Girona

I am up early this morning in Granada. I have a flight to Barcelona and then shortly after taking a train to the city of Girona. I planned to take the cheap airport bus that arrives outside my hotel just a little down the street but that plan fell through last minute. My hotel had an outdated bus schedule because when I arrive at the bus stop this morning I realize I must have missed the bus and another doesn’t come for two hours. Since I will not make my flight on time if I wait I head back to the hotel and have them call me a taxi.

When I arrive at the Barcelona airport I don’t quite understand the instructions I have written down. Last time I was here was ten years ago and even then I was flying home and recovering from some sort of a norovirus/food poisoning. I take the wrong train initially and end up wasting a fare since I basically go to another airport terminal and then back again. Eventually I discover I have to take a regional train into Barcelona Estació Sants and switch to take my train to Girona. Luckily there are many trains daily to Girona so I don’t have to stress about missing one. Barcelona is highly connected by trains and metro stations. It is complex for a new traveler to the city, at least in my opinion. I am used to traveling in cities so I eventually wrap my head around the system after a day or two.

The ride to Girona is quick at around 40 minutes. At Girona there are two train terminals. They are pretty close together but it is real important to know the appropriate one to be at.

My hotel is a 20 minute walk from the train station. There is a foot and bicycle path that follows under a regional train. It is shaded and has some interesting art work along the way.

I chose Girona as a location to visit because it is a smaller city and I like visiting cities that aren’t popular and crowded. There are not too many must see things in Girona but it is a nice relaxing way to spend a couple days.

I cross a foot bridge to enter Barri Vell, a gothic quarter. I have a view of colorful buildings reflected in a river as well as a large basilica greets me as I cross the bridge. My hotel is practically around the corner from here.

The hotel I chose, Hotel Museu Llegendes de Girona, is a nicer hotel. I didn’t have as much luck locating a decent discount hotel in Girona. The hotel is a strange art museum/hotel. My room is simply designed except the lighting system – there are so many buttons in the room and only in one place are marked what they are; but not clearly though. I have a nice but complicated room.

After check in I walk the medieval streets of Girona. It is not crowded in this town and that is why I like it.

I decide to go for the fancy avocado toast plus halloumi for a late lunch. It feels slightly healthier than what I’ve been eating lately.

Federal Cafe

After lunch there is more wandering around town.

I stop at the famous ice cream chain Rocambolesc and try one of their creations. Very interesting flavors.

I walk down to the shopping district and do some window shopping. I am not a big shopper in general and especially when I am traveling but I eye a brand of shoes I must have. I note to myself to look them up online later (Update I did and there are a little more than I want to pay).

I see that there are old city walls that circle the city. I climb them and get a view of the city in the late afternoon. I almost have the walls to myself.

I find small gardens after small gardens hiden down alleys surrounded by old churches. I spend some time in Jardins dels Alemanys. I try to identify the fruit tree there with some other visiters of the park.

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I arrive at another very large church. There are very loud and active birds around that I stop to admire. I turn the corner and realize this is the famed church that was used in the Game of Thrones, a show I never really watched.

I walk up to a garden that is supposed to have a John Lennon memorial but I can’t find any such thing in the garden. I want to do a tapas crawl but I am tired from waking up early. I stop by a café for a quick drink for the evening then I head back to my hotel. Tomorrow I take a day trip to Figueres to visit a Dali wonderland.

Wandering the caves of Sacromonte

This morning I walk the streets of Albaicín (Granada) on my way to wander around Sacromonte. I was introduced to the neighborhood last night when I attended a zambra flamenco show. Today I am heading up to a cave museum (Museo Cuevas del Sacromonte) for a lesson on the history of this intriguing neighborhood.

I first read about these cave homes through a fictional book series. In each of the books the protagonist has an adventure in different cities throughout the world. In one book a woman visits the hillside cave town of Sacromonte in Granada. From then on I decided I needed to see these caves in person. A summarized version of the history is that they were inhabited by Gitanos, or what some people refer to as Roma gypsies- but the word gypsy is not really a good way to describe the group of people of this heritage because of all the negative meaning associated by its use. We know now that Romani or Roma people is probably a better way to describe this ethnic group that settled in this area in the 15th century. They brought with them their distinct culture that is reflected in this part of the city.

To get to the cave museum I turn down the street I visited last night for my zambra flamenco show – another distinct Sacromonte thing. The mostly white washed buildings are built into the hill. I climb up a couple of groups of stairs to eventually get to the museum at the top.

A few feet from the entrance there are some poems on the wall.

Granada is hot but the inside of the caves is a comfortable temperature. You see why they were used.

Some of the caves are decorated as they would have been used for living. Individual caves are also used as mini-museums of their own, for instance there is one where they talk about the history of flamenco and another where you learn about the plight of the Romani people in Spain; It is very hard to read how they were mistreated as a group over time. There are also caves that show different skills like weaving and pottery.

Outside of each cave there are plants with diagrams explaining their medicinal use.

I walk along the side of the hill of the museum and get a spectacular view of Granada. Along the hill sides you can see it is almost desert like with plants you typically see in dry and hot climates.

For only 5 euro I definitely felt like I got my money’s worth. I am glad to have marked this off my to-do list.

I walk back down into another part of Granada in search of an authentic tapas place. Again the streets are quiet. It is the warmest part of the day. Most people probably are indoors at this time.

When I get to the major business district of Granada I admire the shades installed along the shopping street – they are very much needed in hot Granada. I need to send a photo of these to urban planners in Florida (hint hint….might be a good idea).

I finally find an authentic tapas restaurant, La Sitarilla, and it serves free portions with each drink you order. I probably could have sat there for hours trying a good number of dishes; but I only try two today because the servings were a good size.

There are still more things I can do in town but I have already visited everything on my must see list. I head back to my hotel to chill there for the rest of the evening.

I finish my evening with the dessert I have been eyeing (Casa Ysla Pastelería) and finishing off the bottle of wine I bought a couple days ago. Tomorrow I fly north to begin another adventure there.

Zambra Flamenco

Today has been a busy day but it is not over yet. Earlier today I visited the large Alhambra complex. I have since returned to my room to shower. Tonight I have reservations to see zambra flamenco in an authentic Sacromonte cave. This is not my first time seeing flamenco, I’ve seen various shows in the USA and even saw a fabulous show in Sevilla in 2012. However the flamenco here is different- it has been said that here in Sacromonte is one of the birth places of the famous dance. This type of dancing, zambra flamenco, has more influences from other areas: Roma (Romani and Indian), Moriscos, and Arabic. It is distinct in its use of hand symbols, ruffled dresses, and soulful singing accompanied by guitar playing. In Sacromonte it is performed in cave houses.

My reservation is at 10:30 PM . As an early-to-sleep person it is amazing that I book the late show but I figure it is Spain, everything is better later, isn’t it?

I have plenty of time before the show so I wander up the hills of Albaicín. My hotel is on a street that is technically at the edge of Albaicín but to really get a feel for the area you must climb the hill streets to get a view of the greater city of Granada.

More views of the alhambra

My first stop is at Mirador Placeta de Carvajales a small park that overlooks the Alhambra. There is a music group filming a music video here. I sit back and enjoy the free entertainment.

I get my first flamenco show of the day.

The plan is to visit the popular Mirador de San Nicolás to possibly watch the sunset and eat a light dinner nearby. It is very crowded at Mirador de San Nicolás since everyone wants to watch the sunset today. It is too crowded for my taste and I’ve seen my fair share of remarkable sunsets so I decide to eat. I don’t see a particular restaurant that really catches my eye so I choose a place with outside seating. I order wine and a huge ass plate of cheese once again. There is a great guitar player performing while I eat though.

Alhambra view
Lots of cheese

After my cheese I walk in the direction of Sacromonte. I end up in a quiet alley where someone is singing from a minaret. It is almost like a call to prayer, perhaps it is.

At this point I am far uphill so I need to start walking downhill to get to the cave that is hosting tonight’s performance. For once I am walking downhill and I guess my feet are not used to it because I stub my toe. Darn minimalist shoes on cobble streets!

I get to the narrow street I need to walk down. There really isn’t a sidewalk and it appears cars can come both ways. Perhaps many people get dropped off in this area by taxi? The venue isn’t too far down the street.

I am attending my show at Cuevas Los Tarantos. Most likely these performances were more “authentic” and catered to locals but now they are more catered to tourists like me. Some venues have more a of tourist-trap feel to them but the venue I am attending tonight has many good reviews. As long as I am entertained who really cares that I am in a “touristy” place.

Cuevas Los Tarantos during the day.

I arrive very early as usual but it allows me to enjoy two sangrias prior to the show instead of one. I spend a couple minutes in a cave next door with my fun drink and then head over to the other cave when the previous show finally ends.

The band enters into the cave like room where the performance will be held and soon after the dancers arrive. The guitar player plays and the dancers clap along while seated. One by one the dancers perform solo acts. I have seen male dancers as part of a duo before but this is the first time I’ve seen them perform solo. In the show there were two very good male performers. Also a woman is very skillful with a dance using finger symbols. She is popular with the group.

Below are some still photos of the evening, one of these does not belong-see if you can point out the one that is out of place.

Overall it is a good show. There is a great night view of the Alhambra on the walk back. The streets are quiet but are well lit so I feel safe walking back alone. I do find entertainment in watching taxis navigate the narrow streets.

Tomorrow I climb the hills of Sacromonte once more to visit the cave museum.

Alhambra

View of Alhambra from Sacromonte
In Nasrid Palaces
Generalife Gardens

The main event of today is a visit to the Alhambra, a royal residence in Granada during the Nasrid kingdom (mid 13th century). The fortress like structure sits on a hill and can be viewed from most of Granada.

I have time to take advantage of the included breakfast at the hotel this morning since my reservation for Nasrid’s palaces is not until 11:00 am. To visit Nasrid’s palaces you must book in advance since it is very popular. With the booking you can enter the rest of the complex as early as 8:30 am if you like. Breakfast first then I will head up to begin my visit.

I enjoy the continental-style buffet that includes a torta and meat & cheese slices as well as fruit. I take advantage of the patio and the mild weather in the morning.

The Alhambra compound entrance is about a 30 minute walk by taking the back pedestrian entrance. There are ways to get there by bus but I didn’t bother researching that.

It is a constant walk uphill to get to the entrance. I walk between the area that holds the Generalife and the other side that has the palaces; but down below. In fact we walk under a walkway.

When I finally get to the entrance tour guides approach me. I forgo the tours since I have downloaded tour information on my phone and would rather take things at my leisure. When I approach the entrance gates it is like crossing the border to another country. At Alhambra you need to keep your ticket and passport readily available at all times because they will constantly ask to see it. Alhambra has more passport control than most countries I’ve been to. It gets kind of annoying because each time I take out my passport it is another opportunity for it to get lost or stolen.

Once I am inside I head over near the nasrid palaces because I have not left myself time to do anything else. I pass by a church and walk down a pretty shrub pathway and head down a hill. I line up outside the nasrid palaces waiting for my entrance to be called.

They let us in at batches I believe every 15 minutes. Once you are in you are free to view at your own pace. My strategy is to fall behind the pack in the hope that I can get a few pictures without crowds. I can’t fall too far behind though because the next group will be entering soon after us. Another couple or two has the same idea. I can’t get completely people-free photos because the couples need to do their photoshoots. Everyone is an instagram model these days. I won’t complain about it here because I complained about it enough during my sabbatical posts. One needs to just accept it is part of travel now.

I enjoy Mudéjar and Islamic style architecture so touring the palaces is a treat.

Loving all the textured patterns.

I catch a window area with a colorful stained glass ceiling that shoots rays of color down below. It is beautiful.

The Hall of the Two Sisters – I love how the light reflects a colorful prism

As the tour comes to a close there is a walkway with tremendous views of the city and a nice courtyard.

City views

After my tour of the palaces I head over the Alcazaba or military fortress. The fortress has some good views of Granada and the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains.

I almost never have a sweet tooth but I am hot from being outdoors and this ice cream sounds like the ideal lunch/snack right now. It hits the spot.

Next I visit the Palace of Carlos V next door. The circle architecture is kind of cool and there is a small artifact museum inside as well as an art museum upstairs but otherwise the building is not very exciting and doesn’t need a long visit.

I am finished with this portion of Alhambra so I head over to Generalife. Generalife was the sultan’s summer palace and gardens. The palace is not as impressive as the nasrid palaces but the gardens are very beautiful. I almost wish I brought a picnic lunch with me to enjoy with the flowers and the views.

There is a staircase that has relaxing streams of water pouring down the handrails. At the top of the staircase I find some refreshing cold water to refill my water bottle.

At the top there is a nice breeze. One almost forgets how impossibly hot it is down below. Again more beautiful views of the Nasrid palaces, the city of Granada, and Sacromonte.

I head toward the exit. On my way downhill I stop for a beer at the nearby café.

I follow the stone path back down the hill. I admire the towers and cross walks from down below.

I walk down Carrera del Darro to head back to my hotel. Later this evening I am going to a Zambra flamenco show in Sacromonte. More about that later.

Córdoba 

Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba

Today’s day trip is a visit to Córdoba, a city a little over an hour from where I staying. Córdoba is famous for La Mezquita – a mosque/cathedral, as well as its beautiful garden patios. The city is rich in Muslim and roman history.

Ten years ago I tried to visit Córdoba as a day trip from Sevilla. I had planned that trip with lots of unreasonable expectations; it is hard enough to keep yourself to a timeline and even harder if you have another person traveling with you. We couldn’t make the day trip to Córdoba happen. It has always been in the back of my mind that I needed to return. Therefore I am here today doing that day trip, finally.

The train ride to Córdoba is about an hour long from Granada. I book the 7:30 am train and knowing that sometimes trips sell out I book my return trip as well. The afternoon train times are pricey so I decide to take the 8:10 PM in the evening and decide I’ll just enjoy the extra time in the city. This is a poor decision on my part for reasons I will explain shortly.

Today’s itinerary contains a number of planning failures. Today is a Monday and I failed doing the appropriate research for visiting on a Monday. I correctly booked in advance my visit to La Mezquita (Catedral de Córdoba) since those tickets are limited. However I failed to realize that a great number of places of interest are actually closed on Mondays. This is amateur error on my part – I am typically good at picking up these nuances. Things being generally closed combined with face-melting heat make this day trip an interesting visit (my analogy for today’s weather is that it feels similar to what you see in the Raiders of the Lost Arc when the nazi’s, rightly so, have their faces melted).

Upon my arrival I start from the train station and wander the quiet streets of Córdoba with the destination of La Mezquita de Córdoba .

I enter the courtyard and patiently wait for the opening of La Mezquita which also happens to be my scheduled reservation time. While waiting I hear the bells chime from the Bell Tower.

Finally its time to line up and enter.

The structure I am entering was started as a Visigoth basilica in the 6th century and then turned into a mosque and then a cathedral. In its history it has expanded many times by different rulers. The diagrams and audio tour talks about each expansion. La Mezquita another good example of mixing lots of different styles into one building.

I notice another painting of my now favorite giant from the bible, Saint Christopher.

The mezquita is quite large but I have finally reached the end of my visit. I’ve worked up an appetite so I stop for a quick snack.

Manolas Empanadas

After my snack I hit my first road block: the Museo Taurino de Córdoba is closed on Mondays. However behind the museum and down the alley is a nice little artist alcove. It is here I finally get to see one of the patios that the city is famous for.

Museo Taurino de Córdoba

I almost find myself buying some earings by an artesian here but unable to decide on a pair I walk away empty handed.

Nearby I view Estatua de Maimónides, a bronze sculpture of the philosopher, theologian & doctor, Cordovan Ben Maimónides.

I walk on to discover the La Sinagaga is another place closed today. I am not averaging well for my sightseeing checklist so far.

Bodega Guzmán is nearby. I stop here and order boquerones and a glass of a local wine Montilla-Moriles. The wine is more of a sherry. The place seems authentic. I am glad I stop here to escape the heat.

I can’t stay here all day and drink so I venture back out. I walk inside the city walls as well as along the outside. I notice the residences along the walls.

Eventually it seems like a good time for lunch. I end up at Taberna Rafaé based on a recommendation I viewed online. I order an traditional oxtail dish to get a feel of the regional cuisine. The stew has very good flavor and reminds of a type of boeuf bourguignonne.

There is more wandering after lunch, for whatever is actually open, which is not much. Instead I eye buildings, statues and gardens.

Another popular place to visit in town is the palace Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos but of course it is closed today as well, though I read I didn’t miss much here except maybe the gardens.

I walk by the Puente Romano de Córdoba the historic picturesque bridge in town. It is a 1st century Roman bridge.

Its been hot all day but its about now when it becomes face melting hot (100+ degrees farenheit). I find a shaded bench in a park and try to nap and cool down but the best I do is do some reading on my phone. I don’t last long here though because I get bored. I want to head back to Granada but the earlier train times are sold out or too expensive.

My visit to Cordoba would have been enhanced with viewing some of the patios the city is famous for. Unfortunately I miss the festival of patios by a month or two. There are still some patios that can be viewed for an admission price but there are limited hours for the touring and I have missed the window for this today. Today is really poorly planned. I do sneak a look at patios through gates inside a quiet residential area. The streets are empty. Only crazy tourists like me are outside in this heat.

When I return to the main tourist area all the day trippers are gone. At least I have a mostly solo visit to the beautiful Calleja de las Flores.

I’ve given up sightseeing and start looking for a place with air conditioning or something similar. I find a courtyard bar with shade and misting fans. It is not busy and I end up getting a free glass of wine. I am loving it here because I rarely get anything offered to me for free.

Eventually the courtyard bar completely clears out and so do I (I don’t want to be the only customer). My next destination is a market I remember this morning when I was walking from the train station. The major tourist areas are too quiet and hot for my taste and the market is at least closer to the train station. The market, Mercado Victoria, is beautiful indoors. Not many vendors are open because it is early but I get a very delicious Negroni cocktail while I relax in the air conditioning. It seems like others here have the same plan as I.

It is finally time for me to walk over to the train station to take my train back to Granada.

When I arrive back in Granada it is late so restaurants are closing along my walk back to the train station. Luckily the street that contains my hotel has some late night eateries. I stop at Restaurante Tetería Palmira which is a Syrian/Lebanese/Moroccan restaurant. I order the shish kabob platter and it hits the spot after a long hot day of sightseeing.

It is late but the streets are still alive nearby. I’ve had a long day so I call it a night.

Tomorrow I have a scheduled reservation for the Alhambra. I’m anticipating that will take up much of the day. Good night.