Thursday, 18 February 2010

Moreish Moorish Monuments

written 17th February

Sorry, I know I've used that one before but too tempting not to :)

Anyway.  A nice cup of english tea and most of a slab of dark chocolate in a quiet, dead end street perched high up on a hill sorted us out nicely and we set off on a walk over a nearby rise and found an old city wall, prickly pears, shanty houses cut into the sloping rock face, fabulous snowy mountains

and our first view of the Alhambra, perched on the opposing hillside like a fairytale citadel.

Wandering further down, we found ourselves in the maze of narrow, twisty cobbled streets that is Albaicin and thus to the recommended mirador of San Nicolas from whence the famous view of the Alhambra is to be seen - and it is pretty spectaular, with the magnificent snow-capped Sierra Nevadas rising majestically behind it.

We stopped off for a coffee in a small square before returning for the dusk view - which was even more stunning

and then climbing back up the steep hill to the van and to find a hilltop perch for the night

with a panaoramic view of the city lights from our bedroom window.

Without wishing to restart closed topics of conversation, we were quite prepared to pay to stop in a campsite in Granada, but were foiled in our attempt to do so, and where we eventually parked, there were several other cars parked overnight - albeit with no one in them - so we don't quite understand what the difference is between providing free parking for people who leave their vehicles overnight (or who might equally, say, just as an example, park for free at a beach, bring their own picnic, freeload at the beach all day and then leave again without contributing to the local economy at all), and providing free parking for people who happen to stay in them overnight... 

Anyway, not going to start that one again.

The next morning we set of down the hill in search of adventure in arabian palaces.  Unfortunately, just at the botom, Will decided he couldn't remember whether he had locked the van or not, so I nobley volunteered to continue on and queue for tickets (anything other than climb that hill again!) whilst he went back.

We had been given dire warnings by Brian and Eric about the cost of the Alhambra and the fact that you get a time to get into the Nasrid Palace, some way away from the main entrance, and that if you miss your slot, there is no second chance, that's it.  So when I got down there and found that there was no queue but that if you turn up on spec, you don't get to choose your time slot as you do if you book on-line, you just get the next available slot, I was reluctant to buy tickets until Will actually caught up.  The signs also mentioned an all day price (€12) but half day times (8:30-14h and 14h-18h) and it wasn't clear whether you got chucked out at 2pm if you had a morning ticket, or that, as we eventually discovered to be the case, the morning ticket allows you in all day but once they sell out (which they did whilst I was waiting) the afternoon ticket doesn't allow you in at all, even to the gardens, until 2pm, even though your timeslot for the palace, 10 mins from the gate) is also 2pm.  All too confusing.

So we ended up with afternoon tickets and in the van locking/ticket confusion, we also forgot Brian's suggestion that we should bring our own lunch.  As we didn't fancy either the long walk back down the hill into town nor the expensive, indifferent looking sandwiches on sale in the vending machines, we decided we could survive on just expensive coffee instead - note to self, if we go again, take lunch!

Mention of the Alhambra evokes mythical images of silent, dusty passageways, punctuated by bright, curlicued archways and scorching, sun-drenched courtyards giving way to cool dark rooms. It conjures up sensations of whispering silk curtains, fluttering in a cooling breeze, the smell of drifting incense and rich perfume, the chuckle and splash of a myriad of tiled pools, channels and fountains and sumptuous velvety cushions on which young sultans rest whilst a harem of doe-eyed, dusky maidens murmur sensuous tales of a thousand and one arabian nights in paradise...  Or maybe that's just me...

On a chilly, damp tuesday afternoon in february - apparently Granada has 3000 hours of sunshine a year, we only saw about 5 of them in the 30-odd hours we were there... - surrounded by hundreds of other tourists, the reality is somewhat slightly different, but with the sun shining, especially just for our allotted hour or so, it was still pretty magical.

The Alhambra, named from the arabic 'al-kalat al-hamra' meaning 'the castle built of red earth', began as a moorish fortress, the Alcazaba, built as a military citadel between the 11th-13th centuries, at the height of the moorish dominion over Al-Andalus and in a place apparently compared to Damascus.  During the reconquista in 13th century, when the rest of the country was taken by the christian armies, the arab king al-Harmar de Arjona surrendered the castle of Jaen peacefully to King Ferdinand III in 1212 in return for being allowed to establish a new kingdom and palace in Granada, and thus the Palace of the Nazaries and the gardens of the Generalife were constructed between the 13th-15th centuries, beginning in 1238 under Sultan Muhummad and continuing until the moors, under King Boabdil, were finally driven out of Spain by the catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabelle in 1492.   These new arrivals built their grand cathedral and royal chapel on the site of Granada's Great Mosque, but the Alhambra, including the Azcabar and the Generalife palace and gardens,  was left largely untouched until Carlos V built his renaissance palace, next to the Nasrid palace.

Despite only having afternoon tickets, we managed to find a side enance in through the walls as far as the entrance to the Nasrid Palace - after all that, not running any risk of missing our slot! - and were able to explore the church and the palace of king Carlos V

- an imposing square edifice with a circular patio on the inside surrounded by columns -

which houses the Alhambra museum (only open until 2:30pm) which contains preserved panels, pottery, carved panels, decorative columns and other such artifacts.  There is a fine arts museum upstairs - not our scene - and currently an exhibition about the writer Washington Irvine, a romantic writer of the 19th century who apparently stayed in the Nasrid Palace when it was largely deserted and who wrote the famous (assuming you have heard of it, which we hadn't) Tales of the Alhambra.

We also got an audio guide - just one between us, entrance tickets were budget blowing enough - and were therefore accompanied on our tour by Washington himself, waxing lyrical about the beauty of the place, which I quite enjoyed but Will found his continuous flowery rehetoric just a bit superfluous after a while and to be honest, you can easily manage without.

After an hour or so of coffee and wandering, and and looking at where we had parked the previous day

and the mirador of the mirador

and watching the Nasrid Palace queue

of course we did make our allotted time slot and spent a fabulous hour and a half wandering through the many rooms, courtyards and patios - all of which are richly decorated with intricate carvings in marble, stucco and wood, patterned tiles - and discovering the dreamt of arches, fountains and trees.  Some parts are currently under restoration, including the famous Patio de los Leons, which is a shame but there was more than enough to see.  After the Nasrid Palace, we climbed the Torre de la Vela in the Alcazaba and then wandered in the gardens of the GeneralifeI can't begin to describe it so you will all have to go for yourselves but here are some rather inadequate pictures to be going on with.

Nasrid Palace





what the Patio de los leones should have looked like








Half a day is probably sufficient to fully explore everything that is there - particularly if you have not lunch! -  so in off-season you don't have to worry too much about booking in advance or getting there shockingly early but I can imagine it is both closer to my scorching, sun drenched imaginings and horrendous at the same time in the heat of summer - so all in all we think we did ok.

If you do fancy it, having now been, my advice would be either a long weekend just to Granada, or, if you have time and the cash, a two-week trip in may/early june time, flying into Malaga, hiring a car and driving round.  I would suggest:

Drive Malaga to Ronda - by way of El Torcal and Fuenta de Piedra
2 nights in Ronda
2 nights in Cadiz (driving to via Arcos de la Frontera and from visiting Jerez if you like sherry)
3 nights in Seville
2 nights in Cordoba
3 nights in Granada
Back to Malaga

On the bigger roads, the distances aren't all that far and with hotels with carparks, you wouldn't have our parking worries.

I think you could do a lot worse :)

Wandering back into town, we decided we have seen enough cathedrals for a while, so gave this one a miss, and on balance didn't want to hang around long enough for bars and tapas, so we headed back up hill to be on our way.  I don't know whether it is just the stories we have heard about Granada (we met someone who had their car broken into), the stories other people have heard about Granada (which have caused them to avoid parking in the city and advise us to), or a general unease caused, in part, by yoofs in El Burgo but we are feeling that southern spain - although it has all the headline cities - is not quite so welcoming to little english campervans as northern spain or portugal has been and we are quite jittery about parking in cities and even stopping places in general.  From what little I know about the real costa-y costas - from stereotypes and also the ex-pat newspapers we picked up - I can understand why the spanish people might be a bit anti-brit but even not in these places, we have picked up a vague underlying vibe that whilst our money is welcome, we are not  - it's a shame, as we have been to some lovely places, and nothing bad has actually happened - yoofs not withstanding - and its not anything explicit or even anything we can really pinpoint but its there.  We've also spent a long time in spain, so it might just be be itchy feet, but it is definitely time to be heading onwards to places new - started reading about turkey now and that's a long way off!

So, a couple more stops in spain, a last bit of beach, then france by the weekend!

1 comment:

  1. When you have 'that feeling' about leaving the van it's usually worth acting on. Nothing worse than doing the tourist bit with that in the back of your mind. Sounds like you've done with Spain. Great descriptions though.

    France by the weekend is a bit of a Yomp!!

    What's it going to be? Montpelier, Sete (on the beach road) but not forgetting La Grande Motte eh.