CHAPTER 7: Granada to Madrid

We woke early. The sun had lifted the lid on the night sky and the horizon was illuminated with the bright colors of morning.

We quickly gathered the few things that we hadn’t packed the night before (toothbrushes, maps, and the clothes we’d slept in), and placed Dana’s keys as instructed on the wooden shelf in the main room that we’d treated as Jeff’s bedroom. I paused. Once we closed the door, we wouldn’t be able to get back in. This thought made me both sad and anxious.

When we swung the door closed behind us, it hesitated on the unlevel doorframe, as if giving us a second chance. “Are you sure?” With a final quick pull from Jeff, it released with a loud and finalizing slam.

We tip-toed down the creaking stairs in the open spiral stairwell that always smelled like cats (we had yet to see one, by the way). And as we descended the few flights, we made sure to avoid the step with the large and jagged chip in its orange, terra-cotta edge; over our few days here we had subconsciously memorized its place in the mound of stairs – even in the darkness. The darkness made it seem like we were sneaking away like bandits in the middle of the night (8am)… at least it felt that way until we reached the front door.

We pulled. No budge.
We pushed. Nothing.

We looked at each other. What’s going on? When we first arrived at Dana’s, we couldn’t get in. And now that we were trying to leave, we couldn’t get out. It was a cosmic, Granada joke. But we were on a time schedule, and we definitely hadn’t planned for this.

We had never ventured lower than the entrance (there had not been a need), but I went down there to find another possible exit. Nope. Nothing but mops, spiderwebs, and thicker darkness.

When we first arrived and walked through this uncooperative front door, Dana had quickly dashed into another apartment right across from the main entrance in order to grab our keys. We believed this was where she was staying while we rented the space above. Jeff walked up the three steps to the split level second floor to knock and ask for help while I continued to uselessly jiggle the handle and inspect the lock (I’m so helpful).

A solid 15 seconds after he knocked, and as our spirits steadily deflated and we looked at each other with raised eyebrows, a young woman (who was definitely not Dana) cracked open the door and peeked through the dangling chain. Her hair in a wild black tangle and eyes dark with sleep silently (and clearly) admitted that we had woken her. “La puerta…” Jeff gestured to the door behind him and the woman’s face was gone. Half a moment later the front door buzzed and her eyes reappeared. When I successfully pulled the door open, she was gone again – only this time accompanied by the thud of her door and rattle of its chain.

Out we went. And down the empty, stone pathways we had become so accustomed to during our time here.

As sad as I was to be leaving this historically-rich and deeply-charismatic city, I was also energized by the next challenge before us: Madrid.

Granada 1
We walked down Zafra to Plaza Nueva one last time, the square mostly vacant, and began our much-practiced trek to the train station. It took about as long as we had expected, even with our strange door hang-up.

Our walk was a quiet one. It was a Saturday, so most people were tucked away in their homes preparing breakfast or still fast asleep… unless, of course, they were at the Granada train station.

When we were here earlier in the week to arrange our tickets, the station had been almost completely deserted, but what had once been an open space was now filled and buzzing like a hive.

It was difficult to tell (or hear) if the swarm was for our train or not, so we asked an employee in a neon vest where we should go. We learned that only a single train came in at a time here, so this mass of people was also headed northward towards Madrid.

As we waited in line, Jeff filled out our mandatory travel sheet from EuRail and soon we were seated in the correct seats (and eventually the correct train car… oops).

As we got situated I realized this was the first time I’d been on a train in going on five years.

Jeff almost immediately dove into his Tolkien book, while I flipped through my journal to the next blank page. As the train began moving, I took advantage of the window seat and watched Granada slowly fade away.

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As we traveled, I wrote.

I wrote, reminisced, and reflected on all of the things we had seen so far, and how our destinations were getting bigger and bigger…

Nerja was a perfect place for us to begin. It was a quiet, relaxing town where we could get used to this new country… and literally get our feet wet in Andalucía with the Mediterranean Sea.

And though our entrance into Granada was a rocky one, we both left with a fondness for the city and its ancient dust now swirled in our lungs.

Both of these places had become a part of us. Absorbed into our bodies and now winding around our veins like the tree roots speeding by the smudged windows of the train.


{You can see that my head is literally in the clouds}

While I love the sweeping aerial views that planes provide, I am enchanted by the stories trains can tell.

I feel like this is the best way to see a place, whether it’s a city, region, or a country. You are a witness to the vast open spaces, crumbling brick farm houses, the backsides of towns. You get to watch flocks of birds silently fill the sky over an orchard, or watch a mother hold her infant child while standing in the doorway of a terra-cotta colored home, looking intently as if she’s expecting someone from long ago to be on our train.

Trains are the eye to what a city doesn’t want to show – the rough underbelly: the crumbling structures, open spaces, and forgotten people. It’s not glamorous, but it’s still beautiful; it just takes an open eye to see it, and and open heart to appreciate it. And on this train, my heart was full.

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After nearly five hours, we began to see hints of the city. Industrial mills and abandoned train cars gave way to occasional brick-stacked buildings clumped together like little herds.

As we slid along the tracks, passengers slightly rocked in unison to the sway of the train. It looked as if everyone was listening to the same song that flowed in my headphones (which was and would continue to be Active Child, for those who might need an update).

The automated voice, which had announced stops all along our way, spoke over the speaker once more (in two dialects of Spanish) that Madrid was approaching. It was a bit intimidating to watch the city slowly zoom in from a distance; it seemed like the big brother of the baby towns we had already seen.

With a gulp, we began packing up our items and prepared to execute our arrival plan. We were quite early for our check-in time with Luis, so we bought a book of subway tickets, wandered the train station for food, and then found a place to sit and eat.

We linked up to the station’s wifi and I messaged Luis to tell him we’d arrived. He had another check-in appointment at a different property so Jeff and I had agreed to wait here for the half an hour or so until Luis notified us that he was en route to our flat.

When we got the word, Jeff and I popped onto the next departing subway to La Latina. This was Jeff’s first subway experience and though we almost started heading in the wrong direction here, this was the closest potential subway detour we’d have. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly Jeff picked it all up.

It’s always a bit disorienting emerging from the depths of a city for the first time. The flood of people oozing out of the holes in the ground like sprouts or smoke. You’re rarely certain which way is North or which direction you’re facing.

And though Luis’ apartment wasn’t far from the La Latina stop, I quickly made us mixed up and turned around, my poor sense of direction in full swing.

Once recentered, we soon found Luis’ apartment pressed within the brightly-colored facade of Calle Mancebos.
Mancebos
Luis buzzed us in, somehow assuming we would know the difference between 2ext and 2ent in a building that we’d never entered before, but we found the apartment door eventually.

Out of all the Spanish Airbnb hosts we would meet, Luis was the most fluent in English and most engaging. He had studied his masters in Granada, so we were able to quickly bond over this and Jeff and I felt a bit more connected in this big city where we didn’t know a soul.

After a refreshing (English) conversation (with someone besides each other), Jeff and I said farewell to Luis and closed the door to our newest Airbnb.

I had to admit, I was pretty damned good at picking places to stay.
Madrid Airbnb Madrid Airbnb Madrid Airbnb Madrid Airbnb Madrid Airbnb

And what was funny was that each apartment we rented to this point wonderfully incapsulated the air of each city.

Nerja was simple, clean, and tiled. Beachy and sun-soaked.

And where Nerja had been sandy, Granada had been dusty. Worn with time and history, its old-fashioned aura flaking off in the Albayazín and surrounding alleyways and getting caught in the soles of our shoes.

Luis’ place was neither beachy nor old-fashioned. The only aquatic thing about it was the sapphire floor; the only old-fashioned aspect was the view of the church across the street, viewable through white and rusty-hinged french windows. Instead, this apartment was funky, artistic, and modern.Interior 1 Church Across the Street

It was early afternoon and siesta, so we made ourselves comfortable in the spacious living room as we looked through Luis’ map and list of nearby restaurants and shops, then began brainstorming what we wanted to do when the city reemerged from its mid-day slumber.

Madrid, here we come!

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