Thursday, 02-04-2015. Day 225.
Traffic, Tapas, and Penitentes.
We were going to arrive in Granada by 6:00 p.m. After our experience with Seville during Semana Santa parades, we were ready for anything ... or so we thought.
The hotel we were staying at in Granada gave us detailed parking instructions. They had no parking at the hotel, so they partnered with a nearby parking facility for guests. But we really didn't want to walk through town dragging our bags for a second night. So our plan was to arrive at the hotel, quickly drop our bags, then go park the car and walk back.
We'd found the page for for Granada's Semana Santa parade schedule (thanks to T-Mobile Simple Choice International, surfing the Internet on the road was easy) and, as luck would have it, tonight's parade went right through the part of town we were staying in.
So I called the hotel for their advice. The woman at the desk told us that the streets around the hotel would be totally closed off by 6:00 p.m. and we'd be much better off if we went right to the parking facility.
"What if it's closed?" I asked.
"Oh, do not worry. It has plenty of room," she replied.
But after our experience the previous night, I remained skeptical (you can probably see where this is going).
In Search Of: Parking
As narrow as the streets were in Seville, they were even narrower and more maze-like in Granada. And like Seville, they were all one-way streets (except for the main boulevards). So between these narrow alleys and closed-off boulevards, we spent a good hour of trying to get to the parking spot using the combined power of the hotel's directions and Google Maps. Finally, after a short jaunt the wrong way down a one-way alley, we got there—only to find that it was already full.
So we drove around for a little while longer, looking for more (hopefully open) public parking. Because of the one-way streets and the various roads that were closed off, we frequently found ourselves stuck going down a road that we didn't want to go down or waiting for huge groups of people to cross the street. It was a bit frustrating, but we eventually found a parking garage that was only a 1.5 kilometer walk from the hotel.
We shouldered our backpacks, left the larger bags in the car, and started toward the hotel. During our walk it was really obvious why everything was closed off. The streets in Granada are really narrow (though quite charming) and were already filling up with people.
After about half an hour of walking, we got to Plaza de Santa Ana and saw why things were starting to get crowded—the parade was beginning and a group of white-clad penitentes were lined up on the street ready to start their procession.
These folks, also known as nazarenos, are the "penitent ones," and, despite the first impressions they conjure up in the minds of most Americans, their intentions are not malevolent. Rather, they wander the streets of Granada (and many other Spanish cities), asking for forgiveness for their sins of the previous year. The cone they wear (called a capriote), allows for anonymity and lets their penitence reach closer to heaven.
Our hotel was only a short distance from the Plaza de Santa Ana, and once we got through the thickest part of the crowd, we could see the Alhambra on the hill high above the city.
From there, we made our way down the narrow cobblestone street to our hotel. The crowd wasn't letting up, either. If anything, it was getting thicker as the start of the parade got closer—although this effect may have been amplified by the narrow street.
Yes, that's the street we would have had to drive down to get to our hotel. Negotiating it would have been a challenge on even on a non-parade day.
And then, at last, we were at our hotel. We quickly checked in and dropped our bags in the room (which was really nice), and went back down to ask the woman working at the desk when a good time to move our car to the preferred parking structure might be..
She told us she'd wait until the next day. As we knew, there was a parade starting soon. But she let us know that there was another parade starting at midnight and then another one at four a.m. Armed with this new knowledge, we decided to wait until the next day to move the car. We also decided to wait until the first parade was over before we went back to the car to get our big bags.
We were little hungry, anyway, so we stopped in at Bar Minotauro, a little place next door to the hotel, for a bite to eat.
One of the great things about Granada is that the restaurants here still observe the custom of providing free tapas with drinks. So there we were, enjoying our drinks and tapas when we noticed that the live broadcast of the Semana Santa parade was playing on the bar's television. As we watched, it took us only a moment to realize that what we were looking at on the screen was rolling by the front door of the tavern only a few minutes later.
So of course we, with pretty much the rest of the bar's patrons, ran to the door and started taking photos of the procession.
The penitentes come in all different colors, each representing a different brotherhood. While we were there we saw black, white, red, purple, green, blue, and in many different two-color combinations as well. The black and gold were my favorites. There are even little penitentes figures made of PVC sold in shops for between 1€ and 1.20€.
And then, just as we were finishing up our dinner, the largest part of the procession rolled right by.
The floats, like the one of Jesus carrying the cross are quite impressive. They're large and heavy, yet they move down the street steadily and even gracefully (if the streets aren't too crowded). The floats (I'm not sure what they're officially called) are carried on the backs of unseen bearers known as costaleros. We saw plenty of them in the crowds during the weekend after they were done with their carrying duties. You can easily recognize them; they're the ones with sweat-streaked faces wearing weightlifting belts.
After the initial parade passed, we decided to make a break for it and get our bags. We headed off about 9:30, thinking there would be a lull in the crowd between parades. There wasn't. The streets were jammed with people of all ages, and I don't think the first parade ever stopped. We crossed its path a few times on the way to the car.
Eventually, we got our bags and made it back to the hotel. It was an ordeal, dragging three 17 kilo suitcases through the crowded streets of Granada. We saw plenty of other people doing the same. The worst part was getting down the narrow street in front of our hotel. A few times we had to stop and let the parade go by before we could hustle a little further down the road until the next group of penitentes strolled by.
The Midnight Procession
We finally and joyously made it to our room. We were on the third floor, and our room looked out over the parade route. It was a mad scene. The crowd filled the streets below and the .
It was noisy and well-lit. We marveled at the scene and felt really lucky we were seeing it unfold before us. I don't think we could have planned this experience.
Then something really weird happened. The lights across the city (at least as far as we could see) went out. Totally dark. And the people—every single one—suddenly became silent at the same time. It was eerie. We knew there were a lot of people out there, but we could barely see them and we could pick up the occasional whisper if you listened hard.
Then a distant, slow, ominous drumbeat started up. This was the midnight parade starting, and we watched from our balcony as the procession made its way oh-so-slowly down the street by torchlight. Shortly after midnight it reached us. The main centerpiece was a giant crucifix that towered above the street. It was so large, that the head of Jesus was only a few inches beneath our third story balcony. As this went by, it was followed by more penitentes dragging huge chains down the street.
After the giant crucifix went by, the parade continued on. But we were tired and went to sleep. It took awhile for us to get used to the noise of the celebration outside, but we eventually drifted off—at least until the drums for the 4.a.m parade started up.