Granada. The big thing to do here is the Alhambra. Due to how I’m doing my traveling (making it up as I go) I didn’t buy a ticket in advance. Turns out that is somewhat required.
Well, there’s always a way, right? Turns out if you get up very early, and get in line before the ticket box opens, you might get a chance at one of the few tickets released that day. Okay, plan acquired.
Now, the previous night I was out getting tapas with the crew of other travelers. This means you go to one place, order a drink (beer, wine, cocktail, whatever), and tapas will come with it. It’s fun; kind of like rolling the dice with your food; you have no idea what will show up. That night we hit 5 places, I tried 5 different drinks, had 5 kinds of tapas, and fell asleep in my clothes because in the dark at 1 am I couldn’t make the lock on my locker work so I couldn’t get at my backpack. Bleagh.
So in the morning I wake up at 6:30 and quietly sneak out of the hostel, trying not to wake the other 7 people in the room. I’m far less successful than I hoped for.
Once I step outside, I discover that Seattle’s weather has finally found me. I managed to give it a slip for quite a few weeks in Mexico, but when it did find me it arrived with a vengeance nearly flooding the place. Now it has found me in Spain. Nothing for it but to trudge to the Alhambra embracing the fact that I’m a Seattlite, and rain ain’t no thing.
I get lost once, backtrack to the street I’m supposed to go on, and head up to the castle. Now for those of you who don’t know, this is an impressive beast of a place.
By the time I get to the entrance I am well and truly soaked. Turns out zero-drop running shoes are not a great barrier to small rivers running through the road, and a light jacket gets pretty well saturated in minutes. It took me 15 minutes to get here, and now I find that the ticket office is at the FAR END of this behemoth. Well, I’m here, I gotta try.
By the time 8 rolls around, I’ve found the ticket office, the morning line is gone, as are the tickets, and I’m pretty much swimming in my clothes. Defeated, I head back to the hostel. I had considered touring the town on foot, but with the rain and low cloud cover (thus terrible visibility) this seems unlikely. Granada is very unique, being situated right up at the base of mountains, so the climate is cooler and the weather is unpredictable. I would love to spend time here, but today is not the day. I head off intent on reaching Valencia by dinner time (it’s a pretty fair distance, so I’ve got my driving cut out for me).
Driving through the Sierra Nevada mountains is stark and beautiful. Note, as mentioned in my last post, the advantage to driving is you can stop in places that look interesting. The first place on the trip that struck me is a place where there are hundreds of seemingly natural caves in the sides of the hills. Turns out this is a place called Cortes.
Now, it turns out that people here build their houses right into the sides of the hills! From the front, they look like normal Spanish houses, but on closer inspection, that’s just a front: it actually goes right into the earth.
I was so interested in this I walked around this small community in the hills for a while, getting a fair distance from my car. I noticed that there were a lot of stray dogs. I can’t overstate this enough: a LOT of stray dogs. Most digging through garbage, or laying the road, or just generally milling about.
As I walked to the end of one road, looking for more cool houses, on mangy, long-haired, dirt-ridden mongrel took it on himself to decide that I was an interloper. Well, he’s right: I was.
So he starts barking at me and making small runs towards me to scare me off. Now I learned when I was very young that you just stand your ground when a dog charges, else he’ll think you are running and will chase you. This works fine with this one dog, and he backs off and barks from a respectful distance.
However, his barking has roused the neighborhood. Soon I find that I’m being approached from several directions by all manner of dogs; small scrappy lean things, tall gangly hairy things, all of them barking and darting at me and scampering to get a better approach at me.
Not good. Or to be more precise: no bueno.
So I do my best to stand my ground when any dart at me, sending them curving back around to get some distance, but trying to do that from several sides while also backing up without seeming to back up is tricky. Dogs are now standing on the tops of houses, behind fences, all of them barking and yelping at the stranger. I manage to edge my way to the corner of the street and back up the hill, finally getting all the dogs in one direction: downhill from me. From there it’s pretty easy to keep an eye on all of them while walking backwards.
Once in my car I decide I’ll be taking the rest of my tour from behind glass and steel.
So that was Cortes. Interesting, though I could have done with a few less dogs. Which is strange ’cause I’m normally quite fond of the beasts. Ah well, moving on.
As the road angled back towards the Mediterranean, I spent another couple hours driving. The countryside remindes me at times of Northern Arizona, or parts of Nevada. Dry, but with cool rock formations. Eventually the earth turns from rich brown to a light, almost white color, and then you know you are near the Costablanco (white coast).
Here I tried to see another major coast town, Alicante. This didn’t work out so well either.
Now, I think driving in a foreign country is akin to trying to speak a foreign language in that country: you are going to make some mistakes and look like a fool at times. As long as you accept this and don’t let it deter you, then you’ll be fine.
However, I think that barreling the wrong direction down a 2-lane road into both lanes of oncoming traffic with no safe turn off is the driving equivalent to calling someone’s mother a prostitute when you only meant to say “good day”.
In my defense, I think I handled the panicked “throw it into reverse, drive onto commuter rails, and dive out at the next possible driveway” with grace and aplomb. Upon exiting this disaster scenario I couldn’t see any marking that would inform the casual visitor that the exit they were taking was destined for failure and remorse.
I ended up not staying long in that town. When I finally did find a place to walk around, it had a very menacing feel, like being in the Bronx in 1983. I hastily left, but judging from pictures I’ve seen now I think I just got off on the absolute worst exit possible.
However, I did stumble across a place that I have never heard of, which turns out to be some giant vacation / resort spot: Benidorm.
For being a place I’ve never heard of, this place is massive.
This is also one of the strangest places I’ve run into. First off, it has a massive water park, a roller coaster theme park and an aquarium. There are high-rise buildings (presumably condos and hotels) everywhere. But your entry and exit from the place is tightly controlled through toll booths, and the town itself was pretty much a ghost town when I was there (disclaimer: it is “low season” here).
I had some late lunch in a restaurant that informed me they stop serving food after 4 (???) but managed to rustle up a sandwich for me. It was probably the worst sandwich of my life.
While driving around in Benidorm I found an all-English radio station (Bay Radio) hosted by a UK DJ, and the news they read was all about how to deal with the recession, what the government was doing about the bank failures, and what was to be done about this financial crisis. It sounded eerily like news in the U.S. 3 years ago.
So, an odd / interesting town.
I again opted to not spend too long, instead hopping back in the car to reach Valencia before dark. In the end I’m marginally successful; I reach the city before dark, but get more lost then I ever have been before, and don’t reach my hostel until well after dark. I’ll save all that for a post about Valencia though.