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The Alhambra

Discover The Alhambra In Granada

“The Alhambra,” writes Correspondent Paul Lewis today, “that magnificent Moorish palace near the southern Spanish city of Granada, is as stunning as ever, but it is getting harder–and less pleasant–to visit.

“So great is the press of tourists anxious for a taste of its marble courtyards, splashing fountains, and glorious gardens that the authorities are starting to control the number of visitors with increasing strictness.

“Once you could order up a ticket from your hotel concierge and stroll into the palace at your leisure. No more. You can still order tickets in advance by e-mail or via an agency.

“But for those who arrive without a pre-booking, tickets now go on sale at 8 a.m. each morning for that day and in a limited number. By 10 a.m., and sometimes sooner, they are gone. So a dawn breakfast is in order these days, followed by a dash up the steep hill that leads to the ugly ticket office.

“Even with the precious piece of paper in your hand, the ordeal is not over. These days, visitors have almost no freedom to wander at leisure around the palace. First, they are dragooned around the gardens of the Generalife, with their famous fountains, water channels, and flowerbeds.

“These, incidentally, are almost certainly anachronistic. Much of the present-day vegetation was unknown to the Moors, who also favored low, bubbling fountains, not the present-day ones, squirting eight feet into the air.

“Once through the gardens, prepare to waste some time scampering around the outer walls of the building, because you are not allowed to enter the main palace complex until the time marked on your ticket, which is usually about three hours after the time you first arrived.

“So visitors find themselves lining up in the hot sun under the watchful eye of officious palace guards to await the appointed hour when they can finally start to view the Alhambra’s greatest treasures–the Hall of the Ambassadors, the Court of  Myrtles, the Court of Lions with its famous fountain, the Hall of Kings, and the Hall of the Abencerrages, where bloody deeds occurred.

“A word of warning: The bigger hotels may try to cash in on your irritation at the difficulty and inconvenience of getting into the Alhambra these days by offering to sell you an advance ticket but with a guide attached–and for an incredibly high price.

“Do not accept. Guides can tell you nothing about the Alhambra, because almost nothing is known about it. The wildly romantic tales about its past, tales of beautiful princesses escaping from tall towers, of wicked Caliphs, harems, and dreadful massacres, were mostly made up the American writer, Washington Irving, in his book Tales from the Alhambra, which first alerted the world over a century ago to what was then a forgotten ruin but has become Spain’s most popular tourist attraction.

“Finally, some good news: first the Alhambra Palace Hotel, the enormous but once run-down hotel that stands right beside the Alhambra, has now been beautifully refurbished. Built in 1910, it again recaptures something of the grandeur of the palace after which it was named, with tiles and ceilings based on the Alhambra originals, gleaming brass, polished mahogany, and rooms with balconies looking across the city to the Sierra Nevada beyond.

“It’s not cheap. But if you can afford to splurge, splurge here.

“Also, to get around to the Albaicin gypsy-Bohemian quarter or the city of Granada, there is now a specially built narrow air-conditioned bus able to maneuver the narrow roads of the mountain top. For 1.10 euro per person, you can jostle along to finally end up at the front door of the Alhambra Palace.”

Kathleen Peddicord

FROM THE MAILBAG:

“I have been receiving your e- letters, which I find both interesting and informative. I am a British expat who lived in India for four years but who now resides in Sri Lanka. I feel that Sri Lanka has a lot to offer both retirees and investors and have wondered why you’ve overlooked it.

“Yes, there are problems here, and, yes, the odd bomb goes off, but the problems are in the northeast of the island, and daily life is rarely affected. The government here is determined to find a solution to the problem, and quickly.

“Tourists are welcome, and the government has recently introduced a ‘My Dream Home’ scheme for retirees, with very favorable conditions. It has become quite easy to retire here. I live in Kandy, a hill station, by the lake. My rent is US$250 a month. As I write, I’m looking out my window and can see fir trees and king coconut palms, roses and bougainvillea. I am visited by macaque monkeys every day and have ring-neck parakeets in the trees.

“The climate is ideal, like summer in Northern Europe, with no humidity, unlike farther south, where it reaches higher temperatures and is inclined toward high humidity.

“My monthly bills are in Sri Lankan rupees but equate to US$750, including rent, electricity, Internet, cable TV, mobile phone, food, eating out, transport by tuk-tuks, and just about anything else.

“I don’t live like a native. Well, in fact, I do We all shop at the same supermarkets and fabulous veg and fresh meat markets. I am rarely charged the extra white-skin tax, and, if I am, I accept it, as it is the equivalent of a few cents.

“The island is beautiful…the beaches are superb…there are diving areas here as good as those in neighboring Maldives at a fraction the cost. The wildlife is abundant, and it is all under-exploited.

“I hope you will look at this fabulous island again and consider it as an option for both retirees and investors.

“Oh, and did I mention that just about everyone speaks English here?”

— Wendy H., Sri Lanka

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