Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Day 3: Granada

Yesterday morning we got up and had breakfast at the hotel restaurant. I basically just had chocolate donuts and hot chocolate. Several chocolate donuts. And I saved some for later. After breakfast we packed up our stuff, checked out of the hotel, and took taxis to the Madrid Atocha Train Station.

Atocha Station
On the train
From Alyse

We took the 11:30 train from Madrid to the Antequera-Santa Ana Train station. Our train took us through Castile and La Mancha, which was really fun to see, especially since Don Quixote is from La Mancha and a good portion of the book takes place in the surrounding countryside.

Castile has a lot of castles (thus its name) from the time period of the Reconquest, when the Christian Spaniards were driving the Moors out of Spain. We saw several of these castles out of our windows during the train ride, including an especially cool one on the top of a hill with a white city beneath. I took a nap on the train, sleeping for about half the train ride (which was total about two hours).

Our next step after we arrived at the Antequera-Santa Ana Train station was to take a bus from there to Granada. We saw buses leaving from in front of the station and assumed our bus (which we already had tickets for) was one of those. But after my dad asked the desk, we figured out that our bus was leaving from the bus station in the middle of Antequera, 20 km away, in 20 minutes. We hurried and got two taxis to take to the other bus station. The drivers were as surprised as we were, telling us that they’d never heard of anyone doing it this way before.

We did make it to the bus station on time. We got on the bus (with just a couple other people) and started the ride to Granada. Granada was only about 70 km away, but the bus ride was scheduled to take two hours. We soon figured out why. Instead of driving straight to Granada (like the tourist buses do that leave from the train station), this was the regular city bus that made several stops in tiny little villages and drove all over the hills on the way to Granada. It was really cool, actually, because we got to see a lot of the countryside. There were SO many olive trees. SO many. I saw more olive trees yesterday than I will see in the rest of my life combined. Miles and miles and miles of olive trees.

Our bus pulled into the Granada station about 4:30 pm. From there, we took a taxi up to our hotel – the Parador San Francisco (also known as the Parador de Granada), which is actually housed in a fifteenth century convent on the Alhambra’s compound. You can’t get any closer. It was awesome, and beautiful.

(All of the next pictures of Max are taken by Alyse)


We got to the hotel at about five o'clock, and as we were checking in, the guy at the front desk recommended that we take an electric bike tour of the city. Since we were eating dinner at the hotel at ten o'clock, though, and the bike tour was three hours, we would need to start it no later than six. After talking it over, we decided to go for it. Max and Saya were too young to go, so Banks and Nan hung out at the hotel and the gardens and Alyse, Tanner, my Dad, Jason and I took another taxi (so many taxis yesterday!) down to where the bike tour started.

We met our guides, who were named Kasha and Andy, talked for a couple minutes, got our bikes, got helmets, and got started. The bikes were “assisted,” meaning that they had a little electric motor that would kick in once you started pedaling. It took a while to get used to, but once I did get used to it, it was awesome. It was incredibly helpful for the hills, especially. Using it on full power on the hill made pedaling up the hill feel like we were riding on flat ground.

Kasha (From Dad)
From Alyse
From Dad
From Alyse
From Alyse
From Alyse

We rode along the canal, through the Plaza Nueva, along the canal road, up through the gypsy area (Sacromonte) where all the gypies live in caves (they look like mostly normal houses on the outside, but they’re built into the hill and the insides are caves), and to a church on the top of the gypsy hill. 

From Dad

From there we road up into the hills out of the city, into the countryside. The countryside around Granada strongly reminded all of us of California. It was like an upgraded version of the dry areas outside of Orange County. Very similar, but prettier and with more olive trees.

Jason had some kind of allergic reaction as we riding up there; for like a mile, his eyes were so watery that he could barely see. It cleared up as soon as we were out of the hills, though.

From Dad

We rode from the countryside back towards Granada and arrived at a church that overlooks the whole city and offers a beautiful view of the Alhambra. It was a really cool place to see everything.

From Dad
From Dad
From Alyse
From Alyse

We walked down the hill in front of the church (too steep and slippery to ride), and then began our descent through the cobbled streets of the Albaicin. Oh. My. Gosh. The cobbled streets were the worst. My bum was already hurting from being on the bicycle seat for so long, and the cobbled streets were just awful on it. I tried to stand on the bike a lot to make it better, but it didn’t help all the way. We stopped at one more church to look out on the city, but we were mostly riding on sloping cobble-stoned streets (some with cars driving past us) for a very long time. It was not my favorite part of the trip.

From Alyse
From Alyse
From Dad

My favorite part of the whole trip came right after the cobble-stone streets, however. We rode our bikes up the hill of the Alhambra, all the way up to our hotel, the Parador. The roads went through the beautiful woods surrounding the Alhambra, and little trickling brooks ran by on either side of the road. It was so quiet, and peaceful, and beautiful as we rode up. It was wonderful.

We arrived back at our hotel just a few minutes after that, and said goodbye to our guides. It was a wonderful trip, and so fun. We got to see so many parts of Granada and the beautiful countryside that surrounds it, and our guides were so nice and so fun. It was really great.

After a quick wash-up we all (including Banks and his family) met for dinner at the hotel restaurant. The restaurant had a beautiful location, on a patio above the monastery’s gardens, with trees growing up all around us and forming a roof of leaves.

From Alyse
From Alyse
From Alyse
Banks and Max doing "cheers" with coca cola
My roasted Granadan vegetables
My seafood Paella

Dinner was good, but dessert was amazing. My dad had some yummy cherries with his dinner, and he was so happy when they also happened to be at the bottom of the rice pudding he ordered. I ordered what I thought was chocolate cake, but it turned out to be a hazelnut mouse with a crunchy part in the middle that was basically like a giant Ferroro Rocher, and it was delicious. I loved it.

Our dinner was really late; we didn’t sit down until ten and finished after midnight, but that’s totally normal for Spain. It was fun to do what the Spanish do, but it was also kind of hard on us because we aren’t getting siestas like they are and we had to wake up early the next morning. Luckily we were able to get a lot of rest today.

Day 2: Madrid

 
On Monday morning we woke up, got ready, and had breakfast on the first floor of the hotel. They had really excellent chocolate-covered donuts – light and fluffy and really yummy. They also had thick, creamy hot chocolate.

Before exploring for the day, we went to find a grocery store to buy some water bottles. Our concierge told us to try this big store a couple blocks away, but when we got there we found several levels of clothes but no grocery store. My dad’s luggage had still not arrived from the airport (the airline had promised to send it to our hotel as soon as it arrived), so he decided to take the opportunity to buy a new outfit so he wouldn’t have to keep walking around in the same clothes from the day before. Jason and I also got hats.

We did eventually find the grocery store (in the basement of the market), bought some water, took it back to our hotel (where my dad changed into his new clothes), and were finally off for the day. We took a couple of taxis down to the Reina Sofia, Madrid’s biggest museum of modern art.

From Alyse

Modern art is, well, modern art, but we did see some cool pieces in this museum. One of the things we got to see is its most well-known piece, “Guernica” by Pablo Picasso. In that room I really liked the pictures taken during the process of Picasso painting Guernica, because he changed several parts of the painting during the process and it was interesting to see the changes. In the Sofia my favorite painting was this weird one that was kind of like the earth, but a cube, and there were 3D buildings sticking out of it. It was weird, but I liked it.

From Alyse
From Dad

After the Sofia Alyse, Tanner, Nan, and Saya took a taxi up to our next museum (the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza) and Jason, Dad, Banks, Max and I walked up the streets to meet them. We passed this awesome building that had a vertical garden growing up the side:


The Thyssen was great. I liked all the landscape paintings. We really explored the Thyssen and saw pretty much all the paintings in there.
 
From Alyse
From Alyse
From Alyse
From Alyse

After the Thyssen we decided that we needed to eat, and we wanted to find some Spanish food. We saw a restaurant on the corner called “Vips” and decided to try it out. It was only when we were seated and we opened our menus that we found out it only served American food! Burgers, ribs, hot dogs, etc. It was still sort of (unintentionally, I think) Spanish-fied, so that was interesting. And it was good food. :)

Gummy eggs!
After lunch we walked a couple streets over to the Parque del Retiro. It’s a huge park in the middle of Madrid (sort of like central park), and it’s beautiful.

From Dad

We walked to the Palacio de Cristal in the middle of the park. The Palacio was built in 1887 to display plants and animals for an exposition on the Phillipines.


Right in front of the Palacio de Cristal there was a pond with turtles, fish, and birds. Max loved the ducks and fed them pringles. He laughed and laughed when there was a mini feeding-frenzy.

From Alyse

We stopped for a quick drink (you get dehydrated fast when walking so much in the heat) and then walked back a couple streets to the Museo Nacional del Prado.

Banks is an expert at finding and walking in all the shade, and on the way to the Prado our group made a funny sight walking in single-file line in the slim band of shade next to the buildings.


The Prado, and a church on the hill next to it:


We didn’t have as much time at the Prado as we would have liked (we got there only an hour and a half before closing time), but we did get to see a lot of awesome paintings by Velasquez, Goya, Rubens, and Titian. My favorite was Velasquez; he was really amazing.

A painting by Velasquez you probably recognize (picture from Alyse)

After the Prado we walked back to our hotel and retired for the night. We got to talk to Ellie and Zelda on google chat again, which was great. :)

From Dad