Brrrrr…. the AirBnB flat is freaking cold, no more than 60 F with the little electric heaters. I timidly reach from under the blanket to my phone to see the time. It’s noon!
Ha, I chuckle. We got hit by jetlag. I change the benzene tank that runs the hot water heater, and to the relief of my traveling companions, take my first shower in two and a half days.
Fortunately, that puts us right on schedule. Nothing in the Albayzin is open till noon anyway. The Albayzin is Downstairs is a teteria called Las Caves, that is setting up tables in the sun with blankets. We put on lots of layers – everything we brought – and go order some food. Strong coffee, bread, vegetable cous-cous, tomatoes that are surprisingly ripe for November, spaghetti with meat sauce for Lily and a chocolate crepe for Emma.
Lily orders an orange Fanta, and the first of many chants begins. Fan-TA, Fan-TA, Fan-TA faster and louder and faster and louder. We like to cheer for Fanta.
As we finish our meal, a guy with dreadlocks on a Segway rides by the table and takes Lily and Emma for short rides, which they love. We’ve never been on a Segway tour. Maybe this will be the trip we do it. We’ve done so many other forms of transportation that we have to do it at least once, even if it’s goofy looking.
Moors and Catholics
The Albayzin is the moorish section and ancient city of Granada. The moors, Islamic settlers from North Africa, dominated southern Spain from around 700ad until the last ruler Boabdil in the late fifteenth century. After the Reconquista by Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492, many of the Jewish and Muslim residents were forcibly expelled or converted.
But Andalucia, and it’s main cities, Seville and Granada, have retained elements of Islamic culture and still have hundreds of thousands of muslims in residence. Some ancient mosques remain, and of course the massive Alhambra was retained, although converted into summer palaces for Spanish royalty. Both Ferdinand and Isabella are entombed in Granada, next to the massive cathedral to which we walk after lunch.
The Cathedral de Granada
The Cathedral at Granada is a fusion of styles, Baroque, Renaissance Neo-Classicism and gothic. It sits on the site of the original Moorish mosque.
It’s not an amazing cathedral really but it’s the first time that I can remember Emma and Lily (especially Emma) being interested in a cathedral for it’s historical value. They eagerly look at tapestries, the gold and silver of the altar, illuminated manuscripts and high vaulted decorated ceilings.
We talk about the role of the church in Europe, and a little bit about the protestant reformation. It’s fun to see them learning. I don’t remember as much now, but there was a time I was pretty good at European history – I got the highest mark possible on my AP exam in senior year. It’s fun to recall the details.
Since we got up so late it’s already getting late in the afternoon and we want to catch sunset at the top of the hill. Up the windy small streets of the Albayzin we trapse, passing beautiful walled houses with incredible interior courtyards that occasionally are open for viewing. Cobblestone streets and little walkways wind and cross, making navigation a necessity even though it’s only a mile or so to the top.
The best viewing spot for sunset is the Mercado San Nicholas, which is not the highest point in Granada, but the best viewpoint of the Alhambra and mountains behind. There is a small square here, hosting street vendors, musicians and the Grim Reaper.
The Alhambra, which we’ll visit tomorrow, is one of the greatest surviving examples of Islamic architecture in Europe. It sits at the top of a hill, across from the old city of the Albayzin. This square can get positively packed in summer, and even in mid November in 50F weather, there are a hundred people or so.
The view are as promised: spectacular. The sky is blue and orange with no haze or smog. Off to one side are snow covered mountains, the original Sierra Nevada where skiing begins in a month. To the other, is central Granada and it’s quarter-million population ‘modern’ city. But all eyes are on the Alhambra, it’s parapets, gardens and arches clearly visible until the last of the sun goes down.
We head down the mountain and stop at our icy flat, which does have an incredible location, and rest our walking feet for a few minutes before we head back out for dinner at El Aji, a Lonely Planet recommended restaurant.
Sometimes restaurants are changed for the worse by a positive review in Lonely Planet because they instantly become tourist spots even if they were once hole in the wall or specialty places. The waitress gives us an English menu, the prices aren’t cheap and there are no locals in El Aji, so I brace for the worst.
But it turns out to be great food. Amanda and I have amazing fresh pastas and salads. The girls have noodles with butter, because the menu is a little too sophisticated for kid pallets. (This blog was once called “Sampling noodles around the globe.” The first words I usually had to learn in any foreign language was “plain rice or noodles with butter”. ) And the desserts, Mango Flambe and warm chocolate cake are great.
Parkour in the cold
We need the calories because we have our last long hike of the day across the Albayzin, almost to the edge of the old city where we’ll see a late night (10pm) flamenco show that Amanda found for us.
The walk is really cold, it’s barely above freezing, but we joke and play along the way. (Lily jumps on every little pedestal and porch step and yells ‘Parkour’!) Halfway there, we round a corner and a break in the buildings reveals the Alhambra across the small valley. It’s lit up dramatically. So impressive.
We’re the first to arrive at the flamenco show, which is one of the oldest in Granada. It’s conducted in a narrow ‘cave’ that’s been bricked, painted and lined with chairs. The show is fun and the dancers are into it, supporting each other. There are different styles of Flamenco demonstrated including the original gypsy type from which flamenco originated.
One particularly good dance was a woman doing the traditional male role, sternly and powerfully. Emma is chosen to dance at the end and she joins in earnestly, even if a little embarassed.
We walk home, late and cold and shiver under our covers until the heaters get going. The albayzin of Granada is incredibly quiet, almost completely silent.