Granada

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

I've mentioned before that there aren't many places left that I really need to scratch off my list for Spain, but this weekend I managed to put a little squiggle through one of the big ones: Granada.


Nestled in the Sierra Nevada, Granada was second choice for my Erasmus year due to it's proximity to the mountains (skiing!!) and the coast (frolicking!!) and also the good weather all year round. Writing this from rainy Madrid, I see no problem with the fact that Granada can reach scorching heights of 40c in summer, where the city practically shuts down during siesta time as everyone crawls into their bed, sweaty and lethargic. Sounds ideal to me. Andalucía is also the spiritual home of the "no pasa nada" and Mediterranean attitude that everything can wait until tomorrow which we, as Brits, all find so frustrating but which I have secretly grown to admire.

At a hefty 4-5 hour drive from Madrid, Granada is do-able for a long weekend but you really have to make the most of the time there. We hired a car for roughly 160€ in total including petrol, which works out cheaper than the AVE trains or the bus if there's more than 4 of you. We chose a cheap hostel which had amazing facilities (including luxury showers with free soap. FREE SOAP!!). At 13€/night I really couldn't recommend it enough: friendly staff, great location, and a beautiful setting all round. Only slight snag is that parking is 15€ a night and the wifi only works downstairs.


The next day, we woke up early for our continental style breakfast which was included in the room and made our way to the Alhambra Palace, where we had booked tickets for 10am. Booking tickets in advance is extremely important unless you want to queue for 2 hours at 7:30am. Having said this, I messed up hugely, thinking that I had booked tickets 3 weeks ago along with the hostels then realising that the payment hadn't gone through the day before we were due to leave. I frantically tried ticketmaster and LaCaixa again only to be told everything was sold out but after refreshing all day tickets suddenly became available at around 4:30pm. I would't risk this as a strategy but if you're caught out on buying last minute tickets for the Alhambra it's a sneaky tip.

To arrive at the Alhambra, you climb a long winding road to about half an hours walk outside the city. Entering through a maze of imposing pine trees and rose gardens, we walked lazily in the direction of the Nasrid Palace to take in the view of Granada panning out below us. The Nasrid Palace is the part of the tour that you need an allotted time for because there are restricted numbers of guests allowed in and, as I mentioned before, it frequently sells out weeks in advance.





It's not difficult to see why it's so popular. On such a beautiful day, light spills into the courtyards, glittering off the fountains and illuminating the intricate carvings that make up the walls of the palace. Morocco with less feral cats. 


Stepping out of the palace after about an hour of exploring, we settled onto a bench to admire the beautiful gardens which surround it.


Some of us admired them more than others...


There's much more to explore that I haven't mentioned so put aside 3-4 hours if you want to see everything. We left after 3 and a half because our stomachs were dreaming of tapas. And can you blame them?



We stopped at Om-Kalsum Moroccan tapas restaurant. The others ate the kefta, shwarma, falafel and crema de guisante (almost like spicy mushy peas). They said the food was good but that the shwarma was quite bland. I couldn't eat anything as a bout of food poisoning in Morocco means the smell of cumin makes me want to run to the hills. 

After a quick pitstop for an ice cream for me and a sit down, we tackled the long climb up to the Mirador de San Nicholas. Conveniently, someone has decided to set up shop on the way up, selling delicious home made ice creams, smoothies and milkshakes. 


For 2€ you can get great granizados (fresh fruit crushed with lots of ice), just the ticket after a long hot walk up the cobbled streets.


Rounding the corner and climbing the last flight of stairs, you're treated to a sudden shock to the senses. The gorgeous view of the Alhambra in front of the snow capped mountains, a group of buskers strumming out some Spanish melodies and banging drums, strings of bracelets and necklaces strewn over colourful umbrellas and the hustle and bustle of a gaggle of tourists trying to capture it all at once.

We decided the best bet was just to blend in perfectly.


Reluctantly dragging ourselves away, we meandered back towards the centre and to Calle Caldería Nueva, mini Morocco, a street lined with shops brimming with middle eastern goodies. 






As well as its Middle Eastern influences, Granada is famous for its food. More specifically it's famous for being one of the only remaining parts of Spain where you can still get good sized portions of free tapas when you buy your drink. In Madrid, if you buy a drink you're likely to get a small pot of olives or crisps but in Granada they really step it up a gear...


We found these little beauties at La Bella y La Bestia which were slammed down with our drinks by possibly the rudest waiter I've ever encountered in Spain. If his eyes could have rolled out of his head they would have. Still, we paid 2.20€ for a drink, bagel, chips and pasta salad so he can roll his eyes all he likes.

Moving on, it was a breath of fresh air to be greeted with a smile at Bar Poe and a selection of 9 different tapas to choose from. You get one free with your drink and extras are only 1.50€, meaning we stuffed our faces for only 6€ each including two drinks.



The pork and pineapple skewers were the definite hit of the night. The English guy that owns the bar was also great, chatty, attentive and accommodating. Don't be put off by the location, it's definitely worth a walk out of the tourist trap of the centre.


We wound up our day in Granada here, mopping up the scraps of what was left and drinking Tinto de Verano on high stools in this cosy little gem of a find.



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