The Arabic Influence In Granada, Spain

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The Arabic Influence In Granada, Spain

“Weep like a woman over what you could not defend as a man.” Mother of Boabdil- the last Sultan in Spain

The Moors invaded Spain in 711 AD and they ruled  for over seven hundred years.  At one time, they ruled as far north as France.   The principal cities of Moorish culture were Toledo, Granada, and Seville.  Eventually the Christian rulers in Northern Spain recaptured Spain. In 1085 Alfonso VI of Leon and Castile recaptured Toledo. Cordoba fell in 1236, and one by one the Moorish strongholds surrendered. The last Moorish city, Granada, was captured by Ferdinand V and Isabella I in 1492..

The word ‘Alhambra’ is a short form of the word ‘Calat Alhambra’ which is the name given to a palace and fortress complex located in Granada, Andalusia, Spain. The palace started off as a small fortress that was built in 899.

After years of neglect, the Moorish king of Grenada renovated it in the eleventh century. The fortress was to later be converted into a royal palace in 1333  by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada.

I spent a day there before so I did not tour again. It is big enough to spend at least a day but you can do the highlights in a few hours.

The area of Granada around the Plaza Nueva and fountain Pilar del Toro is the oldest part of the city of Granada. The Mosque was located here.

The Santa Ana church was built on that same site.  At that time the river would have been visible, not covered over like today. 

In the city center, the Alcaiceria stands out, like a typically Arabic souk (bazaar) that attracts many tourists and locals alike.

Glittery Moroccan lamps, colorful silk and leather products are fun to look at and buy.

Other signs of Arabic influence can be seen in the Albaci­n, one of the oldest areas in Granada. Perched on the hilltop across a canal from the Alhambra, it consists of steep cobblestone paths and quaint authentic white-washed houses known as El Carmen.

Arabic tea houses and Moroccan shops line the narrow street that leads up to the hilltop.

The perfect way to relax after a day, is to smoke some Arabic water-pipe (Spanish name is cachimas) in the dimly lit aromatic tea houses (teterias).  I wish that I had the photos to show you but here was the day I spent there. Not a person was out.

There were several bath houses or hammams  in this area during the Moorish rule. In 1567 due to the difficult situation faced by the Moors in Granada, at the hands of the new Catholic Kings, all hammams in Granada  were prohibited. They also banned speaking  in Arabic and wearing Arab style garments.

The current Hammam Al Andalas  https://www.hammamalandalus.com/en/ is in one of the old bathhouse buildings. It actually dates back to 8th and 14th century. This hammam building was converted into baker ovens in the sixteenth century. The bakers made the most of the heating systems which previously created steam and heated water, for baking their bread.

 As I enter the hammam I have the awkward ‘I forgot my bathing suit moment and it is coed and you have to wear one.” They lend me a bathing suit.  During my stay, I drink  green tea with mint, while  relaxing in the different thermal baths and steam room. As I walked through from the changing area to the baths the humidity and warmth hit me. This steamy comfortable environment is great for unwinding and relaxing tense muscles For a while, there was a quiet relaxed atmosphere and then a bus load of tourists showed up.

Luckily it was time for a wonderful scrub and a soapy cleanse with white frothy bubbles. I go into a different dry space  for a  massage and left completely soft, clean and relaxed.

The Hammam Al Andalus in Granada recreates the feeling of  history and the bathhouses that were  here so long ago. Book it in advance, it fills up quickly and is a wonderful way to capture the feeling old Granada.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Bilbao, Spain

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Bilbao, Spain

“On the Continent people have good food; in England people have good table manners.” Unknown 

Bilbao  is our first stop in the Basque Country. The city has its own personality. It is quite small which makes it easy to walk around and enjoy the Basque culture. The Basques have their own language which is different and unrelated to any other language in the world.  If you are linguistically obsessed, this is a good place to be. There are also several different dialects of Basque, so the Basque that people speak in Bilbao is different from the Basque that is spoken in San Sebastián. You will notice a lot of k’s and tx’s.

We meet our guide Kyle from Cultural Xplorers. He is carrying three umbrellas -just in case.  As we were to learn, some days, it seems like all it does is rain in the Basque Country. They even have a word for that light, misty rain that seems to never stop – txirimiri.

  We start with breakfast at a pinxto bar and have a  potato and egg torta and a cortado coffee.

Walking through the beautiful city, we head to the train station. There is a large stained glass window depicting Basque life.

There are lots of architectural gems  scattered all over the city,.

We enter Casco Viejo (Old Town). At its heart are Bilbao’s original seven streets, dating back to the fourteen hundreds when the city was founded.

There are many historic buildings like the Gothic Cathedral and tiny streets lined with quirky shops and bars.

I find an authentic hat store and  buy a Basque beret -ish.

I could have wandered around here all day – except we were getting hungry again.  That could only mean one thing in Basque country. It was time for pinxtos.

Pinxtos are foodie heaven.  Imagine sitting in a bar having a nice quiet drink and being able to steadily munch your way through a range of amazing food from wonderfully cured meats, steak, cheese, olives, rich foie gras, duck and fish in various guises. It’s overwhelming and Kyle helped us find the best ones.

They are in every bar so even if you just plan on going for a drink-you will end up eating. Kyle points out some of the better bars so we can come back on our own.

The truth is I don’t think you can find a bad meal in Basque country. It is known for amazing food. 

We continue eating in the nineteenth century Plaza Nueva.- full of pinxto bars which come alive between three and eight pm. 

It is a custom to go from bar to bar and try different pintos along the way. 

Refueled, we take a walk down the waterfront toward the Guggenheim Museum and our hotel.

The riverfront promenade has an eclectic mix of traditional and modern architecture and is buzzing with both tourists and locals. We see the La Salve Bridge and the big art installations outside the Guggenheim Museum.

There is Louise Bourgeois (Maman -spider),  Jeff Koons (“Tulips” and “The Puppy” which is a giant flowering topiary in the shape of a terrier).

There is Anish Kapoor (“Tall tree And The Eye” aka a stack of metallic balls)  and Fujiko Nakaya’s Fog Sculpture, which is a unique sensory experience of a jet of fog emanating from the water in the moat surrounding the museum at every hour -odd to experience in the pouring rain.

We meet for a late lunch early dinner at La Vina Del Estanche. On a trip of best food ever, this meal rates very highly and was only the beginning of the food to come.

The next morning I go over to the new exhibit at the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum. It was their 110th anniversary and newly renovated and reopened the day I arrived. The exhibit was ABC including Spanish, English and Basque letters and words.

Through a selection of more than 300 pieces and 200 artists, they created an alphabetic story.in 31 rooms. Each room was a word. Arte (art), Bilbao, Citoyen (Citizen), Desira (Desire), Espejo (mirror), Friendship………( P was for Portraits- from many different artists)

It was really cool and the museum has some interesting pieces. (love this one – John Davies-Every War Memorial)

And then it was back to eating.  After a private tour of the Guggenheim we went to the Michelin starred Nerua. Nerua is an ancient Latin name for the Nervion River  where the restaurant in the Guggenheim museum is located.

Nerua,

The small restaurant is designed by Frank Gehry with white walls and tablecloths and his signature curvy chairs.

When we arrived it was pretty much empty.

Chef Alija’s tasting menu was a beautifull and artfully prepared take on Spanish flavors.

I did not know what to expect from my visit to Bilbao. A bucket list place doesn’t always live up to the hype. Bilbao’s enchanting mix of old and new with a focus on food and people makes it a wonderful place to visit.  Special thanks to Kyle for making us feel so welcome, comfortable and extremely well-fed in his wonderful city.

Fly safe

JAZ