This was Chelsea's thirtieth birthday weekend, combined with her friends dinner the previous weekend, so I had to go big to show how much I love my Darlin. The weekend began with me picking up the rental car on my way to work at Escuela Inglesa, followed by my race through Friday traffic, to finish the week. Chelsea then navigated through the bus maze to get to the academy for the first time. Since it was already 9:30pm when I got off it was time for dinner. There is an Indian restaurant I have been eyeing next to the academy and since Chelsea loves this cuisine I thought the perfect opportunity to try it out. The restaurant did not disappoint! With every table filled we walked right in and they had us seated within 15 minutes. We got our usual favorites of spinach, chickpeas, rice, and garlic nan. No alcohol because of the long drive but an amazing culinary experience with the semi spicy warm flavors of perfectly seasoned Indian delights to satisfy our craving for good food and keep us nourished for the long drive ahead.
I introduced Chelsea to the Fiat Panda, the lowest grade vehicle we have driven yet, but quite satisfactory to take us on our Granada adventure. We got the music adjusted and off we went beginning our journey with a bright moon lit sky and unusually clear night where the stars shown bright as we worked our way out of the city and onto the open road. We had the road to ourselves as this time of night on this non holiday weekend left the roads empty except for the occasional pair of truckers we passed to the right of us. We enjoyed the opportunity to talk deep and fun about our memories of the trip so far, family, friends, life, and the future. Even still living away from all our previous responsibilities it is still difficult to find quality time to enjoy conversation with my lovely wife and this long southern stretch of open road gave us the time needed to check in and really enjoy each other's company.
What was a 5 hour journey slipped by like the tornadoes I feel like our parties are and we had reached our destination, so turning from the Google maps to the perfectly printed directions we began the ascent up hundreds of years old cobblestone roads to our villa below the main house in the quaint village of Granada. Chelsea is gaining confidence, in my I admit learn on the go European driving skills, and assists me through two way streets just large enough to fit the compact Panda through. Twice we were forced to reverse uphill to allow fellow commuters to get by us and also had to avoid the slew of university aged pedestrians walking to and from their watering holes at an unusual hour of 4:30 in the morning. Alas, we arrive at out garage, park the Panda in the spot, again just big enough for it, flip the rear view mirrors in to avoid any insurance claims and take the short walk to our accommodations. There we rang the buzzer and within seconds had a response on the other end. We were quickly and efficiently guided to our weekend love nest and shown how to get around town. We unpacked, got comfortable and turned the lights off to a beautiful evening ready for the new adventures that await us with the rising of the Granada sun.
I put my feet on the floor, start my routine, and flip the curtains back to reveal a beautiful courtyard. Open the door to let the fresh air and light in, and so our Saturday begins. We get ready and I sit in the courtyard while my love gets dolled up for her palace birthday experience. I have a book about the palace to keep me company and read about the history, architecture, gardens, and life of the amazing world treasure we are about to explore. Finally, with my girl looking like a million bucks, fully charged camera in hand, we set off to see what awaits.
We begin walking the narrow streets and are pleasantly greeted by small colorful shops with handmade trinkets that are a step above your average plastic souvenir crap. We keep our pace as we have reservations to enter the palace but take the feel of the city in. Street musicians playing by the shops, the hum and buzz of vendors selling their goods, the smell of incense burning, teas brewing, the clatter of dishes in normal Spanish style, and find our way down to the city center. There at the center there are more restaurants, street performers, and tourists mixed with locals. We find our way to our destination and are told to run do we don't miss our reservation time. We begin a ten minute run uphill that takes our breath away, running by lines of 100 plus people, and ducking under swinging ropes. We arrive! Safe to enter. We catch our breath and instantly begin taking photos of wonders so beautiful that the camera doesn't do them justice. Hand carved intricate ceilings, walls, columns, all fit for fine royalty in the Arabic Muslim style overlooking breathtaking views of the Sierra Nevada mountain range from a bird's eye view. We experience the water, present everywhere, and the tranquilizing effects of its cool relaxing sound as it runs in trenches all around you and flows from features up and back down into pools filled with fat happy fish of all types and then you see another type of architecture that wows you, then another vista view, and this continues for about an hour until you have reached the exit.
But the exit from the main house is just the beginning of gardens that make my beloved Magnolia Plantation look like an infant baby compared to the size, painstaking symmetry, and plant training that only genius level horticulturists can develop over centuries of time to put the perfect plants and trees in the perfect places to produce the harmony and connection with the land displayed in the General Life gardens. Then another breathtaking piece of architecture, and it overlooks another breathtaking view, and so the cycle continues.
On our decent and rise back up the mountain we managed to grab some wonderful Mediterranean snacks that we carried with us. Finding a sunny spot next to a trickling pond where children were laughing and carrying on in different languages admiring the bullfrogs on Lillie pads in the gardens we refuel our bodies. Our souls were already getting filled and are running over. We found the most magical place in Spain and there was still more to enjoy.
We finish and continue on our walk with the waves of euphoric emotions continuing as we view, breathe, taste, and feel more natural beauty. Then a beautiful piece of architecture, another unreal backdrop, then into the next section. We see jasmine that reminds me of my mother, lilies that remind me of my grandmother, happy and healthy crape myrtles that remind me of Charleston. Amazing how a palace so far away can even evoke memories from a childhood thousands of miles away!
Finishing this tour, walking up to the lookout towers to take in the breathtaking views from atop the Torre de la Vela it was time to call it a day. Chelsea looked at her watch, we had toured for four hours. The time most people take to tour the Alhambra, so I guess we did it right.
We walked back down to the city center and then took a taxi to a lookout and got some tapas and a drink. We soaked up some sunshine and talked the afternoon away. Finally we decided to walk around Granada a bit more, get a to go pizza, and head back to the house. After 14 miles of walking for the day it was time to relax in our outdoor garden watching the colors of the sky as the sun went down and then call it a night.
We awoke Sunday energized from a good nights sleep ready to explore again. After packing and getting our perfect villa in tip top shape for our wonderful hosts we made our way to find some breakfast before getting back on the road. We made the decision to visit to Castillo de Almodóvar, about 2 hours out of the way but highly recommended by Chelsea's employer. We found a quaint spot to enjoy salmon lockes, coffee, and juice and then back on the open road we went. We enjoyed this journey because now we could see the mountains we knew we were missing on the way there. We saw mountains, countryside, wonderful colorful wildflowers, wind mills and other beautiful things as we cruised to the castle. We kept getting more rural and off the beaten path until we reached the castle.
We arrived and there was a mideval festival going on! The parking lot we were supposed to park in was converted into an area filled with tents for local vendors, food, and fun. We luckily found a parking space right next to the gathering and excitedly jumped into the mix.
After perusing the vendors we decided to make the short hike up to the castle. Again, amazing architecture and spectacular views of the Spanish countryside from all levels from this very cool old castle, Castillo de Almodóvar. There was even a very interesting sword collection. We enjoyed the entire castle, went to all the viewpoints, and then made our way back to the festival.
When we got back down we found a good Arabic food tent and got a fantastic lunch. While we were sitting to eat an acrobat that performs in a ring came by to get setup. Our timing couldn't have been better to have an opportunity to see his show! He dazzled the crowd for 20 minutes and we were able to take it all in. When he was done performing so were we. We gassed up the Panda and got back on the road, Madrid here we come!
Pushing the Panda to it's limits we got home at a decent time, I dropped Chelsea off so she could get us unpacked and walk the Cashy while I took the car back to the train station. My confidence of driving in Spain has increased as it needs to. Our next road trip in August requires a van and hairpin turns in the mountains of northern Spain. Car returned and back to bed.
We wake up on Monday morning remembering our weekend as if it were a dream, the best part is that it really happened. We have the photos to prove it!