Grand Granada.

Posted by jswt | Posted in General, Spain - Granada | Posted on 04-10-2010

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Granada is the Spain that one imagines… it’s near the southern tip in the arid desert and has a heavy legacy of being conquered and reconquered by the romans and the moors and the christians. The influences remain behind, and it’s an amazing ancient city with a heavy morrocan and turkish influence.

The first day was spent by the pool drinking with most of the crew who were happy to finally be glimpsing summer (albeit a little late as we rolled in at the tail end of September). 30 degrees and sun was a welcome change from a summer spent in the UK. That night we went into town around 10 to grab some dinner, and were somewhat awestruck by the city – it’s mazes of winding alleys full of teahouses and shops and marble tiled sidewalks and cobblestone streets… gorgeous. Since we were overwhelmed and distracted by the beauty of the city, we ended up a little tourist trapped in our dinner selection, but followed it up with some nice wandering and mohitos at some hidden gems. Ran into a group from the tour and closed down a patio with them before heading back to the hotel.

Tuesday, Chris had to work so I took the laptop down to the pool and got some work done… between dunks in the pool to cool down, I must have zoned out a little too much and my pasty untanned canadian skin ended up pretty seriously burned. A nice nap later, Chris came home and we rolled out for dinner with some work colleagues who were in town for a visit, and although the restaurant was again a little tourist trappy (I didn’t pick it), the company and conversation was fantastic and made for a wonderful evening…

It was cut a little short when the waiter said we would have to pay because he didn’t know if he’d be able to take money after midnight. Wednesday was a worldwide day of protest against the banking system, and there was a countrywide strike planned for the next day. We quickly paid up and hopped a cab at 5 minutes before midnight to make it back to the hotel, where a bottle of Frangelico and Polish sweet vodka joined our group by the pool for some late night chat and laughter.

The next day I got some work done and then headed into town for some lunch. I had no problem getting a cab called to the hotel, but I realized the strike might be a problem as the cabbie explained that he could no go into the centre of town where I was being asked to be dropped off because of the strike. He dropped me a few blocks away, and from there I could hear the crowds chanting as a massive group of protesters worked their way through the city plastering stickers all over windows and harassing any business that had opted to stay open during the strike.

I watched the ruckus for a while, but wanted something a little more relaxed out of my day, so I headed up the main street through the centre of town until it branched off alongside a little stream and wound its way up into the hills.

Granada is sort of based around two hills, one of which features the Alhumbra (which I’ll talk about later) and the other is a residential community of white houses piled on top of eachother and perched around winding cobblestone streets, many of which aren’t wide enough for a car to make it up. As I wound my way further and further up into this maze, there’d occasionally be open doors through which you could wander into lush courtyards and gardens and little palaces and hidden nooks with running water, all of which had shaded spots to stop and rest out of what I could only imagine to be scalding sun in the middle of the summer out here in the desert. I spent hours wandering aimlessly, taking breaks in gardens, listening to the sounds of guitars and singing trickling out of windows and generally falling in love with the city. Further up into the hills there are trails that go up to the gypsy communities, but as I was wandering solo I opted not to go check out the caves that people have been living in for centuries.

I wandered up over the mountain and back down into town, and enjoyed the local tradition of being given free tapas when you order a drink… essentially, when you order your first drink, you get a little nibble. Order another drink, you get something more substantial. Another drink, a bigger better eat. It’s a brilliant way to keep people at your bar drinking, and a fantastic way to have a bite (or few) to eat.

Cabbed back to the hotel and got some work done until I got a call from G about 10ish asking if I wanted to grab a drink at the lobby bar. We had a couple glasses of wine and talked about how she was driving to Seville the next day to see U2 in concert, before Chris rolled in from work. He was looking pretty rough, and had come down with a bit of a stomach bug and was headed straight to the room to fall asleep. I hung out with G for a bit longer, but was worried about Chris so I grabbed some water for him and headed to the room.

The next morning at about 9am the phone rang and it was G. Ended up that one of their U2 tickets wasn’t able to be used, and she asked if I wanted to go. My “never turn down a free ticket to a show” mantra, combined with my never having seen U2 live, had me on board pretty quickly. I went to the venue with Chris to find M & P who had the day off and had just grabbed the rental car they were taking to Seville that night (a rather nice BMW) . They surprised me by saying they were heading up to a local ski hill (remember: this is the middle of the desert), and asked if I wanted to come along.

We headed up into the mountains, up some amazing winding roads to the Sierra Nevada ski resort. It was closed for the season, but it was still nice to hang out in the village, get some fresh air, and check out the resort. We headed up a service road and hiked to the top of a ridge that looked out over the back of the mountain and across the valleys and hills that led to the mediteranean sea. A seriously memorable view.

Rolled back into town via some harrowing turns, quick pitstop at the hotel, and we picked up G and V from the venue just after 5 and headed off to Seville. Quickly, we learned that a 3 hour drive isn’t quite so when you factor in Spanish road construction. Thanks to M’s assumed previous career as a race car driver, we pulled up to the stadium at 9:30 – 15 minutes before U2 were to begin their set.

M went to park the car (best/weirdest park job ever), and we went to fetch the tickets and we could hear the roar of the crowd well outside the stadium. There was some confusion at the guest list window about a missing ticket, but once we somehow talked an extra ticket out of thin air, we all got in just as the band started. I never really knew why U2 could sell out stadiums like they do, or who their crowd was, but they do put on a fantastic show and have taken the stadium performance to a whole new level. The psychotically responsive and energetic crowd of 70,000 were very appreciative and the band seemed to feed back off of it… A smooth drive back, and we rolled into Granada about 3am.

Chris had Friday off and we’d booked tickets to go and visit the Alhambra – a fortress/palace built in the 14th century that looms over Granada. I hadn’t heard of the place before we arrived, but I can definately recommend it for anyone’s must-see list. Even today, it’s still a marvel of engineering, with water flowing throughout, and without a doubt one of the most intricate and stunningly beautiful places I’ve ever visited.

We got to there around 2 and were finishing our tour of the gardens right at sunset about 7:30… a perfect day of idle wandering and relaxing and enjoying.

Went back to the hotel, had a bit of a rest and then joined some friends by the pool around 10 for a few glasses of cava, and then headed into town shortly before midnight to grab some dinner. Lucked out and found an amazing restaurant full of locals and had by far the best paella we’ve ever tasted. A delicious end to a fantastic day.

Saturday morning, I got a call from D, and went to join her in town around 1 when she finished up her Alhambra tour. We did some shopping until everything started to close for siesta around 2, so we went and grabbed some drinks (and free tapas). Explored back laneways and vendors’ wares until we ducked into a teahouse for a nice couple hours of chilling on some cushions, drinking chai, smoking a never ending hookah full of berry shisha and watching the world stroll by.

We were thinking about grabbing a cab home, but D had been really busy with school all week and hadn’t seen the community on the second hill, so off we went. Even though I’d spent hours earlier that week wandering around the neighborhood we still found streets and shops and squares I’d never seen before. We chilled out in a garden behind a mosque looking at the Alhambra, had sangria and tapas in a square, and then wandered back down towards the city. We heard a bunch of voices coming from a building along the way and assumed it was a spanish house party, until we walked past and realized there were people sitting on tables on the roof. We went back, and found ourselves in a very cool teahouse that was just running in someone’s house. We lucked out and landed a table on the roof just as people were leaving, so we spent the rest of our evening eating more tapas and drinking wine while watching the sun set over Granada with the Alhambra looming over us. D and I get along really well, and we just had one of those perfectly flowing days of events and conversation that made everything about the day just feel as if it were as good as it could possibly be.

Granada was a city beyond expectations, and might come second only to San Sebastian in my favorite places we’ve been.

Whether for snowboarding in the winter or just to enjoy any time of the year, it’s a place that I would love to revisit and would recommend wholeheartedly.