Saturday, May 20, 2017

Spain Day 4 - Granada, Alhambra

So, last blog post I left off with us leaving Seville late afternoon and driving out towards Granada. Picking up where I left off... for this, the third night in Spain we were supposed to stay in Seville, but (remember my booking mistake) since we didn't have a place to stay we decided to just drive to Granada that evening. Which ended up being a really good decision since it would have been super difficult ((maybe even impossible)) to make it to our Alhambra tour, which was booked for 10 or 10:30 the next morning. (Read: POOR PLANNING. The whole trip haha, we just really didn't plan it very well.)

Enroute to Granada we kept passing minutes this sign:
All over, near Sevilla and Malaga too. I just thought the cartoonish design was so funny!

Anyway, back to hotel fiasco, Max had found a hotel for Granada on the fly while we were still in Seville, but when we got to Granada things kind of fell apart again haha. Driving around the city we could tell that it was insanely crowded, I think because of all the tourists there for Semana Santa. And the hotel he had booked was downtown, city center, right where all the crowds were. It took us a while to find, and there wasn't any parking ANYWHERE. We finally found it (seriously, what in the world would we do without our google maps app? I think about my Dad navigating all the road trips and vacations we went on growing up with nothing but a book of roadmaps and I just can't comprehend how he got us anywhere - we have just never had to develop that skill!). But there wasn't any parking so in this teeny tiny alleyway Max ramped up halfway onto the sidewalk, turned the hazards on and ran inside to check in and ask about parking. The only problem was, the door was locked and a sign on it announced that you had to check in at their other location a half mile away. Bad news. We considered having him walk over there, but there was still the problem of parking.... where to do it!? So we decided to drive over together, it's like 9:00-9:30 pm this point, to check in and hopefully grab a parking spot somewhere. We drove up the dang, crowded, hectic, busy street twice and couldn't find the place, or anywhere to park, or anywhere to even pull over and just think and try to figure it out. And in the middle of all this Max has been calling them on and off, like 5+ times, and they didn't ever answer. So we finally just scrapped it and drove way outside of the city to a different hotel in a nice quiet business complex, and it had a large underground, quite empty parking lot and an available room to fit us. Excellent. It was after 10 by the time we got the kids in bed. I tried to ignore the nasty feeling of having booked two hotel rooms for the same night and hoped we would figure it out in the morning.

When we woke up the next morning we quickly got ready, checked out, and walked over to the McDonalds next door (super lame, I know) to grab some breakfast before our taxi man showed up to drive us up to the Alhambra. (the hotel had kindly agreed to let us keep our rental car in their secure underground lot during our tour so we were able to leave all our baggage in our car rather than trying to find parking on location and risk everything getting stolen [like has happened to two of our Oxford friends while they were vacationing on the continent]). At some point during the morning Max finally got the other hotel on the telephone, tried to explain our situation and the incredible difficulty of last night and serious inconvenience of their services, to which the employee replied that it wasn't his problem and they wouldn't refund us any of the money. Let's just say Max wasn't very happy and angrily promised them a bad review online haha. Super lame. Thankfully, this was the end of the hotel booking failure on my part and the next two places we stayed worked perfectly.

So, we rode the taxi up the mountain (foothill is more like it) for our Alhambra Tour - which was really really awesome. Sticking with the trend of the Spanish vacation haha,  there was one small mishap - we forgot the ergo carrier in our car for Claire (I took it out and put it on the ground next to the stroller Max was setting up then turned to the front of the car to grab some water bottles and snacks from our stockpile but I think Max was still so angry about the unsuccessful phone call he'd just had that he wasn't quite thinking straight and threw it back in the car). Unfortunately, for a large portion of the tour strollers weren't allowed. Claire loved the freedom of walking on her own for a few minutes, but pretty quick got sick of us continually directing her and pulling her this way or that so we could stick with our tour guide lady. She wanted her Freedom! Towards the end she was very grouchy and squirmy and quite a noisy handful to contain. The only other complaint I had, which wasn't anyone's fault, was that it was insanely crowded, just like downtown Granada had been the night before. Our tour guide at one point, during a little break in the tour, was speaking to Max and me and said in her beautiful Spanish accent that this week was the worst week to come to the Alhambra, for her and for us. It was just too busy what with Easter the next day, and Easter/Semana Santa tourism at its peak. See the masses?

BUT we still enjoyed the Alhambra tour immensely. Just briefly, the Alhambra is an Islamic fortress/citadel/palace built on some hilltops just outside of Granada dating from the 9th century A.D. At some point in history it was taken over by the Christian monarchs of Spain. Ferdinand and Isabella held court there, during the time period of Christopher Columbus's voyages. Anyways, The Islamic architecture and artistry there are Incredbile. So so beautiful. And so different from the western Civilization/European style of art and architecture that we are used to. Which is probably why Queen Isabella found it so captivating and decided to move her court there. I've had a bit of introduction to Islamic culture through my study abroad in Jerusalem (during which we visited Egypt and Jordan) and also from my History of Spain class, in which the professor absolutely talked about the Alhambra and described its beauty and Moorish history. But I think for many people it's just unlike anything they've ever seen. Islamic art doesn't use any type of human or animal forms, "graven images" I guess you could say, so it's all very geometrical and floral.

The first part of the tour was through the General Life, which I think just means the city and gardens area of the ruins; more importantly, not the palace haha. 

In the foreground of this photo is a garden field, the next hilltop is another section of the Alhambra (I think the Nazrid Palace), and in the distance is the city Granada down in the valley, I think specifically the neighborhood Albayzin, which is where our Airbnb was, and which is an old, cultural part of the city.
One thing our guide told us was that Islamic Architecture didn't show off on the exterior, they kept it plain on the outside and filled the interior with incredible beauty and loveliness. And, as you can see, the buildings on the other hilltop across the way don't look like anything special. But inside they were incredible!
Lots of lovely garden areas and pretty flowers.

Man, I would love to build this at my own house someday! So pretty!

It's so hard to photograph dim interiors, but this gives you an idea of how ornately carved the walls and windows were inside these buildings.

Another tidbit from our guide is that the walls of these buildings were like scripture. Text from the Quran is intermingled with the geometrical and floral decor motifs.

Here is the same view as before, of the Nazrid Palace across the way, and the city of Granada in the valley in the distance, but from a little higher up.

At this point Claire was really loving the freedom of not being strapped into a stroller! She was a walking machine! Only problem was she wanted to go her own way, it was a struggle keeping her headed in the right direction and staying with our group!

Cute sissies holding hands.

The mountain in the distance is one of the tallest peaks of the Sierra Nevadas.

At this point we took a short break and then began the portion of the tour covering the Nazrid Palace, this is where it really starts to get beautiful.
Here's Claire chomping on an apple as we wait to begin.

Jane and Claire found themselves little seats along the side and were drawing a lot of smiles and chuckles from the long line of tourists waiting for their turn to enter the palaces.
They sure were cute, sitting together as they ate their apples.
 Jane couldn't help but to jerk on those ropes.

Admiring the lovely yellow climbing roses as we waited a bit more to get inside.
And taking pics, Obviously.

Jane's power stance, haha.
Self posed.
I mean the whole wall is covered! Soooo pretty!

Finally inside, looking out at the courtyard we were just in.
Jane lost no time in finding the chair and getting comfy.
According to our guide, all the tile is original!!!! The blue shade is colored with lapis lazuli.
Jerking those ropes again!

In an attempt to distract her from the ropes, I let her take a photo: 
Not bad, really!

Our guide mentioned that all the patios with their water, fountains, and plants were like a sanctuary or an escape for the women, who rarely if ever left the house. They cherished their outdoor patios as a way to enjoy fresh air and sunlight and relax and talk together, resting from their duties and taking a break. Those poor women! At least they had so many beautiful spaces to enjoy.

I'm pretty sure this ceiling was in the Hall of the Ambassadors, the throne room of the palace where the sultan or sovereign received guests. A very imposing and magnificent room.

The ceiling in the Sultan's throne room was symbolic of the seven heavens of Islam. Each row of ascending stars symbolizes one of the heavens until you get to the very top and central decoration, the 7th and highest heaven.

This time it was Alice who made a bee-line for the chair in the corner. Poor kids were getting tired. 
Can you believe that wall behind her?!?!?

Moving on to the next courtyard, much more beautiful artistry on the way.
Details of the wall carvings and tiles:

Climbing up steps in order to jump off.

Too high of a jump for Claire though, she had to sit down on her bum to get down.

And back to her thumb...

Man, I love her. 
I have to remind myself to take close up photos of them sometimes. Those are always my favorite. Seeing the intricacies of their face and eyes and hair and expression in a frozen moment of time that I can stare at over and over.
(Blurry pics of this amazing alcove, had to keep them small)
(I'm an amateur, what can I say)

The delicate, exquisite artistry just kept getting better as the tour went on. This wasn't just one archway that was especially pretty, one entire building, every room surrounding the Court of the Lions was like this. 

Detail on the wall around this equally ornate wooden door.
And here is why they call it the Court of the Lions:
The12 lions under the fountain apparently represents the 12 tribes of Israel and displays the close ties Islam has with Judaism.... and Christianity, ...and Mormonism (A very very similar structure is found in all Mormon temples, a large baptismal font supported by 12 oxen representative of the 12 tribes of Israel - if interested, learn more about it  here )

Beauty, beauty, exquisite beauty everywhere.

Nearing the end, overlooking Granada again.

Lots of fountains in this place.
It's known for its running water and the tinkling sounds of it flowing throughout. It creates a really peaceful ambience.

They were totally done with pictures. 
And then a nice family offered to take our photo all together.

That concluded our guided tour of the Alhambra, and we couldn't go back through the Nazrid Palaces but we were welcome to wander around the gardens and General Life areas for the rest of the day.

Had we been on our own I would have tried to convince Max to walk through the lovely gardens more, but the kids were just Done, like 2 hours ago. Haha. And we were all a little overheated and tired and thirsty. So instead we went to the one snack shop in the complex, bought ourselves some over-priced popsicles and ate them in the shade with this as our view:
Hooray for popsicles!!!
So Happy!!
Look at Claire's complete delight and satisfaction haha.
Oh, and end of tour also meant we could strap that kid in her stroller again, which we were ALLLLL ready for!

Popsicle slurping series:

Jane attacking it.

After finishing the delicious popsicles (or ice lollies as they call them here) we sniffed roses while we waited for a taxi to come and take us back to our car.

After retrieving our car from the parking garage of last night's hotel we drove to the next Airbnb (4th one in 4 nights) where the host, Julien, and his friend were waiting to welcome us into their apartment. The place was spotless and comfortable and they were so kind, I was impressed for it being a bachelor pad! They animatedly showed us around the apartment, pointed out the bowl of fruit on the coffee table they'd set out for us (so nice!) and some pasta and oil we were welcome to in the cupboard (thoughtful gesture, but just didn't really jive with our American taste buds haha) and then smiling and waving left us to settle in. The Only problem with the place, which we discovered later, was that it didn't have wifi. Which isn't a huge deal, but when you're on the road and trying to plan and etc. it's a bit inconvenient. Also it means no streaming movies after kid's bedtime, but we survived.

After settling in we walked around the historical Albayzin neighborhood and found a highly rated place to eat on Tripadvisor. It ended up being a bit more expensive than we normally would pay for, but it was such delicious food and the atmosphere of the place was really, really neat. The back patio of the restaurant was a really lovely, open air, walled in garden place. Beautiful. I was really sad that we couldn't stay for the Flamenco performance they had after dinner, but #kids. Haha, had to get them to bed.

Here's Claire hiking up the super steep hill our Airbnb was on trying to follow Daddy who quickly went to our car to get out the stroller.

We all had a good laugh at watching her short little legs trying to climb such a steep slope!

Waiting for Daddio getting the stroller.

Narrow, pebbly streets, tall white washed houses with tiled roofs and iron balconies. Lots of flowers on windowsills - mostly geraniums. Many cute little shops and allll foot traffic. I love walking around neighborhoods where an automobile is a rarity. So quiet and calm.

Jane was straddling the center gutter, you can't quite tell in the photo that it dips in a pretty significant V shape in the middle. She thought that was fun. All about the fun aspect for her.
This little shop/house had Lots of flowers. 
Geraniums geraniums geraniums.

Max took this video of Jane while we were waiting for our food at the restaurant.
My salmon dish. I think it was seriously the best salmon I've ever had.
And walking back after dinner we passed the adorable flower balcony again! Had to photograph it again, I loved it so much. 

Jane loves squeezing around poles and other small spaces and does it every chance she can get. 
This time though, she couldn't quite fit.
As much as she tried.
The lighting on the walk home was perfect. Especially for these green vines against the white walls.

Once again, it's all about the fun and games for her little mind. She wanted to walk on the lines of the cobblestones.

A pretty sunset goodnight wish from Granada.
Waiting for Dad to unlock the door.

We stopped at a little bakery on the way home and picked up a bunch of treats to share. The treats were so yummy and sooo inexpensive. If you're going to Granada, I definitely recommend it, I snapped a pic of the bag so I would remember what it was called.
After watching the man behind the glass counter carefully package everything up for us and tie it all with curly ribbon, we were all really anticipating opening it up and tasting everything.

Yum yum yummy. If we had gone back we would have gotten three of the marshmallow puffs and the one big giant nutella cannoli roll thing. Those were the best by faaaarrrrr.

We devoured it all pretty quick and then put the children to bed. 
... and didn't watch a movie haha.
(who doesn't have wifi in this day and age!?!)

Cheers, and more from Spain to come.