Published: July 23rd 2012May 10th 2012 "Belfast?!
Patio de Arrayanes, Alhambra
As described by one of my friends; "this bit was pimp".
Most people who've come here say they've just come from Cordoba or Seville, but this is the first time anyone has come here straight from Belfast
. That's random."
It was. Most people wouldn't take a week's holiday and go from London to Belfast to Granada.
It wasn't the original plan; I was meant to continue down to the Republic after my short but sweet sweep through Northern Ireland. However, with no-one wanting to come with me I just had to say yes when Davies asked me if I was keen to go to Granada. I just had to - me and Granada have some unfinished business.
It all started on my Euro Trip in the summer of 2007. Having talked to some hostellers in Seville about Granada - the Alhambra and the free tapas in particular - Davies and I knew we had to try and make it here. But alas, we couldn't fit it into our schedule.
A couple of years later, Davies tried to make it here alone only for Ryanair to decide to stop flying directly to Granada and cancel his flight.
Last year, I had my solo attempt at getting here foiled by semana santa
Arabesque, or Islamic art carved into the walls inside the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra.
- all accommodation in town was booked out and there were no more tickets left for the Alhambra, the jewel in Granada's crown.
This time, there was no stopping us.
"So where are you guys from?" asked the hostel worker.
"New Zealand", I replied.
"Oh yeah? Whereabouts?" he replied in a slow, recognisable drawl.
"Oh aye! I'm from Mt Albert! I went to MAGS!"
"Oh yeah? We both went to Roskill! What year did you graduate?"
"It would've been...1999!"
"Bro, that's the same year we graduated!"
It has been awhile since I've met random Kiwis in random places, especially ones who grew up the other side of town from me.
"How the hell did you end up in Granada?" I asked.
"Oh, I just came over to Europe aye, didn't really know where I was going and then came here. I've been here two years now."
Everyone we had ever met who had been here had said that this place was magical. No-one ever wanted to leave, and some, like the hostel worker, never have. It's the curse of Granada.
Back in Belfast, I was pretty livid at the lackadaisical security at the airport. In a hurry,
Fuentes de las Batallas
Pretty fountain we stumbled across in our initial wander of the city.
I am not amused when they put my bag to the side and just leave it there for five minutes.
"Um, my plane is about to go mate, you wanna hurry up?" I condescendingly ask the security officer.
"You'll get it back when we get to it," he replied, pointing at a queue of exasperated people. Taking his own sweet time, I'm pretty sure easyJet have got him on the take, bribing him to make sure people miss their flights.
It seems my headphones and chargers had caught their attention on the x-ray, although the security team looked like they'd never seen electronics before. I guess with the history of terrorism in Northern Ireland it's not surprising they're extra careful, but come on.
Arriving in Malaga, it was nice being in familiar surrounds, having been here just over a year ago. It was also nice to be in gorgeous sunshine and the oven-like heat - it was hard to believe that we were freezing our arses off in Belfast just a few hours ago. Pulling into the bus station brings back memories of my trip here last year.
The buses are fairly regular to Granada and just over an
Torre del Cubo, Alhambra
Looking over Granada from the fortress's main tower.
hour later we arrive at the Granada's estacion de autobuses
, which appears to be on the outskirts of town. Asking at the info desk how long the walk into the city centre is, we are told it'll take forty minutes. Yeah...not in this heat - we learned our lesson on this in Seville
. So we then catch the bus like everyone else.
After dropping our stuff at the hostel, Davies and I do what we normally do as soon as we arrive in a new place - we have a wander.
The main thoroughfare in Granada is the busy and bustling Gran Via de Colon and is fairly hectic - this is coming from someone who lives in London too. A couple of streets back, the roads become pedestrian paths and we walk along one that is flanked by leather and trinket shops, and the odd shisha cafe - it's like I'm back in Morocco. The path then leads to a maze of streets - one on which our hostel is on - that snake their way up a steep hill. The noise from Gran Via just a couple of blocks away is completely shut out - we are
Quaint square in the middle of Granada's 'medina'.
in the medina
We eventually come to a large church at the top of the hill with a lovely square in front of it. And then it hits you - the view overlooking the sunset and the Alhambra
. It was amazing. A romantic spot too, judging by all the cucking fouples around us. There are some nice houses up here too.
We take a different route down the hill passing by another view across the city and lots and lots of murals. Granada is quite famous for its hippy scene - there are a whole lot of them living in caves in the hills after all - and the street art here certainly adds to the relaxed vibe.
As well as street art, there is also lots and lots of graffiti which reminds us to stay on our toes - people have been known to get mugged in the quiet streets of Albayzin
We eventually make our way back to Gran Via.
Having walked through the streets of Albayzin and taken in the view of the Alhambra from the Mirador de San Nicolas
lookout we had already ticked off two of the main things that you have to do
Plaza de Bib-Rambla
Granada has many squares but his is probably the main one.
in Granada, the Alhambra apart.
Crossing Gran Via, we come to the cathedral, which like most cathedrals in Spain, is supermassive
. We then navigate our way through the pedestrian lanes and streets around the cathedral, where all the shopping is located, before ending up at Plaza de Bib-Rambla, a rather pleasant square surrounded by restaurants and the perfect place for a late alfresco
dinner of gazpacho y lomo
washed down with a jug of sangria. Conversing with the waiter without resorting to English, my Spanish isn't too worse for wear either. I'd love to live and work somewhere like here for six months learning Spanish.
From the grand architecture of the buildings to the well-manicured streets, Granada is a pretty place and well looked after. It is a lot bigger than I expected too. From what I'd heard from other people, I was expecting Granada to be a small pedestrian town, which it very much is in the medina, but outside of that it is very much a proper city.
We were hoping for a decent lie-in the next day but this was ruined by noisy, oblivious dorm mates and stinging, itchy, insect bites. A stinking hot day that
Streets Of Granada #1
Surprisingly pretty and well-kept streets.
was hotter than the day before, plus a huge lunch of tortilla de espanola
and paella didn't help us stay awake either.
Continuing to explore the city, Granada kept surprising us with its well-kept parks, nice old buildings, and its rivers. Unlike our dash through Northern Ireland, it was nice to just chill and relax with no time pressure, or set plans.
That night, Davies and I would be meeting up with my boy Kelley, his fiancée Penelope and her sister Rebecca who you will remember from my blogs in Turkey, and first time blog guests Yohei and Francis. I've known Yohei almost as long as I have known Kelley and in fact used to play football with him back in Auckland. Yohei also keeps a blog and I was excited to be featuring in it - more of general blog than an out-and-out travel blog, Yohei has a way of describing people is always a hilarious read and always well written. His account of our time in Granada can be read here
The fact that Kelley and co. were all arriving later that evening meant that they were all seeing the Alhambra the following evening - the evening
The opulent gardens of the Alhambra.
that I was flying back to London. As a result, Davies went back to the hostel to greet the crew while ventured on my own to explore Granada's most famous sight.
After a punishing, energy-sapping walk up the hill on which the Alhambra perches, I collect my pre-bought ticket and stroll in.
The first part of the complex that I explore is the Generalife
- the gardens and recreation area. All manicured and well kept, I amble through the guest and garden houses in the Generalife, and past the the outdoor theatre. The water stairway that provides water for the whole complex is also located in the Generalife.
Next up are more gardens and a hedge-lined walk towards the main part of the complex. Having these gardens and the Generalife as your own backyard would be pretty kick-ass.
I then walk into the oldest part of the complex, the fortress - the Alcazaba
. Dating back to the 11th and 13th centuries this is the military area of the complex and you get some spectacular views over Granada from its massive towers.
Having explored the free-to-roam parts of the place, it was now time for the main event - the
Sala de Dos Hermanas
Another impressive hall inside the Nasrid Palace of the Alhambra.
The Nasrid Palaces can only be explored on a tour that runs every half hour, and must be booked way in advance - I booked two weeks in advance and the only tickets available were for the last tour of the day. The whole idea is to avoid overcrowding in the palace.
It still felt pretty rammed in there though as tourists kept spoiling my photos. Grrrrr.
Considering that the palace was in its prime from the 13th-15th centuries, the palace is pretty kick-ass. The intricacy of some of the carvings and stucco was amazing.
The signature part of the palace that appears on every postcard, is the Court Of The Myrtles with its long, rectangular pool. It is definitely boss. Unfortunately for me, the Court Of The Lions was undergoing major restoration and resembled a construction site.
The tour ends at the partal
which leads to more gardens. As I was on the last tour of the day, I am ushered out of the Alhambra at closing time.
I have to say that overall I was underwhelmed by the Alhambra. It definitely felt over-hyped and perhaps my expectations of it were too high.
It is not at
Hall Of The Abencerrajes
The impressively intricate vaulting of the Hall of the Abencerrajes inside the Nasrid Palace of the Alhambra.
all dissimilar to the Alcazar in Seville and the Bahia
in Marrakesh so it wasn't like I had never seen anything like it before. It was just a bit bigger than the other Moorish palaces that I have seen. I wasn't overly impressed by the Generalife either having seen gardens such as the ones in Vienna's Schloss Schonbrunn
and the Chateau de Versailles
Perhaps having seen so much, I am a hard man to impress these days.
I suppose that in terms of a palace and fortress I didn't find it that amazing but if you imagined it as being your own place that you lived in, then yeah, it is pretty awe-inspiring.
I met up with everyone afterwards where they had just "enjoyed" a deep-fried alfresco dinner near Plaza de Bib-Rambla. Kelley and co. were in the middle of a road-trip through Spain, taking in Madrid, Toledo, Seville and Cordoba so far.
I hadn't really had any dinner and we were about to have a few beers - but this is usually not something I've ever worried about, and in Granada, I had even less reason to do so.
On our way back to the hostel there
Overlooking the city at sunset.
are hippy hawkers with dreadlocks directing us to bars and we follow the directions of one of them. I am not sure if we actually entered the one the hawker was directing us to, but nevertheless we ended up in a nice, modern, charcoal coloured bar called El Espejo. We order a round of beers and the football is on, an all Spanish affair between Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao. What more could one ask for? OK, so Penelope and Rebecca got a bit bored and soon went back to the hostel for an early one - and so it became a boy's night out.
The reason why I wasn't too concerned about drinking on an empty stomach was because in Granada, it is simply not allowed to happen. I had always heard about the free tapas served in every bar, but had yet to experience it - until tonight.
With each glass of beer the friendly bartender would bring out a delicious piece of fried garlic pork on bread. So at 2€ each per beer, not only were you getting free tapas, you were getting free quality
tapas. Yum. After a couple more drinks and tapas each, we moved
One of many murals in the Albayzin district.
on to a fairly busy bar packed with students and backpackers across the road. It seems that every single bar gives you free tapas and we got some spicy tortillas here.
It was here that Yohei apparently caught the eye of an young American female backpacker. She even followed him up to the bar! I'm sure it was coincidental, but Yohei was convinced she had the hots for him. Anyway, the night was warming up nicely and we felt like we should keep going to somewhere more lively.
I had noted a few discotecas
that we could visit and there was a rock one called Boogaclub that sounded good on the other side of Gran Via. Having arrived at the discoteca's supposed location, it wasn't the most obvious of places and we spent quite a bit of time getting our bearings and trying to find it, our enthusiasm for carrying the night on diminishing by the minute. Eventually we find the place - and its shut, with rolled down shutters no less. We weren't even sure if it was even a club.
With some peeps keen to head home, we finally find Boogaclub and we rock on downstairs to be
Girl band that we watched at Boogaclub.
confronted with a girl band - like the Spanish equivalent of the The Pipettes
- performing in front of a small but screeching, predominantly female crowd.
As the band finish up their set, I order a round of rum and cokes and Kelley, Yohei and Francis's eyes light up as they witness a Spanish pour for the first time. None of this cap shit on the liquor bottles here, it's all free pour and our glasses are at least 80% rum, 15% ice, and a dash of coke.
With the band finished up, we turned our attention to a foosball table and had a couple of games. This really was a boys' night out. Of particular fun was hitting your opponents in the nuts with your poles on the other side. No matter how you phrase that last sentence there is absolutely no way of describing this act without even the slightest hint of homoerotic innuendo. Anyway, the game brought back memories of football played on the school hockey turf where the object of the game became nutmegging an opponent rather than scoring a goal.
The club, which was pretty empty to start with, now had tumbleweeds blowing through it
Streets Of Granada #2
The streets of the city centre are surprisingly vibrant.
so it was time to call it a night.
Having walked all over Granada and the Alhambra all day, I was f*cking exhausted. I was looking forward to my head hitting the pillow.
We pass Granada 10, Granada's biggest nightclub, which was just around the corner from the hostel.
"Let's go in Derek!" joked Davies, mocking my obvious exhaustion.
Not appreciating being mocked, I call his bluff.
"Yeah alright, let's go," I replied, as the guys tentatively follow me to the ticket kiosk. It is Ladies' Night tonight. The place is quite busy. It is 6€ to get in. I am intrigued.
"So are we going in or what?" I ask the guys.
The guys all look at each other. Having raised the stakes, they couldn't back down now.
Ha! So who's the joke on now?
"Let's flip a coin" said Davies, "heads we go in, tails we go home."
Davies flips the coin.
"Fuck it, let's go in anyway..." I said.
Now if any of the guys tell you that they weren't interested in going into a huge club in Spain on ladies' night while on holiday is a liar. So in we went.
Flash nightclub just two minutes from the hostel. Impressive and awesome. Good times.
bit drunk, what greeted us when we stepped inside was immense.
An old theatre, it had been redeveloped into a booming club, with laser lights flashing everywhere, popular tunes pumping out of huge speakers, reverberating around this palace. I love how the Spanish go to town with their clubs - Kapital in Madrid, Razzmatazz in Barcelona
- this one wasn't as big, but it was just as grand. With polished floors, the bar and black leather couches down the back, and the heaving dancefloor up the front, the place was vast, yet packed with people - it was going off. You couldn't be convinced not to let your hair down after seeing this.
I order a round of Jaegerbombs forgetting about the Spanish pour. I shoot the bartender a what-are-you-doing look only for her to shoot back a this-is-Spain-we-don't-do-Jaegerbombs-we-deal-in-Jaegernukes
-around-here-buddy look. Despite the party animal within me being well and truly awakened and the exhaustion from the day well and truly forgotten, there is still no way any of us are going to scull a Jaegernuke with four shots of Jaegermeifter and a dash of Red Bull in it.
Suddenly Kelley catches all of our attention.
"She's here!" he screams.
Davies, me, Francis, Kelley and Yohei inside Granada 10.
young American girl who was eyeing up Yohei at the bar earlier was here. Much to Yohei's embarrassment we all go over and start talking to her and her friends. I get talking to the girl's Australian friend.
When we come back over to Yohei, Kelley reports back in his typically unsubtle way;
"She doesn't even know who you are aow!"
We all unsympathetically laugh.
"Aow she had no idea! She was like who's that? Even when I pointed you out she was like who's that?"
Better luck next time Yohei, I'm sure she was just saving face.
I can't say I did any better though - apparently "habla ingles" isn't the best chat-up line to use with Spanish girls.
With all four Jaeger shots now down me, I was loving it. A pretty city, a relaxed vibe, free tapas and a
party that the only the Spanish can throw, Granada has delivered - the place has everything.
With Yohei and Francis having sleptwalk home earlier, Davies, Kelley and I arrive back at the hostel only to bump into the American girls, who happen to be staying here, as if for the sole purpose of fully rubbing Yohei's face
Patio de la Acequia
Or the "Court of the Water Channel" in the Generalife.
in it. We chat for a while and it turns out the girl in question was from Idaho, and one of her friends was from Kentucky. I don't really remember - who I was talking to, what the girl from Idaho looked like, how many girls we were actually talking to (it seemed like a huge posse of them), the sequence of events - because I was smashed
Kelley had the cheek to wake Yohei up;
"Aow she's staying here! She's in the lobby! She's from Idaho!"
The poor guy.
I then meet the Australian girl again, who isn't too keen to go to bed just yet, and invites me to share a carton of red wine and a huge vessel of beer. Not wanting to be impolite, I accept her invitation.
It turns out that Kirsten was backpacking around Europe, no real plan about where she was going, and that the Americans were just her dorm mates, and not the greatest people to party with.
Joining us was a Canadian girl called Jess, and talk turned to her on-again, off-again boyfriend.
I don't remember much else between the beer, wine and cigarettes apart from us drunkenly deciding to skip
Oasis Backpacker's Hostel
Atrium inside the hostel.
and hop our way back to Granada 10 in an unsuccessful attempt to get back in.
"My boobs aren't big enough," Kirsten reckoned.
One thing that did stay with me about Kirsten was the fact that she loved Granada and wanted stay here and find a job, that she thought it was such a great place. The curse of Granada had struck again - anyone who comes here is lured, enchanted and seduced into staying.
It was a good thing I had rapport with the Kiwi hostel worker, as he let me sleep in til 1pm.
"Woah! Big night last night eh?" he boomed as he crashed into my room.
It sure was. What was supposed to be a few beers and tapas turned into big, boys night out on the town, finishing up with crazy, drunken antics with random strangers from the hostel at 7am in the morning. In Yohei's words, "the night needed to be done, and had been done well."
I wish I could do that every night. I miss backpacking.
"It's 1 o'clock bro! But you can stay here til three man, just make sure you check out before the end of my shift," said
Palacio de Carlos V
This housed the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V after the conquest of the city from the Moors, and now houses two museums and a conference and exhibition hall.
the hostel worker.
By the way, Oasis Backpackers Hostel was pretty f*cking awesome. Good facilities, great character, chilled out staff and an unbeatable location.
I did nothing else that day apart from chilling out with the boys on the hostel roof, plugging in my iPhone into the roof's speakers, and listening to the music. This was only interrupted by an ill-fated and final walk through town for Kelley to find some souvenirs.
It was then with a heavy heart that I trudged off to the bus station to catch my flight back to London from Malaga. Granada and the experience I had there was brilliant. The city itself was unexpectedly bigger, livelier and prettier than I thought it would be - it had most definitely lived up to the hype. The words of all those people I had talked to over the years about this place, was true.
I didn't want to leave. I wanted to stay. Like many before me and for many still here, I had been captivated, enraptured by this place. The curse of Granada had struck again.
There are more photos below