Dwight Peck's personal website

We flee South in the winter

Two weeks in Andalucia, December 2011

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

One's second visit to southern Spain
(the first one was for a two-day meeting more than thirty years ago)

We've descended upon Madrid on Swiss, cheap flight, good hours, and we're starting from Madrid because we need to visit the Prado. That's the Prado.

We've stopped at the Chic&Basic Atocha -- the "Chic and Basic" is a no-frills chain of centre-city hotels, and the inexpensive one a block up from the main Atocha rail station in Madrid has extremely friendly staff and the best base for visiting the Prado except the Prado's lobby.

A special exhibition of works from The Hermitage -- we haven't got time for that, alas.

We're here for the basic tour -- especially my Flemish Old Favorites, but also the Italians and, of course, the classic Spanish. There's lots more left for the next time, but we got in two good sessions and now we're headed south.

So it's back to the Atocha station, the beautiful complex redone in the 1980s and fixed up after the 2004 bombing attack with a sane, unintrusive, and thorough security system that should be a model for transportation hubs everywhere.

A beautiful train has got us down to Granada in good order, and this is our new hotel dead centre in the old city. "Shine" is evidently the chain, "Albaycin" is the old moorish neighborhood up the hillside behind us. The door's old, in fact the building's old, but the renovated Shine Albaycin opened its old door for business only in the past few months.

We're on the top floor -- the renovation of the old house very attractively done.

The room is modernist but comfortable and BIG. Like many of the Spanish hotels we hit, the bathroom is "en suite" but has no door on it, so it's best if you're on very good terms with your roomie.

The view from our room, with the traditional Spanish security precautions on our (third story) window. That's the great river Darro below, down the centre of the old city.

The Shine Albaycin on the second floor (third floor for Americans)

The central courtyard (and lobby). The staff were helpful and friendly, though shivering (the central courtyard is semi-open to the wintry sky).

The river Darro outside our hotel. Granada has played host to generations of bosses -- Tartessians, Phoenicians and Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, Umayyad Moors, Taifa kings, Moroccan Almoravids and Almohads, Nasrid Moors, brutal Castilians, Habsburgs, Bourbons, Franco's local power-base, and most recently an afflux of tourists -- and now . . .

. . . we're ready to begin exploring it.

The hotel is just a block or two from the central Plaza Nueva -- on what's actually a one-lane main street.

The neighborhood across the Darro -- that's the Alhambra up the hill a ways.

The Plaza Nueva, with law courts (the 16th century Chancellería left of centre), taxi stands, restaurants, and the church of Santa Ana at the far end

Granada street scene

Graceful decoration

We're down by the Cathedral of Granada -- we'll come back to that. Right now we're looking for shoes with upturned pointy toes . . .

. . . and the ancient souk of covered markets adjacent to the cathedral is the place to look.

The cathedral museum is dead ahead, with van der Weydens, Memlings, Botticellis, and King Ferdinand's sword and Isabella's sceptre and crown (which evidently they brought along with them when they rolled in in 1492 and de-moslemized the region).

Late in the day, we're on a scoping mission up the hill to the Alhambra gates, pausing to admire this inspiring bit of civic art along the way. Poor Angel Ganivet was a poet, essayist, and diplomat from Granada who was deeply unhappy for many reasons and ended it all in 1898, at the age of 33, by jumping in the Dvina river in Riga. One is not clear about whether that's meant to be Ganivet there, wrestling with a goat or something, or Ganivet being wrestled with by a big, strong naked man, or what. Or why.

What's left of the Hotel Vashin t n Irvi g. Washington Irving, the famous Rip-van-Winklist and son of an immigrant from Orkney, served as the US Consul to Spain from 1842 to 1846, but it was his Tales of the Alhambra, published ten years earlier when he was with the American legation in London, that almost singlebookedly put Granada on the anglophone tourist map, where it has remained every since. They venerate him here -- he's got statues all over and his own room in the Alhambra palace, in fact. His biography of Christopher Columbus is credited with inventing the notion that until Columbus' voyage everybody thought that the earth was flat.

The new entrance to the Alhambra complex -- for €44, we're not going in a half hour before closing. We'll come back.

The back path down from the Alhambra, the old Albaicín neighborhood across the way

The Albayzin neighborhood zoomed. (The mirador of San Nicolás is directly across the valley (upper right). We'll come back to that later.)

We're already thinking rather urgently about dinner.

It's not necessary to balance on the walls, but you can, if you want to.

We're checking the e-mail in the Shine Albaycin's "wifi room", the somewhat chilly breakfast room. Breakfasts cost extra here and, anyway, we were going down the street to the Shawarma King every day for a fabulous big sandwich on pita, one each.

The next day, the suitably petite city bus is passing along the Carrera del Darro in front of our hotel, as we're setting out for the Alhambra.

The Mighty Darro cascades down (mostly underground) into the Genil, which passes from the highest peak of the Sierra Nevadas (Mulhacén, 3478m), through Granada, 360km to the Guadalquivir between Córdoba and Sevilla. The banks of the Darro are lined with stray cats devouring leftovers.

The Shine Albayzin hotel from the far side of the Darro

People have been banging on about the fabulous Alhambra all my life, and now we're really going there. Up the hill again.

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 17 January 2012.

Spain, 2011