Monday, 06-04-2015 & Tuesday, 07-04-2015.
Days 229 & 230.
Our days in Granada were over, and our first order of business was retrieving the car from the parking garage. We had two options: 1) lugging our full complement of suitcases through the streets of Granada, or 2) walk to the car and drive down a really narrow road to the hotel where we would load up our bags. We opted for the latter. In hindsight, dragging the bags to the car through the streets would have been easier.
After paying 92€ for parking (and the machine wouldn't take 50€ notes, so we had to walk back and find a bank to make change), we looked at the map and deciding on a driving route. We quickly found that while Granada does have a few major (wide) streets, the majority of them are narrow, one-way affairs that made navigating difficult—and many of these streets are restricted to taxis, police, and city maintenance vehicles. What should have been a quick 10-minute drive ended up being a 45-minute exercise in navigational frustration.
Our initial goal was to leave early, get the car, and get back to the hotel before the pedestrian traffic got too heavy. We failed. When we left the hotel that morning, the streets were empty. But by the time we got back in the car, there were people everywhere. We drove up, slapped on the hazard lights, stopped in front of the hotel (blocking many cars behind us), and quickly threw in the bags. Then we zoomed off (well, slowly chugged off), making our way toward the highway out of town.
We were heading to Valencia, about four hours north of Granada, and we didn't want to get caught without snacks. So before we left Granada behind we stopped at a place that was the Spanish analog of Wal-Mart, where we had breakfast and picked up some food for the drive.
As we approached Valencia, our good friend Google Maps advised us of a traffic alert and re-directed us through some back roads, a route that supposedly saved us 17 minutes. This new route took us through a few small communities and many, many groves of orange trees before we arrived in Valencia.
After the usual confusion of trying to find the affiliated parking structure for the hotel, we dragged our bags through the streets of Valencia. Our route took us right through the Plaza of the Virgin, so named because of its proximity to the Basílica de la Virgen de los Desamparados (The Curch of Our Lady of the Forsaken), the patroness of Valencia.
Plaza of the Virgin (Plaça de la Mare de Déu)
The plaza also contains the quite striking fountain depicting Neptune surrounded by eight naked, water-bearing women, an allegorical sculpture representing Valencia's main river and its eight irrigation ditches.
After we got settled in to the hotel, we walked around a little bit, had some dinner, and then went to sleep.
The next morning, we checked out of the hotel and went to get a little breakfast before we walked over to La Lonja de la Seda, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
La Lonja de la Seda de Valencia (Lonja De Los Mercaderes)
This was the Valencian silk exchange. It functioned between 1482 and 1533—a time that is known as Valencia's Golden Age—and it's existence is testament to the wealth and power of the city's mercantile class. It's a place where anyone was welcome regardless of belief, making it a temple to commerce instead of any one religion. The whole building is crafted in high Gothic architecture, and one of the most striking features of the building are the many different gargoyles over nearly every door.
The rooms were mostly empty, but one room, called the Golden Chamber, was notable because of its stylized floor and ceiling (which was carved from 1426 to 1448).
The ceiling is made from painted wood, decorated with countless symbols, including, of course, the heraldry of Valencia. It was originally made not for La Lonja, but for another building which had been demolished. Fortunately it fit into the Golden Chamber perfectly.
The main room, the very large Contract Hall was where most of the business was done. The honesty of is traders was legendary, so much so that there's even an inscription in Latin that makes this claim running around the walls of the Central Hall.
And when honesty failed, there was a little room where they stashed those merchants who had become bankrupt (one assumes morally, but perhaps financially as well). This small room also lead to a circular staircase that climbed up a tall tower, but that's closed to the public these days. And best of all, we thought we'd pay €2 each to go in, but admission was free when we visited.
Iglesia de Santos JuaneS (Church of Saint John of the Cross)
Across the street from La Lonja we saw the impressive Church of Saint John. This was built on the location of a former mosque (like so many other churches) and is striking with elements of Gothic and baroque architecture. We were tight for time, so we didn't venture inside, but the exterior was quite impressive.
While Valencia's Central Market is one of Europe's oldest food markets, the building it's now set up inside is more recent, only dating back to 1928. It was very clean (as opposed to the markets we'd visited throughout Asia), and while it was impressive, it was small compared to Barcelona's Boquería that we'd be exploring in a few days (foreshadowing).
In the Central Market we learned that the horchata in Valencia (where it is said to have originated) is quite different than the drink of the same name that's made in Mexico. In Mexico it's made of rice (and vanilla and cinnamon), but in Valencia it is made from chufa (tigernuts), water, and sugar. I'd never heard of tigernuts before, but we all liked this horchata better than what we've had in Southern California. Maybe it was the huge amount of sugar they added to the recipe ...
Off to Barcelona
After a little bit of strategic snacking at the Central Market, we were back on the road, heading toward Barcelona, where we were scheduled to settle down for eight days. On the drive there, we somehow ended up on the toll road, which was fine (fewer cars) but we had to go through three different toll stations before we got into Barcelona. We ended up paying a total of €40.66 for those three tolls.
Once in Barcelona, we found the streets were much easier to navigate than in our previously visited Spanish cities, and returning the rental car to the Europcar outlet that was in central Barcelona turned out to be remarkably easy. The folks there even told us where the nearest petrol station was so we could top off the tank before returning it.
Then, instead of paying for a taxi to our apartment, we decided to drag our luggage through the streets of Barcelona. The apartment was only two kilometers from where we were, and we'd negotiated nearly that distance through the narrow, busy streets in Granada and Valencia with rolling suitcases. So we figured we should be able to deal with it in Barcelona where the streets and sidewalks were wide and welcoming. And we did. But that said, it still sucks dragging all your luggage through a town, no matter the size of its walkways.
But we toughed t out, and when we got the first glimpse of the Sagrada Familia, which seems to be under perpetual construction, we knew we were almost there.