I had to do a double take when I saw this vehicle in the parking lot of the Alhambra Granada. Police in uniform and armed in a light van called the tourist police. Apparently the police in Granada are divided by function; general police and tourist police On the other hand given the beauty and treasures of the Alhambra it probably makes sense to have something more than individuals just standing in each room like a museum to be sure you don't touch something. Definitely worth a laugh but I wasn't about to confront any of these men to find out what their authority is.
We booked the Alhambra tour in a travel agency in Torremolinos. We got the Rusadir travel bus and guides. They turned out to be horrible, putting a damper on our tour. Nothing they promised turned out to be true. They promised new busses with the highest technology and what have you not. So we were surprised when an older bus picked us up at the hotel and weren't sure if that was our bus as it had no sign on the side facing us, only on the other side. Inside the bus the armrest, where my friend was sitting next to me, was broken and there were no seatbelts. The bus was full and she was having problems holding on to the seat in front of her.
The guide on the bus was unbelievable, he was supposed to be multilingual, but I could not even understand his English, he spoke broken English with a lot of grammar mistakes and a heavy Spanish accent. I had to rely on his Spanish (the little I know of that language) and some German and I noticed that he explained a lot more in German than in English. An English lady sitting next to us said that his French was even worse than his English :(
When we arrived at Alhambra we were told that we had 5 minutes to go to the toilet, people on the bus were rushing to the toilets, where there were long queues, and fearing being left behind.
We got another guide at Alhambra and were hoping she would turn out to be better than our bus-guide. See my next tip.
I was wondering where to put this tip: tourist traps, transportation... Finally here it is.
If you go to Granada by car and don’t know well the city, be very careful. We trusted on the navigator and suddenly we realized that had taken a bus lane. We corrected immediately but there was a camera. Some weeks later we received a notification at home: we were given a fine of 80 €!
On Sunday mornings there are a number of "friendly" shoe shine men working the area between the Alhambra Palace Hotel and the Alhambra ticket office. Just a waring that if you do take them up on their shoe shine offer it will cost you EU20 for one minute's work. I also saw a Asian tourist in the area that was getting a very expensive shine on his running shoes. The guys make out they can't speak ant English and are very helpful with directions. I didn't see them during the week.
I dont know if I was just in a bad time, but every where I went during my three or four days in Granada, was that I could not find many people, local ones, who spoke English. Even in Granada, you have many people with from other countries and they study here. I know they educate many foreign students in the Spanish language, but for me, it seem that the local Spanish could no English at all. I hope I just met people who did not speak this international language, and that is not true that nobody speak English here.
Don't let it put you off wandering around these beautiful streets but be aware robberies are on the increase and police are rarely visible!
Just take sensible precautions...don't wear expensive watches or jewellery, carry only sufficient money and if possible try to leave your passport somewhere secure in you hostal or hotel.
I would recommend NOT not using a map in this area too, as you'll look a bit more vulnerable if you keep stopping! Sounds silly but they are very confusing ,windy streets and you'll probably get sortof lost anyway!! You might as well take a minibus up to Mirador San Nicholas then wander where you will back down the hill.
We got a guided tour of Alhambra and were hoping that the guide would turn out to be better than the bus-guide. Sadly this didn't prove to be the case. She spoke better English than the bus-guide, but with a very soft voice and only the people at the front could hear what she was saying. I decided on buying the Alhambra guide book when I got back to Torremolinos, as we couldn't hear anything. Apart from that she was dressed in brown and didn't stand out of the crowd and had no flag so that we could spot her. I spoke to her about this and then she started holding her water bottle up in the air from time to time but that didn't help a bit. There were many people in Alhambra and one woman on our tour was also wearing brown and we found ourselves often standing beside that woman thinking she was the tour-guide.
This tour was extremely stressful and we felt like cattle rushed through the palaces, and we often lost the guide and had to run after her, not knowing in which direction she was going. People were disappointed, out of breath, confused and getting angry as most of our tour we had to focus on "where is our guide" instead of enjoying Alhambra.
This was a totally disappointing amateur marathon tour - what a let down! Fortunately there were 4 of us travelling together so we could laugh at it later, but I advice you to never take a guided tour like this with Rusadir.
After the marathon visit to Alhambra the bus-guide picked us up and left us in Granada where we could have lunch and there was no time to visit the Cathedral or anything else. I can tell you that we didn't have the strength to do anything but sit there at the café after this marathon - plus that the temperature was 38 degrees C.
We went to the travel agency in Torremolinos the day after the tour and complained about this tour and I added that I would be writing about Rusadir here on VT. Altogether the 4 of us had paid 240 euros for the tour (which is a lot when you are Icelandic and your króna had just collapsed) so this was a big disappointment.
Just as had happened four days earlier in Alicante when I picked up our first short-term rental car, I had great difficulty in finding my way around Granada by car! It did not help matters that I did not have a very good map of the many narrow, steep and twisting streets of the old Moorish quarter where our hostal was located - just something from Google roughly showing the hostal's location. My plan was to just put the car away in their private parking garage for our two nights in town, but first I had to find the place!
On entering the downtown area we were soon hopelessly lost so reverted to using the red tourist signs pointing the way to the Alhambra, since we knew the hostal was located close to it. We drove around for what seemed like two hours in the complicated maze of narrow streets with difficult to find street names, heavy traffic and sometimes one-way only with no luck. Finally, I saw a public parking garage and just pulled into it and found a spot for the car. Out we got and took off on foot, obtaining a tourist map giving us a more detailed overview of the downtown streets in the Alhambra area. Even on foot we must have taken an hour slogging up and down the hillside trying to find Hostal Landazuri. Finally, from Plaza Nueva, I looked up this street and saw the white hostal! There, at the foot of the street were round traffic signs on both sides with a big red 'X' and words saying 'No Entry' but with much smaller printing below saying 'Except for official vehicles and hostal guests'!! No wonder I had not been able to find the place - trying to read all the fine print with various vehicles up my rear bumper!
We walked up the street, checked in and then I walked back to the parking garage to retrieve our rental car. Even then, I still got lost on the way back but finally managed to reach the hostal and ditch the car until we left two days later! It was a breeze leaving town on a Sunday morning with little traffic and we also knew 'the lay of the land' by then!
It was about 10 AM on Sunday morning by the time we had enjoyed breakfast at the hostal, retrieved our car and checked out. Traffic was light on another beautiful sunny day as we cruised, along with a few other vehicles, to the outskirts of Granada on a nice divided highway as we began our drive to Seville. Suddenly, ahead I spotted some policemen standing beside the road along with several of their vehicles, motioning our entire group of about ten vehicles to pull off onto a parallel side-road. There, all the drivers were given breathalyzer tests - the first one I had ever had!! Luckily, I passed!
It then came to me that Spanish custom is to eat and drink much later in the evenings than I do, and with it having been a Saturday night, there were probably a few people with severe hang-overs out driving the streets! Our Lonely Planet guide states: "The blood-alcohol limit is 0.05%. Breath tests are becoming more common and if found to be over the limit, you can be judged, condemned, fined and deprived of your licence within 24 hours. Fines range up to 600 Euros for serious offenses. Nonresident foreigners will be required to pay up on the spot (at 30% off the full fine). If you don't pay, or don't have a Spanish resident go guarantor for you, your vehicle will be impounded". It was probably a good thing I had gone to bed very early after our busy day touring the Alhambra!
Where ever there are tourists there are opportunists robbers so it will be no suprise to hear that the beautiful neighbourhood of the Albaicin, a UNESCO cultural heritage site, and well worth the visit, also suffers from this. Dont let it spoil your trip but be aware. Our Albaicin neighbourhood association has been petitioning for more police presence in the neighourhood and we have achieved that to some extent. A while back we had a spate of gangs, usually but not necessarily young, who follow lone tourists ( and often seem to specifically target young Asian women though dont be complacent if you are Spanish or in a group. I once saw 5 Italians mugged by youngsteres on motorbikes with hammers). They often target their victims on the Mirador San Nicholas and follow them as they walk through the labrynthe of narrow cobbled streets, waiting till their victim is in a perfect spot for an ambush. One of the most dangerous times of day is siesta time, between 2 pm and 6 pm when the locals are all asleep, everythig is shut and the streets are deserted. If you feel you are being followed just stop by a door and bang on it, call loudly for José or Pepe or whoever, look like you belong and as if some one is expecting you at the house. The neighbours wont mind. As I said previously we have been doing our best to highlight the problem and the police now patroll the area on motorbikes. To be absolutely sure stick to the roads with traffic or latch onto other people walking in the same direction. Dont carry valuables and if some one grabs your bag let it go.
Also wherever you are in Granada, particularly sitting in the open plazas enjoying a drink, keep hold of your bag, never leave it on the floor. Dont assume the well dressed people sitting next to you are not thieves. I speak from experience as yesterday my mother left her bag when she walked into the restaurant. In front of our very eyes though neither my father or myself even noticed, two well dressed men from the next table got up and walked away, taking Mum's bag. We only realised when Mum returned and asked where her bag was. The French family at another table kindly told us they had watched the whole thing unfold and the men calmly walk off.
My French is unfortunately not good enough to tell them what I really thought of their passive observation of our misfortune. So please if you are sitting anywhere in the world and see something like this go down, stand up and start shouting.
I was totally naive when I spent a few hours in the cool Arab markets in Granada. My boyfriend had gone off to buy water and take some stuff that he bought back to our hostel, so I stayed behind to shop for earrings. It was a bright, sunny day and there were other tourists and I thought I was fine. I didn't realize that the man whose shop I was in was flirting with me, and he got me into the back of his store to look at discount earrings and started feeling me up and kissing me! He told me I should come up to his flat for 1/2 hour -- "bad for your boyfriend, good for you!" I slapped his hand away, told him he was crazy, and got out of there, feeling embarrassed and exposed in my tank top and (long) skirt.
Not all of the merchants are like this of course, but just beware and don't be too friendly. There was definitely a heavy feeling of flirtation when I went into shops, even with my boyfriend there.
Please be aware if you buy a timed ticket the time is for entry into the Palaces NOT just the site. We picked up tickets timed 1030 at 10:15 and walked happily around the grounds. It is quite a long way to the Palaces from the main entrance. When we reached the entry to the Palaces we were out of time and they would not let us in. We ended up going out and buying more tickets, a costly experience, but better than not seeing the main buildings - exquisite!
I was told of this scam, on the bus while travelling back to the airport. It's not common to Granada, but made me more aware of keeping an eye on my luggage, wherever I travel from now on
I was told that on the airport bus into Granada, when one of the passengers had gone to retrieve her bag, it wasn't there- she'd positioned it at the front of the luggage storeage under the bus, for easy access.
Unfortunately it had been easy access for the baggage thief!.
When these coaches pull into a stop/bus station, the driver often opens the luggage hold doors by a button near his seat - so these doors are opened before anyone has got off the bus.
As the doors open upwards, they also obscure the view of passengers on that side - an ideal opportunity for a bag snatcher to either strike quickly, or mingle with the crowd waiting to get on the bus/or meeting passengers, and casually saunter over as if a passenger retrieving his luggage.
When I caught the bus back this time, it was quite chaotic with the road works and pavements being cordoned off on Via Colon, so passers by were mingling in with those waiting for the bus.
I was very relieved to see my bag was there when we arrived at the airport.
So, either keep your luggage with you- not always an option if the coach is full, or make sure it is pushed into the middle of the luggage hold.
Normally I place my case near the front for a quick 'get away' (and also because I'm a shorty, and I can't usually reach any further!) but in future, I'll not mind waiting - well not too long!!
During my trip to Granada in October (06), I was surprised to see the amount of roadworks going on. Apparently, the amount of traffic passing through the city has been a big problem, so there is a major programme to ease the traffic problem by widening some roads, and creating an underground system.
For visitors, the bus stop for the airport bus from Granada to the Airport is no longer directly opposite the Cathedral, but at my visit it was about another 400 metres along Via de Colon. It wasn't signposted, and even the tourist Info staff were adamant that it was in the usual place.
Also, be careful with your luggage when putting it in the hold. I was told by someone on the bus back to the airport that on their inward journey a girl had put her bag into the hold, only to find that on arrival at their destination that it had been stolen. (Please read my previous tip for more info)
The Granada Tour bus doesn't stop at the Cathedral either - it now waits on Ave de Casino, just past the Post Office on Puerto Real.
The narrow streets around Albaicin can get snarled up with traffic, and visitors crowding the narrow pavements, particularly on C/ Ddel Darro, as you often have to step into the road to walk round people taking pics of the Alhambra etc. Mopeds can sneak up these roads, so be careful when stepping off the pavement.
**UPDATE I understand that the roadworks on Via Colon are finished now, so I assume that bus routes etc are back to normal, but check with your bus driver/ tourist info**
Please see my transport tips for more details
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