From Barcelona I caught the overnight train to Granada. It left fairly late in the evening and arrived in Granada at about 9am the next morning. I had some sleeping pills and slept as well as is possible on a train, but was still exhausted when I arrived.
I headed straight to a hostel that I'd looked up online beforehand and checked that they had a bed for me. It was too early to check in but they let me lock up my bags in their storage room and allowed me to take advantage of their breakfast buffet.
Over breakfast I got talking with a friendly girl named Emily from Adelaide, who convinced me to go on a free walking tour with her and her other Adelaidian friend Connor.
The tour was led by a nice guy named Borja, a student who'd been living in Granada for some time. I also met some other friendly faces on the tour, Rachael from Chicago, and Jack from Hobart.
The tour gave us a bit of an orientation of the old part of the city, and filled us in on a bit of the history of the city. Granada had been held by the Moors for quite a long period of time, which is why there's a lot of Moorish style architecture around the city.
One interesting thing I learn was about the trouble that UNESCO causes for the home owners in Granada who can't afford to maintain their houses to the level that UNESCO requires. This lead to huge fines and eventually having to give up their houses to UNESCO. Apparently there is a huge proportion of abandoned properties in the old city caused by this. It's troublesome to think about, you want these places looked after, but it seems cruel and wasteful to force the owners out because they can't afford the maintenance.
There's quite a large number of cave house on the hill above Granada. Some of them have been there so long that the people living in them have been given land rights, while others are considered illegal dwellings and the police occasionally come by and evict lots of the people.
Borja told us he that he'd spent some time living in a cave house at one point, looking after it for a friend, and told us what a friendly communal vibe the older area of caves had.
He also let slip that Granada gets a bit lonely for young people because it's such a student town. Nobody stays for very long. Students come, they study and then they leave so you only ever know people for a few years maximum.
After the tour finished up, just about everyone on the tour went and had lunch at a tapas place, where the lunch special was €2 for a beer and your choice of 3 tapas from their huge buffet. Quite a bargain! We all organised to meet up again later in the evening to see a gig put on by a band that Borja played in.
The 2-3 beers, and my tiredness from not getting good rest on the overnight train, meant that I spent my afternoon back at the hostel and slept for a few hours.
When I woke up I found Em and Connor down in the common area and we headed to the bar where the band was to play. The streets are pretty narrow and winding, I'm sure I would never have found the place if it weren't for Connor's superb navigation skills.
The Venue was tiny! The table in the corner we initially sat down at turned out to double as a makeshift stage, so we shifted back a little to give the band some room. The place felt jam packed too, although Borja later told us it gets busier than that. I don't know where they'd fit the people.
Just about everywhere in Granada does some form of tapas with your drinks. At this place they would ask you how many drinks you'd had each time you ordered another, and based on the number there was a certain sequence of little delicious snacks that you'd get to accompany your beverage.
The band was great, lots of good covers, and there was a nice informal feel to things. Rachael even broke out into song at one point, and can that girl sing! If being a chef gets old, she's got potential to make a living from that voice.
The next morning I ran into Em and Connor again at breakfast and we decided to go up to the Alhambra together. On the walk there I managed to fall up a tiny set of two stairs, and sprained my left ring finger. ouch! :(
We had all heard stories about how you needed to book days in advance, but we just turned up and got lucky. We were allocated a timeslot to enter the palace pretty much right away, so we dashed past the rest of the Alhambra grounds and headed straight there.
The palace was full of incredibly intricate carvings, in many place the carvings went from the floor to the ceiling. It is hard to imagine how long it would have taken to carve it all out with so much detail.
A few parts had been restored (several hundred years ago IIRC) and still had some paint remaining. It would have been mind blowing to see the place fully painted back in the time it was used as a palace.
I learned about an interesting restoration technique from one of the info boards, where they embed the new material used in restoration with a UV reactive substance, so it appears plain to the naked eye but can still be obvious which parts are truly original to the historians studying the structure.
I went through the palace at a very slow pace, and at some point Rachael had arrived and caught up with me, and the other two had moved through much quicker and finished well before us, so it was lucky that we'd organised to meet up somewhere later on if we got separated.
Rachael and I ended up exploring the rest of the Alhambra grounds together. We found this huge square building that had a circular open courtyard in the middle, and now housed some museums and art galleries that we did an obligatory quick pass through.
We climbed up the towers next to the barracks, which gave a great view out to the city of Granada, and an interesting aerial view of the foundations of the barracks.
The time I'd organised to reconvene with Connor and Emily was quickly approaching, so it was very convenient when we ran into them again up on top of one of the towers, and agreed to scrap that plan and organised something else.
The last part of the complex we visited was the Generalife gardens, which featured a lot of beautiful fountains and water gardens.
On the little map/booklet about the Alhambra it made special mention of a water-staircase, so Rachael and I got it into out heads it would be something quite impressive to behold. Instead it turned out to be a pretty plain old staircase with a little channel of water running down the hand-rail of either side, be we made up a story about how it must of at least be special royal water, not the regular peasant stuff they give to everyone else.
All the walking around the Alhambra had made us a bit hungry so we sought out somewhere to have a few beers and the free tapas they'd come with. We passed by a lot of places that seemed a little too fancy to offer a good beer and tapas deal, and eventually found a cute little place called Boabdil. It was a small place down a little alleyway, off another alleyway with very utilitarian decor. Stainless steel benches, fixed stools and bain-maries full of food. It turned out to be a great choice, with really tasty food and the drinks were only €1.70!
We got a message from Em and Connor and let them know where we were, so we could regroup and head the fountain, meeting place of the afternoon walking tour to the caves on the hill that we wanted to do. It turned out it was being led again by Borja, a lovely surprise. Jack was also back for more, and had apparently been up to the Alhambra that day as well, although we somehow never crossed paths.
The cave tour took us up the hill behind the old city, past a few nice view points of the Alhambra and the old city itself with the sun setting behind it. Then eventually up among the (illegal) hippy caves, of which only a few of who have electricity via solar panels. I was surprised to find that even these caves were a lot more established than I had been expecting when I first heard "cave house."
We went right up the top where a church (I think?) with a nice wall to sit on was built, where we could sit and watch the sun set.
After the sun had set we walked down the back side of the hill, via the newer, less established area of caves. We learned that there's an old hippy dude way further over in the hills who's lived there for years and runs a little tetería there, a possible excursion for another day.
After tour ended the group went on a little tapas crawl to various bars, in the interest of getting a good feed and a few drinks into us. The first place served us awesome Spanish ham, with legs of ham hung up all around the place. The second gave us delicious cheese and more ham, so tasty that we stayed for a few rounds.
Next stop was a flamenco show at a little cave venue, for the princely sum of €6. It was worth seeing for the sake of saying you'd done it, but it wasn't really something I'd seek out again. The dancing is enthusiastic but this time around I found the singing kind of whiny and not all that enjoyable, and the little cave/basement it was in was pretty dark and dingy.
The next day I went up to explore the gardens just below the Alhambra with Em, Connor and Rachael. They were lovely and peaceful, and very well manicured.
After we'd finished exploring there, we decided to go and try and find the tetería we'd been told about the evening before, run by the old hippy dude Ismael. After stopping to ask the locals which path to take a few times we managed to find our way around the hill to to tetería which had a stunning view.
We each had a tea which came out beautifully presented, each with it's own tasty fruit tapas sitting on top! Easily the fanciest tea I've ever had!
In the evening Em and Connor had to go and meet up with someone who was giving them a lift to Seville, but Rachael and I went to try and find Nuestro Bar, a place that a friend who lived here for a while had told me about that was supposed to have really great tapas.
After walking for what seemed like forever we found the place. It seemed like an ideal hangout for students (and backpackers!) on a tight budget. The drink prices were very cheap and the tapas consisted of fried food in fairly large serves, even if it was lacking a little in the quality department.
The next morning I went exploring the old city with Rachael. We started in the Jewish district, which had many cobblestone paths featuring the star of David.
The surrounding area had lots of very ornate cobblestone paths in lots of different patterns.
We explored around an area that our little tourist map told us was full of street art and found quite a few very nice pieces.
We ventured past a Christmas market at which it seemed like all of the children's rides were human powered, for example this merry-go-round was turned by a guy peddling a bicycle that was attached. Not sure if they're doing it to save money on a motor, or to be environmentally friendly, but it seemed pretty cool to me.
We passed by the Cathedral and saw this very freaky looking street performer doing a "living statue" thing, which I stealthily took a photo of under the guise of taking a picture of the church. When we got to close to the cathedral some old gypsy ladies swarmed us, trying to give us rosemary, shouting stuff at us in Spanish. I didn't want a bar of it but Rachael initially accepted their rosemary before she realised they wanted money from her, and afterwards decided that all the shouting they did at her was probably them putting a curse on her.
At lunchtime we sought out a place serving Alhambra brand beer (I seem to have failed to note what the common beer was in my notes, but it was some other beer), and we found a great tapas place that gave us bacon wrapped cheese rolls, prawns, chorizo, and delicious spicy salty squid. I'm salivating just thinking about them.
We decided to spend the afternoon doing a short hike we'd heard about that ran along the other side of the river, and on out way there we happened to pass some buskers that included the singer dude from the band a few nights earlier.
Then a King and a bunch of knights happened to wander past us. Just your average afternoon in Granada!
We eventually made it to the other side of the river, and followed the path along to quite a nice view of the caves, and found some more caves on the other side of the river too. Caves everywhere!
Rachael and I went and tracked down a restaurant we passed on the walking tour the first day that served snails. Rachael, being a chef, wanted to see how the Spanish served them, and I'm always eager to try strange foods. We did manage to find it, but it was disappointingly closed.
I'd looked up a list of best tapas places in Granada and we went to one called Babel tapas bar, which claimed to serve world fusion food. The food was great but the service was pretty poor. It took use nearly two hours to get two drinks each and tapas. I happened to take a photo of the menu to give you an idea of the sorts of stuff you get to pick from when you're buying a beer in one of these places. I wish I'd thought to take more photos of stuff like this, and the tapas itself.
We ended up going back to the cheap and tiny place from the previous day, in which the very cheerful bartender was quick to serve us drinks and delicious tapas. We saw they offered snails as a non-tapas dish, so we ordered a serve to try them. What came out what a giant bowl full of snails, probably 40+ of them. I though they had a kind of odd texture and weren't anything to write home about. I think I prefer the French style ones where you only get a few and they're drowned in butter and garlic.
We finished up the night at a place called Los Diamontes a seafood tapas place which had rave reviews. Unfortunately I think we must have gone to the wrong one (there seems to be two with the same name in Granada). We got a serve of regular sized prawns, shells and all :/ It was very noisy, all hard surfaces and no music or anything to help with that. It felt like being in a shopping centre food court except without the muzak. We decided to call it a night after that.
My last day in Granada I went out to have a look at some of the clothing shops around the old city. There was lots of awesome hippy-style clothes, all of which would fit in at the Rainbow Serpent market but very little of which actually looked like designs I'd seen at Rainbow Serpent. I checked the tags on a few things and most of it seems to be made in Nepal. Seems like it would be a good place to go on a shopping trip.
Leaving Granada I tried using a ride sharing website I'd just learnt about called Blablacar. I organised to get a lift to Cordoba, my next stop, with a guy who was living in Granada on the weekends and working in Cordoba during the week. He drove a fairly flash 2 door BMW, which was actually kind of cramped with 4 people in it, but all in all it was a good experience. Seems like the future of hitchhiking to me.