Spain Trip – Part 5: Alhambra

And now the last part of my blog post series about my trip to Spain. What I wrote about so far:
We first stayed 3 days in Barcelona:  part 1: Barcelona. Followed by a trip down the east coast of Spain to Granada: part 2: Spanish East coast. From there we made a few day excursions: part 3: Day Trips. We spend a long time in Granada and explored the city: part 4: Granada.

But lets move on to what I consider the absolute highlight of my trip, which is why I saved it for last: the Alhambra.

Alhambra

What we call Alhambra today is actually a whole complex of different buildings from different times and different cultures. All of them are housed on a hill of the Assabica with Granada on its foot.
The oldest part, the Alcazaba was more of a military fortress than a castle and build in AD 889.
The Nasrid Palaces or Alhambra proper was build during the Nasrid dynasty by the Moorish emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar in the mid-13th century, and then converted into a royal palace in 1333 by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada. In 1492 it was altered to Renaissance tastes when the Christians had concurred Spain.
Generalife, a summer palace and gardens were built during the reign of Muhammad III (1302–1309) and redecorated shortly after by Abu I-Walid Isma’il (1313–1324).
In 1526 Charles I & V commissioned a new Renaissance palace in the Mannerism style now called Palace of Charles V right next to the Nasrid Palace.

For some of you fellow geeks, the Alhambra appears as a multi player location for Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood’s final DLC. It is is a wonder in Civilization V: Gods & Kings. And the film ‘El Dorado’ features many scenes shot in and around the Alhambra palace. And is featured in many more books, movies, games, etc.
The main feature though is in Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra. Which is a collection of essays, verbal sketches, and stories. Irving lived in the palace while writing the book and had a big role in reintroducing the Alhambra to Western world.

Following are impressions of the Alhambra. Enjoy!

If you have missed the previous posts, here they are:
Spain Trip – Part 1: Barcelona 
Spain Trip – Part 2: Spanish East Coast
Spain Trip – Part 3: Day Trips
Spain Trip – Part 4: Granada

Spain Trip – Part 4: Granada

Here the next part of my blog post series about our trip to Spain in August.
We first stayed 3 days in Barcelona:  part 1: Barcelona. Followed by a trip down the east coast of Spain to Granada: part 2: Spanish East coast. From there we made a few day excursions: part 3: Day Trips.
And now I will talk about the things we have seen in Granada. Except for the Alhambra. that topic deserves its own post. 🙂

Albayzín

The first day in Granada, we explored the district we were staying in – the Albayzín.
It is one of the oldest parts of the city and from the time the Mores ruled over the Iberian peninsula.
You can still see the Arabic influences very strongly. Especially down the Calle Calderería Nueva, with its bazaar-like charm and little booths selling oriental clothing and souvenirs.

The Albayzín was build on top of the hill across the river Rio Darro from the Alhambra. On top of the hill is the Iglesia de San Nicolás with a breathtaking view over the city and of the Alhambra. On the plaza next to it, we were able to listen to some beautiful street music.

Later at night, we had a wonderful dining and Flamenco experience at the Jardines de Zoraya restaurant.

 

Alcaicería & Granada’s Cathedral

 

On another day we visited the downtown are of Granada. We did a tour through its magnificent Cathedral. It was definitelty impressive with so much ornamental detail and great artwork. Next door is the old market area Alcaireria, which is also one of Granada’s must-visits.

Abadía del Sacromonte

 

 

Another interesting spot to visit in Granada is the district called Sacromonte. It is filled with old cave houses similar but a little less hidden than the ones in Guadix. This used to be the district populated by the gypsies of Spain and you can still see some people living their nomadic ways in some improvised housing across the river along the hills. They also use the many little caves for shelter. Walking up another hill we ended up by the Abby of Sacromonte. It used to be Jewish and now Christian.

Anyone coming to visit Spain and in particular the province of Andalusia should spend some time in Granada if only for the otherworldly architecture of the Alhambra, but better to see even more of this beautiful city.

In my next post I will talk about the Alhambra – the undefeated highlight of our trip to Spain.

If you have missed the previous posts, here they are:
Spain Trip – Part 1: Barcelona 
Spain Trip – Part 2: Spanish East Coast
Spain Trip – Part 3: Day Trips

Spain Trip – Part 3: Day Trips

As promised, here is part 3 of my series of posts about our vacation to Spain in August.
We first stayed 3 days in Barcelona:  part 1: Barcelona. Then we made our way down the east coast of Spain to Granada: part 2: Spanish East coast.

In Granada, we stayed in a beautiful vacation rental in the old district of Albayzín with fantastic view of the Alhambra.

I will talk more about Granada and the Alhambra in future posts, but now I want to describe the couple of day trips we made. Originally we had planned to make more trips to Seville, Cordoba, etc. but they were a little far for our taste. So we ended up making one trip to the coast and one trip to hike in the mountains.

Almuñécar

The trip to the coast south of Granada, lead us through some beautiful mountains to the coastal town of Almuñécar. Almuñécar is located on the Costa Tropical, and was founded around 800 BC as a Phoenician colony called Sexi (hehehe, sorry 5-year old coming through). On the south side close to downtown is a rock that serves as a view point to see the coast and skyline. We also spend some time on the beach enjoying a dip in the Mediterranean Sea to cool off.

Pampaneira & Bubión

Another day trip was to the little mountain city of Pampaneira. It is located in the Poqueira gorge and about 1060 metres above sea level. It is close to the two highest mountains in the Sierra Nevada Range:  Mulhacén and Alcazaba.

After a little stroll through the cute town, we went on a hiking path that was supposed to lead up the sides of the gorge and through the two nearby cities of Bubión and Capileira.
Unfortunately, there were a few factors that made us cut our hike short. One was the weather. We had expected it to be cooler up this high above sea level, however it was not which made hiking pretty cumbersome. The other problems were related to the path. Much of it was overgrown with thorn bushes or marked very poorly. At some point we were not sure we were still on the correct path and decided to turn around.
It was still a fun hiking day, just not exactly what we expected.

Most of the other days we spend in Granada as well as one of them visiting the Alhambra. I will be talking about this in the next post.

If you have missed the previous posts, here they are:
Spain Trip – Part 1: Barcelona 
Spain Trip – Part 2: Spanish East Coast

Spain Trip – Part 2: Spanish East Coast

This post I am describing the things we saw in part 2 of  our recent trip to Spain. If you have missed the first part of this trip, here it is: part 1: Barcelona.

After 3 days in Barcelona, we headed south along the coast toward Andalusia. We spend most of the rest of the trip in Granada.

Tarragona

The first stop on the way was a beautiful old town called Tarragona. It houses ruins of an amphitheater from the Roman times. Today they still perform plays and mock gladiator fights in those ruins.
It has a beautiful beach. On cliffs north of the beach there is the old fortress Fortí de Sant Jordi which was build during the succession war in the early 18th century.

Dénia

We stopped for the night in Dénia, a small historical town on the Costa Blanca. The town is very old. There is evidence of human habitation in the area since prehistoric times.
We stayed in a lovely small hotel in the downtown area called Hostal Loreto. The street next to it was only a pedestrian street and at night restaurants put out tables for dinner.
During dinner, we were lucky enough to see a parade for one of the many festivals each town in Spain celebrates frequently.

Driving through the mountains

On the way to Granada, we left the coast westward through one of the many mountain ranges in Spain. We were impressed with the quality of the streets as well as the many tunnels.

Guadix

Last stop before Granada was the little mountain town Guadix. One of the districts is filled with cave houses that are still inhabited. One of them is open to the public as a museum. That was quite impressive. In the panorama you can see the little chimneys of each of these houses peaking out of the ground. The temperature inside was very nice and cool without any air-conditioning.

It took us 2 days and about 10 hours total to get from Barcelona to Granada.
In Granada, we stayed for the rest of the trip and I will talk about its attractions and surrounding area as well as its main highlight – the Alhambra – in the remaining posts.

Next: Part 3 – Day Trips

If you have missed it, here is part 1 of the trip: Barcelona.

Spain Trip – Part 1: Barcelona

Finally, almost a month later, I am starting my series of posts about our trip to Spain. We went the last two weeks of August.

To start off, I want to mention a few things overall that I would have done differently or that I thought worked out very well.

Timing

We went in high summer due to being limited by summer break from high school for my sister. But if at all possible, I would suggest to go in Spring or Fall for many reasons:
  1. The prices for lodging etc. will be lower in off season.
  2. It won’t be as crowded. Many Europeans including the Spanish themselves do vacation in summer.
  3. Most importantly: it will not be so HOT. It was very hot and we had to do some sort of siesta due to that, which will take off a few hours out of you day. Luckily the Spanish are used to that and many things are open late, but it will be dark.

Transportation

Unless you plan on camping or road tripping, getting a rental is not very useful and so expensive. We had one and most of the time we had to park it in a garage for a steep fee.
The public transport is great and many downtown/historical parts of the city are just not reachable via car.

Vacation Rentals

For this trip we decided to go with vacation rentals instead of hotels because we were meeting my family and travelling with them. And I am very happy we did. It is about the same price if not cheaper than hotels and allows you to have some private area to sit with the family, have breakfasts and dinners together. We also enjoy cooking and didn’t want to have to go out to dinner every night.
another perk was, that we were able to stay in some more historic areas of some cities that may not have a hotel or may have been expensive and quickly booked.
So I can definitely recommend this if you travel with family, other than if you do camping.
But now let’s get to the things we were able to see in Barcelona.

Gaudi Architecture

The first day we spend visiting multiple spots within the city with architecture by Antoni Gaudí, a famous Spanish architect of the Catalan Modernism. Many of his buildings are in a Modernisme or Art Nouveau style and greatly influenced by flowing, organic themes of nature – aka they have a lizard or ginger bread house feel to them. Ceramic tile mosaics were a huge part of the designs.

Sagrada Família

First we visited this large Roman Catholic church in a mixed style of Gothic and Art Nouveau. This project is still under construction and was only a quarter of the way at the time Gaudi died in 1926. No work was done until the 50s and is said to have had its half way point in 2010. Quite a project!

Casa Batlló

After a stroll through the city we stopped at Casa Batlló, one of Gaudi’s masterpieces. The local name is Casa dels ossos (House of Bones) because it looks like some sort of animal with bones. The roof definitely makes me think of a dragon. You can also go inside for a tour for a fee.

Casa Milà

Just down the road is another of Gaudi’s building, the Casa Milà. It is so impressive because the stone front and columns are self-supporting and it has no load-bearing walls on the inside. It can be visited from the inside and also has an interesting spiral shaped roof terrace. In 1984 it was declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.

Park Güell

After a little Siesta we visited the biggest collection of Gaudi architecture, the Park Güell. It is located on the Carmel hill and quite a climb to get up there in the heat. But it is absolutely worth your while. So many buildings in Gaudi’s typical style with tile mosaics or very nature like designs from his naturalist phase (first decade of the 20th century). It is all located in a nature park and just grand and impressive. We also experienced some nice Spanish street music in the park.

Gothic Quarter

The next day we were able to visit the beautiful narrow alleys and gorgeous architecture of the Gothic quarter. This was the old down town of Barcelona and has many Medieval and even Roman buildings  from it’s time as a Roman settlement. There are many churches as well as the old Jewish quarter located in the area.

Harbor

Just a hop away is the port of Barcelona.  It is Spain’s third and Europe’s ninth largest container port. This is not the only port in Barcelona, as there are also two additional yacht harbors and marinas.
We took a little boat tour of the port during which we could refresh and relax from all the walking.

Castle Montjuïc

Next stop was  Montjuïc hill that can be reached via scenic cable car ride. There are many attractions on this hill like the Olympic village, but as it was getting late we were only able to quickly visit the castle Montjuïc, an old military fortress from the 17th century.

There were quite a few other things we wanted to see if we had more time. But it was time to move on down the east coast to Granada in Andalusia.
In the next post, I talk about that part of the trip:
Part 2: Spanish East Coast.
Part 3: Day Trips

Is April Gone Already???

Wow, what a busy April and beginning of May. First I went on a two week business trip to Russia, followed by two weeks of awesome vacation in Germany. Afterward it took me about one week to get over my jet lag 🙂 . Seriously, I woke up at 3 am and then at 8 pm I felt like going to bed again (actually did…).
Shortly I was attending a bachelorette partly the Saturday before last and the respective wedding last Saturday, for which I actually finished a dress I up-cycled from a thrift store find. Yes, I did make it on time, even though it was 3 am the day of the wedding 🙂

But one thing I really wanted to write a little about, because It was so great, is my trip in Germany with my husband. In the first week we did sight seeing in Bavaria, and the second week we visited my family in North Germany.

Our first stop was the city Schwangau, which is just a 10 min bus ride away from Hohenshwangau which houses the famous Neuschwanstein Castle. This was really amazing and due to the fact that the season had just begun in April it was still pretty empty. Below the view of the castle from the Marien-Bridge.

The Neuschwanstein Castle was never actually finished and the king Ludwig lived in this Castle called Hohenschwangau Castle which belonged to his parents before.

Next stop was Augsburg. We visited the Fuggerei, which was the first social living complex and was opened in 1521 by the famous and super rich merchant Fugger.

Also interesting in Augsburg was the St. Ulrich church with bones of three different saints in it. Two of the remains were in a crypt under the church which was open to the public and super creepy.
Unfortunately we did not see much more in Augsburg because it was Monday and pretty much all public institutions like museums are closed. Definitely something to remember when traveling Germany 🙂

Next we went to Harburg in Schwaben. A really small but cute little town which mostly is famous because it has a fortress and the Romantic Road goes through it (an old Roman trade route).

The fortress was nice and had a walkable fortification wall. The tour was only in German and I was the only German in the group 🙂 There were three  folks from Brazil which I translated for. It was quite funny how the tour guide expected some of the local German history to be common knowledge but it obviously was not for the Brazilians (keyword Gustav II of Sweden in the 30 year war ).

Last but in my opinion best stop was Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Rothenburg is one of the best preserved cities in Germany. It still has all of the fortification wall and gates around the downtown area (former the whole city) of which about half is walkable. Just amazing!

After the war the city collected money to maintain and restore all the historic buildings in the city by selling meters of the fortification wall to people around the world. For buying parts of that wall a plaque was added to the wall, which can be viewed when walking on the wall. We found one from the Mader family of Milwaukee who own a well known German restaurant in Milwaukee.

We also went on the 50 meter high tower of the city hall to get a stunning view of the city.

But the best of the city are the many well maintained historical half-timber town houses. They just look like out of a fairytale.

Especially the view below, which is the most photographed one in Rothenburg because it has two gates and some really pretty houses. If you ever come to Germany, this city should be high on your list!

At night we did a great tour with the “Night Watchman” (he actually dressed like a night watchman 🙂 ).
There are two tours each night- one English and one German – and the guy is super funny. I bought the DVD he made to watch again later. Check out his site here:  http://www.nightwatchman.de
And below one of the gates at night …

That was it for the Germany trip. Next time I will tell you some more about the up-cycled dress I made.