By Nancy Todd
I am not easily impressed. Having visited hundreds of castles, convents, caves, and cathedrals, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to spend precious travel time visiting the Alhambra in Granada.
Don and Joachim, two architect friends, whose design sensibilities I value, said, “Put the Alhambra on your list!” I spent the day at the Alhambra. I was very impressed. It is magnificent. Located on the top of a hill, the Alhambra was a city where the Moors bathed and buried, gardened and gulped wine, made pottery and pumped water. An aqueduct that descended to Calle Real (Royal Street) distributed water to orange trees, troughs for horses, and fountains. The engineering feat of the Moors water system alone is worth puzzling over. Stroll through palaces, view the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and wander gardens. Today, approximately 50 full-time gardeners work the grounds. Here is The Scoop on how to visit the Alhambra.
1. Tickets – Best to buy at least a week in advance as approximately 8,000 visitors arrive each day and tickets are limited. You have to specify an entry time when you buy your tickets. The 8:30 a.m. slot is great for hot days. Evenings are magical with theater events and mysterious lighting. Tickets are easier to obtain for the evenings. There are two easy ways to purchase tickets: an ATM TICKET machine if you are in Spain (La Caixa Bank, etc.) or go to www.alhambra-patronato.es Some tickets are sold at the door and you take your chances and there are long lines. Save your ticket as it will be scanned several times throughout your visit.
2. Getting There – Granada city maps are out of scale. From the center of the city, it is a two mile up-hill trudge to the Alhambra even though on the map it appears to be a few blocks. Best to take a taxi, six euros, or take a public bus. The staff runs a tight Palace at the Alhambra, and you must be punctual with your time assignment or you may not be allowed on the grounds.
3. Shoes – Many cobble stones and stairs will test your tootsies. The Scoop says pull out those oh-so-clunky-travel-shoes and put ’em on, even though they ruin any outfit. You will be glad you did. It is a lovely walk downhill back to the center especially in clunky shoes.
4. Benches – Lots of benches and stone walls for gazing and listening to trickling water. Delightful in the shade.
5. Eating – There is one restaurant in the Palace Hotel, five stars. There is a coffee stand in front of Palacios Nazaries. That’s it. Pack an apple and delicious Spanish cheese. No water available other than the coffee stand. A restaurant is located off the Alhambra grounds just outside of the ticket office for you and thousands of others.
6. Generalife – Pronounced “hen-ral-LEAF-aay,” I prefer my general life to be here. This Palace is surrounded by lemon, orange, and almond trees. Fresh veggies were grown here. Fountains, terraces, pools, views, patios are shrouded by magnificent gardens and trees. The poet Juan Ramon Jimenez wrote about Generalife: “…I heard that the music of my life and blood was the running water.” My fav parts are the Water Stairway and Oleander Walk, a long walkway taking you out of the Alhambra. You walk under an arch of oleanders like a king or queen. Save time for Generalife and being royalty.
7. Shopping – A small gift store with excellent books in many languages is located inside the grounds by the entrance.
8. Relax – There are thousands of rose and boxwood gardens scenting the air. As you wander, imagine the sound of horses clopping, hammers ringing on anvils, people splashing in the public baths. Children playing tag. Clouds create shadow changes. You will be following in the footsteps of goats, glass makers, sultans, and sages. And, you get to be your own sage, clunky shoes and all.