Yesterday I arrived in the city of Granada. Granada doesn’t have the charm of Sevilla or the natural beauty of Ronda, but it is known for one big attraction – The Alhambra. The Alhambra earns the most revenue for Spain (apparent The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona makes more money but spends more on construction). I knew my tour to Spain would not be complete without a visit.
I took the non-high-speed train from Ronda to Granada. Along the way we saw rolling mountains and olive trees, lots and lots of olive trees. Apparently, Spain is the world’s leading producer of olive oil which was very apparent…
I arrived in Granada in the early evening. Knowing that there was still a couple of hours of daylight left, I decided to walk (or hike more like) up to the St. Nicolas Church, which is known more for its mirador, or view of the Alhambra than the church itself. The nice guy at the hostel tried to give me a route to take on a map, however it was easy to get lost amidst the small winding cobblestone streets, once again reminiscent of Lisboa. The good thing is that I knew that the mirador had to be on the highest point of the Albayzin (or the Arab Quarter), so all I had to do was keep hiking up and eventually I reached the top.
It was a lot easier to walk and find my way down. I walked down through the main part of the Albayzin. I must say that it reminded me a lot of Morocco, with the restaurants and souvenir shops, though much cleaner and without the fear of motorcycles and scooters running me down. By this time, though, I was very hungry so I decided to seek out a place to eat. Some of the restaurants looked okay, but the hookahs in the front turned me off. Finally, one of the last places I saw was a place called Kebab King. The cheesy name initially turned me off, but I saw 2 Arabic women in there ordering a large order to go, so I knew it must be good. And it was! So good, in fact, that I returned today for lunch.
Now onto the Alhambra. Yesterday, while still in Ronda, I decided to look at possibly buying tickets in advance online for today. Imagine my disappointment (and partial panic) when the words “SOLD OUT” appeared. Uh oh. Today was to be my only full day in Granada. And going to Granada without seeing the Alhambra is like visiting San Francisco without seeing the Golden Gate Bridge! The girl at the hostel had the only other option – wake up really early, get there when the box office opens (at 8am!) and hopefully get in. Those of you who know me know that I am NOT a morning person, but what other choice did I have? So I got up before the sun at 6:45am, dragged myself onto a bus, and ended up in line at 7:45am, before the box office opened. There was already a long line of people and I wondered if maybe I should have gotten up even earlier. Oh, and since the sun wasn’t even up yet at this time, it was cold. Like 40’s(F) cold!
While getting to the front of the line (about an hour later), I saw that they had a display stating the number tickets left for the morning session. First it was 59, then 45, then 40, then 30. I was starting to panic. Sure, they had plenty of tickets left for the afternoon session, but did I want to wait around that long? Finally, I made it just in time. After getting my ticket, I made a bee-line to the cafe for food and coffee to warm myself back up.
Semi-adequately warm, it was time to explore the Alhambra. Although, I could enter The Alhambra complex right away, there was a timed ticket entry to the famous Nasrid Palaces at 1pm, so I had about 4 hours to kill. Thankfully, the Alhambra is a massive place and there was plenty to do before then. The woman at the counter suggested that I do the Gardens first. Mind you, walking through gardens in 40’s degree weather semi in the dark was not my first choice. However, it was probably the most empty place that I encountered all day, so that was an added benefit.
Near the gardens lies a palace called Generalife. In English it sort of sounds like a wellness company, but the Spanish pronounce it He-ne-ral-li-fay. The Generalife was built between the 12th and 14th centuries to be a place of rest for the sultan. It was very peaceful, indeed. Until the massive tour groups showed up.
Palacio de Carlos V – Apparently when Carlos V took over in the 16th century, he liked the Alhambra so much that he started building his own palace building here. It now houses 2 museums: a fine arts museum and a museum showcasing many interesting artifacts recovered from the Alhambra
Also included in the Alhambra complex is the Alcazaba. It was built as a fortress to protect the rest of the Alhambra. Its towers provide some gorgeous views of Granada.
Finally, it was Nasrid Palace time! The Nasrid Palace was completed towards the end of the 14th century, at the end of Muslim rule in Spain. When the Catholic monarchs conquered the area at the end of the 15th century, they liked it so much that they moved in and inserted their influences into the Arabic structure.
After an early start and a long day walking around the Alhambra, I was pretty much spent. The rest of the day was spent window-shopping and resting. Then, I had a lovely tapas meal. The tapas in Granada are really cheap and many restaurants (like the one I went to) will give you a free tapa for each drink ordered. Since I ordered 2 drinks (wine & sparkling water), my tapas were free. So basically I walked out of there spending 5 euros for a nice meal. Gotta love Granada!