IN THE provence of Granada, Spain – with a sprawling view of the entire city and mirroring hillsides – you will find the impressive Alhambra. What is it? Sort of tough to say. The Alhambra, in arabic al-Qal‘at al-Ḥamrā, translates to something along, the red fortress or the red one. It’s a fortress and royal residence which was built during the 14th century in which the Moors occupied much of North Africa and Spain. The Alhambra is a palace, a garden, a museum, and a world heritage site. More than anything it’s a destination you won’t easily forget and I had the luxury of seeing it on a whirlwind trip through southern Spain last year – a trip with stops in major cities including Toledo.
A day before in Madrid, I woke early and slipped out of my hostel unnoticed. At the station I mumbled in Spanish as the man behind the small ticket desk looked back at me with dark sunglasses shielding his hangover. After a moment of thought, he pointed me in the right direction but said nothing.
When I arrived in Granada the sun was directly over head and had the entire sky to itself.
Granada is a brilliant town. Everything seems to move one notch slower than the capital city of Madrid. Where before the sidewalks were packed with briskly moving legs and designer shoes, here bare legs and feet with sandals would move slower, and more calmly. The buildings, cafes, and restaurants all exude a definite moorish or middle-eastern feel. When you are standing at a corner or walking up steps lined with carpet vendors and tea shops, you could easily believe to be in Morocco or Egypt. The city has built up and well advanced areas as well but at every turn you can see a crumbling facade or the peak of a roof which gives a glimpse into the past, centuries ago.
I weaved through these streets, admiring the trinkets of each store and the burning scent of hookah tobacco always lingering up ahead. After several wrong turns I found the hostel which I would call home for the next four days. The man at the front desk checked my passport to confirm I was who I claimed to be and handed me a room key and a voucher for a complimentary drink at the bar – immediately securing themselves a highly positive review. Well played Oasis hostel.
After tossing my bag on the bottom bunk, I went out to explore the town and came back hours later to enjoy the Mediterranean custom of the siesta.
That night I met several interesting Americans out at a bar who were looking to visit the Alhambra in the morning. This was one of the things everyone had told me, “You have to do” and so I accepted their invitation. We joined forces that evening to celebrate tomorrow’s excursion. After many drinks and many free tapas (Granada has the largest tapas in all of Spain) we dragged ourselves back up the poorly lit cobblestone steps and into our hostel. Inside and covered in darkness, I fumbled with my shaving bag, dropped the toothpaste, and collapsed with a grunt into bed.
In the morning we all gathered in the communal kitchen, pounding coffee and eating scrambled eggs. The plan was still to visit the Alhambra and all of the guide books said to plan to spend 3-4 hours at this sprawling fortress. We purchased tickets at the front desk ($18) and began the walk we were told would take almost an hour. Apparently the Moorish royalty who designed and built this fortress in the 13/14th century decided to put it up on top of a small mountain for strategic defense reasons and to force hungover tourists to sweat out all toxins.
At the top we found the entrance and several maps. The fortress seemed to have pathways which stretched on for what seemed forever. We picked a route and set out to explore. The sights of the Alhambra can probably be broken down in many different ways. Here are sections I found most interesting.
That’s a quick look inside the Alhambra but these pictures don’t do it justice…especially when you’ve got a shitty Canon Powershot camera. Strolling through the pathways, I had no idea what to expect or what I had to see but easily spent 4 hours walking the meandering pathways and admiring the incredibly old architecture, detailed mosaics and etched walls, and the views of the entire city across the valley. Granada is a city with a diverse history, laid back feel, and is one of Spain’s great provinces. Also a big plus is that they maintain the custom of free tapas served with a drink. The standout and destination here though, is without question, the renowned Alhambra.
Snapshots of Granada
IF YOU GO:
Bus Information from Madrid to Granda: http://www.alsa.es:80/portal/site/Alsa/
Information for the Oasis Hostel: http://hostelsoasis.net/granada-hostel/rooms-rates