Oct 29, 2006

Granada

I was impressed how painless our trip to Granada was. We woke up and headed to the bus station much later than we had originally planned. Add to that the fact that we wandered around looking for the bus station for half an hour, we could have been in trouble.

However, we managed to find the station and buy tickets just minutes before the bus was leaving. After about an hour and a half we arrived in Granada. The significant attraction in Granada is the Alhambra, an old Moorish fortress similar to the Alcazaba of Málaga, but significantly grander. We had ordered tickets online, so the first order of business was to pick up the tickets.

The cab cost about 8 euro, to the entrance of the ticket office, which wasn't bad at all. We picked up our tickets. It was a bit after noon, but our tickets were not good until 2pm. They have a ticket scheme that allows you to enter either in the morning or afternoon. In addition there is another half-hour specified where your ticket allowed access to the inner palace. Ours was at 6:30pm. You could stay as long as you want, but it only takes so long to cover the grounds.

We walked back down to the base of the hill to look for lunch, where a thriving tourist business surrounded a town square open only to pedestrians, buses and taxicabs.

A couple of restaurants advertised paella, so I thought I'd give it a try. The other option were jamon and queso houses, but we had already had a lot of that. Tapas here were a good 3.50 euro or more, compared to the 1.50 euro back in Málaga. After wandering for a good while, we settled on a very crowded bar, which turned out to be a mistake since the restaurant in the back wasn't half as full. There were a pair of japanese girls, and a big (tour?) group in another room. We ordered the paella espcial con arroz negro (special paella with black rice). I had high hopes, since I noticed that a lot of paellas were made en masse, and individual servings were simply scooped out. The special paella here was made from scratch.

We waited for what seemed like an eternity, watching boring platters shuffle from the kitchen to the group in the back. Eventually our dish came our, a steaming black mess on a in a wide metal plate that reminded me of a pie pan.
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Now I have to admit that I'm not a paella expert, and that my expectations might not necessarily be authentic. So I'll explain my expectations first; my disappointment may not have been valid. I expect an exceptionally aromatic dish of rice, cooked to the perfect consistency where the grains start sticking together in clumps, but are still al dente enough to remain as clearly individual, chewy grains, with an assortment of tasty meats and seafood. The final touch is the crispy caramelized bottom, just greasy enough to pop of the bottom of the pan with the least bit of scraping.

Instead I got a platter of stewed rice in a greyish sauce that resembled watered down octopus ink (I'm not sure what to expect from black rice). The grains were al dente, but had not gotten to the point of sticking to one another. There was a tiny bit of liquid at the bottom of the bottom and no crispy goodness. There was mainly squid or cuttlefish in the dish, with a few less than fresh shrimp and a few mussels. It wasn't bland, but it wasn't very arromatic either. The one thing going for it was that the dish for two probably could have fed a third. The whole lunch cost 23 euro, which would have been enough for an all seafood (rather than mostly starch) lunch in a less touristy district.

After spending way too much time for lunch, we walked back up to the entrance. Jason got the electronic audio walking tour, which provided some interesting tidbits here and there. We spent about 2 hours wandering the Generalife (pronounced henaralifay) gardens, the castle of Carlos V, the excavated medina, a pottery museum, a rather small and spare cathedral, and the Alcazaba (the casbah, which is the central defensive structure, which is why it has the same name as tho one in Málaga).
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The gardens displayed some ingenious looking and beautiful irrigation streams in channels running along pathways and into fountains. As you walked along, there were tiny streams of water everywhere, dropping between the different terraced levels.
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After this we took a nap for about an hour on the stone courtyard in front of the Alcazaba, waiting for our turn at the Nasrid palaces. The palace of Carlos V had a huge circular central two story atrium that was reminiscent of Roman arcitecture.
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The hour gap we had was a bit long, but too short to go back down to town and back up. If we had planned better, we probably could have started later and used the hour to investigate the grand Catedral in the city center.

The most impressive bits of the Nasrid castle were the ornate carvings that covered practically all the walls. I couldn't imagine the number of hours of work required for the work. There were also wonderfully long ponds that covered the lengths of some decent sized courtyards.
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We had purchased bus tickets for 9pm before leaving the bus terminal in the morning. It gave us about half an hour to wander downtown before hailing a cab back to the bus station. Granada is certainly much livelier than Málaga, with more people wandering the streets, but I enjoyed the intimate feel and cheap food of Málaga better (though I'm sure there's better places to look in Granada.

We got back in Málaga around 10:30, and wandered on foot back over to the centro, the downtown area. We picked a random downtown bar and got two large beers and as many things which we hadn't tried before as possible.

We started with some bacon on toothpicks, turns out they wrapped up something sweet, perhaps dates. These sat raw in the refridgerated display counter, but were deep fried up in a minute. Somehow Jason and I both ordered peppers and onions (peps y pepe), but one deep fried version, the other with olive oil and vinsger. We also had anchovies and morcilla frita, deep fried blood sausage, which, to my surprise, I actually liked. The girls who had taken the spot next to us at the bar ordered pinchitos de carne, which looked good, and were good when we tried it.

After dinner we wandered around. Since people have dinner after 9 we were expecting nightlife, but we just hadn't seen much so far. We wandered the streets looking for well dressed people to follow around, and at almost midnight, the taperias were closing but the lounges were still vacant. Eventually we saw a a stream of younger people heading down a street, which ended up at the Merced, a square we had been at earlier in the week for dinner. It was pretty lifeless on the last outing given th rain. This time howver, the entire square was packed with people drinking, either with booze from the bars aound the square or from their own private stock.
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There was no music, but the atmosphere was full of energy. People were generally quite friendly, with numerous people asking me to take their pictures after seeing me with my big backpack and camera. Unfortunately, we don't speak any Spanish, so conversations didn't go very far. Since the bus stopped at 11, we eventually made our way back out of the square and called a cab.

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