Monday, September 22, 2014

The Alhambra

In Granada, this was the nighttime view from our window of the Alhambra, the ancient Islamic fortress just up the hill from us. I had ordered the tickets for our visit before we left home. There would be no chance we would miss seeing this.

The Alhambra was built sometime in the 14th century by the Moorish (Muslim) rulers of that part of Spain, as a fortified palace. The Moors were driven from Spain in 1492 and the Alhambra became a palace for the Spanish royalty. It was here that Columbus made his pitch to Ferdinand and Isabela, for his plan to find a new route to India. Today it is a well-preserved World Heritage Site.

It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. A real paradise. I won't give you a lot of description or history. The Alhambra is best experienced visually, and truly photos don't begin to tell the story. Just know this is but a small sample of architecture, details of floors, archways, tile, carving, walls, fountains, gardens...


Even surrounded, as we were, by hoards of visitors, the beauty, the sense of peace and the aura of history are quite overwhelming. It was a very special day.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Granada—Flamenco and Pomegranates

We have had such a wonderful time in Granada! It is an incredible, beautiful city, with a rich and fascinating history. My daughter, Emily, spent a term studying in Granada when she was in college, and it has fascinated me ever since hearing her descriptions and seeing her photos. It is here that the Moorish influence in Spain is probably strongest, giving it a different flavor from the other cities we have visited.

One thing Granada is famous for is Flamenco—the dance and the music. Last night we went to a Flamenco performance. You never know, when you buy tickets for something like this, whether you will be seeing the real thing or something hokey that has been trumped up for tourists. What we saw seemed pretty great and authentic (but what do we know...?)

It was a very exciting, very intense performance. Nothing dainty about Flamenco. We loved it.

As we have walked around this city I started noticing a lot of images of pomegranates, including on this street cover for city water access. I was curious and learned that "granada" is the Spanish word for pomegranite. The city was not necessarily named for the fruit. It may have come from an Arab word that sounds similar, but nevertheless the city has adopted the fruit as its emblem. Once I noticed them, I started seeing them everywhere.

On the sidewalks

Carved into the pews in the Cathedral

On local pottery

Sidewalk barriers

On a fountain

And today when we visited the gardens of the Alhambra, I saw actual pomegranates growing on trees.

Today's visit to the Alhambra was incredible and will be a post of its own one of these days. I took so many photos I really need to carefully edit and select.

Tomorrow we head off to Seville.



Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Travel day—to Granada

After our fun night last night, I didn't sleep. I tossed and turned and couldn't get comfortable. I was grateful, but unrested when morning arrived. So getting on a bus for a 5-hour ride wasn't a bad thing. I slept on the bus. I'm sure I had my mouth hanging open and I had my goofy blow-up neck pillow, but I was unashamed. The only person I knew on the bus was Ray and he's seen worse. This is the way of the traveler. Somehow I often sleep better sitting up on a bus than in a comfy, but unfamiliar hotel bed. It's a mystery.

We arrived in Granada mid-afternoon and found our Airbnb in the historic Albayzin area. It is pretty great. The building, much like the one in Barcelona, is ancient on a narrow little hillside street, but this one is much cozier, with furniture and a well-appointed kitchen. It even has a washer and we are doing some laundry tonight. We did a little walkabout earlier, checked out the neighborhood, had a cold beer in the plaza, bought groceries and retired to our little home away from home for the evening. Our place has two balconies and the views knocked us out. I will leave you with tonight's views.

Looking down toward Plaza Nuevo
Looking up at The Alhambra.
Pinch me. I think I'm dreaming. . .


Monday, September 15, 2014

Last day in Madrid

Today we took in the Reina Sofia Museum, which houses the works of the more modern masters, including Picasso's Guernica. When we were in Europe in 1972 we saw Guernica on exhibit in Paris. Franco was in power at that time, in Spain, and Picasso, a Spaniard by birth had declared that he would not exhibit his work in Spain as long as Franco ruled. Both are, of course, now dead, the monarchy was restored in Spain and Picasso's work has returned to his native country.

Along with Picasso, the museum's collection includes absolutely wonderful works, including many artists from Spain, but from around the world as well. Here are a few pieces that stood out for me.

"inspiration" by Josefa Tolra. I was not familiar with this artist, but this spoke to me. A Google search turns up much more by her.

"The Goring of the Woman Bullfighter" by Jose Caballero. Reminded me of the wonderful Almodovar movie "Talk to Her" about the same subject.

"Antonio and Carmen" by Antonio Lopez. Something very touching about this double portrait.

And what a treat to see good old Rothko in Spain and such good Spanish colors!

When my brain could absorb no more and my feet were rebelling, we stopped and had lunch in the museum's space-agey cafe.

This evening we met up with Keiko, an old work colleague of Ray's who has been hiking the Santiago de Compostela trail and was in Madrid today—Would not have connected at all except that she posted where she was on Facebook. The three of us went to the fabulous San Miguel Market where you can pick up small plates of prepared food to eat on the spot, or shop to take home.
You pick up your little plates and a glass of wine and find a spot at the crowded little tables in the center of the market. As luck, or fate, would have it, we ended up sharing a table with a couple of delightful guys—American Craig who is an IT guy (like Ray and Keiko) for the US State Department, and his French friend, Patric, who is a restaurant owner in Paris. The food was delicious and the company and conversation was great. At one point Patric, in his charming accent, gesturing around our table and then toward the multicultural throng in the busy market, said, "why can't the world be more like this..."

Tomorrow we are off to Granada.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Eyes on Madrid

After our long museum day yesterday we decided to get out and see the city today. We started at Plaza Mayor, the very oldest part of Madrid. It has been the scene of many historic events, including the public execution of heretics during the Spanish Inquisition. Today there was nothing more exciting than a small flea market consisting mostly of old coins and stamps, and old men haggling over them. We wandered along the stalls and I bought a small pair of old and interesting folding scissors.

The closer and higher I looked, the more interesting details I found.

We left the Plaza Mayor and walked through some neighborhoods, getting a little lost and very tired and decided this was not the most efficient way to explore the city. So we headed down to Plaza del Sol and bought tickets for the big red tourist bus. It turned out to be a great idea. You can hop off the bus almost anywhere along the line, explore, or have a meal, then hop on the next bus that comes along all day and into the evening. There is a recorded commentary, in numerous languages, you can listen to as you ride along.

As I had discovered at Plaza Mayor, there is a lot to be seen by looking up.

We stopped partway through the tour and had lunch—mine was a pizza with an egg on it. I ordered it without the egg, which sounded a little wierd, but it arrived with egg, so I ate it and the egg was OK. When in Spain....

We got back on the bus and finished the first half of the tour, got off near our hotel and came back for a little rest and to check messages, then went back for the second half this evening. It was a good day! Madrid is a pretty magnificent place.