Granada: Yet More Wandering, San Juan de Dios Church, Olive Oil Tour

Today in Granada, I did some more wandering around, visited San Jaun de Dios basilica, and went on an olive oil tour. It was a good day.

More Wandering

A street I wandered on

Today I wandered mostly in the largely, but not entirely flat section of central Granada. That took me through the usual collection of interesting streets and a small indoor market. The latter had a variety of food vendors, but with a heavy emphasis on ham. In addition to the vendors of eat-at-home foods, there were a couple of restaurants/bars. People here seem to enjoy life. Imagine that.

A colonnaded shopping street I walked along

Also in my wanderings, I took some advice Rick Steves gave in his Spain book. He suggested visiting a specific area that would give me a view of Andalusian life, without the tourists. Without the tourists, that is, except those who read his book or other tour books that gave the same advice. Really. Why do they bother?

Walking the streets he suggested, I saw an arcaded shopping street, a nice little park, and some relatively quiet residential streets.

Granada’s answer to Barcelona’s Las Ramblas

I also walked on a street, Carrera de la Virgen, that Steves described as Granada’s mini version of Barcelona’s Las Ramblas. It has a wide, well treed pedestrian strip with single lanes of traffic on either side. I’ve been to Barcelona (before I started this journal, so don’t bother looking for an entry) and I agree they’re very similar in design and feel. Although, Las Ramblas is longer. And it has more vendor stalls on it. And it has restaurants on it; Granada’s Carrera de la Virgen doesn’t.

A market vendor

San Juan de Dios Basilica

The Son of God Basilica (usually San Juan de Diol Basilica even in English, or Basílica San Juan de Dios in Spanish) was built in the 18th century.

The entryway for tourists is much newer than. I’m guessing it dates from the 20th or maybe even 21st century. The location of this new entrance makes the basilica rather weird. In most old European churches I’ve visited, I entered either from the back or through a side door midway down the church. There are attractive old wood doors at the back of San Juan de Diol Basilica, but they’re not in use. At least, they’re not in use for unbelieving sightseers such as I. I don’t know about worshippers.

The high altar of San Juan de Dios Basilica

Instead, the tourist entry took me immediately into the sacristy, behind the high alter. 

From there, I passed into the main chapel through a door immediately beside the main altarpiece. I imagine this is how a priest enters after he dons his robe in the sacristy. And, this being the Catholic Church, a priest is always a he, isn’t he? It’s like the Church totally missed the second half of the 20th century, let alone the years of the 21st so far. Harumph. But enough about that.

The sacristy is filled with a couple of tables and chests of drawers, along with many paintings and tchotchkes. Included among the tchotchkes are clocks, candleholders, vases, and few religious items. A church with religious items. Who would have thought it?

Excessively Elaborate, But Don’t Take My Word For It

A side chapel (/transept?) at San Juan de Dios Basilica

The  basilica is of Spanish baroque design and decoration. I don’t known if it’s indicative of that style, but I’d say it’s excessively elaborate. And it’s not just me who says it. The audioguide provided with the entrance fee said many people perceive it as excessively elaborate.

Myriad statues, clocks, candleholders (now filled with electric lights), reliefs, and paintings decorate the church. The colour gold abounds.

Two beautiful side chapels, not far back from and on either side of the main altar, are about the depth of a not overly large living room in a not overly upper class North American home.

Not being an expert in such things, I’d say those two chapels form small transepts. Although, at that shallow depth I don’t know whether they meet the requirements to officially qualify as transepts.

An impressive cupola, with stained glass windows and paintings around it’s lower perimeter, sits over the nave between the two side chapels. 

There are two more chapels on each side of the basilica, further back from the main altar. Those side chapels are maybe a quarter of the depth of the first two, barely wide enough to kneel in, if that.

Another door beside the main altar, but on the side wall rather on the front wall like the one I entered through, leads to a set of stairs.

Overlooking the main chapel from above and behind its main altar

Climbing the stairs took me first to a side balcony overlooking the main chapel.  There were seats with kneeling rails enough for only two or three people in the balcony. I don’t know who gets to take in the services from there. Maybe they’re reserved for people who know God personally or who give him generous gratuities. 

There was also an identical balcony on the other side of the basilica, maybe so God can collect tips in both of them. Not that I blame him. The cost of the upkeep and taxes on heaven must be horrendous.

A short set of stairs up from the balcony leads to another room behind and above the main altar. A large opening in this room overlooks the basilica.

Dead People

Dead people, or at least one dead person and possibly parts of others, reside in that room.

A large, ornate silver urn sits in a glass case in the middle of the room. The remains of San Juan de Dios are supposedly in the urn.

Here’s what I don’t understand. It is an urn. It’s big, but not big enough to hold a whole human skeleton with the toe bone connected to the foot bone,
the foot bone connected to the ankle bone, the ankle bone connected to the leg bone, he leg bone connected to the… Well, you know the rest. So, I figured San Juan must have been cremated.

But no.

The audioguide told me that the last time they checked, his bones were still in good condition. Bones, not ashes.

There are also a number of reliquaries in the display case and around the room. The only thing I can figure is that:

  • San Juan de Dios was a Hobbit with dwarfism. Or,
  • They spread his various bits and pieces around in the reliquaries and squeezed only his major bones into the urn.

But I’m probably wrong about that.

Someone’s skull

Smaller glass display cases hang on the walls of the room. Each contains what looks like a human skull. 

If the audioguide mentioned who the skulls belonged to, I missed it. And I didn’t see signs telling me. There are at least four of them, and maybe more that I missed. They can’t all be San Juan de Dios’s skulls. You can lose your head only once.

San Juan de Dios Basilica is far from the only basilica or cathedral with reliquaries. Europe is lousy with them. How macabre is that?

Olive Oil Tour

To top off the day, I booked an olive oil tour. That was interesting. No really. That likely came off sounding sarcastic. I didn’t mean it to be. It really was interesting. And enjoyable.

The assembly point was a square in central Granada. From there, Violeta, our guide, and another driver took a group of 11 customers, including me, in two vans to an olive grove about 30 minutes outside of central Granada.

Olive grove close to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

This first olive grove was a traditional one in an amazing setting, not far from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. How they move the Sierra Nevada mountains back and forth between California and Spain is a mystery to me.

Violetta said it was a shame that the clouds obscured the snow at the top of the mountains. I told her, that’s alright. I really don’t need to see snow.

The trees in this traditional grove were spaced fairly far apart and there was no artificial irrigation.

More Industrialized Olive Grove

Ripe olives

Then they drove us to another grove beside a olive oil mill. That grove is more industrial in nature. The trees are closer together. There is drip irrigation and all kinds of sensors in the to determine when the trees need water and fertilizer.

The grove is organic. They don’t harvest the outer row of trees with their main harvest for their own label olive oils in case any pesticides blow in from other groves.

They farm completed most of the harvest in mid-October, about two weeks ago. But Violeta invited us to try an olive right off the tree (in the outer row where olives weren’t yet harvested) if we’ve never done that before. However, she warned us, after you’ve done it once, you’ll never do it again. She was right. I’ll never do it again even if the opportunity arises. Olives are very bitter until they’ve been cured several times in brine, and sometimes further flavoured after that.

The Olive Oil Mill

The olive oil mill

Violeta also invited each of us to harvest two additional olives that we put in a small basket. She then took us to a small machine, which is a much smaller version of the industrial crusher used at the mill. She used this small crusher to show us how olives are crushed. Everything goes in. Everything comes out crushed, including the pits.

The mash gets separated from the oil later. The separation is still called pressing, but that term is outdated. They no longer use presses. They use centrifuges.

The vats in the olive oil mill’s “cellar”

After separating and filtering the oil, it goes in huge metal vats in the “cellar.” It’s not really what I think of as a cellar. It’s a large ground level room with no windows that’s kept at a constant temperature. According to Violeta, the three enemies of olive oil are light, temperature and air. The cellar protects against those.

The flavour of olive oil opens up for I’ve forgotten how many days after it’s “pressed.” Unlike wine, once it reaches that peak stage the flavour begins to degrade and never comes back. Therefore, after the oil reaches that point, a layer of nitrogen is added to the vats to seal off the oil from the air.

This particular mill only bottles their oils to order. The oil stays in the vats until then to protect its flavour.

Olive Oil Tasting

After we saw the mill and it’s equipment, we were driven to a tasting room and store in a nearby town. There, we tasted five different olive oils. It was like a wine tasting, but more so.

First Violeta described the olive oil to us, including its source, the variety of olives used, and its flavours profile. Then we smelled the olive oil. Next, we sipped it and chewed it in our mouths, “like gum,” as Violeta instructed us. Then we dipped some bread in it and tasted it that way.

Between each each oil, we cleansed our palate with a slice of apple before repeating the process with the next oil.

The fifth oil was different. Before we got to that, Violeta had us pour some of our favourite oil of the first four onto little plates in front of us. We then spritzed some vinegar into it, put in a dash of special salt, and stirred it around. We then tasted the resulting vinaigrette with some bread.

Then we moved on to the fifth oil. It was literally bittersweet. It had crushed orange rinds in it. The rinds came from oranges from Sevilla. There are a lot of orange trees from Sevilla, but the oranges there are too bitter to eat. Instead, they use the rinds for marmalades and crushing into olive oil.

We did the regular smelling and sipping of that oil as well. But when it came time for the dipping bread part, Violetta had us sprinkle some sugar on the oiled bread. It was almost dessert.

The Other Tasting

The company also offered a wine tasting after the olive oil tasting for an additional €15. About half of us, including me, partook. We tasted four wines, three of which were very good wines. The other was, again, almost dessert. The last one was a sherry that was so sweet I may have developed diabetes from just that.

Between the wines we got to nibble on tapas—ham, cheese and bread—to clear our palates.

Interesting Facts About Olives I Didn’t Know Until Today

According to Violeta:

  • Green, purple, and black olives are not different varieties of olives. When olives ripen they change from green to purple to black. I believe that’s true of all varieties. When we eat green olives we’re eating not-yet-ripe olives. In the grove next to the mill, I saw green, purple, and almost black olives on the same tree.
  • Spain is the largest grower of olives in the world.
  • Olive trees can live well more than 1,000 years and still produce olives. 


Only the best

In a public square near my hotel, Plaza Nueva, a number of independent vendors set up shop every day. They sell mostly purses, sweatshirts, and running shoes. A few of the purses bore logos of Chanel and Gucci.

You know you’re getting high quality, authentic goods when they sell them out in the open like that. They could operate out of stores, where walls and doors can shield nefarious transactions. But no, they peddle their wares right out on the sidewalk, so you know you’re getting the real deal.

Nevertheless, I did not patronize their businesses. My loss, I guess.


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