Granada Part III – Hostels, Cities and Adventures

Groggy, but feeling thoroughly refreshed, I awoke to the rustle of bags as two new arrivals settled into their bunks.  Glad to be awake I hopped out of bed, wobbled a bit and then stepped through the door from my hostel room onto the rooftop terrace (above).  There, I inhaled the crisp Spanish air, looked out over the rooftops and reveled in wonder at the amazing adventure I was living.

After a quick glance in the mirror and grimace at my nap hair, I tossed on my cap and made my way down to the entry hall. There I quickly fell into conversation with a number of fellow travelers, checked my e-mail and then decided to duck out for dinner.  Following the front desk’s recommendation, I quickly found my way to a small tapas bar where I picked up a beer and free side of tapas.  In most places in Granada the tapas itself is free, so long as you order a drink, unfortunately, it’s also random….still free is…well…free!  With my appetite wet I polished off my Alhambra beer and stepped around the corner to the local Kebab King.  There I discussed the days events with a Palestinian immigrant fluent in at least 3 languages. Before long I was off and wandering once again, this time with a steaming chicken kebab in hand.

Through the streets, up small narrow stairways and into the heart of the Albayzin I wound eager to explore and discover the city’s hidden secrets. Never quite lost, but often quite turned around, I quickly found myself in the heart of the old city.

As night rolled in I slowly made my way back to the hostel, unloaded my day pack and found my way to the hostel bar. There I bumped into my tour guide from that morning and he quickly introduced me to several of the other regulars. Two girls living in Granada (from Australia/New Zealand) and an English gentleman. All were in their late 20s/early 30s.  We all sat in the tiny, cramped hostel bar, surrounded by walls covered in chalk graffiti left by travelers.  Some of the words scrawled across the walls were quotes, others well wishes and yet others…just downright odd and obviously left after a few drinks.   We drank wine, smoked hookah and exchanged stories. Before long I was privy to all of the recent goings on and had my fair share of insights into the local drama.

As other travelers drifted in the group slowly grew in size.  I quickly got to know Andreas – a traveling Swede who was working at the hostel during an extended stay in Granada. The wine, sangria and Alhambra beer was flowing freely when 9 o’clock rolled around.  One of the other people staying (and working) at the hostel announced the beginning of the free tapas tour and before I knew it, I was swept up with the crowd and into the night.

We toured two tapas bars sampling sliced pieces of Spanish ham on small crackers, Spanish meatballs and various other delicious eats before eventually winding our way down through the city and finishing the tour at a flavorful reggae bar.   The reggae bar was a delightfully odd place. The entrance was little more than a door off the street that dumped you into a small entrance room no bigger than most master bathrooms in the states. As I entered I found myself standing at the small bar.  Immediately in front of the door there was just enough space for 2 or 3 people front to back, which allowed us to stand at the bar 2 deep as we ordered while leaving a small path to the long sloping hallway that ran some 20 feet down and into what must have been an old cellar.

The ceiling in the hallway was arched and just short enough that I didn’t feel comfortable walking completely upright.  As I shuffled along, slightly bowed, I quickly spilled out into a second, slightly larger room where I was greeted by an odd mishmash of sights.  Along one side of the whitewashed cellar was a small bench piled with drinks and stacked coats.  The room itself had a cement floor with a DJ at one end on a slightly raised platform and a small partition at the other end which led to two lock-less bathrooms.  Smoke of all varieties hung heavily in the air and the music boomed down upon us.   Our group of 10 or so unloaded our jackets and quickly set to dancing, drinking and bonding as only travelers can.

An hour or two slipped by before we decided to strike out once more.  Eager to find a flamenco bar we wound up into the Albayzin and eventually found our way to Granada’s famous cave residences & bars.  Though most were closed we eventually found a tiny place carved into the side of the mountain.  With whitewashed walls and ceilings the place had old photos of flamenco players and random women on the walls. The bathroom was outside and more of an outhouse than a proper toilet. Inside the small 2-room bar served everything out of bottles/cans and only had whatever stock they could fit behind the small bar – it was a hoot.   We worked our way to the back and in the smaller of the two rooms crowded together as a series of incredibly flavorful musicians sat and passionately played flamenco.  While I can’t say I was overly fond of the musicianship the passion and setting was an absolute kick…I’ll let you see for yourselves:

As the bar ran out of beer and I grew antsy several of us set off back into the Albayzin eager to see to the Alhambra at night. 3AM had already come and gone.  The views out from the Albayzin and the hill it rests upon are spectacular, as are the winding streets cloaked in shadow and gently lit by the soft yellow glow of aged streetlights.  The Alhambra at night is an incredible sight.  Back lit by the twinkling lights of the city, the Alhambra is lit by a combination of green and yellow lights.

After resting and taking in the sights and gentle sounds of the city as it slept we wound our way back, down through the dew kissed streets and back to our hostel where as quietly as possible I crawled into my bunk bed and began snoring away contentedly.  It was 4:45AM.

Sevilla – Part I

Christmas has made writing the last few days extremely difficult. Everyone has been engaged in one giant festival here in Cadiz with stores running odd hours, people everywhere, and lots of fun adventures to be had. As I wait for my train to depart Cadiz, I finally find myself able to sit down and share a bit about my time in Sevilla.

After arriving at the hostel, I unloaded my bag and began to get situated. Oasis Sevilla is a fantastic 4-story hostel with a bar and common area on the first floor, rooms on the 2nd and 3rd, and a rooftop terrace with a (cold) pool and nicely equipped kitchen. From the start, the hostel had a warm, friendly feel to it which built camraderie.

I immediately met two German guys and a Swede who were in my room. We made the usual introductions, I checked my email briefly and eagerly dove into the city. The hostel is located immediately off a large plaza containing a mid-sized cathedral. The plaza, divided  into two park areas, was the site of one of the oddest pieces of construction I’ve seen in a long time. One half had been turned into a large walled-off construction zone as they assembled what looks to be some sort of flying sauceresque large building. I cannot for the life of me figure out how or what the end result will be, but it makes for a very odd addition to the skyline. As I was checking my e-mail I talked briefly with a guy who recommended walking down to the river and tracking down some of the graffiti which I put on my to do list for the following day. With no particular direction or location in mind, I set off picking up a bit of tapas in a small tapas bar along the way. I wandered around the zone immediately around my hostel, taking in the huge crowds of people in the streets, the chestnut vendors cooking and hawking their toasty ashen wares and the general hum-drum of a vibrant city alive with life.

By about 8:30 pm I got back to the hostel just in time to join up with a free Tapas and Flamenco tour provided by the hostel. The guide was a German fellow doing an extended stay at the hostel. With some 15 odd people in tow we set out and wound our way through the streets before  arriving at a small tapas bar on a small stone square full of cafes and small shops. In a stampede we set upon the bar, scratching our heads, picking out tapas and passionately wolfing them down with the customary beer that goes with it. After glancing at a menu, I decided to take a different route than the others and asked the waiter/barman for a recommendation. Something different, exciting, and uniquely Spanish. An older gentleman – Fernando – who was sitting next to me at the bar jumped in, and after a quick conference with the barman they picked out a pork tapas for me. When it arrived it was delicious pork tenderloin in a mild olive oil and garlic sauce, over sliced potatoes with whole nodules of cooked garlic. All served with a basket of crunchies and bread and a glass of local beer. It didn´t take long to devour the entire plate.

As we drank and munched away contentedly we all exchanged stories and got to know each other. As it turned out it was our guide’s birthday was at midnight which added to the festive cheer of the evening. As we all relaxed at the table, I chatted with two brother and sister duos, both traveling from the states, as well as an Australian girl who knew one of the sisters. My buddy Rick, whom I´d met in Madrid at the hostel and bumped back into in Sevilla,  joined us … as did several others, including the two Germans and the Swede from my room.

Eventually our guide rounded us up and we again meandered through the city to a bar entrance off a side street. The building was an odd thing. It had an old stone entryway with a fireplace and small stage. There was an outer room with a tin roof, bar, and an expansive set up of two-tiered tables. We quickly re-arranged the tables and in the second (higher) tier set up a long bench of seats. The venue was a kick with old fans hanging from the roof, propane tower heaters, a thick layer of cigarette smoke, fake plant vines, large movie-sized flamenco posters and other odd decorations. The place was dirty, grungy and packed with flavor. Before we knew it everyone had picked up a cheap pitcher of local beer and the tabletop was littered with pitchers, glasses and cameras.

The flamenco show was good, more traditional and with better dancing than the casual flamenco evening I´d stumbled into in Madrid … but lacked some of the character. The performers consisted of two men, one on guitar, one singing and clapping, and a woman who did the majority of the flamenco dance. Her movements were beautiful and flowing all done to an amazing rhythm. At one point the second man got up and joined her in a passionate, tangoesque flamenco which combined the power of a romantic tease with the feel of a bullfight and the paso doble. By midnight the flamenco was coming to an end. We wished our guide a happy birthday finished off the pitchers of beer and made our way to the door. Or next stop was northward to the bar and club section of the town.

The club part of town is around the Plaza de Hercules – a long plaza/parkway full of cafes and shops during the day. In the evening the place comes alive with bars, lounges and discotecas. About 10 strong, we found our way to a rather odd alternative club. The crowd was a bit edgy, and all of the bartenders were female, with short hair and a lot of piercings. Some had mohawks or other similar hair styles. It was all around interesting…if short lived. About 20 minutes after we´d arrived in the packed, shoulder-to-shoulder press some sort of smoke went off. At first we thought they’d teargassed the bar, but despite being unpleasant to breathe and having a slightly orange aftertaste, it didn’t overly hurt, beyond generally being unpleasant. Jostled by the press to get out of the bar, hunkering low to avoid the smoke/fumes, we joined the others as the bar emptied out into the streets. Some sort of fire extinguisher? Hard to know.

After purging our lungs and trying to figure out what had happened, we continued up the street a ways before finally finding another nightclub. Once there, we settled in until 4:30 in the morning when one of the guys got kicked out (apparently for deciding to water the bar). Laughing at the absurdity of it, we decided to round up the troops and head back to the hostel. The walk back was hilarious, with several games of orange dodgeball in the empty streets, using fallen oranges from the heavily-laden trees that line the streets.

Covered in orange juice and smelling of smoke we crawled into bed and prepared for the morning.

The next day started at 11 am. Time is up, I´m off to catch my train. More adventures soon!