Monday, April 2, 2012

Spain Trip, Part 2: Madrid and Grenada

When I left you guys off, we were on day 4 in Toldedo. I’m sorry it’s take so long for the update! I’ve been having problems with my computer. Part 3 will be up soon, I’ve already gotten a jump on it.

The next day, Thursday, we were back in Madrid. First, we headed to the Templo Debod. This old Egyptian temple was given to Spain in 1968 after Spain had helped to salvage many Egyptian artifacts that were to be lost as a result of the creation of the dam Aswan. It’s a really cool feature of Madrid. You can go inside and see old hieroglyphs (though all the information was in Spanish). If you go around the back of the temple, there is a beautiful view of the west side of Madrid and if you look to the left you can see the cathedral and palace.

We then headed over to the Malasaña area of Madrid to look at cool boutiques, such as Kristen’s favorite, Biscuit. We had lunch at a restaurant right nearby called La Musa. This was our favorite restaurant of the trip by far. For a starter our choices were either a delicious salad or lasagna. For the main course Aunt Martha ordered the spinach and fish with a creamy pea sauce. Mom & I ordered the curry on skewers with vegetables. Aunt Martha and I looked at each other’s plates and immediately wanted the others’! So we ended up sharing. Both options were excellent! Then, for dessert we all split three things: fried banana with chocolate drizzle, tiramisu, and arroz con leche (Spanish rice pudding). Soooooooooo good! And the atmosphere of the restaurant was excellent as well. Would highly recommend.

Afterwards, we walked around for a few more hours, went back to the hotel to rest, and then at night we went out for tapas and drinks. We passed a giant protest in the Plaza del Sol, thought I’m not too sure what the protest was about. Then we headed to Calle Baja and Alta and one of the streets (I think Alta?) was pretty dead with no bars, but the other had tapas bar after tapas bar. The best one we went to (can’t remember the name) was delicious. We had a bunch of tapas there, but one that sticks out in my mind is the goat cheese with grilled veggies on a slice of toasted bread. After, we had more tapas at a bar where there were pictures of bull fighters all over the walls. Our server was very sweet- he was from Latin America and had moved to Madrid many years ago and was not engaged to an American girl and was going to move to Texas with her! So sweet.

On the walk back we stopped at Malaspiña for a final drink before heading back to the hotel to meet with Kristen!

The next morning we took a bus to Granada. The ride was about 5 hours or so, but it really went by quickly. We stayed at the hotel Alixares right near the Alhambra (will talk more about that later, but what you need to know now is that it is a beautiful palace that had been built by the Muslims when the had conquered Spain). The hotel was super comfortable with a delicious buffet breakfast.

After settling into the hotel, we walked down the foot path past the Alhambra towards town. We walked a bit through the beautiful town and walked up the hill to try and get to the vista, Mirador San Nicolas. It was a bit of a hike up a steep hill, but the view was totally worth it. Because it is the end of winter, the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the distance behind the Alhambra were snowcapped. We got there before sunset, so we were able to get both photos of the Alhambra during the day and light up at night. We went to a nearby terrace café with a view of the Alhambra for some drinks and patatas bravas (yummy French fries with a spicy tomato sauce).

We then headed off to the Plaza Nueva for some more drinks and tapas. At one amazing tapas bar (if you ever go, you’ll recognize it because there are actually two of them across the street from each other) we had ship in a garlic sauce and tortilla with ham and lima beans. We finished off at the end of the plaza in a really gorgeous restaurant for dessert. Here we had a nuts and raspberry “cake.” This wasn’t a regular cake (it did not have dough or anything). Instead, the nuts were used as“dough” with yummy raspberry on top. It had a very unique texture and flavor and was delicious!

The next day we visited the Alhambra. Here is some quick info on the Alhambra, thanks to Wikipedia. The Alhambra, “is a palace and fortress complex located in Granada,Andalusia, Spain. It was constructed during the mid 14th century by the Moorish rulers of the Emirate of Granada in al-Andalus… After the Reconquista (reconquest) by the Reyes Católicos ("Catholic Monarchs") in 1492, some portions were used by the Christian rulers. The Palace of Charles V, built by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor in 1527, was inserted in the Alhambra within the Nasrid fortifications. After being allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries, the Alhambra was "discovered" in the 19th century by European scholars and travelers, with restorations commencing. It is now one of Spain's major tourist attractions, exhibiting the country's most significant and well known Islamic architecture, together with 16th-century and later Christian building and garden interventions. The Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the inspiration for many songs and stories.”

The actual visit includes a ton of stuff and can easily take the entire time you have there (you MUST reserve a time slot in advance online). I think our time slot was something to the tune of 9am to 1pm. And then you also get a time slot to visit the palace, which is the highlight of the trip. Our time slot was 10am. You need to arrive to the Alhambra gates at least half an hour before your palace time slot so you have enough time to walk to the palace and everything. I would also DEFINITELY recommend the audio guide, since there is pretty much no information on the entire visit. The audio was great too- I really liked how they used the American writer Washington Irving’s “character” to guide you through. Irving had lived in the Alhambra and wrote Tales of the Alhambra, and the audio guide used quotes from his book as well as other quotes, music, description, and facts to give you a great sense of how awe inspiring this palace really is. The Alhambra palace is also interesting because, when it was taken over by Queen Ferdinand and Isabella, it was where it is believe that Columbus was sent to discover the Americas. We pretty much took the entire hour and a half you get in the palace. Afterwards, we saw the gardens, fortified wall, and palace that was used for when the king and his family wanted to have a little vacation from their regal roles.

We rested for a while and then headed out to lunch. We took a little shuttle bus down to the Christopher Columbus statue in the town. For lunch we had a salad with hard boiled eggs, corn, white asparagus (apparently very popular in Spain), heart of palm and more. Then we split a lima beans and ham tortilla, croquettes (round, small, fried rolls containing potato and vegetables), and slicked and fried eggplant (called aubergine in the UK!).

After, we headed off to the cathedral of the city. The cathedral was built over the main mosque of the city to show that the Reconquista was done in honor of God and Christianity and not for the personal glory of the king and queen. The cathedral took 180 years to build! It is absolutely massive. While we were in the cathedral, there was a study abroad group being led by their teacher on a tour. Most of them weren’t even paying attention to the guide and were just off to the side. Meanwhile, we tried to stand off to the side of them, snooping in on the information. I learned that the two giant organs that are there are done in the Spanish style and that you can tell because the organ pipes stick straight out. I also learned that it was built as a Renaissance style church, but there are gothic arches. Either way, it’s so embarrassing to me when you see American study abroad program. Usually they couldn’t give less of a damn about the culture or language of the city they’re in and they have no shame in being completely ignorant about their country of study.

Next, we headed to another part of the church, but there is a separate entrance way and entrance fee. It is the tomb of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. When Ferdinand ordered the making of this cathedral, it was intended to be the resting place of the bodies of all the subsequent kings of Spain. However, after his son Philip I and his wife Juana la Loca (Joanna the Mad) were buried there, the official burial place of all subsequent kings and queens became just outside of Madrid (And it still is! You can go there to see it, though I didn’t have enough time). Anyway, you can see this burial site of Ferdinand, Isabella, Philip I and Juana. There are the death statues (that’s not the correct term for them, I’m sure, but they’re huge marble carvings of the king and queen laying to rest peacefully). What is interesting about this is they say that the reason Isabella’s head lies deeper into the pillow (which you can actually see) is because she was the real brains of the royal couple. Beneath, you can actually walk down and see the coffins of Ferdinand, Isabella, Philip, Juana, and I think their child who must have died at a young age or even birth. Pretty strange actually seeing a 500+ year old coffin and knowing that famous kings and queens are lying in there.

The reason why Juana is called la Loca, FYI, is because apparently after her husband Philip I (known as “the beautiful” because of his fair skin and light hair)she was so in love with him and mourned for him so much that she had his casket carried around behind her until her death. Slightly romantic, slightly creepy. Her son found this more on the side of creepy and had her banished to a nunnery, which is pretty sad.

Besides this morbid stuff, there are also cool artifacts. There is the scepter of Isabella and the crown and sword of Ferdinand. You can also see Isabella’s bible and the case for it. And there are lots of nice paintings.

After leaving this, we stumbled on an art school (I think that’s what it was) that had its doors open and you can go in and see the only remains of the mosque that the cathedral was built over/the only remains of any ancient mosque built by the Muslim conquerors. We were so glad we stumbled on that- it was so cool, and Kristen had been to Granada 3 other times and had never seen that! Plus, they have a really nice, free art gallery by some artist named Vivaldi (I only remember his name because it’s the same as the music composer). Definitely a fun, cool find!

We then headed over to the Arabic quarter. This “quarter” is really just a street full of shops and tea/hooka houses. They all have this really cool feel that you’ve been transported to the middle east. Our first stop was a tea house. We tried some delicious middle eastern/north African tea some baklava. Baklava is a pastry known to be from North Africa and (according to Wikipedia) is a rich, sweet pastry made of layers of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey.
We also ordered a hooka for the novelty of it. Afterwards, we walked along the shops, which had a lot of trinkets and cool hippie clothing. I got a pair of cool balloon pants (I don’t actually think they’re called that, but they are basically huge, wide pants that are cinched at each ankle).

We also find a ceramics store just a little off this street. Ceramics are big in Spain. Each area/ region has their own style. Kristen loves Spanish pottery, especially the style from Granada. The style is usually hand painted blue and white lines on white pottery, usually around a bird or a pomegranate (Pomegranate is actually what Granada means in Spanish and it is the symbol of Granada and can be seen all around the city).

We then rushed to the hotel, ate a snack, got dressed, and we were off to the races! Or really, a flamenco show. The show provided a shuttle that picked us up right from the hotel and a walking tour of the area the show is in, though we were so beat, we opted to go straight to the place where the show is to have a drink. The place was called Los Tarantos and it’s built into the rock wall of the hill. Flamenco, according to Kristen, was brought to Spain by the gypsies who migrated all the way from India (there are different types of gypsies, so not all gypsies are of the same culture and origin in different countries). Therefore, flamenco has a lot of hand motions that look similar to motions made in Indian dance. Also, the tones are in a different style from the traditional western style and are identifiable with Indian music. There is also a heavy presence of the beat and sort of syncopation that was not really seen in western music until the modern era. Anyway, we got to the show early and had a chance to chat with the public relations manager of the show. He was very sweet and had actually once lived in California. We talked with him and he offered us our first round of drinks on him!

Afterwards, we went inside to see the show. The place where the show is, is very tiny and has a cool intimate atmosphere. You also get a free drink. If you decide to go, get the strong liquor or beer- the wine they use for the sangria is super cheap and no bueno. The show was fantastic and they tried to get someone from the audience to come up on stage and give it a whirl. One person who went up seems to have actually studied it or something and was quite good (show off!). After the amazing show, we headed to the hotel to rest. Up next: Barcelona!!!

For photos, check out: