Granada and the Alhambra

I flew to Granada, in the south of Spain, to see the ‘other’ half of the country, and to visit the renowned Alhambra. Given that I was up until 1am on my last night in Barcelona, and I had to catch a bus at 5am for a 7am flight, I decided there was no point in sleeping for only three hours and stayed up all night, intending to sleep when I got to my accommodation. I’d booked a bed in a small town called Quentar, 13km out of Granada, and had directions of which bus I needed to catch to get there. One would think a flight and bus trip would be simple enough, but not so. The bus from Granada airport to the city centre broke down when we were only half way. The driver announced something in Spanish, and I asked the girl next to me what he said. Luckily she could speak some English and told me we were waiting for another bus which would be about 20 minutes away.

After half an hour of waiting, the bus arrived, our bags were transferred across and we continued into Granada. Chatting to the girl next to me, I heard that Australian has been a dream destination for her since she was a kid (it was not the first time I’d heard this), but it was so far away and so expensive. I began to think that our ‘remote’ location back home may contribute to the allure it holds for so many people. Of course I talk it up, telling them all the good places to visit if they should ever get there, and help to keep their dream alive. I like to see their eyes sparkle and their smile deepen as they envision their visit and know that I’ve helped make their day a little brighter.

Getting off the bus I was confronted by gypsy women, holding sprigs of rosemary. I waved them away, keen to get to my bag from underneath the bus when an older one grabbed my wrist with no intention of letting go. I wasn’t in the mood, so shouted ‘No!’ and shook my arm free. Geez, talk about pushy. It was later explained to me that these women offered to ‘read’ your palm, and then demanded money. Well they weren’t getting any from me, that’s for sure.

It was hot in Granada, and I was keen to lay down for a sleep, however I’d just missed the local bus to Quentar and the next wasn’t for an hour. I decided to stay put at the stop and wait. Thankfully the hour passed quickly and I got on the bus that arrived, only to be told that this bus wasn’t running, and I had to wait for the next one due to leave in another hour. Oh boy. Being hot and tired my patience was running thin, but what could I do except wait? I wasn’t going to trudge the 13kms with my backpack in that heat. Imagine my disbelief as I watched the stationary bus for an hour, only to find the original driver return, board the bus and wave me on board. Hmph. Must be the bus driver’s lunch time or something. By now I’d been awake for almost 30 hours and looking forward to bed.

The cottage in Quentar was great, and I know a few of you who would have loved it. It was carved out of the mountainside, and so was cool and quaint, and I had it all to myself. Along with bedrooms there was a kitchen and courtyard, bathroom and lounge room, and a tv and radio with their local station in English. I laughed to realise it was just like any commercial radio station back home, playing all the same songs with a few old rock songs thrown in. Using their wifi, I didn’t sleep and instead spent the afternoon inside away from the heat and on the net. In hindsight that was a bad move, as I’m still trying to catch up on sleep a good two weeks later on. However, at the time it was what I did. It was still warm at 8pm at night, and I began to understand why siesta is so important, because you simply can’t go out in the afternoon heat without whithering away!

Night time came, and so did a knock on my door. Visitors? Me? Hmm. It turned out to be a young guy who was also travelling and staying in the same village. He asked if I wanted to eat dinner with him, but I’d already eaten (I’m still not used to eating dinner at 10 or 11pm at night like they do here), so I agreed to walk through the village and chat with him instead. Ohad was from Israel, who had spent his gap year (between the army – compulsory service – and university) working in England and holidaying for the last few weeks in Spain. He spoke English perfectly and I was happy to talk to him and hear about his county and life at home. I eventually had to go to bed when I started feeling like a zombie and struggled to keep my eyes open.

The next day Ohad and I wandered around Granada and I found the town to be similar to Quentar, with tiny houses tucked away in impossibly small areas. Yet it was the attention to detail that struck me – the carvings in their doors, the patterned tiles and mosaic footpaths – all had been crafted by hand and were delicately constructed in what I imagine were the most arduous circumstances. The steep and narrow streets were barely wide enough for a very small car, let alone building equipment. The streets were so steep in fact, that when I saw a cleaner using a broom to sweep the street, I laughed when I realised the broom head was on a sharp angle to make his job easier. I saw a man fixing part of his balcony, with his ladder precariously balanced on the steep incline of the road. His only form of safety was his friend who stood against the ladder to prevent him and his tools tumbling down the hill. Whitewashed houses, in rows and rows up the steep mountains, against the perfectly clear blue sky was my overall impression of Granada and Quentar.

I had obtained a ticket to the Alhambra, and the much talked about Palaces. I’d bought a ticket only two days before, and not knowing exactly what I should see I opted for the full experience at 14. For anyone interested in going, you can buy a ticket on the day you wish to attend, for only €7, and that lets you into all areas except the Palaces – which were not that flash after all. Basically everything you can see in the Palaces is seen throughout the rest of the Alhambra and I’m not sure why people think the Palaces are so great. You have to attend the Palaces at your designated time, with up to 400 other people, and everyone shuffles through like a human cargo train to see the mosaic tiles and carvings, but honestly, it isn’t worth the extra €7.

What I did love in the Alhambra were the gardens (accessible with the €7 ticket). They were well thought out, and offered a welcome respite from the searing heat. There were various forms of water fountains to see, which I love, and plenty of taps to fill up your waterbottle as well. The greenery was striking against the tan and white buidings and the mercilessly blue sky, and I could have spent all my time in the gardens alone. My second favourite place in the Alhambra was the top of the lookout where I could see the distant snow capped mountains. These mountains were in such contrast to the shimmering heat that surrounded everything in Granada it was almost unthinkable that these extreme temperatures could co-exist in such close proximity.

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