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21 Days of Spain

Author: Betsy Lubis
Date of Trip: November 2013

We gear up for our last Madrid museum day: the Reina Sofia and Pablo Picasso’s Guernica; the piece everyone goes to see. We see a lot more as well. At the museum café, I order what I think is an omelet. It turns out to be one of those potato things, cold again, this time stuck inside a hard roll. In the square outside, kids play soccer as dusk settles in. It’s as pretty and compelling a picture as anything we’ve seen in the museums.

Later, we find Artemesia II, the vegetarian restaurant we’d missed the night before. My husband asks for soup in addition to the main courses we both order. We’re brought bread, which we haven’t asked for and for which we’re charged 1.90 euros. A little appetizer we eat without ever identifying is served along with the bread. Then, the soup is brought along with my eggplant main course. Paella sits on the side. Since that’s what my husband ordered for his main dish, this makes us think they’ve served both on the same platter. (It’s a vegetarian restaurant in meat-loving Spain. It’s entirely possible they do some strange stuff). Anyway, we share that food and think we’re done until they bring out another large platter of paella. I’m stuffed but he manages to clean a significant portion.

Returning to the hostal, we pass a guy wearing a KC Royals (our home town baseball team) jacket. He’s talking on his cell phone at the time but mouths “no” he’s not from Kansas City when I ask.

Before bed, we make a slight adjustment in travel plans. Before the trip, I’d thought that with all Spain’s trains and buses we’d have no trouble going from point A to B whenever we wanted. But, of course, there are schedules. I also hadn’t realized that often going from point A to point B involves traveling to point C (Madrid) in between which throws more complexity and time into the mix. So, we ended up cancelling our hostal reservation for Friday night in Toledo and added Friday night onto our Granada stay.

Day 5, Madrid to Segovia
We walked to Principe Pio train station. It was right there, easy to spot, attached to its companion mall. Finding the bus station that was supposed to be there, too, proved a bit more difficult. Back outside, we found it in a completely separate building.

A woman seated two rows in front of us talked on her cell phone for almost the entire trip. Finally, another woman seated across from her leaned over and said something to the effect of habla mas baja (talk quieter), you’re driving me loca. (That’s the gist I made out anyway). We didn’t hear a word out of the talker after that, not even a whispered bye to whoever had been on the other end of her conversation.

Impressions of and experiences in Segovia: a) beautiful setting tucked between arid hills, b) Alcazar, Roman Wall, aqueduct, all quite impressive, c) the ponche segoviano (marzipan) cake at Limon and Menta was the best part of our day and the best pastry we’d eat on the entire trip, d) dinner at a pizza place with kids playing in a ball pit, e) guys slathering up wall posters announcing a protest against a proposed golf course. “Golf is only for rich men,” one of them informed us. And, golf wastes water in a country running out of water, their sign proclaimed.

Our attic room at the Don Jaime hostal was clean and attractive, and as spacious any sloped roof room can be. Inside, the hostal was quiet, a nice respite after the relative cacophony of Hostal Numancia. But, it turned out to be a façade. Around 1:00 a.m., some rowdy types out in the street began carrying on, talking, yelling, and, presumably, drinking, until 5:00 a.m. Later, at check-out, we were asked how we enjoyed our stay. I said it was great until that ruckus began. The woman nodded. Even in my bad Spanish, she knew what I was talking about. I thought back to an on-line review I’d read. There may have been a disco we never saw up the street.

Day 6, Segovia to Madrid to Granada
No wait. A bus is readying to leave for Madrid right as we get to Segovia’s station. Once there, we walked from Principe Pio all the way back past Atocha Train Station and on to Mendez Alvaro bus station. We could have taken the subway and probably arrived in fifteen minutes but we walked an hour or so instead. There, we waited a couple of hours more before our bus left for Granada. We ate a decent lunch in a cafeteria in the busy station while plenty of police officers roamed about.

From my bus seat, I watched as a young man stuffed a dog three times the size of his kennel into his kennel. Once the dog was latched inside, the carrier was placed in the bus’ luggage bay and the driver shut the bay. We were almost ready to leave. But, then, a late passenger arrived and the driver reopened the bay to stash her stuff. The dog leapt out. The driver called after the dog owner, who was not yet even on the bus, to re-captivate his pet. So, the poor thing was again stuffed in his minute enclosure. By the time we reached Granada and I thought to notice, the animal was already running around outside. So, I don’t know if his carrier latch held for the entire five hour ride or if he’d escaped in transit. I do know we saw a lot of Spanish dogs, more in Madrid, it seemed, than anywhere else. One of the things I’d read before traveling is that Spaniards are lax in picking up after their pets. And, certainly, we had to step around feces here and there. However, we also saw plenty of dog-walking Spaniards dutifully carrying their little plastic bags.

Day 7, Granada
Apparently, Granada’s student population approximates 70,000. And, it looked like that many more had come to party with them when we arrived on a Friday night. Fortunately, the Pension Landazuri, run by ancient Maltilde Landazuri, was more subdued at least until Saturday morning when Manolo, her son, raised the metal door a little before 7:00 to open the Landazuri café right beneath our bedroom.

Feeling our vacation is becoming too hectic and disjointed than it should be, we decide to set simple goals for our day: 1) run. We end up on a high road leading out of Granada, skirting some trash, litter and a junk yard equipped with the compulsory barking dog. We get in an hour and a half run though some of that is walking the steepest hills, both up and down, b) laundry. Maltilde says a boy on a bike will come and get it for almost as cheaply as we can do it ourselves (13 euros versus the 7 we eventually pay) but we say we’ll give it a try. She gives us a map on which she’s circled the location for two laundromats. We never find the first. The second’s not a do-it-yourself place. Then, we see a euro off coupon for a third laundromat on the map. It’s the same laundry that will send the boy on a bike. We figure we’re only a third of a mile or so from it so we make our way there. c) travel plans. We need to figure out where we’re going after Granada and before Valencia and how we’ll get wherever that is. We do this while our clothes are getting clean.

Our goals met, we walk Calle de Sacramonte, the traditional heart of Gypsy Granada, passing the “cave” houses built into the hillside. Many have been turned into restaurants. Most everyone we see looks touristy like us. (Not until the next day, when we’re across the Daro River on the Alhambra side and look back toward Sacramonte do we see actual tents and rougher looking caves further up the hill where the hippies supposedly are now settled.)

From Calle de Sacramonte, we see mountain bikers and hikers on hillside trails across the valley, sort of behind the Alhambra. Tomorrow, after visiting it, we’ll try to figure out how to get there.
Meanwhile, we venture into the Albayzin (Old Moorish Neighborhood) to join the masses at Mirador de San Nicolas. They’re all gathered to see the shadows cast on the Sierra Nevadas as the sun sets. And, they not only want to see the spectacle, they’re all determined to click a picture of themselves as they see it.

For dinner, we pick up Mediterranean take-out and buy a four euro bottle of wine from Manolo to go with it. We carry it all up to Pension Landazuri’s third floor terrace with a view of the Alhambra spread out before us and Granada’s cathedral at our back for the best view of the day entirely to ourselves.

At 10:00 p.m., three or four impeccably dressed and quite loud Spaniards in their 30s or early 40s arrive to settle in down the hall. Half an hour later, they go out and the pension quiets again until they return just before 5:00 Sunday morning, coming in even more boisterously this second time around. We never get back to sleep but, eventually, they must as we neither see nor hear them after that.

Day 8, Granada
The Alhambra: intricate craftsmanship of Palacios Nazaries, great views from the Alcazaba, beauty and serenity in the Generalife Gardens. We skip Charles V’s Palace. What we did see was all very impressive: #1 or #2 on most of the top ten lists of Spanish tourist sites. I only wish I’d read more about its history before we came.

We set out for a run in the direction of where we hoped to find the trails we’d seen yesterday. A young woman pointed us to the end of the Alhambra parking lot and a path leading up from there that took us where we wanted to go. We managed to run quite a distance without falling down the side of the hill or encountering an oncoming mountain biker rounding a blind curve.

Sprig of rosemary: a Roma (Gypsy) woman will offer you a sprig of rosemary and, then, when you reach out to take it, she’ll grab your hand, tell your fortune, and demand several euros for having done so. That’s what I’d read, anyway. Walking down Cuesta de Gomera at the end of our run, a woman held a sprig out to me. “No. Gracias,” I said and we walked on, though I was somewhat disappointed in not having let the story play out.

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