Un viaje en España – Day 6 – Alhambra and El Albayzín, Granada
“Perhaps there never was a monument more characteristic of an age and people than the Alhambra; a rugged fortress without, a voluptuous palace within; war frowning from its battlements; poetry breathing throughout the fairy architecture of its halls.”
- Washington Irving, Tales of the Alhambra, 1832
Washington Irving, famous American writer of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle”, spent a portion of his life living within the symmetrical walls of the Alhambra. There was a small plaque in the palace commemorating his visit and life there. It was whilst living in Granada that he wrote The Tales of the Alhambra, an interesting mix of history, local tales, and true-not-true legends. Every bookshop and small tourist kiosk had a paperback copy of the stories available.
The Alhambra was everything one could imagine – imposing and beautiful, delicate and rough in turns, with an aspect overlooking the entirety of the the red roofs and white houses of Granada. To make the most of the Alhambra, it is important to book tickets ahead of time. There are only certain tickets available daily. I also recommend a tour guide. Whilst the company we had booked was a hot mess of disorganization the morning of our tour, our guide was amazing and made the hot day bearable with his stories and informative commentary. We were able to visit the Generalife (gorgeous gardens peering over the city), Nasrid Palace (perhaps the most beautiful part), Alcazaba, Carlos V Palace, public baths, and mosque. Some tickets were timed, so it’s important to check the times and get there, well, on time – or else you’ll miss some of the most lovely parts of the Alhambra.
We started out in the Generalife, roaming amongst the late blooming roses, rosemary and lavender bushes, and the other hardy flowers which thumbed their petals at the incessantly hot sun.
From the pools and evergreens of the Generalife, we ventured into the public baths with their beautiful Moorish ceilings, into the circular unfinished palace area, and finally into the Nasrid Palace. It was helpful that we visited in the morning, as the sun wasn’t as intense as the afternoon tour would be, and we finished around 2PM, before the heat worsened.
The symmetric tile patterns and carvings on walls, floors, ceilings, and windows were the showstoppers. A good lens on a camera – I worked with a Nikon 18-200mm – captured the deeply-set ceiling details. A 35mm allowed me to get closer to the wall details, including gorgeous titles. The math involved with the intricacy of the details was astounding – and I’m not one easily impressed by math. The symmetry of reflective pools, meant to keep the palace cooler in the summer months, were framed perfectly by the arched doorways and windows.
After several hours wandering around the Alhambra, its palaces and gardens, I certainly needed shade, food, and drink. There was a restaurant just beyond the palace complex, Restaurante Jardines Alberto, before you head back down the hill to El Albayzín. I recommend a stop here after a long morning tour. My first thought was that it would be ultra-touristy and overly expensive, but to be honest, it had a beautiful view of the gardens from the upstairs patio, a quiet aspect, and quick, friendly service. The ambiance was pleasant, and even though it was early afternoon and around lunch time before siesta, it wasn’t incredibly busy.
We started with the selection of cold meats and sangria. We guzzled icy water and cold Coke Zeros as well, as we certainly needed liquids. I had the house speciality, Nasrid chicken, which was brilliant. It was three rolls of chicken breast, juicy and sweet, stuffed with dried fruits and spices, with a dark sauce and rice with almonds. It was perfect from beginning to end of the dish and a complement to the flavors of the area. Of course, there are probably more upscale and fancy locations nearby, but this place hit the spot.
We roamed down the hill (about a 15 minute walk up and 10 minute walk down, not terribly stressing as far as walking uphill to a castle was concerned) into town again. There were a few great locations on the pathway down to grab some photographs of the city with the old wall in the foreground.
We were ready for some rest time in the cold air-conditioning of the hotel after a long morning out.
The old Moorish quarter of Granada was a labyrinth. That’s the easiest way to describe it. A map or even Google maps were quite useless, as it’s best to just wander. Starting out at the “center” point of Plaza Nuevo, branching out around and up from the plaza made for excellent exploring. After a snack of churro and hot chocolate near the plaza, we set out, the night deepening quickly the more we wandered about.
Coming upon the Calle Caldereria Nueva was a stunning sight in the evening. I started up the steps, peering into the shops thick with tourist kotchsches, hookah pipes, and “stained glass” lanterns tumbling from the ceilings. The scent of kebabs firing up, spices and teas, and tanned leather filled the air. People smoked heartily and drank just as well on the steps outside cafes and bars. The street quickly filled with more people waking up from the day’s high temperatures. It was an intoxicating atmosphere of smoke, music, and lingering heat.
From the top of Calle Caldereria Nueva, we ventured around a few other streets. At one point, I peered into a barred window and was startled to see a fake skeleton hanging out in the lawn. I had inadvertently found the museum for the Spanish Inquisition in Granada. It had evoked a squeaking sort of cry from me, as I hadn’t anticipated seeing a skeleton when I looked in, and this made a nearby man come over to see what I’d been so freaked out by. We all agreed it was one way to get people in to learn about that dark chapter in Spanish history.
After walking hither thither in the neighborhood, we headed back to the hotel. I had thought I might take a walking tour the next day, but I had to admit – I was whipped and tired from the last few days of travel and “seeing everything.”
It took a lot for me to admit that I was finally tired, but since I still had several days in Spain to make it through and two weeks of travel in London and Dublin, I had to get some rest.
I kept thinking that I had to make it back to Granada at some point.
We would be leaving the next afternoon for our second to last stop on this mad cap tour of Spain – a night in Valencia.