Leif Pettersen's Travelogue

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Posted on 9/21/03

The ride from Torremolinos to Granada was done completely comatose. I had only managed minimal restful sleep during my last two days in Torremolinos and due to a communications breakdown between the bus station lady and myself, I showed up almost two hours early for my bus. I propped myself up with my book and was barely alert enough to bust a guy trying to unhook the Office from the Barge and slink off with it. Once I was finally on the bus I passed out and other than brief moments of consciousness to wipe the drool off my chin, I stayed that way all the way to Granada.

Despite being September, Granada was hot. Africa hot, which probably explains why there was a long history of Moors and Arabs making their homes in the area. There was no ocean breezes to cool things off, just endless brown, desert-like landscapes and arid plant-life decorating the hillsides. This dry climate only intensified my cravings for a cool, refreshing jug of sangria at the end of each day.

I didn’t have a room reserved, but having been to Granada before I knew it was just a matter of getting off the bus in the city center and within about two square blocks I would have no less than a dozen “hostals” (hostels that are not affiliated with the International Hostelling organization) and pensions (a small step up from hostals, usually hosted out of someone’s over-sized apartment) to choose from. I found a place on my first try that offered a private room for only 17 Euros a night. I checked in immediately.

As I already mentioned, my feet were a painful, puss-oozing mess, so other than a slow, excruciating limp to the tourist information office, I stayed off my bandaged feet until near the end of my second day when I found the tenacity to venture up into the narrow, steep, winding streets of the old hillside Arabic neighborhood known as Albaicin. Houses and shops lined every inch of these claustrophobic streets. Despite being only two or three stories tall, these structures loomed so closely together that, other than a brief period in the afternoon when the sun was aligned just so, the streets of Albaicin were thrown into a merciful shroud of cool shade. Due to the lack of street space, much of the area could only accommodate foot, bike and scooter traffic. This transport limitation was even further reduced in the unpleasant places where the street was so steep that it deteriorated into very precarious steps. The uneven rocks and stones that paved these thin corridors demand one’s constant vigilance as a sprained ankle was only a minor mis-step away. How the residents of this neighborhood moved their furniture in and out of their homes was beyond me. In many places you couldn’t negotiate Albaicin with a fair sized wheelbarrow much less a moving van.

After spending the requisite time being thoroughly lost in Albaicin’s snarl of streets, I managed to escape and move on to tour the numerous cathedrals, churches and palaces that were scattered around the city center. It was a Saturday night and dozens of raucous wedding parties were spilling out of the churches and parading through the streets to their various receptions. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought I was in Morocco. In addition to the north African architecture and street designs, Granada stills hosts a strong Arab community which was evident in the copious number of Arabic shops and restaurants generously scattered throughout the city, blaring their distinctive music and smelling of tea and spices.

The big kahuna of attractions in Granada is without a doubt the Alhambra, a giant, thousand year old fortress on the outskirts of the city, built by the Moors back when they dominated southern Spain. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, massive, ancient structures such as this are a huge turn on for me, so when I felt that my feet had recovered enough for the hiking required to take in the Alhambra I moved in. I could have taken one of the innumerable Rube Tour buses up the hill, but that would have been totally uncool, so I hauled my sorry ass up the road to the Alhambra, taking several long breaks to rest and gaze at the never-ending stream of beautiful Spanish women flowing past. I spent a total of three hours touring the fortifications, gardens and buildings, all the while being stunned as to how something so old could still be standing much less looking so good. Then it occurred to me that with the weather in that part of Spain only swinging from very hot to mildly cool over the course of the year, it made sense that something built with the right materials would be able to stand much longer than in, say the U.K. or Scandinavia where the weather conditions cover a much wider spectrum and are more punishing to man-made structures, even if they are made out of steel.

I haven’t been to Italy or Greece yet, which I hear are much worse, but so far I have to credit Spain as being the most scooter infested placed in western Europe. Scooters are everywhere and they are all desperately in need of a tune-up. You could hear these noise-makers on wheels coming from blocks away, a phenomenon that was greatly magnified at night when the street traffic was thin and peaceful. With the heat being what it was, it was vital to leave the window in my room open all night long and I was lulled to sleep each night with the high pitched roar of scooters speeding around the city center. The odd thing I noticed about the scooter community, aside from the universally mufflerless assault on the ears, was that inevitably when I saw a guy and his girl riding together on a scooter, the guy was always the one wearing the helmet. I’m not clear on the exact rules of chivalry in Spain, but with the Spaniards being so courteous in every other way, I couldn’t understand why the guy wouldn’t surrender his helmet to his girl, so that she might be spared a brain damaging injury when the inevitable collision with a wild cat occurred. Then I realized that perhaps these women were turning down the helmet in the interest of preserving their painstaking hair styling efforts. Either way, I saw an unusual number of women walking around Granada with broken arms. Coincidence?

Despite my partially crippled feet, I managed to hobble through the brunt of Granada in three days and I promptly made plans to move further up the coast to Alicante.

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