Saturday, 31 May 2014

Visiting Granada and leaving school

During the last few weeks of April and the first few weeks of May I didn't really do anything really worth writing about, which is why I haven't posted for a while. I've spent a lot of time at the beach and out with friends as the weather is getting better! Maria arrived on 9th May and left on Thursday. We spent our time together sunbathing at the beach, swimming in the sea, going out for tapas (small Spanish savoury dishes, typically served with drinks at a bar) and to cafés and restaurants, relaxing in the park, visiting the dinosaur museum, attempting to play volleyball and going shopping.

Ana and I at a bar at the port

A lizard on the terrace

Fundación Gaselec
dinosaur museum

A huge churro!

Melilla la Vieja (old town)

Playa nueva (new beach)

Enjoying McDonald's in
Nador, Morocco
(there isn't one in Melilla)

On Thursday 15th we boarded the 3pm flight to Granada, which only took about 45 minutes. After all the flying backwards and forwards to see each other, we finally had our first flight together! From the plane we had really good views of the Sierra Nevada, a mountain range in Granada. We took the bus from the airport, which is usually connected to each flight. This took about 30 minutes to get to the city centre and cost 3 euros. We got off near the cathedral, as our hostel, Pensión Olympia, was only just down the road. I would recommend it as it is in a great central location, close to the tourist buses, airport bus, cathedral and many shops, restaurants and cafés. We had a private room, which only cost 40 euros each for 3 nights. It was nice to have a shower and sink in the bedroom, although we were expecting to have a toilet as well and had to go down to the second floor to use it. The beds were made and fresh towels were provided each day, although we didn't always need this and it seemed a bit unenvironmental. There was Wi-Fi but it didn't always work as we were on the third floor.

For some reason I was expecting Granada to be quite cold, in the mornings at least, because it is near a mountain. However, to my surprise it was actually hotter than Melilla. There were also seemed to be a lot of lesbians out and about. We went to Subway for a late lunch/ early dinner because to my shame it is one of the restaurants that I miss most as we don't have one in Melilla. We then went for a walk around the main streets and the cathedral and found the tourist centre but by this time it was early evening so too late to go to any tourist attractions. We bought some snacks from a supermarket, then decided to go back to the hostel and have an early night.

The early night didn't end up being that effective because we didn't set up an alarm and woke up late anyway. We had breakfast in restaurante cafetería Vía Colón, which was nice but a little expensive. Then we went to have a look inside the cathedral and walked around the Alcaicería, a nearby street of Arab shops. Granada had previously been brought under Islamic rule and its influence over the city was clear to see in many places, such as the architecture, tea rooms and merchandise. It reminded me a lot of Melilla and Morocco.

I then decided that we should go to Palacio de Exposiciones and Congresos, because it was quite big on the tourist map and sounded important. However, it turns out I wasn't quite all there that day, because it wasn't actually a palace (palacio), but a Conference and Exhibition Centre. Nice one. Although we'd gone all the way to the suburbs for this, we did have a lovely walk down the river. After that we thought it best that Maria made the decisions, so we went to Parque García Lorca, which was peaceful and quite beautiful. After this trek we had become quite tired, so went to a cafés for the best panini ever!

Parque García Lorca

We then decided to head to Albaicín, a world heritage site that that retains the narrow winding streets of its Medieval Moorish past an stopped at the Monastery of San Jerónimo en route. I didn't really realise how steep the Albaicín would be, but nevertheless we made it to Mirador de San Cristóbal, a spectacular viewpoint. We wanted to go Mirador San Nicolás, an even more famous and spectacular viewpoint, but we didn't have enough energy left, so we took the bus back to the hostel. 


Mirador de San Cristóbal

In the evening we went out for tapas with my friend Laura and her friends, my previous flatmate from Melilla. I'm used to cafes and bars being open late in Melilla, but I was surprised how late clothes shops were open! Maria and I went to Heladería Los Italianos (an ice cream parlour recommended by Laura) at midnight!

For breakfast we went to a café called It's Cool, which was ok but again, a bit expensive. We headed to the shops because there isn't a great range of shops in Melilla and I wanted to get a few things from H&M. We had afternoon tickets (14:00-20:00) for La Alhambra (a palace and fortress complex originally constructed in 889 and renovated in the mid-11th century by the Moorish king Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar). After the experience of climbing the hill the day before, we decided to get there on the tourist train. There are also buses that go to Alhambra for 1,20 euro and a tourist bus which is quite a bit more expensive, but I recommend the tourist train because you can buy an unlimited hop on hop off day ticket for 8 euros. The tourist train also has a panoramic glass roof so you can see everything even when it is windy or raining. We went round the whole circuit on the tourist train through Sacromonte (a neighbourhood near La Alhambra) and the city centre.

Real Chancillería de Granada

To get into La Alhambra it's best to buy tickets in advance. Even though we had booked tickets, we had still had to wait in a long queue to collect them and by the time we reached the front there were very few tickets left for people who hadn't booked. It was obviously one of the main tourist attractions, but the only map available was in Spanish, so we had to use the little relevant vocabulary that I knew. Anyway, the views and architecture were stunning. We were planning to go out for a meal in the evening but we wanted to get a small snack for lunch, so we bought a packaged sandwich from a shop. Maria mentioned that it was strange that the sandwiches' use by date was 2 weeks from that day, but I didn't really pay much attention to that. It did seem strange because the only other packaged sandwiches I've seen in Spain have been in the airport (and those are ok). However, the sandwich was so soggy that I couldn't even eat it (and I'm not even that fussy). It had probably been there for a few weeks already. Perhaps the use by date was a month after it was made! I think the lesson here is not to eat Spanish packaged sandwiches (except those from the airport).

Unfortunately when we booked several days before we were unable to get tickets for the famous Palacios Nazaries (Nasrid Palaces), but we were able to see the rest, including the Alcazaba and the Generalife. However, this was more than enough to keep us occupied for many hours and the queue for the Palacios Nazaries was huge. We stayed almost until closing time and saw many things including a church, a mosque, Arabic baths, gardens, palaces and a forest. We were also able to climb a tower and see fantastic views. I took lots of photos and since I got my iPhone 4S I've gone crazy with panoramic photos, as you can see in this post.

Palacio de Carlos V

Palacio de Carlos V

Palacio de Carlos V

View from the Alcazaba

View from the Generalife

She's beautiful!

Patio de la Acequia

As a result of the soggy sandwiches, we had become quite hungry. In the tourist office the day before I had asked about vegetarian restaurants and received a list of some in the city. I was really keen to go because I often have problems eating in restaurants in Melilla and I wanted to eat something that wasn't tapas. We took the tourist train back down the hill from La Alhambra and decided which we would go to. I had seen a vegan restaurant whilst on the tourist train, but I couldn't remember where it was. Eventually we found it and it was amazing! I was so happy to have loads of different choices on the menu and be somewhere where people understood me. Maria and I decided to have the three course meal with a drink for 12.50 euros (£10)! I had white wine, salmorejo (a purée consisting of tomato and bread, my new favourite), ratatouille with vegetarian sausages and we shared gelatine free tiramasu and panna cotta. Yes, Spain, vegetarians do eat more than grass! I don't think Maria minded because she doesn't eat much meat at all, and when she does she prefers high quality meat from free range animals. She bought me some vegetarian sausages and kebab meat (it's sounds crazy, but it exists) as a gift. In the evening we went to a tea room to meet Camelia, one of my friends from university who is studying in Granada, which was really nice.

On Sunday morning we checked out of our hostel, but conventiently left our suitcases to pick up later. We had a really good breakfast deal at Ohlala for 3,50 euros each. We didn't have much time because we needed to get the 2:15 bus to get to the airport for our 4:15 flight. I wanted to go to Paseo de los Tristes, a street alongside the river with lots of shops and cafes, because Laura recommended it and Maria was looking for a cushion cover or something. On the way we passed a man trying to promote a tour of Granada by Segway, a two-wheeled, self-balancing, battery-powered electric vehicle. He allowed us to try it, which was an interesting experience. You don't drive the Segway, instead you have to lean and it sort of follows your body movements, which was really weird. He offered us a tour for a reasonable price, but we didn't have much time left. In all honesty I was a bit scared of riding around on it and the idea of me going up and down hill on it had me concerned for everybody's safety. We continued along the paseo and stopped at a café for strawberry and melon mojitos and tapas before heading back to the bus stop and catching our flight. I really love Granada and part of me wishes that I had gone there for my year abroad!

Environmentally friendly carousel!

Lights in an Arabic shop

Paseo de los tristes

This week has been emotional for me in both positive and negative ways. I was pretty happy to leave the school but I've been feeling down since Maria left. Most people didn't seem bothered about me leaving, although some classes signed a card for me and sang me song and one student gave me a bracelet. My year abroad is officially over now, but I'm leaving Melilla at the end of June. My friend Fatima is coming next Wednesday, which I'm looking forward to and I think/hope that June will go quickly because I'm really missing home. However, I'm glad to be taking the opportunity to go travelling during June because I think it would be a shame to leave without going to the desert and the west of Morocco. I've been really desperate to go to the desert especially since I arrived and my friend Jess (who is coming later in June) has agreed to go with me! I'm feeling pretty exhausted after the past few weeks so I'm going into hibernation this weekend!

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