Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Granada



We had time for coffee on the square and one last walk around the perimeter of Barrio Santa Cruz before Macarena, our rental agent, was scheduled to meet us. Our coffee shop was not yet open at this unholy hour of 9:30 so we went up the block to another place. Life in the streets was just beginning to pick up, the only difference being many more people towing their luggage. It’s Monday and so probably a common day to leave.

We decided on a long walk, heading down Avenida de Constitución towards the Alcazar Gardens and then back up on the far side of the barrio. A group of young high school students stopped us and asked that we fill out a survey on tourism that they were doing for a class. Having time to kill, we agreed and when finished we stood with them for a group photo. Turning west into the gardens, another group stopped us and asked us to do it again. We asked if they were from the same school – yes. Same class – yes. Same project – yes and yet despite our protestations of already being in their sample, they handed us the form. The same answers and another group photo and we were on our way. I suspect they will get a lesson from their statistics teacher about tailoring their data.

Macarena showed up a bit early and we had a chat about the apartment. I had not mentioned this earlier, but I about died from allergies in this place. The cleaner had sprayed all over it with a very strong product, clearly aimed at duplicating the rich scent of eastern European mobsters. A whiff of it evoked hairy chests and gold chains. When arrived last Wednesday, I was taken aback and Macarena offered that leaving the windows open would clear it up. Well it didn’t and so I spent much of my time in Sevilla in the throes of the worst allergy attack ever. No matter how hard we tried, it never left and although I couldn’t smell it after a while, it was right back any time we returned. We told her it was bad for us and she mentioned that the apartment owner runs a perfume shop in town. Ah, that explained it all.

We really are the best renters in the world, stripping the beds, piling the towels and taking out the trash before leaving. Macarena gave me a very earnest speech about how the damage deposit is normally returned after two weeks but that we had been such wonderful clients that she was returning it now. We left, she walked with us to the taxi, giving us her personal phone number and asking us to call with any problems and we said goodbye.

A quick spin to the train station and an on time departure drove home the point of just how nice it is to travel by train. We’d met a California couple at the Flamenco show who were driving around the country in a rental car. Between parking, tolls, traffic, 10th century streets and getting lost, every day is another car adventure. Tolls are in the 10-15€ range and daily parking is 25. I doubt all of our train tickets would add up to the cost of the rental alone. Sitting in the car and watching Andalucía roll by at 100MPH is just too enjoyable to trade for the freedom of a car.

This train ride was about 3 hours, longer than most that we’ve done and slower due to more stops and lower maximum speed. But it offered a nice tour of the countryside, including a big flock of Flamingoes, a first for me, and acres upon acres of olive farms. Most towns had a big processing plant near the train tracks, white stucco with tile roofs and the brand painted proudly on the side. As we got into the last hour, the train began to climb and paralleled a fancy highway that was elevated above the valley floor. The road had tunnels, we were taking the high road over the top. At the crest, the Sierra Nevada came into view, stark and snow-capped in contrast to the green below.

We pulled in on time and I called Marta, our agent. She said she was at the station so I stood up and went to the door and there she was. As it turned out, the agency had given her my phone number, which did not work for some reason and instead of getting our wires crossed she decided to try and find us at the station. What a deal, no taxi to deal with and free ride to the apartment, something as it turns out was a bigger gift than I knew at the time. Given the layout of the old Arab Quarter, the Albaicín as it’s known, I doubt we ever would have found it.

We drove up the main street, the Gran Via and took a quick left under an ancient city gate onto a steep narrow cobblestone lane that headed up into the hills. My first thought was that I was in Morocco as this place looked far more old and African than any other old town I have visited in Spain. The second thought was somehow I'd been transported back to 1965 because the streets were thronged with hippies, or rather what passes for a hippie in the 21st century. Dreadlocks, baggie clothes, back packs, the famous European Hippie Trail apparently lives on. Who knew?

Marta dropped us at the base of a set of stairs that went up to the next level on the hill. She parked and joined us as I dragged the suitcases up the cobblestones that were an interesting combination of ramp and steps. At the top we turned up once again and then came out into a courtyard that was in front of our building.

 It’s an interesting apartment, and I knew when I rented it that it had 3 levels. What I thought though was that it had a ground level (check) a second level (check) and a third level that was a combination office/terrace (oops, wrong.) In reality, the bedroom is downstairs and the office/terrace is upstairs with the living space and kitchen being in the middle. Woe be unto he that forgets the computer power supply on level -1 when planning to write on level +1 because it means three floors of climbing on a narrow marble circular staircase. If we survive this place after a couple of glasses of tinto, it will be a miracle. The terrace though makes all the climbing worthwhile with a stunning view of the Alcazaba, the fort that protects the Alhambra. 


I settled up with Marta although I was 8€ short. She told me to just leave it on the table when we go. No security deposit, no final checkout, pure trust. Before leaving I asked about the clothes washer and she took me upstairs where she opened a tiny set of doors in the far wall. The washer is under the old eaves, tucked in below the tile roof. To use it, you crawl in on your hands and knees after turning on the light. Judging from the towel storage, whoever cleans this place does that every time.

Having settled up with her we went down into town, taking a few moments at each turn to remember where we were in hope of being able to find out way back. Our place was about ½ way up the hill so it was an easy if dangerous walk down to Plaza Nueva, the main square in the old part of town. Hippies abounded, the Alhambra loomed and in general it was a nice mix of things to take in. We decided to stop at a tapas place that Marta had recommended – Los Diamantes – just to one side of the square, ordering a glass of wine and a Caña, a small glass of beer that comes with a plate of finger food, in this case little deep fried cubes of Cod. We ordered a plate of calamari that entailed having a discussion with the waiter about the difference between that foodstuff and cuttlefish and a plate of tomatoes sprinkled with salt and bathed in olive oil.

A very nice lunch indeed and one punctuated by the sound of Boccherini’s Fandango wafting across the square. I paid up quickly and we followed the tunes to a group of musicians playing in front of the city hall. We’ve often wondered whether that most Spanish piece of music, written by an 18th century Italian is known to local musicians. Apparently so because we finally got to hear it.

That little bit of serendipity was followed by a walk down to Corte Inglés for breakfast supplies. The town changed as we headed down hill, marble sidewalks, fancy shops and less dreadlocks. We bought what we needed and after a much harder trudge back home, uphill this time, we headed back out towards the center of the Albaicín managing to get lost at just about every little intersection that once again reminded us that maps are a suggestion, not an actual representation of reality. The views up and down the intersections were amazing, tiny lanes about shoulder width snaking off in both directions. We did find our way to the outer street where we turned downhill and crossed to the other side to avoid being trampled by a large noisy group of French schoolboys united by their bright blue alpine hiking hats. There are a lot of school groups here, and Granada is said to double in population with students each year. We strolled along the Darro River, listening to the birds, the bubbling water and watching the hippies down on the river bank playing flutes and peeing in the bushes.

It was just getting dusky so we thought we’d head towards the cathedral before finding a snack. We got accosted by a very non-Christian panhandler who was guarding the cathedral door. He got on a fast intercept course as we entered the square and kept shoving a plastic beer glass in my direction as we tacked to the left to avoid him. He was getting angrier and angrier the more I waved him off until he finally peeled away and headed back to his spot by the door. I have enough Spanish vocabulary to know that one of us was being called a “whore.”

The cathedral must have been very imposing at one time, but over the course of the last 500 years they’ve surrounded it with apartment buildings so you really cannot get a perspective of its majesty. It’s said to be the second largest in Spain, but you can’t see enough of its parts at one time to judge the reality of that claim.

After a bit more spinning around the neighborhood we went back to Los Diamantes for another beer and wine before calling it a night, falling asleep with the subtly lit Alhambra looming overhead.  



















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