Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Spain: Days 7-9 - Granada

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Mom standing in courtyard below the Comaras Tower. You'll see later that the tower is quite remarkable in its own right as it casts reflections on the pool behind Mom.

Photo by Jonathan Knight

the We spent Saturday transiting from Tenerife to Granada. To get to Granada required we fly once again to Madrid, an airport we are getting to know pretty well by now. At least this time our layover  was only about an hour. The flight from Tenerife was on a wide body jet that should expend less space on the first class seating so those of us trapped in coach can have a little more leg room. There was no meal service; at least nothing for free (cheap airline). The final flight to Granada was quick and the small airport was easily dealt with. The taxi ride into the city did not inspire confidence. We could see snow on the distant mountains and as we entered the city itself the streets we were driving down in late afternoon did not look that pretty or interesting, but what can you really tell from within a taxi cab. Our hotel, the Maciaplaza, on Nueva Square is compact. The rooms are considerably smaller than what we had in Tenerife but although they lack decent natural light they felt nicer. This hotel even had WIFI which was a nice plus for us. However, we would learn of the limitations of our new abode fairly early on too. People talking, loudly, in the halls late at night was chief among the flaws of the hotel. I am sure many enjoyed a night out on the town before returning to their rooms to crash. They disturbed our sleep. The other major failing of the hotel is the substantially over priced breakfast. For 7.50 euros you should get much more than we did and the coffee that was exuded by the machine has to rank amongst the worst any of us have ever tasted. But the flaws of the hotel are secondary to the visit which would, for us, begin in earnest Sunday morning.

The sun was lightening the sky as we began to ascend the streets towards the Alhambra. It was a constant climb along cobblestone roads and up steps past small streams of water alongside tall walls with plants. We found our way to a large plaza and from there along a path that was lined with tall sculpted dense bushes. We picked up our tickets then began our stroll through the entire palace complex of the ancient moorish kings. If their are guided tours we never saw any sign of them except for what was clearly some sort of specialty tour for a large group of Japanese who were listening to their guide via some sort of closed-circuit radio system.

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I couldn't hold the camera steady enough to really show you the fantastic patterns that are here, and everywhere, on this wall. Detail work like this can be found throughout the rooms and upon the exterior walls of the buildings that comprise the Alhambra palace.

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Pools, fountains, and small aqueducts that run along the ground abound. Water plays an important role in the overall landscape architecture of the Alhambra. You hear it move, you see if flowing, and of course the light that bounces off the water creates scenes like this one here. Takes with my iPhone 4 using a technique generally referred to as high-dynamic range (HDR) photography (technically I think what is happening is more accurately called tone mapping). Multiple photos are taken at different exposure settings and fused together. Our eyes see something special without any help but most cameras need a little help. The courtyard is dominated by the 45 meter high Comaras tower. WIthin that tower is the, as I recall, Ambassador's Hall (or room) and it looked pretty grand too.

As you enter what may once have been an administrative section you are immediately struck by the quality and intricacy of the mosaic work you see on the marble paths and upon the walls. the patterns are rich and the colors varied.  I wonder how visible some of this work was centuries past as the lighting could not have been all that great. Where natural light fell things were bright enough but there must have been many very dim places. As we walked through the rooms we felt the chill of the morning air, still not much above freezing (it would warm into the 60s), pervade the marble walls and interior space. Dress warm here as I certainly never saw any signs of fireplaces.

Shot on a clear, crisp (though warming) morning of January, 2011. The Alhambra has many courtyards like the Golden Hall. The garden featured here is one of many and other courtyards are dominated by reflecting pools or fountains. The rooms we walked through are not to be outdone as they feature intricate designs in the walls as well as mosaics on the floors or ceilings. It is a feast for the eyes.

I think we were most taken with the outside appearance of the complex. For example, walking through the courtyard where the Comaras Tower is you see the detailed stonework on the stucco walls, the styled myrtle hedges, and the lovely reflecting pool that is home to goldfish. While the main room in the Comaras tower is impressive with its vaulted ceiling rising tens of meters above I think some of the other great rooms I have seen in the past left deeper impressions.

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This is a view from Torre Cubo (Cubo Tower) which is one of the highest towers of the Alhambra. We are gazing out to the northwest.

When we climbed the Cubo tower to peer down on the city below we found white rooftops spreading out to the north for quite a ways. From the nearby watchtower, the highest point on the hill, we could pick out our hotel down in the square. By this point the sun was high in the sky and the day was warming up quite nicely. I suspect the people that made the Alhambra home would try to spend time outside of their buildings to enjoy the breezes and the sight and sound of the ever present water. Water is a defining feature of the entire complex. Small fountains are everywhere fed by rivulets running through narrow troughs that also feed the many reflecting pools. I wonder if they had an abundance of wildlife visiting the complex to take advantage of the abundant water.

I think the walk to and through Generalife through the hedge-gardens and along the Water Stairs and through the Sultaness' courtyard with its many arching fountain jets was really quite special.   I wonder how crowded it gets during the high season because during our visit of several hours it never really felt crowded. Nor did the complex really feel like a castle. That is, it did not feel like it was meant to be a military strongpoint where people could shelter from invading armies with huge stores of food and other materiel. Perhaps though this is an illusion and points out my limited knowledge of such things instead of any real basis in fact because we know that there were granaries and other such storehouses aplenty.

It is mid-January, 2011. The morning is all but spent and the sun is blazing forth in a clear blue sky. The gardens are beginning to show their flowers and the tress will be leafing out soon. Between the gardens, water, and all the patterns in the architecture of the Alhambra a visitor has no shortage of things to marvel at. Here we see portions of the Generalife which was the summer palace of the Nasrid Emirs of the Emirate of Granada. In our brief wandering through it did have a more open and airy feel than the rest of the Alhambra complex which would make sense for a summer estate. This should not be taken to mean the rest of the complex is closed as that is hardly the case.

Our next stop was St. Nicolas Square in the Albaicin. To get there from the Alhambra we boarded a well packed city bus that took us down the hill, through the busy and narrow streets of the central part of town, and up again into the neighborhood of the Albaicin. Buses seem to run frequently but take care as you will almost certainly get jostled about as you stand or sit. The Albaicin feels like an older section of the city full of narrow winding streets some with low steps. The square is at the high point and we found a nice outdoor cafe for a surprisingly tasty lunch (too bad the minstrels playing guitar and singing weren't quite as good). Walking down the hill we worked our way through cobbled streets lined with homes down towards the Darro river. At this point the river doesn't seem all that wide as it runs through the city. The far bank seemed sheer and up on the heights you can glimpse portions of the Alhambra. We strolled through blocks that had small plazas where people were out enjoying a drink and a bite to eat. The atmosphere of the whole area felt very nice. The sense we had had in the taxi ride into town was clearly an illusion as  we were finding the streets lively and clean (yes we did see some people who were begging and might have been homeless but it wasn't bad. Interestingly, many of them seemed to have a dog as a companion).

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The view from Nueva Square. to the left, unseen, is our hotel. To the right, dominating, is the hill upon which the Alhambra sits. You can see the bell tower on top in the distance. The square is pretty lively during the day lined with hotels, shops, and restaurants. Once you move off the square it is not hard to find yourself walking narrow streets in small neighborhoods. We found the more interesting places off the square.

Our second full day, our last day, we spent wandering the lowlands of Granada. The city is spread out around a couple rivers and across several hills of some considerable height. But I think the bulk of the town is in the river valleys. Certainly the bustling major avenues are down low. We walked along the mosaic covered sidewalks. We worked our way towards the train station but were in no particular hurry to get there. In fact we had hoped to join a walking tour that was supposed to start at the town hall but nothing came to pass.  Many people were out and about. I don't know if they were tourists out shopping or local city-folk; probably a mix of both. Certainly the little coffee place we stopped at for a mid-morning coffee and muffin  felt like a hangout for locals. It felt lively as we slowly moved along streets wide and narrow. Overall everything seemed clean and well maintained. It was an easy morning.

We worked our way back to the hotel past the Fuente del Triumph (sp?) and in and out of little twisting streets full of tiny tea shops and stores selling what looked like more exotic, or at least handmade, clothing owing at least something to a middle eastern heritage.  We would find our way back up to St. Nicolas Square, very quiet in late afternoon perhaps because people were on siesta. We saw people relaxing in the sun and others trying to earn a few Euros by performing on the street or selling their wares placed out on blankets that could be quickly rolled up should a police officer come into view.  While I feel sure we walked a fair ways it might be fair to say we never went that far as we spent a lot of time winding our way in and out of small neighborhoods.

I can't speak to the nightlife of the city. If we have a gap in our travels and experiences of places it is in the time we spend out at night. We get dinner somewhere or other, often one of the toughest decisions we have to make on any given day, and then return to our hotel for an early bedtime.

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