Things to do before you die: The Alhambra

There's a social comment in here somewhere, but I just can't put my finger on it.

Last week, K-man and I travelled to Andalucia for Tall’s wedding.  Tall is my oldest friend, and when we were young I used to ride shotgun on her family holidays to the Costa Blanca.  Her parents live in the mountains of southern Spain now, and so she chose to get married in Granada.

Quite apart from the fact that I was a bridesmaid, budget permitting you don’t have to ask me twice to show up somewhere exotic, foreign, and that I’ve never been before (I draw the line at, say, Karachi, Somalia, or Helmand).  As an added bonus, the Alhambra sits atop a hill overlooking Granada.  I’ve developed an odd lust for hill-top fortresses, so we booked tickets to clap eyes on this thing amidst our wedding duties.

The Cave

We heaved ourselves from the heady delights of accommodation befitting a Tolkein novel, and progressed the 25 minute walk from the Sacromonte up to the Alhambra.  All the guidebooks advise you not to do this, and instead get the bus up from the centre of town.  I’m here to tell you that if you’ve got a reasonable level of fitness you can make that walk in about 15 minutes.  It’s shaded and atmospheric, and free.

Things are a little, how can I put this, Spanish at the top.  It’s not entirely clear where the true entrance is, there are queues for different things but no signage explaining which queue is for what thing, and if you’ve pre-booked tickets you can bypass all that anyway and head to the automatic machines (un-signposted) secreted around the back.  Despite what they tell you, you do not need to arrive an hour in advance of your entrance time if you have pre-booked tickets.  Owing to an error on my part, we arrived with only five minutes to spare and it was fine, if a little crazy.  The complex is huge, and ill-signposted, but it’s not rocket science and unless you’re ambling, I would say half an hour would be more than enough time.

Since our trip to Rajasthan, where the audio tours involve colonial accents and interviews with Maharajas, we have been converted to these tools of tourism from a previously disdainful standpoint.  Like India, in Spain there are no explanatory information boards, nor curators present to explain what you are looking at.  So you really need an audio-tour, which is apparently available in the bookshop.  But because we had five minutes to run to the entrance to the palace, we were without.

K-man latched on to a tour group we weren't part of, so we know this has something to do with the 16th Century.

Life was manic with bathroom detritus right before we left for Spain, so we had no time to go to the library for a book.  Which was a crying shame because the Alhambra is probably one of the top five things* I’ve seen in my life.  And I’ve seen some seriously cool stuff.

Part of the intricately carved ceiling has fallen down.

This is a ceiling. I'm sure there are technical terms to describe it more accurately.

Every part of the building is elaborately decorated. I'm guessing this little alcove held a candle.

I was snap-happy, and these photographs represent the brutally-edited highlights.  There are many, many just as impressive things about the Alhambra: arguably none more so that the view from the top of the highest watch-tower.  But I am not talented with a camera and none of them could convey the magnitude of the sight.

If I can take this with an elderly point-and-shoot, consider what it looks like before your own eyes.

After the Alhambra, we were embroiled in wedding planning and eating and drinking.  The wedding was great, if a little wonky in every conceivable way.  There was an accident involving the vicar, three glass vases, a wandering speaker-cable, and plentiful emergency first aid.  He clearly had a direct line to God, because the vicar made it through the ceremony long enough to declare Tall and Saffie married before rushing off to drink a bottle of whisky to numb his pain.

Here, I demonstrate my advanced ineptitude in the art of make-up. What was I doing with that lip-gloss?

It was 40 degrees Centigrade.  At 7pm.  There was a five course banquet, and enough cured meat to quench even K-man’s desire.  There was dancing, and joking, and laughing, and crying.  And when it was all finished it was 3am and we stumbled back through the cobbled streets of the Sacromonte feeling a little bit heat-stricken, and very happy.

There was logistical trauma aplenty.  Don’t hire a car and try to drive it through central Granada up to the Sacromonte with only a map drawn by a Spaniard who doesn’t understand the concept of mapping.   Nobody will know what a cup of tea is, even when you say it in Spanish.  Don’t drive the coastal motorway along the Costa del Sol without copious amounts of change in Euros for expensive tolls.   Don’t offer to carry someone else’s suit back to the UK when you’re drunk and have forgotten that this will mean excess baggage charges.  Don’t fly Monarch airlines.

Do go to Granada.  Do go to the Alhambra.  You won’t regret it.

Barrio Sacromonte, taken from the Alhambra.

*There’s a bit of disagreement between K-man and I, my off-the-top-of-my-head list is:

1.  Angkor Wat, Cambodia

2.  The Jain temple outside Udaipur, India

3.  The Palace of the Winds, Jaipur, India

4.  The Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand

5.  The Alhambra, Spain

And if anyone wants to me to write about these things, I’m always willing.

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9 Responses to “Things to do before you die: The Alhambra”


  1. 1 Jenn @ Juggling Life September 26, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    I think you look fab–and that is a remarkably attractive bridesdmaid’s dress.

    It all looks amazing–I will definitely put it on my “someday” list.

  2. 2 unmitigated me (m.a.w.) September 27, 2010 at 1:51 am

    I would love to hear about Cambodia!

  3. 4 Ashley September 27, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    New Zealand, New Zealand!!

  4. 5 Mrs. G. September 28, 2010 at 12:52 am

    I so admire you guys’ travels. Great photo–you’re both beautiful!

  5. 6 Jonathan September 28, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    The architecture looks amazing! Wonderful photos.

  6. 7 Jonathan September 28, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    I would comment, but everything I try to write is detected as a duplicate ?!

  7. 9 Suzanne September 30, 2010 at 2:56 am

    Wow! Looks tremendous. I’m adding it to the list…


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