Granada means pomegranate. An appealing image especially if you like the fruit. Sam’s “treat” for his birthday on 15 December was a trip there. Since there isn’t a good way to go by train, we went by coach. We discovered that this is a uniquely Spanish way to travel. Not knowing what to expect and not speaking much Spanish, we got on the bus, found our assigned seats, and prepared for a five hour trip. The bus didn’t have a loo on it, so we figured there’d be pit stops along the way. Heading toward the Sierra Nevada we passed through the mountains of high desert, interspersed with scattered villages.
Without warning our driver pulled off the road into a small roadside service area and announced a forty five minute lunch break, and that the bus would be locked up in the meantime. So we all climbed down, and sat in the rather sprawling café and ate our midday meal. For some the “menu del dia,” for others café con leche and tostadas with cheese and/or ham. There was chorizo and lots of it on display. The lunch stop is obviously a custom that most passengers were used to, and expected, but to us, it felt like an insight into the culture that was quite delightful. On the bus, we met an American family from Oregon. Their daughter was studying for her term abroad in Alicante, and they were visiting Granada with her and her sister. Their daughter seemed to be enjoying Alicante and was staying with a family who spoke no English, so her Spanish was improving.
We meant most of our time in Granada visiting the Alhambra, eating tapas, and walking around the old area near to our hotel which bordered on el Albayzin, a historic quarter which retains its Moorish roots with its narrow streets and with all kinds of stalls and mini store fronts selling leather, textiles, and tile.
Although we were only there for about 48 hours we managed to get an informative and insightful group tour of the Alhambra. It took the “overwhelming” out of visiting the Alhambra. Our tour guide Gus was unusually tall, so we had no worries about losing him. We spent the afternoon walking around el Albayzin after a windy ride on one of the local minibuses (many parts of Granada have roads that are too narrow for big buses) up to Plaza San Nicolas which has one of the best views of the Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Our favorite place in Granada was a bar that Sam found that looked very ordinary but served really good tapas. They gave us “house” tapas with our drinks, and we ordered more. Granada has a municipal law that says proprietors must provide free tapas with any drink bought! The quality was very good: and several tapas and beers cost only about 20 Euros. The atmosphere was very lively, and we ended up going back there the second night, where we met a couple of friendly English blokes. I was glad because the first night I had heard some British accents, and it made me feel a bit “homesick”.
In terms of nightlife Granada was busy in the pre-Christmas season. In Alicante it didn’t get to feeling “like Christmas” until about that time. Our impression of the season was that it was low key except for a some street parades, the church bells ringing like mad, and an increase in British accents, and pedestrians around the promenade areas. We had Christmas dinner in a typical Spanish restaurant in the old town of Alicante not far from where we were staying. It was a “Christmas menu” so therefore a surprise. I was able to let them know of my dietary requirements (pescetarian) before, which they (mostly) adhered to. I didn’t make an issue of it. Sam is my taste tester anyway if I am in any doubt. I couldn’t count the courses of the meal but the food just kept coming. It was a mostly fish and vegetable based meal, impressive in the surprises that kept coming. I was relieved when we got to the desert part, as we were very full! We were introduced to an after dinner sweet wine “Moscato”, which I like because it reminds me of Manischewitz sweet wine for Passover! Anyway, to us it was quite a Spanish experience, and we walked very slowly back to our apartment for a nap.
A couple of days after Christmas our friends Minky and Trevor came to Alicante and we did some serious exploration of cocktail bars with them. We took them for an expansive Spanish lunch at our favorite restaurant where I took Sam for his birthday, Atelier. They have a lovely prix fixe dinner or lunch and the pace is very civilized and the food truly delicious.
A few days after that we took the tram 20 miles or so up the coast to Calpe to visit them at their cozy homestead in the countryside. The tram ride includes some very lovely bits of coastline, including parts where the line seems to cling to the edge of a cliff, and it goes through some rather long tunnels. Their house has an amazing view of Calpe rock, and the surrounding countryside. We went on a couple of local walks on very quiet roads, and had great views of the mountains.
It was a contrast from Alicante, and we enjoyed the luxury of time spent together. We spent New Year’s Eve sampling Trevor’s delicious home cooking and sitting around the fireplace sampling Minky’s yummy Spanish-style cocktails. We returned to Alicante and used the day before leaving for Barcelona to see the Castillo Santa Barbara, which originated during the Moors tenure in the region, and has been added onto for centuries since then. It was a good cardio work out getting up to the top of the hill that it stands on, and we enjoyed some time sitting in a very well placed café with views over the castle and the surrounding area.
We took the train to Barcelona yesterday and are just getting settled in a lovely flat (our nicest yet) in the “de Gracia” neighborhood, which feels like a slightly less upscale but quirky cousin of Le Marais in Paris. More to come!
Thanks to Minky for showing me how to put large versions of photos into the blog!