I usually read up about places I’m visiting because I feel like knowing about it’s stories and history lets me appreciate it so much more, besides which I just kind of think it’s a respectful thing to do. However, I knew next to nothing about Granada. I’d decided to go there at the last minute because everyone else in Malaga seemed to be doing it and they all said that Granada had the best tapas in Spain.
Anyone who knows me knows that I base an unfortunately large proportion of my life decisions around my stomach, so 12 Euros later, I and a friend I’d made there (Jordan, from Bristol) got onto a bus from Malaga Maria Zumbrano and set off on what I hoped would be the start of a very satisfying journey for my tastebuds.
I’d had this vague idea that Granada was a small and quiet historical town, like Toledo and Cordoba, more suited for a day trip than an extended stay.
What we pulled into, however, was a bustling, gorgeous city nestled under the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, with a lot more happening there than in Malaga. Jordan and I were staying at different hostels, so we caught a taxi downtown from the bus station and then walked off our separate ways, planning to meet later that arvo.
The walk to my hostel was beautiful – Granada’s got this combination of old, Moorish architecture and really modern buildings but it’s one of those towns where everything is picturesque and clean, and there’s just marble and stone everywhere. The streets were all narrow and small, and the whole place felt very quaint and walkable.
My hostel, when I got to it, was also lovely – it had this huge courtyard in the middle with these marble collonades, and I had a double bed in my room, which also had it’s own kitchenette, couch, and huge ensuite bathroom with a bidet. I couldn’t resist throwing myself down onto my double bed and just luxuriating in how soft it was, and the fact that I could just lie there spread eagled without any limbs hanging off.
It was a struggle to pry myself off and head back into town to meet Jordan when all I wanted was just to spend a few hours getting intimately acquainted with my bed, but I finally managed to peel myself off and head out.
Anyone who’s been to Granada will tell you that you can just spend days and days wandering around aimlessly. There’s this beautiful quarter called the Albaicin that was originally Moorish, and all the houses that have been added into it are still done up in the same style – whitewashed steps and walls, with lots of mosaics and wrought iron and water fountains and especially gardens everywhere, going across trelisses and window boxes and creeping up walls.
The best part was that there’s so much to see in the Albaicin – we wandered into an ancient bath house, an old riad-style house, some gardens, lots of little stores with very Arabic looking handicrafts, churches and mosques – you’d just see an open door or archway and meander in.
We spent the evening at the top, at the Mirador San Nicolas, where you could see the whole city as the sun went down. Somebody was playing some banging jungle music up there too, which went suprisingly well with the view and made me immeasurably happy after all the Tiesto and Pitbull I’d been subjected to in Spain.
I headed back to my hostel that evening and it was buzzing. The Granada Inn Backpackers was honestly the best hostel I have ever stayed in – I walked in and everyone just started chatting to me, which was lovely, but better still was that it wasn’t the typical boring questions ‘where are you from?’ or ‘how long will you be here’ and ‘where are you going next’. I met this amazing girl named Becca, who turned out to be sharing my room, and we talked about writing and politics and the unrest in Ferguson and just how hypocritical we thought it was of people to binge drink regularly and then claim to be anti drugs because of health reasons.
That night was just amazing. We went out for tapas and in Granada the way that works is that you order a beer or wine and get a free tapas with it. Along with my glasses of wine I got a lovely chicken curry with polenta, scallops with cheese and bacon and a picante sauce, and then prawns with potatoes and roast vegetables. I’d been expecting maybe olives or chips, but this was seriously gourmet.
And then to top that off, the staff were throwing a Christmas party at the hostel and all the guests were welcome to join – they’d also put together a veritable feast of tapas and had a smorgasboard of drinks to accompany it, and by the time we headed out to go dancing I felt like my decision to come to Granada had been thoroughly validated.
The next two days were unfortunately full of rain. I’d been planning to go hiking and rock climbing but the weather dashed those plans so instead I read some books and ate lots of pomegranate. One of the days turned out to be Black Friday, which I only knew from the huge ‘Black Friday Sale’ signs everywhere, and I thought I’d use the opportunity to buy some black jeans. Big mistake. Finding black, low waisted skinny jeans in a size 32 proved to be an absolute mission, and I tried on every single pair in H&M, Pull and Bear, Bershka and Zara before I finally compromised and went with some regular waisted ones in Zara. I know this isn’t particularly interesting to anyone apart from myself, but I just want to share the misery that is purchasing jeans – and if anyone reading this feels the same way, please let me know so that I don’t feel so depressingly alone in this endeavour.
The jeans debacle was made up for, however, by my visit to the Alhambra. I’d heard so many complaints about getting in and how awful the queus were, but Jordan and I had bought our tickets at the ATM earlier, and maybe because of the rain we just walked in (where by walk I actually mean ran because it was absolutely pissing down and we were getting drenched).
I hadn’t even wanted to go to the Alhambra because it seemed like such an effort to get to, and everyone said it was so breathtaking that I was sure they were hyping it up and that I would be left disappointed. I thought I would be bored, and I’d downloaded the virtual guide onto my phone so at least I’d have some reading to do while I was there.
I turned out to be completely wrong. The Alhambra really was breathtaking. There was just so much detail everywhere, and the more you looked, the more you noticed. There were poems and inscriptions and such a wealth of symbolism and it was all so intricate and decadent. I love green spaces too but I’d never realised just how lovely gardens could be until I wandered into the Generalife. If I could, I’d have just gone back there again and again for the next few days. The Alhambra and the Generalife were definitely two of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen in my entire life.
On the way back down we ran into this adorable little labrador puppy. I’ve always loved dogs, but I seem to be especially dog crazy whenever I travel, and I stopped what I was doing to chase after him. His owner, trying to train him in the Plaza Nueva, told me that his name was Bob. Bob was such a little bundle of energy, but he also just didn’t seem to notice human beings, instead just following his nose along some invisible trail.
This was, however, a really good thing, because if I wasn’t chasing after Bob I might never have realised that there were a bunch of hippies a few feet away, playing music. They weren’t busking – two guys were freestyle singing and rapping, while around them people played various musical instruments and dancing. I started bopping along, entranced, and during the ten minutes or so that I was there various people came and went, joining in with their instruments or just using their body for percussion. It was completely spontaneous and sounded wonderful.
I made one big mistake in Granada, and that was at one point when I was sulking indoors because of the rain. My hair was turning rather orange, and I’d noticed as I walked into my hostel that there was a hair salon around the corner advertising a colour and cut for 30 euros. The orange was getting me down and I decided to change it. I learned an important lesson that day – don’t try to get your hair done by someone who can’t speak a single word of the same language you do. I convinced this poor, sweet Argentinian man to come into the salon with me to translate ‘Can you dye my hair black’, but after he left I had no way to communicate anything further to them, and so came out looking like I was wearing a cheap black wig that an unruly child had been playing with. I almost burst into tears.
Back at the hostel, two wonderful guys – Ryan from Australia and Martin from Estonia – comforted me and let me share in their pasta. They’d cooked this huge vat of it, and we decided between the three of us that we would finish it all. To give you some perspective, they’d shoved in more than one packet of pasta in there, and it was about how much I’d cook up for around 8 people. Eating that was a challenge and I’m not quite sure why we decided to punish ourselves like that. By the end we were moaning and holding our bellies, but we were determined to get through it all. I can’t say that did wonders for my belly, but it did put me in a better mood just because of how ridiculous we were being.
Ryan and Martin also told me about the best little tapas place called El Nido del Buho. If you ever go to Granada, try to find it. I almost didn’t go because it was a fair walk away, but I had to buy a train ticket and it was near the station. I had a bacon and cheese fajita, a huge tumbler glass filled to the brim with wine, a plate of olives, and a huge pot of carne en salsa – and the bill came to only E3.80. I honestly don’t know how they make any money but they were absolutely lovely and the food was delicious.
I spent my last day in Granada with Bruno, this really sweet and funny Belgian, with whom I walked through the Sacramonte and up to the caves. Granada’s full of these caves, and there’s both really nice, flashy ones, where people have built onto the front of the caves and turned them into little palatial homes or clubs or restaurants, and then a whole lot of caves occupied by gypsies and squatters, which are really basic and quite poor, but still very cool.
It all started because people who were too poor to afford building materials could carve away at the caves and turn those into homes, so it makes sense that the tradition’s been continued. We ran into a few gypsies walking up, one of whom tried to foist an adorable grey kitten named Garfield onto us. Another one saw me taking photos and called out ‘No! No photos’, then when I put away my phone continued to watch me suspiciously.
And then it was time to leave. I was so bummed out because I’d really wanted to do some outdoorsy activities in Granada, but the weather hadn’t allowed it, and the forecast was terrible for the rest of the week too. Granada was so lovely regardless, and almost everyone I met there had fallen similarly in love with it. I was definitely feeling jealous of all the people I met who were working and volunteering there – but the awesome thing was that I met so many people of completely different ages doing that, from teenagers to over-30s, and it made me realise that I have a long time during which I can come back and revisit.
Next Stop: Seville!