Granada and the Alhambra – May 2018

On Thursday morning, May 17th, we pick up our rental car and head off to Granada, a little under two hours away. We take the coastal road and make a coffee/tea stop in Nerja along the way. Must say, that the Costa del Sol is so built up. Town after town of high rise complexes along the beaches. A little much for the two of us. Would not want to spend a lot of time along this area, although we are sure that lots of people would enjoy it in the winter months!

Along the way, we wind our way on the edge of the Sierra Nevada’s and some of the peaks are still covered in snow…..a reminder of home perhaps!

We arrive in Granada about 1:30 p.m. and the parkade we were told to use is about a 10 minute walk to the apartment we have rented. We will be in Granada for four nights. Population is 233,000 as of 2017 and the city’s elevation is 738m (2,400 ft.).

Coming out of the parkade one is always trying to find your bearings. I use “Offmaps”, but that takes a little bit of walking to see in which direction you are walking. Robin asks an elderly gentleman in which direction is Plaza de la Trinidad, the square where our apartment is located. He points straight ahead, then right, then straight ahead again. We start walking and I am about to turn right and I look behind us to see this gentleman waving us straight on…..very cute.

We find our apartment and are met by Lucas, our contact for this stay. His company manages the rental of the apartment, which is very lovely and located on the 5th floor of an old mansion. The apartment looks onto the Plaza de la Trinidad and we look onto the Cathedral and can see the tip of one of the towers of the Alhambra. Lucas proceeds to explain where all the worthwhile sites to see are located, a list of his favourite tapas bars and restaurants and what neighbourhoods to explore. I had sent a text to Lucas prior to our arrival asking if he could arrange for tickets for a flamenco show. He indeed has purchased tickets for us and told us they were for an “authentic” flamenco show and not one of the many tourist shows. We will be attending tomorrow night and look forward to it. I had read that Granada was the place to experience flamenco. Following picture of the view of the cathedral from our apartment, day and night.

We head out in the afternoon to explore our new neighbourhood and to buy a few groceries. Granada is most famous for the Alhambra, but it is made up of very interesting neighbourhoods, which are not to be missed. The Albaicin (the Arab quarter), Sacramonte (the Gypsy sector) and Realego ( the Jewish area) each having its’ own character. A lot of walking on our first afternoon, finishing off along the the Carrera del Darro, a narrow quiet road along the river Darro. From here we can see the Alhambra and we stop for a drink in a small cafe along the river. We are told that the Carrero del Darro is a perfect setting for happy couples, scorned lovers and dreamers! On our first night here, we take advantage of a recommendation of a friend (thanks Steve F.) and eat at a wonderful restaurant, La Botilleria. Walk along the Calle Mesones, and Calle Reyes Catolicas streets made for shopping and drinking!

Again, so many tapas bars, every local seems to have their favourites. We have had such varied tapas and most very good. So far we have tried bacalao (cod fish), potatoes bravas (of course), ham croquettes (very tasty) and Spanish omelette. They always serve small free tapas at the bars when you order a drink. We have had hummus, green olives, pork cheeks, desert style tapas (cheesecake), Iberian and serano ham which are mostly served on bread.

ALHAMBRA, Granada

Up early….not due to jet lag…but a rooster crowing at 4 am this Friday morning, May 18th. What is a rooster doing in the middle of the old town?

We walk up to the Alhambra this morning, which takes up about 30 minutes. We have tickets to enter the Palacio Nazaries at 10 am, and you must enter at your allotted time. We have time to stop for a coffee/tea before entering the palace.

Lots of stray cats all around the grounds……even though this place is always full of people, the cats stay away. Robin would say “and this is a good thing!”.

First a little history regarding The Alhambra. It is the only surviving large medieval Islamic palace complex in the world. It’s a palace-city but also a fortress with 2 km of walls, 23 towers and a fort within a fort, the Alcazaba. Within the walls of the Alhambra there are seven separate palaces, mosques, garrisons, houses, offices, baths, a summer residence (the Generalife) and exquisite gardens. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site, so another to add to our list.

I like the description in the guide book…..”The Alhambra is Granada’s and Europe’s love letter to the Moorish culture, a place where fountains trickle, leaves rustle, and ancient spirits seem to mysteriously linger.”

The Alhambra, an Arabic name which means the red castle. The first palace was built on the site in the 11th century. In the 13th and 14th centuries the Nasrid emirs turned the area into a fortress/palace, adjoined by a village. After the Reconquista (Christian reconquest) the Alhambra mosque was replaced with a church and the Convento de San Francisco. During the Napoleonic occupation, the Alhambra was used as a barracks. The Alhambra has been restored and is definitely a must see. The Palacio Nazaries is certainly wonderfully decorated in Moorish art. Beautiful wood carvings, including the ceilings, ceramic work throughout and Islamic scriptures written on the walls. Water is a constant theme, with fountains running throughout the Palacio as well as outside in the wonderfully sculpted gardens.

When we first entered the grounds we came across a statue of the American writer Washington Irving. We find out that in the 19th century Granada became the perfect setting for romantic travellers due to the Irving’s book Tales of the Alhambra written in 1832. This book captivated writers, artists and musicians of his generation, telling them about that “fiercely magnificent” place that also fascinated Victor Hugo and and others. So Granada was reborn as a somewhat mythical place, a blend of history and legend, an essential destination for travellers from every continent.

The Alcazaba is the military part of the citadel. It is surrounded by towers and the Jardin del Adarve which was formerly a deep pit to discourage possible invaders. We go up the narrow staircase to the Torre de la Vela to enjoy the views of the city of Granada and the surrounding countryside.

Took us about 2 1/2 hours to visit (could spend longer) and we took advantage of the audio guides which were certainly worthwhile.

I could go on describing the various buildings and grounds, but will let the pictures speak from themselves. Beautiful views throughout the grounds of the city of Granada.

GRANADA

On Friday night we stop at La Bicicleta, a restaurant recommended in our guide book. Actually just come across it while walking through the streets.

Good tapas then off to the Flamenco Show. The show was one hour long and found that this was just the right amount of time. Wonderful guitar player, great singer and 2 Flamenco dancers. Although Lucas told us this was an “authentic” flamenco show, not sure what he meant by this; it was just tourists that were in attendance. Notwithstanding, an intimate venue which probably only accommodated 50 people and we enjoyed the performances.

Did I mention the rooster crowing….oh yeah…..awake at 4 am again this morning, but managed to get more sleep this time around.

Saturday and the city is humming with tourists. A lot of “guy” and “gal” stags/stagettes happening…..the locals have told us they do not like these, simply too rowdy. In a couple of instances we see the “bride to be” riding on a donkey with all her friends around her. Lots of drinking and noise involved.

Our first stop is a cafe just outside our apartment for a cappuccino/tea. The square we are located on (Plaza de la Trinidad) seems to be a quieter one than most, so thankful for that. Having said this, we were awoken yesterday morning by a rooster crowing very early. We are in the middle of the city, so not sure where it came from….maybe allowed to have chickens and roosters!

We head to Plaza Nueva to meet up with the free walking tour. This time we need to look for a red umbrella; in Malaga it was a blue umbrella. I made reservations on line prior to leaving Calgary, which is a good thing. The guides are talking about turning people aside who have not registered ahead of time.

Our guide is Pedro and is from Granada. He gives a brief history of Granada speaking about the many groups who occupied the area…the Phoenicians, Romans, the Arabs, the rule of the Nasrid dynasty and finally the Christians. He also speaks of the “Reconquista”, the name given to a long series of wars and battles between the Christian Kingdoms and the Muslim Moors for control of the Iberian Peninsula. It lasted from 718 to 1492 ending with the persecution of Muslims in 1500. At this time the Muslims are compelled to adopt the Christian religion or are banished.

At one time the Iberian Peninsula included Portugal. Pedro is quite sad that Portugal and Spain are separate countries today……he would like to see “Ronaldo” play for Spain! For those of you who don’t know, Ronaldo is a football (soccer) player who is Portuguese.

Pedro tells us that throughout our walk, he will speak about the Muslims while we are in the Christian quarter and speak about Christians while walking in the Arab quarter! We stop at “La Madraza de Granada” a university founded in the middle of the 14th century. It is said that the Muslim Kings were counselled by Ministers who were normally highly educated Jewish ministers. A library was available for everyone…ok….a little clarification here…..available to men only! He does go on to say that the role of women in the Muslim society was important, it is said that the wives of Kings had some influence. Granada society was very well advanced in the field of medicine as well. They avoided the Black Plague due to their good hygiene habits. Today the University is a cultural centre and host free events to all…..yes, even including women!

In 1492, the Catholics representing Queen Isabella entered into the Treaty of Granada with the Muslims. Islam became forbidden in Spain. The Muslims who were converted were referred to as Morisco’s.

We head towards the Cathedral and Pedro stops in front of a boarded storefront and is very excited that the first Starbucks is about to open in Granada. He also told us that there were two McDonald’s in Granada, but they were located in the outlying areas…..not sure I would be excited for either of these. We prefer the local coffee shops….much more character and charm!

At the Catedral de Granada we see once again a mishmash of styles…baroque, gothic and renaissance. Must say that looking at this from our apartment is quite lovely. He points out a “type of graffiti” on the cathedral walls. These are writings referred to as “nitoles” meaning name. The ink that was used is red in colour and is made up of plant material, iron powder and blood of a bull. People wrote their names on the cathedral when a family member finished their education or reached another memorable milestone. Also people would write their names on the cathedral in order to reach salvation. Of course they had to pay the church for the privilege of writing their names and to achieve their salvation. Don’t think it works that way!

A mosque stood on this location, was destroyed and the cathedral built in its place. The only remnant here of the mosque is an ancient well as water was needed for the Muslims to wash five times prior to their prayers. We have seen numerous ancient wells that have been preserved in Granada, both in the Arab and Jewish quarters.

We visit the “Corral del Carbon” the corn/grain exchange in the Nasrid era (14th century) and later used as a coal storage. A really uninspiring building with the exception of the entranceway. I took a picture but deleted it….really ugly….almost Soviet era looking!

We visit the fountain of Neptune in the Plaza Bib-Rambla. Neptune is held up by four giants. The statue of Neptune is classified as non-denominational and our guide interprets this to mean that all civilizations could live and co-exist together as did the Arabs, Christians and Jews in this City for eight hundred years, sharing their individual rich cultures. Very different than the north of Spain.

This square is also where the burning of books took place. When the Reconquista happened, all books on Islam where ordered burnt. Arabs were made to do this to show that they were “new” Christians.

We then wander through the “Mercado de Artesnia”. A market where tourists abound and one can buy all sorts of Arab inspired trinkets. A lot of ceramics sold here and they are typical of Granda and Andalucia and designs inspired from the Muslim period. Although nothing catches my eye, I prefer the winding alleyways of this area. At one in history this was a market made up of some 200 shops selling and trading their expensive silk all over Europe. It is said that the narrow alleyways prevented robbers from stealing the silk; could be caught very quickly.

Our guide explained the difference between the Muslim and Christian art. Although both taken from their holy scriptures (the Bible and the Koran), the Christian art displays pictures of holy icons (Jesus Christ, Mary, the saints, etc) while the Muslim art only shows writings, which in themselves are works of art.

As we are walking along our guide picks up a bottle cap on the ground and tells us that he is going to have the symbol on the cap (Arab looking design) tattooed on his ankle next week. We all laughed when he told us it was a logo of a local beer!

Next we pass the Plaza Isabella Catolica where we see the statue of Queen Isabella giving her permission and of course money to Columbus for his travels. It is said that the finances for his trip came from the Jewish sector, who gave funds to Isabella to give to Columbus. To think that Columbus had no GPS or Google maps and was seen to travel off the flat surface of the world, but only to change the course of world!

We head back to Plaza Nueva and we see the Palace of Justice which is built of sandstone. Can even see some seashells in the material.

Up the hill to the Arab quarter and we pass the Calle Beso (kiss). Our guide tells us the legend behind the name of this street. It is said that a mother and daughter who were very close lived here. One day the mother comes home to find her daughter dead. When they go to bury the daughter, the mother gives her one last kiss and lo and behold, the daughter wakes up, she was only comatose. It is said that this was somewhat common as they used to cook with copper and lead pots and created comatose states in some people. Pedro ask if any of us have heard the expression “saved by the bell”. Apparently this expression comes from the sort of experience described previously. The locals started inserting a string into a casket which was attached to a bell outside of the crypt. If the person was still alive and buried, they could always ring the bell so people would know they were still alive and then be saved. Pretty morbid!

The Albayzin (the Arab quarter) was historically a very poor area. It was inhabited by workers and the elderly. Is now becoming trendy and rents are increasing which is a real problem. First with artists coming in the 50’s and 60’s to inhabit this inexpensive neighbourhood then Pedro tells us that Property Managers convince people to move out so that they can rent out their properties to tourists. This seems to be a problem throughout tourist cities. I guess we are part of the problem as we like to rent apartments when we are in a city more than 3 days…yikes!

The Arab quarter is filled with shops offering all sorts of tourist trinkets, leather goods, numerous tea shops and restaurants in its winding alleyways.

We come across more of the water wells (all closed up, but kept visible) that were built by the Romans. Apparently their was no water in Granada and via aqueducts the Romans brought in water from villages many kilometres away and these wells functioned for over one thousand years. They used to keep turtles in the water for two reasons. The turtles would eat the algae and keep the wells clean and if the turtles were to die in the water, then one knew not to drink the water as it was bad.

We finish our tour at the top of the Albayzin neighbourhood at a great mirador (lookout) and view the Alhambra from across the valley; great views.

Robin and I stop at a small cafe for lunch then wind our way further up to the Sacromonte (Gypsy) neighbourhood.

This area is known for its’ flamenco and dug out caves that are homes, shops and restaurants built into the hillside. Then head back to the lower town along Carrera del Darro along the river of the same name. I stop in a shop as I spy a small scarf that would look lovely around my neck. The saleswoman tells us that this street was once known as the “Paseo de Los Tristes” (Street of Tears) as it lead to the cemetery.

Get back to our apartment around 3:30 pm to have a rest. Robin is lucky enough to find the FA Cup final on tv. We were going to head out for an early dinner; but decided to wait till the game was over. I kept hearing Robin shout “Shoot the ball” while I was writing my blog. His team lost…..

We head off for dinner to Bodega Castaneda recommended by our guide book and Steve. The guide book says not to expect any “new” stuff here. They say it is the tapas bar to trump all others. Lightning service, which was right on and they say that eating is a physical sport. Well, to get in to this place your timing needs to be just right or you need a reservation. When we first got here, all the tables were taken; so we decided to find elsewhere to eat, it was Saturday night after all and everywhere was very busy. As we walk past some ten minutes later, we are able to score a table. We ordered the Tabla Castaneda Caliente Combinadas. WOW……our platter was made up of croquettes, spanish omelette, grilled pork loin, broad beans with ham, fondue salmon with cheese, olives, tomatoes and blue cheese all accompanied with bread. Lots for the two of us at a price of 16 Euro. I don’t usually post pictures of food, but this was too good not to!

I was curious about Spain’s economy and other issues so I did a bit more reading. It is now the 4th largest economy in European Union. 80% of the population is urban, 54% of the land is for agricultural use. We certainly noticed this on our drive from Malaga to Granada, passing orange groves and other vegetables being grown in the valleys and hills. 68% of the population is Catholic. Lots of churches abound for them to attend, but one must wonder if the younger population even attends.

Our friend the rooster up crowing again this morning, but we seem to be able to ignore him!

Out for coffee/tea on Sunday morning and certainly still a lot of tourists around. The typical breakfast enjoyed by the Spaniards is made up of coffee, juice, a piece of toasted bread (more like a small baguette) either plain or with ham and/or jam. Have seen some munching on churros as well, they certainly love their sweets. Lots of restaurants and bars offering churro and chocolate…..would like to try this, but haven’t had an opportunity yet.

We head off to visit the interior of the local Cathedral. Although impressive from its exterior, certainly quite the opposite on the inside; quite plain. Head off toward the Basilica San Juan de Dios as the guidebook shows this as a must see. When we arrive we find out only open to tourists between 4-7 on Sundays, I guess this is due to Sunday mass service. We will come back later.

Walk back towards the Realejo, the Jewish quarter which we have yet to explore. On our way we stop at “La Veneziana, The Italiano” a gelato shop, which our guide had told us was the best shop. Well folks, Robin says the best chocolate gelato ever. I must agree, mine was very good, had caramel gelato.

Explore the Realejo area, although lots of restaurants abound, a lot of residential in the area. The Plaza Campo de Principe does have lots of tapas bars with views of the Alhambra Hotel next to the Alhambra. We do come across a couple of graffiti art works by El Nino de las Pintura (Granada’s Banksy), very interesting. Love good graffiti!

Head back to see the Basilica San Juan de Dios around 6 pm. The guide book says this is a must see and it certainly is. The church was built between 1737 and 1759. This is perhaps the most opulently decorated church we have ever been in. We were allowed to visit the sacristy, the main church and even the upstairs of the church. There is not a square inch that is not decorated with paintings tile work and the vestments, chalices and other art works that are on display are simply lavish..not sure there are enough synonyms for opulent in this case. Behind the altar are the remains of St John of God’s in a niche surrounded by gold, gold and yet more gold. Very glad we did not miss this.

Tired of tapas, so out for pizza tonight which was very good. The city seems much quieter tonight….all the rowdy tourists have gone home! A beautiful walkable city with varied neighbourhoods which we thoroughly enjoyed. The Alhambra, of course, its crowning glory.

Up at 4 am ……guess why….yes, the rooster!

Headed off to Cordoba this Monday morning and we will be there for four days.

4 thoughts on “Granada and the Alhambra – May 2018

  1. Really enjoyed reading about Granada, will definitely add it to our list! Hopefully the rooster is left behind….lol.

    Like

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