I was up very early (5:00 am! on a vacation!) to begin my journey to Granada from Madrid. I needed to walk from the hostal to the subway and transfer subway lines once to get to the Estacion Sur bus terminal. From there I would board a bus for the 4.5 hour trip to Granada.
Granada is just not an easy place to get to. In preparing for my vacation in Spain, I had researched the places I was interested in visiting and Granada was a city that I wanted to be in very badly. This small but historically important city is connected to the other major cities in Spain by train, but the high-speed line doesn’t extend there so getting to Granada from Madrid was going to take four to five hours no matter what form of transportation I used. I had actually extended what was originally going to be a 10 day vacation to 12 days just so I could fit in a couple days in Granada, plus the travel time to get to and from there.
In determining my best transportation option, I decided to take the bus instead of the train because there were more buses a day to chose from and the price was several euros less. The major bus line serving that region, Alsa, had also recently introduced a service on this route called Supra which was supposed to offer a restroom, wider seats, power ports, and WiFi on the bus. For much less than the train, it sounded like I would have better amenities, so I booked a seat on the Alsa Supra route before I left Chicago.
When I left the hostal at 6:30 am it was still dark. I used the 10-ride Madrid Metro ticket to enter the subway and had a short, uneventful ride and transfer. Estacion Sur was “just above” the subway station, according to my guide book. As I left the station, I followed the signs pointing towards the exit for Estacion Sur and walked up the stairs to…a boulevard. There was a map just outside the exit showing some landmarks and the location of the station, but I was just not having any luck figuring out where the landmarks were in the pre-dawn dark. I dithered around the street a bit, then walked up the block to ask the only other person I could see out on the street, a sanitation worker, “¿Donde esta estacion sur?” After listening carefully to his long answer and observing his gestures, I proceeded in the direction he had indicated and was happy to see a well-lit station on the other side of the autopista ramp that had been blocking my view in the darkness.
My early day of confusion wasn’t over yet, though. While the station was an oasis of light and bustling with activity on this Monday morning, I was also having trouble figuring out where to board the bus. The terminals displaying destinations and departure times didn’t have anything resembling my Alsa Supra route on them. I didn’t want to wait in the long Alsa line just to inquire, and I had about 40 minutes before my departure so I decided to explore on my own. I took an escalator down to the bus boarding area and starting walking along, looking at the buses and the destinations listed on them. After a few minutes of searching I found a bus with Alsa on the side and a destination board marked Granada. A driver sat inside at the wheel, looking rather tired himself. I showed him the ticket I had purchased online in Chicago and printed at home. “¿Autobus à Granada?,” I inquired. He looked over the paper I handed him. “Sí.” Success!
The bus wouldn’t be boarding for a while, though, so I headed back up to the main terminal area for a few final preparations. While I had eaten my yogurt that morning and was carrying a few KIND and Larabars from home, I had passed a small sandwich shop and decided to get one for the road. A fairly large bocadillo made with a fresh loaf and cheese was only 3,80€ and great “insurance” against me getting hungry and cranky on the long ride. I also stopped at a restroom in the station; even though my bus was supposed to have a restroom on it, I didn’t want to take any chances. (That bus station restroom was the filthiest one I encountered while in Spain, and I was very glad to be carrying my own tissues, too.)
We boarded the bus about 15 minutes before departure, and then we were on our way. The Supra route didn’t hold up to all it promised: there were no power ports and the WiFi was present but I couldn’t get my devices to connect to it. I haltingly asked another passenger seated near me with a laptop for the password (clavé — meaning key — was the best translation I could come up with for password, and that seemed to work well enough), but from his expression and actions I could tell he was also having trouble connecting, and he wasn’t happy that there was no power available, either. We did have an attendant, though. She came around at regular intervals to offer us complimentary snacks and drinks, and to apologize sweetly for the lack of power ports. There was on-board entertainment, as well: a movie, several short features on music and sports, and a few different music channels.
An hour south of Madrid we were finally moving quickly along the autopista and the landscape was completely rural. I saw enormous wind and solar farms, as well as seemingly endless orchards of olives, and a few smaller orchards of grapes. About 2.5 hours out of Madrid we got into some mountains. For the next 30 minutes the views outside my window were astounding. I hadn’t seen anything like them since a drive through Colorado several years ago. The autopista was a narrow two-lanes hugging the side of the mountains, and I was very glad that I was not driving.
We arrived at the Granada bus station, and I phoned the guesthouse to alert them I was on the way. My accommodation in Granada, el Numero 8, was nestled in the pedestrian only zone of the Albaicín (the old Moorish part of town), so there were very specific instructions on where to meet a person who would escort you to the house. For convenience sake I took a taxi up into the Albaicín and waited for my host, Rafa, to meet me.
It was a beautiful day, sunny and fairly warm, and I was happy to be in the city I had wanted so much to visit. Rafa (an expat from Chicago!) pointed out landmarks to me as we walked to the guesthouse; although there were occasionally names for the short, winding “streets” posted on walls, navigating by landmarks was the only reliable way to find a particular location in the Albaicín. Like Toledo, this area of Granada was built on the hillsides, and getting in and out of the Albaicín involved climbing up or walking down very sloped, cobbled streets, with a few actual stairs thrown in every once in a while. (In my notes I had jotted down, “would hate to walk these drunk!”)
It didn’t take long for me to finish the tour of the guesthouse and drop my bag before I headed back out. I had nibbled on that cheese sandwich bought many hours ago in Madrid, but I longed for a nice, big Spanish lunch in the worst way. I headed down through the Albaicín towards the “European” area of town, stopping along the way at a conveniently located restaurant. It was past 2 pm and I was hungry, so even though I had no idea what the food was like, I stepped in and asked for a table. My selections from the menu del día were a little quirky, but they hit the spot: a spaghetti bolognese starter, merluza plancha main course (grilled fish with vegetables!! there were actual mixed vegetables served alongside!!), and flan for dessert, all washed down with cerveza and agua.
After my satisfying meal, I continued down to the main street, Gran Vía de Colon, to orient myself and do a bit more preparation for my three night stay in Granada. I visited a ServiCaixa machine and retrieved the ticket I had purchased for Alhambra the next day; I went to another ATM to get more cash (because the Caixa machine, of course, wanted to charge me a fee to withdraw money!); I found the tourist office and picked up a map for Granada and one for Sevilla (the tourism office was run by the state of Andalucía, so they had information for many Andalucian destinations); and I took a ride on the little buses that go up to the Alhambra and into the narrow streets of the Albaicín so I could get a better understanding of the layout of the town and logistics for my visit to Alhambra. Before boarding the bus, though, I spent a few minutes sitting on Plaza Nueva enjoying the sunshine and watching dogs play.
Before returning to my guesthouse for the night, I picked up some groceries for the next few days. Each room in the guesthouse had it’s own little kitchen facilities and cooking gear, and I planned to make good use of these during my stay. The “supermarket” marked on the small map given to me by my host Rafa was hardly up to American supermarket size standards, but it had everything I would need: yogurt, cheese, eggs, bread, jam, fruit, beer and Nescafé. (I should have skipped the coffee as I found on my return to the room; there was already a jar left behind by another traveler, as well as cooking oil, rice, and pasta.)
I hauled my groceries back up into the Albaicín, put them away, and then headed back out for a sunset view from the San Nicolás viewpoint. This viewpoint or mirador is a popular place to view the Alhambra any time of day, but as the sun sets the view is enhanced by the dramatic lighting playing across the Alhambra walls — both natural and artificial. Getting up to Mirador San Nicolás was a bit tricky, though. I knew the general direction, but the streets twist and turn so there was no direct way to get there from my guesthouse. As I stopped in a wide (by Albaicín standards) lane I saw the backs of two other women as they were pausing to consult their map, too. We turned towards each other, and there was the woman I had first met at O’Hare, and again at the Vodaphone store in Madrid! She was with her sister and they were also heading up to Mirador San Nicolás.
Together we found our way, and jostled for a place to take photos before the light faded.
As the sun sank further down the sky, we could hear the unamplified voice of the muezzin from the nearby mosque calling the faithful to prayer. And it felt like I was outside of time in lovely, lively Granada.
Food: 33€ (including groceries)
Transit: 46,07€ (Alsa bus ticket with fees; taxi; local bus)
Hotel: 120€ (paid in advance for three nights, at 40€ each night)