Friday, June 12, 2009
Granada: palace and parador
Another train on Wednesday, and we were in Granada by early afternoon. Granada was the city I'd originally meant to skip. We'd made plans for an extra day in Madrid, and a leisurely journey to Sevilla on Thursday. Some extra time in both places, and a day without travel. Perfect.
Plans changed about two weeks before the trip. A coworker, telling me about her own Spanish vacation, said the best part had been Granada. In particular, staying in a magnificent parador inside the Alhambra's walls. Uh-oh. I have a weakness for unique lodgings, and my lingering pre-trip regret was not working in a stay at any of Spain's paradors. I did some research and learned that the Parador de San Francisco, a 14th century mosque-turned-convent-turned-hotel, is the most famous parador in Spain. Unfortunately, reservations need to be made months in advance. I emailed the parador anyway. Wonder of wonders, they had a room available! A suite, actually. An amazingly expensive suite. No matter. We were totally in.
Our taxi from the train station took us right into the Alhambra. (Which is best thought of as a small city, lest you wonder how the taxi managed to get inside.) There it dawned on us that perhaps we hadn't done as much research as we could have. It turns out you don't just wander up to the Alhambra in the afternoon and expect to see the palaces that day. Tickets go on sale at 8:00 a.m., and sometimes people are queued up at 6:00 a.m. The parador offered to set us up with a guided tour the next morning, but we were scheduled to take a train to Sevilla at 10:00 a.m. Clearly, that wasn't going to cut it. You can't come to Granada, stay at the Alhambra, and not visit the palaces. After some quick schedule triage, we decided: tour Thursday morning, and an afternoon train to Sevilla. If something had to be sacrificed, it wouldn't be this.
Following a brief survey of our impressive suite (and view), we set out to explore the Alhambra. We couldn't go everywhere, but there was still plenty to see. We spent a few hours wandering, then returned to the parador for an amazing and very late lunch. It turned out to be a one-meal day; at least it was a good one. One thing we'd already learned: odds of finding food past 1:00 a.m. anywhere in Spain were very slim.
Back to town. Switching trains involved returning to the Renfe station, where I was forced to use my Spanish for something beyond pleasantries. Though we had the world's most unhelpful clerk, we succeeded in securing tickets for the following afternoon. That accomplished, we headed to the Palacio de Congresos neighborhood. We walked along the river (unlike Málaga, not dry), stopped at a bar where everyone was glued to a Nadal tennis match, and I visited my first Corte Inglés. Then, concert #3. To be honest, the things I remember most about the Granada show were the abundance of English speakers in attendance and the fact that the show conflicted with a huge futbol match between Barcelona and Manchester United (allowing us to improve our seats dramatically). Smaller crowd notwithstanding, it was an excellent way to spend a Wednesday night.
Returning to the parador took longer than expected due to police blockades. People were really pumped about Barcelona's win. We ate a meal of complimentary Parador petit fours and wine, and got some rest for the grand Alhambra tour in the morning. The tour was an infinitely better use of our time than an early train would have been. Our guide took us on a leisurely stroll through the Generalife first. We then walked through the gardens and back past the parador, stopping at a shop to see fancy woodwork in the making before entering the main palaces. Each ticket has an entry time, and the number of people is limited each day. Hence, the queues.
The palaces were amazing. The detailed stonework was like nothing I'd ever seen on a grand scale. We learned that most of it was done piece by piece in molds and then attached to the walls. The effect of it is stunning, as is the intricate tile work. Our guide was very informative, although she seemed oddly intent on telling us where every single bathroom in the palaces had been located. When we'd finally had our fill of patios, arches, and courts we returned to the parador for one more great lunch. Then it was back to the train station. Time for Sevilla.