Spain: Granada

Right. So now we’ve checked into our hotel, and we’ve had a good night’s sleep. We got up the next morning and Yen took a few photos of the hotel property while his sister and I found coffee and croissants. Nice place, eh?

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I mentioned in the first day post that Yen had carefully planned our itinerary carefully so we wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the architecture too quickly. Unfortunately he had to switch things up a little bit because we planned to catch a flamenco show later in the week. So while Granada was supposed to be the third city we visited, it was suddenly moved into the second slot. We got in the car and drove north almost two hours.

One interesting note about the driving. First, I don’t understand why Europeans have such adorable, zippy cars, and we get a tiny percentage of these models here in our market. And the Mazda 2, that adorable little thing – I hear it’s coming off the market for lack of interest. Come on, people! Tiny zippy hatchbacks are the greatest!

That’s not really what I meant to talk about here. Our hotel was located right of the A7, which turns out to be a highway that runs along the Mediterranean through several countries. Occasionally an alternate version of it spins off, the AP-7. The difference is this is a toll road. There are no trucks allowed, and the tolls are so expensive that you have the entire road to yourself. We learned this the hard way a few times. The regular old A7 runs parallel to it, and you just have to contend with trucks and more ramps as local traffic moves on and off. We found that we really preferred it not just because it was free, but because there was so much more to look at. The only difficulty we had in driving was a strange spot just north of Malaga where our GPS suddenly couldn’t find us. It knew we were in the general area, but it was convinced that we left the road and were driving cross country. “When possible, make a legal u-turn,” she said, over and over. It happened in the exact same spot each time we drove past Malaga. We quickly learned to just switch her off until she located us again on the other side. Maybe this is the Spanish Area 51? At any rate, I highly recommend renting a car if you’re visiting this area, and of course get a GPS. The roads are fantastic and the signs are very easy to follow. Gas is expensive, of course, but it’s worth it when you get to wander through the hills at your leisure. Just make sure you know basically where you’re headed and watch the signs instead of blindly following your GPS.

Anyway. As we neared Granada, I noticed the mountains behind the city had quite a significant snow covering. Uh oh. We weren’t dressed for the 40s…

Alhambra is very strict with visiting hours, even during the off season and midweek. We had no trouble getting tickets, but if your ticket says “14:00,” you are not getting inside before that time. They are precise and firm. We decided to make the best of it (and warm ourselves up) by walking along the outside walls until we came to a gate that was open so we could wander around before our reservation.

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Check this out – all of this fuss just for this teeny door.

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We stopped off in the Charles V palace for a look around. This couple was having their wedding photographs done inside. I was a little baffled why they chose such a relatively boring spot when the grounds of Alhambra are so lovely. And the photographer was shooting the same damned shot over and over (assistant throws her train into the air and scurries away), so I think it’s safe to say this guy doesn’t have a lot of imagination.

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There are a couple of museums inside the palace that we skipped. One covers the art of the region, and other tells the history of Alhambra. I posed inside this photograph and called it a day.

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This is one of the lions from the Court of the Lions. You’ll see it later. Yen photographed it through some pretty thick glass. Not a bad job.

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Here’s Granada – well, the old part. What we saw as we drove into town seemed very modern and bustling. The plan later was to go over to the church courtyard you can see in this photo.

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Ah! Now we’re finally inside. All around us are the people who queued up with us. You can also see that I’m being a naughty tourist indeed because I don’t have my backpack around on my front like I’m supposed to. You’re meant to not carry your bag on your bag because it would be so terribly, horribly easy to brush and destroy something without realizing it. Before I left this room my shame overtook me and I looped it over one shoulder.

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Here’s how it looks once most of the visitors have moved on. Most obviously doesn’t include Yen, who stayed so long inside this single room and I had to come back for him. At that rate, we would have taken a week to see the whole thing, and I feared what the guards would do to him if he overstayed.

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I begged Mr Tran for lots of detail shots – I really wanted to print some and hang them. We have learned that my tastes run micro, and his are very much macro. This is about as close as he gets. The quality is certainly such that I can blow up details if I like. But I think a good lesson might be that I shouldn’t leave my camera home next time if I want something particular. Aren’t those tiles beautiful?

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The city outside these windows looks strange because of the technique Yen used to take this shot. But I assure you, they aren’t photos or paintings.

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Ah, see? I have mended my evil ways with the backpack.

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There’s no way for you to get a sense of what this place is like just from photos. Every square inch is carefully decorated, and by hand. Yes, some of it was accomplished with blocks, but it’s still an incredible feat. And everything with texture would have been molded plaster that would have been painted by hand after. It’s stunning.

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You wind around through the palace, and every once in a while there’s a window looking out to the outside world so you can remember you’re not on a set or in a dream. It’s like coming up for air.

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It’s an easy thing to wander around and imagine yourself a slippered princess, padding around fountains and– I don’t know what comes next in the scene. Maybe it’s only me?

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Right about… Here. I started really feeling the cold. It was cold. About 40 degrees. I was so warm the day before in Nerja and stupidly hadn’t checked the forecast, so I was wearing light hiking pants, a t-shirt, and my running jacket. I’m just so grateful I had that scarf or I probably would have curled up in a corner to wait for spring.

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This is sort of the cliche shot of Alhambra – you can see why. It’s so symmetrical and wonderful.

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A couple of pigeons roosting.

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Here you are. This is the first glimpse of the Court of the Lions.

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There are called “stalactites” and they’re formed by using wooden braces to hold up plaster into the desired shape. Each new section is added in, ultimately leading to a sort of keystone. Then it’s all so solid and self-supporting that you take away the wooden braces. Now the work of painting begins.

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Here are the lions! Aren’t they magnificent?

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Here’s a ceiling. All of the ceilings were adorned like this. This just happens to be the first one he shot. Every inch of this place is decorated.

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This is standing in an archway between two rooms and looking up.

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Even little nooks in the wall are carefully decorated. I’m not sure what you’d put in such a beautiful spot. Some of their glazed pottery, I guess. I deeply regret that I wasn’t able to bring a piece of pottery home for myself. Next time, I guess.

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Stepping out again for some air and warming up just a little.

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All around the palace are gardens. Remember that this is January, so they’re not as lush as they would normally be.

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We’ve finally emerged and are having a little snack. Completely wiped out!

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After a rest (and a bathroom break), we headed over to look at the fortress. Less exciting than the palace, but nice views. Look at the sky!

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The snow-covered Sierra Nevadas I mentioned earlier. I talked to a coworker who studied abroad in Granada. He said there’s good skiing up there.

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No! Not my mousing arm!

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This is a bath house.

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And now we’re into the main gardens. You can see the light is starting to get a little low.

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That’s me all the way down at the end of the hall. When I turn around that corner, a guard is going to spot me, reprimand me for being in the mini-palace so late, and then literally chase me up some stairs, across a patio, down another set of stairs, and toward the exit. I kept saying, “But my boyfriend!” and he was all, “Lo siento.” Yikes.

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Ah, look at this sunset! And then we’re gone – have to leave.

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We got in the car and made our way through some crazy, crazy winding roads to the aforementioned church plaza for this shot.

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And then drove home absolutely exhausted. It was a very long day, and I was so excited imagining getting into a warm bed and falling asleep. We agreed that the next day needed to be (a) warmer and (b) closer to home.