and the sweet sounds of my favorite smaller city
07/19/2014 - 07/23/2014 85 °F
I know, I know - the title of this episode is Granada, but before I got to there, I spent a couple days in Valencia. It would be unfair and inaccurate to say that I didn’t like Valencia or didn’t have a great time there - I did. However, as I continue to fall further behind in this blog, I’ve decided to try and speed things up and fast forward to the good parts. I liked Valencia very much, but of the 3 places I stayed in Spain, Valencia is the one that gets cut.
Quick summary: Valencia’s old town is beautiful and interesting, an ancient royal city with large buildings hundreds of years old and some sidewalks made of marble, no joke. It is also the birthplace of paella (according to Valencians), and, like Barcelona, has a language other than Spanish as their primary language (Valencan). It’s god a big beach which attracts many of the tourists, though I didn’t like the beach as much as at Barcelona, mainly because it lacked the numerous sand volleyball courts.
The 3 most signficant things from Valencia (in no particular order):
- I saw a flyboard for the first time. If you didn’t see my video on FB about it, check it out, or you can watch a much better video shot by one of my favorite youtuber - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMaDhkNJA2g. I so need to get one of these.
Other pictures from the beach
- La Ciudad de Arts y Sciences is a collection of stunning buildings at the end of a very large public park in Valencia. Though I didn’t cough up the admission to go inside any of these attractions, I did admire the incredible architecture from the outside. If you go to Valencia, this cannot be missed.
Here you see some of the park that runs the length of Valencia and ends at La Ciudad De Arts y Sciences
- I celebrated my 27th birthday here! My birthday was actually a travel day for me, and while that seemed like a bumer at first, I did get to celebrate it properly in two different cities! I went out with a group from my hostel on July 18th (birthday at midnight) and started off the night by buying the first round of shots. My compatriots followed suit with rounds throughout the night and I got properly and delightedly drunk. A highlight for me was actually at the end of the night when one of the guys I was with forced me kicking and screaming to go and hit on two local Spanish girls we saw, and to do it in Spanish. I stumbled my way thru my opener, and understanding what was going on, the girls didn’t miss a beat and insisted that I continue in Spanish only. It was a great combination of embarrassing, fun, challenging, and rewarding. I’m sure I sounded like an idiot, but the girls seemed to appreciate the effort and laughed good naturedly with me. It may seem like a strange highlight, but it was a lot of fun for me.
I got a 2nd chance to practice my very poor Spanish the next day with my driver to Granada! Due to the strange routes, it takes about 8 hours to go from Valencia to Granada by either bus or train, but its only about 5 hours by car. Inspired by this, I took my 3rd ride from BlaBlaCar, the ride share website I’m growing increasingly fond of, this time with a large, jovial Spaniard named Javier who didn’t speak any English. The 2 girls in the back seat also hitching a ride spoke a little bit of English, so they could translate when necessary, but much of the car ride constituted Javier and I communicating slow and painfully and teaching each other some new words. He was a great guy, always quick to laugh, and got me to Granada in no time.
When I arrived in Granada, I wasn’t planning on spending as long as I did there, probably just a couple days and then zip to Madrid and Toledo before getting back to Barcelona to fly out. It didn’t take me very long to decide to slow down and just chill out in Granada for the remainder of my time, and it started with my hostel. One of the rare hostels that was among the cheapest and highest rated hostels available, it touted that it had a “cult-like following” among backpackers for its staff and atmosphere. It also had an incredible location, high up on a hill in the old part of town, where all the streets were 1 way out of necessity and confusing enough to figure out on foot. The winding streets of cobblestone instantly transported you back to a simpler time, and it felt like not much had changed there in the last few hundred years. Climbing the hill to the Rambutan Hostel was rough, but I was rewarded by an amazing view that was very easy to get used to.
This is an unbelievably beautiful picture that I'm quite proud of. I caught it in the perfect light I actually found a postcard near the end of my time there that I believe was taken from our hostel’s terrace. Further proof that this was the best seat in the house
And here's the same view in two more lights
I didn’t arrive to my hostel until after 10 pm, and it was incredibly quiet in the hostel. I was disappointed because it was still my birthday and I was hoping to go out and get some drinks with some fellow travelers. The Australian hostel worker, Sean, told me that a group had headed to a certain tapas bar about an hour ago, and that they’re probably still there if I wanted to go and join them. I headed out, got instantly lost in the winding and wonderful streets, but didn’t care in the least as I soaked in the atmosphere.
I eventually found my way to the tapas bar and it was pretty easy to figure out which group I was looking for, as they were the only ones speaking English. Primed by my months of solo travel, I didn’t hesitate, walked right up to them and asked, “Are you all staying at the Rambutan Hostel?” After getting a positive response, I told them that I had just arrived into town and asked if I could join them. An incredibly welcoming group, they instantly made room and told me that I had earned big points by the way I had “fearlessly” approached them. For reasons partially known to myself, I didn’t tell them straight away that it also happened to be my birthday, but I was soon laughing and joking around with the group of them that I would spend quite a bit of time with over the next 5 or 6 days. This wonderful group of people were the 2nd reason that I ended up staying longer in Granada.
Granada has this wonderful custom regarding their tapas bars in which, in just about any restaurant in town, when you order a drink you get a free small tapas plate with it! Apparently, this tradition began years ago during the start of modern urbanization. With workers now traveling to their jobs that may not have been very close to their homes, they would go to the local restaurant or bar for lunch. With limited funds, many of them decided to spend their precious coin on drink rather than food, and after a few rounds of drinks on an empty stomach, would return to work. This quickly became a problem so they made it mandatory (or maybe strongly recommended) that restaurants serve a small amount of food with each drink. Though this may not still be necessary, I’m so glad they keep the tradition. On many nights, we would head out, have 4 or 5 drinks, get 4 or 5 small plates of food and that would be dinner! At 2 euros a drink in most places, this made for some very cheap and very enjoyable nights.
For some strange reason, however, the tapas bar that I met them at wasn’t giving us tapas with the drinks that night, so after 1 round, we were about to head to another bar. Before we left, a small piece of birthday cake was brought to a girl in the table next to us, and we joined in singing “Feliz Cumpleanos” (Happy Birthday) to her. When the song was finished, I off-handed commented, “Wow, that’s crazy. She’s got the same birthday as me.” It took a few seconds for anyone to realize what I said, but then I heard, “Wait, it’s your birthday?” Laughing, I told them that it was and I got a number of drinks bought for me the rest of the night. I think that I didn’t want to make a whole bunch of people I had just met feel obligated that they had to treat me special since it was my birthday, but by that time, I felt like I knew them well enough already to let it out. We bounced around to a few bars and got back to the hostel around 3 am - the first of many great nights in Granada.
The next day was Sunday, and in a religious, Spanish town, that meant that there weren’t very many things open. Because of this, Robbie, an American college student spending the summer in Barcelona, and I decided to go out on a hike. Robbie and I had met last night and already knew we got along well. I absolutely loved the map that Rambutan provided for us for the trail. Instead of an actual map, it was a series of pages in which the general shape of the trail and landmarks along the way were hand drawn on it. Throughout the hike, anytime that we started thinking that maybe we missed a turn or something, the next landmark on the map would come into view. It was a great style of orienteering that I think represented the unique flair of the Rambutan Hostel.
The region of Andalucia apparently produces about 15% of the world's olives. Incredible
Classic sugar maple? you know who you are
The main “goal” of the hike was an abandoned monastery a few miles out of town. Really the hike was just a hike, but the monastery represented the midway point and an interesting place to explore.This also was a place that did not seem to like me very much.
It looks inviting enough, right?
As a halfway point, I decided that the monastery was a good spot for lunch, so I took out the bread, cheese, meat, and tomato that I had brought along. Robbie wasn’t hungry and went off to explore. Everything went smoothly until I carelessly snapped the knife on my pinky while closing it back up. Though not deep or painful, it bled quite a bit, and without anything better to use, I had to grab a leaf off of a tree to staunch the bleeding. Cursing myself, I then set out to explore the monastery, just as Robbie was coming back. I set out and found a few cool looking bits of graffiti. Unsurprising to most people who know me, however, an abandoned monastery offers much more than a place to glance at graffiti, and very soon I was up on the walls climbing around. Scaling the walls allowed me to move around the monastery much easier, but after I had my fill, I was started to look for a good way down. Leaning out over an edge to plan out my descent, suddenly I stepped onto a weak part of the wall that crumbled beneath my foot, tipping me over the edge.
They say that falls like this happen in slow motion, but I beg to differ. After wildly clutching at air near the top, I dropped like a rock, falling the 10-12 feet in a split second and landing hard on my ass on a pile of ceramic roofing tiles. This was lucky as I believe the tiles did at least a little to cushion my fall. But a very little. I fell hard right on my tailbone, but as I sprung up from the ground, relief washed over me along with the pain in my ass. My back didn’t appear to have been thrown out of wacks from the fall, as has been known to happen over much less, and though it hurt, it didn’t feel like I had broken my tailbone. The possible breakage of my tailbone remained in doubt for a few days. After consulting a couple of my almost-doctor friends, I rejected the suggestion that I give myself an anal exam, and was instead satisfied that a minor broken tailbone and a badly bruised tailbone are treated the same way - painkillers and stay off of it as much as possible. After I had established that I luckily didn’t do any serious damage to my body, I realized that my phone had fallen out of my pocket during my fall, and I scrambled to find it. Luckily, I had it in the protective case, and I found it generally unharmed in the pile of broken tiles. No broken bones, no broken phones - disaster averted.
Graffiti on the monastery
Though I had avoided much worse consequences, my ass still hurt like hell and I spent a few more minutes bent over (NOT sitting down) regaining my composure. As I was bent over, I saw a cigarette packet on the ground. Not a smoker myself, most of my new friends at the hostel were, so I picked it up to see if I could offer any of them any free smokes. Instead, I found a peace offering from the monastery in the form of a fair amount of a familiar, natural painkiller. Laughing at the hilarity of this near disaster, I called it even with the monastery, rejoined Robbie, and got the hell away from that place.
The walk back was by no means pleasant, but it could have been a lot worse. I decided to count myself lucky - I do enough dumb semi-dangerous monkeying around and this was the first time (knock on wood) any misfortune had come from it. Considering the size of my fall, limping away from the scene with nothing more than a sore butt was pretty lucky, and I decided to try and exercise a little more caution in the future. I followed this strategy decently well until Dan joined me in Montenegro, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Robbie and I hiked the 3 or so miles back at a leisurely pace and then I retired to my room to lie down for a bit (on my stomach, NOT my back). This fall and subsequent discomfort was the 3rd and final reason I ended up staying in Granada. Truth be told, I probably didn’t need this 3rd reason, as I was loving the vibe in the city and the Rambutan, but that was the deciding blow.
My next 3 or 4 days in Granada were very relaxing. I took it easy from some of the more intense hiking / adventuring I had been planning in the Sierra Nevada mountains due to my rump and just breathed in the wonderful atmosphere of Granada’s old town. I took a general walking tour, given by a great guide, Nick, who also hung out at Rambutan quite often. Granada has a very interesting history that I already can’t remember well enough to include in here.
Assorted pictures from around Granada:
I also joined Nick on a tour of the caves above Granada. Now, “visiting the caves” is nowhere close to what you think it means. In this case, the caves are actually a community of squatters that have turned the numerous caves up in the hills of Granada into their own free housing. The tour was incredibly interesting because it is very different than the images that I first conjured up regarding people living in caves. Yes, the shelter over their heads are actual earth and rock, but some of the houses are renovated so much that they are barely distinguishable from regular houses. Some have electricity from solar panels, running water piped in from a juvenile facility up on the top of the hill, and even satellite TV. In these cases, the biggest difference between this and an ordinary house is an infinitely interesting ceiling. One of the caves is actually a hookah bar (complete with drinks and music) that is open “when the owner feels like it”. I tried to go to the hookah bar later in the week, but he had decided that he didn’t want to open it on that night. Some of the caves are nowhere near this elaborate or luxurious, but many of the owners seem to be moving in that direction. Nick introduced us to one man who lives in one of the nicer caves with his wife, and has been renovating the cave next to him for the past couple years as a hobby. Though he doesn’t own the land, he believes that he will be able to sell his renovated cave for 15-20,000 euros soon.
The guy in this cave was especially proud of this plant. He saw me taking a picture and came running out - "Es muy grande, no?" "Si, es MUY grande"
So now that I look at the pictures again, no they're not exactly like how ordinary houses look
But the cave houses do have a hell of a view
I also visited La Alhambra, the one thing that you HAVE to do in Granada. An ancient fortress built by the Moors, La Alhambra was the first great Muslim building that I had seen on my trip. Granada in general is filled with the contrasting styles of the alternating Islamic and Christian rulers, but La Alhambra was built entirely by the Moors, and reflects it. Instead of large pictures or statues of various religious figures, the beauty is in the intricate designs carved into the ceilings and high up on the walls. In classic Islamic design, the center of many of the buildings is a large courtyard, always with a pool in the middle. The grounds also contain many wonderful garden areas, ensuring beauty throughout.
My evenings in Granada were filled mostly with going out to the cheap and delicious tapas restaurants or hanging out on the hostel terrace with the amazing view of Granada and the Alhambra and a number of fantastic new friends. Besides Robbie, the rest of the folks that I met that first night were there thru the duration of my stay, and I really enjoyed having repeated contact with the same people, something that, besides my trip in the Alps, hadn’t happened very often throughout my travels.
Oskar was a sarcastic Icelander who was studying classical guitar at university and was spending a month in Andalucia (region of southern Spain), getting in touch with some of the songs that he loved playing. Many nights after tapas and drinks, Oskar would do us the pleasure of playing some of these songs, specifically “Granada” and “Memories of La Alhambra”. I fear by the end he may have gotten tired of the continued requests, but he hadn’t by the time that I left. The song Granada left an especially lasting impact on me. Hearing it the first time, I had no problem closing my eyes and envisioning myself wandering the quiet, winding streets. The slow, calming tune seemed to capture the spirit of the city. Then, after a couple more listenings to it and discussions with Oskar, I found many more complexities that fit so well with Granada. In one section, the chords struck have a distinct Middle Eastern, or more accurately, Islamic sound to it. That section is followed immediately by one with higher, more choral notes that cannot be confused for anything but Christian. This dichotomy is reflected in Granada’s history, that changed hands between Muslims and Christians several times in the history of the city. I wish I could figure out how to post videos to this blog...
Matt and Kabrina were a couple from NYC who were lucky enough to be able to spend a month or so every summer traveling. Matt was a teacher and Kabrina, owned her own business, so each summer they would pick an area and spend a month traveling around. This year they had decided to do something different and were spending the full month only in Granada, at the Rambutan for the entirety. They seemed exceptionally happy about this decision and when I had to leave Granada, I was very jealous of them. Dom was a funny Englishman who, after discovering Granada for the first time several years ago, tried to spend as much time as he could in Granada. He estimated that he had spent about 2 out of the last 5 years in Granada, getting away whenever he could. He actually wasn’t staying at the Rambutan, instead renting a flat nearby, but he had stayed there in previous visits and regarded it as a 2nd home and spent much of his time there, also entertaining with his guitar playing, though it was in a very different style than Oskar. The workers at the Rambutan were also frequent and welcome additions to our late night (or anytime) musings, and the week culminated with a BBQ party thrown for a neighbor and friend of the hostel. The staff of the hostel cooked up a 4 or 5 course meal that was delicious from beginning to end and the group of about a dozen of us spent the night sharing laughs, drinks, stories, and songs - Oskar with his wonderful and mesmerizing classical and Dom with his fun and familiar songs the group could karaoke to.
The next day I was to depart, and I left with a heavy heart once again. Luckily, my ass was feeling better so that I could find several sitting positions that were bearable, which was grand since I had a 10 hour train ride to Barcelona in my near future. Granada was totally different than Barcelona, and I was sad to leave in a very different way. Barcelona was beautiful, exciting, energetic, and a million other things. Granada was beautiful in a totally different way, much slower and more paced, and infinitely charming. Barcelona I know I will be back to, and I think the same is true for Granada, but I fear that no other time will be as good as this. Luckily, I know where to stay if I return, but I cannot hope to get as lucky with the company that joins me as I did this time. I’m sure that I’ll never have the pleasure of listening to the light sounds of “Granada” or “Memories of La Alhambra” while staring over the wonderful city.
Adios Granada - on to Barcelona for about 10 hours, and then to Budapest!