DURING a brief period last autumn when travel around Spain was not restricted, Madrid-based American Deirdre Carney made a once in a lifetime trip to Granada to see an Alhambra devoid of tourist hordes and took the term ‘travelling solo’ to an entirely new level.
In September, after recovering fully from a bout of fairly mild Covid, I decided that this was it: I had never seen the Alhambra despite my years in Spain, and there would be, for once in a lifetime, no lines and no tourists. It was still legal to do so as well, though I knew things would be closing down again soon.
It was about as spontaneous as you can make a trip. I booked a hotel that looked absolutely beautiful online, an entrance for the Alhambra and a train ticket for the next day, and off I went. In Covid times, this last minute plan was achieving something unbelievable.
On the train ride down I received a text message from the hotel saying, “Hello Deirdre, we will not be able to be there when you arrive, so we will leave you your keys on the reception desk. Here is the code to enter the front doors of the hotel.” My train was arriving at 6 pm, so this was hardly off-hours, but why not?
Hotel Rosa d’Oro, a converted palacete dating from the 16th century is on the main tourist drag in front of the river with the Alhambra towering above, glowing in late afternoon sunbeams. I located the hotel door and – beep beep beep – entered the code and I was in. It was a gorgeous hotel in the old Granada style with exposed wooden beams, a courtyard flowing with vines and plants and wonderfully furnished. And sure enough, no one was there. And by no one, I mean, not a single person.
There was my name on a card and a key, a map of Granada and another note explaining I had been upgraded to their nicest room, complete with a smiley face.
I made my way up to my room, on the top floor with views of the Granada rooftops. It had a large tiled bathroom with a large bath, two huge beds covered in crisp fluffy bedding. Immaculate. I was paying €33 per night. In normal times this room would easily cost quadruple that price. Someone had unlocked the rooftop access for me as well and I climbed up the winding stairs to a deck with a 360º view of the city, including of course, the Alhambra right in front of me.
I enjoyed two days of solitary wandering around Granada and the Alhambra with almost no one else around. It was a bit lonely of course, having my sunset terrace wine by myself, apart from when two well-dressed young men from Seville sang terrible drunk flamenco at me until the owner of the bar yelled at them to shut up.
“They don’t like how those of us from Seville sing flamenco here in Granada” one explained to me before they staggered off into the night.
The absolutely most bizarre and I would say creepy part of the whole trip is that in two days and two nights, I never once saw another person in my hotel. Not one person who worked there and not one other guest – no noises, no cleaning carts, no jaunty receptionist.
Effectively, I had a five floor boutique hotel to myself. On the other hand, the lights weren’t really on at night. I took the lift up to my floor and ran my hand along the wall using the red exit sign lights to see my way to my door. Flashes of Jack Nicholson and the Shining came to mind. In any normal September this hotel would be crammed and the ghostly streets in front of it bustling into the small hours of the night.
But when I returned from the Alhambra someone had actually slipped in and made my bed, which felt even more disconcerting. Where was this person? Late the second night just as I turned the lights off, I heard the lift whirring. I got up and rechecked my lock and got in bed and stared at my door for a good long while listening intently. Nothing more.
The next morning I left my key on the reception desk and let myself out the front door. On the train home I reflected that the empty hotel had made more of an impression on me, almost, than the Alhambra itself.
We are living through strange times.
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