Granada, Andalusia, Spain and Canary Islands
Sunday, September 11, 2016
Farewelling Portugal we crossed back over the border into Spain and spent the next two weeks exploring the art and fashion capital of Madrid, the history of the Templars in Toledo, the enchanting medieval town of Albarracin and the somewhat sleepy city of Valencia.
We had crossed that half-way point in our holiday and were beginning to fatigue, Sofia was sorely missing the comforts of home and family. What a boon that we were meeting up with family in Granada, Andalucia. After two months of being on our own (except for five days in Prague) we are all buoyed by the company, the children were thrilled to have additional playmates and we were grateful to have extra sets of hands to give us a break.
Andalucia is probably the most romantic region with its diverse blend of culture and splendid architecture. The bullrings, the origin of flamenco, the unmistakable influence of the Moors reflected in the grandeur of the Alhambra in Granada, Alcazar in Seville and Mezquita in Cordoba. Spain’s history is fascinating and all the more so for the influence and rule of the Moors for 800 years. For a quick read, you can find out more here: http://www.andalucia.com/history/spainsmoorishhistory.htm
Granada is a pleasant city to spend a few days in, but it is the Alhambra that everyone comes to visit and pay homage to. We start our visit in the lush gardens of the palace, maintained by a battalion of gardeners carefully tending this jewel of an oasis. Ponds and fountains emerge behind walls of roses, peeking out behind thick green mazes and trickling unobtrusively down the side of hills, stairs and between courtyards. There is water everywhere brought down from the mountains by aqueducts long ago built by the Romans. The air is rich with sweet morning dew and the hundreds of flowers.
As we walk through into the main attraction – the Nasrid Palace, I am bowled over by the delicate detail elaborately carved on the walls, the ceilings itself are a masterpiece in honeycomb designs and stained glass which throw rainbows across the walls. Verses of the Koran and poetry run through each corner of the Palace. All too soon we are ushered out, not allowed to linger for too long for the quota of visitors each day is capped and limited to two sessions. We have to leave before the next one begins.
We take a hop-on, hop-off tour the next day around Granada and stop at the prime lookout point to view the Alhambra in all its glory. Over lunch, we listen to a duet of Spanish guitar while we sampled the Andalucian specialty of eggplant fries drizzled with honey and balsamic vinegar and an assortment of tapas. We pair this of course with jugs of sangria stirred with fragrant sticks of cinnamon.
After four days we take a train to Seville and there, take in the sights of the Royal Alcazar that impressed me even more than Granada. Once built as a palace for the Moorish kings, it is still regarded as one of the most beautiful in Spain and as one of the most outstanding examples of Mudejar architecture on the Iberian peninsula. Walking through one would think that if heaven existed, it would look like this – with its elaborately styled arches, jeweled domes, and colourful mosaics. And like the Alhambra, there is water everywhere. For the Game of Thrones enthusiasts, this place was used in Season 5 as the Gardens of Dorne. You can read more about the Alcazar it in the first link I posted above about Andalucia.
Apart from the history itself, Seville is an incredibly attractive, stylish and modern city. Her citizens are beautifully dressed, even the nannies in the square watching over the school children are perfectly presented. It easily eclipses my short-lived love affair with Madrid and carves a special place in my heart. And made all the more memorable as we check into a palatial three bedroom apartment with its dark paneled cabinets, tasteful chandeliers, cream coloured couches and high ceilings. Even better, our hosts leave a delicious bottle of sherry chilling on ice to welcome us.
Warmed by the dark amber liquid we amble through the main square looking for dinner. We notice a tight knot of jovial locals eating and drinking and we follow suit. We watch what must be students from the local university chatting noisily, followed by those enjoying a drink after work.
Our tapas arrives wrapped up in cones of a newspaper, tearing the paper open, we devour the tasty morsels with our fingers. Hot and salty – calamari, whitebait, octopus, fish until there is nothing left but oil soaked into the paper and scattered bits of fried batter. We wash it down with ice-cold glasses of Andalucian beer, a welcome respite from the hot day.
The Andalucian trifecta wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Cordoba to see the infamous striped arches of the Mezquita. The world heritage building has changed with each colonisation of Spain, it started out as a church, and when the Moors conquered it was converted into a Grand mosque, but after the Reconquista, it reverted back to the Christians. I read that Spanish Muslims have been petitioning the Catholic Church to allow them to pray in the Mezquita but it has been rejected several times by Spain and the Vatican. Interesting given that centuries again when the Moors ruled the Muslims allowed the Mezquita to be divided into two halves – a Christian and a Muslim half.