I really wanted to rhyme Valencia with something, OK? But it kind of works anyway because these two cities & their tours and outings dropped some serious knowledge on me.
Granada was chilly when I first arrived, and had sagged under the weight of the clouds overhead. I wasn’t much looking forward to shivering through my tours and waking up in the early mornings to stand in long lines. In the cold. In Spain. Un-bloody-heard-of and I wasn’t going to stand for it. I’m assuming my utter refusal to partake in cold weather is the single most important contribution to the weather actually warming up in subsequent days. Because clearly I am a goddess with weather powers. Weather superpowers, you might say, if you were so inclined.
I ended up extending my stay in Granada in a night and pushing Valencia back because sometimes when you’re booking as you go you don’t make all the calculations about train times and check out times and time correctly. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to hit up the Alhambra, which is a huge reason to go to Granada in the first place. I’m sure Cordoba is nice, but all the people I had spoken to on the way vouched for Granada over Cordoba, so there I went. Talking to people, travelers, here is like Facebook… But in real life! Weird how that works.
I took 2 tours with my hostel – 1 to the Albaycin neighborhood, and 1 to the Caves. I kinda wished I had had time to go to the waterfalls in the Sierra Nevada mountains, but I only have so much time. The Albaycin tour was amazing. The neighbourhood is so charming, with its gardens and pomegranate trees and tiny streets with people and motorbikes crowding through. There are so many stunning viewpoints of Granada and the Alhambra because it is on the opposing hill. Its history is, of course, intertwined with that of Moorish, Arabic, Catholic and Jewish kings and people. One would build, the other buy. One would marry, the other abdicate. And so the story goes. The fountains here spout pure drinking water. And the guide told stories about its history using Game of Thrones and other TV shows as stand-ins, so.. That was hilarious and so worthwhile.
Granada is where a huge part of Isabella of Castille and Ferdinand of Aragon played out: one of my favorite, twisted historical stories of two kingdoms and betrayal and cousin-marrying. And Alhambra is where they lived! Going through those rooms after standing in line for 2 hours at 6am was so… Surreal. Isabella walked through these rooms. Moorish law clerks, and princes and sultans walked on these stones. In one of the rooms, it was said that an entire royal family was slaughtered (of course I can’t remember because audio guides don’t get into my brain as they should).
The final thing I saw in Granada was the caves up above Albaycin. These are free caves in which people live for free. I’m stressing free because while they don’t pay rent, they also don’t have running water, electricity or toilets. And they have to bring all their food and water up a huge mountain. Its insane and so cool. There are some caves in better states than others, but it all looks pretty hippy to me. You would sometimes see these “alternative” looking dudes walking around town with no shoes, dreadlocks, piercings and tattoos, and parts of their heads shaved. They were stunningly beautiful. I could barely look away, and not because of the remnants of my teenage rebellion against “typical” looking people (really against my dads ideas), but just because they were. They had an aura around them that was very hard to resist. And while their abodes were incredibly humble, they were also somewhat satisfying in their simplicity. I don’t know if I could ever live in a place like that in the side of a mountain (a house, maybe, which to be truthful, people in Russia do all the time: the compost toilet, the handmade, gravity shower, the lighting by candlelight), but only because I’d be scared of it caving in. I’d probably do it for a story though! Offer is on the table, newspapers!
The best thing about Granada, by far, is the fact that you get free tapas with a purchase of alcoholic drink in the pubs and cervecerias. Yum and weight-gain and yum.
After Granada, I finally made my way to Valencia, which in many ways was my relaxation city. I read in the Park Turia (it used to be a river that they rerouted and is now a 10km stretch of parks and gardens and community areas), walked it, and finally, on my last day, biked through it and the Ciudad des Artes y Ciencias to get to an out of the way beach, which isn’t as great as the main beach, apparently. But oh well. I got a short tan on my legs from that ride, which I thought would never happen. My legs don’t tan! They are usually not those sort of legs, but Spain has made them into such things.
In Valencia I also ate a lot of tapas and I tried paella Valenciana, because it is said that paella originated there. It was worth every bite. A few new friends and I also tried Agua De Valencia, which is kind of like a punched up mimosa with fresh OJ (using Valencia oranges) and adding some vodka and gin to the champagne already in there. It makes for a tasty, and deceptively strong, drink.
While I liked Valencia, I wasn’t in love with it. I found that the architecture lacked in comparison to Seville and now that I’m in Madrid, the feel of the city is lacking as well. Madrid has a vibrancy that Valencia lacks. I understand that they’re very different cities, but I guess I just didn’t like the feel of that one as much.
In short: Granada, yes. Sevilla, yes. Madrid, yes! Valencia, eh.