Anging Around in Andalucia
This is my second trip report but the first time I’ve attempted photographs. They are on www.kodakgallery.com. I hope you can work out how to view them. If not, maybe someone can give me some advice.
This happened in September 2005. It all started when some friends bought a little house in a white village just north west of Granada. This area had been on my list for ages and suddenly here we were. A few phone calls later, we had a group of friends, a couple of cars and some very loose arrangements. I booked myself on Ryanair Stansted to Granada for the princely sum of £40 round trip.
My friends met me at Granada’s tiny little airport, no waiting for anything as we were the only flight. This was 11.30am one bright and sunny Monday morning after a departure from London at a time I don’t wish to think about. They had hired a car at Granada (Europcar was the best deal) a few days previously and had already sussed out the little house and village. But I digress; we all piled into the car, drove into downtown Granada and parked in one of the huge underground car parks near the station. This was something that would recur throughout my travels in Andalucia: the need to drop the car asap and walk.
First, lunch in one of the squares near the cathedral. Nothing remarkable but essential after a very early start (for me). Thence we set off up the hill to the Alhambra on foot, pleased with our reservations for 3pm and in good time. NB for next time: take the little No30 bus up the hill and arrive at the Alhambra at the correct gate. This time we came in through the Puerta Juderia which is not anywhere near where we needed to pick up our tickets. Much waving of papers and puzzled looks later, we wished one of us had some Spanish but we were wafted further and further through the labyrinthine pathways and finally arrived at the main gate and our tickets. By this time we were at the outer edge of our admission time for the Patio de los Leones and all the best bits.
The queue for admission was daunting, but when I waved our admission time in front of everyone, the crowd parted like the Red Sea and we found ourselves at the front. The sentinels on the gate admitted us at the same time as a party of Japanese tourists. This happens to be the only foreign language I can deal with, so we hung with them and listened to the wisdom from their guide. Forget learning Spanish I thought. It was all indeed astounding and we were entranced. Never ask if it’s ‘worth it’. It is. Whatever has happened to Arabic culture in the 21st Century I wondered to myself, when they achieved all this in the 14th. My camera was worn out with all the pictures I took and if I can work out how to put them online, I will. They aren’t bad.
We got ourselves back down the hill on the bus and collapsed into a bar in the Plaza Nueva for fortification. And thence to the car and our little house in Moclin. This is a traditional local village of white stone houses, no tourists, an old Moorish castle (ruins of), a shop, a bar, and a restaurant of sorts. No English spoken. No street names. Also a bus three times a day to Granada and back.
The little house is a joy. It is in a terrace in Calle Real, has a living room and kitchen and courtyard at the back (nice and shady for lunch). Upstairs are two bedrooms, one double and one with 3 singles. The bathroom is accessed through the double bedroom or off the landing. One more flight up is a fantastic roof terrace for breakfast/drinks/evening musings. Too hot for lunch. The most amazing views over as far as the Sierra Nevada as well as more local views. Oh, and in the courtyard are steps up to another little house with one more twin bedroom and bathroom. Parking in the street outside or (as we did) in the village square one minute away. I’m not advertising this but if you wish to enquire further, look at www.spanishhideaway.co.uk.
Next day was recovery day. We walked around the village, got stuff from the local shop, sat on the roof terrace, chatted and read our books, drank some wine, climbed up to the castle and admired the views. Took lots of pictures. Watched the BBC and CNN on TV and Spirited Away on the DVD player. Called our kids, as we discovered our UK mobiles worked. A day to recover from travelling.
Wednesday and a whole new day. Looked at the map and set off for Montefrio about 15 minutes away by twisty roads. We were glad we parked outside town and walked through the narrow streets to the main square where there was an almighty row going on between a car parker and a traffic warden. We breathed a sigh of relief that we had left the car, and headed for the nearby restaurant for lunch. Looked in the church and climbed the hill to the castle which was very dramatically perched on top. Didn’t go in. Maybe we should’ve. More tiny lanes down into town again, back to the car and back to Moclin in time for aperitifs.
Not long after, more friends arrived in another car, having flown into Malaga and had quite an adventure finding the way to Moclin. This called for drinks in the bar in the main square and dinner at the only bar/restaurant. At last we had a Spanish speaker with us. This was fortunate as there was no menu. We ordered Spanish omelette,(which is called tortilla, a bit of a surprise for me living in Houston where a tortilla is something entirely different in Mexican restaurants). With salad, wine, water and bread it all came to something like 30 euros. For 5 of us. Total. Hmm. Cooked by the wife of the little place, delicious, and more than we could eat.
Next day dawned bright and sunny, a bit cold in the morning but not cold enough to keep us off the roof terrace for breakfast. In fact, we were so busy chatting and catching up (we don’t see each other very often) that it was pushing lunchtime before any of us made a move. 3 of us set off to Jaen, about 40 minutes away, an easy drive up the motorway. But what with our late start, it was too late for lunch by the time we got there and the cathedral was closed. Not sensible. We meandered around but found the town full of construction work (EU money is pouring into Andalucia) and rather uninspiring. Pity, the guidebooks had looked promising. Later we found we should have persevered for the Hamam and battled our way up to the castle. But anyway, we came back to Moclin and had a ruminative aperitif in Bar Caliphato in the square before organizing cooking, TV, ( the English cricket team were celebrating in London ) and weather watching (Hurricane Rita was looking ominous) and our various books.
You will have gathered by now that this trip was more the relaxing-taking-it easy kind rather than the frantic-sightseeing kind. Accordingly, the next day we wandered around the village, took more pictures, chatted to the people in the shop, bought lots of fresh veg in the little market that had blossomed on the side of the street. Had lunchtime drinks in the courtyard and happy-hour drinks on the roof. The village is set among almond groves and in our wanderings we saw local people spreading vast nets under the trees and collecting the almonds. We had a sumptuous lunch chez Marcello in the next village. Here there was a menu but when we asked for recommendations he asked what we wanted (fish) and produced vast delicious mountains of it. Preceded by soup and followed by dessert, a couple of bottles of wine and a glass each of the local aquavita, this time the bill was 65 euros. For 5 of us. At this point 2 of us had to go back to rainy old London so we were down to one car again, but still had our Spanish speaker.
Up bright and early next day for our reservations for the gardens of the Generalife. We had been unable to get a booking for the main part of the Alhambra at our local bank (lack of forward planning had meant we had tried to book locally). However, watch this space. We parked in the underground car park in Granada again and got a bus along to Plaza Nueva and another one up to the Alhambra. 95 cents a go. Waiting to pick up our Generalife tickets at 10am, we heard an announcement (in Spanish and English) telling us there were 300 tickets available for the main palace. We grabbed them quick (not all 300).
Spent a relaxing morning ambling around the gardens of earthly delight, went down the hill by bus for lunch in one of the little places in Plaza Nueva, and up again for our big event at 2pm. This was my second time in a week! It was even better this time as there were fewer people, fewer groups, the weather was already cooler and we had more time. What a joy. Go and see it for yourself. And read Tales of the Alhambra. My copy has evocative sketches dating from the 1830s when Washington Irving was there. You could imagine him camped in one of the courtyards. We got chatting to some Moroccan women who told us they felt at home when they saw the hamam.
Back down the hill in the early evening, we looked for tapas but they seemed thin on the ground. It was an early Sunday evening in mid-September, probably not enough tourists to make it worth opening. After finding a couple of uninspiring places, we bought some stuff and headed back to Moclin.
Up and out bright and early again the next day for a trip to the Alpujarras. Driving over Lemons. The first bit of the trip was a doddle down the motorway with a stop at The Moor’s Last Sigh in the hills just south of Granada. Reputedly the place where the last Moorish prince turned and took a last look at the city he had lost. And sighed. Who wouldn’t after losing a jewel like Granada. The is a little restaurant with a pool and some accommodation which was rather hard to find. We followed some tentative brown signs off the motorway and followed our noses for the last bit. Coffee and a panoramic view from the top of the building. Thence we continued south, branching off the motorway following signs to Lanjarron. The road got narrower. And twistier. Lanjarron was a bit of a disappointment. We were hoping to see picturesque streets and houses, but the one long long narrow main street was full of traffic and boring-looking hotels. We realized that Lanjarron was a spa town, has been for a long time, and thus full of busloads of elderly Spanish health tourists taking the waters. We pushed on and the road began to climb quite steeply as we got into the Alpujarras itself.
First stop was the little village of Pampaneira. There was a collection of clothing stalls in the little car park, couldn’t really call it a market. We mooched around the village for quite a while. It was packed with local shops selling all kinds of crafts, and the houses were so picturesque it was difficult to stop taking pictures. There were flower boxes all over, little twisty lanes hanging onto the edge of the cliffs, houses with funny little chimneys which had been originally built by the Berbers, or at least in the same style. I found an old windmill which had been converted into housing. Pampaneira is a thriving craft village cashing in on its spectacular siting. There were plenty of restaurants and bars in the square and this presented us with a dilemma: do we have lunch here or move on?? In the end we found our car (via a little bookshop with plenty of local colour in English, notably South From Granada and Driving Over Lemons) and headed on upwards.
The next village in our guidebook was Bubion, which seemed to straddle the main road (if you can call it that). Wisely or unwisely, we pressed on up the hill aiming for Capileira. Here we ambled around the village, sighed at the views all around the mountains, tramped up and down and around the little streets until we found ourselves in the main square, gasping for lunch. There was one hangout full of young people drinking away the lunch-hour and listening to the latest sounds. We moved across to the other one, in a corner, and settled in under huge umbrellas and ordered a selection of original vegetarian dishes to share, glasses of red wine but not the local Costa stuff which we found undrinkable ( and that’s saying something given our drinking habits…) I wish I could remember the name of the place, they were out of cards too so we couldn’t pick one up. Anyway, it’s the only restaurant in the square other than the noisy one! We mooched around the local shops, again, mostly crafts, and poured ourselves into the car for the long and winding road back down the hill into civilization.
Our final big day of sightseeing involved an epic trip to Cordoba. We duly got up and out and on the road before the seduction of breakfast on the roof terrace tempted us to waste the morning. All went well, Cordoba was about 90 minutes and seemed straightforward. However, we got horribly horribly lost in the maze of streets which got narrower and narrower as we tried to find the big underground car park near the station. It must’ve taken us a good hour to finally get there. What a relief to get out of the car. We made a mental note to go by train next time, if there is a next time.
Once above ground we asked the way to the Mezquita, keeping a weather eye open for a coffee shop on the way. Found a delightful Arab Salon de The just around the corner from the Mezquita, a shady courtyard, gurgling fountain and all. A very welcome interlude, mint tea and baklava. Yummy.
And so through the twisty windy streets of the old Jewish quarter to finally debouche into the square in front of what we had come to see. There had been a moment in that car earlier when we had begun to wonder if we would ever make it. Tickets were 8 euros and queues were short. We were suddenly inside the most amazing building. A real jaw-dropper. And when it was originally built it was designed to have no walls. That must’ve been a sight to behold. I hope my pictures come up with this report, words don’t do justice.
After a couple of hours there (how nice not to be on a tour group and hurried and herded) we wandered through the twisty narrow streets outside and finally collapsed in 3 heaps in one of the many tapas bars/restaurants nearby. This was a long lunch, took at least 2 hours, a bottle of wine and tapas that kept coming and coming. We finally made it back to the car and out of Cordoba with less trouble than our arrival, but our exit was by no means straightforward either.
The flowing day the others went reluctantly back to Malaga and Cardiff. I was left in solitary splendour in the little house, watching CNN avidly to see if Hurricane Rita would hit Houston and my husband. There was no internet access and no public phone in Moclin, though I had CNN and a UK mobile! My daughter sent me text messages from London after phoning her father to check that he and Houston were still there. Meanwhile I walked around Moclin, chatted to the people in the shop, met another English woman and ended up in Bar Caliphato drinking coffee for most of the morning. Spent the afternoon on the roof terrace with my book and my phone. It wasn’t looking good.
Next day I packed up, locked and left the little house on the 9am bus into Granada. 2.95 euros. It took just over an hour, via lots of similar villages before hitting the main road into Granada. It dropped me at the station where I bought a ticket on the next train to Seville and had another breakfast in a café nearby while I waited. No need for advance reservations at all The train was on time, clean and streamlined, stopped once or twice, and got me to Seville in 3 hours. Taxi to my hotel (the traffic was horrendous) where there was a slight hiccup as they tried to walk me down the street to another less salubrious place . I told them firmly that I had made a reservation a month before and waved the printed-out copy in their faces. In the end I finished up in a cupboard just off the reception area in the main hotel. Wondered if they often do this kind of thing to single foreign women and suspected they do. Would not recommend this hotel, but it was only a couple of nights and I had too many other things to do than make a bigger fuss.
I set off to walk around the centre of Seville and get a feel for the place. It felt very nice. I also got myself into an internet café and found many many e mails from friends wondering if we were in Houston and still alive. Didn’t manage to phone my husband as he had no power! But in fact, Rita missed and everyone that end breathed a big sigh of relief. He was marooned in the house for a few days as all the freeways were jammed with the entire population of Houston who had set off to get away, run out of gas and were stranded. I meanwhile was swanning around Seville without a care in the world.
Next morning I was out and about bright and early. Got breakfast in a café somewhere
and made for the Barrio de Santa Cruz. It’s hard to say where I actually went that day as I spent all my time walking around. Saw the Cathedral ( there was a service in progress) the Alcazar ( a bit too full of pushy tourists for my liking but indisputably magnificent), Plaza de Espana, (loved the tilework) Casa de Pilatos ( quiet and shady, a good rest from the clamour outside). Sat in the shade in the Jardines de Murillo, walked along the river and watched the boats, and walked miles and miles through the streets of the downtown area, stopping here and there for fortification. Ended up footsore and weary at the Museo de Bellas Artes in the early evening. There was a special exhibition on there and the place was full of local Sevillians in their finery strolling around the gallery admiring the paintings and each other. This museum is in an evocative building worth looking at in itself. There were very few tourists and I saw no tour buses at all, maybe because it’s slightly off the beaten track it’s a nice way to spend an evening when you’re on your own.
Next day it was back to Santa Justa and the train to Granada. 15 euros one way, no advance reservation. Got me to Granada around 3pm from whence I found a local bus to my hotel just off the Plaza del Carmen. And what a pleasant surprise. This hotel, Carlos V, was only a 2 star and a little difficult to find, but had been newly renovated and was perfect. There was a bar terrace with fantastic views over the city, internet access, sparkling new facilities in my room. I loved it. The people in reception were very helpful with directions and off I went with my camera for a last shot of the Albaycin.
I must have walked and walked for hours up and down the windy streets, round and round, looking at Moorish doorways, arches, old rambling gardens, wonderful views of the Alhambra across the valley. I finished up coming down the hill through the ‘souk’ where I stopped for mint tea and shopped for things I shall get in Morocco next year. As I came down into the main drag in Granada, there was a lengthy procession winding through the streets. It went on for hours and made it very difficult to get back to the hotel. All the traffic was stopped, crowds made it impossible to get through and the whole town seemed to be out in their finery. It was the last Sunday in September and a celebration of Granada’s birthday. And finally to a little restaurant in the Plaza de Principe recommended by the hotel. I must definitely come back to Granada, hardly scratched the surface of all there is to see. September is a good month too, the heat and the crowds are manageable.
The airport bus was on time and so was Ryanair. I was back in chilly rainy London all too soon with packets of tea from Granada to remind us all of the fragrances of Andalucia.
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Anging Around in Andalucia