Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Granada: Home of the "Moors Last Sigh"

Granada would also be my last stop in Al-Andalus - just as it was for the Moors.  Upon the re-conquest of the Alhambra in Granada, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella succeeded in reuniting Spain and driving the Moors back to North Africa.

First on my agenda was to locate my host family in the Albayzin - an area of Granada where I wanted to stay since it was the old Moorish area of the city.
My host family was an Italian couple, Dario and Gloria, from Rome. They were both completing their doctorate programs at the University of Granada while raising two children. At the very least, it was a very busy and bustling home.

As with my other stays, they pulled a map and showed me where all things to see in Granada were located. From their location, it was an easy walk to the shops, the farmers' market and the El Mirador de San Nicolas - an amazing viewpoint. The next day, I took in all three.

If you ever go to Granada, be sure to include the vista of the Alhambra provided by the view. It is breathtaking. I could not photograph the entire Alhambra in a single shot. What a sight! And to realize that soon I'd be touring that very place.

Not only was there a spectacular view, but also the large plaza surrounding the viewpoint was a place of entertainment. There was a wonderful Flamenco guitarist accompanied by a woman selling castanets. She had a wonderful sense of rhythm. What a pleasure it was to take in the view while music played!

To go to the Alhambra, tickets must be ordered in advance. I had ordered mine online from USA. I had only to take the bus to "Plaza Nueva" to pick up my ticket and head to this famous monument to Moorish ingenuity. Well, honestly speaking, I much prefer the train or the subway.

Buses have a way of weaving through a city until I don't know where I am. Usually, the drivers tell me, but in this case, he did not. However, a passenger had heard my request and told me it was time to get off  and so I did. However, where was the Plaza from there?

As I usually do, I stopped and asked a woman - a woman with sprigs of rosemary in her hand. She handed me one and insisted on seeing my palm. Oh, no! I was in the web of a Gypsy!
After reading my palm about long life and a return to Granada, she demanded 5 euros. Five euros! That's a lot of money. I gave her 2 euros and got the Evil Eye.(My car broke down the day I returned to USA. It would have been cheaper to give her the other 3 euros.;-)) I still needed to find the Plaza.

I asked two taxi drivers and got 3 answers. Finally, I found the bookstore where the reservation is changed for a ticket. One of the taxi drivers was right! Next was to find the bus that goes to the Alhambra. By now, my mood was not good.

Beyond a ticket for the day, there is also a time when you can enter the Palace Nasrid. Before that time, you can enjoy the extensive gardens. As I walked up to the top portion of the gardens, I found that the tree-lined paths and stream gurgling down the side of the path did wonders to calm me. How peaceful it was! All the tension left and I was free to enjoy this beautiful place.

Finally, it was the time to join the line to enter the Palace - another spectacular experience! As with the Alcazar in Seville, the images I post here only represent a small portion of the total.

The next day I left the land of the Moors and  caught the plane to Barcelona. I had only a few days left in Spain and they would be spent in a big city - something I didn't want to do. Ah, but Barcelona had some surprises for me. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Glories of Seville

Heading a little further south via train into Al-Andalus, I arrived at the depot in Seville. The day was warm and sunny. I hailed a taxi to take me to my host family. As the taxi pulled up, Klara, college-age daughter in the family, waved to me from the second story balcony. What a welcome to Seville!

 Klara took me on the tour of where I'd be staying.  The whole place must be at least 3000 sq. ft. I remember there were 4 bedrooms, but it could've been 5 since I lost count - each with a bathroom en suite. My room had a balcony from where I could watch the comings and goings of the Sevillianos. (Her Dad is a highly-educated man, who speaks/reads several languages. I had my choice of any books in his extensive library. Wonderful! )

Klara had maps and brochures all ready for me.
She orientated me to everything I wanted to see and where it was in relation to her home.

As in Cordoba, I took the city tour bus to get familiar as quickly as possible with my surroundings. Seville is quite a bit larger than Cordoba. It is the capital city of Andalusia (al-Andalus) and has a history that can be traced back about 2200 years. There's even evidence of colonization by the Phoenicians, who named the area "Spal."

The tour bus covered all the city highlights including old narrow streets with their wonderful balconies. Some balconies were festooned in flowers and flags. Others showed a great deal of humor - even using cardboard cutouts of people or mannequins. One in particular made me smile. Sadly, it appeared so quickly I didn't have time to shoot a picture of it.

As I looked up at the balcony from the bus, I thought it was a man about to dive off the balcony. At first, it startled me. His hands were in the position to cut through the "water." At second glance, I realized that he had on a horizontally-striped bathing costume ala 1920s along with swim goggles and "he" was a mannequin! What fun!

Again, my home stay was close to all that I wanted to see.  A large, lovely park was a couple of blocks away. It was directly on the path to the Alcazar; which was one of the sites on my list.

All the gardens I saw are reminiscent of the time of the Moors.They all have heavily-packed dirt paths with boxed-in areas of trees and plants, and water features such as fountains or long, rectangular pools. I found myself thinking about the paths as being the arid desert and the assigned areas of green and water as the life-giving oases. It didn't feel austere. Instead, it felt highly organized.Yet, there was also a bit of whimsy in the benches and planters in the park.

Walking through the park and around a few winding lanes was the Alcazar.
Originally a Moorish fort, it was converted by the Moors into a palace; which is now the oldest palace in Europe still being used as a Royal Residence. It was dazzlingly beautiful. Although I think it must have been even more so before an earthquake in the 1700s caused the removal of the sunken gardens that visitors entered before taking the steps up to the palace. (These photos show a very small part of the entire complex and the beautiful gardens. The "orange" photo is the ceiling in one of the rooms.)


The only part remaining of the gardens prior to the earthquake are the "Baths of Lady Maria de Padilla." To reach the baths, you go down into what feels like a cave.Before the earthquake, the pool opened to the sky and had orange trees surrounding it.

On my last day, I walked in the Barrio de Santa Cruz area. Again, very near to where I was staying. It was a once the Jewish quarters of Seville. Being a very old section of the city, it has cobblestone streets, interesting alleyways and very narrow streets. (The narrow streets kept in the shade.) The barrio had lots of interesting information about the Sephardic Jews' contributions to the city during the reign of the Moors.

The  next day, I caught a taxi to the train depot for the long journey through the countryside to Granada. I had already secured my ticket for the famous Alhambra and couldn't wait to see it.