|When the weekend came, Laura and I were keen to get to Granada just an hour and a half coach ride from Almuñecar.
We had booked tickets in advance for Spain's arguably biggest tourist attraction - the Alhambra - made the more sweet by Laura's strange devotion to the lager of the same name.
We left after a mornings work, Nadine giving us a lift to the bus station where we jumped on an Alsa to Granada. The bus journey was short and scenic, turning from the coast heading up into the Sierra Nevada and across an arid rocky landscape before plateauing on a vast plain filled with a stretching city under - surprisingly - snow capped mountains.
It wasn't how I pictured Granada. I had pictured a Tolkienesque castle sat on a lowly hill with mountains behind. Instead, the coach travelled along motorways, past commercial centres and suburbs before leaving us at a massive bus station next to a dual carriageway. (/Dave)
We took our bags and yomped the last two miles into Granada city centre, as we got closer to the centre seeing more and more references to the Alhambra before passing through a part of city filled with North African food shops and narrow streets filled with open-fronted shops. The street opened into a bar filled plaza, the Alhambra Palace in front and above us, and along a cobbled road we found our airbnb. Sofa tested, stuff dumped, a quick TripAdvisor search done, our stomachs were calling. Off to The Minotaur.
Having been in Spain for nearly two months now, we had experienced the custom of free tapa with drinks many times before. What we hadn't realised on our first night is that Granada is the home of tapas. You buy a drink, you get a plate of food. Even if you've already eaten 5 or 6 plates of food, you buy a drink, you get another plate of food. For free. After our second drinks in the Minotaur I'd had enough food (see photo diary) to push my hunger scale from starving to filling. However, thanks to British reasons, we now felt indebted to the nice bar man who kept bringing us food, and so we ordered two plates of tapas from the menu thinking the free food wouldn't go on forever. As it turned out, and due to the fact we fancied staying out for a few drinks as celebration of being in a city not a caravan, by the end of the night I really, desperately did not want any more free food. When I ordered a glass of wine, I wanted only wine, not wine which would then be seasoned with my tears because it had been accompanied by another meat filled bun with crisps. Let this be a warning to you all of the perils of Granada and it's innate generosity.
We had two days in Granada, the second one was already planned with a visit to the Alhambra, tickets for which need to be booked weeks if not months in advance. Our first day was to be spent being tourists and so a whirlwind walking tour of our local area commenced. We went uphill to Sacromonte, the home of caves and cave homes and flamenco. The cave home museum was interesting but had more interpretation panels than the Alhambra Palace has patterned tiles, few of them really relevant to caves, and it was a bit much in the end. So we descended back into town all the while being dodged by fully dressed mountain bikers heading out to the Sierra Nevada. We had an entirely edible menu del dia in a lovely square under the palace, then ventured further afield to a trip advisor recommended church.
Dave and I need a good reason to enter a church or cathedral, not a religious reason, and this one was irresistible because it seemed inside to be entirely clad in gold and outrageously outlandish. As we discovered on the walk there, the bling church / pimped up church (choose your name) is ironically and unfortunately situated in one of the more deprived parts of Granada with many shops boarded up and many, many homeless people on the streets. This contrast probably made the church interior seem even more extreme than it is. There is gold, everywhere. Paintings, statues, glass boxes with skulls. It doesn't come across in the photos just how much gold there is. I couldn't help wondering if they melted it all down and sold it to cash4gold how much they could help the people in the local neighborhood. But it was definitely memorable.
It couldn't be avoided forever - we had tickets for a flamenco show that night. So we took some time to wander the North African inspired tourist shops and streets and stock up on fridge magnets, toilet tiles, and almost a €400 mirror which I'm glad we didn't impulse buy. Then it was time to flamenco. The room was small, and the stage was tiny. My prior knowledge of flamenco was limited enough that this surprised me, and of course the minimal number of seats inspired a fear of audience participation, facilitated by watching many Edinburgh fringe shows in tiny venues. Obviously, I told myself, there would be no audience participation as we were in Casa del Arte Flamenco, a professional establishment, and none of us were wearing our flamenco shoes. So we parked up near the back and settled in for an hour of stomping.
The singer and guitarist began the performance. It wasn't a catchy tune but I started to understand why intensity and passion are associated with flamenco. The guitarist did a solo piece which I really did enjoy, then the dancing began, first a lady, then a man, then both. I'm not sure how to describe it really. There's lots of clicking fingers, spinning, and most of all, stomping. I probably shouldn't compare it to Irish riverdancing but I'm really not cultured in these things. It was impressive. There were at most four people on the stage, one singer, one guitarist, two dancers. Dave and I individually spent a lot of the time trying to figure out how much of it was improvised and if it was then who was in charge. We still don't know. The non-dancing dancer would be standing at the back clapping and shouting 'olé' at appropriate moments. The guitarist looked mostly relaxed which was surprising since his hands were moving almost in a blur. The singer was intense verging on scary. The dancers, this sounds patronising but it really isn't intended to be, can move their feet amazingly quickly always to a beat and stomp them really, really hard. What impressed me the most (as I'm sure it was supposed to) was at the end of each... dance, I guess, all four of them would have built up a lot of momentum and volume but they would always stop and silence on the exact same beat. That sounds simple in writing but when you see a performance with four people that is seemingly mostly improvised, and very fast, stop in the same millisecond, it's 'pretty cool'. That's my flamenco review. Pretty cool and worth seeing.
Satisfied with our day of touristing, I'd been craving something from home for the last week or so in the caravan. I really, really wanted a bowl of granola. With milk. It was so lucky that one of the top reviewed cafés in Granada was two minutes from our flat and attached to a hotel, and they did buffet breakfasts for a set fee of a comparatively extortionate €9. Because it was a hotel. But the reviews talked about good coffee, and good granola. We had to go. I think Dave would rightly describe me as excited which to be fair isn't an emotion I'm known for, being fairly level headed. We had also been waiting for this morning as tickets for Real Madrid vs Borussia Dortmund playing in the Champions League were going on sale at 10am. It was the perfect storm. I know, who thought I cared about football?
A lovely waitress asked me to write down our names in her notebook. Our coffee came as you can see in the photo which it has to be said, may be a little cheesy but it made us both smile. I had a combination of both the fruit and chocolate granola in the same bowl with milk and I will remember it for a long time. It was exactly, exactly what I'd been craving and how often does that happen? Determined to get my money's worth I had two coffees and more food than Dave and then it was 10am. I had absolutely no idea what to expect of the ticket buying because I don't care about football. Dave was a little more clued up and suggested we both attempt to find tickets and the first one to get two together buys them. Cut a very long story short, we may have looked to the outside like we had had a major argument, as with frowned faces and determinedly staring at our phones we spent a while trying to find two adjacent seats. It didn't happen. Our budget rose pretty quickly but later that day we did happen across two seats together, and decided that nearly €400 to see a football match was probably unjustifiable. We were a little deflated but that granola was so tasty.
As it happens, said game is taking place a couple of days from now and we will find somewhere to watch it hoping that it will be a very boring 0-0 draw.
Oh, the Alhambra. Spain's number 1 tourist attraction. Moorish palaces and gardens dating from a very, very long time ago, about 900 years if memory serves. The first line on the first interpretation panel said "wood is a material that comes from trees". After that things improved significantly and despite the fact we were still surrounded by tourists at the end of November, the whole thing was very pretty and in places quite spectacular. The gardens were lovely and intricate and the palaces and buildings were the same, terraces, courtyards, archways, beautiful window frames and above all, decorative tiles and plaster wall carvings. It confirmed I like tiles, a lot. I'm sure it is worthy of its number 1 spot and we saw the tiniest kittens I've ever seen, which I thought I was subtly feeding but I'm sure a crowd of people were watching.
Time running out, we took our leave in a taxi and headed to the bus station. Granada is lovely - it feels bustley, lively and friendly but different to anywhere else we'd been. In many ways it reminded us of Edinburgh and probably as a result of that, it stole our hearts a little bit. That and the free food. There's every chance we'll be back.
But the olives, hens and the crazy cat were waiting for us at the farm. We were going back for the last time...