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  1. We had an exciting excursion planned today for our final full day in Spain; a visit to the Alhambra in Granada. We first visited the Alhambra in 2014 and it was the highlight of our trip to Spain. We had a bit of a trek to get there that time though, taking a bus for several hours from Cordoba and walking miles through the city of Granada before we reached our destination. This time, with a hire car, the journey was going to be considerably easier, although it was still a trip of around 200km from where we're staying. After a reasonably earlier start, we arrived at the Alhambra around 11am and parked in what seemed like quite an empty carpark. I had no illusions that the Alhambra was going to be quiet today, though. This is the second most popular visitor attraction in the whole of Spain, out-visited only by the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and while tickets don't sell out quite as quickly as for the Caminito del Rey, you still have to book them several weeks in advance. At least, I had booked these tickets a couple of weeks in advance and only just about managed to get them for the date I wanted. Considering a Wednesday in November is not exactly high season, I'm guessing that they must sell out quite quickly at peak times. You can buy the tickets online and print them at home to bring with you, but what seems like a bit of a hassle is that you need to enter an ID number for each visitor you buy a ticket for, and then everyone has to show that ID when they arrive. I wasn't sure how rigorously this was going to be checked in practice, but it turned out the answer was "very rigorously"! We had to show our passports to enter the general Alhambra area and then again to enter each of the individual attractions which we visited within it. There were more checks of our documentation at the Alhambra than at Malaga airport or the Gibraltar border Never mind, it was worth it to visit such a beautiful place There are three main areas to visit within the Alhambra complex: the Alcazaba, the Generalife gardens and the Nasrid palaces. Entry to the Nasrid palaces is via a timed slot which you have to book in advance. Entry to the Alcazaba and the Generalife is allowed at any time on the day for which you've purchased a ticket (but you can only visit each area once). We were booked in for the Nasrid palace at 3pm, so decided to start with a walk around the Generalife. The Palacio de Generalife was the summer palace of the Nasrid dynasty, who ruled Granada from around 1230 to 1492. It consists of a series of formal gardens, as well as a palace with courtyards. I didn't know how impressive the gardens would be in November, but there were still a surprising amount of flowers and greenery. There were also some amazing views across towards the Alcazaba and the Nasrid palaces. We explored the gardens for a while... ...then moved on to the courtyards of the palace. It looks quite peaceful in the pictures but we actually got stuck behind a large Turkish tour group at this point which was a bit annoying We managed to overtake them as we moved on to the palace. The patterns were really beautiful... ...and the views weren't bad either I absolutely loved the little fountains and water features in the gardens. The whole complex is really beautiful. We reached the top of the Generalife and enjoyed the views once again. It's always nice when you come back to somewhere you really enjoyed visiting first time around and find it's just as amazing as you remember Leaving the Generalife, we strolled through a smaller area of gardens on our way towards the Alcazaba. These gardens were really pretty too, and a lot quieter than the main Generalife. There were flowers... ...palm trees... ...and hedges pruned in the shape of crenellations As we left the gardens, we passed this church... ...plus a couple of hotels which looked like they might be promising spots to get lunch. Then we reached the outskirts of the Alcazaba. This is the fortress and the oldest part of the Alhambra. We passed through this very ornate gate... ...and then we were within the high walls of the castle. The Alcazaba has one very high tower - the Torre de la Vela - at its far end. The rest of the castle is made up of these huge ramparts. We came to a big terrace, from where we had views back down towards Granada. It's clear from here that it's a very large city. We weren't planning to go down into it today, but I did recognise the large cathedral which we saw when we visited in 2014. There were some great views of the Alcazaba itself from here too. My absolute favourite view was in this direction, though. You might have to zoom in a bit, but if you do you should just be able to make out a few tiny spots of snow on the mountains in the distance. There's allegedly a ski resort in the mountains behind Granada, but I'm guessing it doesn't have the most reliable snowfall! We climbed to the top of the high watchtower, which was a bit of an interesting experience as it was quite a narrow staircase with people climbing in both directions. The views weren't noticeable better from up here than they had been from lower down. Visit to the Alcazaba completed, we climbed back down in search of lunch. We got a table on the terrace of one of the hotel restaurants with a really lovely view We both had burgers (mine was without all the leaves!)... ...followed by desserts (not 100% sure what these were called, but they were very nice!). Not the cheapest meal of the holiday, but it successfully enabled us to kill the time until we were allowed to enter the Nasrid palaces at 15.00 We had to queue up, have our passports scanned again, then finally we were inside These were the main royal palaces, inhabited by the rulers of Granada. The tour leads you through a succession of rooms, each with more elaborate patterns and decorations than the last. This is definitely the highlight of a visit to the Alhambra, but because of its popularity and the timed entry system, there are always hordes of people in any given room. That's why most of our pictures are taken above the level of other people's heads There were some cool details if you looked down too, though. I loved the tiles on this floor... ...and was particularly impressed to find what looked like ducks on some of them There were some amazing patterns on the walls too. The windows were pretty incredible too. And the archways! Sometimes it was impossible not to get other people in the photos. The main irritation was guided tours, which caused large groups of people to stand in a given room and make it difficult for other people to get around them. It was mandatory to wear masks though and everyone seemed to be complying with that, which was good. Periodically we emerged from the inner rooms into courtyards. There were some beautiful details here too. Back inside, there were some more incredible ceilings like this one... ...and this one. Last time we came here we were using digital cameras and we ended up taking so many photos that Tim filled the memory card on his and started having to delete things. I think the battery on the camera might then ultimately have died It's hard not to constantly take photos when you're somewhere as spectacular as this. We passed through some archways into a courtyard once again. You can see it was quite busy! This is the Courtyard of the Lions, with this fountain as its centrepiece. From here we moved into what seemed to be one of the most elaborate rooms in the palaces. Another absolutely stunning ceiling! We were getting towards the end of the tour now. We walked through this archway... ...and out into the final gardens. Then it was back out into the open sunshine One final view to admire before we needed to head back to the car It's been a lot of travelling to get to the Alhambra and back today, but 100% worth it The tickets were only €14 (which feels good value compared to €11 for the Mezquita in Cordoba) and the parking was an additional €10. It feels like a small price to have paid to visit somewhere so unique.
  2. Today wasn't originally on our itinerary, but Clare keeps in touch with her family whilst we're away and it transpires that her great-aunt and -uncle know this part of the world and named their favourite place. We looked it up in our Rough Guide and the relevant chapter started convincingly: "If you see only one town in Spain it should be Granada." High praise, and so we booked a coach and reserved tickets to the Alhambra, the site that Granada is most known for. My initial impressions weren't good. We had rather a trek from the bus station without the aid of a map and the distance meant that we saw a Granada that was no different from anywhere else; roads with lots of traffic, people going about their day, and nothing out of the ordinary. Fortunately I caught a glimpse about half an hour into our walk of a sign (well, piece of paper) inside a shop window stating "Hay mapas" and so, after waiting in a queue behind one of those people who don't actually want to buy anything but just get in the way with their unruly kids, we acquired the necessary material to confirm the way that we would have to go. Hindsight makes me particularly grateful because I'd have normally chosen to follow the current road to oblivion instead of leaving it there and then to peel off in the direction of the old town, the existence of which we corroborated upon arriving at a gate. A bit of navigational wizardry was needed from this point to find the main street (the trick being not to actually pass through the gate) upon which the cathedral was built. We found it without too much fuss. I was initially unimpressed, although it turns out that the bit on the main road is the rear (hence my thinking it looked rather plain), and by looping around we got to see the front of it. It was situated in a very pretty courtyard. We knew we probably wouldn't get an evening meal, so thought we'd get lunch. Clare played it safe, getting a pizza. I ordered the daily meal thinking that gazpacho couldn't be too far away from tomato soup. I was wrong; it was foul. Clare was wincing when she caught a smell of it - she wasn't the person that had to try stomaching it! Afterwards we roamed the streets and chanced upon some perfectly nice buildings and monuments ... ... and narrow streets. Walking along the very pretty side of the the cathedral ... ... we eventually saw the monument to Isabel. We saw plenty of other things too, of course! The monument to Isabel was the landmark that we were looking for and our clue to branch off northward, which took us to a beautiful building ... ... which was the centerpiece of an exquisite square. From there and with time to spare we went on a very pleasant riverside walk. (Well, streamside.) We passed a church ... ... and eventually came to a pretty square. Alhambra loomed over us. And having glimpsed Alhambra, so we headed off for it. It was a long walk uphill but we felt that it was more genuine to go on foot rather than on the local mini-trains or, heaven forbid, take a taxi, as we saw others do. We knew we were on the right track when we saw a gate at the end of the street ... ... an in passing throught it bid goodbye to the old town. We passed a bright orange building with a telling dome which we believed might be part of Alhambra but which, it transpired, was a cash-in hotel. With plenty more sweat we arrived at the summit and got the pleasure of knowing that we could walk right in rather than have to stand in line, since we'd already purchased out tickets. We immediately left the main path so as not to have to engage with the masses of tourists and immediately hit upon an avenue of trees. We were surrounded by enchanting greenery ... ... beautiful flowers ... ... and stellar views of the fortresses, town and mountains. There were plenty of beautiful sights: Once we'd spent time soaking in the beautiful greenery, we headed off to the Generalife, which were private gardens. We were in for more of the same! There were beautiful, colourful gardens: Views into the distance: And mixtures of both: I can't do it justice verbally, other than stating that I can now picture why the hanging gardens of Babylon were one of the wonders of the ancient world, so I shall instead invite you to click on an image to watch the slideshow. @todo We had a bit of time before we were allowed into the palace, so we thought we'd go on another stroll in the direction of the fortresses that we could see earlier from below. Unbelievably, we were treated yet again to beautiful floral displays en route: @todo We soon arrived at the Alcazara, the fortresses. The weather was searing but we climbed to the top. We were rewarded by views well into the distance, including of the cathedral and square that we'd earlier visited ... ... and where we'd just walked from. @todo Finally came the part that was to prove Clare's favourite bit of the day, and which would not only cause my camera to run out of memory (a problem I sort of solved by deleting photos that I didn't think were the best on there) but also killed its battery; 17:30 was imminent, that was the time on our tickets to see the palace, and so off we went. Ultimately, there's little I can say about it descriptively, other than that it appeared to come from another world. Pictures are as good as a thousand words and, fortunately, we have plenty of those. I'll post below what I think are the cream of the crop but you really must view the slideshow or you'll miss out. @todo We were running late for our coach by the time we had exited the palacio and negotiated the Alhambra to find the way out, so we took one of the taxis that was dropping off the people who weren't walking up to it as we had earlier. The driver took us by the back streets, which served to give us an idea that Granada isn't just a one-trick pony. That had been my earlier impression, since the cathedral and its surroundings were nothing special compared to places which we'd been lucky enough to see earlier, such as Salamanca and Córdoba. The Alhambra is astounding, a reason to come on its own. It appears, though, as though Granada has some other things in store for us. At the point that we left Clare was already making plans to come back in the future and go in at 08:00 to avoid tourists, so it seems that we'll be back at some point
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