The drive between Malaga and Granada is beautiful. It's rural country, with dramatic, rocky mountains popping up out of the middle of rolling hills covered with olive groves as far as the eye can see. You can't help but stop at every opportunity to take in the acres upon acres of olive trees, dramatic mountainscapes, and gorgeous blue sky.
Granada itself is a bit of a clusterfuck. It took us what seemed like forever to navigate from the north of the city, from which we entered, to the vicinity of the Alhambra in the southeast, just short of the spectacularly gorgeous Sierra Nevada, covered in snow and chilling the mountainous region to a cool, enjoyable temperature, despite the abundant sunshine. Perfection. We took our time enjoying the views and even laughed about the crazy traffic, knowing that in the low season, getting into the Alhambra poses no problem. At least, that's what one of the Americans in our Morocco tour group told us yesterday.
Wrong. We queued up for tickets, and were told that there were only 100 tickets left for the day. There were at least 200 people in front of us. Fuck. I really, really, really wanted to see the Alhambra.
Next best thing: Finding the Mirador San Cristobal to get a panoramic view of the place, with a dazzling mountain backdrop and a gorgeous glow in the sunset. We'd have to wait it out to get that view, but first and foremost, we'd have to find it. The mirador isn't on any of the tourist maps, and while guidebooks mention it, they don't tell you exactly where it is.
We made our way through various plazas and tightly-jammed streets, making numerous traffic violations along the way. Taxi only street? Fuck it. Yield to people in the roundabout? Screw that, no one else is! J got us oriented on the map and Elena played lookout while I concentrated on driving through the nightmarish maze that is Granada. Finally we made our way on to an uphill cobblestone street that seemed promising, if a little narrow. Then it got narrow. And narrower. Until finally, there were mere inches between the car and the walls on either side. Not to mention pedestrians trying to make their way up the street.
"Are we even supposed to be on this??"
"I don't know, but there's a bus in front of us, so why not?"
At this point, I was thankful for Seat's German and Spanish ingenuity. Powered retracting sideview mirrors? Check. Enough power to make it up San Francisco style hills without burning the clutch? Check. The turning radius of a pygmy mouse? Hell yes. We were able not only to squeeze through the impossibly tight street, but also somehow cross what looked like a small footpath to find free parking on a residential hillside overlooking the gorge behind the Alhambra.
So we'd made it up the hill unscathed, and BOOM! There was a sign: Mirador Panoramico. This afforded us a full panoramic view of the Alhambra, up on top of its hill. Still, there was no promised backdrop of the snowy Sierra Nevada in the background, and we were hours from the sunset that would make the Moorish palace glow in all its splendor.
Still, it was magnificent. All my disappointment from not getting in started to wash away.
It didn't hurt that we found a great restaurant nearby, letting us indulge in cerveza, vino tinto, patatas, lamb skewers, braised rabbit - you name it. Beautiful Andalucían dishes called, and we answered. All in a gorgeous, quaint setting, probably the nicest Spanish eatery I've had the pleasure of sitting in.
We walked around a bit and shopped, laughed at the hippie dreads who are known to frequent this neighborhood (Albayzin), and enjoyed the charms of the small cafes, artisan shops, and magnificent views all around. Despite the traffic woes and the overcrowding of the Alhambra, Granada is sooooooo worthwhile.
Returning to the Mirador around sunset, we took in the amplified colors of the twilight sky and the glow it cast upon the Alhambra. There was a little snow on the ledge of the mirador, which made everything that much more surreal and interesting. It was the perfect environment in which to enjoy an espresso and the company of good friends.
Although we'd initially planned to drive back via the scenic, snowy Sierra Nevada route, we decided it'd probably be too icy and treacherous in the dark, and swung around to make our way home the way we came. Only minutes later, after crawling through more ridiculously tight streets (or were they walkways?) we came upon what we were looking for in the first place: The Mirador San Cristobal. While the view of the Alhambra itself was a bit obscured, right behind it were the magestic white mountains, and beneath, the enormous valley and all the glowing lights of Granada. In the distance, we could see the mountains around which we had driven in the day, crested in a dark tone of orange from the sun that was now hiding behind them. Spectacular. No crappy picture could do it justice, anyway.
Any remnants of earlier disappointment were washed away. Other than the fact that by the time we'd discovered this spot, there wasn't enough light for great photos. But who cares? In the camera of my mind, it'll be remembered as one of the most beautiful views I'd ever laid eyes upon.