Monday, 20 June 2016

Albayzin revisited

We left just after nine this morning and drove to Granada in perfect conditions, and by half past ten we were parked under a shady tree in the area about the entrance to the Alhambra Palace. Already the public address system was telling people queuing that tickets for the day were sold out, and that only bookings for subsequent days could be taken. It must be one of Spain's most popular tourism venues, and justifiably so.

Instead of descending to the city along the busy main pathway, we took a path which descended around the opposite side of the entire domain. This took us down to a bridge across the Rio Darra directly opposite the main access road to the Albayzin barrio, which was where most wanted to spend time. We stayed there in 2004 for Anto and I to attend a flamenco guitar course, and again in 2005 for my 60th birthday. It's a very special place for family family memories, as Kath and Anto came with Rhiannon when she was only six months old, and then again when she was a toddler.

We found it difficult to recall exactly which houses we'd stayed in on either visit, but not the places where we ate and drank. We had a second breakfast in the Plaza Larga, and a little later, when it opened, to Bar Miguel, where Anto and I had hung out to drink beer and eat sardinas when classes were over. It has been run by Miguel Ferrer since 1967. When I was here last year, it was closed for building renovation. The interior is still in the same style, but looks spruce and smart. A decade ago it seemed to be a bar mainly para los hombres, but Andalucia, like many other european countries has evolved in a more socially egalitarian spirit. The non-smokng ban has made a great difference too, making all food and drink a much more enjoyable experience.

Then we strolled the streets, pausing for a long while at one of the 12th century gateways into the barrio to listen to a young viola player, who was working her way through the first of Bach's 'cello suites. It may not be the right instrument, but playing the smaller instrument makes for a very lively nimble rendering, filling the street either side of the gateway with sweet sounds. The street on the outer side is called 'Callejon de Sta Cecilia' St Cecilia's Steps - the patron saint of music. I know much of the 'cello suites by heart after many years of listening, and was moved to tears of delight by this unexpected moment.

The gateway has lately endured a blitz of unprepossessing graffiti, rescued from utter annoyance by the presence of these words: 'Preguntate sobre tus miedos' - Question your fears. An interesting form of Wayside Pulpit this is. 

Our next stop was the Mirador de St Nicolas, a bread terrace overlooking the city below, with a wonderful view of the Alhambra and the entire valley in which the city of Granada is set. Three flamenco guitarristas and a singer were busking there, with great vigour, that people listening or passing by were jigging along to the catchy rhythm. We visited Granada's main mosque, built with funding from the United Arab Emirates, opened in 2003. In front of the buildings is a beautiful Andalusian style courtyard garden. There's no minaret, but the Mujedar building style is one that's used in common by buildings in Spain, so it fits in naturally and discreetly.

The sixteenth century church is currently undergoing restoration, and over the past century or so has suffered unusually from misfortune - fires and lightening strikes. The south porch opening on to the mirador has been adapted into a visitor centre and gift shop. Only the church tower is open for visitors to climb and get an exceptional 360 degree view of the barrio and the city. Funds from the entrance charge go towards the enormous cost of restoration work. It's a very enterprising venture on the part of the Amigos de San Nicolas, to ensure their landmark site church, closed for the past five years, has a future life.

We had a light lunch at Kiki's restaurant near the mirador before walking slowly in the afternoon heat back down through the barrio, and going uphill the other side to the car park, this time using the main access route to the Alhambra, shaded with trees and blessed with the sound of running water. Half a dozen local police officers were out and about, shooing away gitanas, also out and about offering sprigs of rosemary to tourists as a pretext to beg from them. It's how life is on the fringes of a World Heritage site is, in this part of the world.

Having practised taking photos from the car window on the way up, Clare took lots more on the return journey, of the string of reservoir lakes to the east of the Pass of the Moor's Sigh. She has a good level steady hand, and as result the edited pictures give a good idea of the spectacular scenery and amazing highway engineeering, which perches the road on viaducts and bridges over lakes one can see from high in the air on the final run in to Malaga aiport.

After a delightful day, I cooked a seafood paella, while Clare went swimming, and in the cool of the evening we ate out on the terrace, with much contentment.

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