I have agreed to meet my cousin in Rome on the 25th of June and I found myself in Tangier on the 10th. Since I wanted to spend a few days in Sardinia on the way to Rome that gave me just a little over a week to do Spain. I decided on the following itinerary: Cadiz, Sevilla, Granada, Madrid, San Sebastian. My flight to Sardinia would leave from Girona, just outside Barcelona.
The ferry from Tangier arrives to Tarifa. It’s a tiny town on the coast, a popular wind surfing spot with a nice beach. There’s an old town with windy narrow cobbled streets and a new town with tourist shops. I bought a ticket for the Cadiz bus and sat on the beach waiting, looking at the Rif mountains across the water. There is an abandoned military outpost from around WWII outside of town that I wish I had visited but I didn’t have a way of getting there.
Cadiz is one of the most ancient towns in Western Europe. Of course you cannot see that, but most of the architecture is still pretty old – 18th century or so. It’s not a big town, you can walk around the walled in old city in about 90 minutes. It’s on a peninsula connected to the mainland by a very narrow strip of land. The distinctive architectural feature are the towers on top of houses allowing a view of the harbor. They were used by merchants to monitor the arrival of ships. I liked the atmosphere there. There aren’t too many tourists and it really feels like the end of the world, nothing but open ocean ahead. This is where Columbus departed from and you get a feeling of what a leap it was. The town is especially beautiful at sunset. You can follow the sun toward the shore and see it disappear under the water as you watch the ocean change color.
There is a great park by the shore with statues of various Latin American and Spanish luminaries. There are two enormous ficus magnolia trees, a gift from South America. I think each one can provide shade for a hundred people easily. There are many people jogging or biking through the park. Spain really is the California of Europe and Andalucia probably more so.
The hostel I stayed at, Casa Caracol, was especially nice. It looks like they covered up some of a courtyard with glass so you have a three floors of windows going out into the interior and there’s a stone arch separating the main reception from the staircase. It’s hard to say where one building ends and another begins. But they also have a great rooftop terrace with lots of potted plants, hammocks and a shower/toilet under the open sky. It’s a very laid-back kind of place. They cook dinner every night and there’s very cheap beer available from the fridge on the honor system. I was taken aback a little at first because “Karakol” means “police station” in Turkish but it turns out “caracol” is a snail in Spanish, a popular bar dish in Andalucia.
From Cadiz I took a train to Sevilla. Trains really are the best way to travel. I only stayed one night there. I watched the opening game of the World Cup in two bars (one closed after the first half). There was some street procession with mounted caballeros, women with a big rose in their hair and long skirts and men with those flat top hats, followed by two big bulls pulling a cart with some silver vases or whatever. no idea what it was about. Walked around some of the old town. I didn’t really go in any place. Sevilla’s old town doesn’t have the integrated feel of some of the other towns in Andalucia. Massive old treasures are set off on their own, surrounded by an otherwise modern town and hordes of tour groups. I watched the World Cup opener on a TV set up outside a bar not far from my hostel.
A train ride later I was in Granada. It immediately made a better impression on me than Sevilla, even the new town, somehow more welcoming. The old town was surprisingly reminiscent of Morocco. The houses looked different but the streets, cobbled and fairly narrow, going up a steep hill, looked familiar. There were even stray cats. The stores had their goods open to the street, selling much of the same stuff as across the strait. The restaurants were serving tajine and cous-cous. Although catering to different tastes there was a lot of Arabic crossover with falafel, schwarma and so on everywhere. And when I missed my hostel Ahmed, a local shop owner, asked me if I needed a cheap hostel and pointed me to the door – how familiar.
I wish I stayed longer. I only had time to walk the Carrera del Darro, said to be one of the most beautiful streets in the world. I only really had time for the Alhambra. But also the tempo of my travels was starting to show. Moving every day or every other day was kind of exhausting especially with the one to two mile walks from the train station with the heavy pack on my back.
I did Alhambra because I felt I had to and now I can check it off the list and never have to visit. Oh, the palace was impressive enough but I found the gardens a little underwhelming. Maybe my expectations were too high. Also the place is just a monument, completely dead. There’s no furniture in the palace and it has no significance other than as an architectural marvel. At least the tomb in Moulay Idris, which on a much smaller scale had some of the same features, was still used as a place of worship and reverence. But I imagine in its time the palace was a very pleasant place. The water running everywhere and abundant shade making the heat bearable.
In addition to the gardens and the Moorish style Nasrid palace there’s also the massive Alcazaba fortress which predates the palace by several centuries and the Spanish style Carlos V palace which was being used for some kind of conference at the time I visited. I was surprised to find the grounds also contain several tourist shops.
On the afternoon as I was preparing to leave Granada I heard what sounded like the chants sports fans make. But it turned out it was one of several bachelor parties. The hostel I was staying at is just off Elvira street where many bars are located. Apparently in Spain weddings are always on a Sunday and Saturday is used by both the groom and bride to have one last bash (not together obviously). They dress up in matching outfits, get drunk and sing songs in the afternoon. According the hostel person they are too drunk by nighttime to make too much of a commotion.
From Granada I would make my way by bus to Madrid where I was hoping to take a break and catch up on some stuff. I want to get away from the computer but between all the things I need to do: organize photos, write this blog, pay bills, research the next destination, get tickets, couchsurfing, email and so on, it’s never ending. I have to keep running just to stay still.