There is something about an overcast sky and the silence it brings. Sitting by the open window with winter looking back at me, summer seems a lifetime away. The seasons have never been as defined as now. It feels like the seasons are more distinguishable in Valencia than in Cape Town and definitely more so than in Hermosillo, where it seemed to be summer all year round.
This summer we made the decision to take it easy and do short road trips to different towns and cities within Spain. Our longest stay was in Granada. This city really took hold of me. It is everything I have always imagined Spain to be when I was younger. Being August, the summer spirits were high (in certain plazas some spirits were way higher than others). There were people from all walks of life, humans who had been travelling for so long they don’t know how to stop, flamenco dancers putting on shows in the street for all to see and appreciate, the food delicious and plentiful and the aroma, the entangled fragrances of rose, lemon blossom, cardamom and cinnamon embraced the old city. I like to think that every city holds its own fragrance and Granada’s is that of rose petals and cardamom.
In this part of Spain, down south, the tradition is held that when you order a glass of wine you receive a tapas free of charge. Tapas can be anything from a baguette with tomato and garlic sprinkled with olive oil, Spanish omelette with potatoes to Iberico ham, cheese or smoked chorizo. Fortunately for us, I am an avid wine drinker so we always had tapas at our table for when we were feeling peckish.
Even though this city has so much to offer it’s probably most famous for La Alhambra. I tried to buy entry tickets online but it was sold out three months in advance, so a word of caution, book way in advance. We did manage to buy tickets for a guided tour though. So that Thursday we woke up at 7 am and walked to La Alhambra to be on time for our 8:30 appointment with the tour guide. The walk up the hill was beautiful and the gardens surrounding the palace is so enchanting even Carissa (who is such a realist) speculated whether faeries may be hidden inside the ‘forest’. She was such a brave girl marching the three kilometers with so much determination. Sebaea opted for Wil’s shoulders.
Inside La Alhambra the architecture, gardens and general layout is remarkable. I can’t recall doing a guided tour of any sorts before then, but I must say in this instance it was really insightful. Due to it being enormous, having someone guide as through all the buildings and gardens enhanced our appreciation of what we were experiencing.
One of the other highlights was the train ride. You can jump on this little train that will take you through the city, stopping at all the tourist sites as well as the Medieval Moorish district, Albaicin. Albaicin was declared a world heritage site in 1984 and walking through the narrow, uneven cobblestone streets one can clearly understand why.
We made very good use of this little train. The girls loved it, we stopped at every point possible had something to drink and hopped on to be safely transported to our next stop. In the words of my husband “this is probably the closest we will ever get to doing a pub crawl ever again”. Yes, it was delightful!
Apart from taking a step back in time when walking through this urban district, Albaicin also has many restaurants with roof terraces from where you can view La Alhambra. We ended up at El Huerto de Juan Ranas, which we learnt has a rooftop garden from where they harvest their vegetables to prepare their food. We thought this to be quite brave and innovative and decided to stay and have lunch. The day there was by far the most memorable. I had that I-could-sit-here-all-day-in-admiration feeling. The view of La Alhambra is absolutely exquisite.
“Give alms, woman, because there is no grief in life so hard as being blind in Granada” ~ Francisco A. de Icaza
Granada is Spanish for Pomegranate and although I am unclear if the city Granada is directly named after the fruit, it could very well be. There are many references to the fruit in and around the city and in La Alhambra. It is said that the pomegranate originated in Turkmenistan from where it migrated along the Moors’ ancient trading routes via Turkey, Syria, Israel, Egypt (there are pomegranate hieroglyphics in temples) Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and then to Spain from where it was distributed to the new world.
When talking pomegranates two names should be mentioned, Gregory Moiseyevich Levin and A.D. Strebkova, a female Russian scientist who bred new varieties from the selected ones Levin collected, in Goychay in Azerbaijan.
There is a pomegranate species that is only found on the island of Socotra which is just off the coast of Yemen that is named in honour of Levin.
Gregory Moiseyevich Levin spent 40 years building his pomegranate paradise in the Kopet Dag mountains of rural Turkmenistan.
Levin, an agronomist amassed the world’s largest collection of pomegranates – 1117 varieties from 27 countries. Some of these varieties included blue pomegranates, black pomegranates and dwarf pomegranates.
Many of these varieties were collected by Levin himself on yearly excursions through the mountain crevices of Turkmenistan, a region in Central Asia where the pomegranate originates from and one of the last places on earth where it grows wild to this day.
In 2002 Levin was forced to abandon his agricultural station and immigrate to Israel. Fortunately, Levin sent cuttings of his pomegranates to scientists at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba and the University of California, Davis. Those cuttings, planted and now flourishing, have become his living legacy.
Jeff Moersfelder, the greenhouse manager at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wolfskill Experimental Orchard, which sits on University of California, Davis, said Levin managed to send 90 varieties of pomegranates to Davis during 1999-2000.
Moersfelder is positive that these varieties hold a lot of potential. Many commercial growers are looking to Levin’s collection for unusual flavours, hardiness and pharmaceutical uses.