Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Taste of Andalucia - Granada

My mom and dad arrived to Javea in early March to see the family and explore Spain a bit. In spite of all their travels, they really hadn't spent much time in Espana. They arrived after 4 fabulous days in Barcelona and my dad's sore ankle seemed to be holding up surprisingly well in spite of all the walking they did. After a few days relaxing with the grandkids, I took them on a trip to Andalucia in Southern Spain - the land where the moors predominantly ruled for over 700 years, leaving a marvelous legacy. I played a role as travel coordinator/spanish interpreter and booked out a week's itinerary, trying to balance my mom's wish to see as many cities / sites as possible, with my dad's preference for a more relaxing pace. We settled first on Granada and I reserved an apartment in the old historic Albacyin district - a winding, twisting maze of whitewashed homes perched straight across the Alhambra. I had come prepared with a plethora of google maps and directions and we made our way into the Albacyin with very little trouble. But once there, the roads narrowed and driving became quite stressful. The last 50 meters turned out to be more nerve-wracking than the first 400,000, as our instructions were a bit misleading and our car could barely make the 90 degree turns without scraping the sides of buildings. As we passed the street where the parking garage was supposed to be, there was seemingly no possible way we could get through, and we were stuck with cars waiting behind us. Yikes. Finally, after several futile attempts, we gave up and I called the owners, who thankfully led us out of this trap and got us safely to the garage. Well, not quite, as they forgot to mention that the gates tend to close quickly and my mom screamed as the rear gate started closing down on us. I shot the car through and got out to try to walk off the adrenaline that was coursing through my body. I now have huge admiration for the bus and cargo delivery drivers of the Albacyin who do this stuff every day - they must have nerves of steel. Our apartment was a little dated and darker than I would have preferred, but it had a decent patio and at least we could settle in and relax. It sat off a nice little plaza and had a bus stop right outside the door, so we could easily get to all the sights. The next day we headed off to the Alhambra - one of the finest and best preserved examples of Moorish architecture in all of Europe. The Alhambra was the last stand of the Moorish empire, which was ultimately overcome by the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. But not without leaving an amazing legacy. The Alhambra is a spectacular system of fortresses, peaceful gardens and exquisite architecture all on one amazing location with stunning vistas of the city below and the snow-capped sierras towering behind. We spent the entire day exploring and we were blessed with beautiful weather and very few crowds. At times, it felt we had the place to ourselves and we enjoyed a wonderful lunch of traditional Andalusian food (marinated partridge, gazpacho and habas with jamon). By the time we made it through the gardens of the Generalife (Caliph's vacation palace), the sun was setting and we returned to the apartment, exhausted, but happy. The rest of our visit was spent exploring the Albacyin and touring the cathedral area in town. Of particular interest was the Capille Real (the royal chapel), where the stunningly stark metal tombs of King Ferdinand and Isabella lie - a stark contrast to the lavish and ornate decor of the chapel itself. I also had the chance to explore the gypsie caves of the Sacramonte, which was a little strange as it wasn't clear whether I was trespassing by walking right on top of these dwellings which were carved into the hills. I figured this was the equivalent of trailer parks in the US, albeit a bit more dark and damp! Overall, my impression of Granada is mixed - while the Alhambra is definitely one of my favorite places in all of Spain, I found the rest of the city to be a bit dilapidated and bohemian for my tastes. And while the Albacyin is certainly fascinating, I imagine it would be exhausting to navigate on a daily basis.

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