Thursday, March 29, 2012

Traveler Al's "Almost a Last Hurrah" Voyages - Malaga & The Alhambra

Ornamentation - Palace of Carlos V - The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

The first stop of my new voyage on the Celebrity Constellation was Alicante, Spain.  The weather on this day, Monday, November 21st, 2011 was very rainy.  I decided to stay aboard the ship to read and save my legs for my up coming tour to the Alhambra the next day.

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011 the weather was still a bit uncertain. The port area of Malaga, Spain where the ship docked was sunny and dry, but there were foreboding dark, clouds over the high ground around the city that threatened stormy weather inland. 

Leaving the Marina at Malaga, Spain

Malaga Marina light house - Note Celebrity Constellation in the background

Early morning - Malaga, Spain

The Province of Andalucia, Spain


Our tour bus left early for the approximately 2 hour climb and drive out of Malaga to inland Andalucía, the Spanish province where the Alhambra or “Red Fortress” is located. 

I noticed there was a lot of prickly pear cactus at the sides of the road. Just outside Malaga, there were little groups of isolated houses perched high on the steep hillsides. It would be a long commute back to the city from these lonely homes.


 A town in the coastal mountains of Andalucia

The main products of the area are almonds and olives in generally small hillside orchards.  As we neared the inland valley nearer to Granada, the city next to the Alhambra, we passed fields of asparagus and stands of popular trees.

Getting near Granada, Spain

Near Granada, Spain

The Alhambra sits on a promontory of several hills to the northeast of the city of Granada.  The complex of palaces and forts is heavily walled.  Originally all the walls and buildings were whitewashed which has long been washed off leaving them red from the color of the exposed, local building materials.

The walls extend for approximately 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) around the entire complex.  The labor to build much of the complex of palaces and fortifications was provided by Christian slaves held by the Arabs. The Arabs held much of Spain until they were completely expelled from the Spanish Peninsula by the two Spanish Monarchs – Ferdinand and Isabella, in 1492.

Ticket offices and visitor entry

Looking towards the main part of the Alhambra

It started to rain as we walked into the Alhambra complex. The site is very large and comprises 4 or 5 main palaces that are arranged in somewhat of a helter skelter fashion. 

It is a long walk from the entry point to the Generalife   
(Hay-nuh-rawl-ee-FAY), a palace that was used as a guest house for official visitors and as a summer residence for the Emirs and Sultans. There is also a set of very welcome and needed public restrooms build under the stairway up to the Generalife.
The Generalife is across a deep ravine from the majority of the buildings and gardens of the Alhambra.  The Generalife has some of the most beautiful gardens in the Alhambra.  The palace was often used as a rural, cooler, summer residence for the sultans and emirs resident in the Alhambra.

I did not climb the flights of stairs that it took to get to a clear view of the Generalife. I wanted to save my legs for the rest of the tour.

The tour guide, a very nice lady, advised me to start following the path into the promontory where the rest of the palaces were located to get a bit ahead of group.  I went ahead on my own taking photos as I walked along past the walls and down the lengthy pathways to the place where the rest of the palaces are located.

Walkway to enter the promontory and main area of the Alhambra

Cats seem to love these old places

View as you cross the bridge to enter the main part of the Alhambra

The long, long walk towards the end of the promontory where the majority of the palaces are located.

The garden inside the shrub lined walkway shown above.

La Puerta de los Siete Suelos - The Gate of the Seven Floors

Alhambra street to the Palace of Carlos V. The end of the promontory is just beyond and is a very heavily fortified area.

Pool in the Court of the Myrtles - Part of the Palace of the Blessings

The Court of the Myrtles

Soon we were seeing the beautiful decorative work of the Alhambra's walls and ceilings.  To me this was the attraction of the place I had wanted to see with my own eyes since I first saw pictures of this magical place when I was a child.  Exotic writings and patterns on the walls, ceilings that looked as if they had been formed from cake icing.

The designs are done with molds and the use of stucco and alabaster dust.

Detail of a ceiling corner area - Notice the differences in the little cups formed by each of the decorative "stalactites."

Superb tile work is seen through out the complex. 

Notice the intricate patterns of the woodwork in the door panels

Next we entered the Hall of the Ambassadors, the largest room in the complex.  This is where Christopher Columbus received the support of Ferdinand and Isabella to make his voyage to the East.

Columbus was hoping to find a new route to secure the spices and other trade goods from India and Asia - but he found the New World instead.  

The rise of the Islamic empires - the Seljuk and the Ottoman Empires - had stopped the flow of trade goods, particularly spices,  into Europe that came over the Silk and Spice Routes from India and Asia.  The price of pepper and other spices was valued ounce for ounce the same as gold at various times while the Silk Road trade was cut off from Europe.

I suppose you could say that the rise of Islam resulted in Columbus discovering the Americas.

The biggest room in the complex - The Hall of the Ambassadors

Christopher Columbus received the support from the King and Queen to make his voyage in this room

The artist MC Escher studied the tile work in the Alhambra as he was developing his use of "tessellation" in his tricky paintings that created artificial perspectives on a flat plane.

Find out about Tessellation by clicking here.


Near the Washington Irving rooms. Note the Alhambra's wall zig-zagging up the hills in the distance.

The writer, Washington Irving, stayed at the Alhambra and  wrote "Tales of the Alhambra" from the inspiration of that visit.

The inscription translates to "Washington Irving wrote, in these rooms - his "Tales of the Alhambra" in the year 1829".

I am not sure what the inscriptions in the ceiling mean.  Washington Irving rooms

Fireplace in the Washington Irving Rooms at the Alhambra

An inner courtyard with fountain - The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

Roof of the Turkish Baths or "Hammum" on a lower level

Paving of an inner courtyard, The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

Doorway and window at the "Room of the Two Sisters,"  The Alhambra

We entered the Room of the Two Sisters as the end of our time at the Alhambra approached.  The room is named after two marble "sister" slabs in the floor on each side of an inside fountain and pool in the room.

In my opinion, this room is the high point of the mixture of the styles of architecture - Moorish, Arab, Gothic and Baroque achieved at the Alhambra.  To be in the room is like being on the inside of a large, sugary confection.  

The ceiling molding decorations or "stalactites" has over 5,000 individual moldings - no two are the same!  The beauty and complexity of this room overwhelm your senses.

Entering the Room of the Two Sisters

The fantasy of the ceiling of the room of The Two Sisters.

Detail of the molding work in one of the corners of the room.

To make the views of the ceiling, I laid my camera flat on the floor in the center of the dry fountain pool using the camera's self timer to make the exposure.  Photo has been color and contrast enhanced to bring out the details. The photo is taken with natural light with a slow exposure.

The fountain water wets the stone, evaporation off the stone cools the air around it during the blistering Spanish summer weather.

The Court of the Lions has been under a major renovation for at least 3 or 4 years.  From our view of this part of the Alhambra, it looks like it might be possible that the renovation will be finished by the summer of 2012.

Renovation work at the Court of the Lions.

View of some of the fortifications from the inside - The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

A stone lion and his mate are available at the stone and tile shop just outside The Alhambra

Shops and restaurants near the entrance to The Alhambra

The hotel where the tour group had lunch

We were serenaded during lunch.

Flemenco dresses were on sale at some of the shops near the hotel.

Our tour group left The Alhambra and Granada for the long drive back to Malaga.  We arrived just 15 minutes before the Constellation was due to leave port.  

I was tired with sore legs due to walking the great distances between the different places in the Alhambra. But, I had fulfilled a childhood dream to view the magical, Moorish palaces of the Alhambra with my own eyes.

Next time - Itinerary change to Gibraltar

Please click the colored link to view my other blog about living in Hawaii "Life in the 50th State"
Please give me photo credits if you use or share my photos for non-commercial use.
I use a Canon G-11 digital camera on a mono pod - usually without flash

Please contact me at should you need to use my photos commercially. Larger, digital files of my photos are available.

I encourage you to share this blog with your family and friends.

Your comments and criticisms are my reward for the effort to do this blog – they are appreciated.
Thanks for taking the time to read about my travels.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Traveler Al's "Almost a Last Hurrah" Voyages - Barcelona

Anonio Gaudi's - Sagrada Familia Cathedral
End of a Voyage, Start of a New Voyage

The Constellation took one more sea day to reach the end of my Voyage to the Holy Land.

The stateroom stewards passed out complete instructions for disembarkation early in the day.  I took the next few hours repacking and preparing my luggage for the move from one cabin to another cabin for the next voyage – the Trans-Atlantic Crossing. 

I also took the time to set up my gratuities for extra services received by the excellent staff of the Constellation.  Most cruise lines now collect $10 to $12 per day for the bulk of the gratuities to staff.  I like to give extra for the people who help me personally – I gave $30 for the two stateroom attendants, $5 to the sommelier in the main dining room who always had a glass of diet cola with ice waiting by my place at the dinner table, $5 to the dining room maître di, $10 for Benito the assistant dinner waiter and $20 for Elston the main waiter for our table.  I passed out those extra gratuities that evening.
The ship’s crew work hard – usually 12 to 14 hour days, sometimes in split shifts, 7 days a week with just a few hours off in ports. They work on 5 to 6 month contracts and then receive their air fare home for 6 week to two month breaks before returning for another contract period.  Middle class passengers, such as me, are the beneficiaries of their hard work – otherwise taking a cruise would be only available for the ultra wealthy.

At least one passenger from each family or group was asked to attend a general disembarking briefing in the ship’s large theater.  At that briefing full details were given about what to expect the following day during the disembarking procedures, going through immigration and customs and so forth. 

I would be a “back to back cruiser” – a passenger not disembarking in Barcelona, but staying for the next voyage of the ship.

Disembarking passengers received color coded and numbered luggage tags.  The colors and the numbers were based on the passenger’s ongoing transportation arrangements.  Those passengers who had air flights departing before Noon were the very first passengers to be disembarked.  Their luggage would also be sorted out below decks to be in the first carts of luggage that would be taken to the Barcelona arrival hall baggage claim area.

Everyone disembarking in Barcelona was advised to put their luggage that was not their hand carried luggage out in the hallway next to their stateroom door by 11PM the night before arrival.  

People were reminded to leave their next day’s clothing, medications, passports and wallets out of their luggage or risk not having those items until after they had reclaimed their luggage at dockside the next day.  

Evidently it is not uncommon for people to forget to leave travel clothing out of their luggage - causing them to have to leave the ship wearing a Celebrity bathrobe!

The “back to back” cruise passengers who were continuing on the ship across the Atlantic Ocean were given special multi colored luggage tags with their new stateroom numbers - with the instructions to keep all pieces of their luggage inside the cabin overnight.  The cabin attendants would move the pieces to the new cabin during the day while the ship was vacant of passengers.

The final dinner of the Holy Land Cruise was that night.  A special treat of Baked Alaska was served to all in the dining room.  The Baked Alaska was presented in grand fashion with all the waiters parading the beautiful deserts with embedded cups of flaming brandy around the entire dining room and then served to the clapping passengers.  All of the meals on the cruise were just amazing.
Elston and the Baked Alaska Desert.
The ship would once again require extra time for cleaning and disinfecting during the time in Barcelona. Back to back cruisers would not be allowed to re-board the ship until after 3 PM in Barcelona.  Celebrity allowed the 350 or so back to back cruise passengers to take any one of the long tour excursions offered at the port with no charge.

I selected to take the city tour of Barcelona again. I had taken the same tour in 2009 on my last departure from Barcelona. The other choice was to take a tour into the Pyrenees’ Mountains to visit the monastery at Montserrat. Now that I look back on it, I wish I had chosen to go to Montserrat.
On Sunday, November 20th the ship arrived in Barcelona.  The weather was beautiful. 

Disembarkment went very well.  The "back to back" cruise groups departed about 9 AM. Our group went up to the city park that overlooks the city for an overview. On the way we passed many of the buildings built for the Olympic Games and the International Exposition held in Barcelona.  These buildings and other sports venues are still in use by the people of Barcelona.  


Catalonian Dancers Statue - Barcelona is the capitol of Catalonya

Ornamental detail work on buildings is quite common in Barcelona
Intricate ornamental work on a light standard in Barcelona

Downtown Barcelona - The old Plaza De Toros (Bullfight arena) is on the right.

The Plaza de Toros has been converted into a modern enclosed shopping mall

New shopping mall from the renovated bullfight arena

Click here for more information about the International Exposition in Barcelona

Large public plaza - Downtown Barcelona.
Middle Tower for the Port - Viel Aerial Tramway

The bus drove us by a number of buildings designed by the famous architect, Antonio Gaudi.  Gaudi specialized in designs that were derived from nature, making his buildings look almost as if they grew from the ground, like trees or exotic plants.  Gaudi seems to have discovered that nature loves fractal based designs – before fractal equations were in wide use.   He preferred to build scale models of his buildings and then testing them with various loads of weight to find the best solution for the building’s structure.  In this way he found that weight was carried best using inverted catenary curved arches.

Gaudi’s most famous building is La Sagrada Familia, the Sacred Family cathedral.  The cathedral is finally nearing completion and is projected to be complete in 2025.  The form of the cathedral is based on Gothic, but uses the inverted catenary arch which does not require flying buttresses and allows the use of bricks to carry the load of the building.  Writers tell us that the interior is like entering a beautiful forest.   

Sagrada Famila Cathedral - Front

Unfortunately, I have never been inside the cathedral.

Sagrada Familia - main entry  (reflection at the right is from the bus window.)

Someday, I must return to Barcelona to spend time with Gaudi and all the other forward looking designers who worked in the city.  A quick tour just does not do the city justice.
Detail of the cathedral - rear entry side

Cathedral's rear entry - Bookstore is to the right in this photo

Detail of ornamentation - rear of cathedral over the bookstore

The buses dropped passengers off at a small plaza near the old Gothic quarter of the city for those who wanted to have some personal time to explore and shop.  I watched a street artist perform by creating large, beautiful, iridescent soap bubbles in the air and had a soft drink at a nearby Burger King.  

Bubble busker (street performer) - Barcelona, Spain

The tour ended about 3 PM just as we were able to re-board Constellation and check out our new cabins for the new voyage.

Barcelona, Spain - The Cruise Port Area - Main part of the City is off to the left

We left Barcelona for Alicante, Spain at dusk. 

I was very lucky that I was able to use the same dining room table for the new voyage with Elston as our waiter.  

As a “veteran” of the last voyage - I found I had to restrain myself from volunteering information about how the ship worked etc. to the new set of passengers’ an easy behavior to fall into.

Next – Alicante, Malaga, Spain and the Alhambra Palaces

Please click the colored link to view my other blog about living in Hawaii "Life in the 50th State"
Please give me photo credits if you use or share my photos for non-commercial use.
I use a Canon G-11 digital camera on a mono pod - usually without flash

Please contact me at should you need to use my photos commercially. Larger, digital files of my photos are available.

I encourage you to share this blog with your family and friends.

Your comments and criticisms are my reward for the effort to do this blog – they are appreciated.
Thanks for taking the time to read about my travels.