Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

Friday -- We Do History

So once we'd woken up (despite the incredibly dark wooden shutters), we made our way over to the bus to the Alhambra. The bus ride was slightly harrowing -- Granada is a maze of twisting little one-way streets, and the bus was almost the width of many of them -- but less so since I wasn't driving or responsible for the thing. And we were glad for the bus: while the Alhambra isn't precisely far, it's up pretty steep hills the whole way, so it probably wouldn't have been a great walk for us. We wound up chatting with a nice Italian lady who desperately wanted to know what Real Americans think about visiting Europe.

We wandered in about 11:30, more or less on schedule. It turns out that going to the Alhambra requires a bit of pre-planning: you really want to buy your tickets to the Palaces in advance (since they sell out, especially for the best times), and while you can enter the general Alhambra whenever you like, you have to enter the Palaces within a specific half-hour window.

Truth to tell, there isn't much for me to say that hasn't been said many times -- there are some good websites on the subject -- but it does give more of a sense of being surrounded by unadulterated history than most historical sites. There aren't as many informative signs covering everything, and it hasn't gotten as messed-up by later generations as most. It's a fascinating mix of periods, but the later ones tended to build new buildings instead of knocking down the old ones. And the reconstruction work has been meticulous and tasteful.

We were there for about five hours, which was about as much as we could cope with. If you visit, make sure to wear comfortable shoes -- "not handicap accessible" doesn't even begin to cover the amount of walking and stairs involved, and you can easily wander several miles within the Alhambra's nooks and crannies.

Of course, I took pictures. In roughly chronological order:

The town of Granada, as seen from the Alhambra:

Much of the Alhambra is still open archaeological sites:

Indeed, one of the things that was different from most historical places I've been is that they don't do much to screen away the open sites. Having them there adds to the sense of "real history" surrounding you.

The Wine Gate, leading to the Alcazaba:

Now mind, this is currently flanked with little touristy shops that you don't see in the pictures. The Alhambra is stuffed chock-full of tourists, and the folks running it aren't dumb. So right next to this gate, IIRC, is a little shop selling much-needed ice cream. And in the middle of the courtyard on the other side is the stand selling salami sandwiches -- fairly crappy ones, mind, but even a mediocre ham sandwich in Granada is still using good Iberian salami, and it was the closest we could find to real food in the place.

Then we wandered into the Palace of Carlos V:

This later-period palace is, truth to tell, less exciting architecturally than the earlier palaces. But it has the Alhambra Museum downstairs, which is rather fascinating, full of little archaeological tidbits.

(Including a chessboard that I somehow don't seem to have successfully photographed, dammit. It was interesting because one side was a chessboard, and the other was clearly *shaped* for tables -- separated into two tables, with the distinctive six round divots on each side -- but wasn't *painted* for it, so it appears that the folks setting up the exhibit didn't realize that the underside was also significant. It suggests to me that they didn't feel that painting the points was essential in this period, which makes some sense: likely, they just used the round indents on the board, and that sufficed. Fortunately, they had it set up on a mirror, so I could at least *see* the underside, although I think they thought it was just decorative.)

Then 1pm rolled around, so we went into the old palaces. The Oratory:

This needed to be restored in modern times, and I don't know how faithfully it reproduces the original, but the engraving is just stunning.

The Golden Room Courtyard, and the Comares facade:

Note, BTW, that I have the full-resolution version of these pictures (and lots more) in my Picasa album for the trip. They're not super high-quality, but in some cases like this, there's a lot of detail there. (Unfortunately, I'm having difficulty figuring out how to get Google to divulge direct links to individual pictures.)

The quality of the stonework is just glorious throughout:

(Although I'm just enough of a geek to go, "Look! A 13th-century emoticon!" I am warped by an excess of angle brackets in my life.)

Then it was on to the Generalife:

While not so replete with beautiful carving, the Generalife was full of opulent gardens:

You get a sense here of the height of the hedges -- in many places, they have been manicured to be almost architectural, forming arches over the walkways. It's modern, but beautiful.

Also modern-but-lovely is the main Canal Court:

The best view of the main Alhambra is from the Generalife:

This also gives you some sense of how much you walk around all of this -- we wandered from that hill to this one, as just one leg of it.

Finally, I forgot to get a picture (since we were too tired by then), but one of the highlights for me was the Water Stairway, which is just fun -- several flights of stairs with essentially aqueducts as the railings, so you can watch the water flow down past you as you ascend.

We took the bus back down into town in the late afternoon -- having failed to find an appealing-looking place for tapas up on the hill, we sat down in what I believe was called The New Plaza for wine and a nice scallopy-cheesy thing served in a big scallop shell. The main entertainment as we sat was watching what appeared to be competing companies (what I thought of as "the guys in red" and "the girls in yellow") trying to talk tourists into Segway tours.

Following a bit of afternoon siesta, we mosied back to our usual plaza for dinner. This time, we split a paella mixta, because I was determined to see what an actual Spanish paella comes out like. It was tasty, but only semi-successful -- we'd done the mixta so that she could focus on the Meat while I mostly did the shellfish, but there was a *lot* of shellfish for her to work around. And I was slightly confounded by the large and very intact prawns in the mix, unsure of how to eat them. I mean, these things were practically little lobsters, complete with heads, legs and lots of shell, and I realized that I have no idea how to eat one with none of the special forks and stuff I'm used to for lobster. I got a fair amount of the meat, but wound up feeling like there has to be a better way to do this.

(And I was disappointed by the lack of crispy bits. The first time I ever had paella, in southern CA, one of the treats for me was the crispy bits from the bottom of the pan. But it appears that Spanish restaurants, like American, don't actually serve those to the customers. Humph.)

Then another round of yummy dark-chocolate gelato, and off to bed.

Tomorrow: Touristing our way around Granada
Tags: europe 2012

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