The Kingdom of the Moors

Trip Start Sep 30, 2005
Trip End Jun 04, 2006

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Friday, December 2, 2005

OK, it's time for a tourist cliché, but Granada is somewhere I've always wanted to visit, and the Alhambra is a place I've always dreamed about, and the reality more than matched up to the expectation. Having lived in Asia for most of the last year, I came to appreciate how marvellous some of the places on my European doorstep are, and how closely I can relate to, and appreciate their historical and cultural context. I was determined to take my chance at the first opportunity.

The Moorish kingdom in Spain didn't finally collapse until 1492 and Granada, the seat of the Nasrid dynasty, was one of the last cities to fall to the Catholic Kings. It is a special place, which is still architecturally dominated by the Alhambra Palace. There is much to recommend Granada and I happily pottered through the streets and lanes of Sacromonte and around the Plaza Nueva. Stopping for a beer or a glass of wine brought the obligatory tapa gratis alongside. For all that I enjoyed the city, I was here for the Alhambra. If you go nowhere else in Spain, go to the Palacios Nazaries and the Generalife within the Alhambra. I can't profess to know and understand how the design fits within the religion and philosophies of the architects, but there is a definite balanced feel to it. I felt I was being drawn in and wrapped within the patterns and calm rhythms of the Mexuar, Serallo, and the stunning Patio de los Leones and Sala de los Abencerrajes. Finally, the Generalife gardens and summer palace of the sultans offer more room for gentle reflection and relaxation. It seems that there is gently flowing water everywhere and more than the odd stunning view of the Sierra Nevada to the north and plains to the south.

O a short visit anywhere, you focus on the things you most want to see and for all that Granada left me easy and relaxed and enjoying the atmosphere of the first weekend of the Sierra Nevada ski season. Andalucia is also the home of Flamenco dance. There are signs and fliers for various Flamenco dance shows and pictures of women dressed as gypsies wearing headscarves. It is the image of the dance that I'd always had. I had to see a dance show, but I noticed the signs for a flamenco festival in the local theatre and picked myself up a ticket for about £10. The show was absolutely stunning. It also gave the lie to the traditional "gypsy woman" image of flamenco. On stage were 2 guitarists, 3 vocalists and rythmn musicians (using hands and feet only mind), and 1 male dancer. The combinations of speed, movement and volume were almost hypnotic. You couldn't ever watch just one thing because so much was happening on the stage. I was surrounded by local aficionados of flamenco and they approved as much as I did. The applause and calls for a deserved encore were long and hard. Flamenco was something else I'd arrived knowing little about except by reputation but which Granada had introduced me to and left me rapt.

To get the best from Granada, you need to be happy to communicate in Spanish. For all its obvious tourist attraction, it is very definitely a Spanish city lived in by the locals. My Spanish is ok, but it took me a while to get going as I was suffering from my brain mixing up languages! I'd arrived late on Friday evening, and having gone through the tiny airport, a guy near the exit told me in Spanish, "the bus to town is around the corner and leaves in 15 minutes." I understood every word and replied to him, "Thanks. How much does it cost?" The poor guy looked completely bemused. I'd answered him in Chinese!! I don't think they'd heard anything so strange since the Moors were here themselves...
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