Sunday, July 14, 2013

Viva Espana!

I've been meaning to write this post about my trip to Spain for the last two weeks, but true to form, I've just not had the time. But my day today has worked out quieter than planned so I thought I'd take the time to regale you all about the wonderfulness of my holiday, whilst I sit here watching The Jungle Book; a film I'd forgotten how much I loved. Might watch Dumbo next..but, I digress. 

Sometime last year my best friend Jo and I decided we'd like to do a roadtrip of Europe in 2013. We looked at the places we'd like to go and did a bit of planning. But, a few things changed and we realised that it wasn't feasible. Jo's parents have a villa on the Costa Blanca with relatively easy access to Valencia and Granada, both places Jo and I wanted to see. So, back in January we decided that we'd take ten days, hire a car, and do a mini road trip around the south west of Spain. We sorted flights etc and an itinerary of where we'd go, Granada and The Alhambra being an absolute must see. Admittedly more on Jo's part than mine but I was happy enough to go, having heard a little about it. But I'll get to that later. 

Jo and I have been best friends since a fateful night at college when we worked a shift together at the Presidents Ball in our first year (May 2001). I won't go into details but we bonded over something and have pretty much been inseparable since. Having said that, we don't see each other too often. I live in Dublin, she lives in Dubai, and has lived in Bermuda previously. We talk over email or text almost every day though, so even though we might not have seen each other since Aug last year, when we met up in Alicante airport it was as if we'd only seen each other 2 days previously. 

I was looking forward to the holiday for a number of reasons;
1: I love spending time with Jo. It's always hilarious and we're so alike that spending lengths of time together is very easy. 
2: We both desperately needed a break from various things. 
3: I'd never been to any of the places we were going to so it was all new and exciting.
4: I love sunshine (who doesn't!), and although I don't deal well with heat I needed some top up on my freckles!
5: Jo and I going on holiday together has become a bit of a tradition ever since our trip to Egypt in 2007. 

After meeting in the airport, we collected the car and with a bit of a slight detour (no sat nav with the car, thank god for Google Maps on my phone!) we made it to the villa, just outside Torrevieja and so started our ten days of awesomeness. I'm not going to tell you every little detail, but I will run down the highlights of our visits. 

Valencia is about 2 hours north of where we were staying, but again, we took a bit of a detour and ended up driving up the coast, past Benidorm. No biggie, it was a lovely drive and we were in no rush. We found our hotel and headed out to explore after checking in. We were staying right in the centre, close to the Silk Exchange and the Cathedral. I'd not read much about Valencia, and Jo knew more than I did. But, we did the touristy thing and bought a hop on hop off bus ticket. We were both significantly more interested in the older history of the city rather than the newer stuff (a theme with us!), and had picked out some museums we wanted to see. We had a wander round the Silk Exchange, a lovely building, and then headed for the tourist bus. 
Valencia Silk Exchange
What Jo and I didn't factor in was that we'd arrived on a Sunday, and the museum we wanted to see was closed on a Sunday. But, we didn't realise this until we'd gotten off the bus. So we had a 20 min wait for the next bus, before we headed back to the centre and took a wander round the Cathedral. I'm not a religious person, but I quite like visiting churches etc in different parts of the world. Coupled with the fact that The Holy Grail is reportedly housed in Valencia we were eager to take a look. We failed to locate it in the Cathedral, although Jo did find a severed arm! Later that night we headed to one of the big squares to see the Super Moon, but were thwarted by clouds; what are the chances?!
As we headed for the bus the next morning we took a different route and pretty much fell across this little chapel behind the main cathedral. We decided to take a peek inside and discovered it was the Chapel of the Holy Grail! There was a service going on though so we didn't feel comfortable being all touristy with cameras. Decided to head off on the bus and come back later. Bus tour continued...but, we couldn't find one of the museums we wanted and with the same museum we'd tried to visit on Sunday also being closed on Monday, we were losing patience! Topping this off was our return to the Chapel of the Holy Grail only to discover it was also closed. Valencia it seemed, was against us. 
There was nothing else we wanted to do so we collected the car and drove back to the villa. 
Valencia is a beautiful city, with some stunning architecture and some real character. I was slightly disappointed we didn't get to see all the stuff we wanted to. But, it was enjoyable nonetheless. 
We had one day back in the villa before heading to Granada on Tuesday. 

Granada was the biggest thing we were doing on the trip and we'd planned it well. We'd booked the tickets for the Alhambra for the Weds morning and wanted to explore the city on the Tues afternoon/evening.  It was a fair drive from the villa, 3.5 hours so we knew we'd have to leave earlyish to make sure we had enough time to do what we wanted. The drive was a long one but it was stunning, genuinely stunning. Driving through 2 national parks, one being Sierra Nevada, I was continually aghast at the scenery and taking lots of pics from the car as Jo drove. 
Sierra Nevada mountains (excuse the bug spatters on the windscreen!)
Arriving in Granada we tracked down our hotel (which I'd highly recommend by the way!, and went a-wandering. We'd booked a walking tour in the evening at 8pm and figured we'd do the bus tour and have a wander round the Cathedral. 
I came to Granada knowing very very little about the history, so when Jo  and I entered a little chapel and she let out a little squeal of excitement on reading the pamplet, I wondered what was going on. In very hushed and excited tones she told me that the chapel we were in was the final resting place of Ferdinand and Isabella. I admit I looked at her blankly but she explained who they were and I realised her excitement. Although not as excited myself I could understand why she was excited and there was a certain atmosphere in the chapel which I found rather emotive. The chapel itself is simple enough but quite beautiful at the same time. We weren't allowed to take pics so I have none to show you. 

After doing the bus tour we realised we only had 40 minutes before we had to be on the walking tour. It was a free tour and would have been 3 hours. But, we didn't fancy rushing dinner and decided to forego the walking tour and continue to wander at our own leisure before finding food. Directly opposite the royal chapel was a small entrance to something, we didn't know what, but we paid €2 each and wandered in. We were pleasantly surprised to find two utterly beautiful rooms in a stately home, shown to us by a local guide. The first room was very Arabian in its decoration and I was amazed at the intricacies of the decoration. The second room was now a lecture room used by the University but it had the most spectacular wooden ceiling. The photos of both these rooms do not do them justice. Jo and I both said that the viewing of that house alone made missing the walking tour worthwhile. 
Arabian decoration

Amazing wooden ceiling, it smelt incredible!
After sourcing some food and some utterly delicious churros, we headed to bed, knowing we'd have to be up bright and early for our trip up the Alhambra. We were leaving at 7.15am so needed rest. 

I knew very little about the Alhambra, apart from the fact it was a Moorish fortress and had Catholic parts to it. I'd never even seen pictures of it, Jo had offered to show me some but I wanted to see it first hand. We collected our tickets and after waiting a bit were allowed into the complex. It was 8.15am when we walked through the gate and the temperature was just starting to rise. Although most of the complex is free for you to roam around, one part, the most restored part, the Nasrid Palaces, only allows a certain number of people so you have to go at your allocated time. Our time was 9am, so we strolled down and hung around before we entered the palaces. 
It's difficult to describe the utter beauty of the Nasrid palaces. Arabian in their decoration, the intricacy really has to be seen to be believed. Water is a common theme throughout, having been Muslim places of worship. I took a multitude of photographs and although you get the general gist from them, I recommend a visit. It's simply breathtaking. 

The rest of the Alhambra complex consists of the Alcazabar, the top of which offers gorgeous panoramic views of Granada and the Sierra Nevada mountains. And the Generalife Gardens and Palace. The Generalife palace is beautiful but in a very different way to the Nasrid palaces. It's Catholic in origin so very differently decorated but offers stunning views across to the Nasrid palaces and over the valley. 

Generalife Palace
View from the top of the Alcazabar
After 3 hours of wandering we headed back to the city centre on the bus. We'd been told to go up to Mirador San Nicolas by the lady in our hotel, as it offered amazing views of The Alhambra from the other side of the valley. So we got on another bus and headed up the other side of the valley. At the risk of sounding repetitive, oh my word, the views were stunning!! Standing in this little square, looking across the valley and seeing the entire Alhambra, where we'd been only 30mins before was rather emotive, helped also by the snow capped Sierra Nevada mountains in the background. Truly fabulous and a wonderful way to finish off our Granadian visit. 
The Alhambra from Mirador San Nicolas. Pic does not do it justice.
Because the trip back to the villa was a fair way, we'd arranged a stop off about half way, in a little coastal town called Almeria. Not much to see, it's a little off the beaten track and isn't known for tourists, but it allowed us to get a well needed rest after a fabulous but exhausting morning in Granada. I think we were both in bed by 9pm that night, and we slept until 9am the next morning. 
We took a trip up the Almeria Alcazabar, which offered lovely views over the town and was a mix of the restored gardens, the existing fortress and an archaeological site for the yet to be uncovered stuff. 
Almeria Alcazabar
Arriving back at the villa we had planned to take a trip to nearby Cartagena on the Friday for a trip to the Roman ruins but we were both so exhausted from the trip to Granada, and the knock on tiredness from Valencia that we sacked Cartagena off and spent 3 days resting by the pool and drinking in the local pub in the evening. A great way to end of the holiday, allowing us both to wind down and enjoy some quality relaxation time before we went our separate ways and traveled home. 

I loved every second of the holiday. It was great to see Jo and spend some time together and the sights we saw together just topped it off. 
I'd highly recommend Granada to anyone, it's full of character and the Alhambra really is breathtaking. 

As for upcoming plans, I'm home next weekend for a family dinner for Sarah's 40th, then I'm with college friends in Romford, then I'm seeing another very good friend, her baby, another close friend and my godson...then I have a friends wedding in Co Wicklow. 
All super exciting events coming up. Although I sometimes despair at the busyness of my social life, I love that I have it at the same time. 

So, until next time folks, stay happy, enjoy the summer, don't forget the suncream and don't do anything I wouldn't. 

Much love. 


Aisling McCabe said...

This brings back such wonderful memories of Granada and the Alhambra and you've made me want to go on a road trip!

Enjoy the next few fun filled weekends x

dontlikeberries said...

Thanks! It was nice to write it and remember what we'd done, even though it was only a few weeks ago, so much has happened since that it feels like ages ago!

Sara Louise said...

And now I want churros. That's what I'm taking with me from this post... churros! I'm obviously hungry. Oh, and how cool your friendship with Jo is. Everyone needs a bonded buddy like that :)

dontlikeberries said...

Churros are goooood!!! That night in question we'd just had dinner but craved churros so we sourced some. Jo ate one and a half before admitting defeat. Hating to see wuch lovely things go to waste, I ate the other 4 and a half. And they were big buggers. We nicknamed that night "Death by churros", but boy was it worth it.
Jo is awesome, love her to the ends of the earth.