Days 14-15: The Return to Madrid, Our Time in the States, and Our Return to Panama

We checked out of our hotel in Granada and drove four and a half hours back to Madrid. The drive was beautiful as we drove through the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains before entering the plains of Castile and La Mancha once again. We were awed with the miles and miles of olive trees for as far as the eye could see in every direction. They seemingly covered every mountain and every valley. As we entered La Mancha, a few vineyards were interspersed among the olive orchards.

Driving through the Sierra Nevadas (Olive trees everywhere)

Driving through the Sierra Nevadas (Olive trees everywhere)

More Sierra Nevada shots

More Sierra Nevada shots

Andalucía, the land of olives!

Andalucía, the land of olives!

Finally, we arrived in Madrid. I dropped off the ladies at the hotel and returned the rental car, catching the subway back to the hotel. We went for lunch at what was our favorite restaurant of our entire trip, Juana La Loca. The food was wonderful and it was always crowded with locals. That evening we walked over to the Plaza Mayor for some last minute gift shopping and dinner at the busy, congested Mercado de San Miguel just off the plaza. We wandered from booth to booth, eating tapa-sized portions and drinking excellent Spanish wine. (Well… Christy enjoyed the excellent Spanish Coca-Cola Light.)

Our ride for our trip through La Mancha and Andalucía

Our ride for our trip through La Mancha and Andalucía

Birthday girls at San Miguel's Mercado for dinner.

Birthday girls at San Miguel’s Mercado for dinner.

As we were about to leave the hotel for the airport on the follow morning, I was notified that our flight from Madrid to JFK was delayed for 2 1/2 hours. We only had a 2-hour layover in New York which meant we would miss our connection. We were not happy! But, we went ahead and took the taxi to the airport as planned at 7:30. When we arrived, we we happy to find out that we had been rerouted. We would fly direct to Atlanta, instead of having two layovers in both New York and Atlanta, and then we would fly on to Akron/Canton, Ohio. This new routing would mean we would have a layover in Atlanta of eight hours, but we were just happy to be back on American soil without further delays.

Now that's a burger!  (One of my Spanish meals.)  :)

Now that’s a burger! (One of my Spanish meals.) 🙂

Cindy has remained in Ohio with her family over the past week, while my stay in the Buckeye State was only a few hours long. The next day, I flew to Green Bay, Wisconsin for a 84 hours of work in 8 days at the Bellin Health Emergency Department. The winter gods showed mercy on this poor man who has acclimated to the Caribbean. The highs were in the mid-upper 40s on most days, and the lows were in the mid-30s on most nights. I survived my shifts in this new-to-me hospital and boarded the plane this morning for Atlanta, where I would once again rendezvous with my lovely wife for the flight back into Panama. We’re scheduled to arrive around 10 p.m. tonight, after which we’ll face a 1-2 hour ride back to the marina where Beatitude awaits. In spite of numerous emails, texts, and phone calls, the repairs to Beatitude have hardly progressed. One month down since the lightning strike, and not much accomplished in getting Beatitude ready to cruise again. Hopefully, once we are on site, things will progress more swiftly.

An elevator selfie.

An elevator selfie.

Day 13: The Alhambra (Granada)

Our second day in Granada was dedicated to visiting the Alhambra, the last and greatest Moorish palace. To see the splendor of the previous Moorish civilization, this is the place. Cordoba was reconquered by the Christians in 1236 and Sevilla in 1248. The Nazarids, one of several groups of Spanish Muslims, held out in Granada until 1492. There are four groups of sights clustered atop a hill. We visited them all on Friday afternoon.

Ready for a full day at the Alhambra.  Heading for breakfast before the uphill trek.

Ready for a full day at the Alhambra. Heading for breakfast before the uphill trek.

A beautiful, yet tiring, uphill walk to the Alhambra

A beautiful, yet tiring, uphill walk to the Alhambra

The birthday girls stopping on the way up the hill for a little recuperation and recovery. :)

The birthday girls stopping on the way up the hill for a little recuperation and recovery. 🙂

The Justice Gate, through which we entered the Alhambra complex

The Justice Gate, through which we entered the Alhambra complex

We first visited the Alcazaba, a fort which is the oldest and most ruined part of the complex. The present structure dates from the 13th century. From this fort, soldiers defended the entire Alhambra which had 2,000 Muslims living within the walls.

The Alcazaba

The Alcazaba

A view of the Albayzin (you can see the St. Nicolas bell tower that I climbed the previous day to view the Alhambra) from atop the fort (Alcazaba)

A view of the Albayzin (you can see the St. Nicolas bell tower that I climbed the previous day to view the Alhambra) from atop the fort (Alcazaba)

Looking down inside the fort and on the ladies from the tower

Looking down inside the fort and on the ladies from the tower

A view of Granada from the tower of the Alcazaba

A view of Granada from the tower of the Alcazaba

Cindy doing a little drawing/sketching from within the Alcazaba

Cindy doing a little drawing/sketching from within the Alcazaba

Part of the fortress

Part of the fortress

A cool look at the Granada Cathedral from atop the Alcazaba

A cool look at the Granada Cathedral from atop the Alcazaba

A view across the fort

A view across the fort

Leaving the Alcazaba through the gardens (snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains visible in background)

Leaving the Alcazaba through the gardens (snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains visible in background)

A view from the Alcazaba Gardens

A view from the Alcazaba Gardens

The ladies in the Gardens

The ladies in the Gardens

Next, we visited the palace of Charles V (the Holy Roman Emperor). He built a modern Renaissance palace within the complex which he used for official functions. He used the Palacios Nazaríes (which we’ll come to momentarily) as his royal residence in Granada.

The entrance to the Renaissance Charles V Palace

The entrance to the Renaissance Charles V Palace

You'd never expect to find a circle inside the square exterior of the Charles V Palace.   Great acoustics inside - it's used for musical events.

You’d never expect to find a circle inside the square exterior of the Charles V Palace. Great acoustics inside – it’s used for musical events.

Cool fixtures on the Charles V Palace exterior

Cool fixtures on the Charles V Palace exterior

From within the Palace, we looked out across a pool to witness a wedding.  "You may kiss the bride"

From within the Palace, we looked out across a pool to witness a wedding. “You may kiss the bride”

Thirdly, we visited the Generalife Gardens, which lie outside the protection of the Alhambra walls. These gardens served as the sultan’s vegetable and fruit orchards. It was also a summer palace retreat. There is also a beautiful, small palace located in the gardens.

The "baths" of the Alhambra.   We passed these on the way to the Generalife Gardens

The “baths” of the Alhambra. We passed these on the way to the Generalife Gardens

My lovely bride putting the beautifully-colored vines to shame.

My lovely bride putting the beautifully-colored vines to shame.

Walking through the Generalife Garden, which was filled with these sculpted Cypress shrubs

Walking through the Generalife Garden, which was filled with these sculpted Cypress shrubs

One of the fountains in the Generalife Gardens.  The small palace in the background.

One of the fountains in the Generalife Gardens. The small palace in the background.

The walls of the Moorish palace

The walls of the Moorish palace

View through the palace windows.

View through the palace windows.

Fountains/Courtyards of the Generalife Palace

Fountains/Courtyards of the Generalife Palace

Leaving the Generalife Gardens

Leaving the Generalife Gardens

Finally, we visited the Palacios Nazaríes, for which we had to buy tickets weeks in advance obtaining a reserved time during which we were allowed to enter the palace. The palace, which consists of royal offices, ceremonial rooms, and private quarters, was built in the 14th century. Many of the rooms were decorated from top to bottoms with carved wooden ceilings, stucco “stalactites,” molded plastic walls, and ceramic tiles.

Interior walls of the Palacios Nazaríes

Interior walls of the Palacios Nazaríes

Beautiful

Beautiful

More interior shots of the Palacios Nazaries

More interior shots of the Palacios Nazaries

Pool/Fountains inside the Palace

Pool/Fountains inside the Palace

Walls of the Palace

Walls of the Palace

Traces of the once beautiful colors remain

Traces of the once beautiful colors remain

More Palace shots

More Palace shots

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The walk up and down the hill to and from the Alhambra just about did the girls in. We did manage to find an excellent place for tapas before returning to the hotel.

Tapas for Dinner at this cozy place!

Tapas for Dinner at this cozy place!

Day 12: Granada

On the morning of the 17th, we left the town of Sevilla and travelled eastward through Andalucía to what was once the grandest city in Spain, Granada. Granada, today, is a booming city which sits at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Its most notable tourist site is the Alhambra, a Medieval Moorish palace and citadel. We’ll be seeing that on our second day in the city.

After checking into our hotel, we walked approximately 1/3 mile to the Granda Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of the Incarnation. It is one of only two Renaissance churches in Spain. It’s earliest beginnings were Gothic, it was built in the Renaissance style, and it was decorated in the Baroque style. Walking through the Renaissance interior was reminiscent of St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London.

Approaching the Granada Cathedral

Approaching the Granada Cathedral

Facade of the Cathedral

Facade of the Cathedral

Looking up the nave toward the altar of this grand Renaissance church

Looking up the nave toward the altar of this grand Renaissance church

Vaulted Ceilings of the choir, flanked by two majestic organs on either side

Vaulted Ceilings of the choir, flanked by two majestic organs on either side

One of the grand organs

One of the grand organs

The apse

The apse

Looking inside the apse from the left side

Looking inside the apse from the left side

Massive Medieval Choir Books

Massive Medieval Choir Books

The birthday girls inside the Granada Cathedral

The birthday girls inside the Granada Cathedral

Organ

Organ

The altarpiece of St. James the Moor Slayer (not so politically correct, these days)

The altarpiece of St. James the Moor Slayer (not so politically correct, these days)

The Sacristy of the Cathedral

The Sacristy of the Cathedral

After our tour of the cathedral, we exited and paid again to enter one of the side chapels in the church, the Royal Chapel (apparently the church and this chapel are run by different religious orders.) Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside (Photos which follow were found online). The primary draw for tourists is to see the tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic Monarchs. They chose Granada for their burial to make a statement: Granada was the last bastion of Islam in Spain during the Reconquista. When the Moorish king, Bobadil, handed over the keys to the city to King Ferdinand, the Reconquista was complete — All of Spain was under Christian control once again. Ferdinand and Isabel, by permanently planting themselves in Granda, indicated that it would never be removed from Christian rule again. Also, resting next to the Catholic Monarchs are Philip the Fair and Juanna the Mad (daughter to Ferdinand and Isabella). An unexpected treat in visiting the Royal Chapel was the wonderful collection of paintings by several Netherlandish masters, including Hans Memling, Rogier van der Weyden, and Dirk Bouts. Another room had the crown and scepter of Isabella and the sword of Ferdinand.

Ferdinand and Isabella (closest) who took the more humble position, lower than the monuments to Philip and Juana

Ferdinand and Isabella (closest) who took the more humble position, lower than the monuments to Philip and Juana

The actual lead coffins, which contain the remains of Ferdinand, Isabella, Juana the Mad, Philip the Fair ( and Prince Miguel)

The actual lead coffins, which contain the remains of Ferdinand, Isabella, Juana the Mad, Philip the Fair ( and Prince Miguel)

Crown and Sceptre of Isabel, sword of Ferdinand

Crown and Sceptre of Isabel, sword of Ferdinand

Our last adventure for the day was to wander through the Albayzín, Spain’s best old Moorish quarter. At times, we felt we were back in the Middle East (reminiscent of our trips through Muslim neighborhoods on our Israel visit last year). The shaded,small cobbled lanes with colorful corners and flowery walls was relaxing (although the first half was all uphill). We somewhat randomly chose small lanes and alleys which led us to the top of the hill, upon which sits the Mirador de San Nicolas, the bell tower attached to the almost 500-year old church of San Nicolas. From the top of the bell tower, and to a lesser extent, the patio beside the church, we were treated to awesome views of the Alhambra and the snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Making our way into the Albayzin

Making our way into the Albayzin

Reminds us of shopping in the Middle East

Reminds us of shopping in the Middle East

The ladies in the Albayzin

The ladies in the Albayzin

The narrow medieval streets of the Moorish neighborhood

The narrow medieval streets of the Moorish neighborhood

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Almost to the top of the hill, a beautiful view of the snow-capped Sierra Nevadas

Almost to the top of the hill, a beautiful view of the snow-capped Sierra Nevadas

Looking down onto Saint Nicolas Square from atop the St. Nicolas Belltower

Looking down onto Saint Nicolas Square from atop the St. Nicolas Belltower

Looking down onto the open and unfinished roof of the church

Looking down onto the open and unfinished roof of the church

Looking over the Albayzin to the Sierra Nevadas from the Belltower

Looking over the Albayzin to the Sierra Nevadas from the Belltower

After ambling back down the hill, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and retired to our hotel, the Hotel Granada Centro, to rest for a busy, next day in Granada.

In the Albayzin

In the Albayzin

Another narrow medieval street in the Albayzin

Another narrow medieval street in the Albayzin