In mid-January, I seized upon an opportunity to plan a quick spring break trip to Spain with my son. With two months to prepare, I cashed in my United reward miles and booked hotels, train trips, and tours. Then I began the arduous task of determining how to fit 9-days worth of clothing into a backpack, and I learned packing for a trip is the quickest way to figure out you hate all your clothes. Still, I made it work. The bag was not light and I am not the fittest, but I was going to Spain and I could suffer for 9 days. As it turns out, I didn’t suffer much.
Our first stop was Granada, a city of about 115k people in the Andalucía region of Spain, where Joe planned to spend as much time as possible with his girlfriend who is studying there this semester. I planned to take some tours and relax. The one thing Joe and I had scheduled to do together in Granada was tour the Alhambra, the most visited site in Spain and a masterpiece of Muslim art in Europe. This is where things went awry on our very first day. Not a good sign. I had a tour booked for us, but when we got to the meeting place there were so many other groups of tourists we could not find our specific group. There were no signs to aid us in our search, so Joe wandered from group to group asking if we belonged there. But the guides kept pointing us in different directions toward other groups. In the end, by the time the tours had begun, no one had claimed us. That was strike one. Undeterred, I went to the ticket window figuring at least we could do our own viewing, and I purchased two tickets. Sadly, they were not the right tickets, as tickets to the palaces we most wanted to see were sold out. I didn’t catch that with my measly Spanish. That was strike two. Joe was devastated. He tried not to be too upset and to play positive because he knew how miserable I felt for twice messing up the the ONE thing he wanted to do. Still, he was visibly disappointed, and I was disconsolate for failing my son. We did the sightseeing we could at the Generalife (the gardens and vacation home for the inhabitants of the palace) and the Alcazaba (the fortress that is the symbol of the Alhambra complex) and went our separate ways for the evening.
I lost it as soon as I got to the rental flat and cried for a while. Then I did what I always do. I got determined to find a way to make it happen. Searching online for at least an hour, I discovered there were zero tickets available for the Nasrid palaces for the next few days, either from the site itself or as part of any regular tour with any tour company I could find. Then, finally, some light crept in. Around 9 pm, I discovered there might be a possible opportunity via a private tour. It was not inexpensive, and after my two previous ticket foibles I had already exhausted too much money in this quest. But it made zero sense to have traveled all the way to Spain not to see the one site Joe, a religion and middle east studies major, most wanted to see. So, I booked it.
Turns out it was the best money I have spent in a long time. Our tour guide, Isa, was a delight. She’s an architect who literally grew up at the Alhambra because her mother, also an architect, had worked on restoring the site when Isa was a young girl. We couldn’t have lucked into a better situation. While we toured, Isa told us the history of the location, pointed out small details she knew about that others might not, and spoke Spanish with Joe’s girlfriend who wanted the practice. We spent three hours touring with Isa, talking with her about the site and about Granada, and we learned so much more than we ever would have learned in a 25-person tour. But my biggest takeaway from the series of events in those 24 hours is that sometimes when the lights fade on your vision in one way, they illuminate elsewhere and lead you to much better opportunities you might never have encountered otherwise. And yes, the third time’s a charm.
The Nasrid Palaces, built between 1238 and 1492, are awe inspiring. Although my photos miss much of what you see in person, let me use them demonstrate the beauty of the architecture and design.
Most of the color on the walls has faded with time, but if you look carefully you can see remnants of what once was there. Can you imagine how beautiful the interiors here were seven hundred years ago? You were meant to feel small here, humbled by the wealth and power of the Nasrid dynasty. I wish I could have spent days wandering and taking it all in but, alas, all good tours must come to an end. And so we said goodbye to Isa, and I went back to the flat feeling so much better than I had the night before.
Once solo, I toured the Granada Cathedral. I love visiting cathedrals. Some are so ornate and overwhelming they border on gaudy, but the Granada Cathedral is gorgeous. The first part of the church, built by Queen Isabella after the Reconquista in 1492, was completed in Gothic style and is now the Royal Chapel. This is where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel are interred. We viewed their simple caskets on display underneath the chapel floor. The cathedral was built later in Spanish Renaissance style. If you want to feel small and insignificant, step inside a building meant to portray the greatness of God.
I also toured the Albaicín and Sacromonte areas of the city. These sections are located across the Darro River on the hillside opposite of the Alhambra. The Albaicín settlement is where the original palace workers lived back in the day after they were forced into conversion by Ferdinand and Isabella. In the Sacromonte neighborhood, Roma people (called gypsies) settled into cave houses built into the hills. You could spend days wandering the narrow, often car free, streets here. Joe and I visited the courtyard of the St. Nicolas church, located on a hill directly opposite the Alhambra, multiple times at differing hours of the day to take photos. One morning, Joe pulled out a flag he had brought from home, the Andalucían one his brother bought for him in Granada four years ago, and asked to be photographed with it. He usually only buys flags from places he has been, and prior to our trip he said he felt like a fraud for having this flag. At last, he could legitimately claim ownership for it.
I like to try new things. On this trip, I determined that would be taking a Segway for a spin. There was a tour of the Albaicín and Sacromonte offered via Segway. Joe did not want to participate, so I went with seven people I just met at the tour office. Operating a Segway is fairly straight forward with some practice. I had about 1 minute to practice before we took off. I didn’t feel fully confident, but everyone else in the tour had already ridden one and I was holding up the group.
As I previously mentioned several times, this area of Granada is hilly. Some of these hills are rather steep. With my uninformed mind, I imagined this would make the Segway an ideal mode to get around. At least I would not struggle. That was a miscalculation for a first-time rider. When I booked the trip, I didn’t understand just how narrow, windy, and treacherous these hills were in places. At our first steep incline, the tour leader dismounted and said he personally would coach each one of us up and over the first curve in the hill. Yikes. I could go into gory details about how the rest of this tour went for me but, suffice it to say, the next time I book Segway tour, I will make sure it is in a flat area so I don’t endanger anyone else. I enjoyed the experience, but I’m not so sure the tour leaders and the woman from England who fell off her ride when she ran into cautious me on my slow-going machine felt the same about their trip .
Of the places we toured on our brief sojourn in Spain, Granada was at the top of our list. It’s small, easily walkable, and beautiful with its position at the foot of the Sierra Nevadas. I will definitely return. Next time, I will bring my husband. And I will know the correct way to visit the Alhambra so we only have to pay for our visit one time.