We had wonderful hosts to stay with near Granada who not only welcomed us into their home but also took us out to give us a taste of the famous Granada culture of free tapas with every drink. Though it wasn't a filling meal like we're accustomed to eating after a hard day of cycling, and in hindsight we perhaps should have snacked a little more before heading out to drink beer with people who live in a country that LOVES beer, the mini sandwiches and side orders were delicious and a very fun tradition which, we were told, is unique to their city.
Mike, Cari, Maria and Antonio
The hazy skies that consumed the greater Granada area during our visit were a huge disappointment as they made all of our photos appear to be ugly and gray rather than the beautiful landscapes that they actually were and the towering, snow-covered Sierra Nevada mountain range that loomed over the city appeared faint at best during the brief periods we could actually see them at all. Though we couldn't enjoy the natural beauty of the area we took a day to stroll around the city to the unmistakable sound of hard soled shoes on cobblestone streets echoing throughout the narrow alleyways and let our minds be blown away, as has been the case since our arrival in Europe, by how much older this world is than the world we know in the US.
We then decided to check out a major tourist attraction which we typically avoid due to having to leave our bikes unattended, but since we had a place to store them and took the bus into the city, we figured we might as well take advantage. The Alhambra, we were told, is the most visited tourist attraction in Spain, which, after seeing it for ourselves, can understand why. This mighty fortress was built on the hill overlooking the city between the 11th and 13th centuries and housed Granada's Muslim rulers between the 13th and 15th centuries. Although it's apparent that there's been substantial renovations done over the years, it's easy to imagine how grand it was back in those days if it can still leave visitors astounded today.
We arrived somewhat late in the evening, so didn't have a ton of time to explore, but what we did see left us in awe. The immaculate gardens were beautifully landscaped and the countless nooks you could escape into were peaceful with fountains, reflection pools and towering trees to somewhat hide you from the masses of visitors. The Nasrid Palace, where the rulers actually lived, was by far one of the most intricately decorated and amazing buildings either of us have ever seen. The floors were made of perfectly placed stones and bricks to create beautiful patterns, the domed ceilings and door frames were decorated with amazingly ornate woodwork and the walls, both inside and out, were covered in ceramic mosaics and stunningly carved plaster tiles whose designs looked as intricate and delicate as lace. It seems as though it would take a single person a lifetime to complete a dozen of these tiles and then you look at the size of the place and the amount of manpower it must have taken to create it is unfathomable.
Intricate walls of the Alhambra
One of the reflection pools within the Nasrid Palace
A nice, quiet corner after all of the school kids went away.
When the time came for us to leave Granada we had a major challenge on our hands. We had dropped ourselves into a big hole and the only road leading out in the direction we wanted to go was a freeway. Our map and the route planning program on our computer showed a few smaller roads that all appeared to lead to a town via a mountain pass but then dead ended. After significantly studying Google maps for a while, Mike eventually devised a route for us, sketched a handful of maps in his notebook and we set off knowing it was likely that we'd get lost several times before we hit a road that was actually on our map. It turned out to be an adventure indeed as we spent a day bouncing along no-named gravel roads, unmaintained frontage roads, through fields, tiny villages, getting lost and ending up pushing our bikes through sandy washes. Just when we thought we were too far off course, we spotted a farmer working on the hill above us so we asked him which way it was to the next town on Mike's sketched map. The directions were simple; turn left out of the sand, lift our bikes over the fence, climb up a ginormous hill and keep going until you get to a gate. Pass through the gate, turn right until you hit a paved road, turn right again and it'll eventually take you to the town you're looking for. Oh, of course! It's so simple, how could we ever have gotten lost? Not knowing if this would only get us more lost, we took the farmer's word and when we finally made it to our destination were happy we hadn't turned back and started again.
Mike lost in a sandy wash
Cari on our day of being lost
The weather in southern Spain has gotten rather hot so we've decided to turn north and head for the Pyrenees, figuring by the time we get there the weather should be good enough for cycling. We thought we'd give our knees a break and take a less grueling route up the coast instead of working our way through the mountains of central Spain, but when we reached the Mediterranean coast, a few hours was all we could handle. The cliffs, white sandy beaches and turquoise water had potential for beautiful riding but rather than nice quiet roads that we're constantly searching for, we found ourselves surrounded by hotels sprawling as far up and down the coastline as we could see, heavy traffic, major road construction and hordes of over-tanned senior citizens walking around and lounging on the beaches half naked. After a full afternoon of having to stop and pull out the computer every 5 minutes to navigate our way through 20 miles of sprawling urban retirement communities, we'd had enough, found a road that headed inland and re-routed our course to the Pyrenees.
It has turned out to be an excellent decision. The roads have been spectacular, the desert mountain scenery is beautiful, there's little traffic and best of all, there's no need to continuously consult our map because we get long stretches on a single highway where we can just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Just some more beautiful Spanish countryside