CHAPTER 3: Nerja to Granada

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I hesitate leaving out Jeff’s and my travel between cities. These pieces of our journey were beautiful breaks where we could sit back and take a deep breath from the sights, navigating, and bustle. They were also some of the most challenging, tiring, and frustrating moments we had, especially in Granada.Granada 2

The morning following our late-night photo taking, Jeff and I woke to our alarms and continued packing up our still-unfamiliar bags. We shared the last piece of fruit from our arrival, a slightly over-ripe peach, and each ate a granola bar before meeting with José for the last time to return the keys of our first ever Airbnb.

I loved the studio, especially the deck that had allowed for such a wonderful and unexpected birthday memory. We’d only been in Nerja for two days, but it had quickly become a home for us and it was all we knew of Spain (plus I’d finally managed to remember the order of all the keys and which way to turn each lock, a task which Jeff seemed to have mastered by the end of our first evening. *hrrmph*).

It seemed a shame that soon Nerja would slowly shrink away at the end of a bus.

After saying farewell to the apartment and José, we walked to the end of Trancos and up Pintada one final time to reach the simple bus stop where we’d been dropped a couple days earlier. As we made our way back up the curving road, the mosaic tiles underfoot occasionally clicked, just as they had when we first arrived and had cautiously walked down into the depths of this harmless and charming town. It all felt like a sweet wave goodbye.

We bought our bus tickets from the young girl sitting within the humble kiosk, and sat on a bench across the street and waited. The sun was up and had been for some time; I suppose that during this time of year, Nerja always seems sleepy.Calico
As I looked south towards the sea, I wondered if I’d ever be here again. To explore the hushed roads, witness the roaming Calico cats, or hear those clinking tiles again… If for some reason not, I knew I needed to absorb and soak in my final moments in this confidently quiet town. And as drowsy as Nerja may have been, I sank into my breath, pushed the air from my lungs, and slowly closed my eyes.

Our bus departed on time, and as we swept along the coast, everyone onboard craned their necks to extend the final moments of our last view of Nerja and the neighboring clusters of white homes, perched like birdhouses on the arms of the sloping green and dusty hills.

If I have any regrets on this trip, it’s that we were on the left side of the bus instead of the right, so we were unable to capture that supremely angelic view. Kills me to think of the time lapses I could have!

Our bus slid its way between the ebbing and flowing hills of the Spanish countryside. While Jeff’s eyes were flying through the pages of his book (Children of Húrin by Tolkien, for those who may be interested), my eyes were transfixed on the fish-bowled world flying by.

The bus ride was around three hours, and my face was plastered against the smudgy glass nearly the whole time. The only time I peeled myself away was when we were stopped at small “bus stations” (aka curbs or a parking lot with two bus shelters) so I could write as the driver loaded up or dropped off fellow passengers, or when I turned to ask Jeff for yet another snack (which were tucked away in his handy daypack).

As the road unfurled before us, I couldn’t help but think about what was on the horizon and what was to come. Nearly everyone I spoke with before the trip insisted that I would love Granada and it was their favorite place in all of Spain. But I knew nothing about the place, outside of what I’d seen on an Anthony Bourdain episode where he stuffed his face with countless tapas (which was clearly all I needed to see to solidify this was a must-visit).

When we entered Granada and walked into the bus station (which was an actual building with two stories, a cafeteria, help desk, and at least 20 angled bus spaces!), we wove our way around like we did when we arrived in Málaga, looking for where we should be in order to get from this bus station into the heart of the city. We found the help counter, but because I insisted on speaking (my version of) Spanish to everyone, we were soon back there asking for more clear instructions to get to the bus stop that was going in our direction. We left once more feeling only slightly more sure; we knew where to catch the bus into the city center, but we didn’t know exactly the transfer point to get from Granada’s city center to the Albayazín, which was where our Airbnb was located.

We shuffled onto the bus we knew would take us to the city center, and hoped that perhaps our bus driver could confirm when and where we should transfer. This thought was quickly dashed when he curtly shooed us away and spoke in mile-an-hour annoyed Spanish when we asked “es este el autobús de la Catedral?”

Great.

We found two open seats near the front. With eyes darting from our mostly unhelpful Airbnb itinerary map to the roads quickly passing outside, we tried to find a familiar-looking street name. After riding for about ten minutes, Jeff suggested we get off here. This might have been one of the best decisions of the trip because after this stop, we watched the bus turn to the right and continue over a long, arching overpass to who knows where.

Relieved to have hopped off when we did but still in the same pickle we were in before, we tried to wrangle our bearings and anchor our location on our map. We knew we needed to find the “A” bus, and after wandering north and stumbling upon the University of Granada did we manage to find a bus stop.   IMG_6499
We waited there with three others, all probably in their mid-forties, for close to twenty minutes. During this time we saw three or four buses going the other direction – back the way we came. When yet another one came oozing down the hill, Jeff and I ran across the street to see if perhaps maybe this was the A bus and would take us to or close to the Catedral.

It was.

Relief. Not only because we found the bus, but also that we’d found it before our transfer slips expired, which was literally three minutes later. The driver was a good-looking, dark-haired guy and probably in his early 30s (important details). He waved us on (instead of shooing us away) and nodded that he was the bus we wanted. We plopped down with our packs on our laps.

The exterior of the bus looked more like an ambulance than anything else, and inside with its carpeted seating could fit perhaps 20 people like sardines. Soon it would be pretty clear why Granada city buses were the size they were.

As we rode from the University to the main hub of Granada, we continued our search for familiar streets we’d never seen. The roads quickly transformed from smooth, ordinary, two-lane, paved vias into bumpy, narrow, and dusty cobblestone alleys. We were also going uphill. We were floating up into the Albayazín, the historic Moorish quarter of Granada.Granada
We quickly learned that Granada bus rides are not for backseat drivers, squeamish passengers, or the faint of heart. As we whirled through the narrow, serpentine streets, Jeff and I kept exchanging “holy crap did you see how close we were to that?!” and “woah, we almost hit those ladies!” glances. Not only did the roads tighten into glorified alleys, but at times there were pedestrians on both sides. Granada bus drivers put Seattle metro and New York cabbies to shame.

After threading our way through the khaki-colored calles, I soon noticed that the University was once again on our right. Crap. We were back where we started and now over an hour late to meeting Dana, our Airbnb host.

Jeff immediately popped up, travel book in hand, to show the driver where we needed to be. A few minutes after Jeff sat back down, Catedral was “announced” (i.e.: said in an indoor voice – remember this bus was tiny).

Though we were deposited where we hoped, Jeff and I had a ways to go. We still had to find Plaza Nueva, which was where the tourist information center was located and where we would be able to ask for directions to Dana’s flat.IMG_6500
Spain has multiple dialects of Spanish, and this was most apparent to us in Barcelona and Granada. I’d equate Granada’s version with America’s Southern drawl; it’s difficult to pick up if you’re not already quite comfortable in the language. Locals not only cut off the end of their words when speaking, they also blend them into one another, making understanding even more challenging than simply trying to connect similarities between it and Mexican Spanish as Jeff and I were doing.

Considering this major difference (and the fact that most people didn’t seem too interested in answering our questions), I was pleasantly surprised with how well we communicated with residents during our stay.

We found Plaza Nueva and the information center, and soon our map was freshly marked with the best route to Zafra, the street that would lead us to Dana. The only hitch was that neither Jeff nor I could dial out in order to reach her. The information center wouldn’t let us use their phone and we couldn’t figure out how to use the pay phone they directed us to down the street. You’d think: deposit the specified amount of coins, dial the number you need, and presto – but for some reason, no.

We gave up on the pay phone and decided to walk up a nearby side street to find Zafra. Big mistake. What we should have done is gone back to Plaza Nueva in order to follow the pencil line that was drawn on our map only 15 minutes prior.

Because we didn’t do that, we found ourselves in a literal labyrinth of zig-zagging, pebble-paved paths. Though we were tired, hot, frustrated and lost, I couldn’t help but feel slightly energized by the history and antiquity surrounding us.Airbnb 1
We climbed stone steps made dusty with the sands of time, only to be gently lowered back down like a baby into a cradle; we wound our way along passages that twisted, curved, and suddenly ended like an unpunctuated sentence. If we weren’t so hangry, I probably would have made Jeff wander with me for hours. Plus we accidentally finally stumbled upon Zafra 52, hurray!

We were here. At the apartment. Two hours late but finally. Now…. how to get in?
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