Friday, September 30, 2011

The pearl of Granada

An old gentleman and his wife were taking a walk, taking in the sights of Granada when they saw an blind beggar. Moved by this sight, the man turned to his wife and said "Give him alms, my wife, for there is no pain in life greater than to be a blind man in Granada."--Francisco de Icaza

How to begin describing the wonders that you find within this complex of fortress and palace on top of the hill called La Sabika? I am afraid my words will not be enough nor my pictures sufficient to convey the beauty, the delicacy and magnificence but I would like to try...

Before one even gets to see the Palacio Nazaries, the path wends along the the gorgeous Generalife gardens and you get glimpses of the city far below framed against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains. But finally through this red stone gate, the visit to the Palace begins.

 And its plain exterior belies the wonders that are inside.  Inside, every facade us covered with beautiful glazed tiles and ornate carved wood.
Patio de los Arranyanes
Every room is richly decorated and Islamic artists spared no efforts to turn everything into a feast for the eyes. Its hard to believe that the Alhambra was originally built as a fortress in the 9th century. In the 13th and 14th centuries when Granada was the last bastion of Islamic might in the Iberian peninsula, the emirs converted the fortress into a palace complex.  They wanted not only a strong place from which to rule but also a palace that would display the very best of their arts. 

Its hard to walk through these rooms and not be transported.  Gazing out of the filigreed windows and taking in the highly ornamented walls, I can well imagine the rulers of old taking their leisure here or better yet, ruling their empire.

Everywhere in the Alhambra you see the mingling of art and religion.  The two are so closely intertwined as to be inseparable. In the Salon de Comares, the room's domed ceiling contains more than 8000 pieces of cedar in a pattern of stars that represent the seven heavens of Islam. It also represents the complexity of Allahs infinite universe.

Islamic artists filled every wall with religious messages rendered in beautifully carved Arabic script . One phrase "Only Allah is victorious" is repeated 9000 times.
An example of the scrollwork

And the palace within the Courtyard of Lions represents the Islamic paradise which is divided into found parts by rivers.

Palacio de los Leones
A glimpse of the ceiling
These master artisans also filled the Alhambra with water. This precious element can be found in the different pools of the many patios of the palace.  In the searing heat of the Andalucian sun, its the perfect way to refresh oneself.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Come stroll with me

The view from the Puerta de Almodovar
 Exploring the medieval lanes around the Mezquita means opening up your senses.... .

There are romantic paths

with fragrant flower bedecked walls,

old patios richly decorated with ornate tiles and flowers from where rich cooking smells waft out,

quiet courtyards with splashes of brilliantly colored flowers and only birdsong to disturb the calm,

beautiful stone fountains

 and pools,

 And arched doorways leading to secret hidden places.

Monday, September 26, 2011

La Mezquita

one of the 19 doors of the Mezquita
For our summer holidays, we decided to continue with the Spanish theme which started back in June in Madrid. This time around we went south to explore Andalusia and what better way than to start with Cordoba.  

Cordoba, (along with Granada, but this is a subject for another post), has always seemed to me to be a place of myth and legend, not to mention history.  During Roman times, Cordoba ruled the Andalucian province and its wealth was legendary. Little surprise then that the Muslim invaders chose to invade Cordoba in 711. From then until the 11th century, Cordoba was the capital city of Muslim presence in the Iberian peninsula.  At its peak in the 10th century, Cordoba was famed for the peaceful and harmonious co-existence of three religions--Islam, Judaism and Christianity.  It had the best universities, libraries and mosques, the most dazzling of which is the Mezquita.

Here one enters into a magical place, a forest, if you will, of pillars topped by red and white arches. A forest but one filled with space and lightness.  And while I am one of the hundreds of visitors traipsing through its halls, it doesn't take away the feeling of being somewhere hallowed.   Everywhere I turn I see  a different play of light among the pillars and the effect can be overwhelming.  But imagine how luminous it must have been when all of its 19 doors used to be open.

Emir Abd ar-Rahman founded the Mezquita in 785 on the grounds of a Visigothic church but his successors extended the Mezquita until it stood as one of the biggest mosques of its time. Imagine it used to have 1293 columns, of which 856 remain today. The  mihrab or the prayer niche indicate the direction of the Mecca and its wall is gorgeously and richly decorated with "1600 kg of gold mosaic cubes". 

The mihrab portal
After the Christians captured Cordoba,  a cathedral was constructed in the middle of the Mezquita.  And strange as it may seem, the two structures co-exist beautifully. Somehow the pillars and arches of the Islamic Mezquita magnificently set-off the Catholic retablo.  This peaceful co-existence of two religions structures within one is a good lesson for all of us to learn.

The retablo is composed of jasper and marble
Here one can see the juxtaposition of the church on the mosque

One of the halls
Returning to the bright outside world can be a bit disorienting.  So its a good idea to linger a bit in the Patio de los Naranjas  (Courtyard of the Orange Trees) before setting off to explore the charms of the medieval quarter the surrounds the Mezquita.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Moules frites in Lille

Being in Lille, we were literallythisclose to Belgium. And what better way to fortify ourselves for the Grande Braderie than to fill up with the North's specialty--moules frites! We headed towards Le Pot Beaujoulais because it was highly recommended and proceeded to wait a good half an hour to be seated. Normally, I don't have the patience to wait that long but the prospect of eating fresh mussels induced us to wait. When we finally did get to eat, the mussels were everything they should be. They were fresh, clean tasting and the sauce or broth of white wine and shallots were heavenly with the crispy fries. 

Washed down with a glass of white wine, we were pretty satiated.  Or so we thought.  After we left the restaurant we came across the most tempting display of candied fruits...

and cookies and that absolute favorite of mine---gauffres a la vanille from Meert. Their vanilla flavored waffles are just divine and cannot be missed.  A stop at Meert was almost obligatory for us and room was made for their wonderful goodies. A box even came home with us!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

La Grande Braderie de Lille

Hello friends, I'm back! I apologize for the long silence but I've plenty of new adventures (including some great Brocante stories) to share with you to make up for it.  Let me start the telling with one of the brocante stories shall we?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sweet sunday

Hello friends, hope you all had a wonderful weekend.  What better way to end a sweet Sunday than with  a selection of delectable patisseries from our favorite boulangerie.  Here we have (from clockwise) -- une religieuse au chocolat, une tarte au fraises, un millefeuille and un opera.

One weekend

I hardly know where this summer 2011 has gone.  Already, outside my window, I see the leaves falling gently and while it remains warm, there is a hint of autumn in the bite of a fresh wind.  Now, I don't want to get all nostalgic on you because there are plenty of things to look forward to with the changing of the seasons but I do marvel at how time passes so quickly.  All the more reason to seize the day, right?

While the majority of the city left for the beach or cooler climates, we pretty much stayed put except for a few long weekends.  While I'm at it, I have to say that its pretty pleasant to stay behind, I had the impression to have the city all to myself.  That said, it was nice to have a bit of change in scenery from time to time.

One weekend, we headed south for sunnier climes.  When we left Paris, the city of was gray and overcast but once we crossed the Loire valley, it was as if we were in another country altogether.  Our destination was Ardeche which is within the Rhone-Alpes region. It is mountainous country, verdant and  and peaceful.  It is named after the Ardeche river which empties itself out into the massive Rhone river.  

While it is not too far from the Cote d'Azur and its beaches, Ardeche's charms is of a different sort. There are quiet medieval villages perched among the mountain crags and here and there, are isolated farms with their herds of cows and horses.  There is a certain serenity and stillness in these mountains.