Vestiges of Al-Andalus; Granada and Alhambra

Looking back on the Travelogues that I’ve written here, there is a clear trend toward travel-as-exploring-history. This piece continues that trend. History is deeply intertwined with both my photography and travel. Looking through the viewfinder at an urban scene, say, or at a piece of architecture, I always seek to capture something about the world and the people that inhabit it. And similarly with travel, it is humbling to walk an ancient stone street polished to a high gloss by millennia of footfalls, or learn about the cultures that came and went over the ages in a remote area.

1492 was the year that the Emirate of Granada — the final piece of Islamic Al-Andalus — fell to the Catholic monarchs of Spain. It marked the end of hundreds of years of Islamic rule on the Iberian peninsula in which there was relative religious freedom for Muslims, Jews, and Christians. And it was the beginning of the expulsion of Muslims and Jews from Iberia. This fact is particularly interesting to me as we have a connection to this period of history as a family.

I used Strava to track the speed and a map of the return trip.

I took a bus from my little Pueblo to Málaga to catch the train to Granada. Spanish trains are lovely. A network of short, medium, and long distance trains that can hit speeds upward of 250 kilometers per hour, and for fun I confirmed the speeds using my phone and a GPS app.

There is a very special moment in train travel when I have my bags stowed, have sunk into my seat, and I look out the window while breathing out a deep relaxing breath. I am traveling. Everything that is day-to-day is put away on a shelf and will be waiting for me when I return. But for now, I am experiencing the journey. Then as the train pulls out of the station, the lulling sound of the steel wheels rhythmically rolling across the tracks begins, and I sink deeper into my seat to watch the scene passing before my eyes.

25 years ago I visited Granada when Anna was studying abroad for a year. It was my first overseas trip, and it was an amazing experience. She picked me up at the airport in Madrid, and after a day or two sight-seeing there, we took what was my first train to Granada.

On that trip we spent a lot of time wandering the city. I had my trusty old manual focus Canon camera with me, but sadly I don’t have any of those images now. One day when Anna went off to class, I took to the streets to see what I could see, and to take some photos. I remember walking up relatively steep streets, going wherever I was moved to go.

At some point it hit me that I had no idea how to get back to the cafe where we planned to meet, nor had I bothered to take down the name or any pertanent information. To make a long story short, after fits and starts and attempts to communicate in a language I did not know, I finally (and it felt miraculously) pulled out a matchbook from my pocket that had the name of that cafe on it, and was able to make my way back.

Granada made a huge impact on me. A big part of the impact was the Alhambra. I remember seeing the palace high up over the city with its imposting stone walls and towers. I don’t know exactly when, but sometime on that trip we decided that we wanted to live in Spain.

I didn’t board the train alone. Along with me came my two kids, age 8 and 12. We had been looking forward to this trip for months. It wasn’t simply a pleasure trip, but once the business was done we had our plans about what to see, and eat, and do.

It’s safe to say that we were never bored on the trip. Our little Pueblo of about 2000 inhabitants has most of the things we could need. A grocery store, a couple of ferreterias (hardware stores), shops and restaurants make it a place where we rarely feel like we can’t find what we want somewhere in town. But we loved seeing and visiting the “big city” shops in Granada. We also loved the little tourist-trade shops selling trinkets and souvenirs. We treated ourselves to a little something each to remember our trip.

In 2015 Spain passed a law allowing people to apply for citizenship who could prove direct ancestry to those who had been forced to leave the country during the Reconquista, the time period directly following the fall of the Emirate of Granada when the Catholic king and queen expelled Jews and Muslims who would not convert. We were fortunate to benefit from the law, and it forged the foundation of our next step in life.

For the summer of 2019 we came to Spain as a family. We found ourselves in love all over again. On that trip we stayed in the Pueblo where we eventually moved. My oldest went to “Campamento,” we all enjoyed the municipal swimming pool, Anna worked on her book that she was writing – while enjoying a cafe solo, or cafe con leche at local cafes and restaurants. We had some business to do in Barcelona that summer, so we took a flight there to take care of if, and we took a train back.

All visitors to the Alhambra need tickets. I think it was a little less than 20 euros per adult and around 15 euros for kids over 12, and free under that. The important part to the potential visitor is knowing:

  1. Buy your ticket from the official website. There are so many tour companies and sites selling tickets online. I have heard stories of tickets being for the wrong day, or not valid in some way from 3rd party sellers. Stick to the official site:
  2. Buy your tickets well in advance. If you come in high tourist season, you may need to buy them a few months before the date to guarantee availability. It seems that the Alhambra was the Eras Tour well before there was ever an Eras Tour 🙂
  3. Tickets are non-refundable – I learned that the hard way.
  4. Tickets are non-transferrable. When buying the tickets you’ll need to input details from a national ID, passport or the like. You will need to show the ID you use when you check in, so use one you will travel with.
  5. Arrive Early. The grounds are expansive, and it can be a bit tricky to find the entrance. The tickets suggest an hour early, and I would agree an hour early makes sense.

I think I could have gotten lost at the Alhambra for hours and hours. My oldest felt the same. Keeping us all in check however, my youngest was ready to leave after about an hour. Our exit was probably not the most graceful, as we were not all in agreement on whether to stay or go.

In the last part of 2022 we were making plans on our next step in life as a family. We had been in Kazakhstan for 8 years. That is a long time, and was the longest the kids had lived anywhere. So where to move next was a big question.

It didn’t take much to look toward Spain. It was the obvious choice, really. In the summer of 2022 the kids formally received Spanish citizenship, and this detail was the final piece of the puzzle that brought us to the country to settle.

While planning our move, we looked into a variety of cities and regions. Barcelona and Valencia in particular were shining stars. But we looked backward to our history. We looked squarely at the time we had already spent in Spain and Andalucía, the southern region of the country that is home to our little Pueblo as well as to Granada, made a lot of sense to us. It as a part of the country that really felt like home. And so it has become in reality, home.

We left Granada on the 1 o’clock train. The morning was spent with a quick and efficient tidy of our rented space, and a delicious breakfast of crepes and waffles on the way to the station. We took a little time to do some final window shopping. The best part was chatting about our adventure of the last few days. We were all in good spirits and were able to laugh about the silly things that we did as we went about exploring territory, new and old.

In Málaga we had about 2 hours to hangout before our bus back home. The train station doubles as a shopping mall, so we went to the food court for French fries, and then to a cafe for me to fortify myself with some espresso. We walked across the street and straight to the bus station, just in time to line up for our bus home.

For the foreseeable future we have some business that will require us to return to Granada a couple of times a year. And I’m happy about that. There is more to see in the city, and another trip to the Alhambra for an extended and leisurely wander is certainly in order.