Margreet and I flew from London City Airport to Granada, in southern Spain, for a family wedding in the summer of 2017.
I like small airports. Probably the last time that I flew from one was from Lydd to Le Touquet with my car in a Bristol Freighter during the early 1950s. Three cars were driven aboard through the gaping front of the Bristol Hercules-engined aircraft. The loading doors were closed. Then the drivers and passengers climbed aboard to sit with the pilot. The two propellers churned up the air as we bumped across the grass and lifted off to cross the Channel, flying close to the water. From the field at Le Touquet we cleared the perfunctory Customs affairs and drove away through France.
So I rather expected that London City Airport, being small, and we heard friendly, would have much the same feeling about it as flying in those days of yore. Not so. Small and friendly it may be, but present-day security has put paid to simple and pleasant air travel.
But we flew in a comfortable Embraer 190 and arrived in Granada’s airport. Ours was the only aircraft around. And we passengers were the only ones to be seen. So exiting, though done with Spanish speed, did have a bit of the old feel about it. (Leaving after a week’s stay was quite another matter when, in the general chaos, with one hand holding up beltless trousers, my portable, long time companion corkscrew was confiscated as an offensive weapon.)
We were prepared for the daytime temperature to be around the 40 degree mark – and it was, with the difference in temperature between sun and shade being considerable. The sun heated up the ground and buildings so much that even the evening temperatures were very hot with radiant heat being given off from pavement below and walls all around. Shade was generally available from orange and other trees, and in the lea of buildings in narrow streets. And because it was possible to find shade, sun creams and even sun hats were not essential, though sunglasses helped to dim the glare from the mainly white buildings. Ice creams were popular to cool the palate, fans were in general use by women (we did see one man using one), and in some bars and eating places a fine mist of cold water was distributed from above, looking like the vapour from dry ice. Margreet bought a fan, which came apart on one spine. I bought glue to mend it, only to discover, almost too late, that it was superglue, which gushed out from a rather free-flowing dispenser. So I prized my fingers apart just in time to allow the glue to dry on each finger and eventually to peel off the skin. But the fan had been fixed.
Of course liquid refreshment in quantity was essential. The excellent local beer and wine provided it, though the wine, usually being the choice of good local white and either Rioja or Ribera (del Duero) red, came in large glasses holding only a small measure. The red varied in temperature from cold, to chilled (excellent) to rather too warm. To see a whole bottle of wine on a table was a rarity. Thus it was difficult to find a stopper for a partly-drunk bottle in our room. We only managed to find some in a souvenir shop with “Granada” printed on their sides.
With these liquids, tapas were usually provided gratis. So, with heat precluding large meals, a constant supply of tapas supplied most of one’s needs for food. Our favourite lunchtime venue was the covered fish market, where not only the freshest of fish was on offer, but olive oil, ham, cheese, garlic and much else. Here we would sit at a tall, small table to be served possibly beer, Manzanilla or white wine, with our choice of a delicious tapas with each drink. So, of course, an afternoon siesta later during the excessive heat was an essential element of life. During this time the city simply closed down. And rightly so.
Some might like to judge a country by the kind of loo paper on offer. Generally this was absorbent and thin, and sometimes in a café non-existent. Once it was not to be put down the lavatory after use and binned. In the fish market conveniences, Margreet found that before entering a cubicle it was necessary to select the anticipated quantity of loo paper beforehand.
A City Tour was provided by a sort of land train of an engine truck drawing two open carriages. So good a method of getting a feeling for Granada was this train that we took it several times, sometimes to simply see the city and sometimes to reach a recommended destination. With ancient and often very uneven cobbled road surfaces, it was a bone-shaking experience, but tremendous fun as it wound its way up, down and around the most varied of urban landscapes.
The road and pavement surfaces were of great interest. Sometimes they were of marble, sometimes tile, often cobbles in straight or of imaginative design, and also as mosaic in small defined areas of white pebbles and what looked like chips of slate on end. One could so easily imagine the Conquistadors treading the very same surfaces all those years ago.
The red bricks in use were longer and thinner than those used in England. And the mortar between them much thicker and coarser. Was this something to do with the country’s Roman heritage?
Because the streets were often quite narrow, pedestrians on the pavements of varying width were protected from traffic by rows of low, cast bronze bollards with a simple design representing pomegranates.
Above eye level in rooms, the close-together, glowing and impressive wood beams held the weight of heavy floor tiles above. To look upwards outside, the blue sky was crowded with swifts, acrobatically screaming their way around the tall, ancient, and mostly, impressive religious buildings. If only some of those magical birds would carry on in their migration from Africa to inhabit the London skies where so few exist, we would be very happy. Chattering starlings crowded into the tall trees to roost in one of the few verdant squares. Sparrows flew low beneath tables to find scraps of food for their young.
There were many dogs in Granada, yet we seldom saw a mess or anyone clearing one up.
We had (not by design) arrived in Granada at fiesta time. Twice we witnessed solemn religious processions crawling through the streets. In the march were drummers, trumpeters, choirs, effigies both large and small, and many of the religious populous in sombre dress and sometimes mantillas. Many carried banners, rods and long, lighted candles. The music was uplifting for us and, no doubt, much more so for the participants.
Enough of Granada impressions. The famous sights would last until a cooler season. We were there for a family wedding.
Three busloads of guests were picked up in the noonday heat to travel to the wedding venue high up in the Sierra Nevada. The road was a tortuous one, with barely a fence between the tarmac and the chasms to the side of it. The arid, cactus-strewn landscape of rocks and scrub occasionally held a smallholding of olive trees. There was no sign of bird or four-footed animal.
The venue was a long low building outside of which were tables laid for a feast under shaded awnings. Below that was another sitting area of covered straw bales, laid out for the wedding ceremony with a drinks bar at the side. Below that again was a mountain stream, cascading over rocks to deposit its ice-cold water into a dammed pool for those wanting to swim and cool off. It made a lovely setting for nuptials.
The self-devised wedding ceremony, with the bride wearing a red dress and white mantilla, and the several bridesmaids in pure white, was conducted with speeches, though we were too far away to hear them. Then, after the exchange of rings, the bride and groom divested themselves of most of their clothing, the groom lifted up the bride, and together they plunged into the ice-cold water. Drinks (excellent Rioja) flowed as we wished them well.
The dinner feast was of prawns served to each person in half a scooped-out pineapple, steak so generous and tender that it could have come straight from the bullring, and a lovely cheesecake with crushed fruit. Copious amounts of wine were readily available. Then there was Flamenco dancing and singing, and dancing into the night.
It had been a glorious occasion, a unique one, and a very memorable one.
So we left Granada, Spain and a happy, handsome, and most generous couple with lovely memories and, as is the case nowadays – photographs galore.