Granada, España (Spain), 2000

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Chapter 1 - Madrid

Chapter 2 - Granada

Chapter 3 - Barcelona

We didn't have reservations for a hotel in Granada but we found several listings in our travel bible, Let's Go Spain, right next door to each other and just down the hill from La Alhambra, our purpose for visiting town. It turns out nobody had a double but Hostal Gomerez had a triple for 1000 pesetas more, around $6, so we took it. Our room had a little balcony overlooking the street, where I watched other backpackers in search of a room, and a window overlooking the valley. The bed was a bit squishy and we had to share a bath with the rest of the floor, but it was clean, quiet and a great location.
We hadn't done a lot of research about Granada since we were just there to see La Alhambra. We'd expected Granada to be a quaint little tourist trap village huddled around the Moorish castle, it's only attraction. Instead we found a bustling college town of 300,000 that just happens to have La Alhambra at the top of the hill overlooking the valley.
Despite the size, it's still kind of quaint, and very picturesque. And the locals are friendly, happy, and beautiful. I haven't seen as many beautiful women per square foot since Copenhagen - everywhere you look is some dreamy, dark haired, big eyed, big lipped, shapely woman with the most beautiful dark gold skin either of us had ever seen.
We slipped off the tourist strip in search of food and stumbled into a small bar and restaurant district. Some of the aforementioned lovely ladies were giving out free drink cards to random bars so after a delicious and cheap dinner at Restaurante Boabdil we did the free drink tour. The bars were just starting to fill up as we started, but as we finished the trek they were packed to capacity, even on a school night. So we retreated back to the hotel and looked out our balcony, with a quiet, cool view of the streets at night.
Sleepy but rested, we hit the hill early in the morning. There's a shuttle from the bottom of the hill but our hotel was 3/4 the way up so we opted to hike it. By the time we got there degenerate SW was wishing we'd taken the shuttle - it's a hell of a hill.
Rick Steeves' guidebook had warned us about getting lost in the Moorish complex of La Alhambra. But it's only 200 yards wide so I didn't take the warnings seriously. After we ended up wandering the same garden twice trying to find our way back to the main palace we were wishing we'd forked over the pesetas for the map. I'm sure we missed a few things we didn't stumble across, but what we did see was utterly magnificent.

In the Moorish palace every square inch is decorated with intricate patterns (subtlety spelling out "Alla") and in a few places you can see where the details were once painted in reds and blues.

Fountains burble in the courtyards, gardens and in several rooms, leading out to the irrigation system that trickles down the mountainside.
As if the palaces weren't enough, there's an incredible view of the valley below. (Check out the 270 degree montage I cobbled together!) You can see all of Granada, from the old stone buildings close by to the white-washed stucco of the older Arab quarter, down to the cathedral and all the way out to the modern blocky apartment buildings in the burbs.
It's tough to believe any army could take the fort on that hill but the Christians were a determined, hard-headed lot. So now there's a Christian palace atop the ruins of one of the Muslim palaces on the hill, but there's still several of the Muslim palaces there, as well as the gardens. The local shops sell trinkets with a Moorish slant and you can get North African food in several local restaurants. In addition, you can see it in the faces of the locals. Everyone is a shade darker than your average Spaniard. You can sense the Moorish presence, lurking there just past yesterday.
We skipped a few things so we could get back to the hotel and check out on time. We'd intended on catching the shuttle back up to see what we missed but got distracted at lunch by Granada's cathedral. It's a spectacular cathedral and, in the chapel next door, the burial place of Ferdinand and Isabella. Unfortunately, they were hosting an exhibit of stuff from the Catholic monarchs in the cathedral. The exhibit wasn't nearly as impressive as the walls they covered up to show the stuff. But the massive stacks of gilt organ pipes stretching toward the ceiling were powerful even in silence.
We spent the rest of the day on an arduous hike up the neighboring hill through the Arab quarter, where the oldest buildings in Granada are perched on the hillside. It's a beautiful neighborhood full of quiet streets lined by white stucco buildings topped in red tile. Red peppers hung from windows to dry in the sun, green shutters, flowers overflowing garden walls - it's a serious hike but worth the sweat. At the top of the hill is a tiny park with a view of La Alhambra across the valley, as well as the city below.
We picked up our gear and caught a cab to the station to catch our overnight train to Barcelona.
We'd tried to get a first class cabin to celebrate SW's 30th birthday, but they were all booked so we ended up in a sleeper with 6 bunks. A pair of older local couples had the other 4 bunks so when midnight rolled around we didn't exactly raise hell for her birthday celebration. Instead we just giggled giddily and let the train rock us to sleep.

Next episode: Barcelona


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