Tuesday, May 16th
I wish I could say that I had a fantastic night of sleep, but really it was just so so. Having stayed in three really nice hotels the last five nights, Hostal Austria seemed to be much more like the average hotel I should have been expecting! I could feel the springs in the bed all night, and while I still slept fairly well, it was definitely the least comfortable of the beds on the trip. But a real plus to the room was that it was the only one with air conditioning! Which of course means that the room was like the tundra when we woke up! But it was such a nice change from sweating at night!
Kevin was already up and showered when I woke up, and he headed out for a walk while I showered. By the time he was back, I was done, so we left our luggage with the hotel owner then headed downstairs and around the corner to the Pans and Company we had patronized the day before. I got the Pechugo, which was sliced chicken with tomato and lettuce on a bocadillo. Not fancy, but good, filling and edible! haha Kevin said that he had walked down the main street, and had staked out a local McDonalds for a possible later meal!
The day before, we had picked up a coupon at Pans and Company advertising an English speaking walking tour of the town, so we decided to give it a try. The meeting place for the tour was just a few blocks down the road, in an area that Kevin had already explored that morning. We arrived about half an hour early, so I decided to find an ATM. Three ATMs later, I finally found one that had cash in it! And it was almost all the way back to the hotel!
In a while, the tour began, and there were maybe 8 people in the group. I don't remember everything about the walking tour, but I know that we went through the Alcaiceria area of town, which used to house silk vendors, but now houses vendors of all kinds.
We went through parts of the Albaycin, including a stop in a cathedral. At first I didn't want to go in, but I did, although I didn't stay very long. And I found it truly disgusting and disrespectful when one person in the group said "Look! A nun praying!" and others in the group started taking pictures of her. We also saw one of the major universities in town, with centuries old graffiti on it, written by graduates of the school.
The tour dropped us off in the Plaza Nueva, in the same spot where we'd stopped and had the Frigo the day before. I thought the tour was pretty good...the tour leader told some very interesting stories and answered all our questions very easily. But we didn't cover all that much ground, and I think that Kevin and I could have seen more just wandering around on our own though. Nonetheless, I'd had a good time. We’d passed the main cathedral of the city while on the tour, and Kevin said that he really wanted to go through it so he could see the tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella. I had no interest in going in, so I decided to wander around the Alcaiceria and do some shopping while Kevin went in the cathedral.
I had about an hour, so I took my time browsing the shops. One thing that I'd decided I wanted was a new ring for my right hand, so I particularly paid attention to the jewelry. There were tons of silver shops, all of which had really nice jewelry, but nothing really popped out at me. I was hoping to find a ring with a bull on it, but I didn't find that either. I had a great time browsing the trinkets, cook books, hand made pottery, and shoes (we'd taken notice early on of how Spanish women all wear awesome shoes!) but didn't find too much that I wanted to purchase. Finally, I went into "The Shop", which was a shop we'd made fun of during the tour! They had some nice scarves for a very reasonable price, so I picked up a striped orange one. Of course when Kevin saw that the only thing I'd bought had come from "The Shop" he had a good laugh about it!
Without much thought, we headed for the McDonalds for lunch. I got an old standby...a Big Mac and fries.
Me with the man I was most happy to see in all of Spain!
Kevin ended up with three things, all of which were not available in North America, but I don't really remember what they were! After lunch, we were both feeling really overheated, so we stopped in an internet cafe nearby and spent a little while online and out of the heat. After we were done, we headed back up towards the hotel where we would catch the minibus to the Alhambra.
We had a few extra minutes, so I decided to browse the gift shop across from the hotel. I'd seen tons of shops with small ceramic alphabet tiles, and the more I thought about them, the more I wanted a set that I could frame once I got home, along with some favorite photos from the trip. So I browsed, and eventually settled on the word "España" with two decorative tiles for the ends. They weren't cheap, but they're a very nice, very uniquely Spanish souvenir. I also got a small poster with two flamenco dancers on it.
After dropping off my purchases with the rest of my luggage, we grabbed the next minibus up the hill to the Alhambra. Kevin had prepurchased our admission on the web, so we didn't have to worry about getting tickets that day. As we retrieved our passes and our audio guides, we heard that the tickets were sold out for the day, so it was a good thing we'd already gotten our tickets!
It was 3:00, and our time to go inside the Nazarid Palaces hadn't arrived yet, but we were in the window where we could visit the Generalife Gardens and the Alcazaba. Not really knowing what to expect, we headed off for the Generalife Gardens.
Fountain in the gardens
An archway revealing the Albaycin
An archway revealing Sacromonte
Kevin's backside, somewhere in the gardens
Part of the Generalife Gardens
The gardens were great, but it was SO HOT! It felt like I was cooking from the inside out! Of course, it didn't help that I was wearing jeans and a black shirt over my tank top!
Our favorite thing in the gardens was the water staircase...a large set of stairs with ice cold water running down the hand rails! I have no idea how the water was so cold, but you could barely keep your hand in it! It felt great to chill my hand then put it on the top of my head!
After cooling off with the water staircase, we moved on to the Alcazaba. The buildings and courtyards were nice...
...but WOW...the view was spectacular!! You could see for miles and miles in every direction, and it was truly the most awesome view I have ever seen! I tried to photograph it, but there was no way you could get even 1/10th of the view in the frame. It was so amazing!
Kevin in the Alcazaba lookout tower
Kevin at the bottom of the tower
A hedge arch in the Alcazaba
In Moorish culture, no two tiles are exactly alike, and no tile is perfect
After the Alcazaba, we took a break in the shade in the main courtyard while enjoying a drink. Soon, it was time to enter the Nazarid Palaces, the main palace part of the tour. It's also kind of a big jumble, but needless to say, everything was gorgeous!
An intricate arch in the Nazarid Palaces
Two windows in the palace
Some parts of the palace made Kevin uncomfortable with the heights!
The view from the Nazarid Palaces
I got some of the most incredible pictures, and it seemed like around every corner there was another photo framed perfectly by an archway window or some columns.
The Court of the Lions
The best photo I got came from the Court of the Lions, which is the room that is supposedly the most photographed room in the palaces. I can certainly see why!
All told, we spent about four hours wandering around the palace...and I had a MUCH better time than I ever thought I would! I wouldn't have assumed that an old empty palace would have been so beautiful and fascinating, but it absolutely was! I'd certainly try to come at a cooler time of year next time though, because it really did get gruelingly hot at times!
At the end of the tour, there was a cat just hanging out. I have entitled this photo "Cat with Albaycin."
When I spotted the random baby giggling at the random cat, I thought it would make a randomly good picture!
Leaving the Alhambra, we had about an hour before we had to head out and catch our overnight train. We found a little restaurant on the plaza that looked nice, so we had a seat and each ordered a drink. When we sat down, we did exactly as Rick Steves recommends...we told the waiter what time we had to leave, and he assured us that we would have more than enough time to get our food and eat before we had to go. So we waited...and waited...and he kept delivering stuff to other tables, but hadn't even taken our order yet. Finally, after sitting there for 45 minutes, I told him that now we wouldn't have enough time to eat before leaving, and he got really mad at me! He said that the kitchen wasn't going to open until 8:00pm, which was when we needed to leave. So in broken Spanish, I told him that I didn't understand why he would assure me that we would have time to eat when we clearly wouldn't. So I just paid him for the drinks, and he yelled "Bad tourist!" at me in Spanish as we left! hahaha
So for the third time in two days (fourth time in two days for Kevin!) we ended up back at Pans and Company for a meal. I had another Pechugo, and we ate quickly so we would have plenty of time at the train station. When we were done, we retrieved our luggage from the hotel, grabbed a cab from the taxi stand on the corner, and were whisked off to the train station.
Once there, we found our couchette easily. I'd never been inside a sleeper cab in a train, and I was pretty impressed with how nice it was to be such a small space! It had two beds, the top one of which can fold up flat to the wall, and the bottom of which can fold up and turn into two regular train seats with a table between them. There was also a small sink area with a curtain, shelves with lights in them by the head of the beds, and a fold down ladder for the top bunk. It was really cute, and a very comfortable alternative to sitting up all night in the regular train seats.
Once we got in and settled, we decided to lift up both beds and sit in the seats for a bit. Kevin had bought some Pringles and drinks, so we snacked a little...
...and laughed a lot when Kevin knocked his entire can of Pringles onto the floor!
After a while, Kevin said that he wanted to lay down, but when he tried to lower the top bunk back down, he couldn't get it down! We tried everything we could think of, and eventually narrowed it down to this little hole that needed something stuck into it so it would release the latch holding the bed up. We tried everything we could find but nothing worked. So the next time we saw an employee go by, we stopped her and asked for help. She looked at us a little strange, so I explained that we put the bed up so we'd have more room, and now we needed it let back down.
But she just looked at us and said "Normalmente, people don't do that" and walked away! hahahaha Oh my lord, we were ROLLING on the floor, we were laughing so hysterically!
Eventually Kevin was able to get the bed back down...not sure what he did, but he did it somehow. He went on to sleep while I stayed up for a little bit more admiring the awesome pictures I'd gotten inside the Alhambra, and taking some trip notes. It was fairly warm in the cabin, so I laid down on top of the sheets for the moment, and eventually drifted off.