Reposted with photos 19 August
6 and 7 August – Granada (I am having trouble uploading photos so the photos in this post will have to wait, sorry)
A cada paso brota un manantial, y el murmullo constante del agua forma como una música que llega a arrebatar nuestros sentidos. (At every step comes from a spring, and the constant murmur of the water as a music form that comes to snatch our senses.) Teofilo Gautier
The style of house found throughout the older areas of Granada.
Me on a 4WD segway – I really want my own!
After the farce of Tuesday morning, I have had a totally excellent two days. Having completed writing up the blog on Tuesday afternoon, I headed out to get some magnesium to try and sort out the cramping in my left calf muscle but instead took a guided segway tour of the Sacromonte area of Granada. The segways they use here have huge tyres so they are bit like the 4WD equivalent of the San Fran ones. I also got a personal tour. The company I went with take you there and then be you one or four. Javier wass my personal tour guide and while he obviously has a few lines off pat that he offers up in his heavily accented English, it was great fun and he was pretty well informed, answering most of my questions. If he didn’t have a definite answer he would say, “I am told…” and if it was a historical question he would adjunct it with, “..but I wasn’t alive then. I am too young.” Some of the time I couldn’t understand him but then everytime I said ahh, in response to something he said he thought I was asking why. Must have been my accent.
View from above the Sacromonte Quarter.
Anyway it was excellent fun riding around the streets which are narrow, winding, cobbled and pretty bloody steep in places. The Sacromonte was essentially the gypsy quarter of the old city where a large number of the houses are honed out of the soft sandstone that make up a major component of the hills around here. We climbed, on the segways, through the streets and alley ways to the top of the hill opposite La Alhambra, close to the new city walls which were only built about 600 years ago, according to Javier, but he was born then so don’t take his word for it. The view across the valley to La Alhambra with the original Sierra Nevada behind was pretty damn specky but so was the one of the city of Granada spread out across the plains below. (There seems to be a bit of serendipity in that on this trip I have visited both the new and old Sierra Nevada.) The history of Granada was evident throughout the tour with many of the churches we cruised by, and there were a lot, once being mosques, altered to erase the dreaded heresy that was Islam. The former lives of these churches is often denoted by the small covered wells and fountains which were used by the faithfully to cleanse before entering the mosque. Interestingly most of the houses still maintain the Moorish architectural style with a central courtyard like the one in the hotel where I am staying. When you are up high you can see the structure of the houses below.
One of the cave houses in the Sacreomonte Quarter
The cave houses in Sacromonte are generally painted white exactly the same as all the other houses. Well that’s probably a bit of an exaggeration, not all the houses are white but who ever sells whitewash must be doing okay. A large number of the cave houses along the main street, which is really the only accessible by car, are now restaurants with Flamenco shows. In fact as we came down one particularly steep street I recognised the place that Elizabeth and I had been to on Monday night. I can tell you that travelling by segway is the best way to see Granada quickly; you can always go back and visit a place of special interest. The number of envious looks we got from tourists, tramping their way around up and down hills, walking over the very uneven surface that are cobbles, was too many to mention. After completing the tour I had a quick tea and went to bed early; that is 11 o’clock which for here is early. I wanted to get an early start in the morning and tackle La Alhambra.
View from Generalife across to La Alhambra
one of the garden rooms in the Generalife
I am very proud of how quickly and reasonably effortlessly I climbed back up to the ticket office using the quiet and steep Calle Real de la Alhambra, the road, come track, I had walked down on Tuesday morning. I was there at 8:00 to find at least 100 people ahead of me in the queue. As we slowly moved forward, it was announced that there were no more tickets available for the morning session for general admission and people would have to purchase tickets for the 14:00 session. They have monitors outside the ticket office that counts down the number of tickets available for each session and type of tour. I was determined to remain positive and began to think of the things I could do until 2 o’clock, then as I got closer to the front of the line I noticed there were still two tickets left to the morning session. There was a man also alone about two ahead of me in the queue and I noticed when he came out he had a smug smile and the counter went down to one. SO when it was my turn I asked, “Can I have the final ticket to this morning’s session, please?” and lo-and-behold it was mine and the counter went down to zero. (There are, apparently, some advantages to travelling alone after all because, unlike many of the people ahead of me and all the people behind me, I got to go in. Not that I’m bragging or anything.)
Another garden room
Water, water everywhere
Was it worth it? You bet ya! The gardens were phenomenal, the buildings majestic, the decorations exquisite and the atmosphere bewitching, despite the hundreds of other tourists sharing it with you. To try and describe the entire complex would be too tedious and it was more of a visual feast than anything. The gardens were to die for; an absolutely banquet for the senses. They are laid out in beautiful mathematical symmetry with hedges and paths creating separate garden rooms, each one show casing something special. In some rooms, it is the sense of sight that is heightened with views enhanced and framed by the skilfully maintained hedges. An army of gardens must just spend their days cutting and trimming these hedges to their controlled desired shapes. They have special tools and gadgets they use to keep each wayward leaf and twig exactly in line with their neighbour. There are box hedges only a foot high, waist high hedges and 6 foot high hedges with arches cut into them so even the tallest can walk through.
Inside the Generalife
These gardens surround the Generalife, which was “The Heavenly Garden of the Sultan,” sited opposite La Alhambra, on El Cerro del Sol or the Hill of the Sun. In other rooms there are beautiful planting of range of scented and colourful flowers and shrubs to engage the sense of smell as wells as sight. In still others it is water in fountains, in ponds, in channels that excite the senses of hearing and taste as the water constantly moves creating noise and moisture. The quote at the start refers to the music of the water and it is everywhere as it is transported from one area to the next under your feet invisible but audible. The constant movement creates moisture in the air that is missing in other places in this hot dry climate. The use of water is the most impressive aspect of these gardens, creating magically places that, even though there are hundreds of other tourists around, you can sit and enjoy a moment of tranquility.
Inside the Generalife.
One of the channels of the water steps.
While it is difficult to identify a favourite room, one I particularly enjoyed was the set of steps called the Escalera del Agua, (the Water Steps,) three flights of steps framed on either side by channels carrying water down to the palace below. In the words of Lawrence Bohme, who is the author of the guide book I am reading; “[The water] cascades joyously down towards the palace.” It is surrounded on both sides by large hedges so it is green and cool and beautiful. Although most of the gardens that surround the Generalife are modern, planted in the 20th century, they provide a perfect passage to the palace and in spring they must be spectacular as there are wisteria vines everywhere some of which have trucks as thick as my leg and as we’re talking about my leg, we talking thick. I would love to come back here in spring to see the gardens clothed in different flowers and light.
The other main beauty of the complex is the decorations in the palaces. The most amazing thing about this is that they survived at all when you read of the history of neglect and deliberate vandalism that occurred over the intervening 500 years. From the intentional defacing of the incredible plasterwork by successive occupiers because it didn’t illustrate their religious beliefs to the simple neglect of previous generations who used it as they saw fit and sold off bits or altered them to suit their purposes, we are lucky to be able to view what is left of craftsmen’s work even if it is a pale reflection of its former glory. In places the plasterwork drips from the roofs of various rooms throughout the palaces in a style referred to as stalactites. At one time these were painted in blues, gold and probably other vibrant colours but there are now only hints of their former beauty. I am sure that Coleridge used the stories of La Alhambra as inspiration for Kubla Khan although he attributes it to opium and a book about the Mongol ruler. Words such as ‘A stately pleasure dome,’ and ‘gardens bright with sinuous rills,’ surely describe this place. The wood and stone work is equally detailed and beautiful with wood inlayed roofs and doors and window grills and column created out of three different types of stone. To have seen these rooms in their full glory must have been amazing and it is no wonder that stories of rooms dripping with gold and studded with diamonds existed. It is too difficult to describe the beauty of these rooms and photos do not do them justice, well at least, my photos don’t do them justice. I am reading a book “Granada – City of my dreams,” by Lawrence Bohme which is a fascinating read, telling the history as well as describing what you see as you visit every area of Granada. It is worth reading, even if you don’t plan on coming here.
The Red Gate
After 5 hours I was tuckered out so I left without going to the Nasrid Palaces, as I was returning to visit them specifically that night on a special night tour. BIG MISTAKE! I was disappointed with the night tour. I expected it to be better lit within the Moorish style but there was very little light in the rooms and non in the gardens. I really don’t understand this as I am sure the gardens would have been lit in some way during the time of the Moors as they would have been used to escape the stuffiness of the rooms. The only out-door space that lived up to any level of expectation was the Patio de los Arrayanes where the cleverly lit exterior of the surrounding buildings reflected in the still water of the large pool that ran the full length of the courtyard. It decorations in the various rooms were lit quite well so you could appreciate the exquisite craftsmanship but it was not possible to take decent photos for two reasons; one, the quality of the light and two the number of people.
The Red gate at night.
If you used flash everything was too stack and too dark for holding the camera still long enough. I took a tripod but was not allowed to use it. I have absolutely no idea why. I was not planning to place it anywhere other than the floor so it wasn’t going to damage anything. Secondly, the number of people in these relatively small spaces meant it was almost impossible to get a shot off without someone walking in front of the camera just as you pushed the button. So I will have to make do with the memories and the photos taken by professional photographers without hoards of tourists and, yes, I know, I was one of the rampaging hoard.
One of the rivers that run through modern Granada
The ceiling of one of the Palaces.
In between visits I took another segway tour with Javier, this time through the Cathedral quarter and beyond to modern Granada. This area is flat compare to the rest of Granada, particularly those areas that are perceived by tourists as Granada. There are two distinct parts to the tour, one through the old area around the Royal Chapel in which the bones of Isabel and Fernando are buried. It was built next to the main mosque of Granada which was torn down and replaced with a huge cathedral. This of course gives its name to the quarter but there were buildings in its vicinity long before its creation. After zipping through various streets and alleyways, avoiding running people over we headed for the new part of the city. For all that this area of Spain is hot and dry, there are three rivers that flow through Granada, all fed by the snow melt from the Sierra Nevada mountains in the background. I can tell you, summer here is HOT, a bit like a Melbourne heatwave only continuous although the nights are cooler due to the altitude.
I expressed a dislike for tagging which is rampant here in Granada. Nearly every shop shutter that isn’t painted with a scene of some sort is tagged. When all the shops are shut the place looks terrible. I told Javier that I had however seen some street art, graffiti that was pretty good with thought and care put into its creation so he decided to do a detour and take me by some real works of art. This was after I tried to wipe myself out on the segway. We were in a big open plaza and going flat out when Javier decided we were going right. I forgot to lean back to slow down and kept leaning forward, did a sharp turn and just about collected a concrete bench for which I got a right telling off. If I did that again I would be back down to turtle speed. The graffiti we went to see was very good and it added another element to my trip with graffiti art in Bristol, Liverpool, Belfast and now Granada.
Granada, an amazingly beautiful place
SO from despair and homesickness to inspired and enthralled in 36 hours.