It was certainly not the way I expected to start our holiday in Spain - spending time at the police station and countless hours on the phone to visa after Kelly was pickpocketed within an hour of arrival in Madrid. But it can be counted as another travel experience and makes for good story telling - especially the ride in the police car to the station and the very friendly, if heavily armed, Spanish police.
Our time in Madrid was planned simply as a “relax after a long flight” time and I did not expect to enjoy the city so much. A relatively seamless metro ride from the airport and then a very short walk from the Sol Metro on Plaza Del Sol to our hotel (Hostal Aresol) on Calle Del Arenal. We had been told that most people spoke English - this was NOT the case in Madrid and our first experience was the receptionist at the hotel - but somehow we communicated (her little English was about as good as my little Spanish). Eating delicious but expensive tapas in Mercado de San Miguel late that first night was the cause of the pickpocketing experience.
The primary task
our first morning was to get a SIM card for the phone to get the calls to Visa done and as nothing opens til 10 we had time for exploring old Madrid. Breakfast was typical - coffee, pastry and fresh orange juice. Then it was off to Plaza Mayor - a huge (12,000 square m) square built in 1580 to 1619 during the the reign of Philip lll - the statue of him was placed in 1848. Three story residential buildings (with 237 balconies) front onto the plaza and there are nine large archways providing entrance. Lots of restaurants were setting up tables - and you just know it is going to be expensive eating. Our stroll then took us to the Palicio Real which is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family. And I thought the Plaza mayor was big! The palace is 135,000 square m and has 3418 rooms - I can’t find the dimensions of the huge Plaza de la Armeria that fronts the palace.
After dealing with SIM cards and bank calls, it was a 20 minute walk to El Retiro Park, 350 acres of perfect landscaped green space. From the Retiro Pond with
all the row boats to the Crystal Palace (a building made of glass) to the sculptured gardens with roaming peacocks, it was a relaxing place to spend a few hours - and catch a few zzz’s on a patch of sunny grass. The final tourist activity of the day was a visit to the Prado Museum - but only because it is free from 6pm to 8pm. Unfortunately we did not realize you still had to line up to get a ticket - and that lineup was massive - but it moved quickly (35 minutes) and once inside, we made a beeline for the works of Hieronymus Bosch (or El Bosco as he is known in Spain) - His Garden of Earthly Delights is definitely weird, as are his other paintings. And that was our cultural experience done.
April 27 - and we were walking to the subway at 6:30am while young Madrid are either still partying in Plaza Del Sol or straggling home. It was an simple metro trip to the Estacion Sur bus station for our comfy 5 hour bus ride to Granada. The one view that really made an impression was the rows and rows of
olive trees covering all types of landscape. I have since read that there are 170 million olive trees in Andalucía - I believe it!
We were staying in the Albayzin or old Arab quarter of Granada which comprises narrow, winding and steep streets - pedestrian only. We had been advised to take a city bus from the bus station to Catedral stop and then walk to Plaza Nueva where we would catch a mini bus ( the largest size vehicle that could access the outer streets) to Plaza San Nicolas - and then it was a short downhill walk to the apartment we had rented for three nights.
On the short walk between Catedral and Plaza Nueva, Kelly had noticed some delicious looking food at some street side tables so we headed back down hill for the most delicious lunch at the Bodegas Castenadas - we thought that as we were sharing a plate we would have the grande but the waiter insisted on only mediano - and that was heaps for two: potato and ham croquettes, chicken and blue cheese, pork, salmon and cheese, ham and tomato. And we finally learnt what Canesta de Pan was -
a charge for bread! It made sense that we had been charged it the night before in Madrid when we had half a baguette with our calamari and patatas bravas - but today, 3 of the portions were served ON bread and we were still charged separately. The late afternoon activity was a walk up to the Mirador San Nicolas to see the view of the Alhambra with the late afternoon sun.
Probably the primary reason to go to Granada is to visit the Alhambra, an Islamic fort and palaces built during the decline of the Nasrid Dynasty and before the Christian conquest in 1492. Fortunately it was agreed that the Alhambra would be protected (sort of) by the conquerors and today is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The three main sections are the Alcazaba (Fort), the Generalife (the summer palace of the Nasrid rulers) and the Nasrid Palaces which were the residences of the rulers. All three of these areas require you to have a ticket and entry to the Nasrid Palaces is time controlled - we booked our tickets over two months ago and the only time slot available was 6:30 pm. So we headed out at
2pm for the long walk down through the Albayzin and then up through the gardens to the main gate. There is enough information on the internet about the Alhambra without me trying to explain the place, other than saying WOW! It was amazing! We actually spent 5 hours there which is a record for us. I do think that because of our late time slot to enter the palaces, we visited each section in the perfect order as we culminated the visit with the spectacular palaces.
All the descriptors of Granada included steep streets and long hot walks so we bought a 5 Euro bus pass when we arrived - but other than the initial bus ride into town and then to the apartment, we walked everywhere. Heading back into town after visiting the Alhambra, we thought we might as well take the bus as it was already paid for - and besides, we had already walked 11km that day. Dinner was a huge cheese plate at Bodega Castenada which was a bit of a mistake because although it was delicious, the richness did not result in a great nights sleep.
Our second full day in Granada, we
went on a free walking tour of the city (advertised as free but you paid what you thought it was worth at the end). It did not cover much ground - from Plaza Nueva to the Catedral (the 4th largest in the world), through the Alcaiceria (the original Moor silk market), ending up in the Albayzin - but we got a fascinating lesson on the history of Granada from the Moors to the Christians as well as an insight into why the Mediterranean countries used to be so advanced scientifically and culturally compared to the rest of Europe. For lunch we navigated up winding streets to La Fragua on Panaderos street. This was an area of the Albayzin we had not explored yet - pretty houses and relatively flat streets. It turned out that the Fragua was closed but right next door was a restaurant that had an all you could eat buffet of tapas and delicious grilled vegetables - yum!
Then it was back up to the Mirador San Nicolas for sunset - so many people jostling for the perfect view for the perfect photo! And that is Granda done!
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