Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Spain 9

I was still a bit tired of seeing stuff. The museum I most wanted to see (military) was closed so I was out of luck on that. I didn't feel like paying to see the Prado so I went in the evenings when it was free. The Caixa Forum had a free Alphonse Mucha exhibit. The building next to it had one wall completely covered in plants. This was the day I splurged and had a traditional Spanish treat: chocolate con churros. Very tasty deep fried pastry dipped in strong but delicious hot chocolate (I think it was made in an espresso machine from actual cocoa beans).
I just happened to be in town for the San Isidore festival, so I caught a parade one day and Naumagia, a display of lights and fountains, one night. I had a great seat for that and got some nice pictures of it.

I also went to the Atoch train station on a tip from a friend. The center of the station has been made into a tropical garden. And the city is filled with all sorts of fountains, like this Neptune fountain.
I also found two rose gardens in full bloom. One in the park where the Naumagia display was held, the other near my hostel, where (since I had to carry my backpack) I spent my last day in Spain. It had this gorgeous statue of a woman putting a flower in her hair. It was set back in the trees and stood in a fountain.

And of course, who am I without books? I'd read the two I brought and wanted something else to read. I didn't find anything, but I did stumble on a fantasy and SF bookstore. Unfortunately it was closed, but I got photos of the displays in the windows.

I also came close to buying the astrolabe I've wanted for years. But 100 euro seemed too expensive (as did the 60 euro one I found later). I got a postcard with a cut out fully working astrolabe for 5 euro instead!

I spent the last night in the airport as my flight left at 6 am. I tried to sleep but without any luck. With the 6 hour layover I had in Amsterdam, and the two flights, by the time I got to Canada I was pretty tired. I didn't get home until 6pm though my plane landed at 4.

It was a great trip but I'm glad to be home. Now it's time to start writing again. I've got lots of ideas for my fantasy novels. Little details and tidbits that don't usually come up. It's one thing to imagine things, another to do them. Experience truly is the best teacher.
As I said, I have lots more photos. If you want to see more, just tell me.

Spain 8


Of all the cities I visited this was my favourite. Because I bought my swords there? Perhaps. It was also the most medieval of all the cities I visited. The city is built on on a hill surrounded by a river. That means no real changes can be made to the structures. All the streets are narrow and windy (I ended up trapped in the same court for about half an hour, trying different roads out that all looped me back). I originally ignored my map and decided to wander around. Once I decided to get somewhere things got frustrating. It didn't matter how many times I checked the map and the name of the street I thought I was on, I ended up going the wrong way. By this time I was rather sick of sightseeing, so while I walked by the cathedral and took some photos, I didn't go inside. I was going to see the Synagogues, but ended up not doing those either.

 Instead I wandered and checked out sword shops. They were everywhere and had the most incredible selections. Some were very expensive, but you could get a good sword for very little money. Or better yet, a practice sword. I ended up getting 3 swords, a Lord of the Rings replica with a sheath and two brass handled traditional Spanish blades. They weren't the cheaper blades I was originally going to get

but as I bought 2 I got a deal.

Oh, and the hostel I stayed at, it's the castle. (Top of the first picture.) The picture beside it is the Alcazar, across a valley and in the city proper.

Ok, here are the pictures of the city. I discovered I had an extra day since I did some of the other cities faster than anticipated. I spent an extra day in Toledo, walking around the outside of the city, first on the city side then opposite it. That walk included a wonderful viewing platform.
That night I walked part of the route again to get a few pictures.

Spain 7

The Alhambra

Here's the view from St. Nicholas's church, the best view in the city. It took 3 photos, as the complex is large and sprawls across the mountain top.

I'll describe the buildings as I visited them, from right to left.

I started with the Alcazaba, the military complex. It was basically a set of buildings (now gone, though you can see the foundations where there were several towers, and the view from them was, well, there's a photo. You tell me.) I didn't have much time here, as my ticket for the Palacios Nazarines, was for 10 and I got to the Alhambra complex around 9 (I lined up at 6:30 to get my ticket - as they stop selling once they reach a certain number of visitors). They also limit the number of people in the middle complex at any given time to keep the monument in good repair.
I spent more time there, though not as much as I would have liked. The walls and ceilings were all carved and patterned. Here's a view from the windows (also carved). The picture beside it is of one of the interior courtyards. This one looks onto the room where the Sultan met with his subjects. The pools are designed so the buildings seem to disappear into them (it's the technique used at the Taj Mahal). The picture beside that is the room itself. The sultan would sit in one of the alcoves, back lit by stained glass windows.

The next section was the 'lion's fountain' courtyard. The fountain is being restored so the centre of the courtyard's all boarded up. The king's chamber was also closed for repairs. I've got lots of pictures of this side of the courtyard. Again, amazing carvings in everything. The close up shows you some of the detail. I also added a detail of one of the stalactite ceilings. Not all of the ceilings were like this, many were wooden, but the work here was incredible.
The complex ended with another courtyard and a garden.

From there it was a long walk around one curve of the mountain to reach the Generalife garden complex. It was designed as a heavenly garden on earth. Once you reach it the garden takes up most of the hilltop on this side. You can see orchards and other gardens inaccessible to tourists. The buildings here enclose other gardens. Another interesting feature was the water staircase. (There were fountains at each landing and the handrail was a water runway.)

I'd gone through a different entrance than the one my guide book suggested, so I passed through that one on my way out. The Moors had an eye towards defense. They planned the main gate so that you couldn't move directly from the the outside to the inside, you had to go around corners making an attacking army easier to halt. There were also murder holes in the ceiling for defenders to take out more attackers.
Outside this gate and down the hill a little was a fountain.

On the path in front of it was a mosaic done in stones. I've put the photo in here not because this was unique, but because a lot of the roads and paths were done this way. Not necessarily with mosaics, but with rocks set inside cement.

Spain 6

Someone has asked for extra photos of the Alhambra so I'll do that in a separate post. I took a 'night' bus. The trip was only 5 hours, so I didn't get much if any sleep. It didn't help that the driver played the radio and stopped to let people off to use the washroom in a way station half way through the trip. Granada was surprisingly cold. I was hoping for one day where I could wear shorts but no luck. It was cloudy pretty much the whole time I was there but never really rained. I checked into my hostel which HAD KITCHEN FACILITIES. Finally, hot food again (I was getting pretty tired of bread, cheese and soup by this point - yes, I eat lousily on vacation, leaves more money for travelling).
I started in the Albaycin (the old Moorish quarter - a 'maze of streets', which was surprisingly easy to navigate for the most part). It's on one of the mountains, so it's a mass of narrow streets and stairs. I took the picture to the side because I couldn't figure out how the owner got the motorcycle there (it was stairs up and down). I guess he/she could have ridden it, people were pretty crazy. Drivers had to go slowly because there wasn't actually enough room in a lot of places to drive by walkers, let alone other cars (walkers had to stand in doorways to let cars pass). Motorcyclists however whipped by at speeds I thought were suicidal. Lots of the walls were graffiti'd, some with nice photos, some with, well, graffiti.
I went to Sacramonte next, a mountain that overlooks the Alhambra. It's famous for its cave houses. (The Alhambra is partially on the left - it's a huge complex of buildings, Sacramonte is on the right. The city is in the centre, at the end of that forested valley.)
On my 3rd day in the city I went to the museum and had a glimpse of how people lived. The ceilings were pretty low for the most part, but the houses were quite cozy. Lots of stuff hanging on hooks from the ceiling or walls and little nooks and crannies everywhere. The view of the Alhambra and the city were great. The bazaar near the cathedral had all sorts of items, as seen in the photo here. Gelato stores were everywhere too. They had the yummiest displays. But it was soooo expensive (generally 2 euro for a tiny scoop). The last photo is a cool ad I saw on the way to the bus station.