Our last night in Barcelona, we had a tapas dinner at El Bixto, where we had gone two nights earlier. We got caught in the pouring rain on the way home, the first bad weather we've seen on the whole trip.
In the morning we took the metro to pick up our rental car, then braved a minor nightmare making it back to the hotel, what with poorly signed roundabouts, one-way streets, no parking, and Allan re-learning how to drive a stick shift. (It now seems amusing to call this a nightmare, given the major driving nightmare that would bookend the day.) We packed up the car and I navigated us out of Barcelona and onto the highway. I don't drive a stick shift, so on any of our European trips, all the driving falls to Allan.
Barcelona to Grenada is about 860 kilometres (535 miles). It's the longest drive of the trip, the only one of this kind of distance. Once we were on the highway, it was very easy going. There were vistas of the Mediterranean, rolling farmland, some foothills and mountain tunnels. Easy, pleasant driving. But, I think, a lot for one person. So as the day wears on, Allan is getting tired. We are both ready to get into town.
We had a bit of a surprise when the toll road turned out to be 30 euros! We stopped at a rest stop for lunch, serving all manner of freshly prepared food, and picked up some cookies and chips... which turned out to be dinner.
The last few hours of the drive wound through dramatic country. First we drove through thousands of acres of vineyards, an area of Spain that produces standard table wine, and lots of it. Eventually this gave way to orchards on both sides of the highway, more orchards than I have ever seen, including in California. We were driving through a valley, and the orchards went up steep hills, into the foothills of mountains. It seemed like every bit of land that was not completely mountainous rock was planted, including on dramatic steep hillsides. The orchards didn't stop until the mountain went straight up. We were both amazed at such steeply hilly country being completely planted. I don't know what was growing, although we also passed a processing plant of some type and the air was rich with the smell of olives.
By the time we reached Granada it was growing dark. There's a huge amount of suburban sprawl, which surprised us. We had no idea the area was so populous. We turned off the highway, following directions to the hotel... which quickly did not correspond to reality. Before we knew it, we were driving on tiny, narrow streets, pedestrians overflowing from the sidewalks, intersections not marked, and absolutely no idea where we were or what direction to go.
This is absolutely not a town to drive in - and in fact the streets in the oldest part of town are closed to traffic (except taxis and buses) until 10:00 pm - but many tourists have no choice. We were hopelessly lost. I couldn't even call the hotel, because we lacked any point of reference to tell them where we were. At one point we found ourselves on a ring road heading up into the hills, out of town, in the pitch dark.
Poor Allan was exhausted. He had already driven 9 hours, and now he's bumping down impossibly narrow streets, motorcycles cutting us off, taxis honking behind us, people walking in front of the car with no warning. It was a nightmare. I was debating whether we should just stop at any hotel and try to get a room, but it was after 10:00 pm and that can be an even more frustrating experience. We had booked our Granada room online while in Barcelona. It was a great deal, they were holding the room for us, but I was starting to wonder if we'd ever find them, and if we did, would the room still be available.
Allan spotted a large hotel with a brightly lit sign, and we pulled into their check-in/unloading area. I took a chance, called our hotel and said we were lost. A very nice young man gave me verbal directions, which I wrote down, but they were like gibberish. We needed a map.
Then I went inside, and another very nice young man saved the day. He knew the hotel we were looking for, and said it was all but impossible to find. I felt a bit vindicated when he said that folks with GPS get especially lost! He took out a map, and gave me detailed directions, both written and verbal, then went over the whole thing again. While there, I also asked if his hotel had a vacancy... it did not.
It worked. The directions were perfect and we found the hotel. The young man at the desk (who I had spoken to earlier) could not have been nicer. He showed us to our room in an adjacent building, met us at the parking garage around the corner, and booked our tickets for the Alhambra for the next day. We were so tired we could have cried.
The hotel itself is hip and stylish, the room bright and roomy - and crazy cheap. Our room in Paris was 200 euros per night, much more than we usually spend, but I wanted to stay in a nice neighbourhood, and many of the better discount hotels were fully booked. Our room in Barcelona was 80 euros a night, a terrific deal in a nice neighbourhood. And this room in Granada is 55 euros a night! And it's really nice. It will be interesting to see what transpires from now on.
On the way here, I was fascinated to see highway signs in both Spanish and Arabic. Is there still an Arabic community in southern Spain, or do Muslims make pilgrimages to see these ancient holy sites? Either way, it's wonderful. We're seeing the Alhambra late in the day, just relaxing and hanging out until then. We'll also book our next couple of nights, and maybe book ahead in Madrid.