Granada

October 30, 2015 - Granada, Spain

In the wake of the attacks in Paris Friday evening, I just wanted to reassure anyone who might be concerned that I am no longer in Paris. Being there so recently makes the horror of it more real, and even England and Belgium (where I am now) feel too close for comfort. People were visibly on alert when I passed through London's Gatwick airport yesterday, and North Terminal was almost deserted when I landed Saturday, having just come out of lockdown. I don't know what to say about the attacks, except that I am so sad that they happened and I am thinking of all the victims and their families. I have contacted Julien and Léa by Facebook (as well as Anouk) and they are shocked by the events but say that they are safe and their life goes on as close to normally as it can. I am also thinking of all the people suffering in other areas of the world that are receiving much less media attention: Beirut, Baghdad, and so many others. It's scary to think about how much horror there is in the world right now, and terrifying that it feels like it's getting worse, as if there weren't enough people dying already. But since right now there is little I can do to help anyone in France or other places, I will go on with what I planned to write about: the next stage of my journey, which ironically began in Paris.

After leaving Paris, I spent four days in Granada, Spain. I was originally going straight to Gibraltar and the start of my next planned adventure, but I ended up having a few days free and my mom suggested I check out Granada. Getting there didn't go exactly as planned; since my flight was so early from Charles de Gaulle airport, I had to get there the night before. After saying goodnight Julien and Léa, I took one of the last vans to the airport with easyBus at midnight, and unfortunately after the van had driven away I realized I had given the driver my boarding pass instead of my ticket! Tickets for easyBus and easyJet are so similar that the driver himself didn't even realize anything was wrong! Since the airport was essentially shut down and there was no one to ask, I tried to look up whether easyJet would print my boarding pass despite requiring everyone to check-in online. I couldn't find any conclusive answer, and it only made me more worried because I found out that Ryanair, another budget airline, charges passengers between 40 and 70 euros to print passes at the airport! Essentially I spent the four hours until the check-in desks opened extremely stressed out, and then when they finally did at 4:30 it turned out to be fine; the agent printed my passes without comment! Whew. :)

After that, the bus to Granada and two city buses to my hostel were a breeze, despite the slight shock of a new language, and I found myself in the welcoming entryway of Oasis Backpackers' Hostel Granada. After spending four days there, I will say that if you are ever traveling on a low budget (or even if you're not!), you should definitely stay in an Oasis hostel. They are an unusual small chain of hostels with the mentality that a hostel should help its guests discover the place they're in, instead of just being a place to sleep. They offer free tours, help you buy tickets to local attractions, and work hard to cultivate an atmosphere of discovery and community. The one in Granada was clean, friendly, and cheap, with nice rooms, a welcoming common room, a 3€ all-you-can-eat breakfast every morning, and a 24-hour front desk. The city of Granada is lovely too, with typical Spanish character and an Arabic twist.

The first free tour that I took thanks to the hostel was a tour of the Albayzin neighborhood, the oldest neighborhood in Granada and where the hostel is located. It is the area in Granada with the most Islamic influence (complete with with felafel shops, to my excitement), and it was really cool to see it in the early evening, when it was quiet and everything was alight. We also got lots of lovely views over the city, including of the Alhambra palace. At the end of the tour, the guide took us to his favorite tapas bar, Poe, for drinks and delicious tapas. There were vegetarian options – a chickpea salad and a ratatouille-like sampling of cooked vegetables. This was when I was introduced to a nice particularity of Granada: throughout the city, tapas are free with a drink of any type. In some places, you can get up to three different small dishes with one drink for a few euros! This tour was so fun mostly because the guide, Max from Argentina, was so friendly and cheerful.

The next day, I took a tour of the street art and caves of the three oldest districts of Granada: Albayzin, Realejo, and Sacromonte. The city's most famous street artist, El Niño de las Pinturas, has decorated walls and buildings throughout Realejo, the historical Jewish district, which was where we went first. We also saw a garden with a pond, pretty trees, and peacocks. At the end of the tour, we visited the caves of Sacromonte, where many people live permanently, and got to see the inside of one where a friend of our guide lived. It was cozy and consisted of small whitewashed rooms separated by brick arches. After a steep climb to the highest point in Granada, we got sunset views over the whole city, then walked back to the hostel. The whole tour took four hours, and it was much more intense than I was expecting, but I really enjoyed the exercise.

On Thursday I went to Alhambra palace with new friends Veronica and Leandro. Leandro carried the map and made sure we didn't miss any of the “must-see” spots as we walked around the extensive gardens. They were beautiful, and it was cool to see the little channels flowing down the hill with water for the city's fountains. We went to the palace for our assigned time slot, but to be honest I enjoyed the gardens more than the palace, which was nice but didn't seem as impressive as others I’ve been to. That evening we went on a “tapas tour”, where the guide from my first tour (Max) showed us his three favorite tapas bars. I tried a local rosé at one but didn't like it much, so after that I stuck to Sprite! There were nice vegetarian options, and at one bar they made a special salad for me since the fixed menu dishes had meat.

On my last full day in Granada, I spent most of the day hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I went with five friends that I made; three of them just did a short hike and then went back to the hostel earlier, but I went on a really long hike with Andrew from Sydney, Australia, and Veronica (a different one) from New York City. It was so much fun, and all of us were so excited to get out of the city and spend the whole day outside in such a beautiful setting (we left the hostel at 10:30 and didn't get back until 6:30!). At first we followed the main trail, but then we went exploring on little things that may not even have been trails at all, and got beautiful views along the valley, and discovered small streams and a waterfall. We stopped to eat some chips, bananas, and cookies we'd bought in the town below, then took a different route back, crossing the river on several suspension bridges and getting closer to the waterfall. It had been an absolutely glorious day, almost too hot when we were up on the hillsides at midday, but a nice temperature for the rest of the time. And it was great to have such a successful hike with minimal planning and two people I'd met less than a day before! It was the kind of lovely spontaneous thing I've been dreaming of, that you can do when you're backpacking alone and you're completely open to making new friends. :)

All in all, Granada was definitely worth the bus detour, and much better than spending those days in Gibraltar, where there is not much to do. I kept extending my stay in Granada as I found more things I wanted to do, and the person manning the front desk in the hostel got to know me quite well! It was a wonderful taste of backpacking life in its best form, and an exciting time of independence after having stayed with people I knew. I was one of the youngest at the hostel, but despite that one of the most experienced with this lifestyle, and people often assumed I was older. When they found out my age, almost everyone told me they wished they had done what I'm doing when they were 18, instead of not traveling on their own until later. It made me really appreciate the travel opportunities I've already had and that I am able to do this now!


Pictures

Hostel Bedroom
City View at Sunset
Tapas with Veronica
New Friends in the Hostel Lobby
 
 

5 Comments

Dad:
November 17, 2015
What a beautiful and fascinating place! The suspension bridge looks very cool.
Kathleen & Ralph:
November 18, 2015
You're my idol, Becky girl! You just keep it up. Hugs from Ralph and me.
Lola:
November 20, 2015
I adore that restoration worker's outfit. And extrano el espanol y el arabe tanto, estoy tan celosa de ti...

I'm so glad everything is still going well for you, though! Your ability to make friends is supernatural.
linda:
November 22, 2015
Love reading your blog. Very nice words about the Paris bombing - and there I was worried when you went to Jordan. Hope you are enjoying Belguim. Hugs and kisses
barbara:
December 14, 2015
We loved Granada when we visited Spain in April. One of our favorite places. Especially after coming from Vermont after such a long cold winter....the gardens were amazing. We visited the tea rooms and the tapa's menu also doubled as a kids menu!!!
Love, Aunt Barbara
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