Granada (and Madrid again)

May 8, 2018

The train ride from Ronda was pretty boring: there were olive orchards mostly, along with other agriculture. And the train didn’t even take us all the way to Granada, because apparently the train line is still a work in progress. We all got off at Antequera Santa Ana, a gleaming new glass station in the middle of those agricultural fields, and transferred to a bus to take us to Granada. The bus took us through more olive orchards and so on, and both of us slept for a lot of the journey.

Our hostal in Granada for the next two nights was a couple of kilometers away, across the city centre. Google Maps had given us the shortest route, which was a long and complicated set of instructions telling us to turn left at this street and half-right at that street and so on. But that was a recipe for getting lost so Paul had worked out a simple route which only followed main streets, and that was an easy route to follow (even though it was on noisy roads) and we didn’t get lost.

At the corner of Gran Vía de Colón and Calle de los Reyes Católicos was a statue with Queen Isabella giving Christopher Columbus his terms of reference. Clearly the epicentre of Spanish history! Our place was just up Reyes Católicos a bit and then up the hill towards the Alhambra. We checked in at the Hostal Landázuri, and they gave us the key for our room in Hostal Alfín, just up the hill. As we’d found elsewhere in Spain, the street was rather decrepit but the inside of the building was beautiful and our room was really lovely. It had an entrance room with a couch, leading into the main bedroom. The window opened onto a very small balcony. However we did have a small table and two chairs just inside.

We’d bought some chocolate pastries in Ronda to eat at some future time, and this seemed like the time. So we sat at our small table and ate them, calling it lunch. (It was about 5 pm.) Then we headed out for the final act of our Alhambra ticket-buying saga…

Way back when we were planning this trip it was obvious that we had to book tickets for the Alhambra far in advance. So Rosemary signed in three months ahead of time to buy them, and they were already all sold out. Argh. But then about a month ago she discovered that the tickets are booked far in advance by tour companies, and they often release some of those tickets when they finalize their tours. So, small numbers of tickets become available shortly before the day.

We dutifully checked the Alhambra website every day and eventually May 3 was the day when we could buy two tickets. Bingo! We bought them, and then we had an e-mail with the tickets in the form of a PDF with QR codes. But the website said we had to print the tickets on A4 paper, and it gave us the address of a place in Granada where we could get that done.

… and we stood in line for several minutes behind some Spanish people who were quite annoyed at not being able to get tickets to the Alhambra for tomorrow. Finally we asked the agent to print our tickets, and she said “Oh no! All you have to do is to show that code on your phone! You don’t need to print them!”

We headed back to our room, and we got back just in time because a thunderstorm passed over. It was a very heavy shower and before long the street outside had a river running down the middle. We were both very happy to be inside. Finally the rain stopped and we headed out for dinner.

At the bottom of the hill was a bar, La Gran Taberna, which had good reviews. We ordered a white wine and an Estrella Galicia beer, which got us one free tapa each. It turned out to be really good, a small slice of bread with egg, ham, and cheese. Our waiter was very busy and it was hard to get his attention but we managed to order two other tapas: a grilled pork and tomato tapa and one made from sausage.

Around 11 pm there was another thunderstorm, but this time with not as much rain.

May 9, 2018

We were up before 8 am this morning to have breakfast at the café just down the street before heading up to the Alhambra. Our entry time to the Nasrid Palace was at 9:30 am so we arrived there at 9 am. But their entry system was very organized; anybody with a 9:30 am entry time can enter at any time between 9:30 am and 10 am, so we still had to wait for half an hour. And using the PDF on Rosemary’s phone worked perfectly.

Reflecting pool in Nasrid Palace

Reflecting pool in Nasrid Palace

Calligraphy

Calligraphy

Following Rick Steves’s guided tour we made our way around the various areas of the palace. It’s an amazing place to visit. The Moorish part is 600 years old and still very well preserved. The walls and ceilings were ornately decorated with carved plaster or wood, and the walls, ceilings, and archways were beautifully and intricately carved. Some of the original paint could still be seen in some of the arches. It’s possible to imagine the Sultan receiving guests in the grand hall or relaxing in the gardens with the ponds and fountains.

Remains of original plaster colour

Remains of original plaster colour

Twelve Lions fountain

Twelve Lions fountain

Outdoor view

Outdoor view

Touring the palace took over an hour and it was definitely worth all the trouble we’d gone to in buying the tickets. We also had access to the Generalife gardens, including the Sultan’s summer palace. This was not nearly as fancy as the Nasrid Palace but interesting to see nevertheless. The gardens were quite extensive and very well-kept, and included some very lovely rose gardens. Again we could imagine the Sultan and his court strolling in the gardens.

Common Swift

Common Swift

Generalife gardens

Generalife gardens

There were a lot of people visiting the Alhambra but the place never really felt crowded. From the crowd-control point of view this was the best-run of Andalucía’s major tourist sites. After the Nasrid Palace and the Generalife we visited the palace of Charles V and the Alcazaba, but they were basically bare-bones buildings with no character.

Defensive wall

Defensive wall

Floral display

Floral display

View towards the Cathedral

View towards the Cathedral

By now it was after 1 pm so we bought some ice creams and enjoyed them on the plaza outside the Alcazaba. We decided we had seen enough of the Alhambra grounds so we headed down the hill to start on Rick Steves’s walking tour of the Old Town. It started at the Corral del Carbon, where we had come yesterday to inquire about printing Alhambra tickets, and took us through some interesting places and past some beautiful buildings. We decided to pass up visiting the cathedral and the royal chapel and continued on the walk, ending at the Paseo de los Tristes, next to the river.

Plaza de Bib-Rambla

Plaza de Bib-Rambla

Cathedral roof feature

Cathedral roof feature

There were restaurants there and, as it was after 3 pm, we decided to have lunch. We checked out a few menus and then sat in the shady outdoor patio of one of the restaurants. For € 10 we got a starter, main course, and dessert. Our starters (paella for Paul, eggplant with honey for Rosemary) were big enough for a whole meal and then we had our mains (calamares for Paul, pork cutlet for Rosemary) which were just as large. But we still had room for dessert!

“Dancer” statue

“Dancer” statue

On the plaza there was a group of four jazz musicians and we got to listen to their incredible playing. The clarinet player was especially good. We were close to Granada’s Roma district so we thought they might be Roma, who are famous for producing great musicians all over Europe. And sure enough their CD (which we bought as they were packing up) was titled “Gypsy Jazz”.

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail

After we finished our dessert we headed back to our room, spending the rest of the afternoon very lazily. And after that lunch we didn’t even need dinner, so we just had a piece of nougat.

May 10, 2018

Now we were off to start our Rockjumper birding tour. We were up at 7:45 am to do the final packing and then went down to the café for breakfast. We had our usual of orange juice, tea, and toast with butter and jam. After we said our good-byes we headed to the train station, where we caught the bus back to the Antequera Santa Ana station.

Our AVE train to Madrid arrived after about 30 minutes, and even though it reached speeds over 270 km/h it still took us two hours to get us to Madrid. We arrived at Atocha on a platform quite a distance from the station; it was like arriving at an airport with the long walk associated with it. We had lunch at a café in the station and we both had salads, which were really good and such a change from the usual bun with meat.

Statue in Botanical Gardens

Statue in Botanical Gardens

Our hotel for tonight was in Barajas, out by the airport. But we didn’t want to go and sit in an airport hotel for the rest of the day, so we put our packs into a locker and walked over to the Botanical Gardens to see what was in bloom. Unfortunately the tulips were finished but we did see some nice roses and irises. We also said “hi” to the Douglas fir tree.

Rose in bloom

Rose in bloom

Finally we recovered our packs from the locker and took the metro up to Barajas, which is next to the airport. The metro ticket machine was confusing to use—we already had a metro card and couldn’t understand why it seemed to want us to buy another one—but after a while we pressed a different button and all was well. At Barajas we walked the short distance to the Tach Hotel and checked in.

We went for a walk around Barajas but there wasn’t much to see around the hotel. It’s a town of middle-class people with kids living in three-story apartment blocks. So we weren’t gone for long.

At 8 pm we went down for dinner and found a group of six or eight people already gathered there. They were obviously part of our group, so we joined them. Eventually the whole group and the two leaders were gathered together. We didn’t know too many names at first but everyone seemed very nice and we had a couple of weeks to learn them all.

Next: Birding with Rockjumper begins