Wednesday 6 July
Today was a day off from riding, as recommended by our guides and gratefully accepted by our weary bodies. The plan was to take the bus to Granada and do some exploring. It was timetabled to leave at 10.30, but that was Spanish time, so it actually arrived at the stop at 11.00. At that point we discovered that we had to buy tickets at the office across the street which wasn't labelled - the machine on the bus clearly wasn't good enough. Howard came back proudly clutching six tickets which said we were leaving at 10.30!
Once in Granada, we headed first for the bike shop (where else?) to get Howard some shoes to replace the ones he broke yesterday. Meanwhile some of us went to the craft shop to get latex for sealing tubeless tyres, and somehow managed to communicate this to the staff in pidgin Spanish.
The shopping part of our mission was thus accomplished surprisingly quickly, so we started on the long, hot walk up to the Alhambra, Granada's premier tourist attraction. We'd heard how hard it could be to get tickets in high season, since the number of visitors is limited to 7,700 each day, but had no problem. Tickets acquired, we sat down for a sandwich and a perusal of the guide book and then went in.
We spent three hours exploring the place and its amazing variety of buildings. We checked out the Alcazaba, the original ancient Moorish fort, and climbed up the Torre de la Vela for the view over Granada and to the Sierra Nevada. After standing in the sun for so long, we were pleased to find that King Carlos V had had the decency to plonk a grand palace in the middle of the complex in the 16th century which was nice and cool and a welcome place to rest. A more recent addition to the palace was the world's most slippery wheelchair ramp, made of polished marble and a real challenge to walk up without slipping over or down. It's amazing what can keep a group of mountain bikers amused for a few minutes.
Thus refreshed, we entered the Palacio Nazaríes, the really amazing bit of the Alhambra. It's full of astonishing 13th century Moorish stucco, tiles and carving which survive in remarkable condition, especially considering that it was more or less abandoned and squatted for several hundred years. Even so, the marks where trophy-hunters had chipped off pieces of the finishes were clear.
By this point the daytime heat was starting to take its toll on us, and a short stroll in the Generalife gardens convinced us that a bus journey across town to the Albaicín, the old Moorish quarter, was a better idea than walking. Taking an unknown bus route in a strange town is always an adventure, and this one proved to be so. By frantically tracking our location on the free tourist office map as the minibus bounded its way along the narrow, cobbled streets we managed to figure out where we wanted to get off: at the top of the hill in the Albaicín, which meant that the rest of our sightseeing on foot was downhill.
We looked at the picture-postcard view across to the Alhambra and Sierra Nevada mountains from the Mirador de San Nicolás before wandering through the maze of narrow streets and alleyways down into the city below, with a spectacular view over the cathedral. By this point time was getting on so we grabbed the inevitable Doner kebab from one of the many little Moroccan shops clustered around and above the Plaza Nueva and then dashed back across town to the bus stop. It would have been nice to spend more time in the tiny shops and cafes of the Albaicín and sample the Moroccan sweets on offer, but that will have to wait for another trip.
Everyone fell asleep on the way home: Andy decided that sightseeing was much harder than mountain biking. After a little chill time with the Playstation it was time to head out into Lanjarón for pizza and ice cream. Rest day? What rest day?
The posse checking out the view from the Torre de la Vela
Moorish tiling in the Palacio Nazaríes. Just follow the blue line...
The classic view of the Alhambra from the Mirador de San Nicolás
Descending the tiny streets of the Albaicín