Granada’s Magical Alhambra…The Finale.

The beautiful city of Granada was the next stop on our road trip to let Hound #2 tick off one of her birthday wishes – a visit to the mystical Alhambra (a bit of a heads up tip folks – if you ever plan to visit Granada & tour the Alhambra, get on it ASAP as they book up FAST). Again, the weather gods were being kind and we arrived at our apartment in the Albaicín area with very little stress or fuss with mucho, mucho thanks to Frances the marvellous owner of the Los Apartamentos El Balcón del Albaicín who guided us in through a ‘back door’ portal to avoid the street chaos of the Albaicín. We were quickly settled in, with our car safely deposited in a garage for the remainder of our stay and a mild autumn evening in full swing…so let’s hit the town!

img_7120

Hot Spot!

The Albaicín area is a way cool space to hang in – sitting atop its own hill with commanding views of Granada but even better, the Alhambra. One of the best views to be found is at the Mirador de San Nicolás, which appears to be a regular gathering place for locals, tourists and a wee night market. The Albaicín is a labyrinth of cobble stone lanes & passage ways with every corner turned producing more things to see, do, drink & taste.

In Granada, and many other Spanish towns, the tapas are free when you order a drink. But the secret is that your tapas climb the quality ladder with each subsequent beverage so it pays to find your place & stick to it. Which is pretty much what we did by snagging a bar side table @ La Fragua – Bar de Tapas. This place is, literally, a hole in the wall that will not blow you away on the decor front but ticks all our boxes for a seriously local taverna. They get to choose your tapas so our first drink came with sautéed lamb & potatoes – yum. We ordered our second round of ‘tubos’ (local Granada slang for beers) & a steaming bowl of curried lentils arrived…excelente!

bdayalbaicinfirstnight

The Streets of the Albaicín…Top Left: Table of Tapas; Late Night Bakery of Maria; Bar Ladrillo; Street Scene con Billie; La Fragua; Curried Lentils @ La Fragua.

After pretty much making most of the taverna rounds in the Albaicín, we decided that since it was Hound #2’s Birthday Day/Night, a nightcap (or two as it turned out) was in order, so round the corner from our flat we went to El Higo (The Fig). This quickly became our fave spot to end our Albaicín nights – super friendly staff (and owner), great beverages, live music & just plain fun folks. The owner was sweet and shouted us 2 shots of Pacharán to put the final nail in the coffin…

img_7118

El Higo (The Fig) – Our Local…Home Away From Home.

So being just a tad groggy upon awakening Saturday morning, we toddled off in search of coffee and to do a walk our flat owner Frances has penned on our map the night before. Not far down the Albaicín hill we found Rincón del Chapiz, the perfect stop for a cuppa & a pastry to kick off the day.

bdayalbaicinmorning

Saturday Morning Stroll a la Frances @ El Balcón del Albaicín.

The walk took us down to the river Darro (which, BTW, is a beautiful river stroll not to be missed) & then across a bridge where we climbed the steep hill to the outer walls of the Alhambra. Following some tips from a UK Guardian article on Granada’s Moorish secrets, we set off to find the nearby (we hoped) Campo de los Martires which was said to have stunning (free) gardens and to be a bit devoid of touristy folks. It was everything and more than the Guardian piece said, even though no dogs were allowed which Billie promptly ignored. And it is a gorgeous landscaped walk down to Granada proper – they must employ an army of gardeners…

bdaygranadagardens

Stunning Landscaped Spaces in the Campo de los Martires – No Dogs but Billie No Read Español.

Once in downtown Granada, we had a mission numero uno – pick up our Alhambra tickets at the Corral del Carbon. I repeat my opening words of advice, the Alhambra only admits 6,000 people a day (sounds like a lot but it isn’t) and even if you secure a general admittance ticket, you still need to score your allotted time window to see the jewels in the crown – the Nasrid Palaces.

bdaygranadascenes

Scenes of Granada…

Post a quick coffee jolt…we headed off to have a squizzy at the Mercado San Agustín, Granada’s big indoor market. Hound #2 was not so impressed, but I thought it had a pretty decent comestible offering ranging from meats to fish to veg to cheeses & deli delectables.

bdaymercado

Mercado San Agustín – Choices, Choices & More Choices…

Growing hunger pangs began to be the dominant force, so we reviewed our notes (Hondarribian mate Andoni had supplied a generous list from I think his sister-in-law who is a Granada resident) & started our quest. It being a Saturday, places be popular so we had a couple of strike outs due to (a) they were so popular there was not a seat to be had and (b) many places are night time spaces, so a no go.

bdaylunch

Pintxos @ Pacurri and then Lunch! @ Om Khalsum…Estupendo!

We did manage to squeeze into Pacurri for a beverage & free pintxo but we felt like something a bit more substantial & Pacurri was not the ticket. Onwards & upwards to Om Khalsum which has the Moorish thing going in spades. This was a very easy place to settle in…and we opted for the super value special of 10 tapas & a bottle of vino – oy vey – for €15! While lounging about Om Khalsum, Hound #2 got into a chat with a fellow who was wiling away the Saturday arvo with some food & drink with his young son & he insisted we had to pay a visit to the BEST BAR & RESTAURANT in Granada, Bar Poetas Andaluces II. We managed to find it, but we were so stuffed from our fab lunch @ Om Khalsum we could only manage a beverage & a dessert – which Hound #2 raved over. So worth a stop if you be in the hood…

bdaypoeta

Bar Poetas Andaluces, Granada

Post another super fun Saturday night wandering the Albaicin, and ending up @ El Higo – AGAIN, we set off on Sunday morning (less groggy) for a bit of a wander round the Sacromonte neighbourhood. There are a couple interesting if not strange things to note about Sacromonte: (a) most if not all the ‘houses’ are actually caves where folks actually do live and (b) this be flamenco central. Besides those 2 items, this is a great place to get stunning views of the Alhambra and the City.

bdaysacromonte

Sunday Morning Stroll Round Sacromonte – Folks Live In Cave Houses Here…great views of the City.

Leaving Sacromonte, we made zig zag path to an outdoor Sunday market in the Realejo area of the city – but being such early risers compared to the Spanish, it was no existe when we arrived, but the saving grace was we discovered an excellent vino store Enoteca Evohé…they carried quite a different range of wines so several bottles were put in the backpack.

bdayscenes4

Top Left: San Agustín Mercado Building; Cathedral; Casa de Vinos Wine Bar; Hound #2 Sipping a Sherry @ Saint Germain…

Back in the central city, we started to experience hunger pangs as breakfast wore off…so we consulted our notes again & dug up a bidness card handed to us @ a vinoteca Friday night by the bartender who urgently urged us to go to a French place (Saint Germain) in Spanish Granada. Ok…why not? The bartender warned us it would be ‘muy ocupado’ (very busy) but we managed to grab an outside table & a couple of beverages (Hound #2 sipped a marvellous Oloroso Sherry). Good stop…

bdaygranadascenes3

bdaycasadevino

Back @ Casa de Vino – Superb Selection Here…

Now we were crossing into serious pintxo time – so we went back to my mate Andoni’s list & headed for Los Diamantes II. This place is on EVERY LIST we’d been able to research – so natch, it was packed to the gills with Sunday family lunch folks. Diamantes has made its Granada name as a house of serious seafood (there are several Diamantes but Andoni said numero 2) and deservedly so…except our first 2 or 3 choices were not available on a Sunday arvo menu (apparently no grilling on Sunday), so we opted for the clams (one of my fave choices, not so much for Hound #2) & some cervezas & a free tapas of risotto…

bdaydiamantes

Los Diamantes II – Clams, Risotto & Cervezas…

bdaybarmacarones

Local Albaicín Hot Spot – Bar Los Mascarones…Only Open At Lunch & Packed to the Gills…Wow!

bdaygranadasigns

Love the ceramic tile work…even makes Coca-Cola look good.

bdayalhambragardens

Gardens of the Alhambra….Generalife Section…The Alhambra at Night from the Mirador de San Nicolás.

The Alhambra…how do I find the words? Because it is, seriously, a bit overwhelming with so, so much to absorb and try & take in. We started our tour perusal (as many folks do) by wandering the gardens & buildings of the Generalife which was constructed between the 12th and 14th century as a place for the Muslim royalty to rest or just getaway from their busy days & nights @ the palaces. Hound #2 was most impressed as gardening is her passion and these were not gardens to sniff at. They are an amazing mix of flowers, sculptured hedges and many, many water features.

bdayalhambrascenes

Top Left: Palace of Charles V; Palace Ornaments; View of the Sacromonte area; Palace Front Door; External Wall Passageway; Garden Fountain

We next entered through the gates of the Palatial City and had a stroll along the fortress walls & gardens to arrive at the Palace of Charles V (above). A sort of brutish style of architecture – extremely macho with many carved scenes of horrific battles. Everything associated with this building was big & man-sized.

bdayalhambrascenes5

Top Left: Tiles Inside the Nasrid Palaces; A Nasrid Palace & Pool; More Tiles; Another Nasrid Palace & Pool; Court of the Lions Fountain; Pomegranates – Granada’s Symbol; La Alhambra Entrance Sign & Map.

bdayalhambrascenes2

Top Left: Fortress Towers; View From the Towers; Post Box Lion; View of Albaicín from Palace; Candle Tower; The Alcazaba.

Inside the Nasrid Palaces, it is one jaw dropping architectural & artistic marvel after another…it sort of takes your breath away to see it on this scale. The extensive, beautiful tile works, the carvings, fountains & pools, gardens and stone works. These folks lived da life!

bdayalhambrascenes6

Inside the Palaces of Nasrid…

The city of Granada it is an amazing mix of Christian Spanish, Moroccan Arabic & Muslim and Jewish cultures which are on display from the architecture to the food. It is a city to put on your list if you find yourself in the Southern part of Spain…

bdaymonastery

Top 3 – Soria’s Medieval Monastery; then the Band Stand in the Trees (Soria); More Monastery Scary Sculptures; Guadalajara Castle

So onwards though I might not say upwards to a one night stay (more than you need) in the city of Guadalajara. Which was mostly chosen because: (a) Hound #2 just liked to say the name and (b) it was exactly halfway home & we avoided Madrid (in a car). Researching Guadalajara was tough as 90% of the Google hits were for the Mexican Guadalajara, even though ‘Spain’ was specified. Also, there’s far more to do in the Mexican Guadalajara…

We Hounds made the most of it though but Billie is happy pretty much anywhere and we luckily stumbled upon La Favorita which had excellent, friendly staff & service, yummy food and a great selection of beverages.

To return to our Hondarribia home we had a 4 hour cruise so we decided to make a pitstop in Soria. The main interest of Hound #2 in Soria was the fact that: (a) they had a park bandstand that was supposedly (it was) up in a tree and (b) there was a medieval monastery with a stunning circle of stone arches. Old Town Soria is cute & sweet – the rest not so much…

Great trip on all counts…but happy to be back in Hondarribia as it is our home…

Bonanza Birthday Adventure…Segovia, A Parador & Toledo Up First…

My girlfriend’s (Hound #2) birthday comes up every November, as they do, and this year she made it clear that no pressies were required, just a trip, a trip to see the city of Granada and the Alhambra. Because of public travel complications (takes too long and no doggies allowed), we opted for a week or so long road trip with pit stops in Segovia, Toledo and a sweet Spanish parador thrown into the mix before our arrival in Granada…

bdayaquaduct

Segovia’s Roman Viaduct…Impressive! No Cement or Mortar here Folks…just the weight of the stones, perfectly placed.

First stop was Segovia as Hound #2 was aching to see the Roman aqueduct and that was pretty much it! We had actually thought about staying in Segovia but Segovia has NO PLACES YOU CAN STAY WITH A DOG! Serious faux pas Segovia…but we had a nice wander as the weather was more than co-operating with bright sun, blue skies and mild temps. Segovia was super busy with bus loads of tourists…and it struck us that the pueblo had been taken over by many well known chain stores. In fact, just under the 100AD Roman aqueduct was a Burger King AND a McDonalds – ugh.

bdaysegovia

Segovia in Super Light….

Onward & upward to the Parador @ Gredos…Hound #2 has always wanted to stay at one of Spain’s amazing paradors but:

(a) they be expensive – the one in Hondarribia, where we live, can run you €250 per night; (b) and most of them do not, once again, do not allow dogs.

But as luck would have it, the parador in the wilds of Gredos (absolutely nothing else around but conveniently on our way to Toledo) not only allowed dogs, but set us back a mere €70 (plus €15 for a full on breakfast)! And Hound #1 Billie copped the deal to make ya squeal – a new travel bed, 2 new food / water bowls and a 4kg bag of Royal Canin kibble (all thanks to Royal Canin) – for free!

bdayparador

El Bar @ El Parador @ Gredos…

Simply said, the paradors of Spain are impressive. Stunningly old but classy buildings with character in spades, top level staff & service, food & drink that is hard to beat and rooms to suit all needs. We hit the bar for some delicious (for lack of a better word) mushroom stew (it is the forage season here) and then split a perfect, fresh salad with a few brews in front of the open, warming fire.

bdayparadorbrekky

A Parador Brekky!

I scored big time too as being north of 55 years of age, we got the old folks breakfast discount & were treated to this plethora of delectable delicacies…left the table full and satisfied.

bdayparadorwalk

Post Brekky Parador Woods Walk…Billie’s Fave.

And to top off & finish our wonderful parador stay, they have a marvellous woods walk which ticked everyone’s boxes (we worked off breakfast, Billie got his sniffing & peeing done) in a crisp fall morning. Estupendo!

bdaymountainview

Toledo Bound….Bit of A View…

Then off to Toledo, with a wee pit stop atop a seriously high hill (not really a mountain) and we got this wonderful gander across a misty valley…

bdaytoledoscenes

Hola Toledo!

A few things to mention about Toledo:

(a) it is relatively tiny – ‘tiny’ as in squished onto the pinnacle of a hill & surrounded by old stone walls. The squish factor makes for challenging navigation – especially when they allow cars & trucks & scooters to use the very same streets. And it is quite hard to get your bearings as the streets are so narrow, and the buildings smack dab on either side of the street that you cannot see an effing landmark to orient yourself;

(b) Toledo is not a vibrant, late night kind of place by a long shot. You may have heard how famous the Spanish are for ‘la marcha’ (nightlife) and they like to be out very late – not here. Granted, it was a Thursday night but we wandered up & down dozens of streets only to find the majority of places shuttered up…and Toledo supposedly had a gastronmic tapas competition happening as we wandered!

bdaytoledoscenes2

Window Shopping – Toledo…They Like Their Swords & Knives…Sort of Famous for them…

bdaytoledoscenes3

Toldeo Scenes – Crazy Trafico!

bdaytoledoviews2

Awesome Views from the Library Cafe…

One of the all time best views to be had of Toledo that is actually in Toledo is from the library’s cafe, which sits on the top floor with vistas in all directions – and the coffee’s damn cheap @ €1 per cuppa!

bdaytoledofood

Tasting the Wares….

When we awoke on the Friday morning, it was Hound #2’s actual birthday. So a special breakfast needed to be sought out, so we went on a search & discovered Cafetería Wamba. Deal to make us squeal…

bdaybrekky

Birthday Brekky Deal To Beat The Band….

Stuffed with the sweetest of birthday pastries & coffee, it was time for a bit’o culture. So after several dead ends & retracing of steps, and employment of Google maps, we found the El Greco Museo.

bdayelgreco

El Greco Museo

And lo & behold, for some still not understood reason, today (Hound #2’s birthday) the entrance was free! We liked the museum but were a wee bit puzzled early on as there appeared to be no El Greco works actually at the El Greco museum. They had an interactive computer program at the start that showed you on a map all the other places in Toledo you could see El Greco’s work, and the first 2 or 3 exhibition rooms we toured were all disciples of El Greco or outright copiers, but no El Grecos. But phew, we eventually found a decent sampling of his work which some art folks speculate is painted in a seemingly exaggerated or distorted style (tall & extended bodies with pointed & small heads) because they think El Greco’s eyesight was either horrible or fading quickly, or that he was slightly mad – or both.

bdaykumerastarters

Celebratory Lunch @ Kumera….Curried Chick Peas with Shrimps & a Perdiz (Local Partridge) Salad…

With the Culture Box ticked, it was time for a birthday lunch & we were hoping we’d be a tad luckier than the previous night’s debacle. And we were, as we settled into a savoury menú del día at Kumera. I won the first plate competition round with my Garbonzos Con Curry y Langostinos (Curried Chick Peas & Shrimps) but Hound #2’s Ensalada de Perdiz a la Toledana (a local seasonal Toledo specialty) was not far off a top score.

bdaykumeramains

Kumera Mains – Seared Salmon & Venison Stew….

And sorry, but glad to say folks, I won the main plate competition too with my Venison Estufado (Stew) – superb! Though, once again the Salmón al Horno (Baked Salmon) in a Spring Onion Cream would not have been kicked off the table. All washed down with a most delicious cuppa vino blanco (verdejo and macabeo grapes) of Paso a Paso by Bodega Volver.

Satiated and more than satisfied, we packed the vehicle & set our course for Granada & the Alhambra…the next phase of the birthday festivities.