Saturday, January 9, 2016

Daria's Travel Guide: Granada, Spain

Granada was my favorite city in Andalusia, the charm and energy of the whole area could not be beat! I think my charmed view of Granada may be due to where Nicolas and I stayed while we visited. When I first began researching the city, I noticed how beautiful all of the architecture in the El Albaicin neighborhood was. It is the old Moorish quarter of the city, with streets so narrow and winding that cars are not allowed in the bulk of the neighborhood. In fact, we walked down one stair-filled alley that was only 24 inches wide.  All of the streets are a curious mixture between cobbled stone and mosaic. Small pebbles in white and black are used from wall to wall on every single street in El Albaicin. The craftsmanship is incredible!

El Albaicin gets its name from the people of Baeza, who fled to Granada after Christians took control of their city in the 13th century. Many Andalusian cities were taken over by the Christian kings in the 13th century, but Granada remained in control of the Muslims until the late 15th century where Isabella I of Castille and Ferdinand II of Aragon defeated the Nasrid dynasty during the Granada War. Because of this, many nobles from other cities arrived in the city between the 12th and 15th centuries as their own cities were conquered. This established a wealthy and culture-filled neighborhood full of beautiful homes!

I got it into my head that I wanted to stay in one of the historic homes instead of a standard hotel. Nico and I decided on the Casa del Arjalife, a beautiful 17th century Moorish home, I could not recommend it more! The entryway is a historic wooden door that leads into a fairly dark parlor. Through the parlor, you are released into an outdoor patio filled with lemon and persimmon trees and colorful, tiled fountains. Up a narrow stairway from the patio, we found ourselves in our own parlor that led to a large bedroom up a set of antique wooden steps, and to two bathrooms on the adjoining side. All of the furniture was antique and of a lovely dark wood, the tile floors were covered with colorful rugs. A set of wooden shutters in the bedroom revealed a view of the stone-cobbled piazza outside.

Casa del Aljarife    |     Placeta de la Cruz Verde, 2, Albayzin     |     +34 958 222 425
95ish €  per night

Granada is most famous for  the Alhambra, which is situated on a large hill adjacent to the hilly neighborhood of El Albaicin. We climbed to one of the highest elevations, to the Mirador de San Nicolas, a plaza overlooking the city which has one of the best views of the Alhambra.

We arrived a half an hour before sunset and the plaza was already packed with avid photographers awaiting the sunset. The view was definitely worth the crowd. You can see the entirety of the city, thousands of buildings covering the hilly landscape with tall cypress trees piercing the horizon. As the sun set, the most beautiful colors mingled with the mist on the horizon. The moment the sun pierced the horizon, the Alhambra lit up for its evening show. It was beautiful! I definitely recommend taking the hike to see this view.

The Granada Cathedral was begun in 1523 by Queen Isabella and Carlos (Charles) V. The architect, Enrique Egas, began the cathedral in the Gothic style. After five years, he was replaced by Diego of Siloam, who decided to continue construction in the Renaissance style. The bulk of the cathedral was built in the 16th century in the Renaissance style and completed in the 18th century with Baroque details.  This is a complicated story, complicated further by the fact that the cathedral was built on top of the ruins of the ancient mosque. 

Like the Malaga cathedral, it was not completed to its original plan. It too is missing its South tower, however this was due to structural problems. The tower that was built had to be lowered because the original Gothic-style foundations could not withstand the weight and mass of the tower. 

Hours and Info:
Monday-Saturday 10:45am-1:30pm, Daily 4pm-7pm 
4 €  entry fee

The beautiful entryway into the Nasrid Palaces at the Alhambra (left). We finally got to go to Spain's most famous monument on the morning of New Years Eve. I did not know about this, but it is very difficult to get into the Alhambra. It is recommended that you buy tickets online one month in advance. If you don't get this memo in enough time, you can wait for tickets in line the morning of, but prepare to get there incredibly early. We arrived at 8am, but the line was already over 500people thick and wound around and around the courtyard. By 9am, all of the tickets into the palaces for the morning and afternoon shifts were sold out. When you buy a ticket, you get a specific half an hour to enter the Nasrid Palaces, but can visit the rest of the Alhambra complex and the Generalife and gardens at your own pace. We missed out on the tickets when we waited in line, but somehow, I was able to find tickets for the morning of December 31st online. We added an extra night at the hotel just to get to go, and it was definitely worth it!

The Alhambra is quite a hike to get to, and with good reason. The palaces were originally a military complex begun by Muhammad I al-Ahmar, the founder of the Nasrid dynasty. He decided to build his court on this large hill which he fortified and built the Alhambra starting in 1238. Over the years, the complex was expanded upon and developed in two sections: the military barracks known as the Alcazaba and the Nasrid Palaces at the core of the Alhambra. 

Yusuf I was the builder of the Comardes Palace with its beautiful still reflecting pool. He was the seventh of the Nasrid rulers (above right). This is the most important part of the Alhambra: where the Sultans lived and the throne was located. Each wall was elaborately carved and detailed. The top is stucco with ridiculously intricate detail and text carved out. The bottom are tile mosaics, each of those colors is a separate tile. Unfortunately, some sections were destroyed when Carlos (Charles) V constructed his own palace in the structure after the Christian Kings defeated the Muslims in Granada. 

Muhammad V, is best known for his addition to the Alhambra of the famous Palace of the Lions. The entire palace is named after the fountain in the courtyard being held up by almost life size carved lions. Although this was acceptable for a palace since that was not a holy place, there are not a lot of examples of large-scale, free-standing sculpture in the Moorish world.

The Sala de Dos Hermanas (Hall of the two Sisters) so called because of two identical marble flagstones in the floor features an incredible dome! It is possibly the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Light piurs through the 16 arched windows in the dome and the carvings in the ceiling make it look like shimmering leaves on an alabaster tree. The hall of the two sisters is part of the Palace of the Lions created by Muhammad V. You can actually see the lion courtyard out of one of the arched entryways. I was really interested in the contrast of light between the two spaces.

The Alhambra palaces are an amazing complex and worth all of the insanity required in going to see them! When you are done exploring the places, stroll across to the gardens at Generalife. The Generalife was the summer palace of the Moorish Kings where they sought to escape the busy life of the official court palaces and barracks. The palace was built by Muhammad III and used to connect to the Nasrid palaces with a covered walkway. The architecture is presently a simpler version of the main palaces, but the gardens are impeccable. The style of the gardens is well preserved and they are considered one of the oldest examples of surviving Moorish gardens. As you walk around, notice the shallow ravines of water throughout the complex. The water flows slowly downhill to power all of the water features in the complex.

The view of Granada from the tallest tower in the generals quarters at Alcazaba.

Hours and Info:
Monday-Saturday Morning ticket 8:30am-2pm Afternoon 2-6pm
14 €  entry fee (buy online in advance)

Well, now you have wandered around El Albaicin, climbed to the top of the Mirador de San Nicolas, seen the Granada Cathedral, and explored the Alhambra…time to eat!

Our first evening in El Albaicin, we decided to try a local restaurant just a few windy turns away from where we were staying called El Trillo restaurant. We found it with the help of the blue dot on my GPS and the ceramic direction tiles on the sides of the buildings that informed us how many meters away it was. The unassuming entrance led to a beautiful interior with a wooden stove and huge windows to a garden patio. The decorations were a mixture of the Christian and Moorish architecture that we have already become accustomed to, as well as little inklings of Hindu and Buddhist imagery. I found several basins of air dried fruit an incense, and a seated buddha in the atrium that led to the bathrooms. In the bathrooms, I found the famous illuminations of Krishna and Radha. I have never seen so many religions depicted so elegantly in one space. I am sure someone who was not looking for them would have never noticed anything but the warmth of the fireplace and the delicious food.
We had Huevos a la Flamenco (eggs with jamon and veggies), squids in their own ink, boar risotto topped with raspberries, and a hazelnut chocolate cake with homemade icecream! It was all delicious! The restaurant is a bit on the pricer side, but everything was incredible and all made in house.

El Trillo  |  Callejon del Aljibe de Trillo 3   |    +34 958 2251 82   |   Opens at 7pm! 

The next day, we had lunch at Entrebrasas, a tapas restaurant known for their variety of roasted meats. It is fairly inexpensive and did not disappoint! We ordered some wine and were given a free roast pork tapa with olives. Nico ordered roast pork back with a side of kumato tomatoes, and I ordered Ox with potatoes. The dishes were dressed simply and came with a side of salt crystals, which were all formed into perfect little pyramids. It was very beautiful. And the deliciously cooked meat (order your ox medium-rare) did not need any other dressing than a little pyramid of salt. It was a delicious meal.

Entrebrasas  |  Calle Navas   |    +34 657 34 02 41   |   Tuesday-Saturday 1pm-12am (make reservations at busy hours)

After the Alhambra, we stopped into Picoteco 3 Maneras for lunch. This was a nice twist on Andalusian food with an Asian influence. We arrived just before the place became completely crowded, I seem to have had a knack for arriving before huge crowds in Andalusia. We ordered some Fritura Japo-Andalusia (a mixture of fried fish with an Asian dipping sauce), the Bravas y Gratinados (potatoes in a tomato/roast pepper sauce with a lime cream) which was incredibly delicious! As well as some pasta de langostos which had a cream sauce flavored with paprika and shrimp with enough dipping sauce for all of our extra bread! This was a great place too!

Picoteco 3 Maneras  |  Calle Santa Escolastica  |    +34 958 22 68 18   |   Monday-Saturday 1pm-4:30pm, 8pm-12am

Near El Albaicin past the Mirador De San Nicolas, you will find the gypsy neighborhood and the Varea Cave dwellings. Here, you can see some amazing Flamenco performances and even eat dinner while you watch. We went to the Jardines de Zoraya and saw a beautiful and heartfelt show, a sangria and tapa are part of the ticket price.

Jardines de Zoraya  |  Calle Panaderos 32  |    +34 958 20 62 66   |   Daily performances 20 €

Meson el Cordobes  |  Artesano Molero 5  |    +34 958 20 80 08  |   Authentic, $$$
Cacho & Pepe  |  Calle Colcha 6  |    +34 678 08 99 87 |   Wed-Mon 12-4:30pm, 6-10:45pm   |   Great Italian, only 2 tables
El Quinteto |  Calle Solarillo de Gracia 4  |    +34 958 26 48 15  |   Tues-Sat 1pm-12am  |   Great place with wine and tapas
Alexander |  Calle Maria Lucia des Dios 5  |    +34 958 28 18 24 |   Mon-Sat 9:30-3am  |   Eclectic bar with amazing drinks
Pasteleria San Jose |  Carril Del Pican 20  |    +34 958 28 70 34 |   Mon-Sat 8am-3pm, 5-9pm  |   All reviews in Spanish, 5 stars - Pastries!

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