My initial impression of the city coming in from the bus station is not too convincing, but once I am in the core of the town, I understand the charm of Granada. Itīs a picturesque little town, snuggling aginst the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains and full of history (is there a city in Spain that isnīt I wonder?). My wee little hostel is not the most exciting, looks a bit like a barn and in need of renovations, but serves its purpose. I crash Oasis Hostel up the street for their daily activity schedule. Alhambra tickets are impossily hard to get and I donīt count on being so lucky.
First a word of advice for Granada: You will be conflicted as to whether to look up at the buildigns, mountains, views....or down to avoid the largest and most numerous dog turds I have encounterd so far
. My tip: Look down. Stop to look up.
On day one, I join an informative walking tour with yet another Italian tour guide, then I canīt find the art walk I intended to join. Instead, I decide to walk up the mountain to see the caves people are squatting in for years. The caves donīt blow me away, but the view is incredible. I run into a young French hippie and his South American indigenous looking companion. Bizarre fellow. I am just befriending a cute little pony (with a not so cute errection) when he asks me if I know if there are stables nearby. He tells me something about rainbows, liking horses and a nude camp in the forrest he just spent three weeks in. He is looking for a cave to spend the night in. Not sure exactly what he is high on, but surely odd, this one.
Back at my hostel, the owner sits in the kitchen with a pile of dry green leaves in front of him. He is "de-stemming things with stems on them" as he calls it. Alright then, good to know the hostel management is self-sufficent.
I am not intending to do much with my evening, when the Italian tour guide walks in asking if I care to join a trip to some hot springs at 10pm
. Sounds like fun. After summoning a few others from my hostel and a rushed dinner, we are off after 10pm, collecting people from other hostels. We leave the city by 11pm. The promised 30 minute drive feels at least like 45 minutes, maybe more. I do not consult a watch. Once we get off the high way, the whole trip starts to feel eery, like we are in the wrong movie (to use a German expression). We drive through dark fields, offroading with a van whose shocks I am not sure are up to this. Finally, we arrive in the middle of nowhere at a field that has a few cars parked and a couple of campers. Right there is a natural pond of steaming water with less than a dozen naked people in it. There is no light, other than the not quite full anymore moon. After a quick walk in the cold night, we know there are two more pools, each getting less hot and with less sulfur than the last. We change in the van (no change rooms or any other facilities like we had mistakenly expected) and jump in. The water is wonderfully hot, like a jacuzzi. I test my underwater camera for the first time. The pictures reveal that the hot water in the first and third pool comes out of what looks like sewer pipes. The middle pool is quite nice with a little waterfall. At least I canīt see the sewer pipe in this one. It would be perfect for a romantic date. My date is the Italian tour guide, her visiting friend from Milan, a young couple from Montreal, two crazy hippie girls from California that live in Mexico and didnīt bother wearing their bikini tops (what happened to American prudishness!?) and one Aussie that has been traveling for the past year and a half, working at hostels along the way to afford it
. In the last pool, a large plastic tarp that came loose is licking our legs while we gaze into the starry sky. The whole experience is quite entertaining in a funny, creepy kind of way. It could have been great fun had I known the people I was with better. We quickly change back into dry clothes in the van and with cans of beer in our hands are on our way back to Granada. I end up not even opening my beer for fear of having it explode in a foamy mess due to the wobbly cross-country ride. We arrive after 3am and I join the hippie girls to pick up a doener kebab to take back to my hostel. It is quite cold out and we all shiver. One of the girls wears the shortest hot pants and is barefoot, the other is wrapped in two bathrobes. In a kebab take-out store. At 3am on Tuesday morning. I collapse into my bunk around 4am, likely smelling of rotten eggs from the sulfur. I should have gone straight up the hill to line up for Alhambra tickets, now that I think of it.
Today, I hike up to Alhambra rather late and in no hopes of getting in. Online tickets were sold out until Thursday when I checked last Wednesday. And other travelersī told me they lined up at 6am, just to have all remaining tickets snapped up in less than 10 minutes. No point in getting up at the crack of dawn just for the fun of an unsuccessful line-up. While I would have loved to see the palace or at least the gardens, I feel like it would just be the doped accumulated version of everything Iīve seen in the last few weeks. Iīll be back for this some other time.
Tonight, I will join a tapas tour and then I am off to Rome tomorrow. I have a new fantasy of me living in Spain for an extended period of time at some point in my life. Maybe when I retire :)
Marrakech compared to Granada now feels like the the same thing, but on steroids. Granadaīs mix of Christian and Arab influence is beautiful and for the culture-shy a great way of discovering Moorish architecture in abeautifully preserved way without any of the challenges and exotic spicyness you might not be up for in Morocco.