Here’s part 3 of our trip to Spain over Christmas vacation. You can read the first 2 parts here:
Although we’d had a very busy and exciting evening in Malaga, we’d only been in Spain for less than a day – and then bright and early, we got packed up again to get back on the road. Andale!
I went out to a local bodega to grab some fruit and pastries for a light breakfast, we said goodbye to our host and handed over the keys, and walked back down to the bus station (the right way this time!). Note to fellow travelers: the Alsa bus station (next to the Maria Zambrano train station) is not terribly efficient. We almost didn’t make our bus. Only one window open for our bus company, and a very long line. Some guy kept trying to cut in on everyone, and then security would take him away. And then he’d come back and do it again. Kept the wait entertaining I guess. Anyway, will book tickets on the website next time.
Price from Malaga to Granada is about 10 euros a piece, one way. The 2.5 hour ride was pretty, with sweeping views of green valleys, orchards and vineyards, and farmlands dotted with crumbling stone ruins and foundations.
Once we arrived in Granada, we took a taxi (another 7 euros) down to the city centre, where we were staying in our AirBnB apartment across from Plaza Nueva. We met our hosts’ friend at the door, and although he spoke no English, we were able to understand most of his instructions for the place (and if not, there was always Google Translate). We were welcomed into the apartment by the scent of sweet incense, and it was delightful inside! Bright, open, sunny, and sparsely but tastefully decorated with a mix of Mediterranean and Moorish/Arabic art and accessories.
Our host set up a hammock in the living room for the boys (they traded off w/ a small daybed), and pointed out a hookah pipe and fruit shisha in case B and I wanted to try it one night, though we never got around to it. Although we never met the young family who owned the apartment, we communicated with them via AirBnB’s messaging service, plus they had left a map and handwritten notes and suggestions on the wall – a very thoughtful gesture for all of their guests and something that every AirBnB host should do!
One of the main reasons we wanted to visit Granada is its rich history and blend of Spanish and Islamic culture. We are both fascinated by the art and architecture, and B loves the textiles and design as well. (We had briefly considered a day trip to Morocco, but it seemed to be too much travel for too little time in the city – plus all of our research said to skip Tangier in favor of more authentic cities like Fez or Marrakesh, which were just too far).
Granada was established and expanded by the Moors in the late 11th century, who retained control until 1492, when the city was surrendered to Ferdinand II and Isabella I after the last battle of the Granada War. That surrender and reclamation is now known as La Reconquista, and although many of the city’s mosques (and synagogues, in the former Jewish quarter) were converted to churches or completely demolished, parts of the city still retain that Moorish character.
One area in particular, an old neighborhood called the Albaicin, was very close to our apartment, and so that’s what we decided to explore first. There are many areas of Granada that feel like a normal modern city, but this area was a step back in time. We walked along an old waterway bordered by graceful stone houses and a low stone wall. The lane was very narrow, with no sidewalk, so everytime a car or bus came thundering by on the cobblestones, we grabbed the kids and flattened ourselves against the wall like cartoon characters. At a break in the trees, we could look up at The Alhambra, the 14th century Moorish palace which we’d be visiting in the morning. A crumbling bridge support is all that is left down at this level. The boys really wanted to know where the doorway led to!
If we’d have continued following the lane for awhile, we’d have arrived at a neighborhood called Sacromonte, up in the hills. It’s famous for its native gypsy population, who’ve built an entire community in the caves that dot the landscape. It’s a very popular destination for flamenco dancing and music, but we never made the time (or had the energy) to go back up there. Maybe another day when the kids are older.
Instead, we ducked into an alley and started climbing up into the Albaicin, wending our way through quiet courtyards and narrow lanes. I love this kind of exploring, and it’s the little details and surprises that made it special: quirky graffiti, a dog watching us from a balcony, ancient gateways to peer through, and open views that might be waiting around the next corner.
We found a little Moroccan cafe called La Mancha Chica just off a pretty tiled plaza with a view of the snow-capped mountains, and went in for a light lunch. Got a plate of hummus and puffy fresh-baked pita, some marinated tomatoes and cucumbers, a dish of white beans and sautéed spinach in olive oil and lemon, wine for B, fresh squeezed orange juice for the boys, and a really delicious Spanish imperial pilsner called Alhambra Especial 1925. Best beer of the week, and I continued looking for it wherever we went.
Afterwards, we worked our way back down through the Albaicin until we found Calle Elvira, one of the oldest streets in the city and now lined with shops selling all sorts of Moroccan and Moorish goods: colorful fabrics and lanterns, polished hookahs and teapots, ornately-patterned charm boxes, and lots of carpets, handbags, and coats. We poked in and out, picked up a few goodies (some decorated pillowcases for the boys, a patterned throw for our new sofa at home), and then popped into an Arabic tea house for another snack. B and the boys shared a pot of mint tea and I got a pot of rich Arabic coffee spiced with cinnamon. Plus a few pieces of baklava and kadaif (the birds’ nest pastry) to share, all of them dripping with honey and nuts.
By that point, it was late afternoon, and Calle Elvira conveniently ran down into Plaza Nueva, near our apartment. Time to rest and regroup. We didn’t have any plans for the evening, but once we headed out again, it was dark and getting quite cold; December in Spain is still warmer than Denmark, but Granada is up in the mountains, so it was a lot colder than Malaga. I honestly can’t even remember where we finally ate dinner than night – some unremarkable tapas place not far from Plaza Nueva. Not as good as the previous night in Malaga, but we had enjoyed such a fun and busy day in Granada that it didn’t matter. Tomorrow: wake up early and head back up the hill to the Alhambra!