Arab Baths, Morocco, and Tapas in Granada

Trip Start Apr 25, 2007
Trip End Oct 03, 2007

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Sometimes you are lucky to find the perfect apartment in the perfect part of a city. Granada was for us one of these times. I had discovered the Spanish website a few years ago when looking for an apartment in Valencia, and ever since we had been trying to mostly rent apartments instead of hotels for our few days here and few days there. The one we found in Granada turned out to be in the middle of the Albaicin, the old Arab quarter, with views from the wraparound terrace straight to the Alhambra and the mountains behind. There were actually four apartments in this lovely house run by a half Japanese, half Spanish family who kept flowers on the terraces, used traditional décor, and put charm in every corner.
Excited by our temporary home in Granada, we set out to explore. On our way down to the Plaza Nueva, we ended up on a street that looked more like Morocco to us than anything we ever saw in Morocco. (Why did we even go to Morocco, we thought, where we got hustled, robbed, and food poisoning, when we could have just come to Granada?). The narrow pedestrian street, Calderia Nueva, was lined with Moroccan tea houses where you could drink tea and smoke a hookah, Lebanese, Moroccan, and Syrian restaurants, and shops selling spices, Middle Eastern food products, and the ubiquitous lanterns, pointy shoes and belly dancing gear. Still, it was all fascinating to us.
Making mental notes of where we wanted to come back for dinner, we continued on to the Plaza Nueva, then on up to the Hammam Arab baths, where we made an appointment to soak and get massages. Since we had tried unsuccessfully to get tickets to the Alhambra on the website as well as at the bank BBVA (everything was sold out), we found an office inside the cathedral museum where we could buy a "bono" for 25 Euros. This would get us into the Alhambra the next day, a few museums and monasteries, and free bus rides. Happy with our success, we rewarded ourselves with Moroccan sweets, delicious, gooey pastries with almonds and pistachios. We then followed the river up to a quiet square with a fountain, dozed in the sun, and made our way back home.
After enjoying breakfast on our terrace the next day, we headed down to the Plaza Nueva and hopped a bus to the Alhambra. We were lucky to be going early enough, 11am, and on a weekday, so that it was not too crowded. We only had to slip past three or four large tour groups instead of the hundreds I imagine appear on the weekends. The Alhambra consists of several buildings, the Generalife, and the gardens, so it can take quite a while to cover everything. The views were magnificent, especially since we could see the mountains, and the palace walls, with their intricate carvings, were beautiful. After about three or four hours we had had enough, and walked back down to town on a tree-lined pedestrian street, ready for a nap.
That evening we decided to try the famous tapas bars where we'd heard that with every drink order, you get a free tapa. This was indeed the case at the Bodegas Castaneda, one of the oldest tapas bar in Granada. This place seemed to be full every hour of the day, and I could see why. We had tapas of trucha (raw trout), mojama (dried tuna), and the atmosphere was one of jovial madness. We then continued on to the Bodegas Antigua, where we also had free tapas, papas al pobre (poor man's potatoes). Thinking earlier we were going out to dinner, we quickly gave up on that idea, stuffed to the gills as we were with tapas, so we went home.
Our last day in Granada we went to the Hammam baths, where we were ready for massages and relaxation. We entered the dressing area and changed into our bathing suits, then into the baths, which were dimly lit and had candles in corners of the rooms. There was an area at the front for showering, then a small, cold pool around the corner, beyond which was the warmer, larger pool. Everything was very quiet and soothing until about six twenty-something American girls came shrieking in, but they were immediately hushed by the two men getting ready to do their work on us. One by one we were called up to get massages. Dan was lucky, because he not only got the more handsome of the two (although I am sure he didn't notice), but he also got the better massage. Mine only lasted about 15 minutes, and while it was relaxing, I found it annoying that my masseur kept sssh-ing people in the pool when they got too loud, disturbing my daydreaming that I was actually somewhere in the ancient Middle East being pampered by my own harem of handsome hammam attendants. Nevertheless, I enjoyed floating afterwards in the pool in the dim candle light, and came out refreshed and clean into the Granada sun.
That night we found a Lebanese restaurant where we had stuffed zucchini and lamb tangine with prunes and almonds, and a bottle of red wine. We strolled back to our apartment through the dark Albaicin and sat out on our terrace for one last, long look at the Alhambra. Granada had certainly been one of our favorite places so far, and I planned on coming back someday. But for now, it was back to the beach for our long drive up the coast to Barcelona.
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