Tag Archives: Granada

Pats and Peggies on the Prowl

This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.

After a full day at the Alhambra, Lynn and I decided to check out a quaint little restaurant near the hotel.  Like most restaurants in Spain, it didn’t open until 8:00 pm.  We were at the door at 8:01, and we were the only customers, so we got the prime table at the corner of the dining room overlooking the city.  It would have been very romantic, if either of us had been with romantic partners.

I have learned to appreciate things without thinking, “If only I was here with a man.”

The server was a woman, one of very few I encountered in Italy, Malta, or Spain. She had a white linen napkin draped over her arm.  What’s that for?  There were white linen table clothes too; we had landed in another posh place.

We were tired and not particularly hungry, but our server was so friendly and attentive we felt we had to give it a try.  This was Spain; I don’t eat pork, so it was easy to narrow down my choices.  The menu was typical Spanish: Pork cutlets, pasta with pork sausage, ham and potatoes, pork chops, pork tenderloin, Spanish omelet with ham, a vegetarian pasta, and—ta da!—seafood paella.  We were assured one dish would be enough for us both.  Too late, I remembered from one of my Spanish classes, where we had studied Spanish foods, that paella takes at least 45 minutes to prepare.  So we drank a bottle of red wine and tried to keep our heads from lolling off to the side as we got drowsier.

The server kept bringing bread and olives, so we were full by the time the massive paella arrived.  Lynn and I looked at each other, that look that says, “Maybe we can dump some of it in our bags so we don’t insult the chef when we can’t eat more than a few mouthfuls?”  The server stood nearby, eager to see how we liked one of Spain’s national dishes. In case you’ve never heard of paella, it’s a rice dish prepared in a large skillet, the bottom is meant to get sort of crispy and hard.

Sadly, it was hard throughout and the seafood was tiny and dry.  Unlike most other servers I’d encountered on this trip who had to be begged and bribed to provide service, our friend kept returning every few minutes to see how we were doing. We smiled and dutifully stuffed ourselves but only managed to consume about a quarter of it.  I hope they liked their own cooking because they were going to have a lot of leftovers.

We still had tickets for the trolley, so the next day we found one showed our tickets to the driver, who gesticulated wildly and spoke in such rapid Spanish I couldn’t understand a word.  He did that thing we all do—kept repeating himself a little louder and with more exaggerated pantomime—but we couldn’t make any sense of it.  Finally, looking resigned to something; he stamped our tickets, gave us two different tickets, and waved us to the cars with additional incomprehensible instructions.

Each row in the cars had its own door, and the windows were one-way glass.  I assume the mirrored exterior was to deflect from the summer heat.  We couldn’t tell which rows were occupied, so we walked up and down, opening doors and saying, “Oops, excuse me,” until we finally found an empty row.  Once we were seated, our fellow passengers leaned in and laughed, “We all did the same thing!”

Our car was full of middle aged English women who reminded me of Pat Butcher and Peggy Mitchell from EastEnders (photo removed due to copyright).

“There’s 42 of us ladies on this trolley,” drawled a woman behind us, “We’re all retired to Nerja, south of ‘ere, and we’re out on a jaunt.”

“Gangsters’ wives,” Lynn whispered confidentially.  I made small talk and could have spent all day with them, but Lynn kept schtum, probably for fear that if they heard her London accent they would get into who-knows-who and find out they were related.

Hambre and The Alhambra

This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.

Lynn and I were going to take it easy this evening in anticipation of a long day at the Alhambra.

“Where should we eat dinner?” Lynn asked.  “I’d be happy having the tapas platter out on the patio again.”

I hesitated.  Why?  Some part of me felt it would be tacky to eat an appetizer for dinner two nights in a row.  Wouldn’t it be more “proper” to eat in the hotel restaurant?  Lynn read my look and we settled on eating in the restaurant.

I immediately regretted it.  Everyone was dressed up—the young, extremely blonde couple near us speaking some Slavic language were in formal wear—jewels, furs, the whole bit.  The menu was pricey; and as usual in fancy restaurants, the one reasonably-priced dish was a vegetarian pasta alfredo, which I could make at home for $2.00.

“It’s not too late to go out to the terrace and order the tapas,” Lynn suggested.  Again, some false sense of propriety kept me from going along with that sensible idea.  I ordered the vegetarian pasta and Lynn got a veal cutlet which came with potatoes and a heavy cream sauce.

We also ordered a bottle of cava using the time-honored strategy of picking the second cheapest wine on the menu. Within 10 minutes of tucking into our food we were groaning.

“I feel like a foie gras goose!  Why didn’t I take you up on your offer of going out to the terrace?”  Lynn smirked but didn’t comment.

Because I grew up and spent my young adulthood in poverty or near poverty, I have always been conflicted about spending money.  Sometimes I overcompensate and blow money unnecessarily just to show myself that I can, then I feel guilty or am disappointed in what I bought.  This trait has lessened since my ascension to the middle class at around age 40, but it still flares up from time to time, often while traveling.

“Oh my god!” Lynn shouted, uncharacteristically (She is English, remember.). We were in the room digesting our food.  “I’m reading reviews of the hotel on Trip Advisor, and here’s one where they only gave it two stars because “the blow dryers are old.  A bloody blow dryer!  What is wrong with people?!”

Finally, on to the Alhambra, which had been the genesis of this whole trip.  Lynn wanted to see it.  I had never heard of it.  I said yes, then added on Italy and Malta. Lynn did the Spain planning and added on Madrid and Toledo.

So here we were, at the gates.

Straight off of Wikipedia: The Alhambra was originally constructed as a small fortress in AD 889 on the remains of Roman fortifications, and then largely ignored until its ruins were renovated and rebuilt in the mid-13th century by the Moorish emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar of the Emirate of Granada, who built its current palace and walls. It was converted into a royal palace in 1333 by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada. After the Christian Reconquista in 1492, the si became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella (where Christopher Columbus received royal endorsement for his expedition), and the palaces were partially altered to Renaissance tastes. In 1526 Charles V commissioned a new Renaissance palace better befitting the Holy Roman Emperor.

fortifications

Much of the site has been rebuilt. It’s a massive complex of buildings and gardens. We spent about five hours there.

arabic-in-stone doorway

I thought it would be similar to the harem at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul—all about tile—but there wasn’t as much tile. To me it seemed more focused on harmonizing the built world with nature, with lots of beautiful vistas, fountains, and gardens.

There was some tile:

tiles-2 tiles

Topiary was big.

topiary

This was aptly called The Romantic Observation Point.

vista-2 vista

I admired and was intrigued by the wooden ceilings, inlaid with gilded wood.

wood-ceiling wood-ceiling-2 wood-and-gilt-ceiling starry-ceiling

We walked through the Charles V Museum, one of many buildings inside the complex.  I asked a guard to point me to the Jose Rodriguez Acosta collection.

“The collection, she is closed for renovation,” he answered.

Of course it was.

We Who Wander

This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.

Lynn and I were done with the Acosta Museum by 11:00 am.

“What shall we do now?  Fancy a walk down into the town again?” she suggested.

“Sure.  Maybe we can find that Hop On Hop Off bus thing,” I answered.

The streets of Granada, or at least the scenic sections of it, were way too narrow for the standard red double-decker sightseeing bus.  But some kind of tourist vehicle had passed us the night before. It looked like a toy train.

We also wanted to find the Cathedral, where Isabella and Ferdinand were entombed.  I was binge reading Phillipa Gregory’s books about the Tudors and wanted to learn more about the parents of Henry the Eighth’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon.  She was the only one of his wives who had been born of a king and queen, raised to be a queen, and who put up a good fight when he tried to shed her.

I’ve written about my ability to get lost.  I accept this trait and even welcome the (good) surprises it can produce.  Lynn, however, had silly expectations that we would consult a map, head in the “right” direction, and arrive at our chosen destination without detours.

It’s been said of St. Paul (mostly by people from our twin city, Minneapolis) that the streets were laid out by drunken Irishmen.  To which I counter, “What’s wrong with that?”  It’s so much more interesting than your boring, uptight Scandinavian-influenced grid plan over there across the river.

Granada reminded me of St. Paul, with streets twisting like rivers. There were tiny alleyways only pedestrians could maneuver, and only single file.  Here’s a map of the Albaicin district:

plano-albaicin

Street signage was hit and miss, sometimes at the top of a wall, sometimes in an actual street sign, and sometimes embedded in the sidewalk. There were sometimes pretty icons which were maybe meant to mark streets; this one was about 25 feet up on a wall.

icon

And so we got hopelessly lost, over and over.  I think Lynn felt really frustrated by our incompetence, and probably annoyed by the fact that I was laughing about it.  We saw signs for the “touristic train” but nowhere to buy tickets.  Then we saw the poster for it in the window of a tourism bureau and went in.

“Can we buy tickets here for the tourist train?” asked Lynn.

The travel agent or whatever she was gave us a look.  “It is a trolley, not a train,” she said patronizingly.

Lynn is better with these kinds of situations than I am.  I go straight to sarcasm, but she holds fire, smiles, and gets what she wants.  “Oh I see, thank you, and can we buy tickets here?”

“No!” said the woman, as if it was a ridiculous question. “You must buy them at the ticket stand near the Burger King” and she waved her arm dismissively to the right.

We walked in that direction and, for about the fourth time, passed a tall building with an eagle on top.  We spied the Burger King and finally found the ticket kiosk across the street and half a block away.  Clutching our tickets triumphantly, we turned around and there—through a narrow alleyway—caught a glimpse of the Cathedral.

“We were walking past it all along!” Lynn said, exasperated.  We paid €4 and entered; this was only the crypt with the remains of Isabella and Ferdinand, their daughter Joanna “the Mad” and her husband, Philip “the Handsome”.

We paid another €5 to get into the Cathedral itself, and it was yet another mind boggling gilded monument built with plunder from the colonies.

catedral

We got lost again, and found a pretty pavilion where we sat in the sun and had a late lunch.

We had been walking a lot on cobblestones and cement, and the thought of hiking back up the hill to our hotel was daunting.  Miraculously, Lynn saw a bus approaching, knew it was the right route, and in 10 minutes we were back in our room.  It had been a good day; now to rest up for the Alhambra tomorrow.

Mystery Artist #2

This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.

Day Two in Granada.  We had breakfast in the hotel, which provided quite a spread.  There were suspicious items like greyish “Chickens Sasage,” but also smoked salmon.  I knew what I would be having for breakfast for five days.

There was one of those machines that makes regular coffee, espresso, cappuccino, tea, hot chocolate, and six other things. It all comes out of one spout, and somehow it’s always good.  The girl in me who grew up with skim milk and Folgers Crystals and no second helpings comes out at times like this.  I could have stayed in the dining room all day drinking different coffee and coco drinks until they asked me to leave.  Lynn would have gone to the room and put the chain on the door long before.

Fortunately there was also a coffee maker in the room, so I could continue my caffeine-ating while we discussed what to do that day.

I don’t know if men do this too, but here’s how it often is with women trying to decide what to do.

“What do you want to do?”

“I don’t care—what do you want to do?”

“I don’t care.  How about the Superhumungous Museum?”

“Uhh … I guess so …”

“You don’t sound too keen.”

“Well I had hoped to go to the Smallish Museum.”

“Why didn’t you say so?”

“Well I don’t really mind what we do.”

When clearly, she does mind.  On and on it goes.  People trying to be nice are so irritating.

That’s not how it is with Lynn and me.  We’re flexible but know what we don’t want to do.  Which reminded me, I was going to have to come clean about the Flamenco dancing and say I would go, but only if we sat way in back where there would be no chance they would pull into an audience participation demonstration.  I talk a good game about being assertive, but I fully acknowledge how hard it can be.

We decided to check out the Jose Rodriguez Acosta Museum we had passed the previous afternoon.  The tickets were timed; ours were for 10:00 am so we had half an hour to kill.  We perused the art books on display and I got excited to see Acosta’s paintings, many of which featured Gitanos (gypsies, or Roma).

acosta-gypsies gitanos

We were the only visitors.  We chatted with the two young women at the desk.  They were both art history majors and lucky to have jobs here, they said.  We went out to the patio and enjoyed the view. If only there was a coffee machine.

jra-carmen

Finally, our tour began. One of the young women came out and led us down some stairs and outdoors.  It turned out that the place was a carmen, or formal gardens.  Acosta was from a wealthy family and built it for other artists.  No one was here in the winter, our guide said, but artists came to live and work in residencies at other times of the year.  Hmmm.  I would be glad to live there during “the winter,” as they called it—sunny and 65F.

topiary-and-fountains crown-hedge

We walked through the gardens, then down into the catacombs than ran beneath the complex.

jra-catacombs

These went for miles and connected to the Alhambra and other carmens so people could have secret assignations and so on, I guess.  It wasn’t completely clear.

We climbed back up to the street level and entered a tiny museum.  “Acosta’s works are in the Carlos V Museum in the Alhambra,” our guide informed us.  “But here you will find many important works by other artists, many of whom are unknown.”

I’ve said I’m not an art critic, but after the Vatican Museum, the Borghese Gallery, and the Prado, I didn’t need a PhD in Art History to question why they would call these “important” works.  Our guide stood by while we politely looked at the motley collection of crucifixes and Madonnas and martyrs, many by “Anonymous.”

Well, never mind!  The gardens were worth the five euro admission, and we could see Acosta’s work at the Alhambra the next day.

Un Gran Salud

This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.

Lynn and I flew from Madrid to Granada, and I don’t remember anything about the flight except seeing these magazines and newspapers with photos of Melania Trump in the airport:

melania-2 melania

The first headline says, “I’ve never been the type of woman who gives her phone number to just anyone,” and the second is, “The Amazing Life of the Most Powerful Woman in the World.”

Um…she may be married to the President of the United States, but that doesn’t make her the most powerful woman in the world.  I would put Angela Merkel, Christine Legarde, or Janet Yellin in that category, but not Melania Trump.  Maybe they expect her to exert a powerful influence on fashion.

The Alhambra Palace Hotel.  What can I say?  It was like a palace.  The room wasn’t huge, but everything was of supremo quality and very clean.  For instance, the white linens on the beds were heavy thick cotton and the tile in the bath was beautiful.

bath

We had two French doors that led out onto a massive terrace:

room-terrace

But the best part was the terrace bar, overlooking Granada:

ah-terrace-2

No, the best part was, Lynn had got a great deal on our five nights.  Again, one of the big benefits of traveling during the off season.  It’s not like it was cold or rainy here, either, so I don’t why anyone wouldn’t visit Granada in November.

We had tickets for the main event of the trip—the actual Alhambra—in two days.  We headed out  to do a re-con walk and were at the entry to the site in about 10 minutes.  It was so easy, and we hadn’t gotten lost.  Feeling a little cocky, we decided to walk around some more.  We walked back to the hotel then onward in the opposite direction down an alley-like lane.  We passed something called the Jose Rodriguez Acosta Museum.

“Never heard of him,” I noted.

“Me either,” said Lynn.  “Something to check out later.”

We walked down, down, down a hill and stairs to a neighborhood called Albaicin.  We stuck to the main drag, which was about 12 feet wide. Every time a vehicle came by, we pedestrians had to flatten themselves against the walls of the buildings on either side.  A river ran along one side, a hill ran up from it, and at the top were old buildings … houses? Whatever they were, they were beautiful:

villa-from-town

Families were out for their evening strolls along with tourists.  We passed shops selling arts and crafts, and tourist kiosks selling Flamenco tickets.

“I would like to see Flamenco dancing,” Lynn commented, “If we can find an authentic place.”

I wasn’t thrilled about seeing Flamenco.  For one thing, all the posters seemed to indicate that the dinner-dance package didn’t start until 8:00pm. I flashed back to a trip to Peru with my Peruvian friend Roxana, whose nickname for me is La Marmota (the marmot) because I sleep so much. She took me to a popular dance club to see a spectacular costumed dance show, which was followed by a free-for-all dance party.  The show didn’t get started until 10:00, you could cut the cigarette smoke with a knife, and worst of all—I am a terrible dancer.  Really.  I was finally cajoled by Roxana and her friends to get out there and dance, and I think they regretted it.  When I made a move to sit down after 10 minutes, they didn’t protest.  It was fabulous—watching everyone else dance—would I be dragged out to dance Flamenco in front of hundreds of people too?

We huffed our way slowly back up the hill to the hotel and ordered drinks and the tapas platter on the terrace.  Now this is tapas:

tapas-on-terrace

“I could eat this every meal,” I enthused, probably with my mouth full of food.  The bartender came to pour Lynn’s dry martini and my rum and Diet Coke.  The glass was the size of a fish bowl and he poured, and poured, and poured.

on-vacation

I don’t remember what we talked about as we watched the sun set, but I know it was very profound.

ah-terrace