Granada —Tale of Two Cultures

It has taken us far too long to get to Spain and as our month long adventure continues, we find more and more to like. Granada, our second stop, was great.

We usually stay in Airbnb’s but the concierge service we are using on this trip (more about that in another post) booked us into a hotel when we could not find an Airbnb. It was a nice break to have maid service, I must confess. But Granada offered far more than creature comforts. History, culture, more history and good food — all a bit intense, however.

First, the Alhambra! It was a steep climb to the top. But we figure we need the steps to justify all the great food we are eating. We cannot conceive of making this climb, however in the summer heat. Taxis can and do take people right to the top.

The long walk up

Of course, we had our advance purchase tickets which made it all that much easier. When you buy your tickets you are given a time to enter the palace; every thirty minutes a new group enters. Everyone’s travel guru, Rick Steves, advises that when you enter the first room to dawdle. Allow the group to move ahead and stay between your group and the next one. Good advice. Employing this strategy meant we could largely avoid the masses in front of the most significant points of interest. Once you’re in the palace, there is no limit on how long you can stay.

Lots of tour guides and travel books can give you the history and art of the Alhambra far better than we can. We weaved our way through the tour groups and found quieter corners to appreciate the tile work, the intricately carved woodwork and stucco decorations.

We were reminded that the Arab world was a corner of civilization for several hundred years while Europe was a mess. When the Moors were finally driven out of the Alhambra, the conquering Christian invaders took the fountain apart to see what made it run. And once taken apart, they apparently could not put it back together again. In 2014 it was finally restored.

We read that still ponds and reflecting pools are more Moorish while the fountains and splashing water were the changes brought by the transition to Christianity in this part of Spain. And once again we were reminded of the gap between the lifestyles and the rich and famous versus the serfs and slaves that made the place run.

The Alhambra is the second most touristed site in Spain, we were told. And we suspect many tourist hit Granada with that as their singular focus. A mistake. Granada beyond the Alhambra is a great town, albeit a bit chaotic with a constant din — like a smaller, more eastern, version of Madrid in some regards.

Madrid is know for its tapas bars. In Granada almost without exception when you order glass of wine or beer, very shortly a free tapa appears on your table. In Madrid these little treats were usually just olives or nuts, although often more substantial tapas were available for purchase. In Granada we were served a lovely pork stew, a potato and orange salad, slices of jamon and cheese. Hopping from bar to bar sampling the gratis nibbles was customary as long as you could handle the alcohol consumption.

We had heard about the gin tonica craze in Madrid and had sampled a few there, but we were surprised to find our first gin tonica bar in Granada. Clearly a hang out for the young, tattooed crowd with pounding music, but we decided what the hell! So the oldsters with our limited Spanish and the bartenders limited English ordered a cocktail. We asked for Spanish gin and she offered us a chance to smell the gin. Then she went to work. The chilled glass with botanicals (orange peel and a small piece of cinnamon) gin and tonic were carefully stirred before delivered to our table. Delicious!

At another restaurant we asked for a cocktail. Our server explained they did not serve cocktails, only beer and wine. Not even gin tonica, we asked? “Of Course!” Apparently a gin and tonic is not a cocktail. Something to remember back home.

In our quest to burn some of the calories we were consuming, we walk. Ten miles a day is not unusual. And so in Granada, we looked for destinations and the viewpoint in the Albayzín neighborhood, the Moorish quarter, seemed like a good one. While it was quite a hike up and we did get lost a bit, we had no regrets. (Although next time we’ll spend 6€ and take a taxi to the top and be satisfied with a walk down).

The views — of the city and the Alhambra — justified every sweaty step.

And the neighborhood was unlike anything in or around our hotel in the “modern” city. White washed buildings with courtyards behind stucco walls

Despite the ancient history of the Christian-Moorish conflict, and the Catholic Churches deliberately build over Moslem mosques, the city feels pretty cosmopolitan now with different cultures comfortably rubbing shoulders as they shop with the tourists.

Clearly, despite its long and often violent history, Granada today is a grand and fun city. So much so that it is often where young groups come to celebrate their “farewell to Single hood.” Seems appropriate that this town would be chosen for such an expression of hope and just plain desire for a good time.

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