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Published: December 9th 2007
From the moment we stepped off our 1p Ryan Air flight we were greeted with clear skies and friendly greetings of ‘Hola!’ Even the customs officials were welcoming (asking if I was Spanish as there are a few variations of the name Ariana in Spain, then looking slightly disappointed when he realised I couldn’t understand him very well, let alone return the conversation with much more than ‘no- gracias’). My language skills improved as the days went on however and the few words and phrases I learnt in Spanish classes while studying in Japan came flooding back (albeit with a slightly Japanised pronunciation…).
Granada is in a part of southern Spain called Andalucia. The Moors invaded from North Africa in 700 odd AD and a Moorish quarter still remains in the west of the city to this day. A huge fort was also erected overlooking the city, which, as we overheard from a passing tour guide, is still one of the oldest Arab fortresses in the world (built by the Moors in 1200AD, complete with bull ring!). There is a huge cathedral in the centre of the Granada (built once the Christians arrived in 1500s) and plenty of narrow laneways
to explore. We had to see it all!
The fortress is protected by walls on all sides, so we had some difficulty finding the one and only entrance way into the palace. In our search, we became distracted by a kind old gentleman offering to show us the way only to then demand he shine Lachlan’s shoes and charge us an unreasonable amount for doing so! We used our SE Asian bargaining skills and got out of it reasonably lightly, but it made us wary.
Once inside, the smell of the citrus trees, the sight of the city below and the sound of the fountains dotted around the palace grounds overwhelmed the senses. We were transported into another world, another time. The square shapes and red blocks used to construct the palace were noticeably different to those we’d seen in England, although we are yet to see a castle without a moat. It seems everyone knew that trick when constructing defensive structures over the centuries.
From the top of the palace we were treated to a breathtaking view of the snow-capped mountains to the north and on the opposite hill, hundreds of houses with terracotta roofs and
their bright white walls lit up in the midday sunshine.
After spending our morning checking out Alhambra, we headed back downhill, on a much more direct route, to the city for lunch. To our surprise, at around 2:00 in the afternoon all the shops started closing. By 2:30pm the city was dead, and this was a weekday! You guessed it - it was siesta time!
It seemed like an ideal time to check out the Catholic church that crowns the hilltop of the old Moorish quarter. It took us some time to find… ok, we got lost. But given that most of the streets were only a metre or so wide, and in a random meandering direction around the hillside, it was difficult to establish exactly where we were!
Finally reaching the top, we had expected the amazing views of the Alhambra fortress but not the disproportionately high number of hippies and Gypsies that had amassed around St Nicolas church. Their purpose seemed unclear to us. Some of them were selling things that you probably don’t need (woven bracelets, boomerangs?), others seemed engaged in neither Catholic nor Islamic spiritual practices (despite having an outlet for either within
20m), and there was plenty of guitar playing and roaming mongrel dogs (who to Lachlan’s amusement frequently disappeared on their owners). But despite all this, it didn’t detract from the amazing views, and to be fair - it added atmosphere!
The part of our visit to Spain that impressed us the most was the food. The fabulous meats and cheeses that you get when ordering tapas and the huge range of paella were impressive and equally delicious! At one restaurant we were even serenaded by a Spanish guitarist while we ate! Another fantastic surprise was the variety of snacks that came whenever we ordered a drink. Anything from anchovies and olives, to salmon and bagels! Perhaps on our next visit to Spain we won’t even order food- just lots of vino tinto and cerveza!
When you think of Spain, flamenco and bull fighting have to come to mind. We decided to leave the bull fighting for another trip to Spain but after dreaming of flamenco dancing ever since I was a child, it had to be on the itinerary. We found a venue in the city and when the woman began dancing, it was so beautiful that it
took my breath away. We were treated to a performance of singing, Spanish guitar playing and flamenco dancing, complete with costume changes! The sound of the dancer’s shoes hitting the stone floor with such passion brought tears to your eyes and the guitarist was so talented, we could have listened to him play all night.
The final attraction in our weekend visit to Granada was the city centre’s cathedral. Its interior volume seemed to dwarf most other cathedrals that we’ve seen so far in the UK and continental Europe. The pale white stone pillars that supported the roof all seemed the size of Nottinghamshire’s major oak in diameter, and the stained glass windows, enormous organ, and gigantic Christian paintings, all adding to the theme of ‘giant’. We were taking our time plodding around and taking it all in, only to be ushered out by a security guard - lunchtime had arrived, time for a nap.
We had enjoyed a fantastic weekend of food and culture.
Hasta pronto Espana- we’ll definitely be back!
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