When we first moved to London, the first city we ever visited was Barcelona, Spain, now that we are on our way back, it feels like we’ve gone full circle with our latest trip to Granada, Spain.
Granada was a bit of a trek to get to, because to save cost we took an indirect flight via Madrid, making it a 5-hour journey and we arrived at 23.00 at Granada airport. Since it was late, we had pre-booked the taxi that took us to our Airbnb house. When I say house, I don’t mean any old house, but a cave house, or a casa cueva – a Hobbit-like warren of underground rooms, with rock-cut windows peeking out of cliffs and chimneys poking out of grassy roofs. The inside of the cave house adorned irregularly curved arches with walls covered in rough, what could only be best described as the 80s popcorn ceiling surface. Since the cave houses are carved inside the mountain, they provide a cool retreat from the scorching summer heat, but can be very damp due to lack of ventilation.
Our casa cueva was located in the Gypsy quarter of Sacromonte, which is located within walking distance from the famous Albaicin district and a leisurely 20-minute walk from the exquisite Alhambra. If you visit the Alhambra website, it recommends that you buy your tickets online, two to three months in advance. Since we’ve been busy organising our greater Southern Hemisphere voyage, we only realised it on the Wednesday before leaving and suddenly panicked. In the end we ended up paying €55 per person for a tour of Alhambra with Generalife and while the tour is three-times the price of a normal ticket , I am glad we paid more and actually got to make the most of our visit. If Mrs FOMOist and I visited the Alhambra on our own, we wouldn’t know where to begin!
When you look up pictures of Alhambra, it looks like a palace. However Alhambra is a castle, with a number of palaces that were added as part of the city ramparts in the 9th century, making it part of the city of Granada today. Within the castle, there are only three palaces that are open to visitors, each one more spectacular than the other. So if you are only in Granada for a short-time, rather than roaming around Alhambra aimlessly, pre-booking a tour is an option worth considering.
Without going into too much detail, Alhambra has been described by the Moorish poets as “a pearl set in emeralds”. Alhambra means “The Red One”, which may have been named after the red stone it’s made out of. Or according to a local legend, it was named after the red beard of Prophet Mohammed. It’s beauty comes from the
mishmash integration of cultures. Built on the remains of Roman fortifications, renovated and rebuilt by the Moorish Emirate of Granada, then converted into royal palace, followed by becoming the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella (where Christopher Columbus received royal endorsement for his expedition) and then partially altered to Renaissance tastes. If that was ever a formal brief written to an architect or an interior designer, they will chuck it in your face for coming up with such a mess, but it seemed to have added to the radiance of Alhambra, where the clash of cultures and architecture has resulted in something remarkable.
While Alhambra is the most visited tourist attraction in the whole of Spain, Granada has a lot more to offer:
- If you do decide to visit the Alhambra on your own, make sure you do not miss the ever so tranquil Generalife (pronounced Hay-nay-raa-lee-fay) gardens.
- The gypsy quarters of Sacromonte reminded us of the white-washed streets of Santorini. Rather than snaking along the coastline, the casas cuevas of Sacromonte give you a birds-eye view of the Alhambra, while walking through the windy stairs.
- Albaicin is where most of the tourists and local hang out. A place to grab a bargain, as well as discover the titanic variety of tapas on offer.
- Talking about tapas, Granada is the place where you literally don’t have to order any food. Every time when you order an alcoholic drink, a plateful of tapas accompany the intoxicating liquid goodness. And we are not just talking about a little ramekin full of peanuts or olives, at one of the bars we got a slice of toasted baguette, smeared with hummus and topped with asparagus wrapped in prosciutto.
- A “must see” view of the Alhambra at sunset is from Mirador de San Nicolas. It is busy and buzzing with tourists and a few locals, and some might think of it as a “tourist hole”, but it is well worth getting there early and grabbing a spot on the wall. In addition to the beautiful Andalusian sun setting behind the mountains, it is also a great place to people watch or even get a spot of free Flamenco performance by buskers. It is touristy, but I’ll do it again in a heartbeat!
- The Granada Cathedral may look like it’s covered in graffiti at places, but it is the real ancient street art, which is listing the names of the graduates from that time. The supposed “graffiti” on the walls dates back to the 16th century and the ink/paint is made with bulls blood.
- For all the tapas your heart desires accompanying the drink your liver can (hopefully) handle, walk on Calle Varela from Plaza de Mariana towards Calle San Antonio, while exploring the little side streets.
- Try the local dessert specialty called Pionono. When we got it, it didn’t taste like it looked at all, in a surprisingly good way. Served chilled, it has a texture of a trifle with creamy inside, topped with syrup, reminisce of a baklava.
- If you do a walking tour, or hanging out with a local, pay attention to how they pronounce Granada. It seriously sounds so sexy when they say it and our multiple attempts just sound like drunken slurs.
If we had more time in Granada, we would have loved to drive to Seville and Malaga, which are both under 3-hour drive away, but I guess we need to leave a few things for when we get back.
On a separate note, another living situation update. First of all, I am sorry if I have been whinging about leaving London. I read through a few of my last posts and realised I sound like a clingy baby who just doesn’t want to let go, so if I have bored you with my ramblings, I am sorry. Since we came back from Granada, we have been staying over with two of our cool-cats friends who have kindly offered to put a roof over our heads until we leave.
We leave Londontown with a one-way ticket on the 14 July, which means the frequency of posts will slow down. I will try and write as often and as much as I can with the least amount of spelling and grammatical errors. We will be travelling with hand luggage only for 4-months, so wish us luck!