Lovely Places to Get Lost in Granada

The Alhambra Palace viewed from opposite hill

The Alhambra Palace viewed from opposite hill

The first time I visited Granada, Spain, I had heard amazing things about this city so I planned to arrive 2 days before I had to start my official work as translator and interpreter at the ISSF World Cup. An Irish friend who was a team Finland coach at the event and I had done some research and we knew what we definitely wanted to see. Now, what were a coach and a translator doing together in Granada? The Olympic World is like that; you make friends from all over the world and you meet up several times a year for sports events or meetings. So we were just happy to see each other again after a few weeks and he decided to explore Granada with his personal interpreter.

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We were by no means the first to arrive in Granada for the ISSF event; we bumped into Olympic athletes wearing their World Cup accreditations and climbing the the hilly streets of this beautiful city. These are seasoned travelers who are used to being in foreign lands without an interpreter. However, as a translator, the first thing I noticed when I went through customs at the airport was the accent.

In Mexico, we are used to the Castilian accent from central Spain. Al-Andalus (World of Sultans) is the part of Spain conquered and ruled by the Moors for 8 centuries. Most of the words in Spanish are of Latin or Arabic origin, but the conquest of southern Spain is clear in the accent, the rhythm and linguistic patterns of the Andalusian people. I often had to ask people to repeat what they’d said because it almost sounded as if they weren’t speaking Spanish. It’s a gorgeous dialect, warm, sexy, musical and perfect for cante jondo, the ancient Andaluz singing that one often hears with flamenco dancing.

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There was no time to waste, we had a packet schedule so we got into a taxi and dropped our stuff off at the hotel. Fortunately for us, I’m a over-planner so I had purchased tickets on ticketmaster to visit the Alhambra Palace. When we arrived, there was a line of about 200 people waiting to buy tickets and another line (which we weren’t able to avoid) to enter the Palace.

We stood in line for so long that we actually had time to read up on the place before it was our turn to go inside. In the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, the fortress housed the military area or Alcazaba and the Nasrid Palaces. There is an independent palace opposite the Alhambra, Qal'at al-Hamra or Red Fort in Arabic, surrounded by orchards and gardens where royalty relaxed, this is the Generalife. Yusuf I (1333-1353) and Mohammed V (1353-1391) were responsible for most of the construction of the Alhambra that we see today.

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Granada is about 335 miles from Africa, so it is HOT, the couple of days we took these photos it was around 34° C or 93° F , so the first thing I noticed on entering the palace was how cool it was. Clearly the Moors knew what they were doing because there are no glass windows, no air conditioning and yet the walls are cool to the touch and covered with carved inscriptions and ceramic tiles. We were told that more than 10,000 inscriptions adorn the walls of the Nasrid Palace.

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When we stepped out into the Courtyard of the Lions, we understood why people would wait in line for 3 hours to enter this place: 124 irregularly-placed white marble columns surround the courtyard. We wove in and out of them, taking dozens of photos, hoping never to forget the place, the moment and the feeling of awe at the beauty human hands are capable of creating.

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I’m not going to lie, I really wanted to stay at the palace longer, but the crowds were pretty considerable and between the heat and bumping into people constantly, we decided it was time to quit. My friend had trusted me with planning of the itinerary and activities, so I decreed a brief pause for a cold beverage was mandatory.

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We picked one of the cafes in a small square, one with plenty of shade. I asked the waiter if he could bring me hot tea and a big glass of ice (I’ve learned that ordering ice tea in Europe is a waste of time…I’m looking at YOU GERMANY). He looked at me quizzically and repeated my order. Yup. I said that was what I wanted. (My friends is much lower maintenance and ordered a beer). He brought back exactly what I wanted and asked where we were from and said Mexican women are the most beautiful in the world and sat down for a chat!

After a nice long rest, my friend asked what was next. I said, “Don’t ask any questions, just follow me.” I was surprised when he did…he was probably dehydrated and not thinking clearly, plus I was his interpreter and he had to stick by me.

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We walked up the hills of Granada, to the caves of Sacromonte. The caves are just that, restaurants, baths, flamenco bars, shops installed in the caves carved into the hills of Granada. We arrived at Hammam Al Andalus or what the Spanish call the Arab baths. By the way, I had booked this activity online as well and it was clear why when we entered. The receptionist asked for our names and checked a list of time slots that were all filled with names which, I suppose, is the way they space out the visitors and keep the place peaceful and quiet.

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We were directed to private massage rooms where I had the most painful/relaxing massage I’d ever had. It turns out, the way it’s done at a hammam is by first scrubbing your skin with a coarse loofah and let me tell you, they do not have a gentle touch! I heard my friend groan from the adjacent room and almost laughed but I was in too much pain. Fortunately, this was followed by a wonderful massage that erased most of the trauma. When we finally got to go into the baths it was unlike any spa we have ever been to. The walls and arches are moorish design, so it’s almost like floating in the Alhambra…if you close your eyes, you can imagine what it would be like for the wives of the Sultan to lounge in the dark, discreet baths.

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Each of the baths or pools has a different temperature and they recommend you start with warm, then hot and then cold (we tried it and only got as far as dipping a foot in the cold pool). I cannot recommend this activity enough….yes, even the scrub. It is relaxing, almost meditative as you float in darkness and absolute silence.

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I had heard that the great flamenco guitarist and composer Paco de Lucia was going to play at the theater at the Generalife Theater in the Alhambra but I had a work dinner that night. I was heartbroken! There was no way I was leaving Granada without enjoying some flamenco so I booked us tickets for a show at Cuevas los Tarantos. The amazing this about these flamenco caves is that they’re so tiny that you’re sitting about a foot from the dancers and musicians and the acoustics for that type of music are fantastic. You can feel the vibration of the heels of the flamenco shoes in your chair and it’s a truly exciting musical experience.

Amazing what you can cram into 2 days, huh? That’s the way I’ve been able to see the world on work trips! Is it relaxing and stress-free? Definitely not. Is it a toss-up whether I’ll receive a call from my boss asking me to whip up a quick report that’ll mess up my plans? Yup. But it’s all worth it, because YOLO!

Have YOU been to Granada? I’d love to hear about your experience! Leave me a comment and come back for the next Olympic destination in a few days…