A Golden Evening in Granada

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Andalucía

I arrived in Granada via train in the late afternoon. Looking out from my cab, one of the first things I noticed about my surroundings was the change in the colour palette. While architecture in Sevilla often featured bright yellows, pinks and reds on a white background, Granada was painted in softer shades and especially, browns. Every now and then, I caught a glimpse of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada amongst the buildings which created a pleasant hill town atmosphere. A few minutes and a mere €7 fare later, I checked in at my hostel Granada Inn; the “Inn” is a lovely, rectangular low-rise in Andalucían style with a long courtyard and I would definitely recommend it.

After freshening up, I realized that lunch was long overdue and headed into one of the many elegant restaurants on a nearby street. I read through the list of soups on the menu and since trying Gazpacho, I was looking for something thicker when I came across its cousin, Salmorejo.

Simply made with tomatoes, bread, olive oil and garlic, the cold soup is topped with boiled egg—and usually, bits of bacon but I opted out of those—and it’s very creamy. I took my time savouring it and then returned to the hostel to grab a few things but ended up meeting one of my roommates who had just arrived. She was a solo traveller too so we decided to go explore the town together.

We headed down the lively shopping street Calle Reyes Católicos and passed by a few different sites.

The Santa Ana Church in Plaza Nueva.

Soon, we made a left and began walking uphill into the Albaicín. This quaint neighbourhood was one of the main Arab areas of inhabitance and filled with mosques, shops and even a royal court of the Zirid dynasty in the 11th century. Today, parts of it can be a little run-down and might not smell the best because of the dogs but it’s still charming.

We wandered through the narrow alleys and turned corners at whim getting wonderfully lost.

There were other tourists around too along with locals and children laughing and playing.

The homes in the Albaicín, including their entrances, remain quite influenced by the original Moorish style.

I also loved that many had beautifully overgrown plants. The scent from this cármen’s jasmines wafted through the lane.

We then made our way to the Mirador de San Nicolás. Given the hilly setting of old Granada, there are several great viewpoints and this is one is located in the square behind the Church of San Nicolás. I remember walking towards the wall and thinking, “so, this is where the photos of the Alhambra are taken from!” It was like the Mount of Olives all over again.

The weather, those cyprus trees and that Palace. I mean, can you say wow? The view was breathtaking and I had one of those moments which remind you that this is why you travel.

Looking out towards the more modern part of Granada.

Once we had taken in the scene and snapped enough photos, we considered going to the highest Mirador shown on the map but following a couple dónde está, we realized that it was not only much further uphill and confusing to get to but also isolated. So, we abandoned that idea and continued exploring the neighbourhood.

The minaret of a mosque is seen above with a verse written in Kufic script.

As we were strolling around, we stumbled upon a moroccan tetería, i.e. tea house, called As-Sirat in Placeta de la Charca. I am quite glad we found this place because it was beautiful, authentic and well-priced! The decor was lovely and the owner very hospitable.

We took a brief look around and eagerly sat down for some tea at one of the hexagon-shaped tables. I had no idea which one to try so I asked for a recommendation. Within a few minutes, she brought over a flower-based one called Nazari tea which smelt really nice and had a strong, unique taste. We chatted with her over our drinks and listening to her talk about Morocco made me want to visit it even more.

Happily filled with tea, we thanked her for her time and continued our wanderings.

By the time the sun got close to setting, we were famished and decided to stay in the Albaicín for dinner. We chose El Ladrillo II and enjoyed our free tapa as we waited for the paella to arrive.

Paella is a popular Spanish dish which is rice-based and originated in Valencia. There are a few different types but we went for the seafood option or Paella de Mariscos. Given its size, the dish is best shared between two or more people but when ordering, keep in mind that the listed prices are per person and not total. Also, when the Spaniards say seafood, they mean seafood.

The paella included mussels, shrimp, baby squid, fish and clams which were soon drenched in lemon juice.

My friend and I enjoyed the decor along with our food and we liked that the canopy was withdrawn at night so that we finished our meal in the open air. However, our service was only alright and the restaurant seems to get some very mixed reviews online so I am not sure if we just got lucky.

With the rest of our paella packed to go, we headed downhill and to our hostel. We tried to get to bed early but being women, this was easier said then done and it was past midnight by the time we set our alarms to 5am and finally, went to sleep. In a few hours, we were going to the Alhambra!

Seeing the Alhambra: Part I

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Andalucía

A couple hours later at 5am, my alarm went off. My roommate and I got ready quietly as to not wake up the other girls in our apartment. Half-awake but excited, we left our hostel and headed out into the sleepy town. The air was cool and the sky still dark. The main street was empty except for a few people at a nearby bus stop and the cabs searching for customers. Since it was too early to take the bus we needed, we hopped into a taxi. Destino? The Alhambra!

After a few minutes of driving uphill, we reached the Pabellón de acceso and joined the short queue at the ticket office. Both of us had been unable to purchase tickets online ahead of time—they can sell out really fast—and to buy them on the day of, the safest bet was to line up long before the office opened. So, knowing that we would be waiting for a couple hours, we sat down and made ourselves comfortable.

It was cooler up here, especially without a jacket, but I loved being out at this hour. I could still see stars above and the cyprus trees around us were charming. While sprinklers sprayed the gardens behind us and a few guards strolled around, we began chatting with the other tourists in line and discussed everything from travel to politics; okay, the latter may have been because of me. Slowly, daylight spread across the sky and a few coffees later, we had our tickets! But since we received entry for the afternoon visit, we decided to go down to see a friend of ours in the meantime.

We then separated and I had a long, delicious brunch before making my way back. Being early May, there was white fluffy stuff flying all around from the trees but on that path up to the Palace, there was so much of it that it seemed like it was snowing in summer. I thought it was absolutely beautiful—although someone pointed out that those with allergies may not agree—and I wish I could have captured it on camera. The uphill walk also turned out to be quite a leg workout so, I was happy to finally reach the top and enter the complex.

The entire Alhambra is huge but I started by seeing the best part first, i.e. the Nasrid Palaces, for which there is a specific time slot on the ticket that determines when you can enter. The first set of rooms are part of the Palacio del Mexuar. The one seen above was used for prayers.

I walked around slowly, taking in everything around me. The architecture and design, the use of space and water… it was all simply breathtaking and awe-inspiring. I felt like a kid let loose in a candy store.

The Patio de los Arrayanes, Court of the Myrtles, is in the Comares Palace which made up the official residences of the emir. Construction began in the 14th century under Yusuf I and finished under his son Mohammed V. The white portion is a result of the Charles V Palace built after the fall of Granada.

Behind this lovely Patio is Torre de Comares which is the biggest one of the towers and most noticeable from outside.

It was also cool to see where the inspiration for the Alcázar of Sevilla had come from but I am glad I saw it before the Alhambra or I may not have been able to enjoy it as much. I mean, how can you be satisfied once you’ve seen this?

A close-up of the woodwork in the Hall of the Ambassadors, or the throne room, inside the Torre de Comares.

After taking a final glance back at the Court of the Myrtles, I then made my way to the Palacio de los Leones which exudes majesty and power on a whole other level.

 

Mohammed V is also to credit for the building of the Palace of the Lions and actually, for a lot of the Alhambra that we see today as he made improvements as well. This Palace formed the private residences of the emir and his family.

The light reflecting off the floor here was blinding after a while but I’m glad it produced great photos!

There were several private rooms branching out from the Patio and I happily got lost around here a few times only figuring the way out after asking an amused guard.

The Sala de Dos Hermanas, Hall of the Two Sisters, has some of the most incredible ceilings I’ve ever seen.

The way out from the Patio led to a balcony with this gorgeous view; just when you think it can’t get better.

Towards the centre left of the photo, you can see the tower of the Church of San Nicolás in the Albaicín where I had been the day before. At the bottom is the main street that runs along the Darro River.

I then took a seat in the Patio de Lindaraja which was lovely with orange trees around the square and a fountain in the centre. After spending a few minutes resting here and allowing everything to sink in more, I was ready to go explore the second part of the Alhambra and began making my way over to the gardens.

The Cathedral of Sevilla

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Andalucía

On my final day in Sevilla, I decided to start off by checking out the gothic Cathedral. It’s huge and so, it comes as no surprise that it’s the third largest Cathedral in the world. Finished in the early 1500’s, there are numerous chapels within the building and a large Main Chapel. Fun fact: it also has the tomb of explorer Christopher Columbus.

The ceiling in the Sala Capitular.

After walking around inside the Cathedral and seeing the various rooms, I went out to the Patio de los Naranjos which is so named because of its orange trees. The Cathedral was actually built on the site of the Almohads’ Great Mosque but this courtyard—previously used for ablution—and the Giralda are one of the few remnants of it. The Giralda used to be the minaret of the Mosque until it was converted to a bell tower; an additional section was added to the top of the structure as well. I sat in the Patio for a few minutes and relaxed before heading up the tower.

The Moors climbed the Giralda on horseback and once you start walking up, you can easily understand why. It’s a work out. However, the hike is not nearly as bad as it may seem at first. If you are healthy and able, there should be nothing stopping you! Plus, there are windows on the way and once you get to the very top, you are rewarded by these gorgeous views which are much better than those offered by the Metropol Parasol due to the 100m height.

To the left is the neighbourhood of Santa Cruz. To the right, you have Plaza de España (top), the Alcázar (middle) and Plaza del Triunfo (bottom).

In the back, you can see the Guadalquivir River. The square building in the centre is the General Archive of the Indies.

The Giralda is definitely my favourite landmark in Sevilla!

I then took a long walk through the city and ended up by the river on the other side.

The City Hall in Plaza Nueva where I sat the night before.

Loving the building to the right of the lamp post.

On Calle Velázquez.

In the Macarena neighbourhood. This gate dates back to the Muslims who called it Bab-al-Makrin; it is now known as Puerta de la Macarena.  To the right, is a Basilica.

I eventually found my way back to Santa Cruz and ended my afternoon with some tapas. One of the dishes I had were these yummy garlic potatoes. Can you tell I started eating first only to remember that I had not snapped a photo?

Flamenco and Tapas

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Andalucía

Before seeing a live flamenco show in Spain, my limited exposure to the dance came entirely from bad television where—like most things in pop culture—it was often sexualized and did not leave much of an impression on me. I am not sure what I expected an authentic outfit to look like but upon seeing flamenco dresses in tourist shops around Sevilla, I realized that it was relatively modest. The dresses were always full length with frilly layers and half or even full sleeves. The fierceness and sexuality must come largely from the dancer’s performance then, I thought, and this intrigued me.

So, after spending an afternoon seeing the historic Alcázar, I decided it was time for some flamenco and began thinking about where to go. Besides, since the dance originated in Andalucía, going to a show in the south was often recommended in travel guides and Sevilla felt like the perfect place to do so. I ended up choosing La Casa del Flamenco in Santa Cruz for its location and affordability and it was so worth it. The performance lasted for about an hour and the dancers went through different styles of flamenco with a singer and guitarist in the background. Here’s a video taken near the end in case you missed the link last time. Awesome, no? I love how lively it is! In fact, just this weekend, my sisters and I were at a street festival here in Toronto when we came across a flamenco performance and I made them stop to watch the whole thing.

I then sat down for some tapas. At first, I thought that “tapas” referred to specific small dishes but in actuality, a tapa can be anything since it indicates the size of the serving instead of what is being served. Hence, there are hot and cold tapas and endless options. I grew to love the idea because they are perfect for when you are hungry but not too hungry and/or want to try more than one dish. I don’t remember what either of these were called but they were good!

Later that night, I went out for a walk. I headed down Calle Tetuán, one of the main pedestrian shopping streets in downtown, and while stores like ZARA were closed, the area was remarkably filled with people and not just diners. It was 10 pm yet there were old people, families, groups of friends, couples and single Sevillanos enjoying a stroll or chatting at a bench. Talk about paseo! I eventually took a seat in Plaza Nueva across the City Hall and continued people watching. There were also some kids kicking around a football to the right and a group of girls sitting on the steps near me by an equestrian statue. All in all, it was fascinating to be in a place where socializing continued so late at a communal level.

The Alcázar of Sevilla

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Andalucía

I absolutely love Islamic architecture. The way a design can be so incredibly detailed, intricate and geometrically perfect yet somehow, appear simple and effortlessly beautiful at the same time just blows me away. From the floral patterns and Arabic script on the walls to the placement of fountains and plants, every element feels like it is exactly in the right place; there is harmony. For this reason, I was beyond excited to go to Granada but I got a small taste of what I would see earlier than expected when I visited El Real Alcázar de Sevilla i.e. the Royal Palace of Seville.

My day began with a late desayuno (breakfast) at a tapas bar and restaurant on Avenida Menéndez Pelayo. In Spain, the first meal of the day is quite light as lunch is usually the biggest one and the breakfast menu is often available up until close to 1pm. At Casa Carlos, I ordered a typical tostada which is a long bread sliced in half with tomato spread and olive oil. I added cheese to mine and had a cafe con leche as well along with a zumo naranja. The total cost was under €4 and even that was only because of the fresh orange juice as it added an extra euro or so to the bill. Casa Carlos had a nice atmosphere with white walls and wooden furniture and I ended up going there for breakfast over the next couple days too. After eating, I went back to Plaza del Triunfo where I waited in line to buy my tickets for the Alcázar.

Around twenty minutes later, I paid a few euros at the entrance and upon passing through the gate, I was greeted by a small rose garden and the Palace of Don Pedro in the distance.

I walked up to the inner court called the Patio de Montería and stood there for a few seconds taking in the Palace’s Façade. The Abbadids were the first to build a palace on this site but since then, changes and/or additions have been made to it numerous times by later Moorish and Christian rulers. In fact, the Alcázar continues to be used by Spain’s royalty today as it is their residence in Sevilla. The Palace of Don Pedro was built from 1364-1367 in a predominantly Moorish style because apparently, Pedro liked their architecture so much that he hired Muslim architects from Granada for its construction.

The Arabic sentences in blue use the Kufic script and they say, “there is no conqueror but Allah [God].” Above and below them, in Byzantine-style alphabets, are sentences praising Don Pedro. The rhombus patterns that you see above the arches are called “sebka.” 

I first entered the building on the right which had a couple rooms with old hand fans, paintings from the 19th and 20th century and a small chapel. In my excitement to get back to the Façade, I did a quick walk through it and returned to the Patio.

The elegant hall inside soon led to the Patio of the Maidens. This was my favourite part of the Palace!

Stars are a common theme in Islamic architecture such as the 8-pointed star seen on the ceiling in the left photo. The beautiful honey-comb like design inside the arch is called “muqarnas.”

Across the Patio were some of the private rooms.

The ceiling in Salón de Embajadores (Hall of the Ambassadors) is incredible.

The Patio de las Muñecas or the Patio of the Dolls.

The left photo shows the ceiling in Cuarto del Príncipe (the Prince’s Room).

Once I was finished looking around Don Pedro’s Palace and the relatively newer Palacio de Carlos V, I went out to the gardens. They were lovely and definitely an upgrade from Maria Luisa Park. Strolling around them was a great way to wind down my visit to the Alcázar.