Monday, October 26, 2009

Tales of the Alhambra, Madrid and Skipped Flights

Leaving on this trip, I went through the effort to find a tent in Niger, not an easy thing to find. Thanks to my PCV neighbor, Meagan, I was able to get a 'BugHut,' which is basically a mosquito net with a door held up with poles. It's great for Africa, light and easy to pack around. We used it a bit in Tunisia, the only problem was when it started to rain; no rain-fly so I had to hustle all my stuff under cover... at least the BugHut dries out quickly in the sun.

So coming into Granada, when will and I learned that there was absolutely NO available hostals in town, we thought 'oh, hey, we can camp.' Then we checked the weather. And we were assured by that no rain was coming. So we went for the camping option.

Unfortunately Granada is a bit colder than both Niger and Tunisia... go figure. It was just cold at night really, being in the mountains. Our first night I was FREEZING, even all bundled up in a sweatshirt and long pants, a stocking hat and SOCKS!

We ended up staying in Granada for four or five days.

Granada -

Granada is a nice place. I think it might be the capital of the bohemian world. You can see many, many... well, what Americans might call 'hippies,' but not quite the same thing. Our buddy, David from Poland, put it a good way when he asked, 'What do you call them... natural? This is the best place in Europe to live homeless, since it's warm and the people are nice.' And that about sums it up. Natural and living off the kindness of others. But man, do they have awesome dogs. So well trained. I even saw a dog helping itself to water from a water fountain, up on it's hind legs lapping at the stream of water spurting up. Quite cool. Good dog.

The big highlight of Granada is the Alhambra (which in arabic means, The Red One, so really, people keep calling it, The TheRedOne). Up on a hill overlooking town, it is quite a sight. We were shown a great vantage point by David a couple nights before we were to visit the actual Alhambra.

The Alhamba is famous mostly thanks to Washington Irving, who wrote the book 'Tales of the Alhambra,' saving it from being lost to time and forgotten. What a life that guy had. Traveling around Europe learning the language and culture for years. Became an ambassador for the states to Spain. Just writing and traveling. Wouldn't that be a great way to live? Ah... the aristocracy.

It actually requires buying tickets in advance to get into the highlight areas of the Alhambra, even with a specific entry time on the ticket. It is never fun to feel like you have a time-limit to see a place, especially when paying 13 euros. So maybe that has something to do with my opinion of the place, but I found worth the visit, but no more impressive than the alcazars we had already seen in Sevilla and Cordoba. Inn really it is more impressive, but it's due to the setting and not the architecture really. Set up on the hill, overlooking the city, a little hut would still be an attractive place to visit.

It really was a great place to visit, especially the Generalife, which, though it appears to refer to the insurance company, actually means 'Architect's Garden' in Arabic.

Will and I had a great time just sitting on the main path in the Generalife people watching, he sketched the scenery and I just happily wrote away and wandered off to take photos every once and a while. Good afternoon.

It was a nice time in Granada, aside from the cold nights. We boarded an overnight bus for Madrid a couple hours after seeing the Alhambra and woke up at the southern bus station for the capital.

I think many of my best pictures on this trip so far were taken here, so check out the picasa album.

Madrid -

First off, arriving at 630 in the morning, we had a couple hours to kill before we could check into our hostel... So we sat in a park near the place for two hours. It was so cold, I did something I hadn't done since I visited Paris last December: I put on shoes and socks. Shocking, I know.

Our first day in Madrid was full of museums. We saw the navel museum, which, if you're into models and swords and stuff, is a cool place. And of course, we were, so it was a full two hour visit. Plus it's FREE.

Then, that evening we were able to visit the Prado museum, again, for FREE. Everyday, from 6-8 the museum is absolutely free. What a great way to give people access to the arts. Two hours is NOT enough to really appreciate the museum, so most people visiting the city for just a couple days would probably still pay for entrance. But if you lived in the city or were visiting for a couple days, what a great way to see the art inside without breaking the bank. Two hours here and there, taking your time to see smaller sections... very nice.

Some of my favorites from the Prado were Goya and Velazquez. Especially the Goya pintars negra, his black paintings. So different from his portraits, dark, indistinct faces, but still full of emotion. Many twisted and... yeah, good stuff. Dark, but good, especially considering that this was all in the age of doing light portraits and landscapes. I always find those transitions between types/eras of art very fascinating.

The next day we were able to get into the Reina Sofia for free also. The same idea as the Prado. Brilliant! We also played frisbee in the park with a couple of dancers, Sarah and Maryann, from New York and Marco, another of the Italian guys we've met. Sarah and Maryann were Americans, but unlike almost every other Americans we met, they didn't make us cringe and speak in Haussa or Zarma so they wouldn't know we're Americans also. They spoke Italian and Spanish, were traveling right, in our opinion. Were laid back and into seeing a place for real. In other words, good companions for me and will for a couple days in Madrid.

Why are so many Americans abroad loud, annoying, and totally clueless? They also don't even try to speak foreign languages for the most part, or if they do try to speak, it's all American English-ized. Of course, we should probably distinguish between backpackers and what we've been calling 'tourists,' the people who have a tight schedule to keep, secluded hotels to stay in, and no interaction with the locals, other than in souvenir shops. But enough of that... onto the Reina.

The Reina is more focused on modern art, featuring a large collection of Picasso. It houses his masterpiece, Guernica. What is especially impressive about the exhibit is that in the adjacent rooms to the painting, the museum displays a series of studies Picasso made for the piece and a series of photos for the work in progress (including changes Picasso made part-way through). A cool look into the way such a piece comes together.

The Reina also has Miro and some famous pieces from Dali, like The Great Masturbater. It's a very living museum and the exhibits seem to change all the time. Also, it's great at incorporating a variety of art, not just painting and sculpture, but sounds, video, even dance art (no caged dancers, but the costumes and videos of performances).

Madrid definitely has it going in terms of art museums.

After two days staying in a hostel, we met up with Will's friend, Carrie, and stayed with her and her fiance for a night. They gave us a GREAT walking tour of Madrid. We saw the big park (I forget it's name), and quite a few different neighborhoods. We went for tapas and tea and hookah, and more tapas, and then a birthday party. Great great time and why you should make friends with people in places around the world so you can see the real life of a place.

Thanks to Carrie and Alberto!!!

So unfortunately (well, actually turns out it could be fortunate), my plans in the UK fell through. Josh's buddies had second thoughts about having us come to stay and join them on their trip (word must have reached them in advanced about who was actually coming) [too many parentheses?].

So, showing up to the airport a couple, four, hours before our flight to London, will and I decided we didn't want to go to the UK if we were to just continue getting hostels and seeing sights. Let's face it, the UK just isn't that exciting and it's EXPENSIVE. I've been there before. I would like to hit Scotland or Ireland again, but not now. So before our flight took of, I had decided to skip it, bought a ticket from Madrid to Brussels in two weeks time and decided to just jump back onto my original plans there, cutting out the middle.

So now I'm here in Benavente, staying with my Peace Corps neighbor, Meagan, the very same Meagan who gave me the BugHut. So not only did the BugHut return home, but I have a place to stay, free of charge for two weeks. Working on my Spanish and cooking real food in a real kitchen. Plus I'm going to take a bath tonight. A good break from the constant movement of being on the road, recharge for the last leg. Plus, it's a good start to the adjustment to a new, colder, climate.

More on the town and our visit to Salamanca later.

New Picasa albums for Granada and Madrid.


Pablo (yo) said...

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If you like, come back and visit mine:
Pablo from Argentina

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Madrid is a great city and Granada is beautiful too.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
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Phoenix said...

It is with gratitude for your magnanimous commitment to the rule of law and good governance as well as to the sustainability of Mother Earth and the well-being of all its children - also in Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, the Republic of Niger in particular here - that i turn to you.
The ways in which 'Peace Corps' helps the needies, protects the environment, the fauna and flora, while promoting solidarity and harmonious development through the advocacy of rational and humane attitude/relationships with nature and natural resources, are truly an example to emulate.

It is now absolutely clear, that the greatest threat to mankind and Earth itself comes from overpopulation, which is growing at an exponential rate - as underlined in a recent UN Study: Slower Population Growth To Help Environment, UN Study concluded (18 November 2009):

The efforts to preserve the crucial balance between the needs of Human societies and the imperatives of the environment in your country and in certain parts of Africa and the rest of our world are certainly commendable, but still more should be done. The current situation requires that and quite urgently.
Furthermore, the taboo hanging above the topic of human reproduction must be lifted in all countries.
We have to fully understand the crucial role played by overpopulation in the current, deplorable state of Earth global affairs and acknowledge that we, Humans, and the ways we go about life put too much stress on Earth - specially with the knowledge, that the petroleum age is reaching its logical end, as studies show here: (ASPO = Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas; in German language)

Do please endorse us and most importantly, do strongly advocate a rational, democratic and scientific birth control, at home, in Niger and elsewhere abroad; add your influential voice to ours, help us promote a humane and just solution to this tragedy!

Our major petition calling for such a world wide birth control is to be found at our campaign site, here :

With gratitude for the Honour of your Service and sincere Respect,

The Netherlands.

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