02 April 2010

Spain Vol. 1: Granada and the Alhambra

I know you're shocked that Catherine, queen of reliable updates, has not made a peep for TWELVE DAYS, but I do have a handful of wonderful excuses: a day-trip to Verona, my two-year anniversary with my boyfriend, many pages of Macroeconomia, and most significantly (time-wise), a four-day trip to Spain.

Onward! You want to hear about it. Here is my dilemma: 
   300 pictures in Verona 
+ 700 pictures in Spain 
+ at least 500 more in other trips
= over 1500 pictures.  

And I still want to blog about other non-trip adventures too. Bear with me as my giant wad of content struggles unclog itself from the tubes of the internet.

A synopsis of what you're in for: (some of these won't appear until part 2)
  • two pickpocketing attempts and a sneaky rosemary-seller
  • mountains everywhere
  • orange trees, also everywhere
  • weather that went hot-cold-hot-cold
  • garlic + seafood + deep-fryer = Andalusian cuisine
  • ridiculous Arabic architecture
  • Italian gelato vs. Spanish helado
  • rocky beach with excellent food
  • good tea and tostada breakfasts
  • city-wide KKK rally (...believe me, you'll want to hear this story)
The planner behind the holiday was fellow BCSP-student Marc, who wanted to go to Paris and London over break. But when Erik joined us, we realised our schedules were having a hard time overlapping. So then it became just Paris. Then, after realising how crowded and expensive it would be during spring break, we changed course completely when we found a cheap flight to Granada, in the south of Spain.

Having never studied Spanish and never really studied Spain at all, I hopped onto the trip more out of convenience than anything else. It was a complete unknown to me, except that unknowns rarely have such excellent outcomes.

The trip was budget in every sense of the word: we booked with Ryanair, the kings of cheap when it comes to flights. They discourage you from ever calling the help hotline, sometimes don't bother checking if you set off the metal detector, and nearly cancelled Bianca's flight to Ireland without a refund due to an airport strike. BUT! Their prices can't be beaten by any other airline, by a long shot--130 euro for a round-trip!

(For anyone planning a trip, http://www.skyscanner.com is the most user-friendly, helpful site ever. You can search for flights based on airport, price, or time. It has an option to search the cheapest flights to "Everywhere" or entire countries from your airport, and you can look at prices by "entire month" or "entire year" to see the cheapest days to fly. Highly recommended.)

So very early on Friday (very early, as I'd missed trains and buses in past trips due to getting off the bus only to find that the connecting bus doesn't come for another forty minutes), I met Marc at the Stazione Centrale, and we took the shuttle to the airport. The flight was uneventful, except for some stunning views. The sky close to the horizon was a clear, light blue that darkened to a deep, blue-black colour (you could imagine seeing space above) at the top of the sky.

I seem to have a sixth sense for picking seats over the wing of the plane. Every single time! The grainy white you see near the bottom of the window is a haze of frost crystals.

Spain: It has some hills. ;)

Out-the-window photos are notoriously greyish and difficult, but the weather was kind.

This was the sky. (!)

Needless to say, we were all pumped by the time we stepped off the plane. This is Marc's ready-to-pwn-Spain face.

Above, one of our first looks at Granada (and the Andalusian countryside) from the airport shuttle. Look at those snowy mountains!

Click this one for full size. Half of it is cut off.

First impression: Granada? Gorgeous. There was a summery sun, although the buds had just burst into bloom. It was 70-something in the sun, but 50s in the shade, so no matter what you wore, you weren't dressed for the weather.

Sexy bronze drapery.

It was along this avenue that we ran into Sneaky Rosemary-Seller #1. At the entrance of a big iron gate that we passed under, smiling girls held out sprigs of rosemary to the passersby, and we each took one, thinking it was some kind of religious symbolism. Then my lady took my hand and started to point and tell me things in Spanish, which I thought was a prayer or a blessing, but then realised she was reading my palm. Then she wanted money. "Todo il mundo paga," she insisted--The whole world pays. I don't want to talk about what happened afterwards, but for the rest of the trip, Marc and Erik joked whenever we saw a rosemary seller if I wanted to give her all my money.

Thanks, guys. Sorry that I'm trusting. D:

Not long after, we ran into Pickpocket #1. I was wearing a giant orange backpack (it was the only one I had), which served the purpose of tourist-identifier--I felt a pull and whipped around to see a man melt into the crowd behind me, having unzipped my pocket and nearly getting away with my wallet, passport, and credit cards. o___x Really, really bad feeling. I don't know anyone whom this has happened to in Bologna.

Our hostel was a nice encouragement after that incident, though. They didn't speak any English or Italian, but we managed. The place was cheap and cheerful, and as we walked down "Calle de las Navas," we discovered that we had unknowingly booked a hostel on the biggest tapas hot-spot in Granada. On this tiny little street were no fewer than ten tapas joints.

My room. I'm disappointed I didn't take more pictures, because the whole thing was so cute...and so tiny. You had to step over the toilet to get to the shower, and the toilet was so close to the wall that you had to sit on it sideways.

Well, we weren't expecting much in the way of views from the window...

We ate at one of the tapas places for lunch. The menu and our waiter both spoke English, so I suppose it could have been more authentic, but none of us cared because the food was delicious. I had a potato omelette and salt-baked shrimps, which were fantastic and boiling hot.


Meanwhile, Marc and Eric were busy discovering that 80 percent of food in Andalusia is 1) fried and 2) bathed in garlic. Fantastic. We had been expecting Mexican-style spicy beefy food, and it was completely the opposite, and made for a refreshing break from Italian food.

After our lunch we strolled down to the Alhambra. Don't worry, I had never heard of it either. Turns out it's Spain's biggest tourist attraction and one of the AWESOMEST THINGS EVER.

The Alhambra is an enormous palace-fortress of the Moorish rulers, built in the 1300s, and is a combination of Islamic and Christian/Western architectural traditions. Basically, it's an enormous Arab-style palace, has amazing gardens, and blows most tourist sites I've seen out of the water.

This is the gate into the Alhambra grounds.

You can read more on Wiki. (You see wiki's picture!? I stood there!)

Now, Bologna is a beautiful city full of warm colours--Bologna la Rossa: Bologna the Red, remember?--but I missed seeing green (my room at home overlooks acres of forest, and Bucknell is rather along the same lines). Especially after the long winter. The huge wooded area we walked through to get to the main buildings within the wall more than made up for it.

We found a fairy cave. :D

Washington Irving (he wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow) is a popular fellow here, since he contributed a lot of money to keep the site running. We saw this statue, two hotels, several palace rooms, and a street that were all named in his honour. Here I am, innocently handing him a 50-euro bill (building off the rosemary joke, of course).

The Alhambra was enormous. It's made up of many buildings, from towers to bathing-houses, and very expansive gardens, pools, and walled-in grounds, so it's a great place for wandering because it's so disorganised. We spent five uninterrupted hours exploring and still didn't see the whole thing.

I'll try to let the pictures do the talking from here. I shrank most of them to fit the blog margins, but if you like it, click on it for the full effect!


From one of the towers. Notice the wall running down the hillside (the light brown track running down from the top left of the photo). We're not sure what it was for; Marc suggested penning sheep, and I thought it was to keep marauders from carrying off the hot women.


Granada from hiiiiiiigh high up. This was taken atop one of the towers in the fortress part of the Alhambra. The rest of the buildings are to the photo's right.

Imagine growing up here with this view out your window. You'd be the most jaded, unhappy person because of how spoilt you would be. "Muuum, I'm bored... I don't like the trees. The hedges are too square. I want round ones."

Happy group of Spanish tourists posing for a picture.

Awesome skylight idea. :D


This is a ceiling. A CEILING!

Hand-carved, all of it. And every surface of stone was carved like this. So amazing. My camera can't even start to explain it.

Panorama taken from one of the towers. Click this one especially.

...Coliseum-ish thing?

A KITTY. I followed him. :3

"Dun worry, lion. I gots your back."

A note here: As soon as I shouted "A KITTY" at the little ball of fuzz that was prowling around, I was done for. Marc and Erik both heard me, and for the rest of the trip, whenever we saw a stray cat (often), they would catch each other's eye, gasp and throw their hands in the air, and squeal kitty-talk in New Zealand accents.

All in good fun. I didn't mind at all. :P

The gardens seemed never to end. Every one was as beautiful as this one, planted with flowers, or pines, or hedges cut into castle shapes. We spent about two hours just in the gardens. Everywhere, the sound of flowing water and rustling leaves.

Erik in a contemplative moment. And rightly so.

Another contemplative moment, this time joined by Marc. Don't remember what the plaque actually had to say. :P

If you look closely, you can see that this is an orange tree. The Alhambra, as well as everywhere else we went in Spain, had hundreds of them everywhere, lining streets, filling gardens, and generally just growing about. They were close to ripe, some of them dropping off the trees. I wanted to pick one, but resisted the urge--they seemed to be private trees.

Southern Spain gets an earlier spring than Bologna, clearly...

I like taking people-watching pictures. What a good place to read a book.

Just as we began to wrap up our tour, the sun set with brilliant pink and purple colours. We didn't catch it from the tower, unfortunately, but the light went low as we walked through the last of the gardens, and we caught the sunset through the palm trees to the west.

Dear Spain: Do you ever get tired of rocking so hard?

Next up: The seaside town we visited on day 2, complete with excellent weather, lounging, people-watching, and more great eating.


  1. WOW! You took some great pictures! Spain looks beautiful! Sorry about the whole pick-pocketing...wear something more inconspicuous next time ^_~

    My two favourite pictures are the last one of the sunset and the picture of the hand-carved ceiling. =D Man I wish I could have been there with you! =DDDD

    O and you should have so taken an Orange! =p I bet it would have been the best Orange you've ever had. LOL.

    Glad you had a great time! Talk to you soon Love

  2. Holy cow that is beautiful o_o
    I want to go!
    Looks like you're having fun!


  3. @Michael: Glad you liked it! You would have flipped out to see it. And don't worry, the oranges will come in part 2. :)

    @Maria: Moors = win. Next time I'll take you as my carry-on luggage. :D

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