Tag Archives: spain

the Alhambra

I wanted to put up some photos of the Alhambra, before it gets too late and they are inevitably buried in the myriad of photos that seem to accumulate while travelling, only to be unearthed by a rogue slideshow when we finally return home.

It was a breathtaking visit. We woke up early, heeding the advice of many other travellers that we had asked. It was still dark, and as we sat in the little bus that wound its way up the mountain we all watched each other, everyone trying to size each other up. Is she a tourist? Will they run ahead of me, seizing my rightful place in the line?

It was a funny ride, full of hostility, defensive shoulders and yawns in the early morning. But it was surprisingly easy, and after a short wait in the line and some stellar advice about a secret ticket line we made it, and we were free to run around the enormous grounds.

The Nasrid Palaces were amazing, the amount of intricate detail was almost exhausting to look at. Those carved and geometrically tiled walls spoke of pure devotion in their painstaking application, or less romantically, at least of slave labour. We wandered for hours, heads constantly flipped back on our shoulders, always looking up, at the pillars, the ceilings, the amazing carving that was everywhere.

Outside the gardens were wonderful, lined by thousands of metres of hedges, all trimmed as though with a slide ruler, green and smooth and perfect. The history of a fortress so old was amazing. We walked around the parapets of the rough stone roof, so at odds with the delicate carving of the interior.

And as we looked out into the expanse of buildings that is now the city of Granada, we inhaled sharply, marvelling at the fact that once it was all just fields, arid and dry, stretching out until they met the mountains.

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la mezquita

Today was a definite highlight. We woke up in Córdoba, a beautiful old city that somehow manages to feel intimate, like a village that you’ve lived in for months. It was early, and the rain had just stopped falling. Out on the street the air was cool, dirty puddles resting between the ancient cobbles.

I set off with a spring in my step, a determination that even the frequent churros signs couldn’t dampen. La mezquita was only a few short blocks away. I was so excited. I had studied this mosque for years, read so many poems and stories about it, seen so many photographs. To be honest, I was excited to put my usually redundant specialized knowledge to use. Majoring in Spanish was wonderfully enlightening, but not altogether useful in everyday life. As we rounded into the courtyard, full of orange trees and living fountains, my footsteps quickened, almost into an excitable skip. We smiled at the lone guard and strolled past him, in through the heavy metal doors, feeling the temperature change as we walked through.

And all of a sudden we were there, surrounded by those high stone arches. Tears pricked at my eyes instantly, and I gazed up at them, hungrily trying to see it all, soak it all in. It was exactly the way it looked in the photos, a labyrinth of red and white striped stone, a surreal whirl of colours and angles, a veritable trip-fest for the eyes. It was hard for my mind to understand that I was actually here. In this place so full of history, filled with the exhaled breath and sweat and loving design of hundreds of people over hundreds of years. The smooth marble pillars are stained black at hand height, where thousands of people have brushed against them, ran their fingers over the cool stone. I do it too, and marvel at the knowledge that someone did the same, so many years ago.

On the walls there are both Islamic and Christian designs, and the polished geometric tiles contrast strangely against the gaudy gold figures that flank them. In the midst of the sea of arches rises a huge Christian cathedral, perhaps built there as a final strike of the conquest, a last insult to the Moors that they drove out. Or maybe it was just their way of amplifying the original beauty of this ancient mosque.

I lost track of time in there. It was so quiet, the silence so reverent that I didn’t want to leave. Somehow the polished floors reverberated all of the sound, only for the arches above to swallow it up again, into the expectant stone. I wondered how many conversations those walls had heard, how many storms they had weathered. When we left we were still in awe, and even as I stared out of the train windows hours later, I still had the outline of those beautiful stone pillars imprinted on my mind.

Tonight we are in a hostel in Granada, and the rain is falling again. I can hear its soft patter on the metal tables outside, and see the abandoned hammocks hanging from the wet trees. Tomorrow we will line up to see the Alhambra, and I know that somehow it will manage to compare with today’s breathtaking visit to la mezquita.

halfway up the steps of the Calvario

The Calvario Steps

The day is warm, the sweat beads on my upper lip and the sun warmed stones beneath me are slippery against my skin. The sun is waning behind me, dropping lower and lower towards the horizon, casting shadows that grow longer with each passing moment. The village clock chimes once, a high, solo note, signalling quarter past seven. Even the air tastes sweeter, the still, hot air more caressing, the arguing tourists passing more insignificant in this new found freedom. Ivy grows up the face of the villa across from me, artfully guided into a perfect arch above the doorway. Everything here is warm, ambient. The colours are terracotta pinks and warm beige; the stones forming the ancient roads are still warm from the Mediterranean sun that rested there, half an hour before.

It is past siesta time and everybody is out. It is mid August, the busiest time of the year in this tiny village, and yet everything is still, tranquil. The humidity muffles the sounds of the restaurants down below, the air too dense to allow the clattering sounds of cutlery and kitchen bells through. I feel as though I am the only person here, even though I can see, high above, a camera laden couple picking their way carefully down the stairs.

I try to imagine winter in Pollenca. The village blanketed in a damp cold that penetrates through to your bones, the cool, drafty stone houses would provide little relief from the biting chill. These smooth stone streets, would they be covered in a thin sheet of ice? Would there be a cap of white snow on top of the Puig? I can’t imagine it. Everything about life here seems to be adapted to this heat, under this oppressive, unwavering, almost ruthless sun. The tiny, hairless dogs seem as though they would hardly survive a winter. I hear them barking now, small intermittent yaps coming from houses all around me. Their feeble barks mingle with the growing and fading chatter of the panting tourists who pass me.

Casita on the Calvario
Casita on the Calvario

They walk confidently, the tourists, yelling at each other often, the women indignant, the men arrogantly knowledgeable. Some walk with an absent minded, almost confused air about them.They stop often to contemplate their new surroundings, and chatter to each other while pointing triumphantly at different landmarks.

The clock chimes again, three alto notes this time. It is a quarter to eight. A warm breeze has picked up, I feel a subtle shift in the evening. The sun has moved lower still, soon it will dip below the far hills into dusk, and later, Pollenca will be bathed once again in a sultry, hot, moonless night.