Thursday, January 05, 2012

in the presence of the Alhambra

Alhambra. We are within a stone’s throw and everything around us reverberates its presence.

Alhambra, peeking through. Beyond the rooftops.


Alhambra souvenirs, Alhambra beer on nearly every menu in town.

People congregate in choice spots, where they can get a good view of it. Ah, yes, here to see the great Alhambra. You too? Yes...

We have a reservation to enter the Alhambra on Thursday, so today, we merely play the waiting game. It isn’t hard in Granada.

We start off with breakfast at the guest house...

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– a lovely affair. Ed eats six oranges. He’s quite smitten with the ones that are like clementines only twice the size. Breakfast done with, we set out for a Granada ramble.

This means that we head downhill, toward the downtown and center of the city.

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Down, all the way down from our Albaicín hill.

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And now it feels like we’re in a city. No more narrow alleys with white houses. Granada bustles.

We turn toward the cathedral and it is supposed to be a magnificent cathedral – commissioned by the ever commissioning Queen Isabella of the fifteenth century and I know you’ll find this to be a bit odd on my part (I’m generally avoid taking a principled position on how things should be done) but I was taken aback by the not insignificant entrance fee. Shouldn’t cathedrals be free? On the other hand, I’m not here to pray. But what if I was? In any case, I hesitate. Ed is indifferent to cathedrals, regardless of their great artistic merit and so in the end, we postpone a visit until the next day.

We do go to the side chapel – the Royal Chapel, and there, too, you have to pay a separate fee and I think that this is understandable as it isn’t really a house of prayer – more like a house of burial. Both Queen Isabella and Ferdinand are encrypted here and, among other things, you get the pleasure of looking at their tombs.

It is an ornate and interesting place, made more so by the descriptive brochure that you can pick up with your ticket (10 cents extra; we splurged). We read that this chapel should be of special interest to (among others) Americans (us!) as it memorializes the king and queen who were so 'adept' at 'spreading Spanish culture to the Americas.' (No photos allowed. Too bad.)

Outside again, we walk through the Plaza de Bibarrambla, where, as in Madrid, you cannot really get a sense of the vast and pretty square, as the Christmas booths still have a presence. (No photos taken. Too commercially cluttered at the moment.)

More shops, including ones that are sort of pseudo Moroccan (in that they are like those in Morocco except not fully so)...

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...more gazing this way and that until I think that we have our fill of downtown for now and so we turn around and head back up to the Arab Quarter. Our Arab Quarter.


It’s early afternoon. Like the mother that I am, I know what would be good for us: a hike. A climb. A walk without an obvious end. Motion, in the quiet of vast open spaces.

If you take the road that runs at the summit of the Albaicín and you follow it to the Sacromonte – where many of the homes are built right into the contours of the rocky hills – then you can have yourself a very pleasant hike.

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And at all points, you can look over your shoulder and see the Alhambra.


Here, Granada is no longer a city. There are houses along the road, but if you stray from it, you find yourself in the dry and desolate hills that go on forever to the north, to the east and west.


This is the place where Flamenco is studied and practiced. We hear bits of music coming from one café and there are signs advertising night performances.

As we turn away from the main road and follow the more quiet alleys, we find that this is, too, the place for cats.



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Skittish cats who will have none of Ed’s friendly advances.


We take the dirt road up a hill just outside of Granada – toward the somber and somewhat crumbling abbey (Abadia de Sacromonte), closed now, even as we see a boy ride his horse through the gates, then practice some sidesteps in the dusty garden of the Abadia.


We’re not done hiking yet. There is a path that goes up the next mountain and we take that, up, up all the way up for magnificent views of the snowcapped Sierra, the gentle mist (Ed tells me it's likely to be, at least in part, smoke from wood burning stoves) forming in the low lying areas...


...and, of course, the Alhambra, now regarded from above.


We sit on a rock, a bench of sorts I guess and I lean on Ed and let myself go limp in the warm sunshine. (And I think, this would make for a nice photo... so I perch the camera on a rock and set the timer...)


Granada is a good five degrees chillier than Seville (the afternoon highs have been around 55 degrees and at night it gets down to the mid thirties), but here, on the summit, I feel as warm as if I were there on a summer day.

The views are stunning and we spend some time there, enjoying the quiet, the solitude.

It’s a steep descent and we take our time with it, but eventually we are back on the road and then back in the Albaicín, on the square next to our hotel, where I’m ready for an early evening lunch of an asparagus and shrimp scrambled egg dish, delivered by the ever friendly café owner and his wife – who proudly converted an old house into what appears to be a successful business. Ah, location!


And now the sun is down. This is when I take out my computer at the guest house and sit by their fireplace and review the day behind us and the day in front of us (while Ed plays with his circuit board in the little room with the big fluffy pillows on the bed).

By 9:30 we’re ready for dinner. On our morning walk, we had passed a restaurant tucked into the thicket of the alleys of the Arab Quarter and subsequently, I read that the Basque food there is quite respectable and so we weave through the dark alleys now to find the place again and we’re greeted by a very friendly waiter who is, I guess, happy to see us as we are the only diners that night. (Sigh... location.)

We hesitate in ordering, but the waiter definitely has his favorites and so we end up with a warmed spinach salad and some cheese leek concoction and rice with clams and artichokes and it’s all very delicious and we linger, but only a short while since we know that once we’re gone, everyone gets to go home.

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Home. Right now it’s Granada. A little room in the old Arab Quarter. If we scaled the roof, we’d be in the presence of the Alhambra.