Tuesday, October 19, 2010
History Geek. Part 4. With a birthday twist.
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This past June I had the awesome experience of celebrating my 24th birthday with my students in Honduras. They threw me an extraordinary birthday party at school with food, cake and even a piñata. Celebrating your birthday in a different country doesn’t happen every year, so when it does it is a birthday worth remembering.
My good friend and roommate Emily turned 24 this past weekend and we all decided to travel to Granada to celebrate (unfortunately Michael Lynn had been sick all week and didn’t feel good enough to come until Saturday afternoon). It was also my first time in Granada and it gave Emily, who studied there for 6 months while in college, an excuse to serve as a tour guide for her favorite town in Spain.
It also gave me the chance to explore another historically rich Spanish town.
We arrived late Thursday afternoon and visited with both of our weekend hosts (Emily stayed with her host family and I stayed with my friend Palmer, a 4-week groupie). Friday night Emily and I eventually took off for tapas with her friend Juan Carlos and his friends.
Something awesome about the entire province of Granada (including Motril) is that tapas come free with a drink. The city of Granada takes this tradition to a whole new level with the size of their “free tapas.” They were amazingly larger than anything we’d been getting for “free” in Motril (in reality, most places charge a little extra for a drink. For example, a beer in Sevilla was 1.00 Euro, with no free tapa. In Motril and Granada beers range from 1.50 – 2.00 Euros with a free Tapa). After engulfing two enormous plates of tapas with Juan Carlos and his friends we took off to our respected weekend homes and planned to meet up early the next morning to head to the Alhambra, one of the most visited places in all of Spain.
As most of you may know (or might not know) Southern Spain was ruled by the Moors for over 700 years. This North African Muslim people had a great influence on Southern Spain and many of their structures still stand, with many being used by the Christian kingdoms who eventually defeated them in 1492. The Real Alcazar and La Giralda are examples of the Moorish influence in Sevilla, with the Alhambra being the best example of the Moorish empire’s once impressive capital city in Granada.
With the Alhambra being such a popular tourist destination Emily and I decided to meet up at 8 am and head up the hill to where the Alhambra sits. We met up, took a bus to the top, and when we arrived to the visitor center we were met with several hundred people and the announcement (at 8:30 am) that there were only 90 tickets left for the morning and 180 tickets left for the afternoon. Emily knew it was going to be busy, and so did I, so as we sat in line we both figured that we were number 271 and 272 in line (if you can’t figure out the math, that would mean we would just miss getting tickets...). However, an announcement was also made about some automatic ticket booths. We thought that these booths were for people who bought tickets online ahead of time and were where these pre-purchased tickets could be printed off (we didn’t think that you could actually BUY tickets at these booths), so we continued to stay in line. While standing in line we heard a couple in front of us speaking English (with an American “accent”) and as most international travelers know (even in a town like Granada that is swarmed by American tourists and study abroad students), when you hear English you need to figure out where they are from. We began to have some casually conversation with Oscar and Natalie, a couple from San Francisco who were on an intense 2-week tour of Andalucía and Morocco (they had already been to Morocco, Tarifa, Malaga, were in Granada for the day, and were still heading to Sevilla and Cadiz). Natalie decided that she was going to go check out these ticket booths and disappeared for about 10 minutes. Upon her return she was waving two tickets and said that she bought them from the mysterious yellow booths that were tucked back behind the souvenir shop. Emily and I dashed out of our long queue to the machines where we purchased tickets for the afternoon.
Now, the Alhambra is a massive complex that includes gardens, a convent, several palaces (built by both the Moors and the Christians), and a fort. The main palace was the hot ticket item and each tourist is assigned a 30-minute spot in which they are allowed to enter the palace. Our tickets let us into the Alhambra anytime after 2 and allowed us into the palace at 4. It was 9:30.
With Emily mentioning that she had lived in Granada for 6 months (therefore knew the city pretty well) and the fact that Natalie and Oscar were only visiting Granada for the day, they asked if they could hang out. Emily and I were more then willing and they seemed like a cool couple (which they proved to be).
The four of us caught a bus down to town and made our way to a café for some coffee. After sitting for over an hour Emily noticed that one of her favorite places, simply known as “the bread lady,” had opened her shop close to where we were eating (we had planned this…). This woman was evidently known for her fresh baked pastries and bread and Emily introduced us to chocolate filled lemon muffins. After this we proceeded to walk around Granada looking at its cathedral and several shops and plazas.
We eventually became hungry and stopped in one of several bars where we ordered drinks and were again blown away by the size of the “free” tapas. After a second round of drinks and tapas 2 pm was quickly approaching so we decided to head back up to the Alhambra.
For me, seeing such incredible architecturally rich and historically important places cannot be describe in words. Therefore, enjoy these pictures from the Alhambra.
Before I left for Spain one of my good college buddies, on his way home from spending several months teaching and working in Africa, stopped in Granada and visited the Alhambra. He went on to say that it was one of the most incredible things he has ever seen. I agree. The Real Alcazar in Sevilla was impressive, but this complex, with its antiquity and incredible details, was incredible. A must see for anyone who ventures to Spain (which is why it was so busy in the first place…)
After 3 hours of walking around the Alhambra, and seeing the exhaustion on our new friends face, we decided to head out. Before leaving we swapped information with Oscar and Natalie and wished each other the best of luck.
Fast forward from late Friday afternoon to Saturday early evening when Michael Lynn was finally in town and the three of us went out for tapas to celebrate Emily’s birthday. We went to one of Emily’s favorite places and after devouring some again rather large “free” tapas Michael Lynn and I surprised Emily with our best attempt at a birthday cake—an assortment of seven different flavored small pastries with candles in them. They were delicious.
After tapas we met up with some of my 4-week immersion friends and hung out the rest of the night.
Consider my first visit to Granada a success, and definitely not my last.