Day 4: Granada
Upon checking out of the Madrid hostel, I took the metro to the southern bus station to catch a ride to Granada on an ALSA bus (the website wouldn’t take my payment so I bought my ticket at the station). The bus line is comfortable and efficient, definitely a good choice compared to the €70+ train ride. I arrived at my Granada hostel (El Granado, near the cathedral) at around 4 and after a great orientation by the owner Freddy, I headed out for some sightseeing.
Granada is in Andalusia region, which occupies the south of Spain. It was held for centuries by Muslim rulers from North Africa and the middle East (the Moors) before the reconquista by the northern Spanish kingdoms. Granada was the last to fall, in 1492. Arabic words and aesthetics can been seen in the region to this day.
Andalusia is also super hot. The high was 90 or above each day I was there.
Back to sightseeing. I ended up walking up most of the Alhambra hill, but took a side jaunt to the Carmen del Martires garden. It was a beautiful, serene hillside park with water and shade trees everywhere. A highlight is a small courtyard near a mansion on the park premises with a little grotto, covered up by a waterfall. That is a fine place to sit in the hear of the day!
Then I took a late afternoon siesta as temps climbed to the upper 90s. Afterward I grabbed a tapas dinner north of Gran Via and hiked uphill through the Albayzín, a very old neighborhood that has been occupied by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike through the history of Granada. The roads are narrow, winding, and steep, giving the town an ancient feel.
I had been recommended the San Nicolas Plaza viewpoint at sunset. After a struggle to find the place, I saw why. The views of the Alhambra, the Moorish stronghold of Granada, were stunning. It seemed all of Granada had turned out to watch the view. Someone was playing guitar in the background which lent an quintessentially Spanish atmosphere.
The church of San Nicolas itself is free and kind of nice inside, while you’re already there.
I followed signs for the river walk, which was a nice way to complete the long loop. The views of the illuminated Alhambra were great here too.
Day 5: The Alhambra
I won’t recap the history of the Alhambra here, but suffice it to say it’s the finest example of Moorish architecture in Spain by most accounts. Logistics: don’t forget to buy a ticket in advance! They had sold out by the time I looked online so I had to get up at 5:45 to wait in line for the limited number of same-day tickets. The good news was I made some hostel friends that way since none of us had bought in advance. It was chilly as we sat in line eating breakfast.
We did get tickets, for a morning tour (HIGHLY recommended if it’s hot). I won’t post a ton of pictures: professionals do the space more justice. But it was spectacular, worth the trip to Granada by itself.
The Nasrid dynasty built the palaces that are the finest on the Alhambra grounds. They are highly livable spaces, which emphasise serenity compared to the ostentatious, ornate European palaces.
The Nasrid palaces are definitely the highlight but two other Alhambra structures also stand out: the Alcazaba and the Generalife.
The Alcazaba is basically just the fortified castle built as a defensive structure. It is in bad shape but the stone towers still stand guard over the city:
The Generalife was the summer palace. It has more of an emphasis on gardens by comparison to the other palaces.
The Alhambra was stunning. It is remarkable how much Moorish builders were able to achieve with plaster, wood, water, and stone. After we left the grounds, we walked down to the river and had a nice menú del día to cool down for a while. The cheesecake I had was particularly tasty. Tinto de verano, a combo of red wine and lemon soda, was a hit with the group.
We had heard about a higher viewpoint near some caves, where the Roma people live literally on the margins of the city. It was a hike, again through the Albayzín, and eventually the roads abruptly end. From here to the top of the hill are simple foot trails. Caves, with tarp awnings over the entrance, would make a fine home in the heat of the day. The neighbors waved to us as we walked by. Higher and higher, until we reached the Church of San Miguel Alta, the viewpoint we were seeking. It was worth going off the beaten path!
After that, I was pretty tired of the heat so I headed home for a siesta and a new appreciation for why the Spanish eat and work when they do. It was a quiet evening: I read and wrote in the main square for a bit.