either of the other countries we’ve been to. People use their blinker and pass at reasonable distances. I appreciate that.

Anyway, we made it to Granada, parked the car (more large-car-in-small-spaces trouble), and collapsed on the bed at the hotel. We were definitely exhausted, but we had laundry to do, so we started that then enjoyed some Sangria at a bar nearby while the washing cycle progressed. I was able to catch up on the blog a bit and Chris did some reading. I wasn’t feeling too hot when we finally went to dinner – a combination of cumulative stress of travel and lingering digestive issues (thanks, Morocco), but the place we went to was fine. We had an ox tail stew and sautéed vegetables. Nothing spectacular, but certainly not awful.

Today we woke up early early early to get to the Alhambra by 8:00 so we could print out our tickets (tip: pre-book your tickets!!!  and go early in the morning!) and be ready for the 8:30 opening time. It was a bit of a hike from the hotel – not far distance-wise, but pretty hefty incline-wise. But, we were among the first to enter the site, which was really nice.

We spent about 4.5 hours wandering around the vast complex of palaces, gardens, and fortifications. If you’ve never heard of the Alhambra before, go read about it and definitely look at some pictures. It is one of the most stunning examples of Islamic architecture in the world. Delicate columns and arches, expansive gardens, and everything accompanied by the sound of running water provided by the ubiquitous fountains. It was so peaceful and so incredibly beautiful. I remember learning about it in Mr. Lerch’s Art History AP class as a sophomore in high school and just being totally floored by just the pictures. Actually experiencing the space itself was awe-inspiring. I will be sure to post here when I finally get those photos uploaded!

Side note: quick thanks to Mr. Lerch for inspiring me to travel to see all those wonderful works of art you showed us. ☺

After the Alhambra, we stopped for a quick rest at the hotel before going out in search of lunch. We tried to find a place recommended on Trip Advisor only to find it closed, so instead we stumbled into an adorable family owned place. We ordered gazpacho and broad beans (a.k.a. fava beans) with ham and a fried egg.

Ok, I know I said before that cold soup is an abomination, but after walking around the Alhambra for five hours, I was ready to give it another shot. I am happy to say that my mind has been changed: this gazpacho was delicious! It definitely helps that we heard the blender whirring in the kitchen, so we knew it was fresh, but goodness! It was so fresh and refreshing! The broad beans were also great – the ham added the perfect amount of flavor and salt to the beans, and everyone knows that a fried egg on top makes basically everything better.

After lunch, we walked to the cathedral. Like so many of these cathedrals, the area around Granada’s is so built up that it’s hard to really get a sense of it from the outside. But once again, I was stunned as we walked into the space. Granada’s cathedral is very similar to Cadiz’s and Malaga’s, with soaring pillars carved into columns and a sort of key pattern decorating the domes. I like Malaga’s better, honestly, but it was still lovely to walk through with the audio guide that came with the entry fee (the audio guide was really, really fast – one moment we’re looking at a side chapel then the next we’re supposed to be looking at the organ in the nave! It was quite the sprint around).

Once we had finished in the cathedral, we hopped next door to the Royal Chapel to see the tombs of Isabella and Ferdinand. There is something really moving and impressive about seeing those huge monuments to such huge figures in history. There is also a little museum attached that holds devotional objects that belonged to Isabella, as well as her crown and scepter, and Ferdinand’s sword. There is also a lot of religious art, including a nice little Botticelli.

Back out in the blinding sun and fierce heart (41 degrees Celsius!), we realized that we were exhausted and famished. We decided to check out a little café that is supposedly known for churros and chocolate. Churros are long strips of dough fried lightly in olive oil, then dipped, sometimes in to coffee, but most often into cups of thick, steaming hot chocolate. It was utterly divine, and definitely the perfect snack after a long day of site-seeing. In fact, the book describes this place thus: “It’s 5pm, you’ve just traipsed around five vaguely interesting churches and hypoglycemia is rapidly setting in…” This described our situation almost exactly (minus the “vaguely interesting” part – everything was very interesting!!), even down to the time we got there.

Since we were so tired and didn’t really have anything left on the agenda for the day, we went back to the hotel after our churros and chocolate to rest and upload pictures and watch soccer before going out to dinner. It is so nice to be able to take our time in a place and rest when we need to. That’s the hardest part of traveling, I think – you feel like you have to see everything!!!!!! or else it’s a total waste, and it’s easy to run yourself into the ground that way. Though I think we could have see everything we wanted to in Granada in one day, I’m glad we have tomorrow as well so that we could pace ourselves and take our time and rest – at this point in the trip, we’re both getting pretty tired.

Anyway, dinner!! Thanks again to Trip Advisor for recommending a superb paella place, La Parrala. It was incredible. We hadn’t had paella yet on this trip, and we figured we’d better get on that since we’ll be leaving Spain in five days (!!). So we ordered a cheese plate and some wine to nibble on while we waited (it takes 25 minutes to cook, since they always make it to order) and then out it came, in the wide, shallow cast iron pan – ours had pork, chorizo, cured ham, and mushrooms in it. It was divine – I’m getting hungry again just thinking about it! There are many types of paella, so if you get the chance, try a lot! You can get a seafood one (avoid this if you are squeamish around tentacles and fish heads), a variety of meat combinations (chicken, rabbit, pork, though I haven’t seen one with beef in it…), a mixture of the two, or even a vegetarian one! So many options, so no excuses not to try this quintessentially Spanish dish.

After dinner, we went to Ireland for a bit! Not really, obviously, but we did stop by an Irish pub near our hotel to watch the second half of the Ireland-Italy Euro Cup soccer game. It was really fun, sitting there with a surprising number of Irish, and even more fun when Ireland won (as much as I love Italy and want to root for them, every time I see them play I am just so disappointed – they play really dirty, and I really don’t like that).

So now we’re off to bed, with the promise of a leisurely day tomorrow!