Granada by Day, the Alhambra by Night

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Yesterday, our big activity was revisiting the Nazaries Palace at night. Tom wanted to get some night shots, and had brought his massive carbon-fiber tripod all the way from California for just such an opportunity.

A side note: I planned quite carefully for this trip. We had been told it would be sweltering hot in Spain at this time of year–some people even asked why we were going now instead of in the fall. So I selected thin, lightweight, cool clothes. I did not bring a jacket. I left many things at home out of consideration for airline weight limitations, figuring if I really needed something, I could probably buy it here. As a consequence, I had lots of room in my suitcase, which I happily anticipated filling at least partially with gifts for loved ones. Tom saw the possibilities at once, and solved my extra space problem by shoving his tripod into MY suitcase. Greater love hath no woman.

Incidentally, it has been quite pleasant weather. Yesterday was a trifle cool, in fact.

Our ticket to the palace was for 10 pm, so we had an entire day and evening to spend exploring Granada. Our tour bible on this trip has been “Rick Steve’s Spain,” and so far, it’s been reliable (as well as entertaining). We decided to start with the Alcazar, the ruined fort next to the Nazaries Palace, because Rick Steves said it was free. Apparently, “free” means “available,” because they wanted a ticket. So we decided to explore the Alcaizin, the old Moorish quarter. After the perilous car trip into the old town the night before, Tom was no way going to drive, so we caught a cab. (By the way, among many interesting and odd vignettes that I don’t have time to record, on our way back through the narrow, twisty passages that night, we came upon an elderly woman carefully washing the cobblestones outside her door. She had to step back into the doorway to allow the car room to pass, and glared at us as we drove over her nice, clean cobbles.)

The cab dropped us off at Iglesias San Nicholas, an old church now under restoration. The Plaza San Nicholas has a wonderful view of the city and the Alhambra. There was a band of gypsies (I mean a musical band composed of gypsies, not an entire tribe) playing and singing there for tips, and a gypsy selling leather jewelry. The band–well, let’s just say they were no Gypsy Kings. The leather jewelry seller had a surefire technique, though. He had the most adorable tiny puppy with him, running around and greeting tourists.

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The  Great Mosque of Granada has this tiny, half-hidden door around the side for women only.

The Great Mosque of Granada has this tiny, half-hidden door around the side for women only.

We wandered downhill along the cobbled streets, taking pictures of this and that until we came to a pedestrian street lined on both sides with tiny shops, with colorful merchandise displayed outside. It looked like my mental image of a souk, or traditional Arab/Moorish market. Colored glass Moorish lanterns, gorgeous fabrics, tooled leather goods, scarves, hookahs, the lot, were displayed on the street. I explored one shop that had  steep steps down from the street level. On the way out, I stumbled as I emerged onto the street. Two men rushed forward, hands outstretched to catch me, dear, foolish creatures, but I recovered, panting, “Gracias! Gracias!”

I popped into several shops, but didn’t buy anything. Some of the things I really liked were just too big and/or heavy, like Moorish lamps and gorgeous tiles and pottery with jewel-like patterns resembling the tiles we saw in the palace. A lot of the shops had the same stuff, store after store, so we walked on down into the Old Town and found a tapas bar in a hotel near Plaza Nueva. We ordered three tapas dishes to share at the bar, then went to sit in an enclosed patio that had obviously at one time been an open-air courtyard of a house. I thought tapas were supposed to be small dishes, but these were HUGE. They were also very rich and not shy about fat. We had been starving, but could not possibly finish these enormous plates of food. Which were absolutely delicious, by the way.

The next stop was to find a phone store where Tom could purchase another SIM card, having run through the data allowance of the first one he bought within 24 hours (the man is a power user.). The stores were closed for siesta, so we made our way to the cathedral to se the Royal Chapel where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella are interred. On the way, we saw an amazing display of swords in a store window, reminding us of the Iron Throne in “Game of Thrones.” We went in, and I found some very satisfactory gifts. Not swords.

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Gorgeous window display for an ice cream store. Unfortunately, we were practically waddling with tapas, and had no room for more.

Gorgeous window display for an ice cream store. Unfortunately, we were practically waddling with tapas, and had no room for more.

The Royal Chapel is part of the cathedral, but don’t let the term “chapel” deceive you; it’s enormous and boasts its own side chapels. It is also extremely Spanish: lots of wrought iron and gold leaf. There are two huge marble tombs in front of the elaborately tiered high altar. Ferdinand and Isabella, who are revered here as the founders of modern Spain, have the lower monument, while Philip the Fair and Juana the Mad enjoy the higher place of honor for some reason. (Apparently Philip the Fair was quite the playboy, and drove Juana the Mad mad with his infidelities.) The monuments show the individuals in question resting on catafalques, robed and crowned. Their faces are supposed to be very accurate renditions from death masks.

I was walking around these massive massive tombs and nearly fell into the crypt. There was a steep flight of stairs that just opened up in the floor of the chapel and led down to a glass door where you could view the uncharacteristically plain coffins of the people depicted above.

The high altar started at the ceiling with a 3-D sculpture of God, then fell in golden tiers to the altar itself. Each tier had niches with various scenes from the New Testament depicted as realistically painted sculpture. St. John the Baptist was particularly gruesome; you could see all the anatomical details of his severed neck.

Tom and I agreed we both liked the Moorish style a lot better. Then we disagreed about whether or not the chapel  was stylistically influenced by Moorish art. (I was for, Tom against.) Then off to buy a SIM card at a phone company called MoviStar, a transaction that took approximately forever and required showing both passport and driver’s license. I was expecting them to ask for a blood sample.

After a late afternoon siesta and a small dinner, we duly arrived at the palace at 10 pm, only to find that Tom was not allowed to use the carbon-fiber tripod he had brought. We were allowed to carry it, though. Guess who carried it? As I said, greater love hath no woman.

By night, the palace has an even more mysterious beauty. I noticed different things about it, and sometimes didn’t even recognize rooms I had previously been through by day. There were fewer tourists and it was sometimes easier for Tom to get shots than before. I will share some of his photos later; my iPhone camera wasn’t up to the challenge, though I got a couple of nice photos. Some of the rooms look as though you are in a cube of stone lace, delicate and insubstantial–though these walls of lace haven’t stirred in almost a thousand years.

Ceiling detail of Nazaries Palace at night

Ceiling detail of Nazaries Palace at night

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Ceiling, Room of the Kings, Nazaries Palace at night

Long before I was ready to leave, the guards shooed us out and closed the palace. We happened to be in my favorite room at the time. It is a tripartite chamber off the Lion Courtyard. The center of the room has a fountain, and the ceiling spirals up and up, in exuberant fountains and sprays like frozen waterfalls, accented here and there by the ancient remnants of gold leaf and blue and red paint. The two side chambers were for dining, and their ceilings, while lower, were just as spectacular. What I really wanted to do was to lie on the floor and gaze up at the ceiling for a while, maybe three or four hours, but no, they shooed us out into the night.

My beloved in the Alcaizin

My beloved in the Alcaizin

Stairs, Stairs, Stairs, and–Oh My God!–More Stairs

Interior court, Charles V palace

Interior court, Charles V palace

So today’s theme was stairs. I am no stranger to stairs. Our house has 32 steps from the driveway to the front door, and then another flight of stairs if you want to get to the second floor.

But my house stairs to the Alhambra is as Barbie’s Dream House to Versailles. This place has staircases everywhere, and not an elevator in sight. Our room is romantically located in a small square tower overlooking the gardens. It isn’t next to, above or below anyone else’s room. It can only be reached by four flights of stairs and an additional steep staircase to the bedroom. We traverse this mountain several times a day–and if we want to go to the restaurant, there’s yet another flight.

Reflecting pool, Nazaries Palace

Reflecting pool, Nazaries Palace

Another note about stairs here; the steps are higher than I am accustomed to. That seems odd to me. Presumably back in the day, people were shorter. I am tall and have long legs, but I ascend carefully because the steps are so high I am afraid of tripping.

We visited the  Nazaries Palace at the Alhambra today. We had a little time to kill first, so we went into the Charles V palace, which houses an art museum–up a steep flight of the slipperiest marble steps I have ever encountered. Coming down, even Tom was clinging to the railing and complaining about feeling old.

Window overlooking a courtyard, Nazaries Palace

Window overlooking a courtyard, Nazaries Palace

The palace itself had so many stairways I couldn’t count them. However, the beauty of the place is so magical that I barely noticed. There is delicate, intricate stone bas-relief carving everywhere, so fine it looks like lace, transcending the solidity and weight of the material. Inlaid tile murals in geometric patterns, like jewels. Tall, slender columns, reflecting pools, fountains, trees, flowers, vistas of the town through stone traceries. There are places in the ceilings where you can see that the carvings were once brilliantly colored and accented with gold leaf–it must have engendered deep awe and amazement in its heyday. It still does today.

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Ceiling detail, Nazaries Palace. You can see it was once painted.

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After taking a brief rest, we decided to visit the Generalife, another palace with tiered gardens–and even more stairs. The path to the Generalife led past ruined Moorish palaces where the walls are now just stacks of bricks, sometimes faced with stone. Then through the first tier of gardens, overlooking the Nazaries Palace at the Alhambra. The Generalife palace is not in as good a condition as the Nazaries Palace, but still boasts some stone traceries, and there is running water everywhere, flowing down canals and channels–in one place, it runs down the balustrades of a long. long staircase that ascends to the top of the hill. The gardens are gorgeous and well-tended, and the peaceful sound of running water is soothing to the ear. Everywhere around the Alhambra complex, clouds of sharp-winged swallows swoop in and out of holes in the ancient walls where the mortar has fallen away, tending to their babies.

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I couldn’t help thinking that the swallows have always been here, raising their families, as the Moors came and went, as the Spanish royals came and went, as the tourists come and go–and they will be here long after.

The restaurant at the parador is OK, but not inspired, so we decided to get wine and tapas at the Hotel America, just a few hundred feet away. The hotel has an open-air patio, and we sat in a shady corner. There was netting overhead, but it was covered with vines and detritus. The sparrows are numerous and aggressive. They clustered directly overhead, shuffling and muttering, and we sat in a near-continuous rain of sparrow poop and dried leaves, which we picked out of each other’s hair. You might well ask, “Why didn’t we just move?” The answer is that everyone there was having more or less the same problem, so there was no point. The food was good, but I do not believe we will be returning. I had to wash my clothes and travel purse when we returned to our room. We had rather more wine than we had originally intended, but what the hey, we were on foot. I found the five flights of stairs to the bedroom a bit of a trial, though.

After a short four-hour nap, we drove into the town for dinner. We were about half an hour late because the streets in the old town are so narrow and windy. Plus, our GPS app was even more confused than we were. We finally found the general neighborhood and parked in a parking garage that said “Parking Publico Libre”–but it wasn’t. The parking garage was even more harrowing than the streets, but we finally found a spot and (eventually) the restaurant, La Bottilleria. The food was excellent and so was the wine. So was the service, for that matter–not something you can count on here. We found our way back to the parking garage and Tom valiantly tried to drive out of it and got stuck. He went to find the attendant to help (a most unusual move on Tom’s part), and the helpful attendant rescued us. Then we just had to negotiate the tiny, winding streets back to the Parador, and up the four flights to our room. (I haven’t made it to the bedroom yet. One. More. Flight. To. Go.)

I may not lose weight on this trip, but I sure as hell will be gaining muscle tone.