Monday, February 21, 2011

El Torcal & Granada Excursion

This past weekend we had our first excursion outside of Sevilla.  On Friday morning our entire API group traveled by bus to Granada with a stop in El Torcal Nacional Park for a short hike.  This was the first time we have spent a significant amount of time at a location that was not a historically significant, man made attraction and it was so nice to be outside, enjoying nature again.  We only hiked for about a mile, but we got to see so many cool rock formations and gorgeous panoramas.  Throughout the three hour drive to Granada, I was surprised at how hilly Spain is in some places and even more surprised to learn that Spain is the second most mountainous country in Europe....after Switzerland.  Granada is situated at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains (appropriately named, when translated it means Snowy Mountains) and even though there is no snow it the city I was so excited to see the white capped mountains in the background. 

Granada was the last city to be taken back by the Catholic Kings of Spain from the Arabs in 1492, and for this reason the city has a very strong Middle Eastern feel.  An Moorish tradition that has been modernized but still practiced today in southern Spain (especially in Granada) are the Arab baths also known as 'hammams.'  A group of us decided to relax and experience an Arab bath that included three different pools (cold, temperate, and hot) and a steam room that was ten times better than any sauna I've ever been in!

Friday night we walked to the old gypsy caves to see a flamenco show that was amazing!!  Everyone was sitting along the walls with the dancers in the middle, but it was so narrow that one of the girls in our group got kicked by one of the dancers!  However, the amount of energy and passion in the dancers and musicians was even more intense being that close to the action!

On Saturday morning we took a walking tour of the city and saw the burial location of Queen Isabel of Castilla and King Fernando of Aragon, the Catholic Kings who took back Granada.  Lastly, we visited the Alhambra, or Red Palace.  It was the royal palace for the Arab kings in southern Spain and Carlos V built a palace on the same sight.  The Alhambra is on a hill that overlooks the entire city of Granada, and in addition to the palaces, fortresses, and other buildings, the gardens are spectacular as well.  It is a must see for anyone who enjoys Arabic architecture and is easily one of the most beautiful places I've seen.

Fortress at Alhambra with the city of Granada in the background.

Half of our group at the Alhambra.

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