The main draw in Granada, a city tucked into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, is the Alhambra, a palace and fortress complex built in the 13th and 14th century by the Moors. But we discovered another great reason to go there: free tapas! It’s not entirely unusual in Spain to go to a tapas bar and get a little something free with your first glass of wine. In Granada, though, you can pretty much count on getting something with every glass of wine you order. I mean, you can’t afford not to drink a lot.And the free tapas aren’t just something cheap; they’re typically an item on the menu that you would otherwise order. Nor is the wine expensive; often glasses were in the $2.50 range and with pretty decent pours. So you go in, order wine, eat. Repeat. To be sure, we did buy some food, too, since I just can’t drink enough wine to satisfy my evening hunger. Even then, though, it’s practically free, often no more than $2.50 for a little plate of food. We’d end up spending maybe $35 or $40 for a really good meal. You wonder how they can make a living charging low prices for what they don’t give you for free. We weren’t complaining, though.
Oh yeah, back to the Alhambra. Fortunately – very fortunately – we’d learned from Mark’s parents that you pretty much have to get your tickets weeks in advance as it is a very popular tourist destination. So two weeks before our arrival in Granada we went online and even that far in advance, in mid-November, there was practically nothing available. We did get late afternoon tickets, though, and it was pretty spectacular.
Unlike most historic buildings we’ve been touring over these weeks in Spain, the Alhambra is unusual in that there are almost no signs telling you what anything is and there is no audio guide, either. So instead you wander around, just pretty much stunned at the Moorish design, the tiles, the ceilings, the elegant plasterwork with Islamic writing and all that. It really is the most stunning piece of architecture we’ve seen in a long time.
The other great part of the complex is the Generalife. At first I thought some big insurance company had bought naming rights to the gardens, but in fact its name comes from the Arabic jinan al-‘arif, or the overseer’s garden. Really beautiful gardens over an enormous area with fountains and pools and patios and pathways, just the sort of space I love. All that on a gorgeous fall day is about as good as it gets.Of course, there’s more to Granada than just free tapas and the Alhambra. The city was the capital of the last caliphate in Spain after the Spanish had pushed the Moors down to the southeast corner of the peninsula. Even that ended, though, when in January 1492 (a big year) Ferdinand and Isabella finally dislodged them and marched into the city, ending any major Islamic presence in Europe. The Catholic Monarchs, as they are known, are buried in Granada’s royal chapel. As cameras weren’t allowed into the chapel, though, we have no pictures but trust me, their tombs are there.
Finally, the other big thing we focused on while in Granada was finalizing some travel planning. From Spain we’re crossing the Strait of Gibraltar to spend a couple weeks in Morocco. Then we’re going to hop down to Western Africa to go to Senegal and the Gambia and – if we can get a visa while in Morocco – Ghana. Just after Christmas, then, we’re going to make a very quick trip to Boston for a friend’s wedding before flying down to Mexico and then working our way through Guatemala and into South America. You might be surprised how much work is involved putting something like that together, but we have that much pretty much settled. In other words, there’s no slowing down for us yet!