Friday, October 29, 2010

Granada and Andrew Bird: Part II

Welcome to Part II of my Granada expedition.

When I left you, we had just got in the car and are now about to leave for Granada.  I started the car and pulling out of the garage, I was a bit nervous.  Everyone has always told me about how crazy everyone in Europe drives and I was about to be on the road with these people.  Carpe diem I guess.  Let’s do this.

Here we are consulting the directions to Bianca’s house.  (Courtesy Hillary Birdsong)

Surprisingly, once I got out onto the road it was not that bad.  Once you master the roundabout then it’s all downhill from there.  

After we left La Línea, our directions told us to take the toll road all the way to Málaga then from Málaga to La Roda to pick up Bianca.  We left town at 4:30 so that gave us exactly five hours to make it to Granada. 
The toll road was pretty expensive, almost 7€ one way, and combined with fuel prices at 1.20 €/litre (4.80€/gallon) made our trip just to Málaga a little costly.  Though I will say that it was still cheaper than the bus and the view from the toll road is nothing short of excellent.  I think everyone should take it at least one way just for the view. 

I did promise you more pictures, so here we go.  These shots are courtesy of Meg Houston.  I decided to play it safe and not try to drive and use my camera. 

First: proof that I can drive in Spain.

The toll road took us through a lot of tunnels.

Then by some fantastic mountains.

And then by more mountains.
Eventually we came up on Málaga, drove through it, and were about 30 minutes outside of the city before we realized that we missed the turn off towards Bianca’s house.  Damn again.  Those mountains are distracting.  That five hour time limit is looking shorter and shorter.  We pull over at a gas station and randomly meet this guy from Morocco who speaks amazing English and sets us on the right path.  We turn around and take the road back to the highway when we are stopped by a man.  A man who is in the middle of herding his sheep across the road.  Oh yes.  I really do love this country.

Here is the aftermath of his efforts.  (Once again kudos to Meg Houston.)

This next one is of Meg making sure we’re on the right path.

We make it back to Málaga and it turns out the exit to our road was in a tunnel.  Gee, wonder how I missed that.  Anyway, we stayed on that same road and made it all the way to La Roda without a hitch.

Here’s another Meg-view of La Roda.

Bianca and her roommate Kelly told us to meet them by the mayor’s building but we found them on the way.  It was around 7:30 or 8 p.m. by then and our time was rapidly dwindling.  After no more than a five minute detour we were on the road to Granada.

Lucky from La Roda to Granada is pretty much a straight shot so we did not get lost on the way there.  However, our new bump in the road was the directions.  We had directions to La Roda and from La Roda to one hostel in Granada.  The problem was that we were staying in a different hostel.  We had the address of the second hostel and the address of the concert, but no directions to either one.  Our only hope was a friend of Kelly’s who was teaching in Granada.  

Granada is kind of a big so naturally there are several exits into the city.  I had no idea which one to take and neither did any of the girls so I just took the first exit to the city center.  It was almost 9 o’clock and we were running out of time.  This is where our little adventure started to get pretty wild.  Merely driving in a large Spanish city borders on madness, but I was driving in Granada in the dark.  It was insanity. 

Most of the city streets are made up of one-ways and roundabouts.  I would be driving, enter a roundabout, then circle it several times to try and read the street names so maybe the girls could find one on the map.  Some of the one way streets also randomly turn into taxi/bus only lanes.  As you can guess I found myself in one with nowhere to go but straight ahead.  I just kept going and hoping that no police crossed my path.  Or if they did that I could pose as an off-duty taxi cab or something.  I forgot to mention that Kelly had been in Granada before and remembered a little about the city.  Somehow taking random streets took us through one of the central plazas, which Kelly thought she recognized.  I was lucky enough to snare a handicapped parking space so we could call her friend and hopefully meet up.  As luck would have it, we were actually not too far from her, so Kelly left and came back with friend in tow in under five minutes.  Now all we had to do was get to the concert.  

Fortunately the concert was in a large complex of museums and science buildings so it only took us about 10 minutes to make it over.  Our wanderings in Granada had cost us though.  It was 10 o’clock.  We drove by the building and found a parking spot as quickly as possible.  The walk to the building landed us at around 10:15 p.m.  Bad luck, but at least we made it.  We arrived halfway through my favorite song, “Nervous tick motion of the head,” and watched the last bit on a screen before we were let into the hall.  I guess calling it a hall would be a bit of a stretch.  The room they had given him was about half the size of a large movie theater.  Seems like the genius is yet to hit Spain.  

 In the chaos of driving, I forgot my camera yet again so my concert pictures are from Meg’s camera.  Yeah I know, I really do need to work on this camera situation.  Next time, I promise. 

The man himself, guitar in hand.

A closer shot with my favorite instrument

One last shot of him mid-whistle.  Amazing.

Even though we missed a full half of the concert, it still was incredible.  He is a one-man show.  His music is a combination of violin, vocals, guitar, glockenspiel, and whistling.  This menagerie is achieved by a loop-station.  He will play a small melody, then loop it, then add another one or two melodies, loop them, then play over the repeating tracks.  It was pretty impressive.  To top it all off, his violin sound was immaculate.  I’m jealous of all that talent.

After the concert, we walked back to the car in a musical stupor to try and find our hostel.  Kelly’s friend was kind enough to mark the approximate location on our map before we dropped her off.  Thus far I had only driven on the main roads of Granada, which are quite different from the back roads of the city
The hostel we had chosen was on a hill overlooking the city and the Alhambra.  Once we left the city center, the road got narrower and steeper.  I was handling the directions at that point and my plan was just to drive around until maybe I could find the hostel or at least the street.  In that area of the city, the paved roads turn into cobblestone streets that are often two-way but pass through choke points that are barely wide enough for a car to fit through.  How I drove in that area without scratching the car or taking off a mirror remains a mystery.  I am sure that I am now a much better driver than before.  

We had narrowed down the general area on the map and were pretty much just looping around and trying to take different roads until we stumbled upon the place.  This went on for about an hour and a half to two hours.  We drove continuously through roundabouts then up steep, narrow streets, around, and back down again.  Then back to the same roundabout, this time taking a different street which also eventually led back to the same roundabout.  At the top of one of these loops we passed by a police car and I decided to flag them down and ask for directions.  On a side note, the police here are great.  Apparently every officer has to pass an annual fitness exam so there are no large and lazy upholders of the law.  Each one I have talked to thus far has also been really helpful.  I don’t get the feeling that they are out to get you like the cops from the States.  These officers were no different.  

They told us, people from Granada mind you, that the area the hostel is in was really hard to find.  In fact, you could only reach it by walking.  So instead of giving us directions, they just decided to lead us there.  It was pretty neat because we all felt like we were part of some official parade or something.  As it turns out, I had gotten very close to the street, but I didn’t go up it because I thought it was a dead end.  Apparently the turn was just really sharp and really narrow.  From there we went up one of those one-car-wide-but-its-a-two-way streets.  Here is where following a cop really comes in handy.  As we were going up the street, someone was coming down, so our cop friends just flexed their muscles until he backed up and halfway parked.  

Here’s a Meg action-shot of us going up the one-way hill.

I said halfway parked because the front part of his car was still sticking out.  You can see in the picture how close we were to this huge wall.  This was probably by greatest feat of the night’s activities.  I had to squeeze between this guy’s car, the wall, and a couple people walking in the street.  On a hill.  Driving a standard.  I’m going to guess that I had no more than eight inches of clearance.  It felt like the culmination of all my driving stress.  Getting through that gap was such a relief that everything was downhill from there.  At the top of the hill our cops pulled up onto the sidewalk and told us this was as far as we could get by car.  They told us to just take their spot on the sidewalk when they left and walk up a few streets to the hostel.  We got out of the car, finally, and set off towards the streets.  Keeping with the trend of our adventure, we got turned around again and walked about twice as much as we should have.  Eventually we got to the hostel and it was worth it.  The guy we checked in with was really nice and the view was excellent.  Everyone was beat so we went straight to bed.

We got up and walked out to this amazing view of Granada.

This next picture is all me.  Straight ahead is the Alhambra and down to the right is the rest of the city. 

From here on out we just relaxed and enjoyed the city.  Of all the places I’ve been in Spain thus far, Granada is by far my favorite.  The city is gorgeous.  When you walk the streets you feel like you are walking in history.  The streets, the buildings, the shops, and the markets, everywhere you go; it feels old.  It’s not a dying kind of old.  It’s an ancient, aged kind of old.  Like a fine bottle of wine.  I met this hippie girl from Barcelona at the hostel.  She and her boyfriend were traveling and living out of a van.  She told us that of all the places in Spain, Granada is her favorite.  It has the best energy.  That’s about the best explanation I can give of the city.  It just feels like a good place.  It’s comforting to know that you are walking through, and becoming part of, such a historical city.  

That’s about all I can say for Granada.  I’ll leave you with some pictures of our sights before I go.
These next few are of some amazing street art we found.  This guy does professional street art and had actually decorated part of our hostel.

See a trend in the content yet?
 He decorates buildings as well.

We also had to stop for churros and chocolate.

And finally, our hostel view at night.

Ok, well this is where I leave you guys. The drive home was smooth and uneventful so I’ll just leave you with a nice sunset.  I know these posts were long, so I’m grateful if you took the time to read them.  We had a wild ride but it was all worth it.  The girls and I decided that after this adventure we make a pretty good team.  They can do the planning and I can get us around.  Not too bad for a couple of Arkansans.  I'm not sure what's next but I'm definitely going to see Granada again and I hope to do the same with Andrew Bird.  

As you may or may not know, October 20th marked my first month in Spain.  I missed the real anniversary but I plan to do a one-month post next to catch you guys up all the way and see where the time has brought me.   

Until next time,



  1. WOW!!! What an adventure. Zach, you are such a good writer. I was nervous for you and I'm just standing in my kitchen reading. Thanks again for sharing you adventure.

  2. Haha thank you Camille! I'm glad you enjoyed it. That's exactly the reaction I wanted!