April 29, 2018
It was an early start as I had to catch a train at 6:30. Given the time of day and distance I chose to get a taxi instead of walk – Plus I didn’t want to chance getting lost, at which I’ve become an expert – Ha!! Plus, the darkness before sunup would surely add to my confusion!!
It was a pleasant ride through several little villages that reminded me of those we walked through on the Camino. One little wrench in the plan, since they are in the process of building a high-speed train line into Granada, their station is closed to actual trains, and so we had to disembark after two hours and take a bus the last ninety minutes.
Granada – “A land of contrast in so many different ways, it was important to the Christians, Jews and Muslims, the footprint of the three cultures which have endured over time and formed three of the city’s most important enclaves: the Muslim Albaisín, the Jewish Realejo and the historic city center, which marked the Christian expansion of the city. However, in each of these we will still find traces of the presence of the other cultures.”
“Alhambra, Albaicín and Realejo are three lovely showcases for Granada, but they are not the only ones. Sacromonte, in the oldest part of the city, the area around Plaza del Triunfo and the bullring, Cartuja and the areas of Ronda and Genil reflect both the most historic and the most contemporary Granada, with its streets full of life, color and flavors. Each one of these places is different, each is unique, and together they form the Granada with which the whole world falls in love.” (From the brochure I received at my hotel)
Fortunately our arrival time was pretty much the same as the train – 10.00, a relief since I had booked a tour at Alhambra at 11.00. That was extremely ridiculous of me, and I had already geared myself up thinking that there was a good chance I wouldn’t make it. Luckily I managed to be the first person in a cab, and away we went! Alas, his car would not fit onto the street where my hotel was located (I hear that some streets are so narrow that they have to fold in their side view mirrors), and so I had to walk a short distance. And of course it was crazy busy at 10:20 in the morning with people checking out. Yet I managed to drop my bags, go to the bathroom and head out for my destination with 25 minutes to get it done!
As a sidenote, my hotel was in the Albaicín neighborhood. Again, from the hotel brochure: “A network of narrow streets, hills, squares, viewing points and cármenes’ (houses and mansions with gardens) configure the heart of the old Muslim Granada, which was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site 1994. It has real jewels of Hispano-Muslim, Moorish and Christian art. Mansions such is that of Dar al-Horra, walls and gateways which were used to access the ancient city, water deposits, domestic architecture in the form of Moorish houses, such as the Horno del Oro and La Casa de Zafra, and churches and monasteries which substituted or re-used mosques and Moorish palaces, have become the city’s sign of identity.”
Soooooo – ultimately it ended up being pretty straightforward, but I did have to ask directions a couple of times to get to the entrance of Alhambra where I needed to meet my tour group. Oh My Goodness Sakes, it was uphill and uphill and uphill for 20 minutes! On an uneven, big boulder kind of sidewalk! I have obviously been doing this kind of walking for a while now, so I blasted by so many people! But nonetheless, it was hard, and it rivaled some of the toughest hills on the Camino!! And of course, I was concerned about getting there on time!! Once at the “meeting area”, I saw tour bus after tour bus after tour bus arriving – picking up people and leaving. I thought to myself, “oh no, what have I gotten myself into?!” I always make fun of these kinds of groups, and it is Definately NOT MY CUP OF TEA!! (Tea houses, by the way, are very big here with the Moorish Influence.). The only reason that I even signed up for a tour is because it was the only way I could be assured of getting into this “must see” monument. They sell a certain number of tickets each day at the gates, but I didn’t want to take that chance. Over two million people a year visit Alhambra. Each hour in the day has a limited number of tickets and with such a high demand tickets can sell out
Well, I did end up being a part of a rather large group of about 15, but we walked so I didn’t have to demean myself by getting onto a bus full of tourists! And I had another wonderful tour guide who was obviously passionate about his job and knew so many details to share with us! He also delivered all of his comments in both English and Spanish. There was a gaggle of girls who took a million selfies, two couples and a mom/dad/son family who were always posing for their respective partners in front of pretty much anything significant (it’s really ALL significant, too) and one woman who hogged the photo op places to take multiple, multiple snaps to get the perfect shot instead of taking a quick couple and stepping aside to let the next take photos. That, and the countless number of other tour groups coming into and leaving areas as we did, were certainly annoyances, however, in no way did it diminish my awe and enjoyment in this experience!! You can feel the history here! And the artistry, geometry, grandeur, symbolism, building materials and magnificence are really almost impossible to describe!
So in fact, I am going to cheat again and borrow from some other resources and deliver more details at a later date. Likely much later – maybe even after I return home as I will be meeting my favorite traveling companion, Hubby Bill, for the two days in Toledo and four in Barcelona and we return home together by way of Los Angeles in about a week. He surprised me and I am looking forward to seeing him, sharing Spain together and seeing what “Trip Advisor” must do’s he has lined up for us. I am sure it will include several gastronomic outings which is lacking when I do the solo thing, so yippee!!
The tour took nearly four hours!! Packing so much into this month of April, plus all of the planning and executing involved, all of the miles spent walking, the saturation of my brain and senses from the immensity of Alhambra and the getting up early were all starting to take their toll. So, I hesitated when officially checking into the hotel about reserving a spot at a late night Flamenco show (it wouldn’t start until 9:45!). Yes, I hesitated – and decided to go!!!
I didn’t even unpack. The next day, May 1st was Labor Day and a holiday. May 3rd is also a holiday, one of the the most famous festivals in Andalucia (The Cruces de Mayo or May Crosses) and I was told they actually start celebrating that the night before. This meant that many stores and businesses would be closed for the remainder of my stay so I decided to wander around and find some groceries! I checked out the menus of many places on my trek, and found the prices extremely expensive. Granada is highly visited by tourists, and it seems they are being taken advantage of! At least based on the price ranges I have seen in Spain. Also, there are so many vendor stands here!!! It’s amazing all the shopping undertaken on people‘s vacations! Me, I buy groceries…
Once I was restocked I went back to my room and prepared some turkey, cheese and arugula roll ups, rice cakes with cheese and olives, a cup of vino and put my feet up.
I met a little passenger bus across from the Cathedral at 9:00 to be taken out to the Zambra Maria la Canastera in the Sacromonte neighborhood. La Zambra is what they call their style of dance here.
“The Sacromonte in Granada offers diverse geography, with mountain views, meadows and rivers, and ethnic variety, with Arabs, Jews, Spaniards and Gypsies, along with a new type of house, the cave.
The Gypsies settled in Granada in the eighteenth century on the slopes of Cerro de San Miguel on the edge of the Camino del Sacromonte, the old route of the Guadix Muslims.
The Sacromonte offers views of indescribable beauty: the towers of the Alhambra, the white slopes of the Albaycin, the Valparaiso valley and the River Darro.
The caves of Sacromonte are grouped around ravines, forming what amounts to streets. There are caves of several categories. The best known to visitors are those devoted to Zambra: spacious, white and adorned with shiny copper pots. These caves of Sacromonte in Granada are located near the road and are easily accessible. In the upper part of Sacromonte are the caves in better condition: they have an entrance also serving as a kitchen and dining area, and one or two bedrooms.
The caves of Sacromonte have for centuries been the home of gypsies, bohemians and Flemish artists.
The Gypsies, like the Jews, are a group that has preserved its pure racial identity over the centuries.
Although the performances of flamenco in Sacromonte are now commercial and directed primarily at groups of foreign tourists, it is a must to spend at least one night in a cave of the Sacromonte to watch a flamenco show.” lovegranada.com
So, that is in fact what I did! The seating is basically a semi circle around the dance floor with the singers and guitarists at the other end, and so intimate, that I was flicked by the dancers dresses countless times! This was not the best show that I have seen yet it was a lively crowd (with a few yelling “olé” Way Too Much), and I had a terrific time! Being inside the cave was a very cool experience! Maria was looking a little tired and probably in her 80’s but she danced for us!!
Having seen a Zambra performance in a cave, taking the ride up to the Sacromonte neighborhood on my way, and visiting Alhambra for so many hours – I feel like I already have given Granada a pretty good whirl! It was a lot to pack into day one, but I am so glad that I did!