A Week Plus in Spain, Part One: A Very Mellow Introduction to Andalusia

granada from the Alhambra

Our flight from Nairobi to Paris was long but uneventful. We got back in the late afternoon and said farewell to my sister and brother-in-law who were planning on spending a few days in Paris then heading home to Pittsburgh. We, on the other hand, headed to Roissy-en-France for the night so we could catch a plane the next morning for the next part of our trip: Spain!

We had about 10 days explore southern Spain. In actuality it turned out to be more like 8 days once we factored in getting from Point A to B to C (travel takes time). Our plan was to spend one night in Madrid then head to Granada for two nights, then Cordoba for two nights, Seville for two nights then back to Madrid for three nights. We figured trains would get us from place to place without a problem. Oops! Turns out that while the train network is excellent in Spain, the schedules are not so obliging or cost effective. What is both cost effective and schedule-friendly are the buses (go ALSA!)! So we ended up taking buses from Madrid to Granada and Granada to Cordoba. Tickets for two of us were under 50 Euros per leg! We used an awesome app called Omio (I was amazed that is it has all 5-star reviews – that is super rare, but in this case I can see why). All you need to do is input your starting city, your end point and the date and voila it gives you all your options (with prices) for train, bus or plane. And if you set up a free account you can buy your tickets through them as well (at normal rates, there’s no markup). We had heard that Renfe (the national train system in Spain) had a cludgey interface (and we found it to be true) so using Omio saved us that hassle. The fact that it also provided info on buses and planes was just gravy.

Our Paris to Madrid flight was a breeze – traveling from one Schengen country to another is a very simple customs-free experience and the hotel we stayed at (Hotel Ibis Madrid Aeropuerto Barajas) was super close to the airport which was nice and convenient. The next morning we took Uber from the hotel to the bus station, got on the bus and enjoyed a relaxing 3 1/2 hour ride to Granada on an ALSA bus that had TV screens and movie/TV options just like a plane! But you had to supply your own refreshments. 🙁

image from the generalize gardensOur hotel in Granada, the Hotel Alhambra Palace, was located right next door to the Alhambra and was quite lovely (Chuck gets all the credit – he booked the hotels for the Spanish portion of our trip) and offered fabulous views of Granada. There was a terrace bar where you could get food and drinks and just look out the windows and enjoy the view. That first afternoon we just walked around the old town getting a feel for the place and doing some shopping. We ate at the terrace bar and watched the rain fall outside. Rain has been a recurring theme of this entire trip (that’s what you get for traveling in January). We spent a good chunk of the next day visiting the Alhambra and the cathedral and climbing (because it wouldn’t be a trip for us if we didn’t do this) lots of stairs. We found a great app for the Alhambra (called, wait for it, Alhambra) that included a good audio tour so we used that and our AirPods and spent 3+ hours exploring the place. We had to walk down a hill to get to the cathedral so explored some more of the old town and checked out tapas restaurants – there are so many restaurants it was really overwhelming! We ventured down the hill and found a nice little restaurant that had a tapas special (four tapas and a pitcher of sangria) for 9 Euros and enjoyed the music (all 60’s American pop) and people watched.

CordobaWe left the next morning after breakfast for Cordoba and again the bus was the best travel option. This was only a two-hour ride. Cordoba had a completely different feel from Granada. At first, I didn’t think I’d like it as much but it quickly grew on me, I guess it felt more like a real city whereas Granada felt like a fantasy mountain village. Granada also felt a little more upscale (and I guess touristy) whereas Cordoba felt like a community where people really live, work and play. Our hotel, the Hotel Hacienda Posada de Vallina, was okay – it was it in an older building and felt a little dated with tired furnishings and uncertain heating and air. The price was unbeatable – 116 Euros for two nights, so we couldn’t complain about that! We consulted Trip Advisor and Google on the “must see” places in Cordoba and ended up visiting the Mosque-Cathedral, the royal baths, the Museo Vivo de Al-Andalus in the Calahorra Tower, crossed the Roman Bridge and toured the Alcazar. They also happened to be having a fun kind of faux medieval market while we were there with food and wares and activities that we enjoyed. Though the paella we tried there had some really weird things in it that I decided it best to leave alone (these things looked for all the world like something’s knuckle). We had dinner both nights we were there at a little place that was just a few doors down from the hotel. It wasn’t just the convenience but given that it rained both nights we were there it did play a part. One thing that definitely happened in Andalusia: we completely fell in love with tapas!