Day 5 (Saturday, March 28th, 2009)
After feeling absolutely exhausted the night before, we woke up at about 7:00 on our fifth day in Spain in order to get ready for our 10:30 flight to Granada. After checking out of the hotel, we took the train to the airport where we arrived in plenty enough time for our departing flight to Granada.
Once inside our terminal, we wandered around for quite some time, looking for a place to eat. While there were five million different stores to choose from, there were only a handful of eateries, but we eventually settled on one near our gate. We both had a sandwich (ham for me and sausage for Mike) and shared a sweet croissant. We had obtained cheap tickets through Spanair
for only $40 per person to Granada. Our flight left slightly behind schedule, but ended up arriving in cloudy Granada right on time.
The airport in Granada was tiny, one of the smallest we had ever been to, and we had to walk quite a distance from where we were dropped off on the tarmac in order to reach the gate. We picked up our rental car
at the airport, which we had obtained through Gemut,
the same company we had used on our prior trip to Eastern/Central Europe.
After loading our car, we were about ready to take off when Mike noticed that the charger for our Garmin (navigation system) would not fit into the cigarette lighter. Just as this problem was occurring, I realized that I did not have the address nor the telephone number of the hotel we were staying at, only the name. Before I could explain this to Mike, he left to go back to the car rental agency to see if we could find another car where the charger would fit. The representative for the company came right out and had no problem switching cars; however, the new car we were given reeked of smoke and had obviously not been cleaned as well as the first car we were assigned. I was not pleased but I realized the more important matter was that our charger was working for the navigator; otherwise, we would have been in deep trouble as we were without any maps!
After settling into the second car, I informed Mike that I did not have the
address or telephone number for the hotel. He went back inside the airport again and asked the same gentleman at the car rental agency if he could help obtain the address for us. The man went ahead and called the hotel directly, where he informed them that we were on our way and asked for their address. I was so thankful that the man was kind and helpful; when traveling, you never know when you may or may not encounter helpful service.
Once back inside the car, the first item on our to do list was to find a grocery store pronto, as I was starving and at the point of passing out from not eating. We found a grocery store listing in the navigator, but unfortunately, 15 minutes later, we realized that the grocery store didn’t exist, and that we were driving around aimlessly on the streets of Granada. Luckily, we quickly realized that we were actually somewhat close to the hotel and even closer to a parking garage, where we would have to store the car for a few days. We gave up on the grocery store idea so that we could go ahead and park the
From the parking garage, we grabbed our luggage and began the walk to our hotel, which was slightly uphill. As we walked, our initial impressions of Granada were not so good. The parking garage was located just outside the historical part of the city, and therefore, the area itself was not necessarily as nice as we would have expected. The closer we got to our hotel, the more we began to see the Granada we had imagined in our minds.
Unfortunately, we got slightly lost and confused on the way to the hotel, as it was located on a small side street that was almost identical in name to the street it was located off of; extremely confusing at the time, but we eventually figured it out.
When we arrived at Hostal Lima,
we were pleasantly surprised. Although our choice of lodging for two nights in Granada was the least expensive of the entire trip, the hotel itself and our room ended up being one of the nicest overall during our two weeks in Spain. It was brightly decorated with lots of beautiful tile and warm colors you would expect to find in the south of Spain.
None of the employees spoke a word of English except for the owner’s daughter. However, we were able to communicate the important information using Mike’s limited Spanish, so it really was a non-issue.
After dropping our things off at the hotel, we walked through old town. We became much more impressed with Granada during this walk and realized why it was one of the most popular cities to visit in Spain.
During our walk, the sun finally began to come out, so I was able to get a lot of great pictures of the different architecture and buildings within the city. We found ourselves walking through many quaint squares, including Plaza de Bib-Rambla and Plaza Nueva. We had wanted to tour the interior of the Royal Chapel and Cathedral, but were unable to as they were closed for the mid-day break (AKA siesta). We too decided to take part in the siesta as we were both exhausted. We headed back to the hotel for about two hours and took a much needed nap.
After we awoke from our nap, we quickly left our room and headed back to the cathedral.
Our first stop within the cathedral was
the Royal Chapel
(Capilla Real) which houses the bodies of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand. During the Reconquista, these famed Catholic monarchs were able to conquer Granada in 1492, which was the last Moorish capital of a once massive empire. The King and Queen chose to be buried in Granada's Cathedral as symbolism for their victory. Apparently, the royal couple spent a fourth of their wealth designing, building, and then decorating their chapel. Unfortunately, we were unable to take photos within the Royal Chapel, so I have no photos to show, but I can assure you that the King and Queen's tombs were quite impressive and grand.
After exiting the Royal Chapel, we walked outside and entered what we thought was the Cathedral. The size of the church was much smaller than I had expected, especially given the scale of the exterior of the building and it was quite dark inside, not light and bright as had been described in the guidebook. While we were trying to determine what exactly we had walked into, we also realized that there was a wedding taking place in the chapel, with the bride and groom posing for pictures. I thought it was quite
strange that the church was open to the public while the wedding was taking place, but it made for an interesting experience. All of the wedding guests were dressed very formal and seemed to take the festivities very seriously. The mother of the bride appeared to be wearing some sort of blank mantel/veil on her head, which I assumed to be a cultural tradition. As we were sitting in one of the pews watching the action, we finally realized that we had actually entered one of the side chapels of the cathedral, and not the main one. Although we had taken a wrong turn, it was a pleasant surprise to run into a local wedding.
After the wedding interlude, we found the correct entrance into the cathedral. The cathedral in Granada is the second-largest in Spain (after Sevilla's) and is one of only two Renaissance churches in the country. The building of the church began in 1529 and took 181 years to complete. We started the tour of the church in the priest's wardrobe rooms. These two rooms were decorated beautifully with dark wood cabinetry, tall ceilings, and many mirrors. While I have toured many churches in the past
all of Europe, I hadn't ever remembered seeing the priest's wardrobe room, so this was a treat to see.
Prior to entering the church, we had walked around it several times as we walked through the city, and I was extremely impressed with it's very clean exterior and massive size. The interior, however, was even more impressive than it's exterior. It was painted a bright white, and had lofty tall ceilings that seemed to go on forever. This spacious interior has not always appeared that way however; it was not until the 18th century that the bishop of the church ordered that the interior be painted with lime as precautionary measures to prevent disease. The acidity in the lime turned the dark walls white and the people of Granada liked it so much that it stayed white. The main alter of the church was quite spectacular by itself; it was a semicircular shape that had incredibly gorgeous details, but looked even more beautiful from a distance. Overall, Granada's Cathedral is definitely one of the most breathtaking churches we have ever seen in Europe and definitely merits a visit.
After leaving the cathedral, we had plans of walking further
through the city, but we quickly changed our minds when we saw that the cloudy weather had turned to rain. Instead, we headed back to Plaza de Bib-Rambla, where we had seen several good-looking restaurant options on our walk a few hours prior. We both wanted to try paella, so we settled on a place called Restaurante Manolo. Of course, since it was considered "early" by Spanish standards (19:30) there was not a single person in the restaurant. Initially, we couldn't even tell if it was actually open as we saw no workers inside. However, after a few moments, someone appeared and seated us.
We decided to order the meat paella, and also requested one onion soup as an appetizer as we knew it would be at least 30 minutes before the paella would be ready. When the waiter brought out the onion soup, it look great, especially with the pile of what I assumed was Swiss cheese on top. I took a few spoonfuls of the soup, trying to avoid the cheese because I am lactose intolerant. After about the third spoonful, I knew something about the taste wasn't quite right. I couldn't figure it out, so I
handed the bowl to Mike. He took a big bite, including the cheese, and then immediately said "well, that is why it taste so strange to you". Apparently, the white cheese, which I had assumed was Swiss (as that is what is traditionally used in onion soup) was actually a soft goat cheese. Now, this might have been okay for most, but I absolutely detest goat cheese. I'm not quite sure why, but all I know is that as soon as goat cheese hits my tongue, my body's immediate reaction is to either spit it out or throw-up. It's definitely not one of those things that is just "in my mind"; my body has a huge aversion to anything made with goat. So, needless to say, I was quite disgusted. Even though I had not actually taken a bite of the cheese, the after taste from just the broth itself was enough to put me over the edge. All I could taste for the rest of the night was the strong and earthy taste of goat cheese. Yuck.
After the soup ordeal, our paella came out shortly thereafter. There was quite a bit of rice in the pan, but
the waiter slowly and artfully took nearly every grain of rice out of the pan and presented it nicely on a large plate for us. I wasn't quite sure what flavor to expect with the paella, but I liked it immediately. One of the key ingredients in paella is saffron, which has a strong taste but I enjoyed it. Our paella also came with lemon wedges, which we used to sprinkle lemon juice into our rice. The only negative I had with the paella was that it was slightly undercooked and a little crunchy. Otherwise, it was delicious and I have no complaints. Even after being at the restaurant for nearly one hour, there was only one other couple that had entered the restaurant; it was really strange to see that everyone in Spain ate dinner very late, as it wasn't something we were accustomed to.
Day 6 (Sunday, March 29th, 2009)
Although I had obviously wanted every day of our trip to be sunny, I knew this was an unrealistic wish. However, the day I most wished to have blue skies was our second day in Granada as we had planned to visit the Alhambra
and I knew there would be some amazing photographic opportunities. The weather forecasts for our second day in Granada weren’t great (cloudy with a chance of rain) but that didn’t stop me from keeping my hopes up! As we left our hotel, we were immediately greeted with a crisp and cold air. Looking above us, I saw both blue sky and clouds; hope wasn’t lost yet!
From our hotel, we walked through the quiet streets of Granada, stopping at a café to grab a quick breakfast of ham sandwiches and an apple pastry.
From here, we proceeded onto the Alhambra,
which took about 30 minutes in total. The long walk required us to hike up Cuesta de Gomerez, which was a very steep street that seemed to go on forever. Although it was quite cold out, I was also somewhat thankful as the climb would have been brutal in the sun or warm weather.
When we finally reached the entrance to the grounds of the Alhambra, we first stopped in at the ticket office to pick-up the tickets we had reserved several weeks prior. Unfortunately, many tourists who visit Granada never get to see the Alhambra because
tickets tend to sell out ahead of time; the Alhambra admits 7,800 visitors a day, and 6,000 of those are sold in advance. So, the word of advice is if you plan on visiting Granada and it’s famous Alhambra, plan ahead of time and purchase the tickets before your departure; it’s one less thing to worry about! We also decided at the last minute to purchase an audio guide tour of the grounds, as it was recommended by Rick Steves, stating that it brought “the palace to life”. This audio guide cost four Euros per person.
We arrived at the Alhambra around 9:30, so we had two solid hours before our entrance time of 11:30 to enter Palacios Nazaries. As only 350 visitors are allowed to enter Palacios Nazaries per half-hour, each visitor is given a time slot that they must abide to; the ticket-checkers are strict and make no exceptions to this rule.
The Alhambra is one of the greatest Moorish palaces and fortress complex in the entire world and was once the former residence of the Muslim rulers of Granada and their court. The fortress was originally constructed in the mid 14th century. Within the massive
grounds of the Alhambra are four major sights: Palacios Nazaries, Generalife Gardens, Charles V's Palace, and the Alcazaba (citadel). The word Alhambra translates into "red fortress"and was named so because of the red clay of the surroundings of which the fort is made.
We first decided to tour the Generalife Gardens, which was once the sultan’s vegetable and fruit gardens and also home to the summer palace. The buildings date from the end of the 13th century, but have been restored several times over the centuries. Unfortunately, our visit coincided with the sun hiding behind the clouds, so I wasn’t too happy as I had wanted to obtain a beautiful shot of the gardens and fountains with blue sky. In addition to the pretty gardens, we also had amazing views from Generalife of Granada and the surrounding valley. As we approached the end of the gardens and reached the palace, we read that we would only be able to enter the palace once during our visit. Since I was still hopeful for blue skies, we opted to turn around at this point and return later in the day after visiting the rest of the sights of the Alhambra.
Next, we walked all the way back to the main sights of the Alhambra, which took about 20 minutes. We went inside Charles V’s Palace, which was built in 1527. Apparently, although the Palacios Nazaries had been altered and modified for the royal court, Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, didn't think it was good enough. As a result, he built a palace that he thought befit an emperor. The palace was designed in the Renaissance style and is a square building that encompasses an inner circular patio. The palace was actually designed to have a dome, but it was never finished as Charles son, Phillip II chose to build his own palace El Escorial, instead of completing his father's vision. As our visit occurred on a Sunday, the interior of the palace was closed, so our visit was limited to just the circular courtyard, which was quite impressive on it’s own.
At this point, we still had about 30 minutes to kill prior to our 11:30 entry time, so we decided to visit the Alcazaba, which was the original castle of the Alhambra. It is the oldest part of the entire complex and is partially in ruins, but
affords an amazing view of Granada and the surrounding valley. Hundreds of years ago, this tower defended the 2000 Muslims who lived within the walls of the Alhambra. It was here in 1492 that more than seven centuries of Muslim rule in Spain came to an end when the flag of Ferdinand and Isabella was first raised, due to the Spanish conquest of Granada. The sun decided to come out just as our visit began, so I got a few good shots of the views and of the fort.
From here, we walked over to Palacios Nazaries where we stood in line for a good 20 minutes until they allowed us into the building. By this point, the sun was completely out, and we were surrounded by blue skies, so I was quite happy! Palacios Nazaries was the royal palace of the Moorish and was built during the 14th century. Our tour of the palace included walking through countless ceremonial rooms, royal offices, and private quarters. We also encountered several different courtyards, including the Court of Myrtles, which was my favorite as it featured a water pond in which the palace was reflecting gorgeously.
Although we had the
audio guides to use at our disposal, I did not make much use of it as I was too busy and focused on taking photos. As we wandered from room to room, I was in total awe of the gorgeous and elaborately carved decorative wall art. Instead of painting on canvases or sculpting statues, Islamic artists created brightly colored ceramics, glazed tiles, carpets, and intricately carved ceilings. The attention to detail which was required of the carving is beyond anything I can possibly comprehend. Many of the patterns on the walls included gorgeous calligraphy in Arabic which had to have been incredibly difficult to carve. I was able to get so many beautiful shots of both the interior and exterior of the palace, including some great reflection shots of the palace in the pool; I was very pleased and happy!
We probably spent about 1.5 hours in the palace. Afterward, we immediately headed back to Generalife Gardens, as the sun was still out and I was keeping my fingers crossed that we could get there before it hid back behind the clouds again. Just as I had hoped, the sun stayed out, and I was able to obtain the
exact photos I had wanted of the palace gardens with the bright blue sky in the background. As if almost on cue, as I was finishing photographing, the clouds began to take over, and a light rain began. Aside from dealing with the rain again, I was so thrilled that the weather had cooperated for us during the most important moments of our visit to the Alhambra. I seriously couldn’t believe my luck that day, and knew that someone (or something) was on my side!
By this point, we had been at the Alhambra for 4.5 hours, and were quite exhausted. We decided to go back to the hotel and once again, partake in a siesta for a few hours. This planned short siesta ended up turning into quite a long four hour nap! We had planned on waking up at 17:00, but when we looked outside and saw that it was pouring down rain, we both went back to sleep.
Somehow, luck was at our side again, because by the time we left the hotel around 19:00, the sun was out although it was bitterly cold out! We stopped and ate a chicken pita at a place
called Pita King, located near Plaza Neuva. I wished I would have taken a picture of this amazing pita as it only cost three Euros; it was giant and definitely the best pita either one of us had ever eaten!
From Pita King, we proceeded to Plaza Neuva, where we walked around for a bit, before heading uphill into the Albayzin, which is the old Moorish quarter of Granada. This neighborhood, with it's narrow winding streets and shady lanes, was declared a world heritage site in 1984, along with the Alhambra. Our plan was to eventually make our way up to the San Nicolas Viewpoint, but due to the mysterious and often confusing backstreets, we got lost, but of course had lots of fun doing so. Somehow, we randomly happened upon the San Nicolas Viewpoint, which was a very good thing as Mike was quite fed up at this point of “being lost”. From San Nicholas, we had a truly amazing view of Granada and the Alhambra, which was perched upon a hillside directly across from us. The buildings of the Alhambra were beautifully lit up as it was beginning to become dark out; I managed to get a
few shots, but would have preferred to have my tripod with me. Oh well, we know better for next time!
After spending a few minutes at the top of the viewpoint, we began the walk back down to Granada. By the time we were done maneuvering the alleyways, it was completely dark out. We quickly walked over to a restaurant called Donna Pizza and Pasta, which we had seen several hours prior and looked promising due to it’s affordable prices. I ordered the pesto spaghetti and Mike had the tropical pizza, which included the obvious ham and pineapple, and the less obvious avocados and sweet corn. We also ordered Sangria to drink, which was dangerously delicious! Mike said his pizza was great (I didn’t try as I don’t believe pineapple belongs on pizza) but my pasta was just okay. I could have sworn that it had goat cheese on it, and after the goat cheese fiasco the night before, I was very apprehensive. Mike tried the pasta, and stated that I was out of my mind for thinking that it was made with goat cheese, but I wasn’t so sure. The horrid memory of the taste of goat cheese
followed me for several days, and I constantly thought that any cheese I ate was made from goat's milk!
After dinner, we walked to an internet café, before finally making our way back to the hotel. Another long day gone, filled with lots of walking and exhaustion. We both went to bed hoping that we would finally see the sun again the following day, and not just during the random sun breaks as we had seen in Granada.
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