[Semi-] Permanence

When I last abandoned you I was just back home in Granada but still juggling legal paperwork.  Last week I went one morning to OdX (my shorthand for the Oficina de Extranjería) on a whim, just in case the twenty day processing time had passed.  I had no idea how to count business or bureaucrat days in Spain, but I had nothing else to do that day so I hopped on the 33 bus and was there in about twenty minutes. 

The early morning line to get through security had bled off and I had to wait for only four or five people to clear the screening.  I showed my “come back in twenty days” letter to my old friend at the reception desk and he pointed at the “take a number” machine.  Oh, great.  Wonder if they will call my number before the five o’clock closing hour.

B58 said the ticket that spat out of the machine.  I went into the waiting area to the left, found a seat that wasn’t near squalling children or amidst loud family groups.  I pulled my appointment ticket out, because I can’t remember what I read 90 seconds ago, looked up at the countdown monitors and saw B55 was now being served.  I rechecked my ticket and sure enough I was third in line after the current winner.  That never happens.

In very little time my number came up and I made my way to Mesa 2, where sat the very same decision lady that I had seen three times previously.  I handed her my letter and offered her my passport.  She took the letter and waved off the passport.  She pulled my card from a rectangular lock box on her desk and I jumped for joy inside my skin.  It’s here, miracle of miracles.

Like the previous visit when I got the approval letter, I had to give them fingerprints on an electronic scanner.  Like the previous visit, the scanner detected no prints on my fingers.  Decision lady reached over and mashed down on my fingers, then retrieved a wet wipe and some tissues, cleaned the glass plate and my finger tips and repeated the process.  This worked the previous time, but no joy on this cold morning.  I blame the weather and not that I am a walking corpse.  She walked away without saying a word to me.

She came back a few minutes later with a younger man with a Junta de Andaclucia ID badge dangling from his neck.  He sat down, tapped on the keyboard, motioned for me to put my fingers on the glass.  A happy noise emerged from the machine.  Repeat with my left hand and the same happy noise emitted.  He reached over, picked up my Tarjeta de Residencia and handed it to me and walked away.

Decision lady sat back down at her desk and stared at me.  I shrugged my shoulders and tried to say, “What now?”  With her hands she dismissed me, shoo, shoo.

Six months of trekking to the OdX at least one dozen times and that was it.  I was a bit befuddled that it was over and the whole thing took less than one hour, including the bus ride.  I turned left out the office door toward town but not toward the nearest bus stop.  I had nothing else planned that day and all I knew was that I didn’t want just to go sit in my apartment, so I started walking home.

The first landmark that I passed was Jardines del Triunfo.  This is one of the nicest of hundreds of plazas in Granada, sloping uphill from Avenida de la Constitucion to a tall column with a spiked lady atop backed by a row of fountains.

Not my photo.  Lifted off the web.

There was an earlier Jardines del Triunfo that tied into the Alhambra fortifications but it had a couple of negative memories associated with it.  First, it was built atop the old Muslim burial grounds, so that was a bit of a thumb in the eye to the previous regime, and second, when the French ruled this area in the very early 1800s it was the execution ground for the captured patriotic Spanish resistance.

A less bad memory is that the current Triunfo sits where the previous Plaza de Toros stood until 1940.

Not my photo.  Pretty sure by now this is public domain.

In both the previous photos there is a large stone building in the immediate background with a short tower protruding.  This is the Hopital Real, the Royal Hospital.  That building dates to 1504, 1511 or 1526, depending on which source you consult.

This is now part of the University of Granada (UGR), enrollment 80,000, founded at the same time Hopital was constructed.  Hopital currently serves as the home of the university library and the seat of the University Rector.  Pretty good condition for a 500 year-old structure that is in continuous, daily use.

From here I continued vaguely toward home and reached the Puerta Elvira.  This was one of the official entrances to and tax collection offices for the city and is just a little older than UGR and Hopital.  It was built in the 11th century.

My shots of the front of the gate are at the lab being processed, but here are shots of the rehabilitation work in progress just behind the gate:

This is a one thousand year old structure in a land of frequent, although moderate, seismic activity and the walls are are still vertical and the corners are square.  This was constructed roughly 300 years after the vanguard Berbers conquered Granada.

Puerta Elvira is the entrance into the lower Albaicin, the old Muslim quarter of Granada.  This is where you lived if you were part of the ruling administration but weren’t high enough ranked to live in the Palace complex.  The cobblestone streets are steep, never straight, very uneven and lined with historic jewels and curiosities.  Just across Rio Darro is El Realejo, the Jewish quarter that sits on the hillside directly beneath the walls of the Alhambra, and ominously beneath the walls of the Alcazaba, the fortress first sited here by Julius Caesar and expanded and fortified by the Muslims.

I had to go back and check my notes, but I did find this in Albaicin and not Realejo.

Islamic lettering and crescents appear in the window area, but the door handles form a star of David when the doors are closed and two other Jewish stars appear above.  Was this a medieval Interfaith center?

After continuing my climb into the Albaicin I reached Placeta de San Miguel Bajo, in the shadow of yet another church bell tower and ringed by cafes.  The sun was out, I had a resident card to celebrate and my legs and lungs ached from the climb, so I grabbed a table outside and ordered a beer confident that a tapa would follow.  While I rooted around in my backpack for the book tucked away I noticed that I had a dining companion.

This feller has learned that humans in his neighborhood are suckers who often have food to share.  He was surrounded by strangers but calmly slunk from table to table and accepted chin scratches, trusting that enough of us would toss a tidbit aside to get him through the day.

The day went downhill from here . . . not in a bad way, but I headed back downhill from this sunny respite and met friends for coffee and cakes down in the center city.  From there we tottered over to Plaza del Carmen for the Christmas lighting ceremony.  The Plaza was packed well before the ceremony was scheduled to start.  Three of us bailed out to a nice dinner at a cafe that is normally too crowded ever to get a table, but because so many people were celebrating the beginning of Natividad, we few, we hungry were seated and supped on the best beef in town.  Our other two members, Jim and Jiab, danced the night away like the newlyweds they once were.

Another day in paradise.

[And living in paradise compels me to confess that this is actually a composite of more than one day’s rambling around town, but it was easier for both of us this way.]


Very little to report for so long away

I had fun in my last few days in Granada attending one last TENGO gathering and having dinner with friends who helped me learn the city and its ways, but when I was not with them I was in a glum mood.  I left the US both voluntarily and intentionally.  I was surprised at how quickly after arriving in Granada that I made many friends and settled in to a very comfortable rhythm of daily life.  Now I had to leave, so as not to be an illegal immigrant, and return to the US.

My original, announced plan had been to decamp for Ireland for the summer with a side trip to Scotland.  I was in Ireland nearly 30 years ago and I have never been in the UK so this plan appealed to me.  Ireland and Scotland in August sounded much more appealing than the 50°C weather in Granada.

“Why don’t you just go back to the US and get your residency visa?”  This assault of logic from a good friend hurt me deeply because a) she was irrefutably correct, and b) I hadn’t thought of it.  I was abroad, happily, and didn’t want that to end.  End of thought process.

blinders

The fact was that I had already completed all the steps for the visa application that could be completed from Spain.  We had proven to my satisfaction that there was no way to get the visa in Madrid or the foreigners’ office in Granada, so I had to go back eventually.  Might as well be sooner rather than later.

So I spent my last days of this exploratory trip cleaning my apartment and making plans to shut it up for an unknown number of months until I could return.  Insert curmudgeon sounds here.

So now I am back in Tennessee, homeless, jobless, carless.  I think I can get all the remaining documents on the application checklist in the next two weeks.  Then I have to get about thirty pages of financial records, medical documents and US government documents translated into Spanish (the third most expensive part of the application process after airfare and hotels) and hand deliver the stack of papers to the Consulate in Houston, Texas.  There is only one problem.

The Consulate web site states that their next available appointment is more than two months hence.  Picture me petulantly stomping my foot and whining, “But I’m ready to go now.”

So I am back home [well, not my home, but the home of my very kind aunt who let me crash at her home for months], happy to see friends and family but chomping at the bit to get out of here as quickly as outside forces will allow.

I’m going to describe the steps I am going through to complete the application package just in case it is ever of use to another US citizen who wants to reside legally in Spain.  This is not my altruistic idea, but is a suggestion from my friend Kay, who shared her ordeal getting residency last year and thereby saved me from numerous false starts and lost time.

While in Spain for my 90 day tourist test drive, I rented an apartment.  The lease is in Spanish with the Junta de Andalucia recordation stamp so no translation was needed.  Time to complete:  weeks until I was introduced to a realtor.  One day later I had committed to an apartment and a few days after that we signed the lease.

I got my N.I.E. (Numero de Identidad de Extranjero).  A N.I.E. is similar to a US Social Security Number.  This is my national identification number.  Not a required element for the application, but hopefully bonus points for obtaining it early.  Time to complete:  two and one half days of walking around to get the preliminary number.  A couple of weeks after that to receive the official letter.

Two sets of passport photos.  This is a trivial item and could have been done in the US but while we were walking around trying to get my N.I.E., we saw a sign that said, in Spanish, Passport Photos.  We popped in and ten minutes and less than 10 euros later this item was checked off.  Time to complete:  fifteen minutes.  [For some unknown fortuitous reason I got a couple of extra sets.  See later why this saved both time and money.]

Health insurance was a looming worry for me.  Everything I had found online was exorbitantly expensive.  I was walking down Camino de Ronda with my friend and traductora Kay one day looking for a restaurant when we passed by an Adeslas office.  On a whim we popped in to ask questions and get a brochure.  Twenty minutes later I walked out with a completed application and a policy that was time-delayed until August.  This was a big item checked off.  Time to complete:  twenty minutes with someone translating on my behalf.

My criminal background check was easier to obtain than I expected.  I ordered it on line on the weekend while still recovering from jumping seven time zones.  It should arrive within the week.  I then have to go to the County Clerk’s office, where the document was issued and notarized, to get the County Clerk to certify that the notary is, in fact, a valid and current notary, and then take that document to the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office to get the Hague Apostille.  Physically hauling the document to government offices was completed in the same day.  Time to complete:  fifteen minutes to find the site and fill in the application.  One week for the physical document to arrive by mail.  One day of ride share travel around Nashville.

Why I want to live in Spain essay and translated into Spanish.  Time to complete:  thirty minutes to write and rewrite.  A few days for this and other documents to be translated.

Copy of Tennessee driver’s license to establish my state of residency and thus which Consulate has jurisdiction and translated into Spanish.

Authorization form M790 C052.  Time to complete:  30 minutes mostly in translation.  Other form numbers were required but were the same data in the same sequence.

Medical letter and certified translation into Spanish.  Time to complete:  A couple of days of Google map searching and phone calls to find someone who knew the international standard  and one day to go to my appointment.  They handed me the signed document on the spot.  Then it had to be translated and notarized with all the other documents.  Make sure up front that your chosen doctor will write the letter from the template.  If they want to show how smart they are and free-style the letter, it will get rejected.  Find a doctor who will, if their exam supports it, sign the form letter exactly as presented.  Original signature is required.

Brokerage statements, notarized and translated into Spanish.  Time to complete:  zero.  My broker took care of this for me other than the translation part.  This was, however, the majority of the pages that required certified translation.  Mucho dineros.

Translation took me a day or so to find the American Translators’ Association website (http://www.atanet.org/).  I selected one in my town so I didn’t have to wait on a delivery service.  After that the task was completed and handed over to me in less than one week.  I think I got lucky so you may want to allow more time.  It is critical that you find a certified translator, otherwise the Consulate may not accept their work.

My appointment at the Consulate is now scheduled for 15 August, 9:30am.  The web site says it will be 15 minutes but I spent over an hour being called back up to the window to answer questions and clarify data.  I was happy to do it in person rather than being summoned back to Houston at a later date.

Five weeks later the Consulate notified me that my visa was approved and asked when, at least one week from now, would you like to appear back in Houston to fetch your passport?

I was there on the first day they could have it ready and had an outbound flight to Málaga booked for the following day.  This time I knew to go through Lisbon instead of Frankfurt, cutting many hours off the trip.  The brass ring:

visado

 


 

Fast forward to November.  I’ve been back for one month and now have a letter in hand saying a) that I am a legal resident foreigner in Spain and b) please come back in twenty days to collect your resident card.

Good news; bad news.  They said yes, but the physical card is a prerequisite for my desired bank to open an account for a US citizen (thank you Treasury Department).  The bank account is a prerequisite for getting the utilities for my apartment transferred into my name.  Pro-tip for those following in my footsteps:  find a landlord as cool as mine.  He’s paying my utility bills and accepting that I will reimburse him soon.  He’s a lawyer and has been seen laying on my floor rewiring electrical outlets for me.  Oh, and he commutes on a motorcycle.  Yeah, definitely look for a cool landlord.

When I went to Houston to collect my approved application they said, we have affixed our stamp on all these pages.  Take this to the Oficina de Extranjeros and they will issue your resident card.  Cool!  That sounds easy.  I went to the OdX one afternoon and discovered that on the first trip they simply tell you that you need an appointment and the next one available is in two weeks (all the college students arrived just before I did.)

I went back on a whim early one morning in case someone didn’t show up for their appointment and got lucky.  Only waited about an hour and got in to see the decision lady.  She was very polite while explaining to me what required documents that I failed to bring with me – two more passport photos, an application form just like three previous versions, yet another photocopy of my entire passport, this one showing the visa from the Consulate and my entry stamp, no earlier than the visa first allowed entry date, and the receipts from the Consulate proving I paid my fees.  These were not mentioned anywhere on line nor by the Houston Consulate.  Apparently the only way to learn what you need to bring is to show up without them and be sent away.

I went back yet again without an appointment and slipped in to see the same decision lady and showed her her own handwriting of the missing required items.  I handed them over and, miracle of miracles, she handed me a letter of approval.  Then she said come back in twenty days to collect your residency card.  I didn’t want to push my luck by asking if that was calendar days or business days, partly because I don’t know the bazillion local holidays so I have no idea how to count business days.

So now I’m into home-making like I haven’t done since my 20s.  Buying basic household stuff that I have in storage back home, sauce pans, flatware, cotton towels, glasses that hold more than two ounces.  Hopefully by New Year’s I will have all the legalities completed and can finally start traveling.  When I was home waiting for my visa appointment everyone asked where all I had visited and they were uniformly mystified when I said, “Nowhere.  I was doing legal paperwork the whole time.”  I now have a couple of continents to catch up on.  I need to get a good start before the tourists return.

Did I mention that my local weather radar is cooler than I’m used to?  I’m at that black dot just above the word Málaga.  That is Rome off on the far eastern edge of the map and that big landmass in the south?  That is Africa, a whopping 130 miles from my doorstep, about the same distance that Little Rock is from Memphis.  I have to go now and start planing some trips.

 

wx radar

Exiled to my own country

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-9-26,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

[Henry’s Lake, ID, just outside the western entrance to Yellowstone N.P.]

Back in the American West again, where I’ve always felt comfortable and at home even though I’m not from here and only ever lived here for a few years.

“Wait.  What?  I thought you were in Spain?”

You are correct.  I were in Spain but I had to leave in order to stay there.

” . . . ?”

I was there until a couple of weeks ago.  I decided I liked it and wanted to stay so I had to return to the US to make that happen.

“But, you were just a few hours outside the capital.  Couldn’t you just go to Madrid and take care of that?”

No.  Americans must apply for a residency visa at the Consulate that has jurisdiction over their home state.  In my case Houston covers Tennessee.  I had to fly back to the US, get some documents that require my physical presence here and then wait for my appointment at the Consulate.

“And is that soon?”

15 August.

“That is almost two months from now.”

Yep.

“And then you get to go back to Spain?”

Nope.  That appointment is just to hand over my application and all the supporting documents, in duplicate and all translated into Spanish.  Oh, and I leave my passport with them so I can’t go anywhere else.

“And then what?”

And then I wait for their answer.

“How long does that take?”

The Embassy web site says two months or more.  The Consulate web site said, on the day I made my appointment, that they were then at a two week turn around.  So somewhere between two weeks and two months, or more.

Meanwhile I don’t have a job, I don’t have a place to live, I don’t have a car and I don’t know how long I will be here.  Oh, and after the Consulate makes a decision, I have to go back to Houston to retrieve my passport, hopefully with the visa affixed.

“Fun.  And you brought this all on yourself why?”


Yogi Boo Boo log

[Yogi Bear and Boo Boo are the property of Hanna-Barbera.]

Today is Friday.  I am sitting on a bench in Jellystone National Park watching Old Faithful not erupting.  Not erupting is what it does almost all the time.  I picked this bench because no one was sitting on it and no one was sitting on any of the benches around it so that I could scribble these notes in the little book of empty pages that I keep in my back pocket.

Now I am surrounded by exasperated parents and grandparents feebly trying to entertain their bored, unimpressed, shrieking children and to restrain them from running toward the geyser.

Wednesday morning I awoke relieved to be checking out of yet another hotel and move on to a month-long AirBnB rental.  For almost all of the last four months I have been in hotels in Spain and the US.  I enjoy traveling but eventually I tire of living out of a suitcase.  I can happily go for a week or two with just a backpack or a small carry-on size bag, but lugging all my stuff from place to place every few days gets old.  Fortunately I found a house on a lake here in Memphis with a pontoon boat and a kayak available for my use and a big porch overlooking the lake to sit on and read and write this drivel.

Reprieve . . . snatched out from under me.  I just got a text from the couple that owns the lake house informing me that they are at their home in Florida and won’t be back for another couple of weeks, so the rental is not available, even though the website took my money.

With no place to stay here in Memphis, I decided to rent a small, cheap car and head out vaguely northwest.  The states in the US that I have not yet visited are all in New England or the northern mid-west.

Two hours fighting the rental car company website ended in my eventual victory and a message that a compact car would be awaiting me at noon.  Another hour at the rental car office, listening to their completely reasonable explanation why their web site was wrong and no compact cars were available, and I was pulling away in an electric blue SUV.  Errands around town meant that I was not crossing the bridge and into Arkansas until some time after 3 pm.

With that late a start, my best hope was to get north of the Ozarks and in to Missouri before I had to stop for the night.  For once, my life-long companion, insomnia, worked in my favor.  I crossed into Wyoming at 2:50 pm Mountain time the next day and into Montana twenty minutes later.  By 7 pm I was in Billings and called it quits for the day.  1,490 miles in 29 hours on the road, including stops.  That averages out to better than 50 mph.

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-9-26,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

[Eastern South Dakota, day two.  Note bugs on windshield from overnight drive.]

I found a restaurant in the historic city center that was empty enough to give me a large booth to myself and the password to their wifi.  While eating a better than expected meal I found a local hotel and booked a room for three nights.  Billings is a small city of about 100,000 people with two interstate highways running through it, so it makes a good base from which to explore the greater area.

I schlepped my bags up to the hotel room, thought about going out to explore town and woke up ten hours later near 6 am.  I fetched coffee from the lobby and showered and dressed to go explore and hike in Yellowstone.  About an hour from Billings is the quaint town of Red Lodge, MT, not to be confused with the Black Lodge of Twin Peaks.  Nothing creepy here.

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-9-26,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

The only thing missing from this stereotype is the hitching posts on either side of the street.

Just west of Red Lodge, we climbed near the base of the overcast which now enshrouded the mountain peaks.

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-9-26,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

Another hour and a half drive, through the most breath taking scenery of the day on the switchbacks of the Beartooth Highway, brought me to the north east entrance to the park in a slight drizzle.  I didn’t really have a destination in mind but had nearly the whole day to explore randomly so I headed diagonally southwest toward the middle of the park.  There the two loops of the main roads meet to form a figure eight.

Between the park entrance and the connection of the two loops, I crossed a mountain pass below Mt. Washburn.  Google Earth tells me that Mt. Washburn’s peak is roughly 10,200 feet above sea level.  The road below the peak is just a few feet short of 9,000.  The day before, when I was in western South Dakota just about to cross in to Wyoming, the readout on the rental car dashboard said the outside temperature was 104º F.  The next morning below Mt. Washburn:

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-9-26,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

34º F, snowing hard enough to be accumulating on 15 June.  A 70 degree temperature drop in about 18 hours and 300 miles.  What a country, as the philosopher Y. Smirnov said.

I made it down from the pass and the snow turned to a steady, but not heavy rain.  Low clouds revealed only the lower reaches of the mountains, but the view across the lush green valleys was spectacular.  Out west the highway engineers are not particularly big fans of guardrails, so my attention was on driving at this point to the exclusion of picture taking.  I headed out the west entrance to the park to the town of West Yellowstone, WY, where I had a decent, but uninspired lunch.

After lunch I took about a twenty minute detour to Henry’s Lake, ID (see first picture above) simply because I had never been to Idaho, and quite possibly will never be in this part of the US again.  One of the slightly silly motivations for this trip, aside from the soothing effects of being in the American West, was to check off several states that I had not yet visited.  Idaho was right up near the top of the list of the lower 48 that I didn’t really expect to ever get to.  I could not pass up the opportunity and since hiking and camping were ruled out by the steady rainfall, what better use did I have for a half hour?

I drove, pulled over at an overlook on the side of the highway, took my picture of the mountains overlooking the lake and this other one in West Yellowstone of a sign that I don’t expect to ever see in Memphis.

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-9-26,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

I re-entered the park and turned south to visit the geysers.  Without leaving the paved road, you see umpteen steam vents right alongside the road, just back a little bit in the woods and up on hillsides.  I had just enough geology classes in college to know the basic cause of all this steaming water rising from the ground, and in this case the knowledge is not comforting.  Not far beneath the surface of this place on earth is a giant pool of magma.  Liquid rock.

This is more than just a volcano, it is a thin spot in the crust that allows the molten core of the earth to nearly breach the surface.  [Yes, I know that is a bit of an exaggeration, but it sure sounds more dramatic.]  And thousands of us come here intentionally to walk around on this thin spot just above red-hot melted rock and hissing steam, assuming “What could possibly go wrong?”

Fortunately, today nothing did go wrong.  I finally got to the southern part of the park and pulled in to the vast parking lot at the Old Faithful Lodge.  More people were walking away from the geysers than toward them so I assumed that Old Faithful had just finished erupting.  Just as well for my purposes.  I found a completely vacant bench with a good sight line to the main attraction and sat down to scribble my notes in my little book that I carry in my back pocket.

After about a half hour of peace and quiet, and no rain, the benches around me started filling up.  About this time a tourist family sat down on the bench beside me.  All the younger members of the group plopped down heavily beside me, leaving an older woman (mom, grand mom?) standing.  I wasn’t keen on listening to their loud commentary on why they had to wait for the next eruption, so I gave my seat to the left out woman and moved down the line to a less crowded seat on the edge of the raised boardwalk and resumed my scribbling in peace.

By the time Old Faithful started making her preliminary spurts, rumbles and hisses, even this part of the area was filled with tourists.  I actually heard one young man (not a child but a twenty-something) ask those around him why there was a range of times when the next eruption would occur and not a scheduled show-time.  Before the full-blown eruption was finished I couldn’t take any more of the loud, inane commentary from those around me and left to go back to my car.

I crossed the park from west to east, passing along the northern shore of Yellowstone Lake.  I didn’t know of this lake before I got here and was impressed by its size – about 15 miles east to west and 18 miles north to south.  There are spectacular mountains lining the south shore and very large steam vents rising from the water at the western edges of the lake.  Quite dramatic and probably more so on a clear sky day.

From the north shore of the lake I made my way to the east entrance to the park.  Might as well take a different route back to Billings to see new places, so I aimed for Cody, WY.  The east entrance to Yellowstone sits at about 7,000 feet above sea level (MSL).  Cody is about 47 miles east if you could go in a straight line, and the downtown area sits at about 5,000 feet MSL.

Almost the entire route from Yellowstone to Cody is in the dramatic gorge of the North Fork of the Shoshone River.  The rushing river is rarely out of sight from the highway and the speed of the water as it makes the descent has carved very steep, jagged cliffs on either side.  This is a very fun, winding, steep road to drive when you are not pinned in behind a camper or timid driver.  47 miles is the straight line distance but I would not be surprised if the road miles are nearly double that.  I also would not be surprised if my actual achieved gas mileage was far better than 50 mpg, since it is 2,000 feet downhill the entire way.

Cody is another of the nice little cities where the locals wear boots and cowboy hats with no trace of irony.  On the western entrance to town was what I at first assumed to be the high school football stadium.  Nope.  This was the town rodeo arena, complete with high grandstands, most of which were under roof.  And that roof was probably more for protection from the sun than from rain, but I’m just guessing about that.

After a nice dinner at a chop house it was only an hour and a half drive back to Billings and another solid night’s sleep.  The following day, Saturday, I awoke to steady rain and temperatures in the mid-50s F.  I turned on the World Cup match of that morning and watched from bed, falling in and out of sleep throughout the morning.  By mid-day I the rain had not let up and temperature had not risen so I declared it a rest day.  I watched soccer most of the day, went out for fast food take-out early afternoon and did not venture out until early evening when the rain had finally let up.

Billings has a very nice area of six or eight blocks downtown where the older buildings have been redeveloped into stylish restaurants and micro-breweries.  It is also set up to be pedestrian friendly with ample cross walks that appear to give pedestrians right of way over cars.  I found a cider mill that appeared to have been a warehouse across from the train station.  The restaurant retained the old structure but it was kitted out in sleek modern furnishings.  Somehow the two elements did not clash.  More importantly the food and ciders were delicious and once again, the staff were extremely friendly and cheerful.

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-9-26,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

[Last Chance Pub & Cider Mill, Billings, MT]

Sunday dawned technically, but not actually.  The darkness merely progressed into gloom as the rain had returned even worse.  I ditched the plan to relocate to Jackson Hole in the Grand Tetons and decided to leave late and leisurely and make a short day heading back east.

Not far east of Billings is the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Park.  The hill and the stone monument atop it are visible from Interstate 90 in the broad river valley.  Less than five minutes from the interstate I am in the parking lot walking up the hill to the monument and historical markers.  I have been in many state and national parks that commemorate the bravery, heroism and sacrifices made in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.  They are somber, but inspiring places.  This was the first National Park that made me mad.  I left angry that the vainglorious stupidity of one man could cause this much waste, pain and suffering.  I suppose those who steadily promoted him and gave him additional commands bear some responsibility, but the poor soldiers who were under his orders deserved better.

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-9-26,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

The markers in the foreground are not headstones.  Lower down the hill, in the center of the picture are about 260 graves of the civilians and soldiers who died here.  The native Americans, a gathering of three different tribes, were camped en mass in the river valley in the background of this picture.  They suffered only about 40 casualties.  The white markers in the foreground are the location of fallen US troops and civilians as determined by a team of archaeologists after a wildfire cleared this area a few decades ago.  The marker in the lower center with the black blotch on it is where G.A. Custer himself fell.

A bit more than 260 miles east of Billings put me in Moorcroft, WY, just far enough south of the Devil’s Tower to be out of the tourist priced zone.  The next day I awoke early and walked next door to Donna’s Diner for breakfast.  I’m pretty sure my waitress was Donna.  Everyone in the place knew her, as well as each other.  I stood out as the only stranger in the place.  A good country breakfast almost made up for the Bates’ Motel experience of the previous night and then I was on the road early, as I knew this was a day chock full of unproductive progress toward home.

An hour’s drive north on US and State highways brought me through mildly hilly country until, topping a hill this popped into view.

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Devil’s Tower is real and was not just a prop or special effect in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  It was dramatic because it didn’t creep up on you from far away.  You climb a hill and it isn’t there and then as you crest the hill, it suddenly pops into view only a couple of miles away.  The drama lessens as you approach it, however.  It is a dramatic structure with near vertical walls.  This is, if I recall correctly, the congealed plug of a now dormant volcano where everything but this cold magma has long since eroded away.  But from the base it is relatively puny by western geological standards.  It is not imposingly vast like a mountain, but visually interesting all the same.

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Close Encounters of the Third Kind

From here I set off on another, longer silly detour to check off one more state from my list of the unvisiteds.  North Dakota was a three hour’s drive from here, but when am I ever again going to be three hours from North Dakota?  So Bowman, ND, became the next waypoint on this zig-zag day.

North Dakota is a mildly hilly, lush green state in June.  Every bit of land that I saw was either cultivated crops or rich pasture land.  Like its cousin to the south, North Dakota cows outnumber humans by a substantial margin.  The only thing lacking is trees.  They exist, but in stands of five or six here and five or six in a clump a few miles away.

By mid-afternoon I was back in South Dakota, slightly hillier and slightly more trees.  Same preponderance of cows though.  By nightfall I was in Mitchell, SD, in the eastern third of the state and again slept as in a coma.

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One unexpected pleasure of this trip was a flash-back to childhood.  I did not know that Sinclair gas stations still existed.

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That green dinosaur mascot was a favorite of mine in the 1960s.  Years later when I was a bit older, I was again amused to make the association between this friendly green dinosaur and the mythical source of oil and gas being decomposed dinosaurs.

From Mitchell I made one last overnight push to cross Iowa, a short detour into Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas and finally across the bridge back into Memphis.

Recap

3,852 miles in six and one half days

Six new states visited:  South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, Nebraska

Remaining unvisited:  Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, Nevada, Ohio, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut

RIP AB

I have no admiration of celebrities.  Quite the opposite.  But the news of Anthony Bourdains’s death has had me teary eyed for hours today.  I like to cook; I am not a chef.  I like to write; I have no bestsellers.  I like to travel.  Well, there he and I were brothers.  Rest easy my never met friend.  Thank you.

The End of Days (90 to be precise)

Since my last post I have twice broken my camera and semi-voluntarily lost internet connectivity.  Hence, the radio silence.  In condensed form, here is a recap of what I’ve seen and been up to since you last heard from me.  Sorry, but the pics that accompany this are from my cell phone.

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This is a street (actually a calle), not an ally as it looks to you and me. This part of town is referred to as Centro and is where I focused my home hunting.  On these streets are shops, restaurants, lawyers offices and the entrances to apartment buildings.  I have yet to see a single family home in the old parts of town.  There used to be some, but they are now called palaces and are either government offices or museums.

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Nearby the location of the previous photo is Calle Concepcion with a scooter passing by.  Cars occasionally squeeze by.  The black bollards lining the edges of the calle keep vehicles from squashing pedestrians against the wall.  Even on the larger streets cars are outnumbered by scooters, buses and taxis.

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As in other places I have been, in the old part of town the street signs are posted about ten feet up on the side of buildings at intersections.  Not much use if you are driving a car, but sometimes very amusing if you are a pedestrian and bother to look up.  This is the intersection of Calle Concepcion and Calle Ancha de la Virgen.  Ancha means broad or wide, so this intersection makes me smile every time I go by.

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Tapas at Los Marianos.  I was on C/ Concepcion (C/ is the abbreviation of Calle as St. is for Street) to eat at a restaurant that specializes in seafood.  I thought this was a good idea for two reasons.  First, nearly everywhere you go in Granada and probably in the wider area, pork dominates the menu.  Pork fifteen different ways and possibly a chicken dish or two.  Also, the Mediterranean is 35 miles south of here so seafood might be a little fresher than I’m used to.

Someone told me the name of the shellfish above but I don’t remember.  It basically is an asparagus shaped mollusk in a tubular shell.  It is, more importantly, very good.  Granada is one of the dwindling number of locations that still serves tapas.  You order a glass of wine or beer and you get a small plate of food along with it.  Two things make this a good deal.  A nice glass of local red wine costs three euros ($3.75).  Also, the food and wine are very good.  This would be a $10 or $12 glass of wine and $6 or more for the food.  But, they didn’t have to put them on a boat and send them across an ocean so they are local, fresh and delicious.  A dainty eater can eat dinner every night for six euros or less than $7.50.

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Another tapa and the miracle of Spain.  Friends from South America and from the UK immediately agreed with me when I told them, “I have hated olives my entire life but they are good here.”  We all suspect that something in packing them for overseas shipment gives them the bitter, tannin taste we all dislike.  Here they are fruity with a bit of citrus flavor.  Appropriate since olives are fruit and convenient since outside the cities you are never out of sight of olive groves.  They stretch to the horizon in all directions.  A bowl of olives is a very common tapa to receive here.

Tapa means cap or top, which puzzled me until I heard the following origin myth of tapas.  I like the story but I have no idea if it is true.  One day long ago the King set out on horseback to survey his domain.  In late afternoon the royal party was hot, tired and thirsty so they stopped at the next inn the came across.  The innkeeper recognized the King and was horrified to see a fly buzzing at the lip of the King’s glass of beer so he grabbed a snack that he had prepared for another customer and set it on the rim of the glass to keep the bug out.  The King, unaware of the fly, thought it was a treat for him (lagniappe as it is known in New Orleans) and introduced the “custom” to other parts of his realm.

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The Alhambra.  What everyone comes to Granada to see.  The Alhambra sits atop a hill that rises about 600 to 800 feet above Centro and the main part of town.  The hill is actually the farthest extension of the Sierra Nevada mountains into the plain that stretches to the north and west of Granada.  I once read a description that it appears to be an ocean liner made of rock that ran aground into a town.  The hill is not that tall, but it is very steep because two rivers run along either side of it carving steep ravines.

Julius Caesar put a fortress here when he came to town 2,300 years ago.  When the Berbers of North Africa got here in 727 AD, and the Arabs a little later to take credit for their vassal’s conquest, they recognized the defensive value of the site and planted the Alcazaba (fortress) on the site of the Roman fort.  An invader would first face rivers to ford on either side of the hill, then a very steep, wooded hill to climb, and only then would you get to the bottom of the vertical walls of the complex.  While the invaders were catching their breath from the climb in their armor, the Moors were probably dropping boulders on their head and pouring down boiling oil.  No wonder that I don’t think this complex was ever conquered.

The emirs, recognizing also that Granada is really hot in the summer, put their palace and gardens behind the Alcazaba on even higher ground to take advantage of every degree of cooling they could get by altitude.

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Palace of Carlos V inside the Alhambra complex.  Isabella and Ferdinand finally reconquista’d Granada, the last capital of the Moorish occupiers of Spain, in 1492.  Carlos V was a direct descendant of Isabella and Ferdinand.  The lucky boy was also descended from the Habsburgs and the Burgundians.  Once he united these three substantial kingdoms he decided to build himself a little palace on the site of his grandparents’ triumph.

Completed in the early 16th century he is said to have arrived to inspect his nearly completed new palace, planted provocatively in the middle of the previous rulers’ palace complex.  The story goes that he came, he saw, he harrumphed and left, never to return.  A substantiating tidbit is that the palace had no roof until 1957.  To be honest, up close it is fairly ugly.  The exterior is brutishly coarse, not poor craftsmanship, but by design.  Also the lower portion and the upper portion of the exterior are noticeably different architectural styles.  The one clever, interesting bit is that from the exterior it is a standard rectangular structure with neat 90 degree corners.  Inside is a large, round, open air courtyard that is a bit disorienting (in a good way) when you first enter.  It takes a moment to realize that you didn’t enter a round building.

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More Alhambra.  More snow-capped mountains on the horizon.  More cowbell.

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Yesterday was a local holiday.  The best I can translate the name is the festival of the cross.  This is a town with cathedrals, monasteries and convents on every block and a few more tucked in on the small calles out back, so religious festivals occur regularly.  This one was interesting because men and women wear traditional clothing, the thin-legged pants for men with bright red sashes for belts and very frilly, bright colored dresses for the women.  The children are almost all dressed this way.  Even the women not dressed up wear bright red flowers in their hair.

I met up with a group of friends at 3 in the afternoon in the Realejo to walk from one event site to another.  The Realejo is the former Jewish quarter and sits on the hill just below the Alhambra.  There are no modern streets or avenues in the Realejo, just like the Albaicin.  Cobblestones, nothing straight, nothing level and certainly nothing parallel or perpendicular.  In other words, a great place to walk around and look at stuff.  Many buildings that are not normally open are elaborately decorated and open to the public this one day each year.  Everyone takes the day off and walks the streets to see the venues.  Oh, and also to stop in the taverns for a tapa and a beer or wine before moving on to the next site.  My group was eight, so everywhere we stopped we got nearly one of each variety of that tavern’s tapas.

The picture above is not a great shot, but it shows riders in traditional dress with their horses elaborately rigged in one of the hundreds of small plazas all over town.  From my kitchen window I saw several groups of horsemen and women clopping down the middle of my busy street as if they were cars.

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Guitar shop in the Realejo.  This guy makes guitars and other stringed instruments by hand.  I would not be surprised if the guitar maker is merely the latest generation of a family business.  A British woman in my group has a friend in South America, a professional musician, who buys all his instruments from this very shop.

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Inside said guitar shop.  Not a great view with the glare on the glass case, but these instruments were beautiful.  To the left was another display case of violins or violas.  No telling what all is in the back.

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And more prosaically, mi cocina/lavandaria.  Everything here is on a smaller scale.  The entire city is small in area because everyone lives in a ten-story building.  Apartments are small, rooms are small, cars are small, hotel rooms are small.  I have yet to be in a bathroom in which I did not bang both elbows simultaneously on opposite walls.  This kitchen is small by our standards, and all the appliances are smaller, but it is fully functional.  The one nice thing that is not small is that window.  It is over six feet wide and just under five feet tall.  It opens horizontally, so when I am cooking and the weather is nice I have a three by five open space next to me.  I’m on the first floor (one floor above the street level) so people are walking by on the sidewalk directly below me.  Across the street in front of the retail stores is a wide paved area.  While adults are sitting in front of the two taverns their kids are romping around playing.

On the street level of my building, just outside my front door, is a fruteria.  Despite the name they don’t just sell fruit.  Every day they have fresh fruit and vegetables delivered.  They also carry spices and basics and some junk food.  In the next building to my right is a supermarket.  Again small but they have nearly everything I need.  If they don’t have it there are two other, larger supermarkets a ten minute walk in the other direction.  I literally often purchase my dinner minutes before I start cooking it.  I spent 3.30 euros this morning at the fruiteria for onions, tomatoes, a big green pepper of some sort, lemons and carrots that will keep me through this weekend.

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That is an oven with a whole chicken roasting this morning.  When I started looking on line at apartment listings in town, I groaned every time I saw a kitchen picture and saw no oven below the stove but only what I thought was a toaster oven.  This thing roasts, broils, does both at the same time and also something else that I can’t decipher the symbol for.  I have make a pork tenderloin and now a whole chicken in this thing and they came out just fine.  Sorry, no whole turkey for Thanksgiving here though.

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Stove, countertop beside the window with chorizo and garlic hanging from a rack.  That white thing below the countertop is my cloths washer.  It really is tiny but it takes forever to do a load.  They come out very clean though.  There is a dial with about twenty symbols around it and no words to say what each symbol means.  I just keep trying different settings each time to see if one is better than another.  Eduardo showed me the roof of the building.  He intended to show me there were clothes lines available for drying, since he saw I had strung climbing rope between two carabiners in my unused bedroom.  What I saw was my first, spectacular, unobstructed view of the snow capped mountains just ten miles away.  When the weather improves I may have a small cocktail party up there or at least drag a chair, a book and a glass of wine up there for sunset.

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Fruit and veggies from downstairs.  The tree outside my kitchen window is just a tree.  Below my office window are orange trees.  Orange trees grow all over town, especially in the parks and plazas.  I am starting to get used to the sight of oranges squashed flat in the street or browning beside the curb.  They are beyond ubiquitous.  Even small town Spain is not beyond pointless legislation.  I was told early on that it is strictly against the law to pick fruit from these trees.  Then my friend continued, “But you wouldn’t want to any way because that variety is bitter not sweet and is absolutely horrible.”

This is not, however, the fruit the town is named for.  I have yet to see a pomegranate tree (bush?) although I hear the fruit is widely available later in the year and is quite popular.  Granada is Spanish for pomegranate.  And that sounds much better than living in Naranja.

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The view from my friend Kay’s terrace on the 9th floor (10th in US terminology) of her building in central Granada.  This is a higher rent district than where I live.  The terrace is bigger than her living room and has a spectacular panorama.  I’m guessing that this is a comfortable place to hang out nine months a year.  Winter is neither long nor harsh, but there is no comfortable place in the city in August.  Several people told me that last year they got above 50°C (122°F to you and me) more than once.

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Tapas at Rhin Barril II during one of our weekly TENGO get-togethers. TENGO is one of two ex-pat groups, although everyone is a member of both groups.  More olives.  The thing behind the olives that looks like a dirty scoop of ice cream is a creamy potato salad-like dish sprinkled with chives and paprika that is served all over town.  My faulty memory tells me this is called a salad russe (Russian Salad).

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Casa Colon was one the first places I found when I got to Granada.  At off hours they let me have a four-top all to myself as the smaller tables had high stools for seats and my back objects to those. Tonight I snagged a table right beside the river.

From my sidewalk table beside the rapidly flowing Genil is a view of the Realejo bathed by sunset.  This picture was shot at 9:09 pm.  It didn’t start getting dark until after 9:45 pm.  The Genil is usually a bare trickle in the middle of a wide concrete channel as it crosses town.  The river flows down out of the Sierra Nevada (“snowy mountains” I recently learned) and is extraordinarily swollen this spring due to the coincidence of snow melt and the runoff of the first-time-in-a-decade rainfall we have had this year.  It makes a soothing rushing sound while you are sitting here sipping wine and nibbling tapas.  Not at all an unpleasant place to live.

But tomorrow I must start the return journey to the US so as not to overstay my tourist entry and also to complete my residency visa to return here for good.  Granada already feels like home.

So where did I leave off?

I’ve been a bad blogger leaving you hanging for a couple of weeks.  So we left off with something like, I’m going to take a nap now, there will be time for more exploring tomorrow.  Except when there isn’t.

I woke up bright and early the next morning to discover that while it was early – something like 4 am – it was anything but bright.  First of all because it was 4 am and second because it was raining.  Oh, well, I’m tired and sore so I’ll just go back to sleep and take a day off to recuperate.

To recap:  yesterday:

Granada 13Mar18_2 (3)

 

[Rio Darro with the Alhambra to the left and the Albaicin to the right both steeply uphill.]

And today:

Granada 13Mar18_5

[Granada’s part of a nation-wide protest against meager pension benefit increases.]

It didn’t rain all day, but it did rain on and off for most of the day, every day for two weeks.  Oh, and did I mention that it was cold?  Cold and rainy.  I packed nothing heavier than a windbreaker and a few long sleeve shirts.  Everything else in my bags were spring and summer clothes.  The locals and other ex-pats that I talked to said, “This never happens.”  Except it did happen starting the first full day that I was in town.

One convenient coincidence was that this foul weather set in just as my always minor sinus infection erupted into a continuous fountain of drainage leading to uninterrupted, uncontrollable coughing fits.  I stayed in bed for most of that week leaving my room only to venture out to the farmacia for drugs and to a take-out Turkish restaurant across the street.  One order of kebaps fed me for two days at a time.  Not bad for eight euros.

The farmacias here can sell many drugs without a prescription if you can tell them the chemical name, not the brand name, of what you need (thank you Google translate).  Two weeks after starting on a combination of three medications I am in better shape than US doctors achieved in over five years.

Eventually the weather improved, just in time for me to relocate from the Hotel Victoria, while a very nice place, it is not inexpensive and is also fully booked up.  Fortunately, the Hotel Dauro is just down the street, near the Rio Genil and is both cheaper and available – for now.

After getting settled in to my new, temporary home, I wandered to the Plaza del Humillidaro, a lovely park with fountains and orange trees that wraps around a bend in the Rio Genil in the heart of Granada.

And finally the clouds lifted revealing the snow-capped Sierra Nevada’s towering over downtown:

Granada 13Mar18_4

Telescopic compression is at work here.  The first set of buildings beyond the bend in the river are just a little higher than where I am standing and are only 4/10ths of a mile in the distance (2,000 feet).  The buildings behind them are not tall, but are 800 feet above me on the ridge that the Alhambra sits atop.  The ridge behind them is not far in the distance and is perhaps another two thousand feet above me.  The snow capped range is 10 miles straight line from where I stand and is more than 8,000 feet above this river.

Granada is not a large town, roughly 240,000 residents, but it is compact and dense.  Most of the buildings in the heart of town are six or eight stories, built on streets that are narrow compared to those in the US.  Because of this, views of the nearby mountains are very rare in town.

Coming in to town on the bus from Antequera we round a bend, clearing a range of hills and are suddenly met with a spectacular view from 10 or so miles west of Granada.  From there one can see not just this snow clad range but also the rocky peaks of Mulhacén and Veleta.  These are listed as the first and third highest peaks on the Iberian peninsula, which implies that there is a higher peak, probably in the Canary Islands.  In town the view is much like that in Manhattan – just the sky directly overhead.

My search for a short term rental apartment has so far been fruitless because of my limited stay.  Since I am leaving to go back to Madrid at the invitation of my friend Rocio, I have put this off until I return.  Good thing I already had plans to leave town this coming weekend (Easter to us American’s) because every hotel room in Granada is booked up for the culmination of Semana Santa.

Every week night after work hours I have heard drums beating and paraders chanting and I’ve seen hundreds of spectators in the street below my balcony in the build-up to Easter weekend.  Families are out walking down the sidewalk with children in tow and pushing infants in strollers past eleven PM or even midnight watching the festivities.  If this is what a Tuesday night sounds like, perhaps leaving town isn’t such a bad idea.

 

Tut, tut, it looks like rain

And, at last, Granada

Trains in Spain cross mostly the plain and they do it at better than 165 mph.  Until you get to Antequera in Andalusia.  Then you transfer to bus; a nice bus, but it doesn’t go quite as fast.  South from Madrid reminds me of South Texas with vast horizons, rolling hills in various shades of brown and patches of green given the recent weeks of rain.

Those rolling hills become taller hills  Taller hills become foothills.  Foothills start challenging your dismissal.  And then somewhere on the highway east of Antequera you pass between two hills large enough to block your view and you emerge to see two enormous snow capped ranges.

I don’t know what the one on the left is, but out of the right windows of the bus are Pico Veleta, the third highest peak on the Iberian Peninsula, and Mulhacén, the highest peak on the peninsula.  Suddenly the distinction between mountains and hills is unambiguous.  Not only are they snow covered, they dominate everything around them.  All other high ground is in a separate category of irrelevance.

These peaks are the whole point of the Sierra Nevada National Park.  Everything below these peaks is derived from them, and is still spectacular.  Granada and many other Andalusian towns sit on the flanks of these mountains.  The Sierra Nevada, like the Alps, are driven up by the African tectonic plate rear ending and diving under the Eurasian plate.

Geographers use a term “prominence” to describe how high a mountain peak stands above any other nearby feature.  So a 10,000 foot peak that stands beside a nearby 9,000 foot peak has a prominence of only 1,000 feet.  Denali, in Alaska, has no other mountain remotely nearby.  Its prominence is an impressive 20,156 feet or more than 3.8 statute miles base to peak.

Granada’s center city sits at an average altitude of 2,421 feet above sea level.  Mulhacén, visible from the city and even more impressive from the outskirts of town, has a prominence of 10,778 feet.  Granada is on its slopes so not all of that is the difference between Granada city and the peak.  Nevertheless, it is an impressive, looming presence.

mulhacen
[source:  http://caminetedeluna.blogspot.com.es/2013/09/ascenso-al-pico-mulhacen-sierra-nevada.html%5D

I got twice lucky on the bus ride from where the train dropped us off in Antequera to Granada.  First, after four days of dragging stupid amounts of luggage, I fell asleep on the bus.  I nearly never sleep in a moving vehicle.  Second, and more luckily, I woke up just before the Sierra Nevada became visible.

The outskirts of Granada are not appealing.  Some city planner had the good sense to contain all the light industry in one area.  Houston could learn a thing from its much smaller cousin.  The neighborhood where the train station is is not much better.  That is where the bus dumped us but fortunately an armada of taxis were standing by.

An eight euro taxi ride got me to the hotel in minutes and once again the desk agents were more than kind.  US hotels should steal this idea:  the three hotels that I have checked in to this week all had a table by the front desk with fruit-infused waters, bottled water, and brilliantly in Madrid, a chilled bottle of cava.  Being greeted by a cold beverage while you are filling out the check-in paperwork is delightful.

Since I will be in the hotel Victoria in Granada for a week while I hunt for a semi-permanent apartment, I unpacked almost all of my luggage and showered.  I thought about a nap, but decided against it and went in search of an early (by Granaíno standards) dinner.

Being tired I settled for a nearby rather than an authentic experience.  I did get a tapa after ordering a glass of wine, but I also ordered an entree to get done and back to my bed du jour.

Asleep near a normal hour just before midnight and awake the next morning at seven.  That is a good night’s sleep for me.  Since at that hour we were near the forecast high for the day of 60F, I flung open the doors to my balcony.  The Hotel Victoria sits at an intersection that is always full of cars, taxis, buses and scads of pedestrians.  Once again it was raining.

Granada 13Mar18

People were out and about, the crosswalk signal was beeping, cars were honking their horns and the nearby cathedral bells tolled.  The bells were ringing at somewhere between sixteen and twenty-nine minutes after the hour, I never figured out what they signified.  Later in the day I heard them on hour or half-hour intervals.

I did a brief walk-about in the local area.  I started off up the street that leads out the top of the photo, which is Calle Reyes Católica.  Those Reyes would be Isabella and Ferdinand, who took up shop in Granada after running the last of the Nasrid emirs out in 1492, which left them time to finance some Genoese fellow’s vacation cruise.

You can’t tell from my photo but that street is uphill, steadily.  It heads from the center of Granada (Centro) to the foot of the promontory that the Alhambra sits atop.  I’m old and out of shape so I stopped more than once to catch my breath.  Locals walked around me without pausing.  Shortly passed the city government offices and a nice statue of Isabella.  To my right is the Realejo, the old Jewish neighborhood.  To my left a block or so is the Cathedral of Izzie and Ferd and the foot of the Albacin.  The Albacin was the Muslim neighborhood for centuries and sits atop a hill almost as tall and steep as the one the Alhambra surmounts.

I didn’t feel up to any more steep climbs so I kept straight ahead and walked along the Darro river through a neighborhood called the Sacromonte.  This historically was where Romani (gypsies) lived in caves beside the river.  Modern gypsies, that we know as hippies, live here in those same caves.  [I may have made that up.]  The caves of Sacromonte are also home to clubs that feature Flamenco dance shows.

The Albaicin has a breath-taking view of the Alhambra.  From the Sacromonte you crane your neck to see the tops of only the tallest towers.  Pretty, though against the blue sky:

Granada 13Mar18_8

Keep in mind that I’m walking up the river.  The Darro and the Genil, the other, larger river that flows through town, come down out of the Sierra Nevada to the east and are fed by snow melt and, this week, rainfall runoff.  The Sierra Nevada are just over ten miles away, so this is a steady uphill slog.

As the Darro flows past the western end of the Sacromonte it disappears from view.  The river goes on, but as Granada expanded west, they built the town over the river.  Few tourists in Centro have any idea they are walking on water.  I suppose the river reappears somewhere west of town.  [Wrong, I later learned.  The Darro makes a left turn and flows beneath Calle Acera del Darro until it reappears and joins the Genil.]

I get to where the buildings are thinning out and little of interest appears ahead, so I turn left to check out the Albaicin.  I get halfway up the first block, which is an even steeper climb, and give up.  Note to self:  no apartment shopping in this barrio.  Wheezing, I turn around and head downhill, back toward the center of town.

When the ground flattens out, relatively, I turn left and explore the Realejo, the former Jewish quarter of town.  The Realejo sits directly under the Alcazaba, the most western feature of the Alhambra complex.  The Alcazaba (“fortress”) of today and of Nasrid times was built upon the site of a Roman fort dating back to the occupation of Gaul – that would be here.  From this promontory the fortress commanded a view over the then extent of Granada and the surrounding approaches.  Unfortunately for me, this piece of history is nearly straight overhead so there is no view.

I won’t even call where I walked streets.  They would be called alleys in America, but scooters and small compact cars negotiate their way between the front wall of peoples’ homes and pedestrians.  These alleys never continue in a straight line for long, reminding me of a line from one of the first, text only, computer games.  When in the game you stumbled into some place you shouldn’t have gone, your only clue from the game was, “A maze of windy passages, all alike.”  That is what navigating is in the Realejo.  At least if you can see a a vertical wall of rock, you know town is the other way.

Most of the man-made stuff in Granada, and probably many other Andalusian towns, is very small to an American perspective.  The buildings are tall, but irregularly shaped, but they do not encompass a great amount of square footage.  Every bit of land that could be built upon and was not set aside for roads or plazas (lots and lots of plazas) has already been built on.  So like Manhattan, they went up.  Ordinary residential buildings are five or six stories.

In my current hotel room, I kept trying to straighten the bed because the foot of it did not line up with the hardwood floor.  I pushed one way and the other to no satisfaction, then went to the head to see if something was behind and blocking the headboard.  Then I looked at the ceiling.  The bed was flush against the wall.  The room was not square.  When this place was built, I suppose the lot available was irregular, so they simply accommodated the space available.

Nearly every block has several tiendas (shops) and tapas bars.  In many cases the cash register in the tiendas and the bar in the bars occupies about one half of the floor space.  There is room inside for perhaps a dozen customers, all standing.  When Granainos rub shoulders for an after work drink, they literally rub shoulders.  Because of the limited indoor space, many restaurants and bars spill into the streets and plazas.

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You see that little shelf, bolted to the outside wall with wine glasses and a plate?  That is not a busboy station.  That is a table for customers to stand at, while they drink, enjoy their tapas and chat.  As you can see, it gets used.

At this point I was tired from my little walk and from days of travel and a few weeks of packing and preparing to get here, so I headed back to the hotel.  There will be time for more exploring tomorrow.

A Near Pointless Side Trip

Toledo

Sunday arrived and it was still raining, but I had to check out and move on to Toledo.  A cab took me to the Atocha train station, where a rental car awaited me.  As far as I know it is still awaiting me.  I dragged my ridiculous luggage around (literally around) the station inside and out for over an hour and a half before I gave up and bought a train ticket to Toledo.  Infuriatingly Hertz never answered any of the phone calls I made to discover where they were at the estacion.

I got to my lovely hotel late afternoon and set out to walk a bit.   In my exhausted state I started off in the wrong direction and was unknowingly heading down toward the river.  Toledo is a medieval walled city on a hill surrounded on three sides by the Tagus river.  The cathedral and other sites are at the highest point in the old town.  I was going downhill, away from everything interesting, including food.

After my half marathon with luggage I didn’t last very long exploring the wrong side of Toledo and returned to my hotel, ate last night’s leftovers and went to bed early.  I was so tired that I slept through the night as if I were in my home time zone.  Delightful.

Predating cars by a couple of millennia, the street design Of Toledo is very interesting to see and walk on,  but I was never so glad not to have driven somewhere.  In the US we have signs warning drivers of low over head clearances.  In Toledo:

Toledo 12Mar18_1

That sign to the left of the street tells drivers that the road ahead is 1.9 meters wide.  1.9 meters is a fraction of an inch wider than I am tall.

Monday morning was going to be my only opportunity on this visit to see Toledo so I got out early and went uphill this time.  The cathedral was pretty easy to find, being both one of the taller buildings and also sitting on high ground.  Easy to find is not the same as easy to get too.  It was only 200 meters from my hotel, but there were very steep bits for an old guy in those 200 meters.  It was a pretty morning though:

Toledo 12March18

I circled about 270 degrees around the outside of the cathedral before I found an entrance.  I went in, oohed and ahhed a bit in the fenced in area that I supposed kept us tourists from those doing actual business in the cathedral, turned and went back outside.  A fellow that I had seen inside crossing himself and generally doing those Catholic things you expect to see in a cathedral was walking out at the same time as I.

Once we were outside of the hush-hush zone, he spoke to me in Spanish.  To which I replied in my only well-practiced phrase, “Lo siento pero no hablo español.”  To which he said something in Spanglish that I took to mean, “Do you want to see the inside of the cathedral?”  “Si, gracias”, I replied and he took off, uphill at a speed that told me he was a life-long Toledan.  I gasped and huffed as I tried to keep up.

After stepping aside for some cars passing we got about a quarter of the way around the cathedral to a large plaza.  I realized that the very far side of the plaza was where I had come up from my hotel and turned right, just missing the main entrance to the cathedral until now, when I had completely circumnavigated the building.  Good exercise at least.

Eleven o’clock, my guide said.  They open at eleven o’clock.  These are not in quotation marks because that is simply what I think he was saying.  I had to be out of my hotel by noon, still had to sort out how I was getting to Granada without my rental car and, so could not stick around until eleven.  I thanked the kind man and wandered off to take some pictures of this side of the cathedral.

When I finished I started to exit the plaza down the street that led back to my hotel, when my tour guide magically appeared next to me.  “The monastery is open today and it is free.  Would you like to see that?”  “Sure,” I said and tiredly set off down an entirely different street.  A little ways on, and mercifully downhill, we ducked down some stairs and through a doorway.  My guide rapped on the glass in a locked door and called a name.  No answer.  More loud rapping and a louder call of someone’s name.

After a few minutes someone slowly unlocked the door and my guide ushered me in to workshop area with a half dozed workbenches lining either side of the room.  Very detailed broaches and small, decorative platters in various states of completion were on the benches and on cabinets.  They were very colorful and highly detailed.

Toledo 12Mar18

 

Toledo 12March18_1

We then walked through a door into another room.  While the objects were beautifully made and very attractive, I realized that my guide was a busker and this was a souvenir shop.  Those little medallions in his hand above were tagged at 175 to 250 euros.  Swords and other items were much, much more expensive.  I looked around a bit and then slipped out when the shopkeepers were occupied.

Back at the hotel I cleaned up, packed up and went down to the lobby.  Elaina, at the front desk, had offered to help me get in contact with Hertz to find out how to resolve the problem of the rental car.  She called several different locations in Madrid and had the same result that I had the previous day.  Over thirty minutes of calling resulted in no answer at any office in Madrid.

Fed up and tired I decided to forget about the rental car and be done with it, so off I went in a taxi to the Toledo station, then back to Madrid, then, finally to Granada.  After months of planing, paying for, packing and schlepping, I felt like my trip had finally begun.

Adventures in Tapasland

Madrid

This is Tuesday.  I got to Madrid this past Friday night a bit more than twenty-five hours after leaving my sister’s home in Bainbridge, Washington.  It took two cars, one boat, two trains (airport shuttles) and a couple of jets to get me here, but I’m here . . . or rather, I was there.  Now I’m in Granada and I’m still achy sore from dragging my luggage through three airports and three more train stations.

I ran into some equipment failures and contracted business service failures, but I am having a wonderful time and everyone I’ve met here in Spain has been extraordinarily friendly and helpful.  Other than the pedestrians.

Spaniards walk around a great deal.  They are talking while they are walking, so traffic avoidance is somewhere down the list of things to which they are paying attention.  Everyone is moving on the diagonal.  I’m a somewhat conformist American so I try to keep to the right.  Everyone else appears to be changing direction simply get directly in my path.  Four or five times each block I have to skid to a complete stop to avoid running over someone who darted at the last moment under my feet.

No pictures from Madrid because it was raining endlessly the entire time I was there.  This is a good thing as a local friend told me, they weren’t exactly in a drought, but their rainfall for the last several years has been below average and the reservoirs (embalses – see, I really am learning Spanish) are quite low.  I had noticed this on Google Earth while preparing for this trip.  Wide brown borders around all bodies of water.

The first night I woke up at 2:30 am local time after about four hours of sleep.  That wasn’t as bad as I had feared for the first night on Central European Time.  After about thirty minutes laying awake in bed I gave up, got up and got dressed.  I had heard that Spaniards are late night carousers and I heard various voices in the street below my window, so I set out for a walk.

The security guard in the lobby had to unlock the steel doors to let me out of the hotel and he chuckled as I set out.  I walked about for a couple of hours and was surprised at how many people were on the streets from 3 to 5 am.  Crowds huddled outside bars and clubs, music spilled out into the street.

A very nice woman from Mexico who has lived in Madrid for the past eleven years offered to meet me when I arrived and give me a tour of her adopted home town.  She is an architect and had great historical and artistic insights on the places she showed me.  Remember that I said it rained the whole time I was in Madrid?  This nice woman led a near stranger around the hidden gems of Madrid for over four hours in the rain.  An online expat community is one of the better uses of the internet.

While we were touring Madrid I mentioned to Rocio, my new found friend and tour guide, that I had been surprised on my late night walk to see first, so many people out at that hour and, second, women walking alone.  Rocio laughed and said she too had been taken by that when she first moved to Madrid but learned that unlike big cities in the US and Mexico, it is very safe on the streets so long as you pay attention to where you are.  If you are inattentive, you might get pickpocketed but nothing worse than that.  Physical violence is very rare.

Both nights I got very lucky with my choices of restaurants for dinner.  The first night I picked a spot that was right behind my hotel.  It was actually right under my balcony, but was a bit of a walk to get to from the front of my hotel.  “Hola,” greeted the first face that I saw.  As chirpily as I could I replied, “Hola.”  I was shown to my seat and the waiter returned with a menu.  It was in English.  I had not said a word in English but he knew.  So much for not standing out as a tourist.

The following night I wandered aimlessly for over an hour and finally picked a book by its cover because I was simply tired of walking.  The cover of the book undersold the contents.  Once I got downstairs from the bar, the dining area was cozy but chic.  The food and service both nights were above par from my experience in US restaurants and they even sent me home with my leftovers when jet lag slapped me in the face mid-meal.

A gourmet doggy-bag in the early am when you really want to be asleep is a fine consolation.