Motorcycles and beer.

Part 1, Part 5, or part 10.

I’ve been dreading this post for a while. Sharon and I took a lot of pictures. Almost 1000. Pruning out the out of focus, badly exposed, just plain ugly ones left us with almost 800. This is the day that we went to Granada and the Alhambra and between the two of us, we took 172. It’s just that kind of place. I’ve had to be exceptionally ruthless with my pruning just to be able to put up a sensible post.

First of all, a little background. Granada is a university town. I don’t remember the exact numbers but of a population of 300+ thousand, there are something like 60 000 students from all over the world. There are more Nobel prize winning professors teaching in Granada than anywhere else.

Granada is also the home of the most popular tourist attraction in all of Spain, the Alhambra. Not to take away from wikipedia but parroting a bit of the interesting info conveyed by our tour guides, the Alhambra was the home of the last Moorish Sultan to live in Spain before the Reconquista. At its peak, as many as 5000 people lived in its walls. The irrigation system to bring water from the Sierra Nevada mountains was built in the 11th century AD and is still functioning today. When Ferdinand and Isabel were marching on Granada, the Sultan sent word to them that if they would spare his city, he would leave voluntarily. They were monarchs of their word so we have the Alhambra to visit today. This wasn’t the last time it was nearly destroyed either. Apparently it’s only because a soldier was willing to sabotage the explosives that Napoleon had ordered set up that it wasn’t completely blown up. Apparently Napoleon was a dick. Wasn’t it his boys that blew the nose off the Sphinx too?

Our friend Andrew had recommended that we book tickets before going to Europe but we foolishly assumed that we’d have time while we were there. No such luck. They only allow 3300 visitors per day in morning and afternoon sessions and there were no openings until the week after we we supposed to leave. Fortunately there are bus tours so the hotel’s concierge was able to secure us seats and the next morning at 7am we were on our way to Granada. The upside is that I didn’t have to drive for a day but the downside is that buses are slow so it made for a long day by the time we got back.

Since we were booked for the afternoon session, we had some time before lunch to explore Granada. Sharon got to shop and I got to do some street photography. Granada is a beautiful town, named after the pomegranate trees that grow in the plazas and squares.

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A lot of graffiti artist use stencils.

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One of my most enjoyable memories of this trip came on the lunch. We had paid for the lunch included with the tour which, to my mind, turned out to be a big mistake. First of all, Sharon and I were stuffed with churros and chocolate, and second, the meal was a very bland chicken dish with no Spanish flavor at all. Sharon was enjoying practicing her French with a real French couple at our table so I decided to skip the meal and go wander about. I saw a yellow motorcycle parked on a back street which looked interesting with the yellow lines going off into the distance so I tried to capture a good picture of it. I’m not sure I succeeded but that’s not the good part of the story anyway.

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A fellow in the window of the pub in front of which the bike was parked, Taberna VII Lagunas, asked me why I was taking the picture. I explained that I thought it would look nice and asked if it was his bike. He told me that it was his business partners and that they ran the pub. “Well then perhaps I should have a beer then,” I said. I pulled up to the bar and got my beer and started talking with the owner. After a bit his partner came by and I showed him the picture I had taken. While we were talking the first fellow was cutting some ham and tomato and bread and put in front of me a plate with a nice ham and tomato tapa with just a drizzle of olive oil. “Is that for me?”, I asked. “Comes with the beer,” he said. Delicious and just what I wanted. We had a great conversation about Canada vs. Spain, talking about motorcycle riding, insurance and housing costs, alcoholism (booze is very cheap in Europe) and I totally lost track of time. Eventually I had to leave as the tour was moving on so I got in a bit of trouble when Sharon couldn’t pay for her drink and tip because I had all the money. Oh, and my beer and sandwich? €1.50. That’s the kind of experience you go traveling for. Doing the extraordinary stuff like the Alhambra is great but I love doing simple, ordinary things with local people just as much. Gives you a taste of the flavor of life in that country.

The bus wound it’s way up the hill towards the Alhambra and our tour director explained that we would be divided up into smaller groups and taken through by guides. As it turned out, we were divided on the basis of language. There were enough English speakers to form one group and the other was German, French and Spanish. These tour guides always speak so many languages, it’s quite impressive.

I’m a little shaky on the details since there was a lot to take in but I believe the first part of the tour was called the Generalife which was a huge garden with fountains and buildings and housing underneath. Walking along the walls you could look out over the rest of the city and other parts of the Alhambra. Here’s one Sharon took. I took a similar one of this arch but her composition is nicer. It’s interesting that we often took the same or similar pictures and her little point and shoot performed just as well if not better than my SLR. Like they say, “it ain’t the arrow, it’s the Injun.”

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Besides, I tend to go for too many artsy fartsy shots and sometimes miss the forest for the trees. Sometimes it pays off I think though.

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Here’s a Sharon vs. Kris shootout. Mine tries to establish a strong diagonal line through the picture, hers has the perspective symmetry and dynamic water. I think she wins this one too.

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More views from the walls.

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After the Generalife we passed by the ugly palace. I don’t know what it was actually called but it was built by the Spanish after the Moors left. Some ruler hired his buddy or cousin or some such who happened to be a crappy architect to design this palace. I think it sucks but not everyone’s taste is the same. Here’s a composite shot of the palace, surroundings and some details. This is how I save space – by conglomerating a few pictures together. You’ll definitely want to click on this one for the full size view.

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An interesting thing happened at this palace however. The main attraction is the Nasrid palace and your ticket gives you a half-hour window to get in. We were running late so we skipped the ugly palace but some British ladies on the tour had been looking around inside a bit while we were waiting for some others to catch up. When they found out that we were skipping ugly palace, one of them freaked out and started yelling at our guide and demanding that we get another guide and so on. Real bitch in my opinion since our guide was a cute little old Spanish lady who had been doing a fine job of showing us around and telling us stories. Either way, I stepped in and told this lady off and said, if you want to go look at that palace, go ahead but we’re going to the next one because if we miss our window, we don’t go in. I hate bullies.

This is the way into the Nasrid palace. They gather the groups of people here to wait before sending them in on the half-hour.

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The entryway had some nice arches, carvings and tiles. Also had some really neat wooden inlay detail on the ceilings. I’ve got a composite picture of detail shots that will be posted further down.

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Everywhere you go throughout this palace, you’re confronted by a grandeur that is hard to take in and yet an attention to detail that requires close inspection. Huge sweeping arches and ceilings carved with the 99 names of Allah in repeating patterns. Since Mohammad lived in a cave for some years, it was considered fortunate to live in a cave as well so many archways and ceilings were carved in such a way as to resemble stalactites. It was an incredibly difficult place to photograph. Wide angle helps capture the size, closeups help capture the detail but nothing can really replace going there. I can honestly say that almost everything else of an architectural variety pales in comparison to this.

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Here is an example of clever Moorish design. This courtyard was a place for the Sultan to relax with his ladies and was deliberately set up so that each of the four corners would be optimal for a particular time of year. Breeze and shade in one corner for summer, sun and wind shelter in the opposite for winter.

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Some more views around the outside.

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We both took pictures of this fountain but hers is way better.

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Here’s one Sharon took:

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And here’s one from me. Big expensive camera often equals pictures not as good as little cheap camera.

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One more of Sharon’s well composed shots around the grounds.

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Finally, here’s the detail shot. These are from both of our cameras so we’ll take equal credit for them. This is another big file that you’ll probably want to click on for the full size view.

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After a long day, it was really nice to get back in the bus and relax on the way back home. As promised, here’s a picture of the bug antennae that these buses have to keep from losing mirrors down narrow streets.

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And here’s a view of what we saw during the drive back. Taken through the window of a moving bus but I think it gives an idea of the beautiful countryside.

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When we finally got back we were exhausted. It had been a 14 hour tour and to be honest, I don’t even remember what we had for dinner. The next day we were going to need some rest and relaxation.

Kris

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