Visiting the Alhambra

An Islamic arch

 

 

Gateway to the Alhambra photograph Richard Fraser

The Alhambra is one of the most visited monuments in Spain.  It is probably the main reason  why most people visit Granada and it has certainly been on my bucket list for quite while. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site.

So when my son said he would like to visit it I was keen to join him.  We had been advised to book tickets online before we flew to Spain  to save time.   I was surprised how reasonable ticket prices were at between seven and fifteen  Euros each.  We also booked an English tour and we were very pleased we did.  Our guide actually had an M.A. in Islamic studies and was able to translate the classical Arabic inscriptions which decorate the walls. We were given headsets which enabled us to hear her clearly.

Click here to book tickets up to three months in advance

If you are visiting the Alhambra you will need to show your passport or identity card.  We caught the bus from Malaga which took about two hours and then took a taxi to the Alhambra.  I am lucky that my son speaks Spanish and was able to act as our interpreter.

The Alhambra was built between the 11th and 15th century during the Moorish occupation of Spain. The name means the red one and reflects the colour of the local clay. I had not realised quite how big it is.  It is a fortress and palace complex covering  35 acres. It was once home to several thousand people including a sizable Jewish population.  We did a three hour walking tour and my pedometer recorded almost twenty thousand steps.  Yet I still felt I had only seen a small part of it.

This shows the layout of the soldier's quaters
The remains of houses for the soldiers. The modern city of Granada is in the background. photograph Richard Fraser

The complex evolved organically over time but most of the palaces were built in the 14th century by the Nasrid dynasty.  In 1492 the Moslems were defeated by king Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain and the Alhambra fell into disrepair. Now Ferdinand and Isabella are probably best known for backing Columbus’s voyage to America and for historians 1492 marks the end of the middle ages.

Looking out through an Islamic window in the Alhambra
A window with Islamic arch and decorated plasterwork

Our ticket did not include the Nazerini palaces but did include the Generalife gardens. The Generalife palace was used as a summer palace and the gardens are planted with fragrant roses, oranges and jasmine. Like most Arabic gardens they are filled with pools and gentle fountains. Water was suppled by a five mile conduit from the local river.

Garden showing a pool and low hedge.
The Gardens of the Generalife palace. photograph Richard Fraser

The Alhambra is on top of a steep hill and we walked through pine woods to reach the top. Although it is in southern Spain it was quite windy and cold at the top and I wished I had worn a coat.

The site has cafes and souvenir shops and for the less adventurous a car and coach park near the entrance.

You can see the White walls and redish brown roofs of Granada
The modern city of Granada seen from the Alhambra

This post follows on from Half term in Malaga

Half term in Malaga

The photo is of an orange bird of Paradise flower

 

The photo is of an orange bird of Paradise flower
Bird of Paradise flower

One thing I was looking forward to when my children grew up was not having to go away during the school holidays.  However two of them decided to become teachers.  When my son asked if we fancied going to Spain for half term I leapt at the chance.  I am pleased to say I have managed to pass on my love of history and languages.

He wanted some late sunshine and suggested a visit to Malaga the southernmost large city in Europe.   The southern Coast of Spain is known as the Costa del Sol, sun coast and is only about 80 miles from the north coast of Africa.  I had never stayed in that part of Spain  but my daughter,    my son’s twin, spent three months in Seville working in a primary school as an English language assistant  with the Erasmus scheme a couple of years ago.  We loved the photos she sent  us of Andalucia.

We were able to get a last minute Easy  Jet flight from Bristol and my son found an apartment to rent close to the sea.

Malaga

 

Malaga is one of the oldest cities in Europe. It  was probably founded by the Phoenicians about  700 B.C. and seems to have kept the same name with slightly different spellings for over two thousand years. Now it is the sixth largest city in Spain and the fourth largest in terms of economic activity.  It has over six hundred thousand inhabitants. Today  Malaga is  a large cosmopolitan city with a good public transport network, lots of shops restaurants  and best of all a long sandy beach. The  cathedral is known as the one armed lady as curiously one tower was never finished.  I was surprised at the large number of parks and trees.  I think this year has been unusually rainy which meant that everywhere looked very green which I had not been expecting.

Antonio Banderas and Pablo Picasso were both born in the city.  The airport is named after Pablo Picasso and there is also a Pablo Picasso Museum.

Archaelogy

The centre of the city has remains from the Roman, Arabic and Christian Era.

The city has a Roman amphitheatre which was only rediscovered about a hundred years ago.

A picture of the Roman amphithetre
The Roman amphitheatre is free to visit.

 

The Moors occupied Southern Spain for about 600 years until 1492:  The same year as Columbus sailed to America. Malaga was an important city and the Alcazabah  (the Kasbah) which was their fort and also the site of a palace for the Nazerini family is very interesting and suprisingingly well preserved with lovely gardens and thick walls.  It is surrounded by palm and pine woods.

This shows walls and arches in the Alcazabi
Arches in the Nazarini Palace in the Alcazaba. photo William Fraser
The path up the hill in Malaga
The climb up the hill. photo Richard Fraser

A combined ticket for the Gibalfaro  and the Alkasbah costs about 5 Euros. The Gibalfaro  which is higher up the hill can be reached on the city hop on hop off bus or by a steep climb.  At the top you are rewarded by beautiful views over the city.

A bell tower and Flags at the top
The top of the Gibalfaro (lighthouse rock).

I also learnt a new Spanish word abuelita (little grandma)  as I was climbing up but we made it.

We are standing in the gardens of the Gibafaros
La abuelita. It was a long climb but we made it.

A good guide book for the region

P.S. Waverley Thames Cruise to Tower Pier

Tower bridge opening

A few weeks ago I received an exciting e.mail from Silver travel advisor, a website for the mature traveller.  I learnt  that I had won a twinkling Thames cruise aboard the paddle steamer Waverley and a night bed and breakfast at the Croydon Hilton in the monthly draw. The prize was provided by Just Go Holidays

PS Waverley

The paddlesteamer at sea.
This is a stock photo as we enjoyed a night time cruise

 PS Waverley claims to be the last ocean going paddle steamer.  She was launched in 1946 to take passengers for cruises on the Scottish lochs. Her  name comes from a novel by Sir Walter Scott.  Originally   she was owned by the LNES railway company and  provided excursions for rail passengers to Scotland. However  these excursions became less popular as more people bought cars and train travel went out of fashion.

PS Waverley is now owned and operated as a charity by a preservation trust who have lovingly restored her.  They take her   around the British Isles, spending the Spring in Scotland, before moving down to Liverpool and later the West country before sailing on the Thames  in the Autumn.  My husband sailed on her about fifty years ago when she was much newer but this was my first time on board.

Saturday

We opted to make our own way to the hotel in Croydon. I had never stayed in a Hilton hotel before as  I normally opt for budget travel and was not sure what to expect. The hotel was very good but not as swanky as I expected. I was quite glad I was not spending my own money.  Coffee in the bar was £4.00 a cup and wine £8.00 a glass.   I was able to catch up with an old school friend who lives in Croydon for coffee before we met the rest of the coach party.  We were taken by coach to Graves End where we  embarked on PS Waverley for our evening trip up the river Thames to  central London

The Thames estuary has been transformed in recent years and is now home to several hundred seals and even this month a beluga whale. I was hoping to see some marine life but was unlucky.  We opted to have a meal on board and were able to eat a very good curry while sailing past the docks at Tilbury.  We then had a chance to look at the well polished and beautifully maintained engines before going out on deck to listen to a commentary on the sites of London.

I was amazed at the size of the Thames flood barrage and pleased to see Greenwich and the Cutty Sark.   We also sailed past the Millenium dome now the O2 arena and Canary wharf.  The cruise ended at Tower Pier.

People onboard P.S. Waverley watching the London skyline
Watching the London skyline from PS Waverley
photo William Fraser

Tower bridge was opened so PS Waverley could sail underneath which made us feel quite important.

Passengers onboard PS Waverley watching Tower bridge opening
They opened Tower bridge so we could dock at Tower Pier.
photo William Fraser

Sunday

After a night at the hotel and a very good full English breakfast we went by coach  to central London.  We  met our son who teaches in London and strolled round Hyde park admiring the variety of bird life including the noisy parakeets, waterfowl and herons.  The three of us enjoyed traditional wood cooked Pizza at the Serpentine restaurant which I thoroughly recommend.

The cafe has indoor and outdoor seating and overlooks the water.
We enjoyed traditional wood cooked Pizza while watching the Water fowl on the Serpentine
Just a goose waiting to be fed
Geese by the Serpentine

If you want to find out more about the river Thames or London I can recommend these two books.  (disclosure if you click my links I get a small bonus).

Five things to see in Prague

This year my daughter is teaching in a village school just outside Prague.  She has introduced her pupils to the game “Simon says” and it has quickly become a firm favourite.  For those of you who have not played it, the teacher gives a list of instructions and you have to obey those that have the phrase “Simon says” before them and ignore those that don’t.  It is good for teaching a foreign language as the children have to  listen if they want to win the game.

These are a few of my “Simon says visit.. ” places in Prague.

The dancing house

This is one of the few modern buildings in the heart of Prague. It is supposed to look like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing.
The Dancing house. The stone tower is supposed to be Fred Astaire and the glass tower is supposed to be Ginger Rogers.

The buildings in Prague were largely undamaged during the second world war. However one American bomber pilot got lost on his way to Dresden and damaged a building in the heart of Prague.   The Croatian architect Vlado Milunic and the famous Canadian architect Frank Gehry were commissioned to design a new building and in 1996 the dancing house was opened.  It is now a hotel with the Fred and Ginger restaurant on the fourth floor.

The  Prague Astronomical clock

The picture shows the dial of the Prague astronomical clock.
The Astronomical clock. This is a stock photo as the original is being restored.

The famous astronomical clock on the town hall probably dates back to 1410.  Though extra features were added later. As well as the time, days of the week and months it shows the signs of the zodiac, and the phases of the moon.  On the hour figures emerge including a skeleton, vanity worshiping his reflection in a mirror and greed counting his money.  There are also the twelve apostles and the Christ child. We were unable to see it when we visited Prague but work is supposed to finish by November 2018.

The John Lennon graffiti wall

This shows a section of wall covered in spray paint with very prominant paintings of John Lennon
The John Lennon graffiti wall. For a long time this was the only part of Prague where graffiti was allowed. Photograph Angela Fraser

For a long time this was the only place in Prague where graffiti was allowed.  I come from Bristol home of Banksy and must admit I wish sometimes our local council would adopt a  similar policy.

A dancing bear

The photo shows a polar bear dancing in the street.
In earlier times real bears would have danced for tourists. Now it is just a couple of people in a bear suit. Photograph Angela Fraser

Prague has always attracted tourists and one of the popular street acts would have been a dancing bear.  When I was in Prague I saw the more traditional brown bear but my daughter spotted this polar bear.

A questionable sculpture

This shows two men urinating into a pool shaped like a map of Czechia
This sculpture is outside the Franz Kafka museum.

I am not sure what I can say about this sculpture. It is outside the Franz Kafka museum and is called Piss. The pool represents a map of Czechia. You were able to text a message by phone and the men would “write it”.

This post follows on from Prague a short visit to Czechia’s fairy tale capital.

If you want to find out more about Prague

 

Madeira: visiting the garden island

A photo of the succulent beds in the botanic garden
A photo of the succulent beds in the botanic garden
This is the famous view of the botanic gardens in Madeira which we were lucky enough to visit a few years ago. The colours are all produced  using succulents. A photo like mine seems to be  in all holiday brochures.

A Bristol  coach firm used to run a winter trip to Kew Gardens in London.  Unsurprisingly the orchid house at Kew quickly became one of my favourite places to visit when the evenings became darker.  For a short while we could forget the British winter and imagine we were walking through the tropics.  So  I thought I would share a few photos and memories from a winter trip Bill and I made to Madeira a few years ago in case any of my readers were also feeling the onset of winter blues.

Pink and red flowers covering a wall.
This photo was taken in winter when my own garden at home was looking very bare.

History

Most guidebooks claim that the island of  Madeira which lies in the Atlantic off the coast of North Africa  was discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th century. However there is some evidence that the Romans knew of its existence.  What does seem to be true is that when the first Portuguese sailors landed there it was uninhabited.  Unlike the Canary islands which belong to Spain, Madeira is still part of Portugal.

Madeira  is one of the few places in Europe where sugar cane can be cultivated.  Luckily for the early settlers sugar was much in demand and plantation owners became very rich.   One of the early sugar traders was Christopher Columbus who lived on Porto Santo a small island off Madeira and married a local girl before discovering America.  These days  a replica of one of his ships is used to take people on trips round the bay.

This photo shows the striking large flowers of Aloes over looking the sea.
Aloe flowers. This is the same family as the Aloe Vera used in sun cream.

Botany

Being a volcanic island Madeira has no native plants or animals.  Everything has been imported by sailors or carried by the sea or the wind.  When they first arrived the Portuguese  found a wooded island. Fortunately they had experience coping with the dry Atlantic climate.  Cloud usually covers the top of the extinct volcano.  The first  settlers dug ditches called Levadas  to collect the moisture from these clouds and so irrigate their fields.  Remarkably, some of these date back 500 years and are still in use.  Now they are popular with hikers who want to climb into the mountain.

The soil is extremely fertile and there are few natural pests.  The Portuguese King, Henry the navigator encouraged settlers and the island soon became an important refuelling stop for sailors attempting to reach South America or the West Indies.      Sailors returning from transatlantic voyages often brought back seeds and exotic animals and birds. One eccentric landowner even gave tickets to one of his balls to any one bringing back a new plant.

Madeira is now nicknamed the garden island and here are two gardens I would recommend visiting.  Both gardens are situated on the side of a steep hill so visitors need a reasonable level of fitness.

The  botanic gardens

If you like plants a visit to the botanic gardens is a must. It is a little old fashioned . As well as local plants they have a large collection of plants from Africa and South America.

The gardens also have a collection of parrots. The first time we visited it was also home to Madeira’s oldest inhabitant, a giant tortoise, reputed to be 140 years old.

The botanic gardens are in the village of Monte high above the capital Funchal.  You can reach it by   bus or cable car.   Fit local men push the braver tourists back down the hill in toboggans.

The picture shows the cable car above the houses
We rode in the cable car up to the Botanic garden and enjoyed spectacular views over Funchal.

Monte Palace garden

Another interesting garden close by is the tropical  palace garden which has displays about the history of Madeira.  It also has a large collection of decorated tiles and a gallery with displays of Zimbabwean sculpture and rocks and crystals from around the world.

A chinese garden with a red fence.
The Chinese garden is part of the tropical garden
The photograph shows a black carved African figure
Part of the display of Zimbabwean sculpture in the tropical Palace garden

Nowadays Madeira is a popular cruise destination.  If you have visited the island or enjoyed this post I would love to hear your thoughts or tips.

I packed this guidebook.

 

If you are interested in visiting you can find out more here. Madeira web in English