The Alhambra: a Trip that Wasn’t (aka Traveling with a Toddler)

 

It’s not every day that you get to push your babygirl in a stroller around a 9th century Arab complex on a hill in Granada.  La Alhambra, which was a massive fortified city with splendid palaces and gardens from the 13th century, and the last fortress to fall to the Christians in 1492, is now a tourist site thanks, in part, to Washington Irving, an American writer who popularized it in the 18th century.  The Alhambra is massive.  You can try to do it all in a day, but you will be disappointed, and not see everything.  So I’m not too disappointed that on my first trip, today, I wound up barely seeing anything.  That is because they don’t allow strollers into any of the buildings, which I didn’t know about beforehand.  But, I got the lay of the land, and when we go back again (or rather, when I go back sans baby) it will go much more smoothly.

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The history of the Alhambra is complex and fascinating.  It was the palace of the Nasrid kings of Granada, who were consolidating power in Southern Spain as the Christian forces of the Reconquista were slowly eating their way, pueblo by pueblo, back down from the north.  They would be the last Muslim dynasty in Spain, and were finally kicked out in 1492 when the Alhambra fell.  Part palace, part city, part cultural complex, the buildings within the Alhambra were built with luxury and splendor in mind.   There are fountains trickling water into the reflecting pools, and long channels with fresh water running through the city.  There are luxurious gardens, and of course, the palaces.

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View of Granada from The Alhambra

So the deal is, you can’t take your stroller into the palaces (which are marvels of intricate lace-like carvings and beautiful symmetrical sculptures that would make your inner-mathemetician explode with glee).  There are stroller coat check places, but if you’re a mom of a toddler and your stroller is jam packed full of stuff like ours is (sippy cups, blankets, stuffed animal, etc), you won’t be able to just fold it up easily.  We were with a group, and they were waiting for me, and I opted to just let them go and hang out with Hannah on my own.  Going through ancient palaces really isn’t fun for a 2 year old who’s just been in a car for over 2 hours and is cranky.  So I decided to make it easy on all of us, and let the tour go on with hubby, while we walked around, played by the fountains, climbed steps, explored narrow alleyways, and ate lunch.

A less than happy girl with a lemonade-making mummy at the Alhambra

A less than happy girl with a lemonade-making mummy at the Alhambra

The first thing I did for Hannah was buy her a children’s guidebook that had stickers.  She amused herself in her stroller for a good 20 minutes looking at the pictures and playing with the stickers, while I got my bearings and figured out where to go.

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Here’s the story of the Alhambra that I like the best, though.  After the fortress fell to Ferdinand and Isabella, it wasn’t destroyed.  The Emperor Charles V (Catherine of Aragon’s nephew) had a new palace built with materials from an original one to meet his needs over the summer, but in true Spanish fashion, the roof was never fully completed.  For a few hundred years everything went on as normal for the fortress until it was abandoned in the 18th century, and then several parts were blown up under Napoleon’s invading armies.

An intricately carved gate at the Alhambra

In the mid-19th century Washington Irving was in Granada doing research for a book on the Reconquest of Spain.  He had just published a book on Columbus, and was a bit of a celebrity, which he was able to parlay into an extended stay at the Alhambra, which was still in ruins.  His book, Tales of the Alhambra was so popular, it forced the Spanish into restoring what was left of the area, and turning it into a museum.  Nothing like some good old American ingenuity to force Spain to live up to its potential (this is a theme in my relationship with Spain – the untapped potential of this country is endless and endlessly frustrating to me).  Side note: the city of Alhambra in Los Angeles was named after Irving’s book when the daughter of the developer had read it and encouraged her dad to name his new suburban town after it.

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This was my inaugural tour, and I expect I’ll be going back at least once or twice more to see everything properly.  But for those of you who don’t have that luxury, plan well.  You need tickets for a specific time to get into the palaces.  You can’t take strollers in.  And to be honest, if your kids need to be in a stroller, I wouldn’t recommend it.  The whole area isn’t particularly stroller friendly, the stones are tough to navigate on, there are tons of steps (even to go to the bathroom), and it just really isn’t a good scene for toddlers.  If you’re on a trip with a toddler and you absolutely have to see the Alhambra, I would recommend going on your own and letting your partner take the little one(s) for the day.

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