112 – Granada

When my Spanish teacher proposed I joined a group of her other students for a weekend trip to Granada, I reluctantly agreed, my reasoning being that I may probably have to travel with other people at some point again, so I may as well test my resistance to travel companions. However, switching from discovering the most remote places on my own to going on a school trip with a bunch of annoying teenagers may have been a little bit extreme. It may also have further strengthened my lack of reproductive instincts. Although, mother’s love has to be a really powerful thing, otherwise I cannot explain how are these kids still alive. If my potential offsprings were to become social media addicted self-absorbed little brats, I’d probably put them out of their misery (and mine) anyway. Thus spoke Medea, mother of the year.

More ranting later on, promise. First, Granada.

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Alhambra viewed from Albaicin

How to get there: in short, with considerable effort. There is still no train connection from Madrid (they first threatened the AVE line would be ready by mid 2017, two years later it’s still being built, or planned, more likely). The national railway transporter, Renfe, sells a combined fast train + bus ticket to Granada, but as you’ll have to transfer to the bus on the last leg anyway, I’d recommend just taking the bus for the whole journey (Alsa runs many direct services per day from Estacion del Sur for less than 20 euros, 5 hours ride, possibly the least stressful option). You can always rent a car and drive 5 hours and then spend further 3 looking for a parking space that does not come with a fine, and good luck with that. (We rented a minibus for the journey, so I could curl up alone on a seat for two, plug in the headphones, listen to some opera and be generally antisocial).

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When to go: I went mid-March and had clear skies and wonderful 26 degrees, with temperature decreasing considerably after sunset. I would advise against visiting Granada between June and September, unless your hearts desire is to attempt suicide in an exceptionally suffering way.

What to do: While other tourist hotspots in Spain, Seville for instance, can be a little bit too touristy, to the point that you will not see any locals at all in the city center, Granada is Spain’s favorite stag/hen do destination. The landmarks are likely to burst with international travelers, but the bars will be be full of Spaniards celebrating someone’s imminent life sentence. Granada has a certain reputation about size and quantity of the tapas you receive with your drinks, which makes it relatively cheap party town. The Brits can freely disregard this information as irrelevant, as ingesting food in between drinks is against their idea of having a good time and likely to interfere with their plans of getting hammered asap. User manual for the Brits: caña = small beer; doble = normal size beer; tinto de verano or sangria = (bad) red wine spritzer with or without fruit, likely to leave you with persisting sugar rush and eventually a blinding headache, but keeps you standing a little longer than if you start downing pints ad midday. Cheers!

What to see:

Alhambra. The pearl of Muslim architecture in Europe. Well ok, there is a (rather ugly, at least from the outside) mannerist Royal Palace (above) built after the Reconquista to host the catholic court.  It is here that Columbus received Isabella’s blessings to sail off to find an alternative way to India, which did not work quite according to the plan, but instead united the Italians with what became the defining ingredient of their cuisine and saved the Brits from enjoying their national dish with boiled turnips. The entrance to the Royal Palace is free, as it comes across as rather unimpressive next to the beautiful 13th century Nasrid palace complex, largely preserved to this day. About that: the current state of Alhambra is largely owed to a bit wild restoration in the 19th century and a bit more sensible counter-restoration in the 20th century. I will not bore you with architecture rant, but if you want to learn more about it, check the Alhambra restoration history here and more about conflicting architectural conservation theories here.

That said, if you visit Alhambra as a  normal tourist, you will neither notice nor care that what you see is more of a One Thousand and One Nights themed amusement park (albeit one built 200 years ago), rather than wonderfully preserved medieval palace. Breathtaking nonetheless. According to some interpretation of Islam, it is forbidden to portray sentient things. Therefore, if the artist cannot play with people and animals, they go wild on flowers and complicated geometric patterns. Therefore, the palace interiors and courtyards are adorned with carved alabaster lacework and symmetric tiling. It is said that M. C. Escher started experimenting with complex symmetries after having visited Alhambra in 1936. 

Generalife palace and gardens is not a seat of an insurance company, as the name would suggest, but former summer palace of the Nasrid dynasty. Why would anyone want to go through the trouble of moving the entire royal court to a palace only 500 m away for a weekend I do not know, but I guess if you are filthy rich, you do all sorts of crazy things. Maybe it was an equivalent of buying a bottle of expensive champagne and spraying it over your yacht rather than drinking it.

Albaicin, or the Moroccan quarters. After having spent the morning wandering through Alhambra’s many courtyards, rest in one of Albaicin’s many tea houses, and make your way up to Mirador de San Nicolas to watch the sunset. Then if you want to do something really touristy, continue to Sacromonte, a district where gypsies live in whitewashed caves and see a flamenco show. I have mixed feelings towards flamenco ever since I was forced to endure a 90 minutes Joaquin Cortes show some 15 years ago. But, to be honest, it was quite fascinating to see the old gypsy ladies really go for it and judging by their expressions, flamenco might be a great way to cope with my anger management issues, certainly a safer one than rugby, which is currently my prefered way of blowing off steam.

Now, the promised rant. I know I sound like an old fart, but are all teenagers annoying, or is the generation armed with smartphones worse than any previous? Why do 18 years old girls even bother to travel, if they don’t give a flying toss about actually seeing what’s around, and spend half of the day practicing pouts for selfies and the other half airbrushing the photos. Why do 18 years old girls even airbrush their own pictures? You have no wrinkles to start with. What on earth is wrong in your head to think that changing your features with an app, so that your skin looks shinier, and your eyes and lips look bigger, is attractive? Is it a thing these days, does it trend on instagram or something, to look like a love child of Barbie and an alien? It is ridiculous enough when older women do it, but aged 18, do you really have nothing else to aspire to in life than posting edited self-portraits on social media, so that other self-obsessed wankers can like them? When the word “selfie” first became part of common vocabulary, I lived for several weeks convinced that it was a slang term for masturbation. I guess, to an extend, it is.

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Alhambra at sunset with Sierra Nevada in the background

 


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