The morning started like most all others have the past four months. Hostel rooms seem designed for vampires and my reluctance to get out of bed is powerful each morning. Light barely creeps in and with the cool weather and no heat in the room, your desire to stay warm and cozy usually wins out. But knowing I was needing to be in the queue at the Palace of the Alhambra by 09:00 and still needing to book a flight or train to my next destination, I was out of bed by 06:45. Taking a seat on the couch in the reception area and powering up my Dell laptop I quickly, but thoughtfully, planned my next adventure’s locale. I honestly did not yet know where I would go next in Spain. Looking at prices for transportation and weather reports I had made up my mind. Destination? Barcelona!
With that decision made and flight booked for the following morning, I still had to visit the Alhambra (“the red female”) that dominated the backdrop of this amazing city. My ticket (advice – buy at any Caixa ATM, this will save you a lot of headache) to enter the Palaces was set for 9 AM and you have to be in line at that time in order to be granted entrance. I set out from the hostel around 08:15 to give myself time to walk to the entrance of the Alhambra. Meandering through many streets I had ventured down during the week I then began my uphill climb. It’s a fairly steep climb with many steps from the route that I took. Arriving at the entrance gate, sweaty, the gate attendant told me I only had 10 minutes to get to the Palace entrance and “it’s a 15 minute walk” he told me. How did I manage to make up the time? Simple. Everything ‘time’ in Spain is over budgeted. Countless times I was told something was a 30 minute walk, that only took 15 minutes. But perhaps their estimates of time is predicated upon walking a slower pace to take in the Spanish architecture or scenery, but most likely to have a cerveza or copa de vino. I made it with time to spare, of course. Entering the Palace and walking through its intricate interior, with many archways, beautiful lush gardens and gorgeous scenery overlooking Granada, one begins to easily understand why this is one of the most visited tourist site in all of Europe. There were hoards of people milling about everywhere with tour group after tour group affecting my photos. Once you exit the Palace you can’t return so take your time and realize the tour groups are on a tight schedule so they rush through generally. I was inside for about an hour and a half enjoying all the history and detailed tile and glass works. Not to mention many times to stop to look out of its many windows at the city of Granada below.
Leaving the grounds of the Palace, I made my way up to the Alcazaba and fortress complex that were originally built atop Roman ruins in 889 AD. The palace’s were constructed, along with the renovations of the fortress and surrounding buildings, in the early 13th century after centuries of being ignored. From the top of the fortress, the Torre de la Vela, you are blessed with amazing panoramic views stretching from the snow capped Sierra Nevada’s, across Granada city and up to the Iglesia St. Michael (which is worth the hike up to for its amazing views – more on that below). There are still some of the ancient Moorish homes that still partially exist (the structure at least) inside the fortress walls.
The Generalife and gardens that surround the Alcazaba, the Palace’s and fortress grounds lead to beautiful fountains and one impressive stairway structure where water flows just above where the handrails would be on either side. Every 10 steps or so is a landing platform to break the climb/descent. There is a fountain in the center of each platform and the water running along the handrails here moves around the circular platform on each side in a crescent shape ( o ), then continues in a straight line until the next platform. In all there are about 4 or 5 platforms. So your walk up or down is harmonized by the sound of moving water and fountains at each platform to rest. It’s a gorgeous setting to relax here, listen to the running water and be surrounded and cooled by the shade. This is a great way, in my opinion, to end your Alhambra tour as it’s also not too crowded here.
Departing the Alhambra I took another route down which leads more or less to the Albaicin and a more direct route back to the hostel where I checked out of earlier that morning.
Collecting my bag I then headed to check in at the other hostel where I would stay for one night, Oasis Backpacker Hostel in the Albaicin. Unpacking my things I met Denny who was just checking in as well into the same room. A Costa Rican now living and studying in Germany, we made fast friends and agreed to meet up downstairs with a couple of other people, Fabian and Alice, to go to have Tapas together. The first place we arrived at was closing in a half hour so we only had time for one cervaza and tapa there. Leaving there we found another great place just around the corner. Taking a table outside we would enjoy 3 or 4 cervezas and equally satisfying tapas. It was turning very chilly with wind picking up to cool things further. We all headed back to the hostel, added some warmer clothes and then to buy a couple cervezas before making the climb up to Iglesia St. Michael to watch sunset. The climb up is a long one with a stair climb that would make runners of the Santa Monica stairs jealous for its length and amazing views.
Traversing through the Albaicin, steadily climbing higher along cobblestone streets and narrow passageways, we arrived at the point where I had finished my descent from St. Michael a couple days before. The view from the top is breathtaking. You have unobstructed views over all of Granada, the incredible Alhambra situated perfectly atop mountain cliffs and the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. After having had quite a few beers and food, the gang didn’t want to make the climb all the way to the top. I knew a great half way point where luckily no one was sitting or standing. Only about 1/3 of the climb up as well which made everyone feel better. Settling in we positioned rocks to act as our seats for the next hour or more and I could tell this was going to be an amazing sunset. The cloud cover was just right, the Sierra’s were exposed in clear blue sky and once the lights of the Alhambra are lit this sunset would be magnificent. Fabian took out his Bluetooth speaker, connected it to his phone and then he requested that we each choose a song to play. We would take turns but I only requested one turn. I was enjoying the music that Denny, Alice and Fabian were playing and my one song (Yellow Ledbetter by Pearl Jam) would complete my day as perfectly as it was. Popping open our first tall boy cerveza of San Miguel (in the shadow of St. Michael, fitting huh?) we watched the sun dance a slow slide into goodbye but it left us all wanting more. I can honestly say this was the most beautiful sunset I have ever experienced. And as my best friend, Cecil, could tell you we have seen a lot. The only sunset that rivals this one, and it is very close, was the one Cecil and I saw in Koh Samet, Thailand (inserted below) on our first night on the beach there. The cloud cover over the ocean as the sun set behind the hills of the island were simply amazing on that night.
With some long periods without words being spoken, we took in the majesty that was her sunset that night. I recollected on all my past journeys that had led me to this very spot meant to be at this very moment with people I hardly knew, yet who seemed so familiar to me. The four of us come from a variety of backgrounds, cultures and for me, a different generation, as the three of them were all in their mid to early 20’s. I’m in my ‘middish’ 40’s. Is 43, middish or younger? However, the magnificent thing that traveling and encountering different cultures and foreign lands breeds is a commonality of communication that seems to bond us all together. In those 2 hours we enjoyed together, there wasn’t any jealousy, nor greed, nor envy. What did occupy the space inside and outside our circle of rocks upon which we sat was a respect for one another, an equal sharing in the joy of laughter, the feeling of connecting each story told somehow to our own lives, and also the sagacious understanding that it’s truly moments like these that last a lifetime.
My paths with these three youthful souls may never cross again in the physical sense. However, the events that day unfolded the way they were destined to leading me to intersect with each of their lives at the perfect moment in time. The incredibly beautiful sunset that closed out a perfect day will always bring me back to each of their smiles, their laugh, the music played and the connection we had, if only for that one day.
Thank you Denny, Fabian and Alice for allowing me to be a part of your lives if only for just a few hours. It’s a connection that will endure a lifetime.