Granada has its big attraction, the Alhambra, and we had just assumed that we could rock up and buy a ticket to get in. Not so, we discovered...
Tickets are in limited supply and often all are sold two weeks in advance. With not much hope we asked the office in the campsite to see if we could get two tickets. Happily, while there were none for the first day, there were a grand total of twelve available for the next day. We didn't even ask how much they were but reserved them on the spot. Equally happily they weren't very expensive...
But first a day in Granada city. The inevitable hop-on/hop-off bus tickets were purchased and we had the grand tour of the city. Oddly, the bus was prevented from going its usual route and we noticed in addition that police were everywhere and that, despite being mid-week, most of the shops were shut. All was revealed when we heard the sounds of a band and we saw a procession of musicians, dignitaries and the Army which we followed to the Town Hall Square. There, there was more music, dignitaries waving from the balcony and an Army parade. It was Spanish National Day and we hadn't realised it was a holiday. The city was packed and getting a seat in a cafe for lunch was difficult. One square was filled with South Americans in their national costumes - we could identify Costa Rica, Columbia and Bolivia - singing and dancing.
Granada has a long Moorish history and the narrow laneways around the Cathedral are packed with small stalls and shops selling distinctly Arab goods - lanterns, cushions, pipes, clothes, inlaid boxes, painted ceramics and so on. Another area rising up a steep hill is called the Abaycin, the Arab quarter. Narrow winding streets lined with whitewashed houses are barely a car width wide. They are not cobbled, but pebbled, with the rounded pebbles making walking quite difficult. Near the top a square opens up with some of the best views over the whole Alhambra to be had.
And then the Alhambra. It sits up on the side of a hill overlooking the city and so is another bus ride away. After some confusion about what to do and where to be (we have found Spanish tourism in general to be less than well organised), we managed to collect our tickets. The tickets are very strict about the time you can enter the Nasrid Palaces, but the rest of the time is unlimited. So keeping an eye on the time, we wandered the Generalife Gardens, a beautiful collection of interconnected buildings, covered walkways, pools and fountains, and superb planting.
Inside the main walls, we wandered from top to bottom, taking in the Arab baths, the archaeological diggings, the palace of Carlos V and the museum located there, the Alcazar with its maze of the remains of workshops and housing and the towers. At 1.30 sharp we lined up to enter the Palacio Nazaries. Although the entry limits the number of people who are in the complex at any one time, you still have to put up with the hoards who travel in tour groups on coaches and who seem to think they own the place. Nonetheless, even the worst of the groups would not be able to take anything away from what must be one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Much restoration work has been done, and some was in progress on what would be the most stunning section if it wasn't covered with plastic and scaffolding. But the rest was gorgeous: understated, fine and elegant design everywhere; rooms opening one upon another and onto gardens and pools; mosaics in geometric pattern and carved limestone arches and columns. What did surprise us was how small the whole complex was - well, smaller than we expected anyway. We were out the other end in roughly 45 minutes! A short stroll away was another palace but we could see no way to get there; all pathways leading there were blocked by closed gates. But we could see the odd person there are so figured there must be one path still open. Eventually we found it and to our great pleasure had the place practically all to ourselves. This was another pavilion with a lovely pool and gardens and all the more serene without the crowds.
So Granada showed us her beauty. But it also showed us a different side. Everywhere we have been in Spain, we have been appalled by the graffiti. It's far worse than home and seems to be an endemic problem here. The further south we have come the worse it has got, but we noticed it from our first days in the country. Granada had to be the worst we have seen: every wall, every shutter, every space is covered in a mindless variety of scrawl and spray paint. The sheer quantity is quite depressing - what a shame in an otherwise lovely city.