The standard 04.00am alarm was set, it could only mean one thing – Espania! It was over a month since my ill-fated 4 day journey home from Mexico so about time for another trip. I was doing one of my standard long weekend Friday – Monday trips and this time the location of choice was Granada in Spain to catch up with Maeve and Ruairidh, our Madrid based friends living the Spanish dream. I was not making the journey alone however, the vino trio couldn’t have a reunion without star pourer Robyn whom I met at the airport. We swiftly bypassed security and headed to the only place appropriate at 5.30am, the champagne bar. We enjoyed a nice glass of fizz and a chatter before making a chick cheese and ham panini stop at Eat. We still had plenty of time but for some reason Ryanair put out a final boarding call resulting in us sprinting half way through a busy airport arriving at the gate to a large queue of people still to board and rather out of breath! If only we had remembered to purchase water with our paninis.
When we finally got on the plane, we were informed our flight was delayed by 20 minutes (of course it was, 2017 is the year of flight delays) and so had to wait forever for the drinks trolley to make its way around. After some water I nodded off into that wonderful sleep where you don’t properly drift off because people walk down the aisle and bump you every 5 minutes! Otherwise the flight was uneventful and we arrived into Malaga at 10.30. The bus to Granada wasn’t until 11.30 so we headed for another wine at Gambrinus where we sat outside, a bit of a novelty in February. The bus ended up being 2 hours and 15 minutes – there are a number of buses that leave every hour each lasting a different duration. However, the extra time was made up for by being given a packed lunch as we boarded the bus with some refreshments, cake and earphones. The journey was full of beautiful mountain views as we made our way up to Granada and went by pretty quickly. We arrived into the station about a 20 minute bus ride out of the city and hopped on the local city buses to get into the centre. Googlemaps was slightly off on this occasion when it told us to get off at stop 7, about a 15 minute walk rather than 4 minutes from our hotel but we found it easily enough and weren’t in a rush. We were staying for the next 2 nights at Casa de la Trinidad a short walk from the main square and situated above a bustling square which we had balcony views over. It was a fancy 4star affair and beautifully decorated. We checked in, freshened up and headed out to explore Granada.
The first thing on our minds was lunch – it had been some time since our tasty paninis at 6.30am. We had a walking tour booked at 4pm from the Plaza Neuva (main square) and so headed off there to find some good eating options. We stopped off at a very cool shop called Ale Hop with an interesting cow stationed outside and some really cool glasses and journals – definitely worth checking out. We passed by the cathedral and wandered the tight lanes of the middle eastern part of town with brightly coloured fabrics and textiles everywhere before arriving at Plaza Nueva. I have learned a lesson from my multitude of trips that eating in main squares is never a good idea if you are looking for good value quality food and so instead after a little google we came across Bodegas Casteneda. We saw a spare table but perhaps one of the down points of Granada is that the service in most establishments is greatly lacking. Waiters walked past us on numerous occasions and we wandered inside but were still completely ignored. Eventually I started speaking to a passing waiter who told us to wait a minute and 5 minutes later another waiter came by to ask why we hadn’t sat down yet – just Spain. We were a little unsure about the menu so asked him to suggest specialities which we ordered all of as well as a glass of white and red local wine. The red wine was a lot better than the white (Senorio de Nevada) and the food was good. We enjoyed a meat paella, fried potatoes with bacon and egg and our standout favourite the salted codfish with prawns. It was all nice but the cod was outstanding. We sat and enjoyed the red wine and were treated to some chocolate tarts as a free tapa before we paid and headed over to meet our walking tour group.
Our guide was called Nacho and he was a chilled hair in a bun sort of dude who spoke very softly making it challenging at times to hear everything he was saying. We started by the beautiful court of Granada where we heard gruesome stories of execution by garrotte – a strangulation device which was last used in 1974! Our tour would be of the Albayzin or old town. And so we wandered along from Plaza Nueva and then began to climb. The Albayzin is the most authentic area within the city still retaining the narrow winding streets of its medieval Moorish history. Historically Granada was a Roman town, probably abandoned after their downfall and then became an Islamic settlement where many of the lowly people resided nearby to the royals within the Alhambra palace. However, in 1499 the Albayzin became the starting point for the rebellion throughout the city which triggered many forced conversions of Muslims to Christianity in some pretty gruesome ways. For example if people were caught praying to Allah they would be made to wear the coat of a traitor and completely ostracised from the community. Even after the punishment the ostracism was so strong that families who had members who were traitors were discriminated against by the whole community – pretty rough stuff. It was an epic hike up to the top of the Albayzin through the winding streets of residential housing. It is now seen as quite a hippy place to live and is stunningly beautiful with orange trees growing amongst the buildings and some gorgeous architecture. As we climbed up we kept getting sneaking views of the beautiful Alhambra across the river and then at the top were treated to the most spectacular view of not only that but the city itself and the surrounding mountains. I have to say that Granada is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited.
We had a short 10 minute break whereby Nacho suggested to us to get some water from a local well. Due to the Islamic influence Granada has always been a place associated with clean flowing water to allow people to bathe before prayer. This resulted in the city having some of the most advanced water systems of its time and a multitude of wells. Unfortunately many of these are no longer in use but the one outside of the Church of San Nicolas is and the water was fabulous after our short hike in the sun. We re-joined our group and headed back down through the Albayzin to the Carmen de la Victoria. The word Carmen comes from the Arabic for a garden planted with vines and what a garden it was. Again spectacular views of the Alhambra and some spectacular garden design with lots of fountains and running water providing a tranquil feel. The building is now owned by the university and so you can eat in the restaurant or just come by for a glass of wine in paradise. We headed back down to the river and finished up the tour next to the Alhambra entrance (or one of them at least) where we became very glad that we had already booked our tickets for Sunday. The tour was interesting but Nacho left a lot to be desired and we didn’t learn as much about the history of the city as we wanted so a €5 tip was all he got. By this point we had walked around without much of a break and were really tired from the early start so we went back to the hotel for a short siesta.
Unfortunately the gentleman outside of our window playing a trumpet had other ideas and we frustratingly had to put pillows over our heads to drown out the noise. After no sleep a few hours later Maeve and Ruairidh had arrived. We had the usual reunion chat before getting ready and heading out on the town! Originally we had planned to try Poe – a cool South African themed tapas joint but given the hordes of people the place was soon put back on the ‘must try’ list and changed to Babel. This was a cool modern bar which again was packed full of people. We found a perching spot at the bar and ordered some red wine with a small kebab tapa (the best places let you choose!). It was a nice place and fun to finally be getting into the local free tapa spirit. Given the busyness we decided after a drink to head to the next option on the list which was Bodegas Espadafor who served s up a tasty pork stew which chips. They two places were a great contrast – one being very rustic and Spanish, the other with a modern international twist. However, by midnight Robyn and I were failing and so we took the tough decision to head back to the hotel for a Spanish early night. A great first day but tomorrow we had an early rise for some skiing fun!