|Alcazaba/Citadel of Alhambra|
We left Sanlucar on December 5 by bus to Jerez where we caught the train to Granada, passing through lots of hills with olive trees as far as the eye could see. Our hotel was in an old section below the Alhambra. About one quarter of the population of Granada are university students, so we were finally in a Spanish town with vegetarian restaurants, or veg dishes in Indian or regular restaurants.
|Courtyard of King Carlos' Palace|
The Alhambra is on the prow of a steep hill overlooking the city, and it was easy to walk around town below it, or to walk up the hill, though we also took buses and cabs. There is also a large modern city that stretches out from the hills, which was decorated for Christmas and had lots of shoppers and bustle. It is in a large valley with dramatic tall snow-covered mountains to the west.
With only three days, our focus was on the Alhambra, where we spent most of two days. It is a pretty walk up through a park to get there, but there were also frequent buses and cheap taxis, so we only walked up and down once. It is a very large walled area which might have had a population of 20,000 at one time. The crest of the hill is where the Alcazaba, or fortress is, which is probably the oldest section. Then there is a large courtyard/garden area, and then a massive square palace built by King Carlos V, a Hapsburg King, Holy Roman Emperor, and grandson of Queen Isabella. It has a large round central courtyard and now houses the Alhambra Museum and the Fine Arts Museum. Somewhat past and below that palace is the complex of Moorish palaces which are the famous part of the Alhambra. They are truly marvelous. The outside is just square and blockish, but the inside is wonderfully ornate. Particularly amazing are the ceiling domes which in many areas are made up of stalactite-type hanging inverted pyramids. I suspect that they used to be brightly painted. Then there are the wonderful arches, windows, courtyards and gardens. The palace entry is by timed ticket, and there is always quite a crowd around, so one cannot wander at leisure or return, which is too bad. However, the rest of the grounds are not as restricted. We did come back over two days in order to see it all.
All the second day we concentrated on the Generalife (Jennat al Arif or Garden of the Architect) Palace, which is a summer pavilion even higher up on the hill, very open and with even more gardens. Both museums within the grounds were also interesting and pleasant to visit. Washington Irving is remembered at the Alhambra because he wrote a popular book in 1832 called Tales of the Alhambra, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. He actually stayed within the palace for over a year.
|Alhambra from Generalife|
|Generalife Palace from Alhambra|
|Inner gardens of Generalife|
|Courtyard where Irving stayed|
In addition, we also took a hop-on-hop-off bus tour around Granada, which let us see much more of the city then we would have otherwise. Our only stop, besides the Alhambra, was the house that the author Garcia Lorca grew up in, which used to be a farm on the outskirts of town and is now in the city, with much of the farm converted to a city park. Typically the house was closed because it was a holiday, Assumption Day.
We also went to an Arabian bathhouse to warm up. The pools were not as hot as we are used to, but we got very nice half hour massages. It is the only time I have been in a space with a lot of Spaniards where it was actually quiet.
We visited the Cathedral –very large- and the attached royal chapel with the tomb of their Catholic Majesties Ferdinand and Isabella, which has a very striking altar. They chose to be buried in Granada because they felt the Reconquista was their greatest achievement. We also had fun walking around the Albaicin along the river Darro, which is one of the old quarters and has lots of bars and restaurants and live music. We did actually hear some flamenco guitar and singing in one restaurant near the Cathedral. We also listened to an English folk singer outside a cafe one afternoon. That was a Saturday, and there were lots of buskers out, and it was sunny and mild and a perfect leisurely afternoon.
|Virgin looking like Ishtar|
|Garcia Lorca house|
|Virgin of Granada|
|Cervantes lived near our hotel|
Sunday morning we left early by train to Madrid. We arrived early enough that we were able to settle into our Pension on Calle Cervantes.
|Detail from Garden of Earthy Delights|
We could walk a few blocks to spend the afternoon in the Prado, admiring among other works the Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch, the whole range of paintings by Goya from his royal portraits through to his late dark paintings, many paintings by Velazquez, not enough by El Greco, lots of Rubens and Titian, a special exhibit of the young Van Dyke of works painted from age 16, when he was still an apprentice to Rubens, to age 22 when he left Antwerp for Italy.
|Palacio de Cibeles|
The Prado is a wonderful art museum, and we returned for another half day. We also took another hop-on-hop-off bus tour to see all the monuments. We did the whole circuit and only when we got off did we really realize how cold we had gotten! We had two and a half days in Madrid, so we were also able to go to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, a smaller art gallery more or less across from the Prado. It had a special exhibit on Gauguin and the voyage to the Exotic, so it also had works by other painters.
|Plaza Puerta del Sol|
The rest of the museum is almost a survey of art through 40 small rooms of works from the Renaissance through the modern era. In the Palacio de Cibeles nearby there was a special exhibit, rarely seen, from the collections of the Dukes and Duchesses of Alba which was really interesting. It included a Fra Angelico of the Virgin of Granada (which also means pomegranate), a Goya portrait of the first Duchess of Alba (a special friend of his, assumed to also be the model for his Naked Maja in the Prado), handwritten letters by Christopher Columbus, a Chagall, plus some royal clothing and furniture. A motley collection! At some point the dukedom passed to an illegitimate son of King James II of the UK, James Fitz-James, first Duke of Berwick. Wikipedia tells me that the current Duchess has more recognized titles than any other aristocrat currently living.
|Plaza Mayor Christmas Market|
Madrid was also great for the variety of vegetarian restaurants. We were able to walk to 3 from our hotel, plus a veg friendly Mexican restaurant. We had fun walking around and down to the Puerta del Sol and the Plaza Mayor, which was set up with a nice Christmas market. So far Madrid is my second favorite European capital after Vienna.
On 12/12/12 we flew back home on Aer Lingus from Madrid to Dublin to Boston to Reagan National in DC. A long day but uneventful. We have been able to settle back into being home easily. We hope to start traveling again in late January, probably around the South or the Caribbean. See you then.