We thought we’d get a head start on the day by getting up before noon, but the jokes on us. Nothing is really open except the occasional coffee shop. Amanda’s smiles and polite, accurate Spanish gets us some bread and a few scrambled eggs.
It’s enough to start the day where we will see what many consider the top site in Spain, the Alhambra.
Although we have been pretty cold the first few days, it is a pleasure being in Spain in low season. The Alhambra in summer requires advance booking or getting in line early in the day for an admission time much later. And then of course, you are in glorious Spanish sunshine, but aming thousands of other tourists.
We tighten our scarves, zip up our coats and climb the streets and walkways that lead a mile up to the top of the hill, walk straight up to the ticket counter, and get an admission ticket for 30 minutes later. Boom.
The Alhambra was built first around 900 AD, but fell into disrepair until muslim emirs began rebuilding it and adding to it in the 11-13th centuries. It was used extensively and added by the Catholic monarchs of the 16th century, but slowly fell into disrepair.
It was bombed in the Napoleonic wars, and ‘rediscovered’ by ‘Ledgend of Sleepy Hollow” author and AMbassador to Spain, Washington Irving.
The Royal Complex was allowed to remain Islamic in nature, mostly unchanged except in utility. The complex is about 20 rooms, most of which are accessible. The most memorable is the Court of the Lions, with it’s running water that comes from a Darro river source five miles away. The colonnades are symmetrical from multiple viewpoints.
Although it’s cold, it is bright and sunny. Light beams in and out of windows covered with arabesques. Out in the distance is the Albayzin and our apartment across the small valley. Emma and Lily really love it. It’s so theatrical and grand.
There is a ‘Hall of the Ambassadors’ in which Christopher Columbus was commissioned by Ferdinand and Isabella, who loved Granada as a summer palace, to voyage West and discover the new world for the Spanish.
The Alhambra is famous among mathematicians and devotees of M.C. Escher for having all 17 of the possible wallpaper groups. It represents refined sophistication, unlike the nearby Catholic king addition to the Alhambra. The “Palace of Carlos V”, considered a monstrosity of architecture compared to it’s islamic neighbor.
We run around the gardens called the Generalife, some of which are in bloom even at this late November date. Fountains decorate the long pavilions and flowerbeds. It’s one of the oldest moorish gardens.
Down the hill we walk. Lily continues her ‘Parkour’ game in which she jumps over or pushes off every bench, can, step or pillar she passes yelling ‘Parkour!’ ‘Parkour!’ ‘Parkour!’ (She does this for the rest of the trip.)
We keep up a good pace because we want to get some food and still make it to our super-awesome tour at 4pm – on Segways!
Our segway guide suggests a place near the storefront and we grab our first real food for the day – hungrily ordering waaaay too much food. Emma has been introduced to spanish ham, and likes it. The days of her eating nothing but noodles are far behind us.
Javier gives us a fairly long safety briefing – longer than one probably needs to operate a Segway with a helmet and a fluorescent vest. They are pretty self explanatory I think, though caution has never been my strong point. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Segway’s are the overhyped, dot-com mania fueled, revolution to walking that never happened. In 2001, pushed by amazon.com and the news media, Segway was prematurely announced as a success but was banned from many municipalities because it’s bulky. Creepily, after purchasing the bankrupt Segway from the US founders, UK businessman James Heselden plummets off a cliff on a Segway and dies.
We chose the tour of the Sacromonte, the upper Albayzin which includes the ancient city walls and some of the parts of the city that are untouched by tourist traffic because they are so high up.
It’s an amazing trip at sunset, with orange rays of light sriking through the gaps in the buildings and the occasional exposed roadway. Javier tells us silly stuff and jokes like “This area is older than Cher” His thick accent and the shouting he has to do at the front of the Segway line makes him difficult to hear anyway.
And that’s not the point of the trip anyway! We want to ride Segways, which are pretty cool. I’m not sure they are revolutionary since they are basically electric bikes, but there is a certain joy to standing up while riding at a fast clip. And they are amazingly good at keeping you stable.
The Albayzin of Granada is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been in Europe. Curves reveal more old houses, pomegranate trees, and cobblestone paths on which motorized transport of any kind was never imagined.
We would have done more, but sun has set and our time is up. It is again getting really cold, so we get back quickly to our apartment and try to warm up a bit. Lily wants to go get some juice and play cards, which we do at Los Caves, the cafe downstairs from us.
One of our favorite games from Iceland was ‘James Bond’ which has nothing to do with James Bond except when you win you have to yell ‘James Bond’, kind of like ‘Yahtzee!’. We have been having fun all day saying things in Spanish with exaggerated Soccer-announcer accents, and we decided to call it ‘Jaime Bondo’ for the duration of the trip.
And with a dinner at restaurant Boabdil (named after the last Islamic ruler of Andalucia) , our short trip to Granada has come to an end. Lily and Emma pose in front of the little “souk” market street where all the crafts and goods are sold before we head to bed. Tomorrow it’s back to Madrid.