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Flag of Spain  , Andalusia,
Thursday, May 19, 2011

It's Al-Hambra day, but we have all morning to screw around since our tickets are for this afternoon.  Yesterday we found a cool cafe in a plaza down a side street and decided to go there for breakfast.  On the way we stopped at the post office to mail home this sword.  We've pushed our luck with it enough.  Well apparently you can't mail swords. So you can buy then, you just can't take them anywhere or ship them home.  Makes sense.We sat outside under a tent at the cafe for breakfast.  I got the hot chocolate again and Jacki got espresso, and everyone got churros.  It was even better here than at the last place.  While we were sitting there it started to pour down rain.  It was good thing we didn't have morning tickets because we would have been soaked.  It was kind of fun to sit outside during the downpour watching everyone run by and just hang out talking, knowing you're not going anywhere soon.  It's amazing how quickly the guys walking around selling umbrella apear as soon as there's a drop of rain.Having our hotel right in the main part of town is great.  For the rest of the late morning/early afternoon we wandered around town stopping at the hotel every once and a while to grab an umbrella or stop for a break.  For lunch we got gyros.  Since leaving Greece, I can't believe how often we get gyros.  There are gyro stands everywhere in Europe, although they call them kebabs.  They are about the only thing that is easy to find, quick, cheap, and good.  We have gotten gyros in every single European country we've been to, and I don't think we're sick of them yet.  At least I'm not.Around 3:00 we started the walk up to Al-Hambra.  The compound is on top of a hill on the same road as our hotel and part way up the hill is a big stone gate.  In front of the gate I was accosted by a Spanish lady trying to shove rosemary in my hand.  It's been a while since that's happened.  It was the only time it happened our whole time in Europe.  All you have to do is respond with a firm "No Gracias!" Even the road up to Al-Hambra was cool.  There are stone gutters on both sides of the road with water pouring down like a waterfall.  At first I thought it was from all the rain, but when you get to the top, the gutters are fed by a stream and fountain.  One of the main themes at Al-Hambra is the water features, something that is completely missing from almost all other Arab countries.It took about 15 or 20 minutes to hike to the top, and once we got inside the gardens were amazing.  Every bit as impressive as the gardens at Versaille, if not as big, but definitely more colorful.  All of the bushes were trimmed to took like castle walls and gateways.  There were long pools spread throughout with jets of water jumping into them and there were roses everywhere.  Hundreds of rose bushes, trees, and vines hanging off of arbors.  The gardens were made up of several levels and had a great view of the city and the castle on the other side of the hill.  There were also several large courtyards with red clay tiled roofs with walls covered in carvings.  It took more than an hour just to walk through the gardens alone.Also in the afternoon we went through Charles V palace, which he built after the Christians took over in the 1500s.  It was kind of cool, just a big open two level round courtyard with big pillars.  Inside that palace there was a M.C. Escher exhibit (the guy who drew the picture of the stairs that never end.)  In the exhibit they had a bunch of his weird drawings and played loud weird violin music.  Kind of cool.  Our last stop at Al-Hambra for the afternoon was the big fortress.  It was a pretty bare, huge structure.  We walked up the tallest tower and there was a good view of the whole town from there where you could see the old city walls.  This city must have been huge.  They told us a story that when the after the Muslim king was defeated he was walking out of the city he looked back on the Al-Hambra and cried.  Then they said that his mother looked at him and said "go ahead and cry like a women for losing the city that you couldn't defend like a man."  Ouch.  Harsh.We headed back to town after that since we had 4 hours or so until our scheduled time to go into the palace at 10:30.  For dinner we went to a restaurant that specialized in ham and had rows of ham legs hanging from the ceiling.  Then when 10pm rolled around we went back up to see the palace.  It was complete dark by then, but it was lit by big lights.  I'm not sure exactly how old the palace is, but it has to be at least 700 years old and every single room is covered with white marble carved with writings and shapes.  I'm sure it was unbelievable when it was originally done, and I have no idea how they did all of it by hand.  It had to have taken a hundred years to just do the carvings and thats only if they had hundreds of people working on it.  Still I thought the grounds of Al-Hambra were the best part.  But everything was well worth the trip, it was just as impressive as anything we've seen so far (except maybe Angkor.)
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