Friday, September 27, 2013

Off to Granada!

Spain is the largest producer of olives and olive oil. It has 260 types of olive plants and this variety is represented by 3.000.000 olive trees.  It feels like we saw all of them on our train trip to Granada.


Our hotel in Granada was located on a lively central street with fancy stores and restaurants. To protect the tourists and keep them shopping under the hot Spanish sun the street was furnished with umbrellas stretched between the building’s roofs.

Granada is a charming town with a must see gothic cathedral, renaissance buildings, stunning baroque  facades and orange trees

lovely bars and a “Bronx Speakeasy”
establishment on ....
Jesus and Maria street.

Most streets are covered by layered stones in variety of patterns.   
The old Moorish district, known as Alabayzin, is located on the hill across from Alhambra. The district windy streets are full of little shops and bars.





Lebanese restaurant on the little plaza in complete harmony with Middle Eastern feel of the neighborhood. 



Mostly white Renaissance buildings are embellished with elements of Islamic art (Mudejar) which gives this neighborhood a unique southern Spain flavor.

Talking about Spanish flavor, in the “Castaneda” restaurant, I had the VERY BEST pulpo a la gallega (octopus with boiled potatoes)
On the top of the Alabayzin hill is the plaza Mirador De S.Nicolas with the most stunning view on Sierra Nevada and Alhambra. No pictures can reflect the grandeur of the view, but people keep trying,
and so am I


Young couples come to take wedding pictures there

We bought tickets for a guided tour of Alhambra weeks in advance. A bus was suppose to pick us up near our hotel at 9:30. As naïve Americans we started to get nervous when there was no bus at 9:35 or even at 9:45. The Mediterranean time rules were in action. When we finally arrived at the gates of Alhambra  the place was very crowded with tourists, buses and guides. Tourists were sorted like cattle in groups by language, counted multiple times in multiple languages and passed to the tour guides. Not the best start. But the initial unpleasant experience was quickly undone by the majestic beauty of the place and important events which took place there.


The splendor beauty, the antiquity, the obvious literary associations of Alhambra reminded me of Venice. People don’t live there anymore, and the place is so romantic and unreal that I felt like a minor character in a fairy tale (in this case in Arabian night).

The Alhambra was built by Nasrid dynasty and was the home of 22 sultans. The last sultan of Granada surrendered Alhambra to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. Legend has it that as the royal party moved south toward exile, they reached a rocky prominence which gave a last view of the city. Looking back at Alhambra and beautiful valley for the last time he burst into tears. When his mother approached him she said: "Thou dost weep like a woman for what thou couldst not defend as a man." Kind and supportive mother, she was not…

Friday, September 20, 2013

First two days in Madrid

Why do I feel that I have to provide a justification for writing a travel blog? Well, maybe because I’m planning to write about Spain and it is not exactly an exotic destination. I also am planning to write about hotels, food and famous sights which are not exactly unusual topics for travel writing. So what is the point?

The answer may be in another few questions: how many poems have been written about love? How many paintings of the Rouen Cathedral did Claude Monet paint? Every author reflects on familiar topics through their own eyes, experience and mood at the moment. So here it is my unique late summer 2013 trip to Spain…

The first day in Madrid we found ourselves
in a strange little hotel in the Latina neighborhood
with very few hotels but with a lot of fruit shops
and cheap local bars. The hotel is a creative
remodeling job of a medieval building with the
original staircase and a room with a weird
configuration and even stranger plumbing.

Asymmetrical toilet anyone?   

Or a separate wood paneled shower with a view on the rooftops and a little rainbow from the morning sunlight.

Our first dining experience in the local bar without basic knowledge of Spanish turns out to be two humongous plates of meat (smoked ham, pork loin with thick layer of sause) and a cheap bottle of very good wine. There were two distinct groups of local customers there. Older folks, mostly heavy set males were eating big plates of deep fried food and drinking a lot of beer in a small dining room, while younger crowd was hanging around the huge oval bar nursing singular glass of beer and consuming free olives which were served with it. The dirty napkins and olive pits disposed right on the floor. Definitely a local flavor…

We woke up to the beautiful sunny day and following advice of a very lovely hotel receptionist, we went to the local flea market. The market is very popular with both locals and tourists. Locals are buying very cheap clothes and home goods, while tourists marvel the huge selection of flamenco accessories and other traditional specialties.

Add to this street musicians, other performance artists and you have a perfect Sunday morning in Madrid!
Next is the walk around the city known between Patrick and myself as a death march. This means walking until you drop.

The city is grand and beautiful!

Retiro park is a former property of the Spanish royal family and the main green space in Madrid.

It has a strange trees with round bark.

Inside the park is lovely Museo National Centro de Arte (part of Reina Sofia).

It has a fascinating exhibit of Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles. Here is an Indian teepee made of banknotes from all American countries erected over pile of bones and surrounded by candles.
Looks like a commentary on colonialism?

And here are thousand of books with photographs of sea water in a constructed representation of the ocean.

The Crystal Palace is a marvelous glass building decorated with mosaic and tiles

From the green heart of the city to the traditional center – Plaza Mayor gathering place which every old respectful European city must have. Surrounded by grand buildings, with a king on the horse in the middle, what can be more traditional and lovely than this?

West of the plaza is Mercado San Miguel a historical market rebuilt as a gourmet food court very popular among wealthy locals and tourists.

Near the plaza in a lovely art nouveau café we took a break for traditional churro and hot chocolate.

Life is beautiful!