Travel log Spain: day five, Granada and Alhambra

The previous day and evening I had done a lot of moving around, so I was content to start the day slowly. After my visit to Mirador San Nicolás the evening before, I had returned to my room at the guesthouse where I finished the cheese bocadillo purchased that morning in Madrid, drank a beer, and then went to bed.

I slept deeply and long in the little cave-like alcove where the bed was located. Follow this link to see the room I inhabited at el Numero 8 to see what I mean about the bedroom. It was quiet and dark and very comforting, not claustrophobic at all despite the lack of windows. I slept until nearly 10 am, which is very unusual for me. When I finally got up I made some instant coffee and breakfast, then started reviewing my guidebook’s thorough information on Alhambra in preparation for my visit later that afternoon. I took a break in my planning to wash a load of laundry and hang it out to dry. Finally at around noon I filled my water bottle, packed a few more snacks (another piece of fruit, some nuts) and left the room to get on about the day.

In order to manage the flow and impact of the numerous people who visit Alhambra every year, there are strict rules about entering the Alhambra grounds. When an entrance ticket is purchased, a time to enter the Nasrid palaces — the jewel of the Alhambra complex of buildings — is chosen by the purchaser or assigned by the tour operator. I had chosen an entry time of 15:30 (3:30 pm) because that block didn’t seem quite as full at the time I purchased my ticket online a few weeks before leaving Chicago.

Since I had an afternoon entry for the palaces, the entry rules further dictate that the earliest I could enter the grounds was 14:00. The guidebook recommended entering the grounds at least 30 minutes before the time on the palace ticket as there was a long walk from the grounds entrance to the palace entrance. It was further recommended that the other aspects of the Alhambra complex — the fort or alcazaba, the Generalife gardens, and the palace of Charles V — be visited before the Nasrid palaces, if possible.

I had retrieved my ticket and scoped out the entrance the day before, so I had a some piece of mind about how long it would take me to get up to the entrance and no worries about getting stuck in a long ticket line. When I left my guesthouse at noon, I had plenty of time to catch the bus, so I decided to spend an hour viewing some of Granada’s other sites first.

It’s not hard to spot the cathedral around which the oldest (Christian) parts of town are centered, so I headed down a street along the backside of the cathedral in search of the main plaza. Along the way, I stopped to buy some tea from an outdoor vendor with a huge selection of loose teas and herbs. Several of my friends like tea so I thought it would make a good souvenir. (I wish I had thought to take a photo of the beautiful and fragrant booth!) I stumbled into the Plaza Pescadaria first, then finally into the big Plaza Bib-Rambla. (Passing the first of several yarn stores I noticed in southern Spain!)

Sculpture in Plaza Pescadaria, Granada

Sculpture in Plaza Pescadaria, Granada

I made my way to a stop for the Alhambra bus at about 13:00, and made it to the entrance at 14:00 as planned. After entering through the checkpoint and splurging on an audioguide, I started the walk through the grounds towards the main sights.

I was hungry for lunch now and had not packed much to eat besides a KIND bar and an apple that I’d already consumed. My guidebook noted that there were few places to eat inside the Alhambra grounds, but it did mention that one of the restaurants had good sandwiches for takeout. Unfortunately this proved to be incorrect information, and my only other restaurant choice was an even more expensive one at the parador on site. I had a little over 20€ on me, and while I did have a credit card I didn’t want to splurge on an expensive (and lengthy) lunch. (Plus I had to surrender my photo ID when I rented the audioguide, and since using a credit card would require a photo ID I would have problems.)

Like many other suckers, then, I was left with no choice but to buy a sandwich from a vending machine for my lunch. First I had to break my 20€ bill, though, and I was glad to visit a vendor selling chips and packaged snacks to do just that. I took my bag of chips and vending machine sandwich (salmon salad on the Spanish equivalent of Wonder bread) to a bench in the sun and enjoyed the surroundings, at least.

The Alhambra is just stunning. It’s an overwhelming feast for the eyes and senses, which makes it a great challenge to write about and to share with photography.

The Wine Gate, Alhambra

The Wine Gate, Alhambra

It’s also nearly always packed with people, so it’s hard to get a clear shot of the amazing architecture. (Although at times it’s good to have some people in the photo to show the scale, such as in the photo above.)

After my lunch I entered the Charles V palace for a bit, but I had no time to visit the the museums housed inside. Despite getting to the grounds 90 minutes early, I only had 30 minutes left before my ticketed entrance time for the Nasrid palaces of 15:30. I wandered back out of the Charles V palace thinking I may be able to quickly visit the fort, but with such a short period of time open I decided instead to refresh myself with a small glass of cerveza.

Once I was through the checkpoints and in the palace I went a bit camera crazy. The details in the architecture were just so fascinating to me. I had little sense of time passing as I wandered the complex taking photo after photo. It was impossible for me to capture the fine details on the ceilings with my little point and shoot camera, yet I tried to do so over and over. I took photos of door hardware and tilework, too. My photo collection from the Nasrid Palaces is a mix of macro and micro.

The famous Court of the Lions was blocked off for restoration, but the beautiful Court of Lindaraja was a fine sight.

Court of Lindaraja

Court of Lindaraja

And then, you’re done. It seems rather unceremonious to wander outside the walls into a garden area with no discernible exit to the rest of the grounds. (Not just unceremonious, but potentially inconvenient, too. I overheard one woman go off on her husband/partner: “Stop f*cking with your camera and help me find the way out of here!” I was desperate for the restroom at this point, yet not in a meltdown, at least! And, yes, she was speaking American English so it was very easy for me to understand her.)

After I found the way out, too, and visited a restroom I noticed that the grounds were pretty empty at this point. It was near 17:00 and I needed to turn my audioguide back within an hour, but I had yet to visit the fort, so quickly made my way to the entrance. Perched at the very end of the high peninsula of the Alhambra, the fort has spectacular views. But that’s about all it has.

Opposite view

An opposite view: looking at Mirador San Nicolas from the Alhambra fort

It was interesting to see all the people gathering at Mirador San Nicolás from the other side, but there wasn’t much else to admire. I was in and out of the fort in about 15 minutes, then made my way back to where I entered Alhambra. Instead of riding the crowded bus back down into town, I instead walked the tranquil Cuesta de los Chinos path just outside the walls, ending up next to the small remains of the Rio Darro.

I had been walking a lot, so I felt no guilt in catching the bus up into the Albaicín quarter, where I stopped at the small market to buy a bottle of red wine and a green pepper, and was gifted with some fresh bread rolls by the proprieter. Back at the guesthouse I made a small tapas plate of sauteed green pepper, cheese, and the fresh bread rolls with some wine. (Why didn’t I note anything from the wine label? It was a local red and it was delicious.) I took my plate up to the rooftop terrace to relax and enjoy the last of the sunshine.

Then I heard the guesthouse host talking with someone in English and met the newest occupant, another single woman traveler from the U.S. We chatted for a few minutes and then parted as she went to unpack and I took my morning laundry off the clotheslines and down to my room. But she and I met up again and made plans to go to dinner that night.

One of the things that had concerned me about taking this trip by myself was that I would feel lonely at night, and especially during the evening meal. I was excited to have dinner with another person, and it seemed even better than she was an American woman traveling solo, too. I imagined we could swap tips and stories with each other and have a fun time.

The actual event was OK, but it also made me realize what I had avoided by traveling on my own: all the negotiations involved in doing something with another person. We had to decide what time to dine, what sort of food to eat, where to eat, and how much we wanted to spend. After all those things were figured out we wound up at a “Moroccan” restaurant at the edge of the Albaicín where we had a fairly expensive meal. Well, at least I had some leftovers.

By the time dinner was over it was drizzling pretty steadily and the walk back to the guesthouse across slippery cobblestones was treacherous enough that I was glad to have drunk nothing stronger than lemonade with dinner. We parted ways at our respective rooms and I settled in for another quiet, restful night in my snug room.

Spending summary
Food: 34,20€ (vending machine lunch, groceries, and expensive dinner)
Transit: 2,40€ (local bus)
Entertainment: 18€ (Alhambra admission plus audioguide)
Souvenirs: 17€ (tea and a small item at Alhambra)

Hail, South Dakota

I have South Dakota etched in my brain. For the past several weeks I’ve had a compulsion to drive to South Dakota. It’s not as if I’ve turned into the Richard Dreyfus character from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (besides, he was obsessed about Devil’s Tower which is in Wyoming and not South Dakota…although Devil’s Tower is pretty darn close to the South Dakota/Wyoming border), but I think it about it a lot. I’ve been thinking about it so much and have had such a strong compulsion that I actually ordered the South Dakota Vacation Guide from their official tourism website. And it arrived in the mail yesterday. Yay!

State Facts

Capital: Pierre (pronounced “peer”)
Dessert: Kuchen
Animal: Coyote
Fish: Walleye
Insect: Honey Bee
Song: Hail, South Dakota

The state population is 754,844. That’s probably the population of my neighborhood here in Chicago. (Well, maybe it would be the population of this neighborhood plus it’s immediate surrounding neighborhoods, too.)

Besides having kuchen and walleye (both quite yummy) and honey bees (presumably producing honey to flavor the kuchen), the big attractions are calling to me: The Crazy Horse Monument, Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills. These are the things I want to experience. (And the Mitchell Corn Palace should probably be visited, too.)

But why this seemingly sudden strong urge to visit a state with the motto “Under God, the People Rule?” It is the epitome of a red state and I’m a very blue state kind of person. I think this deep desire is not just to visit a state with bigger than life monuments, it’s that I’ve somehow tapped back into my most cherished childhood memories of the “road trip vacation.”

When I was a kid, we took driving vacations every year. These weren’t just jaunts to the Wisconsin Dells or Springfield, these were long road trips to places like Florida and Texas. (Actually, they were always about Florida or Texas for some reason.) These trips usually involved camping, first in our pop-up trailer and later in our mini-motor home. Even though we had the short attention spans typical of most kids and everything didn’t always go right (a flat tire in Alabama and a hood malfunction at high speeds were quite memorable), I remember these trips very fondly.

It was fun to whiz down the expressway at 75 mph (that was the speed limit for the most part back then) with the windows open, playing games that involved car license plates and signage. There were kitschy road side attractions and Stuckey’s every few miles to keep us from getting too bored.

Lookout Mountain? Been there. Okefenokee Swamp? Yep, been there, too. (And I have a really funny story about a raccoon encounter in Okefenokee, too.) Also, amusement parks were visited. Six Flags over Georgia, Six Flags over Texas, and the ultimate amusement park: Disney World. In fact, we visited Disney World every year for seven years in a row. We were Disney World pros and developed our own system for visiting the park with minimal waiting in line and minimal cost.

Back then you didn’t pay an all-inclusive price, you purchased books of tickets. There were A, B, C, D, and E tickets. E tickets were used on the high end rides like the Haunted House and Space Mountain. Hence the expression “that was an E ticket experience!” The lower cost ticket books had relatively few E tickets, so they were very a precious commodity. We would go to the park in the morning, then stay at the park until lunch time. Then we’d head back to our camp site to eat lunch, swim, nap, etc. and finally eat an early dinner. At around 6 PM we were back at the park and hanging around the entrance. Families often left at this time, too tapped out from the high cost of lunch and trinkets to spring for dinner at the park, too. So we would often get offered — or even ask — for leftover tickets and then head back inside and stay until the park closed at 10 PM. We were thrilled when we copped ticket books with unused E tickets! It was a brilliant system.

So I think that’s what I’m really craving: the joy of the unexplored, open road. The promise of a thrilling E ticket experience at the ultimate destination just a few more hours away. And the camaraderie of a good road trip, too. Because of course I don’t want to do this alone, either.

Taste of spring

It was wonderfully, unseasonably warm today. A perfect day to be outside, although that wasn’t really possible for very long. I was in the office most of the day, but I did escape at midday to walk a few blocks and have lunch with a colleague. Tomorrow is supposed to be just as nice, so it will be very hard to keep myself focused on work while I’m telecommuting tomorrow.

I know this is just temporary. After all, we’ve just started March, which can be a very unpredictable month in Chicago. I’m sure we’ll see more snow and blustery cold, but at least I won’t be here for all of it! I’ll be going out of town next Wednesday to the (hopefully) warm and sunny Caribbean for a few days. This is my little gift to myself after putting up with so much crap for so long. So, even though I wish I could have gone out of town earlier, I will enjoy every minute of this small break.

One minor complication to my daily routine and plans for a holiday is…clothing.

If you’re old enough, you may recall the tagline of a shampoo commercial “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.” Well, don’t hate me, but…my problem is that I’ve lost so much weight that I have problems fitting into my clothes. Even within the past month, stuff I’ve bought at the thrift store and such as now too large. Unfortunately, I’m sort of between sizes now, too, so it’s hard to find things that fit well and aren’t either too big or too small.

My suits for work are useless to me now. All of them. Even the “smaller sized” ones. I will look into having them tailored down, but not until I’m done losing weight. I’m just now inside the normal range for BMI and would like to lose about 10 more pounds, which would put me squarely within the middle of the normal BMI index for my height.

At this point, I’m working out at the gym 3 days a week (1 day with the trainer, and 2 days on my own) which all involve cardio and strength training. And, I’m horse riding for 30 minutes a week, which is also quite a work out. Posting the trot is *definitely* a cardio workout, as I’ve documented by wearing my heart rate monitor during each session.

So, I’m getting smaller which is ultimately  good. And, I’ll get a chance to enjoy my smaller, lighter self in a bathing suit soon. Yay!

Just a quickie

Yeah, I know I haven’t been writing lately, but I’ve been either working a lot or sick. Last week I was in bed with that “super virus” everyone else has had. What a nasty bug, and it still hasn’t totally left me. I seem well enough to fly, though, which is good ’cause we’re headed for Cumberland Island tomorrow AM.

We’re catching an early flight to Jacksonville, FL and from there will be transported first by car and then by private ferry boat to the island. Once there, I plan to simply rest. I’m looking forward to leisurely hikes, bicycle rides, and shell hunting on the beach, followed by some canoodling with my husband. I’ll likely wedge a bit of knitting and reading in there, too.

All is packed and ready to go: minimal outfits and toiletries, binoculars (for watching the wildlife), digital camera, and a couple books and knitting projects (socks and an easy shawl: the perfect travel knitting).

I hope to have many photos, a healthy glow, and a mellowed attitude when I return. Have a great week, all!

Springing ahead

Whew! The past couple weeks have been TOUGH. Mark and I have both been sick, work has been a real drag, and the weather is still bumming me out. It’s MARCH! Let’s have some reliable temps above freezing already!

Luckily, it looks like tomorrow and the rest of this week will be warmish. I’m excited about not having to wear wool tights under my suit pants. Yay!

I have been such a cranky-pants lately that I just couldn’t stand to blog. I work all day on my laptop, writing emails, writing instructions, etc., etc. The last thing I wanted to do when I was “off” was spend more time writing online!

After a couple solid weeks of being so easily irritated by just about any little thing, I decided I really need a vacation. So, I talked over some ideas with my therapist. The location had to meet certain criteria: warmer but not tropical, green, and restful. I spent about an hour online, and came up with this: Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island.

Doesn’t this look like it feeds the soul?

Greyfield Inn

And how about this scene from this remote, National Sea Shore?

Horses on beach

Wild horses! Cool! Other wildlife we may see are turkeys, armadillos, and bobcats, as well as bunch of waterfowl and migratory birds. There are lots of great photos of this beautiful island here. I can’t wait to take some photos of my own! This is all the spring tonic I will need. Now I just have to wait until the end of the month…