Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Spain 6

Someone has asked for extra photos of the Alhambra so I'll do that in a separate post. I took a 'night' bus. The trip was only 5 hours, so I didn't get much if any sleep. It didn't help that the driver played the radio and stopped to let people off to use the washroom in a way station half way through the trip. Granada was surprisingly cold. I was hoping for one day where I could wear shorts but no luck. It was cloudy pretty much the whole time I was there but never really rained. I checked into my hostel which HAD KITCHEN FACILITIES. Finally, hot food again (I was getting pretty tired of bread, cheese and soup by this point - yes, I eat lousily on vacation, leaves more money for travelling).
I started in the Albaycin (the old Moorish quarter - a 'maze of streets', which was surprisingly easy to navigate for the most part). It's on one of the mountains, so it's a mass of narrow streets and stairs. I took the picture to the side because I couldn't figure out how the owner got the motorcycle there (it was stairs up and down). I guess he/she could have ridden it, people were pretty crazy. Drivers had to go slowly because there wasn't actually enough room in a lot of places to drive by walkers, let alone other cars (walkers had to stand in doorways to let cars pass). Motorcyclists however whipped by at speeds I thought were suicidal. Lots of the walls were graffiti'd, some with nice photos, some with, well, graffiti.
I went to Sacramonte next, a mountain that overlooks the Alhambra. It's famous for its cave houses. (The Alhambra is partially on the left - it's a huge complex of buildings, Sacramonte is on the right. The city is in the centre, at the end of that forested valley.)
On my 3rd day in the city I went to the museum and had a glimpse of how people lived. The ceilings were pretty low for the most part, but the houses were quite cozy. Lots of stuff hanging on hooks from the ceiling or walls and little nooks and crannies everywhere. The view of the Alhambra and the city were great. The bazaar near the cathedral had all sorts of items, as seen in the photo here. Gelato stores were everywhere too. They had the yummiest displays. But it was soooo expensive (generally 2 euro for a tiny scoop). The last photo is a cool ad I saw on the way to the bus station.


Maria said...

This is the city that I have picked out so far as to where we might go. But you have some fabulous pictures of some of the other cities too.

How did you decide where you wanted to go? Did you just pick hostels and then go from there (ie where they had them, there you went?)

The city above this, those are some gorgeous pictures. I have a lot to learn before I can figure this trip out!!!

Jessica Strider said...

Granada was high on my list due to the Alhambra, which is mentioned in a book I love (North & South - Elizabeth Gaskell). It's also a beautiful example of medieval moorish architecture, even if it was restored incorrectly.

I stayed at a mix of youth hostels and cheap hotels. You can find a lot of decent hotels (25 euro a night for a single) everywhere, and books like Lonely Planet, Let's Go and Fodor's list them (I wrote down 2-3 per city in case my first choice was booked).

I had 2 friends who'd been to Spain who recommended a few cities. Santiago was my reason for choosing Spain in the first place (I wanted the pilgrimmage experience, which is similar to the fantasy novel questors experience). Other places I picked because of the DK guide. It's mostly a pictoral guide so you don't have to judge what you want to see based on a description, you can actually see what the place is like.

Spain is gorgeous though. Any city you choose to visit will be worth the trip. And I missed out on a lot by doing so many cities so quickly.

As for food, it's expensive if you go to restaurants. Sit inside to cut costs (the patio is more expensive). I bought food at grocery stores, which was problematic as they're fairly small with the expectation that you'll have a kitchen. I got a delicious gazpacho soup though and the brie is very cheap. Also, bread shops have affordable prepared lunches if you don't want to stop at a restaurant (this is what the natives seemed to do). In Madrid I did splurge for chocolate with churrios (3 euro). Expensive but worth it.

If you're planning a trip, I'd pick up the DK guide (I'm sure the library has it - or browse though it at a bookstore) and see what interests you. I studied medieval history so I spent most of my time in the old cities, which is where the majority of my photos were from.

As for transportation, I wouldn't recommend driving. It looked pretty nerve wracking the way the streets went. The bus system is well established, timely and affordable. Trains go to most cities though they're sometimes slower than buses and cost more.

If you've got more questions, please ask. I love talking about my trips!

Maria said...

Thanks--that's really helpful, especially about the food. We generally look for accomodations with a kitchen or kitchenette when we travel so that we can keep costs down. I had looked into what would work best in Spain and was having a devil of a time. There's ALWAYS a secret to it. In France it was pubs--they serve the best, cheapest FASTEST food, but who would think of going to what we think of as a bar?

In Switzerland it was half-board--the hotel provides breakfast and dinner and you pack a lunch. Definitely the cheapest way to travel and they really go all out on the food prep. (Whereas here, hotel food is fast, but not generally considered the greatest!)

I'm trying to gather info on renting a single place so that we can hunker down and do one city really well. Dad loves churches and musuems. That military place (I can't spell yet) looks like it would be right up our alley. He also like local crafts, bull fights (not me, thanks) and flamenco dancing. It's really hard to narrow down a city. There seems like there is so much to see, but a smaller city (as opposed to, say Barcelona) will definitely be easier on all of us. We're country folk and crowds are hard on dad--as is getting used to a different transportation system. No way would be drive. We tried that once in France when we were traveling on business and had no other choice. YIKES. Very avoidable. VERY.

Granada looks like it's got enough cities close enough that we could bus away for a day trips if we wanted, yet probably have enough to keep us busy the whole week.

It's so difficult to plan something so far away.

I gathered you're a writer (aren't we all?) and it's good that you took so many pictures. I've often found that i want to write about someplace I've been. But it isn't the castle or the museum. It's some little store I was in that made an impression on me. I don't have a picture of course, because it was *just* a store. Yet, that's the thing that I need in my scene...


Maria said...

Oh yeah--Malaga was another city I thought might make a nice home base...but it is probably too far from other things (it's so nice and small though...)

I'll have to see how far it is from Granada.

And thanks for the tips on the buses. I would have automatically assumed trains were the way to go.

Did you just buy a ticket at stations when you need them? Did they run on time and between cities as well as within cities?

I'll look into that book. I know our library doesn't have it. Not that much info on traveling at our library for some reason.


Maria said...

Another question for you--since you've obviously read so much on the subject--and good books that cover some general history of Spain in a YA length/format? Dad has eye problems and can't read for long periods, but I'd really like him to have a sense of Spain before we go. Something with a few specific stories (the history itself is so long and tangled--I have "Iberia" and it's just got too much to get your hands around). A few specific stories will help anchor him and give him a sense about the place--but if I give him something too long, he won't read it.

Perhaps there is a particular character or time period that is full of more intrigue than others--or some particular events (even something around the time of Columbus?) that you can recommend.

Hard question I know--but the more specific and dynamic, the easier it will be for him to read. At the library, I notice the history books for Juniors and YA are easier to read--dad doesn't need to memorize dates, but rather, get a sense/feel for the place.


If you have any thoughts...


Jessica Strider said...

Sorry, I'vse been busy so I haven't had the chance to respond.

Granada is a great city if you want to see a lot of different things. It has a royal mausoleum in one of its chapels, along with a cathedral and other 'minor' churches. It's got the Alhambra and some nice shops around the Cathedral and Alhambra route. And it's known for its flamenco dancing (as a lot of Gypsies live in the area and it's one of their crafts).

Unfortunately Granada was the only city I did in that area so I can't tell you about any of the other places around there.

Intercity buses all ran on time (though, due to traffic they might not arrive on time). You buy tickets as you need them from the office, and learn the Spanish for this (at least to write down what you need) as ticket agents don't always speak English.

For food, bars are also a good option if you want tapas. The Albaycin in Granada had good food for decent prices.

As for books, I read the story of El Cid before I left but didn't have time for anything else. A new kids/teen book that's just come (coming?) out is The Apprentice's Masterpiece by Melanie Little. It's set in medieval spain. If you want a short adult novel, anything by Arturo Perez-Revertez would do. He writes mostly about the 17th century I think, Alexander Dumas style stories. I don't know anything else off hand, but I'll ask at work today to see if there are other teen books.

Maria said...

Thanks! I'll look into those books and make a note of the other things.

All of it helps. I have to read through and study a ton before I select a few things. I knew that area had a lot of flamenco dancing (and I'd rather see that than bull fighting by a long shot!)

So much to see, so little time to study!!!

I'll check back and see if you find anymore books!!!

Maria said...

Well buying the eyewitness travel guide didn't help any. Now there's just 10 more places that I want to go...

It's a big country!!! Too much to see!!!

Jessica Strider said...

Yeah, sorry about that. Finding lots of places you want to visit is the price of getting actual pictures rather than descriptive passages in the book. Why do you think I went to so many? And even then, I had to cut out a lot of places that were simply too far out of my way.

And it's a gorgeous country. No matter where you go you'll love it.

I guess that's why people go back...

Maria said...

I'm now leaning towards maybe making the central location somewhere near Madrid rather than Granada. We'd probably end up missing the Alhambra (feel free to state your opinion on that) but we'd get to see Toledo, Avila, Segovia, some of the other castles around...depending on where I find accomodations (Don't really want to be in Madrid due to the size of the place, but we'll see what I find!)

The other option is to do Barcelona area, although getting around by bus seemed harder up there. I love, love, love hiking, but dad can't do much of that anymore...and so that should probably be a different trip if I ever make it back that way. It appears to be completely differen architecture as well up in that area.

BTW when the guidebook says "get a coach" is that a private car with driver or is it a fancy bus as opposed to regular route public busses?

I've got the library looking for "Northern Spain" and "madrid" eyewitness books. Depending on what I learn, I'll buy one of them.

The coast looks fascinating too--but that would be a Vacation spot as opposed to a learn and sitesee all over the place--if you know what I mean. :>)

I also found a book called "The Medieval Spains" by Bernanrd Reilly--I'm debating whether to get that as a history. Reviewers mention that it is dry...

Jessica Strider said...

It really is hard making decisions when it comes to travelling. There's so much to see and do that it's hard to limit yourself to only a few things.

Settling in the Madrid area and taking day trips would be great for visiting a lot of cities. Toledo and Segovia both have areas where you can hike, as well as tourist sites. I'd probably skip Avila if I did the trip again (the walls were impressive and the Cathedral was nice, but there wasn't much else to see or do and several other cities also had walls and nice cathedrals so...)

Granada was nice, but if you have to choose, I'd probably do the Madrid area. I didn't get up to Barcelona so I can't comment on that. As for a coach, my guess is it's a regular intercity bus, but I can't be sure without seeing the passage it's used in.

Maria said...

Good info, thanks. One of the library holds came in today (history book). That may help. Another friend of mine is headed to the barcelona area, which just sounds fascinating.

Maybe I should ask--what cities would you go BACK to? The comment about Avila reallly helps; that's the kind of thing that is very valuable--can save us a lot of time and help us be focused.

Another person I know said that Segovia is easily worth a day or in her opinion, even staying there as a base. It seems a little out of the way. I think you really enjoyed Toledo? There were cities that you mentioned didn't take as much time as you thought. I'd be interested in that list too...

Thanks. When you get tired of me, just send me on my way!

Jessica Strider said...

Segovia would make a decent base as it's only 1 1/2 to 2 hours from many sites (Madrid, Avila, El Escorial - if there's a bus that goes there, I didn't check, Salamanca would be a bit further but doable). It's a beautiful city with a few nice sites and a valley where you can hike (unfortunately it was raining the day I was there so I didn't do as much walking as I would have otherwise). I did hear it has more expensive accomodations and food than Madrid though.

I liked Toledo because it was a very medieval city (and that's my background). It also has a few hiking opportunities. In fact, if you had a car, there are a lot of tour possibilities in the area (for culture, nature, etc - I saw maps advertising this but didn't have the means or time to pursue it). It's also a great place to buy inexpensive but good quality swords!

Of the cities I visited Avila's probably the only one I wouldn't go back to, simply beacuse the walls and cathedral were repeated at other cities.

How much time a city takes really depends on what you want to see there - and/or if you want to relax and soak up the atmosphere. I focused on cathedrals, castles and other historical sites, so I didn't need much time in some places. I found though, that the places I liked the most were the ones where I'd scheduled extra time and really got to look around (go shopping, wander and get lost on small side streets discovering parks and beautiful views).

Spain's a gorgeous country regardless of where you end up. So decide how you want to spend your trip. If you're interested in nature Madrid has some wonderful rose gardens and large parks. In fact, most cities I visited had some sort of tree'd lane and gardens.