Memories of the Alhambra
Wow, how embarrassing. It's been about 4 months since my last post about Spain. While I hoped I would post a Spain series over a few weeks, I let four months slip by. Lots has happened since then! But let's rewind and recap my favorite city that I visited in Spain, Granada!
My entire purpose of visiting Spain was to visit Andalucia, the southern portion of Spain with plenty of sun, Moorish architecture, food, and culture. I wanted to see Barcelona for some of the main attractions such as the Sagrada Familia, but my main goal was to see Granada and Sevilla. I confess that I became more familiar with Granada through the Korea drama "Memories of the Alhambra" on Netflix (with probably the entire country of Korea) and it just fueled my desire to go. After my sister landed in Barcelona, we went into the city for a quick bite, then set our alarms for 5 am for an early morning flight to Granada. We landed in Granada around 8 am when most of the city was still sleeping. We took the bus from the airport to the city center and walked to our hotel to drop off our bags and grab breakfast at a cute cafe in front of our hotel. And so commenced the daily pan y tomate and jugo de narajas. And jamon. So much jamon.
Nothing like a whole lot of jamon to start your day -- soo good and filling
After breakfast, we took Rick Steves' walking tour of Granada
We made out way into the old Spice market which felt like stepping into the markets of Marrakech. The port city of Tarifa is about 3 hrs away from Granada and is the closest port to Morocco.
We then took the winding, medieval streets up to get our first glimpse of the magnificent Alhambra palace. Part of the reason we liked Granada so much was that it felt like an authentic medieval village with Moorish culture sprinkled in. Most of the streets were pedestrian only which only added to the historical atmosphere. We ended up walking nearly everywhere and walked to and from the Alhambra multiple times over the day.
At the base of the Alhambra was a lively square of restaurants and bars that all served a menu del dia (menu of the day) which albeit touristy, was a really good deal (about 12 euros for three courses and a drink). The food was good too! Granada is one of the only remaining cities in Spain that serves a free tapa with an order of a drink. So we got this huge plate of paella with our drinks!
After lunch, we walked back to check into our hotel, Hostal Lima (another Rick Steve's rec). Yes it was kitschy but I loved it--I really felt like we were staying in a castle from Game of Thrones! When you walk into the foyer, it feels like you are entering a dungeon with monks chanting and suits of armor and swords lining the walls. Then we opened our door to discover this!
Our room had a real stained glass window and two windows leading to a balcony which looked out over the street. And a fake Mona Lisa painting in the bathroom lol.
After a quick nap, we freshened up and headed out to dinner at the one restaurant reservation I made on our trip. On our way, we stopped for a pre-dinner snack of churros and chocolate!
A second walk to the Alhambra steps, and then up the hill in the Albaicin to get to our dinner destination.
Granada is known for their Carmens, basically fancy houses that now double as restaurants, and I ended up making a reservation at Restaurant Carmen Aben Humeya (though I think there are quite a few in the area with similar views). The restaurant was apparently voted one of the most romantic restaurants in the world! It ended up being my favorite meal out of the entire trip and an unforgettable experience from start to finish. After we navigated the twisting and turning streets of the Albaicin (thank goodness for Google Maps) we finally found the right gate and descended the steps, to be rewarded with this view.
Since we didn't have any other set dinner plans, we treated ourselves to a three course meal with wine pairings (they didn't have a prix fix menu). It was the most magical experience to be dining with the view of the Alhambra, watching the sun set and the palace change color with the changing light.
I got the branzino, and sis got the steak with foie gras butter
Cheesecake for dessert
Even after indulging in such an extravagant meal with multiple glasses of wine, our total bill was only about $120 for the two of us, about $60 each, a steal compared to the restaurants we are used to going to in SF! Dining at a Carmen is highly recommended for visiting Granada -- you can make reservations on Google for Restaurant Carmen Aben Humeya.
That night, we were faced with an unexpected hiccup. I had booked tickets for the Alhambra months in advance (as the Alhambra only allows a set number of visitors per day and so the tickets sell out really quickly, especially with all the tour groups) however some of the most popular ticket packages were already sold out. Note that if you're planning to go to Spain, book your Alhambra tickets the same time if not even before you book your plane tickets to ensure you get the tickets! I ended up buying a "Generalife" ticket but did not realize until that night that we would not get to see the famous Nasrid Palace which is the famous portion of the Alhambra (a rookie mistake that Rick didn't warn me about!). Apparently if you did not book tickets ahead of time, you could logon to the website at midnight where they release a few extra tickets to the public. So once we realized we did not book the Nasrid palace tickets, we stayed up until midnight to try to claim some of the few extra tickets. They were available but they we were unable to book them since we already had Generalife tickets...so tragic. But at least we had the Generalife tickets which allowed us entry into the fortress and the expansive gardens surrounding the actual living quarters of the Moorish royalty.
In the Alcazaba fortress
We stumbled onto a quiet garden, the garden of San Francisco fittingly, to pose for some pics
Then we walked around the palace to go through a labyrinth type garden to get to the Patio area.
We ended at the Court of the River and Patio de la Sultana, the area in the gardens where royals used to relax and walk the paths surrounded by cool streams and baths.
Picture perfect views
Even though we didn't get to see the Palacio de Nazares (the biggest regret I have!) we were able to spend hours exploring the Alhambra fortress and gardens which was still worth it. It was amazing to me how expansive the palace was and how much they incorporated the outdoors in their design aesthetic. It was one of the most beautiful and unique palaces I've ever been to! A true treasure of Moorish culture and well worth a trip to Spain just to see the Alhambra.
After we walked back down to town, we were famished so had some more tapas including jamon iberico, along with cheese, eggplant, and the like. We went back to the room to freshen up for a bit and took the bus (the only time we took public transport) to Mirador San Nicolas, another famous viewpoint of the Alhambra. Since this was like a public park it was swarming with tourists hoping to catch pictures of the sunset (us included). I was so glad we had eaten at the carmen the day before to get a quiet, unobstructed view of the Alhambra instead of fighting our way for a picture at the viewpoint.
Feeling defeated after encountering so many tourists, we slipped into a nearby mosque which was offering tea and biscuits during prayer hour. They welcome visitors on their porch which is located only a few blocks from the famous viewpoint. After donating some money for the tea and biscuits we were able to get better unobstructed pictures on the mosque patio, if it weren't for that tree!
Dinner was an uneventful affair at a Moroccan restaurant (I didn't even take any pics!) but after dinner we wanted to grab a drink (as the Moroccan place didn't serve alcohol) so went to Los Diamantes 2, a famous seafood tapas bar. We got a huge plate of calamari when we were already full from dinner, hence my apprehensive face!
Last jamon sandwich