Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Pomegranate

Or rather, in Spanish, Granada.
One of the historic jewels of Andalusia, Granada was under Caliphate/Moorish rule for nearly 800 years until the Emir there gave it up to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492. Even after all these years, the Albayzin district in Granada has preserved all the Moorish buildings, including the crown of them all, the Alhambra.
Photos of The Alhambra, Granada

This photo of The Alhambra is courtesy of TripAdvisor

The Alhambra was once a walled in fortress of the Nasrid sultans who ruled this area during the Caliphate years. Eventually, after they were booted from the Iberian peninsula and the Reconquista fully commenced, the Catholic monarchs appropriated much of the property. There were some changes, as one of the Holy Roman Emporers decided he was going to tear down some of it, but it still stands gloriously on a hilltop at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Granada also has a cathedral in the center of town.
Photos of Cathedral and Royal Chapel (Capilla Real), Granada
This photo of Cathedral and Royal Chapel (Capilla Real) is courtesy of TripAdvisor

The cathedral is actually built right on top of a mosque. Nothing says conquered like building a religious house on top of your vanquished enemy's, no? The outside facade is Spanish Renaissance which looks markedly different than the baroque cathedrals elsewhere in Europe from the same time period. The inside of the church features five (count 'em!) naves instead of a fairly standard three. This cathedral had an outstanding seven architects (!) who each brought different elements to the building, including the Capilla Real (royal chapel) where the mausoleums of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella are located. The inside of the church has the many of the same elements you can find if you've ever been to churches in France or Italy. Very ornate gilded decoration inside the cupolas, soaring columns to dramatic ceilings almost as high as the sky, and beautiful stained glass windows. This church was built as a power symbol of the Reconquista and its dominance over the local skyline is pretty recognizable.
Photos of Cathedral and Royal Chapel (Capilla Real), Granada

This photo of Cathedral and Royal Chapel (Capilla Real) is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Another nifty place to visit in Granada is the Abadia del Sacrmonte. According to local lore, in the 16th century locals found some caves in the hillside with some remains inside that were very old. Legend has it these remains were of St. Cecilio, who is the patron saint of Granada, and who was sent to Spain by St. Peter to evangelize it. So the local bishop built an abbey on top of this holy place, in honor of their saint. One of the things that will quickly become apparent to you is the six sided star that is repeated all over the abbey in decoration. Many people mistake this for the Star of David in the Jewish faith, but its not. This symbol was once use as a mark of intelligence or knowledge during Roman times, so keeping with the theme the bishop who built the abbey decided to keep on using it.
Photos of Abadia del Sacromonte (Sacromonte Abbey), Granada

This photo of Abadia del Sacromonte (Sacromonte Abbey) is courtesy of TripAdvisor

After a day of site seeing, relax at the Carmen Mirador de Aixa, with a full view of the Alhambra while you drink your tasty Spanish sangria and trying jamon, which is pretty a Spanish obsession. Lunch might be a cheaper option for you, as the view is going to bring your costs up. The food is good and the service is great but prepare to bust out that wallet at the end.
Photos of Carmen Mirador de Aixa, Granada

This photo of Carmen Mirador de Aixa is courtesy of TripAdvisor

 For a little bit of ethnic fun, make sure to visit the Alcaiceria, which is the old Moorish silk market. Now its a jumble of market stalls invoking thoughts of a sook in Morocco, where you can buy bargain goods from Arab traders.
If you're not quite sure what to do here in Granada, there are many guided tours you can do. Make sure to check Trip Advisor and Viator to read reviews before you book. Tours cover everything from walking tours through Albayzin, to olive oil tours throughout the countryside. Bike tours, paragliding and segways...your adventure awaits!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Costa del Sol's Marbella

Ok, so I guess this next series of blog posts is going to be the planning of my next vacation, which I have already started. I'll be going on a girls trip next summer with two friends and my sister. Should be fun! I don't pick travel partners quickly or easily. If you're in a foreign country for two weeks you better make sure you can handle people. This past trip to Italy was a good mix. Boy Wonder is a total goof ball who brought a different brand of humor to the table. E and I pretty much run along the same humor and interests so that was good. Then my cousin L pretty much put Boy Wonder's humor on steroids. ha ha. It was complete laughter the whole trip.
So moving on, we're beginning our Spanish adventure in the Costa del Sol, in Marbella. Situated along the shoreline of the Mediterranean in the province of Malaga, Marbella has long been the playground of aristocrats, euro-riche and celebrities. With its gorgeous sparkling beaches, and many resorts we can see why!
Marbella Images
This photo of Marbella is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Besides the people watching, what brings us to Marbella? Quite simply, a little bit of decadence. We'll be getting VIP cards to one of the biggest beach resorts in the area: Nikki Beach. For two days we'll soak up the sun on huge sun beds, drink cava, and generally just enjoy the fabulousness that Marbella has to offer.
However, if you're going to be spending a little bit more time in the area, then this post is for you. What else does Marbella have to offer? Golf and sailing are pretty popular here and each sport boasts numerous clubs. You can go biking, see some great architecture (everyone knows this is one of my primary reasons for site seeing.. ha!), and learn how the Spaniards make olive oil. Did I mention wine? Spain is a huge producer of some great wines. Make sure that's at the top of your list!
Photos of D.OLIVA Marbella, Marbella
This photo of D.OLIVA Marbella is courtesy of TripAdvisor

If lounging on the beach is your gig, and we'll be doing plenty of that, try Nikki Beach for an upscale experience. It does cost to get in, and the cost for the sunbeds is extra. The upper level beds in the exclusive area will set you back about $300, prepaid, but they fit 3 people and come with a bottle of cava. They offer cocktails and food, and have dance parties at night. You can also stay at the Hotel Don Carlos which Nikki Beach shares property with. Estrella del Mar Beach Club comes with a day spa for those of you who really want a relaxing time, like say, a dip in this infinity pool?
Photos of Estrella del Mar Beach Club, Marbella
This photo of Estrella del Mar Beach Club is courtesy of TripAdvisor

So how do you get to Marbella? If you're flying into the Costa del Sol, the main airport is in Malaga from which you can take a 45 minute bus to Marbella. You can also fly into Gibraltar but will end up driving 1.5 hours north. US residents on the west coast can expect to pay $1130 for the last week of April if you want to avoid the summer crowds and uptick in prices. East coast residents are going to pay about $950 flying out of New York.
Aside from the obvious decadence of selecting a vacation in the Costa del Sol, tourism is one of the only industries offering employment in Spain which is unfortunately at 25% unemployment right now. Those from abroad who are choosing holidays on the Iberian peninsula are providing much needed revenue in the form of patronizing hotels and restaurants which keep people employed and put food on the table for their families. So yes, this is my way of rationalizing my traveling... lol.

Let's go stimulate the economy! (and drink lots of wine!)