Thursday, February 12, 2009

G is for Granada - and for Gypsies!

We begin our stay here in Granada by booking a day on the City Sightseeing Bus – and this one is very economical at €18 for two days. We pick the bus up at its second stop which is about 5 minute walk from our Hotel – the Hotel Universal. One of the drawbacks of being in a country that seems to encourage smoking with no restrictions placed on public smoking is the number of butts everywhere. The councils counteract this by employing street sweepers – in fact there seems to be a street sweeper (with their cleverly designed yard brooms with angled heads) every couple of blocks – and they work – you never see them idle!

All along this main thoroughfare lined with small shops of many descriptions, are the loveliest street lights in character with this historic element of the city. And hanging from these lights are baskets bursting with the sunniest, brightest yellow pansies in full bloom. Now, while the sun is out and shining, there is a wind sweeping down off the Sierra Nevada that makes the air decidedly chilly. One would think that it would stunt their growth – but no – the blossoms are huge.

We complete a circuit of the bus route taking about one and a half hours and getting a feel for the layout of Granada and its history. I am surprised to learn that the university here is home to more than 50,000 students specialising in medicine and the sciences. The city is supported by a University Hospital and also a renown Science Centre where children are specially catered for in learning the application of science to all things exciting. As we drive past we watch yet another school group conglomerating around the entrance doors! We also see the polished metal dome of the planetarium that this Science Centre is known for.

Now, Granada is undergoing a period of civic rehabilitation and construction. We pass the site where a new Cultural Centre is partly complete – a strange looking building for its purpose with a tall façade around seven stories high with a glassed insert and the top and access across the bottom – I can only think that this is the administrative building for culture and that performance and display areas are either underground or yet to be constructed.

One of the stops on the bus route is near La Alhambra. The climb from Granada up to the top of the highest point in the city affords us with some great views of the Sierra Nevadas only 35 kms away. They are a constant backdrop to the City and are snow capped all year. You can clearly see the top of the tree line and the almost knife-sharp edge where the permanent snow line starts. We are told that this range is home to the highest peaks in the Iberian Peninsula but there is a significant mistake in the commentary when they convert 3,400m to around 1,000 feet and not 10,000 feet! The wind going up that hill in an open topped bus made a joke of the neon displays in the city that proudly displayed 9 and 10 degrees! It was freezing. The slopes are covered in prickly pear and at the moment all are bearing lots of the red fruit – wonder if anyone processes them in any way?

Once we have completed a circuit, we alight at the stop for the Cathedral of the Incarnation. Almost as soon as we step off the bus, we are accosted (there can be no other word!) by gypsies. They have handfuls of pieces of twigs, some rosemary, others just common street bushes. They try to press them into your hands and they actively target the men initially. Once they have your hand, some of them then grab your hand and give you a palm ‘reading’ while getting you to hop on one leg; others just blow lots of kisses etc at you. Of course, then comes the take and the demand for money. Michael takes a rosemary sprig and is becoming caught by one of the woman when I say to him to give it back and keep his hands close. It was fascinating to watch one of the older women ‘instructing’ the younger ones what to do – her advice was make eye contact, take people’s hands, be forceful.

Elsewhere on the trip, we see a couple of teenage gypsies at a set of traffic lights, water bottle and squeegee in hand cleaning windscreens as cars stop for the red light and then again, demanding payment. You know, it was all hard work and I can’t help but think that a paying job would be far less stressful and most definitely more profitable. And talking about profit, as soon as the shops close for siesta (about 2 pm), out come the African young men who ply their trade in copies of sunglasses, handbags, fashion, the latest CDs etc from blankets laid on the streets right outside the doors of shops where these goods are legitimately traded. Guess there is a market for every need!

The Cathedral is not open to the public at present and like many other historic sites is undergoing significant maintenance. The Royal Chapel however is open, although we have just missed the morning opening times! So we opt to chill out like the rest of Spain, to have a leisurely lunch and bask in the beautiful winter sunlight. Certainly doesn’t feel like winter (although it also feels nothing like the summer you guys are having). We sit down at the outdoor plaza tables of a local restaurant and order that universal dish – pizzas (of all things!) Mine is four cheeses and Michael’s has capers, anchovies, tomatoes and green olives – washed down by a glass of regional red and mineral water con gas (with gas) for Michael. Ahh – wonder what the poor people are doing today??? Just superb.

After lunch we head back to the Royal Chapel for a look - but can't take photos. Very ornate, very baroque. This is the final resting place of the Catholic Kings of Spain, Ferdinand II or Aragon and Isabella of Castile. The Catholic Kings decided that Granada would be there final resting place as the high point of their reign was when they captured the City and the Nasrid Kingdom in 1492. Its construction was commissioned by Queen Isabella shortly before her death in 1504 but was not completed until 1517. We are amazed at not only the ornate layout, but of the examples of Catholic wealth including some very significant art works that date back to the early 1400s – by painters such as Van Der Weyde, Boticelli and Bartolomé and includes a triptych by Bouts representing the Crucifixion, the Descent from the Cross and the Lord’s Resurrection.

And while we are on the subject of religion, Granada has a history of coexistence of Jews, Arabs and Christians. While they resided in different quarters, for centuries they lived in the city in peace. And then came the Catholics . . .

Here is a bit of interesting information for all those people following this blog back in Maryborough, Queensland – Granada once had a flourishing sugar cane industry on its rich fertile slopes and plain. For some reason, Spain stopped growing sugar cane and later began to grow sugar beet. Again, Granada rose to the opportunity and planted the new crop where once it grew cane and developed a processing industry around the beets. That also passed and today there is no trace of these former agricultural industries save one huge steam pump that sits in one of the parks.

Back on to the Sightseeing Bus, we make our way around to the Bull fighting arena. The season does not start until March so there is no reason for us to feel uneasy coming here. However, when in Spain . . . This large arena is modelled on those of the ancient Greeks and Romans, but it is austere and lacking in the finesse or the splendour of those monuments. It is just functional and reminds me a little of the big soccer stadiums. There is nothing really alluring and nothing to keep us here – still we had to see it. There is a bit of a wait until the next bus comes through so we opt for a coffee in one of the restaurants that have sprung up in its porticos. We sit and order coffee (con leche – with milk) and almost immediately strike up a conversation with a Canadian couple at the next table. They remark how friendly Australians are. They are spending 3 months cycling in Spain – with those Sierra Nevadas you gotta be joking!! They are presently staying on the coast and have caught a bus up to Granada today to see La Alhambra (which we will see tomorrow morning). They cycled in Australian last year for 6 months and say they will be back – so out comes another card, and an offer to look us up if they come back through Maryborough. They stayed a night there last year and a couple of nights at Hervey Bay – but didn’t make it over to the island that time!

Then, back to the Cathedral stop and a walk back to the hotel – a very nice day all in all. Not hungry after that big dinner, but a lovely gooey chat with our Izabella (and Amanda via Skype) is a great end to the day before we spend some hours trying to plan our itinerary and book various accommodations on our way back to London to re-register the car.

No comments: