Because of my delayed flight I’d missed the chance to get a sense of the terrain I was travelling through so I was looking forward to the drive to Madrid. But the terrain was pretty monotonous. The land is covered almost exclusively with olive plantations. Olives for hours, and no other sign of life. No birds, no animals, no people, just the occasional massive billboard bull.
The bus I was on apparently had wifi, but it didn’t work well. The onboard entertainment system had a genuinely terrible selection of music and a bunch of films that were mostly in Spanish with no subtitles. I ended up watching Amelia, because it was the only one they had in English, but it lacked sufficient emotional depth for me to feel invested in.
So I stared out the window and reminded myself of how big the world is. It’s easy to forget that in the UK where everything is so dense and close together. Elsewhere, there is so much empty space. Driving always puts me in a pensive mood.
After Granada, Madrid felt big and unfriendly. I wasn’t there long enough to really get a sense of the city and it seemed like there was a lot less opportunity to interact with people beyond transactional stuff, like buying a meal. Even that wasn’t a particularly friendly experience. Serving staff spoke English but they weren’t all that enthused about having to help out and at every place I ate I had significantly slower service than the people around me. At one point I stumbled upon a weird restaurant that had cheap sandwiches and was inexplicably filled with nuns in groups of threes but I couldn’t figure out how to order food so I left.
One night I went to see a tabla flamenco show on the recommendation of a friend and out of a desire to keep up my quota of watching dance shows. It was interesting, but very touristy, not the sort of thing that I would normally do. I enjoyed the performance but at these sorts of encounters I always find it more interesting to pay attention to the meta experience of being there, watching the watchers and trying to figure out what about the encounter made it feel inauthentic.
Madrid made me feel like there were things happening and I wasn’t really a part of them. Perhaps I was missing having a high vantage point to look down from. In my accommodation I slept without covers and the noise of the traffic, garbage pickup and road maintenance continued on until 4am forcing me to dig out my earplugs to get some sleep.
I didn’t know much about Granada before I decided to go there. It was a snap decision made after seeing a random photo in my Instagram feed of a fashionable young woman in a black dress on a street paved in river stones with geometric designs.
I don’t regret that decision one bit. After booking my ticket I learned that one of the major attractions in Granada is the Alhambra, which was high up on my list of cool places I will probably never visit. I also learned that food and accommodation there is very cheap, which made me a bit sad that I hadn’t been before.
Getting there was a bit of an ordeal. There was a problem with our plane which resulted in a five hour delay, during which the poor pilot and crew looked lost while engineers tried to read pdfs of the technical manual on their iPhones. Our plane was mostly full of families on holiday and the children became increasingly restless and annoying. I felt quite bad for the parents. It was a relief when they finally let us off the plane with some meal vouchers because the cabin was beginning to smell like hot, dirty diaper.
By the time we arrived in Malaga I had long since missed my bus and the ticket office had closed. Luckily I was able to book another ticket on my phone, otherwise I’m not entirely sure what I would have done.
I was surprised by how well I dealt with the temperature, which was pushing 40 degrees. I suppose it was because it was a dry heat, which allowed sweat to evaporate as it should. Being from Vancouver and living in the UK, I’m used to hot, muggy air clinging to your skin and making you very uncomfortable. But in Granada I was fine; I just had to drink massive quantities of water.
I enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere in Granada. I’m very glad that I got the chance to see the Alhambra. I spent the better part of a day there soaking in all of the patterns and textures and didn’t have to spend as much time in line to get a ticket as I was expecting to. The only downside was that there isn’t much choice in the way of food up there. On the one hand there’s a cafe that does coffee and buns with meat or cheese in them, and on the other there is a Michelin star restaurant that is quite pricy. There isn’t anything in between.
I wandered down the hill, deciding to patronize what seemed to be the city’s only vegetarian restaurant, to find out that it’s only open for about four hours a day. It was the first of many failed attempts during my trip to support veggie restaurants.