Mission: Alhambra

One of my best friends from college, Madison, also recently quit her job to explore the four corners of the globe. Madison has been living (and thriving) in New York since graduating from the U. About 6 years ago she started working for a young company that grew at an incredible rate and Madison’s role within the company grew right along with it. She found her soulmate and a home in Brooklyn. But all the while she was itching to book a ticket, pack a bag, and go. It took a lot of courage for her to do just that. Everyone within the company supported her on her pursuit of bliss and her boyfriend is holding down the fort while she’s gone.

IMG_8069A while ago we hatched a plan to meet up in Spain then travel into Morocco together for a week before returning to Spain for La Tomatina festival. We decided to meet up in Granada to see Alhambra, a Moorish palace built for the Muslim rulers of Granada sometime between the 13th and 15the centuries. Mark was looking forward to seeing the palace since learning about it in one of the many guidebooks he read before our trip. I like to poke fun at Mark for being a big nerd and reading (and taking notes on) all the guidebooks. In reality he read two, which is two more than I read.

IMG_8025Alhambra is a major tourist attraction and tickets sell out well in advance. It’s a fortress comprised of the palace, patios, and gardens with elaborate tile work throughout and beautifully manicured landscaping. The Nasrid Palace is the centerpiece and can only be accessed with a special ticket at a designated time. We looked at buying the palace tickets back in early July but didn’t pull the trigger because a) we didn’t know the exact date we’d be there and b) we probably got distracted. This happened a lot. By the time we knew the date and were focused, the tickets were sold out. Womp womp.

We learned, however, that 6,000 tickets are allotted for each day, one third of which are sold same day. In order to get one of these prized same day tickets, you are encouraged to wake before dawn and stand in line until the office opens at 9am.

Even though we hadn’t gone to bed until nearly 1am the night before, I was invested in seeing Alhambra and woke with excitement at about 6:30am. Madison hardly slept a wink and opted out of the Alhambra experience. So Mark and I navigated the dark, windy streets up to the Alhambra grounds. No one else was out and for a moment I thought we’d be one of the first people in line. But when we arrived at the ticket office we found a hundred or so people already queued.

Mark went off in search of coffee and I held our place in line. I was stoked that the couple behind us were Aussies and we became fast “queue” friends. I’ve always taken for granted being able to understand the conversations around me, and while I love hearing so many foreign languages, I miss being able to eavesdrop a little here and there, so I get excited when I hear English being spoken. Mark returned with piping hot, delicious coffee he had sweet talked from someone at a nearby hotel buffet and we settled in for a long wait.

About two hours into the wait the ticket office opened. An hour later as we drew closer an announcement was made that all tickets for the morning session were sold out. Our last hope was for early afternoon as we had a train to catch later in the day. We were only 30 or so people away from the doors when they announced all same day tickets were sold out. We had waited in line for 3+ hours and while was grateful we’d had good company for the wait I still felt dejected and disappointed walking away empty handed. The Aussies stuck around to buy tickets to tour the gardens.

imageOn our walk back into town we stopped outside these giant doors, one of which was ajar, to take a picture. I joked about documenting the closest we’d get to seeing the fortress. Just then two women – very obviously tourists like us – exit through the doors onto the sidewalk where we’re standing. We can’t see where the doors lead so I ask the women if you need a ticket to get inside and they say no. Mark and I shrug and step beyond the doors. We find ourselves inside the Alhambra grounds where you most certainly do need tickets. We couldn’t believe we’d sneaked into Alhambra!

imageimageimageimageNow I am a rule follower. I hate getting in trouble and instantly felt guilty for walking among the rule-abiding golden ticket holders. But I also felt a zing of rebel adrenaline as we explored the gardens. We even stopped in the gift shop to buy a souvenir commemorating the time we trespassed. But the whole time I was sure everyone around us knew we weren’t supposed to be there.

Getting into the Nasrid Palace to see the elaborate tile work was out of the question as they were checking people’s tickets to enter. And getting out of the grounds themselves proved sketchy as the official exit mentioned something about re-checking your tickets.

As we made our way back to our original entry point I was really nervous that we’d find the doors had been closed, thereby locking us inside. We’d inevitably get caught and thrown in Spanish prison. But alas the doors were still open and we quickly ducked out. We giggled the whole way home.

imageLater that afternoon we embarked on a journey into and around Morocco that required a bus to a train to a ferry to a taxi then back in the taxi to an overnight train to too many hours in an SUV to a camel in the Sahara desert and back again. It was a long week. And totally worth traveling hundreds of miles, eating countless tagines, and not sleeping in the same bed two nights in a row.


Yes, I surely smelled as bad as I look. Just happy to have made it this far.

One thought on “Mission: Alhambra”

  1. Great Blogging!!! I feel like I’m on the trip with you both. I find myself with a grin as big as Mark’s after reading of your escapades! Keep having fun…it’s always an adventure!!


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