Take me Away (to the Alhambra)

[Quick update from yesterday: I didn’t actually end up writing at all in the evening. Instead, I sat and talked with Matt for a good while and just relaxed. Still not great because I didn’t follow-through on my commitment to myself but, hey, Matt and I got some time to talk and we didn’t just talk about work or Squirms, which is quite rare. Also – I did write a little this morning so that’s something. I’ll try to take time to write again tonight, as I wait for the laundry to be done.]

In keeping with my lack of creativity on what to write about – let’s move on to Day 2 of WordPress’s latest go-round of Writing 101. The instructions for day 2 are:

Today, choose a place to which you’d like to be transported if you could — and tell us the backstory. How does this specific location affect you? Is it somewhere you’ve been, luring you with the power of nostalgia, or a place you’re aching to explore for the first time?

Today’s twist: organize your post around the description of a setting.

I’ll be honest with you all – the very first place that popped into my head when I read this was “anywhere dark and quiet but that has cell service so I can play on my phone.” Because – right now – I have a blistering headache that’s trying to become a migraine except I’ve downed some Advil and a half of a Diet Coke so I’m winning this battle.

But, if I ignore my present state, where would I want to be if I could? No thought is even required – the Alhambra.

(This is a VERY photo-heavy post so you’ll want to come back when you’ve got a fast internet connection and probably on a regular computer or tablet to the photos at teeny tiny.)The Alhambra is a huge place/fortress/gardens, well, complex in the southern Spanish city of Granada.  It was built in the late ninth century, added to over the years, and full restorations started in the late 19th century. Before becoming a tourist site, it served many purposes (including as the home of the sultan and where Christoper Columbus got the money from Ferdinand and Isabella to go off on his little adventure across the Atlantic).

We went there as part of our whirlwind tour of Spain last June. (A trip that we talked about taking for a good five years, wanting to take my mom back to Spain where she studied in college AND STILL TALKS ABOUT DAILY.) This was the same trip during which we told my parents I was expecting and I was, predictably, completely exhausted the entire time. We still spent almost seven hours touring the grounds and buildings. I just took a longer nap afterwards to recover.

Let me take you on the penny tour…

You enter the Alhambra through a typical modern visitor’s center where you wait in one of several lines that are marked but only at their beginning, meaning everyone has to walk past a few dozen people to read the small sign, then walk back to the end. We were lucky that we were in a large party so one of us could do the sign-reading while the others stood in what we thought to be the correct line. You pick up your tickets – we’d pre-ordered ours online – using a passport or credit card from a friendly attendant behind glass then show the general admission ticket (there’s a separate one for a timed entrance to a specific part of the complex) to a security guard with a fancy scanner that plays a melody when the scan is successful. (Am I the only one constantly terrified that my tickets will turn out to be fakes, even when I always buy them directly from the museum’s ticket window? Also, if you go, don’t put your general admission ticket somewhere you can’t find it, as you’ll have to have it scanned multiple times later in your visit, anytime you enter a new area.) You take advantage of what may be the last restroom – what do you know, you’re never been here before – then head on your way with the crush of others who’ve just entered.

The first path is dusty, between two rows of low stones which mark where you can and cannot walk. This path is narrow but you don’t care – it’s beautiful here. There are neatly manicured lawns and perfectly sculpted bushes of thick juniper. Within ten minutes, you can no longer see the modern entrance and, save for the gaggles of fellow tourists and occasional ropes blocking directions, it’s easy to forget you’re not in ancient times.

Path through the Alhambra

There’s a strange interlude where you walk through a village, almost, of little stores and apartments which have taken advantage of what used to be servant’s quarters to house their enterprises. You try to ignore the advertisements for cornet ice cream cones and bottled water and postcards and focus on the natural and made-man beauty of this ancient place. I decided to focus on these delicate purple flowers, climbing their way up a stone wall.

Flowers Along the Wall

After a ten minute along that tree-lined path and you come to the first structure you can go inside – the mosque baths. Like most of the rooms in the complex, these are completely empty save a few seats those with walking difficulties and ropes or metal bars to show you where to walk (or not). My eyes immediately went upward, to the columns and beams covered with Arabic script. I probably took a few dozen photos right there in that small building, pushing my way past a French group tour (“..vous remarquerez le script. C’est très commun ici comme un motif décoratif parce que les musulmans ne croient pas en montrant les chiffres dans leur art …”).

Ceiling Detail in the Mosque Baths (or Maybe from later, my notes are poor)

(The Church of Santa Maria is next but we skipped it, my pressing need for a restroom (the joys of the first trimester of pregnancy) distracting me. I don’t even remember what the outside of the building looked like.)

Then one of the Must Visit locations: the Palace of Carlos/Charles the V. I wish I could recall what was inside other than a mediocre museum, but the outside was memorable as it was so jarring when compared to the nearby buildings. At street level, there were huge brass (?) rings that were for tying up horses but my brain thought of as a way to move the building to a new location. (I shared this with Matt at the time and he laughed for a good five minutes at my expense.)

Palace of Carlos/Charles V

The first large area to explore is next – the Alcazar. It’s the oldest area, built for fortification and military purposes. It’s where the guards and army that protected the sultan and his family were housed. You’ll notice I have no photos here as it looked like every other nearly-destroyed fortress I’ve visited in Europe and I wanted to save my precious memory card space for our next stop on the tour.

Then, the main reason people come here (and the reason for the second, timed ticket): the Nasrid Palaces. It’s actually three separate palaces though they’re connected to its not very obvious you’ve left one to enter another unless you watch the signs and/or pay attention to your audio guide; okay, two are connected, I think I remember walking across a bridge to get to the third. (We did spring for the audio guide and I think I was still dutifully listening to mine at this point. It got ditched sometime during this part of the tour, though, as I wanted my hands free to take photos.)

Each room is FILLED with amazing art. I don’t even want to try to describe it. Here’s my favorite photos from the palaces, without commentary.






Somehow, not a single one of my photos of the mosaics or statuary (that was added by the Catholics who took over after they conquered the Moors in the 1400s) turned out in focus and with decent lighting.

After the Nazrin Palaces, there’s huge formal gardens and the Generalife area but I was already dead tired at that point so I sat on a bench and watched as members of a ballet company scampered by, on their way to a rehearsal on a giant stage in the middle of the gardens. I think it was part of an arts festival or something. Matt continued through the other area and maybe I’ll bug him sometime for photos. If I a photo of myself then, I’d be covered in sweat, lying down on a bench next to my mom and dad. Not a pretty site.

What you can’t tell in my photos is how crowded the place was. Not as bad as our trip to Versailles a few years before where you could nearly breathe, but crowded enough you felt you couldn’t ever be alone in the popular areas. We did manage to wait out the crowds at one point – this is how we got separated from my parents an hour in – and had it mostly to ourselves for a little while, which was nice. I understand why there were so many people and the museum really did find a good balance between access and crowding but, man, it was irritating at the time. Now, eh, doesn’t bother me. Most of the areas are open to the sky and this is Southern Spain so I don’t recommend a visit any later in the summer than June. But if you’re in the area and have the time, go. It’s a wonderful place I can’t wait to get back to someday.

[Quick copyright note – All of these photos are mine from June of 2013. I took over 200 photos just at the Alhambra and wanted to take more but I ran out of energy to walk/stand any longer and my shutter button finger was sore.]

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