We arrived in Granada, Spain after a high-speed ferry crossing across the Strait of Gibraltar and a drive along the Costa del Sol in Spain. After a week of experiencing Morocco, it feels amazing to be back on European soil again and be surrounded by things that are much more familiar to me.
Sadly, we were not in Granada long, but definitely long enough to enjoy the Alhambra Palace, which is a wonder to behold. The palace was built in the 13th century and is a jewel of Moorish architecture. In fact, it was once the home of the Nasrid Sultans, which were a group of high government officials of the last Islamic Sultanate in the Iberian Peninsula. The palace is just one part of a complex that includes a fortress, smaller buildings, a small medina (old town), as well as the magnificent gardens. Washington Irving wrote the ‘Tales of the Alhambra’ right at the palace and there is a room with a plaque to commemorate that fact. Note to Steve: thanks so much for giving me the book before I left. It made Irving’s room and my visit to the Alhambra that much more poignant!
After Granada, we drove back to Madrid, which marked the end of our tour together as a group and also meant I had to say goodbye to Krystal, Emma, and Brendan. That was incredibly sad for everyone. Traveling can be an extreme activity in which people are not at their best due to the stresses inherent of travel: being in a foreign country; dealing with language and cultural barriers; struggling with physical, emotional, and mental fatigue; almost daily togetherness, etc. When you do it with friends, it can make or break the relationship—so when you go through so much together and still stay strong at the end, departing is like saying goodbye to a family member.
Technically, Madrid was also my last stop before flying to Athens, but we didn’t spend any time in the city (after all, I feel as though I’ve visited Madrid on a million separate occasions by now). Instead, Grant and I traveled on to the medieval towns of Toledo and Segovia. Toledo is an incredibly quaint town and had obviously completed some sort of celebration just a day or two before because there were still decorations adorning the walls and roadways (if you can call a narrow, 12-ft wide cobblestoned road a ‘roadway’). Above many of the major roads were hung white tarpaulins and what must have been thousands of feet of green garland and fresh flowers—all from the celebration. All of this just added to the town’s charm, if that were possible.
Segovia, though another medieval town, is quite different from Toledo. For one thing, it is further afield (2 hrs by train); for another, it is a bit more spread-out than Toledo, which has an old town that is well contained by its ancient walls. One of the major sites in Segovia is the Alcazar, whose exact date of origin is unknown, but the oldest testimony of it dates back to the 12th century. Inside the Alcazar is a museum of furnishings, armor, weaponry, paintings, and tapestries that span many centuries. Of particular interest to me were the rooms that contained suits of armor and weaponry. What struck me most about the exhibits were the sizes. Some of the suits of armor appeared to be no more than a child’s height, with the average made for a grown man with an approximate height of 5’2”. Having seen ancient places that provide evidence to Europeans’ size centuries ago (the Catacombs in Rome is one such place, where burial ‘pockets’ dug into the walls appear tiny compared to the size of people today), I knew that many Europeans were smaller in stature, but the fact never struck me just the way it did in the Alcazar, where those suits of armor—which were made for adult males—provided more tangible evidence of a smaller form. It was extremely interesting to see this, and just as interesting to see the care and craftsmanship placed into the detail of the armor. How effective all of this was against sword and crossbow, I can only imagine.