Spain, Before Columbus

Spain has been on my list to visit for some time now and last summer we got to spend a whole 5 days there on our sibling Euro Trip.

The first time I remembering hearing specifically about southern Spain was in my college sophomore “Spanish Culture & History” class.  Before this class my knowledge of Spain was that it’s home to tapas, bull fighting, and Spanish.  As it turns out, Spain has a lot more going on.

For example, did you know that southern Spain was ruled by Muslims for about 780 years?  Muslims and Jews were both expelled from Spain in 1492 after a very long (about 780 year) war.  Christopher Columbus wasn’t the only one doing things for Spain that year, I guess.  Now, 500 years after the Muslims (or Moors, as they were called) were defeated, you can still see, hear, and taste the Muslim influence in this region.

Where we stayed:

My entire goal when planning a visit to Granada was to see the Alhambra.  Quite by accident, we ended up staying in a perfect part of town to see everything else too.  Our hotel ended up being walking distance from all the best neighborhoods and a block from the bus, which made for easy airport and Alhambra transport.  We stayed at Hotel Inglaterra and I would recommended it based on location, helpfulness of staff, and general cleanliness.

 

What we did:

As I mentioned, the Alhambra was our goal.  The Alhambra is a palace and fortress complex that was built in the 13th century by Mohammad ben Al-Ahmar, of the last dynasty of Muslim rulers in Spain.  When the region was finally reclaimed by Christians the Alhambra became the royal court for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.  There is a lot more history involved with these grounds but I’m going to leave that for you to discover when you book a tour like we did.

Our first impression of the palace was of the gardens.  Tranquil and immaculate, they are hidden behind walls, enclosed in courtyards and floating on terraces.  According to our guide, the private gardens reflect the Muslim values of intimacy and privacy, with true beauty pointing up to heaven.

 

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View of the main palace from the summer palace.

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It’s not hard to imagine that these are old, old buildings.

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A gardened terrace.

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This enclosed garden actually made me gasp aloud.  I was not expecting to walk into a room like this after entering the front door.

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Walking from the summer palace to the main palace on old city streets.

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City ruins, if you can imagine it.

 

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Vanessa and I, hanging out at the city gate.

The main palace is a labyrinth of intricately designed walls and doors leading through more gardens and royal rooms (like throne rooms and entry halls).  Themes of heavenward facing designs, calm waters, and detailed geometry permeate the spaces.

 

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Symmetry in the Alhambra.

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The lion fountain.

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Details, details.

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Another random garden to surprise me.

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A city view.

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I took a seat in the throne room.  Not on the throne, of course.

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Of note, the sound I associate with the Alhambra is the sound of trickling water.  Each of the palaces exhibit fountains, pools, and a network of channels like this one, bringing tranquility to the once royal chambers.

Albaicin Neighborhood

Day two of our stay we headed to the UNESCO World Heritage neighborhood Albaicin, essentially the old Muslim quarter.  There we found markets, white walled homes, and hidden gardens.

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We were told that if we see a sign for a ‘Carmen’ to go in.  On the occasions that we were brave enough, we were greeted with secret gardens and city views.

 

Roam the streets

As it turns out, the Albaicin neighborhood wasn’t the only place within walking distance of our hotel that offered cool views and snacks.

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Eternal street lights.

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A fountain, in a square, in Spain.

Flamenco Show

While in Granada we also caught a traditional Flamenco show.  Flamenco dancing and music originate from this region and I would definitely recommend seeing a show if you’re ever there.  The shows are a combination of wailing singing and clap dancing, if there is such a thing.  The history and significance is lost to me but the experience is fun.

 

What we ate:

Food in Spain was confusing for us to figure out because they eat meals much later and snack more often.  For example, we went out for breakfast at 9 and couldn’t find anything open until lunch, so we got corner store snacks and tried again later.  I’m sure Spaniards have a better process for this, but google wasn’t too helpful.

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Smoothie from the corner stand.

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Churros and chocolate, because, hello Spain!

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Shwarma, because, hello Muslim influences!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why you should go to Granada:

  1. It’s so different from the rest of Europe, historically and culturally.  The blend of European and Muslim and Jewish is just so unique.  Especially if this is a stop on your Euro trip, it will help you understand the spectrum of experiences that Europeans have had across time.
  2. It’s a walkable city and the streets beg to be explored by foot.
  3. It’s cheaper than most places we traveled.  For example, our centrally placed hotel was about $23 per person per night.  Most of our accommodations on the trip ran $30-$40 and weren’t located as well.
  4. It’s a place that will surprise you with good things.  Unless you have some inside connection that I didn’t have, I’m going to guess that you (like me before my trip) don’t have a preconceived idea of what ssouthern Spain is like.  Good!  That’s the perfect way to explore a place, because everything you discover will be a happy surprise!

This was country 6 of our 6 country Euro Trip.  To read a summary of the trip, click here.

Country 1: Czech Republic

Country 2: Austria, read here and here.

Country 4: Switzerland, click here and here.

Country 5: Italy, read about Lake Como, Venice, PortovenereCinque Terre, Rome, Florence, or my final thoughts.  (I had a lot to say about Italy, as you can see.)

Stay tuned next week for a post on Barcelona, our last stop on our Euro Trip.

Granada, Spain

 

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