Sunday, June 9, 2013

Granada and Madrid

Hi folks!

I have been distracted by 2 more recent trips (posts to follow) so I’ll keep the final report on our Spain travels short.  After leaving Gibraltar, we headed to Granada and then Madrid.  The birding part of our trip was over, and now we were on to cultural experiences.  Our arrival to Granada was a bit traumatic.  We were trying to get to our hotel and just couldn’t figure out how to get to it, despite all indications from the GPS that we were almost there.  Finally, we found a garage and walked to the hotel and then realized our trouble; our hotel was in a pedestrian-only area; there was NO chance of driving within a few blocks of our hotel.  They had a deal with a different garage for parking, so we had to go move the car; here is the map that was drawn for us to get from garage A to garage B….looking somewhat like one of those Family Circus cartoons mapping out Billy’s perambulations.  In fact, maybe the explanation for his lines is that he’s applying the “ancient European city by car” method of navigation…

Try to minimize driving in Granada...unless you want to feel like little Billy
Anyway, that taken care of, we located for ourselves a delicious Lebanese dinner, and then prepared for a very early morning.  There is a UNESCO World Heritage Site fortress in Granada called the Alhambra, and it is very popular, they give out up to 6,000 tickets a day and they often sell out, and since we wanted to tour the whole thing including the most famous (and beautiful) palace, even ordering our tickets on-line in advance, we were stuck with the 8:30am entry time into the palace...which doesn’t sound horribly early, but add in the eating dinner on Spanish time, needing to check out of the hotel in the morning, and needing to figure out how to get up there and into the general fortress area and into the waiting line, it seemed like a ridiculously early morning.  BUT, the Palacio Nazaries (and the rest of the Alhambra) are really spectacular, and it turns out, much less crowded early in the morning, so it was all good, ultimately.  The Alhambra is a huge site, and it’s full of palaces from a variety of periods, mostly Islamic.  The architecture and details on the palace were impressive,  the Alcazaba (another medieval Islamic fort) had some great views and towers to climb up, and then there were gardens and roses everywhere, so I’d definitely recommend it if you are going to be anywhere nearby.  Just figure out somewhere easy to leave your car if you do.  I could spend about 3 posts just describing the palace, but instead, I'll merely tempt you with a few photos that hardly do it justice.

the Nazrid palace was a set of courtyards filled with gardens, fountains, etc.

And each of them was surrounded by intricate architecture and suites of rooms, effectively making up a warren of smaller palaces, each with its own unique style and representing a different time of construction

From the Alcazaba, we could see the snowy Sierra Nevada

And were impressed by Granada's beauty...I think Sasha would go back tomorrow if we could afford it.
By noon, we’d seen about everything we wanted to see at the Alhambra, and the place was getting pretty crowded, so we went back down the hill into town.  We poked our heads into the Cathedral, right near where we’d been staying, picked our luggage up from the hotel, and then spent a very nice hour and a half in an Islamic bath called a Hammam.  That was yet another highlight for the trip.  The bath consists of a set of pools of various temperatures, warm, hot (but not scalding), cold, a sitting area where they keep bringing out fresh pots of sweetened mint tea (which is delicious), and you go from the warm pool to the hot pool, to the cold pool, back to the hot pool, to drink a few glasses of tea, back to the warm pool, to get a massage, etc. and by the end, well, if you are the kind of person who finds warm water nice, you know how relaxed and happy you’d be by the end of that…I would go back to Granada again just to visit another Hammam.
It was steamy, and made my camera lens steam, but I wish every town I live in from here on out has one of these.

But, we had to go return the rental car, so we couldn’t stay all afternoon.  After our experiences in Granada, we decided not to bother with the car in Madrid, so we dropped the car back off, left all of our luggage in lockers right at the airport except for small daypacks.  This is the best thing ever, having locker areas at the airport; I wish this were common in the states, it makes travel SO much easier, although I’m sure with the state-encouraged paranoia in the states, it is probably illegal or something, but anyway, it was nice to be able to travel around Madrid without having to drag our luggage.

We didn’t do much that first evening, but then on our final day in Spain, we spent the morning wandering around Madrid, checking out some of the more famous plazas, and then after lunch, went to the Prado museum to look at art.   

A road leading out of the Plaza Mayor

I have come to realize that as much as any museum, I just love wandering the streets of any city, getting a sense of local life and window looked like they make your shoes to order in here, or I would have bought one of each ;-)
There are 3 really famous art museums in Madrid, and the Prado is the one full of mostly Spanish paintings by folks including El Greco, Goya, and other folks that you’d read about in an art history class.  Not everything was from my favorite eras of painting, but there were some really pretty works, as well as some interesting but bizarre ones (including a few bizarrely disturbing ones by Hieronomous Bosch; every time I see his work, it seems even more strange and more odd given how old the paintings are).  After that, we walked through a lovely park on our way back to the airport, getting home to Marburg in a long but uneventful fashion.
I hope we'll make it back to Spain at some point, there are still so many things to do. We could even do exactly the same trip over again and not feel bored.

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