Monday, March 30, 2009

Nicaragua: Grenada

Grenada, is said to be Nicaragua's most photogenic city. It was founded in 1524 and is the oldest city in the New World. (also argued to be the oldest European city on the American mainland) It was constructed as a showcase city by the Spanish, and that it still is today. (ok, after some restoration from when William Walker set the whole city on fire in the 1850's- I can't go into all of that- please check your history books)

It's a great city, I say.  The Spanish colonial buildings are drenched in rich tropical colors, there are carved wooden doors, some cobblestone streets with horse carriages, great restaurants and hang out places, and my favorite part, a Zocolo, or town square, that is full of activity. Latin. American. Activity. Vendors selling foods from their little push carts, craft tables set up on the perimeter and locals approaching you with hammocks, and tchotchkes that you really don't wan't but their little kids are with them looking hungry, so you do.  The key ingredient to a Zocolo?  The people who are just sitting on the park benches watching all this activity. Love it! I imagined living in this city instead of San Jose and really liked the idea. (sometimes I am a 'grass is greener' girl, but come on is a walkable city to much to ask?)  We were happy to arrive in a bustling city after spending a couple days in rural Ometepe. As soon as we exited the bus, we were surrounded by madness. With no idea where we were sleeping, Ernesto sat down for a moment to consult LP for our options. We were looking for a budget place (as usual) close to the main square, Parque Colón, and there were many to choose from. However, the one we ended up at was recommended by a guy selling something on the street corner. Kalala Lodge is located just two blocks from the square and is only $6 per person. Done. We got a room with four beds, but it was just the three of us, so it was perfect.

We dumped our stuff and walked to the Parque and took in the sights. The most striking building (to me) is the huge church, Catedral de Granada which was built in 1583, but has been destroyed countless times. The latest version was built 1915, and stands on the east side of the square in all its glory. It has four chapels, many stained glass windows and a bright gold paint job. Its impressive!

We wandered down a colorful street called Calle la Calzada which is lined with restaurants with outdoor seating, boutiques and small hotels. It was about 3 pm, 90 something degrees and time for a Toña. We weren't too picky as to which restaurante we sat down, I just wanted the beer to be $1 and the wall color to be pretty. I didn't however, want the name to be Grill House.  Come on, in Nicaragua? I didn't notice this until we had already ordered our beers. I tried to convince my companions to move over one table to the bar called Nectar (the purple walls) but they thought I was crazy.
We saw several other churches while we were walking. The delapidated Iglesia de Guadalupe, was built in 1626, originally as a fort. Still gorgeous, it reminds me of St. Mary's in Massillon Ohio, the church where we were married.
...and the oldest church in Central America, Iglesia San Francisco, which happens to house what is said to be the best museum in the region as well. (we didn't check it out) Originally built in 1585, it was burnt to the ground by pirates and then again by that damn William Walker. It was most recently restored in 1989...and in my humble opinion could use a nice paint job. The baby blue does no justice to the architecture.The food in Nicaragua is very similar to Costa Rica's.  Gallo pinto in the morning and rice and beans at every other meal.  I did get to try a couple new interesting things, like vigarón.  Yucca and cabbage salad topped with a big chicharon (fried pork skin) served on a banana leaf.  There are 2 little round kiosks in the park selling this. Here Maureen and Neto put in their order.
Another new thing for me was a drink called chicha, a bright pink corn drink. We ordered one of those too. It's unique, to say the least. Its kind of sweet and there are actual particles of corn floating around, not to mention a bunch that settled to the bottom of the glass. Ernesto told me a gross story as I was drinking it and I prayed that this was not the case. (that indigenous women chew up the corn in their mouth to break it up and then spit it out in a tub to make the chicha) Please no, please no! I marched right back up to that kiosk and asked the young girl who was working there. She said some is made like that, this however was not. whew!
I know what you are thinking, but I chose to believe.
Living in Costa Rica, good coffee is nothing new, but Nicaragua also produces some of the best coffee in the world, which is why it is wierd that they commonly serve instant coffee (stirred into hot milk)???  No, I don't want instant coffee! The coffee is so rich here, you just need to find the right place.  We discovered Don Simon Cafe on the park square (I saw several locations) and yes, it was a bit more expensive, but just look at it.  A picture says 1000 words.While sitting enjoying that coffee, Neto couldn't resist to get up and give this little old lady some money. She had her English line down pat "I hungry, one dollar" After that lady it was this lady with her sweet little girl. We did we walked away with a pretty hammock. After that we decided there must be a daily limit for handouts.  My husband is so generous, and there are too many hungry people.  Seriously Nester, we are on a budget here!  We never did come up with an actual number as our limit. Same old story, we have never been good budgeters. Neto brings out the spender in me. A little coin here, a little coin there, buy some cashews, fresh fruit on the street, coffee here, cervezas there.
And then there was the fur coat.
I know, I know. But to use the words of my sister Jenny "how could I not buy it?" It was only $2. Its the most glamorous coat in great condition.  Look at that huge collar!  $2! I even bargained her down.  I know, that is rediculous, but they expect it, and Im a bargain any country!

Do you know that I am crazy for parrots? Have I mentioned that there are parrots everywhere in Nicaland? This shop owner only paid $70 for that green baby, and she wanted to sell him! UGH! He is at least $600 in the states. I could've had him fro $50, I know it!

We missed several sites in Granada, such as Las Isletas, an archipelago of more than 360 little islands that were formed over 10,000 years ago when Volcano Mombacho blew up.   Also the petroglyphs, or drawings that were carved into volcanic basalt.  They are said to be 800 to 2000 years old.  
For those reasons and many more, I highly recommend Granada.  
Nicaragua, to be continued... on to Masaya (HERE)

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