There was fairly high expectation around our visit to the small city of Granada, which was under Moorish rule from the 13th century until 1492 when it was liberated by the Catholic Monarchs who unified Spain and Portugal. As such Granada has quite a great deal of historic Arab influence in its culture and architecture - even today a large Arab/Moorish Quarter is a central part of the city, as well as a large population of gypsies who are renowned for prying on unsuspecting tourists. But more of that later...
Our main purpose of visiting Granada was to see for ourselves the famous Alhambra Palace which was 'the last bastion' of the Moors of Spain and built when the Nasrid Dynasty ruled Granada. It is also a UNESCO heritage site and a source of great pride for the people of Granada.
Granada is a small city of about 300,000 people and it's very easy to see on foot. However, the palace itself is high on a hill overlooking Granada, so we decided to take the bus to the site, rather than brave the cobblestone streets and steep passage to the top. This was on recommendation of our less than friendly hotel receptionist, who also told us it was fine and convenient to take a pram onto the palace grounds provided we took the bus to the top.It always pays to cover all bases and he seemed to be all ".wise and all knowing!"
We soon realised that this receptionist was Dante from Barcelona's evil twin brother, and would have probably responded to our question about prams at Alhumbra with the same response had we asked him if it was ok to take a pram scuba diving. We spent the next four hours carrying Oscar up and down staircases and across long paths of cobblestones, as if he were the 'Queen of Sheba'.
The entire grounds are simply enormous. As I said we spent over four hours at Alhumbra and once we had completed one section, anticipating we had finished the tour, we would turn a corner and there would be another area to visit.
The Palace is divided into four clear sections; the military area (Alcazaba), the Palaces (Palacio), the township (Medina) and the farming area (Generalife). Each area traces steps through times of old - stunning rooms with hand carved ornate ceilings and luscious and extravagant gardens. In particular one could not help but be entranced by beautiful terraces that look out over the city of Granada. They are simply crying out for someone (well me) to make use of them with the assistance of a luxurious velvet day bed, and ample supply of sangria, and possibly my own personal musicians playing a bit of Gypsy Kings to create a bit more ambiance.
If these walls could only talk... it would be wonderful to look back to a time that all these grounds were actually used for banqueting, parties, parades, and perhaps less enchanting a few massacres for good measure!
We visited one room dedicated to the Abencerrajes family. One of this families' male member's seduced the wife of the last Nasrid King. How to punish a man who has dishonoured a Moorish King back then? Not only was the seducer murdered, but every single living male in his family were dragged into this one room and slaughtered. Hence this room being named not quite in the families' honour, but perhaps as a warning to all future Romeos? Don't mess with the King.
The ruins are well over 700 years old and it's wonderful to see that they are currently undergoing restoration with quite a lot of works in progress. Despite the age of the palace, it's not difficult to imagine the colours and noise of life 'in the day'. I could honestly have been in India for the palace was very similar to Mughal (15th century Persian) ruins we had visited back in 2006, in particular we saw a great deal of similarities to the Red Fort in Agra. Highlight of the morning was most definitely the view from the main tower of the palace from which the entire city and beyond is visible, including snow capped mountains in the distance.
We had planned on also visiting the old Moorish Quarter Albayzin, also said to have a spectacular view. Perhaps it was the new mother in me, but after encountering a few dodgy looking characters as we headed up a quiet laneway towards the area, as tour leader, I made the rash decision that my life would be complete without visiting our Arab neighbours and we headed for a coffee instead.
The other key monument in Granada is the huge Gothic style cathedral located in the centre of the city. It can be seen from Alhambra, and is actually built on the site of where the Moors' Mosque once stood. I think that's old Catholic language for "we won."
The tombs of the Monarchs in the Capilla Real are located here as well as paintings by Botticelli and even Queen Isabel's crown and Fernanado's sword. Once again another enormous cathedral where no expense seems spared to maintain its glory, in a city where poverty and economic depression are evident. However like most Catholic countries its people would rather starve than see its religious monuments perish.
Circling the exterior of the cathedral and its narrow laneways, are local gypsies. Old, young, always aggressive - even baby gypsies being pushes around in trolley's by their doll faced mothers. Diving on tourists, holding branches of rosemary, and promising to reveal all for a handful of Euro.
Day one I was literally pushed against a wall by one who seemed nice enough as she grabbed my hand and started yabbering away in Spanish and making exaggerated movements with her hands towards the sky. I don't have much clue about what she was trying to tell me, and I did try to tell her I already had a nice piece of orange peel, thanks very much, but was somehow accosted out of 3 Euro before she winged to me in this time perfect English that she much preferred 5.
So since that incident they don't seem to mess with us, as Marco walks in front of any gypsies lurking towards us, and says in Spanish thanks but no thanks, as they gruffly turn their backs and their rosemary towards other tourists.
Now you may note that I have written at least 6 paragraphs without mentioning food, and this my friends is no mere slip of the keyboard, rather I think that Granada may have had a mere slip of the food trail, because we have been severely disappointed in the local cuizina.
As expected, each region of Spain appears to have its own specialties and we have enjoyed sampling tapas from each city thus far. Granada is known to be the last place in Spain that offers Tapas Gratuita with drinks, and I fear the reason is because few would actually pay for it. One such example is the bar up the road that served us some sort of slimy seafood 'mess' that seemed fit for the end of the fishing rod rather than on our plates - but perhaps we are just not accustomed? Or we have been spoilt in other cities. We are actually staying on a street known as one of the central tapas areas in town, and there are over 20 establishments of which we have tried many. Most seem to serve fairly bland carne, patatas and uninspiring ensaladas.
Simple tastes, it certainly does the job, but a little lacking on what we have been enjoying. My one positive on Granada however is that its the first city where I have seen Jamon served up at the bar next to beer and wine. Nice.
But to put it into context, do consider we are travelling with a 13-month old boy I am going to now refer to as 'Cyclone Oscar' who may or may not have had something to do with our dining experiences. Spain is known for its Siestas, meaning that most restaurants close between 4pm and 8pm. This means that for the average Spaniard breakfast starts around 9am, lunch around 3pm and then dinner usually not until at least 9pm at night.
The path of Cyclone Oscar is fairly quiet and calm in the morning, building to an almighty ruckus of chattering and running around about 12pm which usually involves us trying in vain to get him to sit down and eat something. Since learning to walk Oscar has become obsessed with chairs - the minute he sees one at a restaurant he has to pull it out from under the table (diner in it or not) and push it up and down the floor or pathway out the front. This has certainly caught a few waiters unaware, and I am yet to have a meal with Marco where we both sit down at the same table, one of us is usually following the cyclone around like a passionate storm catcher (for evidence - see photos)
The 'eye' of the cyclone is around 2pm when he passes out from exhaustion (and usually us) before starting up again early evening. By 8pm he us out like a light, just as the Spanish are polishing up their party shoes for the evening ahead...
So really our dining and night time activities are restricted and perhaps this has some reflection on my 'ho hum' experience of dinner times in Spain. As I write this we are sitting inside drinking wine, watching the soccer (I keep telling poor Marco to keep his cheering to a dull roar), and downstairs below a band is marching up and down the streets and the locals are in full party mode for a World Cup Saturday night.
But you know I still wouldn't trade this hotel room with my cyclone in it for anything.
Tomorrow we head to our last stop in the trail through Spain - Sevilla. I actually visited Sevilla 12 years ago as a solo, and very lonely backpacker, and always dreamed I would come back with one that I loved. Now I know I must be blessed, as I travel there tomorrow with the two loves of my life.