Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

Thursday -- The Euro Crisis

Background: the original plan had been that I was going to get 100 Euros in cash here in the States, just for peace of mind. But when I got to the Travelex in the Mall, I discovered that, between the spread and the fee, the price was going to be close to 10% -- awfully steep, so I decided not. Plan B was that we were going to get Ann's spare Euros (about 60) when we saw her in Bristol; however, we just plain forgot. This will become relevant shortly.

So -- we got an early start, because we had to Tube all the way back to Heathrow, and Peter and Kate had both impressed on me what a horror Heathrow tends to be. It utterly failed to live up to its billing: we got checked in and through security quickly. (Possibly quicker because we had no checked baggage. The advantage of having a "home base" in London is that we left the big suitcase there, and just took the small carry-on suitcase and backpacks during all our excursions.)

Heathrow looked like any other big airport. The only surprises of note were (a) the fact that I was able to get a surprisingly decent bagel with lox at the aptly-named EAT. and (b) a momentary sense of feeling like I'm in a Paranoia game:

Our trip connected through Madrid (Granada doesn't appear to be international beyond the Schengen Area, which Britain isn't in), so we had a two-hour layover there. The theory was that we would buy some Euros there, but the Information booth informed us that there was nowhere to do so without exiting Security -- a poor idea, given that we didn't know how much effort it would be to get back in. So we made do for lunch at McDonald's, which would take my (non-PIN) credit card.

The flight to Granada itself was uncontroversial, although I was surprised at the size: it was a full-sized jet, and we were packed in like sardines. Popular place.

Granada airport was, as I expected, best described as "dinky" -- the sort of local airport that claims to have four "gates", but they're really just doors leading onto the tarmac, and you need stairs from the airplane. There was, as we feared, no travel exchange desk, and the Tourist Information desk's attendee appeared to be off on an extra-long siesta. But there was a bank machine, and she had her bank card with her (I hadn't thought to bring mine, since I was living mainly on Visa). So she put it in, entered her PIN, told it to give her 200 Euros -- and it replied "Card Withheld. Please contact your bank."


At this point, we both got a little tense. Me because we were in a foreign country with (nearly) no cash, her because the last time this happened to her father in a foreign country, someone stole the card and ran up bills on it. All we had was a 10-Euro bill that Kate had left over from a previous trip.

We confirmed that that wasn't going to be enough to get us into Granada center, and that no, the taxis wouldn't take my credit card. Fortunately, she noticed (on a little flyer from the Tourist desk) that there was a *bus* into town that only cost 3 Euros. Tight, but it was enough to get us on. And fortunately, the bus driver took pity on the poor confused Yanks and dropped us right in front of our hotel.

Things got easier from there. I'd splurged on one of the nicest hotels in town, the AC Palacio de Santa Paula, a one-time convent that had been converted into, as we discovered, a fairly serious business hotel. I felt a tad out of place in my t-shirt, since we were mostly surrounded by men in sober dark suits, but it did mean that the girl at the desk spoke excellent English. We checked in, and she directed us to a money-exchange shop maybe a half-mile away -- as it turned out, there were two of them almost side-by-side, one of which apparently only dealt with Visa and one with Amex. So I pulled out a hundred Euros for walking-around money, and let my shoulders begin to unclench. Then we headed back to the hotel, she got on the phone with BofA to cancel the eaten card, and also started to relax a bit.

Granada turns out to be a Maze of Twisty Little Passages, All Different:

These little streets connect a great number of Plazas -- open spaces surrounded by buildings, each a bit different. We wound up rather focused on the Plaza Bibirrambla, one of the larger ones, a big open space lined with restaurant tables. The actual restaurants were in the surrounding buildings, but the vast majority of the seating was under awnings in the Plaza, each restaurant with its own big awning.

For tapas, we started out at Khu Bar, the restaurant associated with the Khu Hotel, mostly because it looked interesting. We sort of struggled to express what we were looking for in wine (Kate specifically favors dry whites), but it transpired that the regional wine fit the bill decently -- a bit floral and simple, but a reasonable dry white.

Khu Bar was labeled (if I transcribed this correctly), "Especialudad carnes a la piedra". I had no idea what that meant, mostly because I got misled by my dance experience -- anything involving "pied" means "feet" to me, which seemed unlikely. This was the start of a general theme for these days, of me feeling unusually like a fish out of water, because this was the first time I've ever traveled somewhere that I *really* didn't speak the language. (I've been to Quebec and Paris, but I do have a *bit* of French, and Jane majored in it.) It is surprisingly difficult to resist the Dumb American stereotype of saying English louder and slower when confronted by communication difficulties.

Anyway, our tapas came out, and I realized that "piedra" must be related to the name "Peter", because the label clearly translated as something like, "Specializing in Meat on a Rock". Which is exactly what the tapas was: raw marinated beef, brought out sizzling on a big hot stone set in a plate. At which point, the menu (which consisted mainly of a list of meats) suddenly made a lot more sense. They provide you with raw meat and a Big Hot Rock, and you cook it to your tastes on-table. (The general effect reminded me a little of Bi Bim Bap.)

So we nibbled our beef, and ordered an appetizer of assorted antipasti: a collection of local ham, sausage and cheese, sliced thin. Then we pulled out our Kindles, nibbled, sipped, leaned on each other and read, providing a much-needed dose of normality.

(This is, in fact, what Kate and I mean by "Date Night". Going out to dinner isn't really Date Night for us, because it's almost too frequent. Instead, our preferred Friday tradition is to curl up on the couch with finger food and a bottle of champagne, and just read together. It's delightfully relaxing.)

Now a bit more relaxed, we wander across the plaza for our main dish. We wound up at an Italian-oriented restaurant that turned out to be one of our favorites, and split a plate of Smoked Salmon Ravioli with Pesto. This was quite good: though odd-sounding, the salmon meshed well with the cheese-heavy Pesto.

We finished with Gelato, which is displayed with the most interesting mnemonics:

This is the collection we mostly ordered from, but I had to take a picture of the other side:

I'm really not quite sure why Vanilla is represented by Spongebob Squarepants.

This was a reminder of what gelato is *supposed* to be like: modest-sized servings of ice cream that is not only rich but *intense*. We both agree that the Chocolate Negro (Dark Chocolate) hit it out of the park: one of the best chocolate ice creams I've ever had, powerfully flavored, just sweet enough to avoid being bitter. We returned to this shop each evening, and while we varied what we mixed it with, we always returned to the dark chocolate.

Tomorrow: Up the mountain and into history
Tags: europe 2012

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