Yacht Pipit


Almerimar, the amazing Alhambra and the Sierra Nevadas, 3rd July 2012

We wanted to visit the Alhambra and thought that Almerimar would be an ideal place from which to do so. We assumed that there would be easy public transport to this popular tourist destination - just hop on a bus or a train, arrive at the Alhambra, pay the entrance fee and in we'd go. As is often the case, it's not quite so simple. Research on the internet and advice from the helpful local CA HLR, Mary McKnight, revealed that it is not recommended for one to arrive at the Alhambra and expect to buy tickets at the gate for that day. Entry numbers are strictly controlled as is the entry time (morning or afternoon) of your visit to the whole complex and in particular entry time (at half hour intervals) to the Nasrid Palaces. Initially, this seemed very complicated, particularly as without public transport we planned to hire a car, adding to the uncertainty of arriving in time for our designated entry time. If you miss the half hour entry time slot you don't get in. We visited the local hotel to enquire if any of the coach tours (although as a guided tour, this would be much more expensive) to the Alhambra did 'pick-ups' there. They didn't, so it was back to Plan A. There are a number of companies selling tickets on the web but the official Ticketmaster site seemed the most straightforward, requiring no more information than credit card details. The TripAdvisor ticket booking information site was useful too. Whilst you do need to follow the instructions carefully it's actually all quite straightforward. We choose the 0900 time slot for entry to the Nasrid Palaces, the only other available option being quite late in the afternoon. Our reasoning was that it may be less busy, certainly cooler, and would leave us the afternoon to explore the Sierra Nevada mountains in air conditioned comfort. It did mean setting the alarm for 0415 though...

Once we had booked the tickets for the Alhambra on-line, we confirmed the hire car booking with the Europcar agent at the marina, who gave us a good deal on a Seat Ibiza and allowed us to collect the car the evening before our trip as we planned to leave between 0500-0530.

Our Ibiza for the drive to the Alhambra, parked behind our Bavaria in Almerimar... A Seat Ibiza that is. If we could hire a Seat Alhambra on Ibiza, we may just do so to complete the irony.

So we were up whilst it was still dark and headed off via the route we'd planned, which took us through some lower parts of the Sierra Nevadas. Some of the roads were more twisty and narrower than we thought they'd be, with many hairpin bends and sheer drops. If it hadn't been dark, the views would surely have been stunning.

We arrived at the Alhambra right on schedule, parked in a nearly empty car park, walked to the main entrance, collected our tickets (by inserting a credit card into one of the many Ticketmaster machines) and walked down to the entrance to the Nasrid Palaces in time to have a coffee before our entrance time of 0900. Although the ticket booking and collection process had initially seemed a bit complex, it all worked perfectly well with no waiting or lengthy queues.

Our visit didn't disappoint although not being allowed to use the camera flash means the interior photos aren't as good as they could have been.

The exterior of Carlos V Palace and below some of the detail:

Puerta del Vino.

The Nasrid Palaces with spectacular ceilings...

...and floors.

And more of the Nasrid Palaces - skip past if you get bored:

Restoration work in progress:

Views over Granada.

We were very glad that we'd booked the morning session as it was already hot when we came out of the Nasrid Palaces. There are numerous courtyard gardens which had been relatively cool, but much of the Generalife and large exterior gardens offered less shade. The gardens have a lovely combination of formal hedging and planting, paths cobbled with tiny stones in different designs and also some wonderful cottage garden beds. The hundreds of roses were still in flower and, although many were beginning to fade, there was still plenty of colour with the variety of roses, lilies, lavender, snapdragons and the mix of colours in the cottage style garden beds. There were also beds of mixed herbs and lots of water features with water lilies and goldfish.

Generalife and the gardens:

The Museum of the Alhambra in the Carlos V Palace, inside which we weren't allowed to take photographs, had some amazing artefacts but, unfortunately, although the overhead lighting was good, the tiny LEDs in the display cabinets were so dim (and many were not working) that it was very difficult to see or appreciate the contents.

By the time we walked back to the car, the car park was completely full and we didn't envy those people with afternoon sessions as it was now extremely hot. We were glad to put the air conditioning on in the car as we headed for the hills - literally - the Sierra Nevadas...

The roads don't go all the way to the highest peaks, the highest of which is 3840 metres, but we did get to nearly 3000 metres.

It was quite windy up there, but still very warm, so it was a surprise to see a few patches of snow on the north side of the peaks.

We stopped for a coffee where coincidentally, two camouflaged test cars we'd seen driving around the mountain roads earlier were parked, along with one of the two Mercedes we'd seen towing dynamometers. I didn't know such devices existed. We also spotted a fleet of Porsche Panameras being 'enthusiastically' driven up & down the mountains and even a few lorries on test. The Sierra Nevadas are clearly a popular testing ground for motor manufactures, presumably because of the altitude and the challenging roads.

Can you tell what it is?

I've seen a few camouflaged cars on test before, but never ones so well disguised as these. Every little detail that could give the game away was either removed or taped over, but from the general design and quality of the interior I could see, and the choice of tyres, I think they are probably Korean, but I don't know what.

The German tester I tried to engage in conversation was not at all forthcoming - I got more out of this fellow...

The drive back to Almerimar gave us the views we'd missed in the dark of the morning, although due to sea mist, we couldn't see the coast until we'd descended some way.

Despite our initial dilemma of how best to visit the Alhambra, the day couldn't have worked out better for us. Not having to be herded along with a tour group gave us the freedom to explore at our own pace, and a coach certainly wouldn't have taken either the detour through the mountains, nor the scenic route back to Almerimar.

Talking of cars, the layout of Almerimar marina is such that once you enter it, you are forced to drive around the perimeter of at least two basins (a bit like IKEA, so I'm told) and our berth was adjacent to the road. It was by no means busy, but there was a steady stream of BMWs, Audis, Mercedes, Porsches, Range Rovers, Alfas, the occasional Jaguar, Aston Martin and even a Maserati, as well as a few pimped up yoof-mobiles (like 'em or not, they take money to pimp) to keep Andy amused, so despite the economic climate, it seems some people are still doing ok...

We did several boat maintenance jobs whilst in Almerimar, one of which was to add our port of registration to the transom and remove the R.N.S.A. sticker - we have been intending to do this for the last two years - it's a busy life you know!

Bye bye R.N.S.A. - despite some of the places Andy's worked, as a civvy he's not entitled to be a member.

Hello Plymouth! You get only one chance to get this right - measure, look, check, measure, look, check and measure, look & check again. Then hope that none of the letters tear as you peel off the backing. Proper Job though! (you wouldn't believe how long we spent finding the same font as the existing lettering - Funky Monkey Boat Names to the rescue.)

Other jobs, since you asked, included polishing the cockpit, greasing control cables, changing the outboard engine & gearbox oils and spraying all the canvas zips with silicone. A mountain of washing was attended to, and stocking up at the excellent nearby Mercadona was done. We also tried a 'wonder product', Spotless Stainless, on the arch - the tubes under the solar panel, where salt laden moisture collects, rust quite quickly, despite regular polishing with conventional metal polish. Simply brush it on, leave it for about half an hour, then rinse to leave shiny stainless - simple to use with dramatic results, even on hard to clean fiddly bits like bottlescrew threads, and it's supposed to add a rich oxide layer to help prevent future rusting. So far so good, but we shall see...

We bought some bits & bobs to modify how we attach our telescopic passerelle which, so far, has worked fairly well. Since we've been mooring stern-to, the 'dog ramp' attracts almost as many enquiries from passers-by as does the Nestaway dinghy at the other end when parked the other way round.

We also did some pleasant socialising, meeting Chris and Penny from Karma Daze, another couple from the CA who are heading east to prepare for the 2012 ARC after spending a few years in the Med. They insisted, despite some of their recent testing passages, that heading east we'd have much better sailing - hope they're right! Marcel & Helen on Dakini also arrived a couple of days ago and it was great to catch up over a glass or two of sangria. We first met them in Baiona, where they were tantalised by the aroma of razor clams sizzling on our Cobb wafting across the anchorage. We met again in Povoa and then over winter in Lagos, and coincidentally we escaped Lagos on the same day they did!

As luck would have it, the well stocked chandlery in Almerimar sells Cobbs and accessories, so whilst we were in there buying a few bits of string Marcel was spending rather more (including 72 Cobblestones - do you know how heavy they are Tim?!)! We were subsequently honoured to be invited to the Christening:

After an initial lighting equipment failure, we have ignition...

The first course - fillets of dorada seared on the griddle.

The main - seasoned pork steaks, sausages & courgettes with potato wedges & carrots cooked in the moat - superb!

The proud parents of Colin the Cobb!

And the happy Godparents!

And one final photo, more food I'm afraid, of the delicious chorizo in cider Andy cooked one night, inspired by the tapas we'd enjoyed in Gijon and following Ann's made up recipe.

Give it a try, it's delicious, really simple and perfect for cooking on board as it's a one-pan dish. Sauté a chopped onion and some sliced garlic gently in olive oil until soft. Add some sliced (or in this case, whole mini-sausage balls) of chorizo sausage (the type that are partly cured, but not cooked). Gently fry until the sausage begins to release its glorious spicy oil, add some cider (Asturian of course!) and simmer until the sausage is cooked and the cider has reduced to a lovely sticky sauce. Serve with a baguette to mop up all the wonderful juices and some well chilled Asturian cider. Bon appétit, as we say in Spain... You can download the full recipe here.

This update is somewhat belated - we are now in the Mar Menor, having departed Almerimar in company with Dakini to round Cabo de Gata and anchor in the beautiful Puerto Genovés. We then had a few 'interesting' passages before entering the Mar Menor - more on how we got here next time...