Inspired by Granada

Granada really captured my imagination, and I’m not the first. The city’s ancient Moorish palace, the Alhambra, was brought to worldwide attention by American author Washington Irving, who stayed there briefly in 1829. Yes, that’s Washington Irving of Sleepy Hollow fame. Read more about the Alhambra’s history, starting in the 9th century, here.

After his visit to Granada, Irving wrote Tales of the Alhambra, which sparked interest in the beautiful, crumbling building complex. Fifty years later (it wasn’t the age of the internet, after all), the movement to restore the Alhambra had begun.

Nice to hear about an American writer doing something good abroad!

It’s easy to see why he was so inspired. I found myself wanting to move into the Alhambra. While the castles in northern Europe are impressive in their own right, the Moorish palace made me want to hang out on a chaise lounge, write a novel, and throw a party when the sun went down.

A good spot for a window seat, no?

This was one of my favorite views of the Alhambra (there in the distance). This tower in the foreground, we discovered, is an 11th century minaret, the only remains of a mosque that was destroyed after Isabella and Ferdinand’s army conquered Granada. As in many places, a church was built right where the mosque stood.

It seems to be fairly common that one minaret was left when a mosque was destroyed (for instance, you see it also at Seville’s cathedral). If anyone knows more about the story behind that, I’d be interested to know.

As one of the last holdouts of the Moors, the whole city of Granada has a very strong Moorish influence. The ancient Muslim Albayzin quarter is particularly fascinating, with its maze-like cobbled paths and tangle of ancient white-stone buildings. And as I mentioned before, the food was great!

I threw some more Spain pictures up on my flickr gallery, so hop over there if you like. I went gaga over the tilework at the Alhambra and at the palace in Seville, the Alcazar. Sooo gorgeous! And I kept thinking: quilts, quilts, quilts!  So many ideas, so little time.

Travel Tip: if you’re interested in seeing the Alhambra, make sure you book tickets well in advance via the Alhambra website. We did book ahead but we still had some difficulty getting them—-luckily my husband’s Spanish saved us, but the process needs some working out of kinks. Also, take your smart phone—there’s a free app you can download on site. We didn’t bring ours so didn’t get to try it.

Next up you’ll be hearing from author Louise Hawes about using dreams in your writing. Can’t wait!

Traveling by Table through Andalusia

Do you try new foods when you travel? One of my favorite ways to check out a new place is to eat my way through it.

It wasn’t hard to do in southern Spain, where there are so many delights. For example, gazpacho:

My goal with gazpacho was pretty much to eat it at nearly every restaurant, until I really couldn’t eat it anymore. I mean, where else can you go where gazpacho is on every menu? You can eat it in a bowl or, like here, drink it in a glass. You can also eat a thick version, like a dip, though I have to say that was not my thing. This was one of my favorite gazpachos, at Bar Manolo in Seville at Plaza Alfalfa.They had the most awesome cheap tapas. Loved the outdoor cafe culture in Seville. It has such a fun, laid-back feeling.

Another quest was churros. We had trouble with this one, since churros are really a morning thing, or a break-of-dawn-after-late-partying thing, and we never seemed to motivate to go churro-hunting until the afternoon.

We finally found an all-day churros place in Seville and grabbed some right before dinner. Perfect timing, eh? Not really, but who cares?

Have mercy! Fried dough gets me every time. You break them off and dip them in the thick hot chocolate. Ayiiiii!!

Granada had a whole different batch of flavors to try. You’ve got the North African/ Middle Eastern influence going on. I had some fantastic falafel and hummus, which I forgot to photograph. Also, there was LOTS o’ mint. Like this mint tea, served all over town, always in a silver teapot with a painted glass:

That green thing poking out of the pot is mint. Yeah.

Granada was also the site of the best mojito ever. It had absolute loads of mint and lime. It was almost like a limeade, which maybe is why I liked it so much. Those green flecks you see are shredded mint leaves.

 Also had some yummy sweets from a Granada bakery. An orange spice cake:

These are some baklava-type pastries with different fillings. The top one I think had pistachios while the second was filled with sesame.

By the time we left, the kids were reminding me to take photos of everything we ate. Sadly I forgot a few beauties, though. Not pictured: sea bass baked under a mountain of sea salt, Spanish tortilla (a bit like a potato omelette or frittata), chicken curry on couscous, plenty of Serrano ham, and olives, olives, olives. I was never much of an olive eater before Spain. It’ll do that to you.

What about you? Have you discovered any new foods while traveling? Things you just had to recreate back home?

For more of my travels, click here. A bit more on Spain to come.

Flamenco in Mijas, Spain

On our recent trip through Andalusia, Mijas (“MEE-haass”) was a highlight. One of the lovely white towns (so-called because of their white buildings) Mijas has great food, donkey and horse rides, and best of all, a Wednesday noontime flamenco performance.

The electricity of flamenco is contagious. These dancers and musicians are true artists. If we’d spent any more time in Spain, I seriously would’ve had to sign up for flamenco lessons (you can, by the way, do this). The performance made me want to hop up and do some serious DANCING!

Here’s a view of Mijas from the hill—-you can see why it’s called a “white town.”

On another day we happened upon the flamenco floor of a department store. “Happened upon”—who am I kidding? Once I heard there was such a thing as a “flamenco department” I was making a beeline. Ahhh….heaven!

Talk about serious artistry. All handmade. One of these babies will set you back around 500 euros or more. I couldn’t QUITE justify the money. But we did get a cheapo version for Little Miss.

I think I’ve got to learn some flamenco sewing techniques now. So far the internet hasn’t been all that helpful, so shout if you know any tricks.

More on Spain to come. For more on our travels around Europe, just click on the “Travel” category on the right.

Currently reading Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, a recommendation from my husband. I’m still not a total e-book lover, but it WAS awesome to be able to pull up The Sun Also Rises,W. Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra, and The Big House by Carolyn Coman while in Spain. I love traveling by book and car/plane at the same time.

Hope you have a great weekend!

Mallorca: Photo Journal

Here are a few highlights from our October trip to Mallorca, off the coast of Spain. While it’s definitely been built up in a touristy way, Mallorca is truly a beautiful island, and there are lots of treasures to find. Like these:

You would not believe this bird park. We totally stumbled across it—-it was literally across the street from our hotel, but clearly other visitors had made a pilgrimage. There were some serious birders hefting cannon-sized cameras and telescopes. Unfortunately we didn’t really know what birds we were seeing, but we loved it all the same. The marshy setting is spectacular, and at several points there are hides, which are kind of like little dugouts from which you can watch birds unnoticed. Cool, eh? 

 

Alcudia was the nearest “old” town near our hotel, so we went there a lot, exploring the ruins of the Roman wall and enjoying Mallorcan variety fried-in-front-of-you donuts.

Below is one of my favorite finds in Alcudia. Can you just imagine what’s behind this door?

I also loved poking through the market.

I’ve never been a huge olive fan, but when you’re in Spain, it’s practically a sin not to eat them, and I became a bit of a convert. I’d never seen virgin olives in the flesh before.

Mallorca seems like a dream now that the weather has turned bitterly cold.

Newsflash! I finally finished the Cuppa Cuppa duvet cover. Hoping to photograph it soon for you. Now inching along with this patchwork project. I’ve  also picked up a knitting project from five years ago that I had given up on. Five years! Has it really been five years?! Hope springs eternal.

Meanwhile, my YA novel is also inching along in revision.

Have a great weekend!