A Visit to Alhambra – Granada, Spain

Exploring the grounds of Alhambra

Alhambra is a palace and a fortress built during the mid-14th century for the last Muslim Emirs in Spain and its court, of the Nasrid dynasty..  After the Moors were driven out of Spain in 1492 (Same time as Columbus sailed the ocean blue), the Christians continued to use it as a palace.

Palaces back in the day were built as whole cities that house markets, shops, and homes.  However, currently, outside of where royalty lived, the rest are just ruins.

Surrounded in luscious greens with breathtaking views.

Generalife

Unlike others, we started at the end with the Generalife, summer palace and country estate of Granada’s royalty.

I didn’t think I could be nearly this impressed with a garden but with each step, the next part was more glamorous than the last.

We continued to just wander around the grounds, getting lost until it was our allotted time slot for the Nasrid Palaces.

We had 4 hours to enjoy ourselves during the visit and sometimes taking a nap on top of the world is what is needed.

And yes I rock Mizunos wherever I go, because I never know when I’ll feel like running 😉

My mom hasn’t perfected her photo taking skills, so all my shots with Tony might be a little (okay a lot) crooked.  I guess we can’t all be as talented as me 😉

Now it took me a while to remember what the circular structure below is.  It is not another Plaza de Torros (bullring), but instead is the Palace of Charles V. He wished to establish his residence close to the Alhambra palaces. Although the Catholic Monarchs had already altered some rooms of the Alhambra after the conquest of the city in 1492, Charles V intended to construct a permanent residence befitting an emperor.

As we walked around the structures of what remains I was amazed by the beautifully carved ceilings.

The Alcazaba, a fortress, is the oldest part of the Alhambra.  It is thought that before it was built and before the Muslims arrived to Granada, there were already several constructions in the same area dating back to the 9th century. It is believed that it was then built by Sawwar ben Hamdun during the fights between Muslims and muwalladins [Christians who converted to the Islam and lived among the Muslims].

One of the towers, Torre De La Vela, gave some of the most amazing views of Granada if you get past the stair hike to the top.

Palacios Nazaries

Alhambra wasn’t built in one time, nor planned so trying to organize yourself on a point to point tour isn’t really worth it unless you’re following a tour group; however, your visit to the Nazaries Palaces is schedule at a specific 30 minute interval.  Don’t miss it, because you will lose out on the jewel of Alhambra.

The royal palace consists of three sections: royal offices, ceremonial rooms, and private quarters.

The walls are jaw-dropping with carved wood ceilings, stucco “stalactites,” ceramic tiles, molded-plaster walls, and filigree windows from top to bottom. The colors red (blood), blue (heaven), green (oasis), and gold (wealth) as suggested by the Qur’an.

To be honest? As I walked around I pictured myself on a rich rug smoking a hookah as the walls are covered in rich fabrics from around the world.  None of the rooms are furnished but you can let your imagination run wild.

The first building you enter is Court of Myrtles (Patio de los Arrayanes). Moors loved their patios as open-air courtyards in the palace feature fountains with bubbling water like a desert oasis, the Quran’s symbol of heaven. Women, who rarely went out, stayed in touch with nature here.  One theory is that the jealous men even with all the women they can maintain (as Quran suggests) kept wooden screens that allowed the cloistered women to look out without being clearly seen. The other theory is that the upstairs was for winter use, and the cooler ground level was for the hotter summer.  My personal bet? Jealous men.

The next grand building is The Hall of the Ambassadors (Gran Salón de Embajadores) where you would meet the sultan.

What I heard from a nearby tour, the writing are scripts from the Quran repeated over and over again. Muslims avoided making images of living creatures — that was God’s work. But they could carve decorative religious messages. One phrase — “only Allah is victorious” — is repeated 9,000 times throughout the palace.

It was also here that Columbus made his pitch to Isabel and Ferdinand to finance a sea voyage to Asia.

The final building is the Court of the Lions (Patio de los Leones) where 600 years ago, only the royal family and their servants could enter.

The fountain, a gift from a Jewish leader celebrating good relations with the sultan, has 12 lions that represent the 12 tribes of Israel. During Moorish times, the fountain functioned as a clock, with a different lion spouting water each hour. Conquering Christians disassembled the fountain to see how it worked, and it’s never worked since.

The Hall of the Kings (Sala de los Reyes) is probably my favorite part of the whole palace.  I love staring up into the enchanting ceilings.

Although our ticket to enter was at a specific time we were free to take our time in the palaces and then wander a little more around the grounds and get a photo of all three of us taken!

TIPS FOR VISITING THE ALHAMABRA

  • Book your ticket in advance.  Tickets sell out and are limited!  If you want to avoid paying a hefty fee for going through a guide, buy your ticket in advance.  I brought mine a month in advance and already the time slots of the Palaces were limited. I wanted to start with the palaces but only time available for a party of 3 was 1:30. If you know which days you’re going to be in Granada, get your tickets and bring the credit card you ordered with you if you used Ticketmaster   There are machines to the side that are easy to use and avoids a long wait time.
  • You can walk or take a bus from the city center.  The walk is a long, uphill walk in potentially hot sun.  Once you get to Alhambra, there will be lots of walking in side the grounds.  The bus ride is 1.20 Euro.  You can decide what you prefer.  I personally am more into downhill walks and uphill buses.
  • Examine your ticket for your allotted time.  Your Alhambra ticket is good for 4 hours and 30 minutes of that at a very specific time is allotted to the Palaces.  Don’t miss it.  As we sat there and waited for our shift, we watched many disappointed faces who were not allowed in because they missed their scheduled time. Being old, being young, being confused, or any other excuse in the world, won’t let you inside.
  • Take your time – Certain parts of the Generalife, and the towers, you can only enter once so make sure you take in everything with whoever you’re traveling with because there is no reentry.  Tony and I ran into the tower without my mother and we couldn’t go with her when she was ready.
  • Get a written guide – You can share it, and sometimes I really wish I knew what I was looking at without having to eavesdrop on tours or goggling my photos after the fact.  It costs extra but I think knowing more things about this enchanting palace is worth it.

Adventures in Spain – More chillaxing in Seville – Cathedral

I know I said I was going to keep my Seville recap to only two posts in my last Seville Recap but I’m in a rush and I wanted to share some more parts of my trip.  Although my blog has never been private or secret, I haven’t shared it on Facebook with my friends and family until recently.  Hopefully they won’t freak out of running obsession… but at least now they know where all my food photos go =)

This post is is dedicated to my favorite part of Seville; Catedral de Santa María de la Sede.  Initially the Moors built a mosque where the Cathedral is not located and the works lasted 26 years (1172-1198). The main part of the Giralda tower and the Courtyard of the Orange Trees (Patio de los Naranjos , Islamic baths) are the only remaining parts of the original mosque.

I know a little Jewish girl talking about how her favorite part in Seville was a church that used to be a Mosque, but bear with me.  I love Gothic architecture and this was one of the most amazing buildings I’ve seen.  I loved it so much, I paid twice (Hey if you’re under 26 it’s only 3 Eur) to go up in the tower.  Granted the second time was to go with Tony, but before I knew he was coming I went out there alone.

The Seville Cathedral was built for two main reasons. The first one is that the old mosque was in very poor conditions after the 1356 earthquake. And the second one is because the rulers of Seville decided to build a new temple in 1401 to demonstrate the city wealth and the Christian’s domination over the Muslims.

The Giralda is the bell tower of the Cathedral of Seville.  It was a minerat (Arabic lighthouse found in a mosque), which was turned into a bell tower.  The climb to the top left me a little short of breath but the views from every corner is amazing.

You even had a great view of Plaza de Toros.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time staring out taking photos and just watching the world slowly go by.

The coolest part of the tower is that all along the winding path are windows and as you make your way up  you get to appreciate the view from hundreds of angles (and yes I took a photo or two from all of them).

Five years after construction ended, in 1511, the dome collapsed.  The dome again collapsed in 1888 (earthquake), and work was still being performed on the dome until at least 1903.

I made a new friend on my way down from the tower

The interior to me personally wasn’t that interesting, it was just like other Cathedrals, only you know bigger with lots of Jesus figures and etc.

They did have this one room filled with gold.. that might have interested me a bit.

The Cathedral is also the burial site of Columbus, not that the photo above has anything to do with it but I thought that was an interesting spot.

The one thing about Spain that I’ve noticed are ceilings… they’re beautiful.. this was one of the many detailed ceilings in the Cathedral.

We grabbed some food afterwards, at whereelse but the Catedral bar.  It was another tourist hole but the food was decent.  A swordfish steak

And ox tail… What can I say, I like to get adventurous with my food options.

It’s my birthday today!  I’m getting old!

An Introduction to Seville, Spain

I’ve been contemplating and contemplating how to recap my 3 days in Seville, and I got nothing.  So instead it will be a slow photo stream broken up into two parts.  Because I was traveling with my mom I didn’t get too crazy in how far outside of the tourist zone I went.  However, within the tourist zone it’s not so much as do but more of a take a walk, relax and enjoy.  Things run slower in Sevilla.  While Barcelona & Valencia still had the hustle and bustle of a city on the go with a Mediterranean edge, Seville was more a place where I caught my breath, relaxed, ate some grub, enjoy some wine and got lost in the maze of narrow streets.

The first day we got to Seville, it was pouring rain, absolutely pouring, and after our cab dropped us off in Santa Cruz, where we were staying we were at a loss of where to eat.  We picked the first place we saw, I don’t remember the name but aside from great wine everything else was disappointing.  My mom ordered these salmon things wrapped around cream cheese….

I ordered a mistake… well unless you’re into the atkins diet.  The beef was great but I could have really used a real burger bun instead of this bread thing… not sure why they had this on their list of “recommended” dishes.

One of the many crazy narrow streets to get lost in when you’re searching for some grub.

As the rain slowed down we tried to walk around

The good thing was that our room was near the Cathedral, so every time we got lost, we would follow the arrows to the Seville Cathedral and find our lodging from there.  My mom looks thrilled haha.

The Seville Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral and the third largest church in the world.  Even as someone whole claims no religious affiliation, I was in awe of it’s architectural beauty.

A warning to vegetarians .. you will see hanging hogs pretty much everywhere in Spain… it was kinda gross at first but I started to find it pretty cool halfway through my journey.

I know trash isn’t that exciting but I thought the recycling bin was kinda neat… I like trash-bins  I’m a weirdo, love me.

Sadly after packing my running skirts, and my new unwrapped Garmin, I only ran once in Spain… In Seville.. 6 miles on Guadalquivir River felt refreshing and a struggle at the same time.   I was thirsty (I guess drinking wine instead of water for a week does that) and I was tired.

I ran by the Navel musuem and I really think we should revive the brick style architecture too look more medieval.

I rented a room through AirBnB because in between hotels I wanted to save some $$ and this is the lovely courtyard in our building that brought sunlight into all the rooms.  I thought it was neat.

On our second day we went to the Alcazar, their palace.  It is the oldest European palace still in use and it used to be a Moorish fort.

The gardens were pretty and I’ll skip the history lesson but if you’re curious Wikipedia has all you need.

As we walked around the garden, we made new friends.  These guys were everywhere!  Only the males are pretty though, afterwards we saw a bunch of females and they well uuuugggllly.

And of course within 5 minutes of being in the gardens, it started to pour!

We decided with the rain it was a good idea to take a walk inside

The tile work in the room was beautiful.  I wish they kept some drapery or photos of what they thought it used to look like when in use.  I guess I had a hard time picturing what should be here besides a bathroom.

Just another pretty site within the garden

This is the Baths of Lady Maria de Padilla at the Alcázar of Seville.  The “Baths of Lady María de Padilla” are rainwater tanks beneath the Patio del Crucero. The tanks are named after María de Padilla, the mistress of Pedro the Cruel. Legend has it, Pedro fell for María and had her husband killed. María resisted his advances and poured boiling oil over her face to disfigure herself to stop Pedro’s pursuit. She became a nun and moved to a convent afterwards. She is regarded as a symbol of purity in the culture of Seville. I don’t know if this is true but that;s what the internets told.

Sight seeing ends in hunger.  We went to some place that was called something bodega.  The food was good but I don’t know if it was anything special aside from these meatballs.  They were yum yums

I forgot if this was beef or pork but it was yummy….

this was less yummy, it was beef in their “signature sauce” but I don’t think I want to know what the special sauce was.

These things were great too, shrimp wrapped in yummy light pastry type wrap!

Adventures in Spain – 12 Hours in Valencia

Whenever you plan a trip on a short time frame (2 weeks is short when you want to see everything), you will always have places you regret you did not stay at longer and places you wish you spent less time in.  Sadly I can’t change that my time in Valencia was way too short.  I almost cut it completely out of my itinerary based on lonely planet and etc. websites’ commentaries about it not being that exciting.  Little did I know that this would be one of my favorite cities I visited.

Like many European cities, Valencia had a river running through it, Turia; however, after a major flood it was diverted and turned into a runner’s dream.  It is now a verdant sunken park that allows cyclists and pedestrians to traverse much of the city without the use of roads. Basically my dream! The park, called the ‘Garden of the Turia’ (Jardí del Túria/Jardín del Turia) has everything in it from numerous ponds, paths, fountains, flowers, football pitches, cafés (with cheap beer and wine!), artworks, climbing walls, an athletics track, a zen garden and more. My mom and I took a short stroll there on our way to l’oceanografic.

I really regretted the early train I had in the morning.  I wish I had the next morning to go for a run!

My mom enjoyed the water fountains.

Our slow stroll got us hungry and luckily a food stop was right in our path.

Tuna Salad and potatoes with some cerveza (beer).

After lunch we headed towards L’Oceangrafic, my main reason for the stop in Valencia.  The largest aquarium in Europe and the 4th largest in the world.  Care to take where #1 resides in? USA! USA!  Haha JK, well not really, it’s in Georgia by Atlanta and I have now bumped up Atlanta once more on a higher list of places I want to see in the US.

The park is dividend into 10 habitats with 45,000 animals of 500 different species including fish, mammals, birds, reptiles and invertebrates — amongst these are sharks, penguins,dolphins, sea lions, walruses, beluga whales, and more.

If you never get a chance to scuba (which would be a shame) going into one of these aquariums with an overhead passageway is probably the closest and most amazing thing to seeing the underwater world.

I even found Nemo!

Shark food!

These guys reminded me of ghosts when they swam over my head.

Another thing about Valencia… paella, an amazing concoction of rice, seafood and green veggies!  A signature dish in the area!

Yea, clearly it was awful and I hated every bite as I ate it all.

My mom ordered ravioli which was good, but not as good as paella.

Another reason why I loved Valencia might have been the awesome hotel I got from Hotwire for only $100 (Yup, USD not Euro).  It was the Westin- Valencia, right off Turia Gardens and about half a mile from the town center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m always a little (okay sometimes a lot) disappointed by what hotwire calls “4 star” hotels and the results I get, but this was finally a true win.  We have a pretty large suite with two comfy beds (usual Westin Comfort), two little couches, desk and open space.

There was a separate room for toilets and a room with a separate double headed shower on one half a giant bathroom on the other side.  Not to mention this weird hallway of mirrors in our room that I think was the dressing area.

Plus there was a gym spa with a ton of weigh machines, a pool, Jacuzzi and steam showers but they closed a 10PM!  Ugh… if only I didn’t have a 6AM wake up call to catch a train.  If only all my hotels came in this style..Yup.. really wish I had more time to check out all these things.

And now some more random photos from my walk around town.

More pretty old stuff, because really I couldn’t stop taking useless photos of it all.

Although the doors with faces and building with engraved human bodies really freak it me out.

Bullring in the center by the old train station.

 

Have you ever been to a place you wish you could have spent more time at?