The European Leg, Spain
20.08.2010 - 21.08.2010 33 °C
The journey to Granada involved another fun beautiful drive but this time through Parque Natural Sierra de las Nieves towards San Pedro which lies on Spain's Costa del Sol. During our drive, Jo & I decided that Marbella was going to be our lunch spot de jour and blindly headed into town off the main road. Marbella has been one of the 'glossiest' resort areas of Spain since the 1950s - but it is not dominated just by International tourists, rather it has a nice balance of Spanish holiday makers as well. Walking down toward the promenade and sea, we took in the scence of Marbella and perched ourselves on an outdoor table to watch the world walk by. It was the first time I had ever laid eyes on the Mediterrarean sea, so I took in this moment a little differently. I love the water and in particular the sea-side, this was a big tick off my list of experiences. There were numerous tapas bars lining the promenade filled with a collection of all sorts of people enjoying themselves. People were stretched across the beach under permenant umbrella stands and luxury lounge beach chairs. There were even paddle boats you could hire to take out for a pedal but these ones were slightly different - they had a big slide attached to them. How cool. It was also the first time in Spain that I had seen fake luxury goods being pedaled as well.
Jo & I were looking forward to Granada and especially having two nights again in one destination. Jo had read a book called The Return by Victoria Hislop so she had a different appreciation and excitement than I did coming into town. I wasn't sure what to expect of Granada, my initial thoughts were that since the Alhambra was there it was going to be quite touristy, but I really had no idea what this city was going to provide.
As we entered Granada we were again confronted with our same hotel location issue. However, learning from our Ronda experience, we had decided to get there earlier and allow 'driving in circles time'. Fingers were again crossed to see the signs for Hotel Anacapri - no luck. We did spy the holy 'I' which of course meant tourist information desk, so we followed that sign and found a parking garage that said 'libre' to pull into. Jo & I had a giggle at the 'libre' sign as when we first pulled into a parking garage in Cadiz a couple days before, Jo translated 'libre' to mean 'free' - I made the instant assumption that this meant the parking garage wasn't going to cost us anything. Of course, what free actaully meant was 'free spots' available. Ahhh forever optimistic! Ha!
We must have found the smallest parking garage in the world, it was incredibly unique and required skills to enter and exit as we would later find out. The ramp going down for more parking spots can only accomodate one car but is multidirectional, plus it was such tight curve ramp, you could not see more than 8 feet in front of you. Even to get onto the ramp from outside the car park you must do a two point turn. We made it down successfully and next discovered how small the parking spots were - this required backing in and numerous point turns. It would be a Spainsh rental car companies dream...scratches must be high in here. If not your parking, it is the cars next to you trying to maneuver to get out! I loved the challenge, and as we walked away from a successful entry towards the 'i' Jo made the comment that wouldn't it be classic if this was the parking garage the hotel would direct us to.
Turns out we were not far from our hotel and now with a map in hand, it was time to get out of the car park and find our hotel. Of course getting out of the car park was going to be the first challenge. As I approached the ramp that we came down, we were not clear if this was indeed a multidirectional ramp...could it really be? Jo got nervous and I approached it slowly, too slowly and a third of the way up the ramp, the car skidded on the slippery cobble stones and started to go backwards. I slammed on the breaks and we sat there wondering if this was indeed the way out. It had to be, it was such a small place we would have seen other ramps. With the parking break on. I throw the car into first gear again and hit the accelerator but we still slip backwards and leave some rubber on the cobble stone. I obviously need more speed to get up the ramp and we reverse down to get a fresh start. Jo is still not convinced this is our exit ramp and so we agree that she will go ask the parking attendant upstairs if this is indeed the way out. I sit in the car preparing for my upcoming ramp challenge, as I am now convinced this is the way out and know exactly what I need to do. However, Jo comes back with the parking attendant who speaks little English and before it registers, he is now seating behind the wheel and is driving the car up the ramp like a professional. I'm mortified!
I take a couple moments to get over this humilitation and upset but soon we are faced with our next challenge of getting to the hotel. We had our map and streets outlined but what we failed to communicate to the 'i' desk was that we were driving and not walking - the one way streets were not articulated on this map. We see our hotel go by as we could not turn onto the road from the direction we were going and we were literally trapped on a street that turned into another steep narrow cobble stone lane with no left hand turns and the Rio Darro on our right. We were bouncing up hill towards the old Muslim district, the Albayzin. It was a beautiful road, people were everywhere so driving was very slow on this narrow lane and then on our right we noticed the Alhambra rising from the tree tops... it was magical. Somehow we made a big BIG loop and made it back to discover the main road we were now driving on says 'taxis and bus only' - eeekkk! It was a 'couple' more loops before we found how to enter the one way street to get to our hotel. Once we entered the Hotel Anacapri, we were delighted with how nice it looked and how friendly and easy it was to communicate with the hotelier. Jo explained our navigation story and she smiled as if she had heard it all before. Apparently, the record for driving around in loops looking for the hotel is 3 hours, we were only a mere 1 hour! Phew! After we checked in and dropped our bags in our room, we had to now park the car in the allocated lot....and get this - it WAS the same parking station we started out in! Too funny! I was going to get a reprieve on my ramp challenge, yes!
We had an early morning ahead us with tickets to the Alhambra slated for 8am - 2pm. Entrance to the Alhambra is broken up into a morning and afternoon section and we had an 8.30 entrance to the Palacio Nazaries: “the true gem, the most brilliant Islamic building un Europe, with its perfectlt proportioned rooms and courtyards intricately moulded stucco walls, beautiful tiling, fine carved wooden ceiling and elaborate stalacite-like muqarnas vaulting, all worked in mesmerising, symbolic, geometrical patterns." We were starting the tour with the most fantastic and beautiful building the Alhambra had to offer and it was indeed, spectacular. I loved the tiles and the colours the most plus the use of the fountains and water throughout the entire palace.
We next went through the 'General Life' section - which means 'architects garden' and again were struck by the beauty...there really is not another word to articulate the experience.
Everything was just beautiful plus combining the history of the complex just adds to the awesomeness of the whole day. The Alhambra was a fortress from the 9th century and then in the 13th & 14th centuries Nasrid Emirs converted it into a fortress palace complex. Christians conquered it in the 15th century and by the 18th century it was abandoned to thieves and beggars. During the Napoleonic occupation it was used as a barracks and barely escaped being blown up. In 1870 it was claimed as a national monument as a result of the romantic writers such as Washington Irving - it is now Unesco World Heritage status.
Granda had an amazing peaceful and bubbling vibe that mixed effortlessly. The tapas came free when you ordered a drink, which took us a bit to figure out. The canopies that you sit under at the cafe would consistently mist to keep you cool from the blazing sun and dry air. Lottery ticket vendors were everywhere and even would come to the tables trying to offer you tickets to the draw. Apparently, the Spanish love the lottery. The evenings were alive with people walking to the sound of street guitar players and the lights of the Alhambra looking down onto the city. It was romantic and I fell in love with this city after two days. abo