Monday, 11 December 2017

Granada, Spain – Days 52 to 54

La Alhambra, Granada, early evening from the Sacromonte hill
The 182km journey from Ronda to Granada should have taken us 2 ¼ hours which, with a coffee stop and a relaxed cruise, it did to the outskirts of the city, then it all went very stressful! It was the Saturday lunchtime of a long weekend festival in Spain with heavy traffic and a sat-nav that for the second time wanted to take us along roads we shouldn’t be on. It may have been the most direct route through the centre of the old town but the no entry sign except for taxis and authorised vehicles, camera controlled, meant that we had to find another way.
Eco-friendly kids roundabout, he pedals, it turns!
Lots of cars, people and traffic lights and randomly turning down very narrow cobbled streets with Doris the sat-nav obviously trying to redirect us back onto the banned streets meant we were driving blind. After driving back out of the city and circling round the sat-nav eventually found us a route we could take and after a few further turn-offs to avoid police closed roads we eventually found our way to the square we were to meet our Airbnb host, some 20 minutes after our arranged time.
Cave houses on Sacromonte hill
She was still there waiting, jumped in the car and directed us along further narrow streets, some with ‘no-entry’ signs which she assured us was OK and eventually to the underground car park, directing us round sharp tight bends and to the most inaccessible parking space we have ever seen. Careful manoeuvrings past cars and pillars we were in (and decided to we would leave it there until we leave, abandoning plans to drive up to the ski area in the Sierra Nevada mountains until after we leave!). The apartment is very nice and very central so we’re very happy with our three nights here.

Cave house living hippies making music and singing
The hill of cave houses
So Granada is the ancient capital of the Nasrid kingdom, the last Muslim rulers of Spain. The Muslims invaded Spain in 711AD, filling the power vacuum following the withdrawal of the Romans and, within 3 years occupied all but the top part of the peninsular. Gradually Spain and Portugal fought back, until only the Nasrid Muslims remained in the area between Granada and Gibraltar, with La Alhambra fortress on the hill overlooking Granada as their power base.
A typical street in Granada
After a two year siege the Nasrid’s eventually handed over the keys to La Alhambra on condition the Spanish respected the buildings and Muslim people. The Spanish mainly did, leaving many buildings, but of course converting them to Catholic churches (except the central mosque which was demolished and replaced with Granada Cathedral). The people could stay providing they converted to Catholicism, any who didn’t were allowed to leave (this was before the start of the Inquisition).
Statue of Columbus appealing to Queen Isabella
The date of the final take-over of this last bastion of Islam in Spain was in early 1492, a year etched into the minds of Spanish and Americans alike as, the final ownership of all of Spain meant that Christopher Columbus finally managed to convince Queen Isabella (were they having an ‘affair’?) and King Ferdinand to fund a voyage to find a westerly passage to India, bumping into America on the way and starting the conquest of the New World.

Churros and hot gloopy chocolate
Granada Cathedral is an immense building, but suffers from a common problem in Spain, lack of money which meant that corners were cut. The left tower was built on the cheap and started to crumble as height was added, meaning the materials intended for the top were re-used for reinforcement, there was little money left for the right tower so a tiny one was built and they called it complete at that. Despite these problems it’s still very impressive and sent a strong message to the Muslims recently evicted from Spain. The giant fortress of La Alhambra on the hill was modified and added to by the Catholics, but many of the original intricate carvings and ceramics of the Moors still remain. A new huge building was erected for Charles V on the site next to the beautiful Nasrid Palaces, but suffered again through lack of funding, the roof not being finished until 1960!

The gateway to La Alhambra in the rain
So after our arrival on Friday we went for a walk through the city, ending up of the Plaza Nuevo just as a free walking tour was due to start at 4:00pm. We joined and hiked up the hill behind the city to Sacromonte, a hill containing cave houses originally occupied by Gypsies, but now joined by hippies and others looking for an alternative way of life. Some have buildings on the front and some are large underground complexes containing a number of bedrooms. It’s a curious way of life but one thing is for sure, they have an excellent view of La Alhambra and Granada from up there.
Arriving at the entrance to La Alhambra
There were 15 or so other people on the trek and we met Mike and Sue from Yorkshire who are about our age, enjoy travelling and have been to many places we have, so we were able to have a good chat, arranging to meet up for a drink and tapas for the following (Saturday) night. The difference between them and us is that their travelling is on touring bikes with panniers containing tent and food and they have travelled through SE Asia and India (to name but two) in that way. They claim not to be too serious cyclists, only doing around 30 miles per day, but they will do that for sometimes 100 day trips – amazing! Their next trip is a 30 day cycle across Cuba in January.

Partial view of the Cathedral (cannot get a view of the whole)
On Saturday, after abandoning plans to get the car out and drive into the mountains, we joined another free walking tour at 11:00am through the old town, this time an historical tour. Our guide was a local man who was born and still lives in the Sacromonte area, still living in a cave house and his historical knowledge was outstanding. So enthusiastic was he that he talked at high speed and non-stop as though the 2 ½ hours of the tour was not long enough to impart all the information he wanted to give. A really nice guy, the tour was really interesting (some of what he said included in the above), but there was just too much information and required more background knowledge of Islam and Christianity than I had, so much was going over my head, but his enthusiasm was infectious and I loved it.
Inside the Charles V palace. It was pouring down and cold!
We carried on walking round the city after the tour, stopping for a beer and tapas on the hill overlooking La Alhambra at a bar he recommended, then had a Schwarma for late lunch, finally stopping at the churroteria and café Alhambra. A churro is like a long thin doughnut, the portion for one person we ordered was about 5 x 150mm long lengths of about 20mm diameter doughnuts and two cups of very thick chocolate. You break off a length of churro, dunk it in the chocolate and enjoy, what’s not to like? All that came to €5.70 and it was in very pleasant surroundings (Jackie still thinks we were charged wrong).

View back down into Granada through the rain from the Alcazaba. The Cathedral is in the centre
The Alcabaza is the original and oldest fortress on the site
Met up with Mike and Sue in the evening for a beer and tapas and thoroughly enjoyed their company. They are an inspiration and we hope we inspired them too, recommending housesitting to them. Maybe we may meet up again, but at least we want to hear how their trip through Cuba on bikes goes!

Even the cats are cold and huddling together (there's 4 of them)
The Mexuar Palace with a few other people
Today was our pre-booked visit to La Alhambra. You have to book well in advance, we booked about three weeks ago and struggled to get in, we now know that’s because of the holidays here. It’s massively busy and you get a time slot to visit the Nasrid Palaces, the rest being at any time you like on the day you have booked, our time was 10:30 and we are told not to be late, otherwise you are not allowed in! We got up and the weather was as per the forecast – wet! Not just wet, but pouring down with rain, temperature dropping to between 2 and 5 degrees – nice!
The Hall of Ambassadors in Comares Palace. The Sultan sat in the centre arch
We braved it, putting on maximum layers and donning our waterproof coats, but our waterproof trousers are in France! We got wet and very cold, which took the edge off the visit, but it was still worth it. How much more we would have enjoyed it on a dry day we don’t know, but at least the Nasrid Palaces were mostly indoors even though we were thoroughly wet after the walk there and round the Alcazaba fortress that was mainly outdoors. A visit to the toilet and drinks machine area revealed a lot of miserable, wet people, the hand dryers in the toilets being used to warm people and I have never seen such a long queue to get a hot drink from a machine! Never mind, we’ve seen it and done that. It wasn’t far back to our apartment and at least there’s heating here and a washer/dryer, so we’ve got things dry and we’re now warm again!

The roof overhead in the Hall of Ambassadors
Intricate carvings all around the palaces
Tomorrow we leave here and head back to Jackie’s dad and Elizabeth in Altea on Costa Blanca, on the way we will drive up into the Sierra Nevada mountains to have a look at the ski area if the road up there is open. Our plan is to stay with them until next Sunday (17th) and then drive up to the ski resort in the French Alps and our ski apartment that we’ve hired for the ski season. The snow reports show superb cover up there and people skiing so, so far the forthcoming winter is looking really good for skiing. Sorry UK, we know you’ve got it bad at the moment, about 200mm of snow in Birmingham at the last count (we could have gone ski touring over the Malvern Hills again as we did a number of years back!).

Amazing ceiling detail - photos don't do it justice
P.S. Just finishing a glass of mulled wine made by heating red wine, adding 1 spoonful of sugar per glass and one spiced apple tea bag from Aldi!

The Comares Courtyard of the Myrtles. The book says "When a visitor crosses the main threshold he is confronted by a vast mirror of water reflecting the solid white bulk of the Comares tower. The slope of white marble floors allows water in the pool to reach right up to the plinths of the columns on the north side of the courtyard and so the whole palace, even the tower itself, seems to be floating on water". Well, not today it wasn't!

The courtyard of the lions. The 'forest of columns' is supposed to remind us of the palm trees surrounding an oasis. well, maybe!

This is up in the Generalife, a building built high on the hill over La Alhambra as a retreat for the sultan. Its still raining!
La Alhambra with snowy Sierra Nevada mountains behind.

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