“Somos Idiotas”: Embarrassing Blunder at Granada’s Alhambra


Garden of the Partal, Alhambra Granada—C.Helbig

November 5, 2015. “You’ll never get in,” nattered the German man behind us in the queue when I told him that the entrance time on our e-ticket was 3 pm. We were in a painfully slow ticket line at Granada’s Alhambra, an Islamic fortress and palace built primarily during the Nasrid Kingdom, established in 1238. The Alhambra is one of Spain’s biggest attractions and endures as the finest example of Moorish architecture and art in Europe. “They didn’t let us into the palace last year, and we were only a few minutes late,” the man continued. If only I hadn’t struck up a conversation with him, but I wanted to practice my German.

Apparently the e-ticket had to be redeemed for a  real ticket.  I vaguely remembered reading about this in the fine print. I was getting increasingly worried with only one ticket window open and each party in front of us taking at least 5 minutes to process.

When it was finally our turn, it was already past 3 pm. I asked the agent whether we’d still be able to see the Nasrid Palace, the star attraction of the Alhambra and the only section with a time allocation. He muttered something about getting there as fast as possible.


The majestic Alhambra as seen from a viewpoint in the Albayzin district of Granada—C.Helbig

The Alhambra is a huge complex, covering about 3.5 km. We bolted from the ticket office following the signs for the palace. Racing through  beautiful gardens and a massive stone entrance, we breathlessly presented our tickets to the attendant. She said something to us in Spanish about our 3 o’clock time but let us enter. “Gracias, thank you,” we said at least a dozen times, grateful to “be in.” She looked at us a bit oddly. 


The Wine Gate: one of the oldest structures from the Nasrid Dynasty—C.Helbig

We climbed a narrow stone staircase that emerged onto an exterior walkway with stupendous views of Granada. Several look-out towers later I was beginning to wonder when we would be entering the palace. This place was impressive, but it didn’t fit the description I had skimmed in my Lonely Planet Guide. Where were the mosaic tiles and the intricately carved arches? “Mike, I don’t think we’re in the right place,” I said with a growing sense of alarm. “Don’t be silly, this is it,” chided my hubby who had done even less reading than me.

We continued following the self-guided tour, and I became more convinced that we were not in the Nasrid Palace. Mike was getting increasingly annoyed with my grumblings. He grudgingly agreed to back track. Maybe we had missed a door or entrance into the palace. No luck.


The Alcazaba section of  Alhambra with amazing views to Granada and the Sierra Nevadas—C.Helbig



About 45 minutes later, we exited. I was confused. I had expected something different. As we walked back the same way we had come, I saw a sign directing visitors to the Nasrid Palace. “Oh my God, we were in the wrong place.” In our haste we had run past the sign and ended up at the Alcazaba (fortress). No wonder the attendant had looked confused. She had probably asked us whether we really wanted to forfit our 3 pm entrance to the palace. 

DSC_0091I ran to the front of the 4 pm palace queue, composing what I was going to say. All I could muster was “somos idiotas, we went to the wrong place, please, por favor, can we still get in.” The attendant gave me a little smile, amused by this frazzled, grovelling woman. He  told us to go to the on-site tourist information where they might be able to help us.

Off we raced. I started with the “somos idiotas” line again. Perhaps the nice woman took pity on us. More likely we were lucky because it was mid-week in November. She made a notation on our tickets, relayed something on the phone, and sent us back. “Hurry, go straight there,” she called out.

We presented our tickets to the same attendant, and with no questions asked he removed the entrance rope. We thanked him profusely and let out a collective sigh of relief: we’re in!


A stroll through the Nasrid Palace might just be the perfect stress reliever. The architectural and artistic brilliance of the place is total pleasure for the senses. From the graceful horseshoe arches and exquisite plaster carvings to the reflecting pools and geometric designs, everything feels harmonious and tranquil.



The Nasrid emirs, Mohammed III (1302-1309) and Yusuf I (1333-1353), responsible for building the complex as we know it today, instructed their builders and artists to follow a consistent theme: paradise on earth. Standing in the Court of the Lions— a gorgeous courtyard, showcasing a white marble fountain— I think they achieved their lofty goal.



Version 2

I was particularly awed by how almost every surface in the palace is covered with decoration. Arches, halls, walls, and ceilings are all adorned with intricate plaster work, wood carving, and painted tile. It is strikingly beautiful and feels wonderfully soothing.


The rooms, some with gorgeous domed ceilings, are connected to the inner courtyards via passageways with finely scalloped arches. Some  have miradors (panoramic windows) that frame lovely gardens. The courtyards, with their rectangular pools and water features, have a geometric simplicity that complement the decorative elements.



I could have stayed for an eternity, but time was running out and we still wanted to wander through the Generalife. We laughed with a couple of Brits who thought it sounded like a life insurance company. It’s actually the name of the elaborate palace gardens and roughly pronounced “hen-er-a-lee-fay,” derived from Arabic meaning architect’s garden.

The ornamental gardens, pools, and fountains cover a huge area and are absolutely breathtaking. Beyond the gardens, the views open to panoramic vistas of Granada on one side, and the Sierra Nevada mountains on the other. It was closing time and we were among the last stragglers, not ready to leave this enchanting place.






I have been to many exceptional monuments—Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, St. Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican, the Egyptian pyramids, just to name a few. For me, Granada’s Alhambra is right up there with these stars, perhaps even better. Despite the embarrassing blunder, it was my favourite day of our southern Spain trip. I can’t believe we almost missed out on one of the most beautiful monuments in the world. 

If You Go:

  • Buy tickets in advance as day-of tickets often sell out. Information about ticket purchases for self-guided visits and tours can be found on the alhambragranada.org website. Online purchases are re-directed to Ticketmaster.
  • Don’t make our mistake. Read the fine print and allow plenty of time. The time on the ticket is when you need to be at the Nasrid Palace queue, not the general entry ticket office. However you must go to the ticket office, or one of the automated machines, before heading to the Palace.
  • Count on 3-4 hours to properly see the Nasrid Palace, the Alcazaba, and the Generalife sections.

Next Up:

The views of the Alhambra from the narrow streets of the old Albayzin District, where we stayed, are almost as magical as the Alhambra itself. The post will have lots of photos from this great part of town.


Granada’s scenic Albayzin district with plenty of wonderful views to the Alhambra—C.Helbig


Categories: Places, Spain | Tags: , , , | 26 Comments

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26 thoughts on ““Somos Idiotas”: Embarrassing Blunder at Granada’s Alhambra

  1. Love your photos, so much better than mine!

    Not to mention I’d love to go back to Granada, because on the day we were there it was freezing cold and pouring rain for which we were not dressed (it was the end of October and we went up from Sevilla on the train – in t-shirts, shorts and summer dresses because in Sevilla it had been 25 degrees and sunshine!) and we ended up in an overpriced restaurant for half a day just to dry and warm through!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s too bad! We were really lucky to have gorgeous weather in Southern Spain throughout November. I’d also love to go back to Granada…such a great city.
      Thanks for reading. I’m enjoying your posts—a very refreshing/creative take on blogging about books.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I started out blogging about books… but seem to have ended mixing everything else of interest in. Although ultimately every single piece of this ‘everything else’ originates in a book…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh my gosh – I totally got the “soothing” and “tranquil” from your photos. Amazing. What an incredible place!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is an extraordinary place and I hope you get to go sometime. There is also outstanding hiking not far from Granada, in the Sierra Nevada range. We only had time to do one in the foothills and it was lovely. If you’re interested I did a post “Hiking off the tapas on the Beas de Granada”. I loved our entire southern Spain trip but if I had to select one spot it would be Granada.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: The Many Faces of Sevilla, Spain | Writes of Passage

  4. They are stunning photos Caroline, especially love how the header has turned out. I was there almost 30 years ago before the advent of e-tickets. I’m not sure if the internet has made travel easier or not. It certainly has changed it. One thing i know is that problematic days etc make the best travel stories afterwards! The tips are useful we hope to go back to Spain.


    • Thank you Louise! I hope you get back again. I don’t usually go back to the same place (so much more to see) but I’m thinking I may have to make an exception for Granada and the Alhambra, and stay for an extended period of time. Spain is such a fabulous country! Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Hiking off the Tapas: Beas de Granada Trail | Writes of Passage

  6. Beautiful photos! I visited the Alhambra several years ago. It was amazing.


  7. A lovely post! Alhambra is so beautiful – one of my favourite moments from Spain:) Thanks for sharing this wonderful place with us. Brings back memories:)


    • Thanks. It is really difficult to adequately describe and photograph this beautiful place, you just have to experience it. I’m glad I brought back good memories of your visit.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: The Albayzin District of Granada: Medieval Moorish Splendour | Writes of Passage

  9. Brian Foster

    It truly is a majestic place. One can almost feel of presence of its former inhabitants when walking around. Great pics Caroline. Brian


  10. The photos are amazing I can’t help but wonder what it must have felt like to be there in person. The artistic detail in the architecture to the beautifully landscaped gardens is a feast for the eyes.


  11. This brought back wonderful memories. You got some fabulous photographs – just gorgeous.
    I’m looking forward to the next post – we never did get to Granada so it will be new for me. We were staying in a coastal village called Nerja.


    • Thanks Alison. Like the Alhambra, Granada is amazing, particularly the old town. You should try to get there. It was also our son’s favourite place he visited while on his 4 months study term in Sevilla…but for different reasons (the free tapas with every drink)! Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Anonymous

    Stunning photos, Caroline. The Alhambra has been on my list for a long time. I’ve experienced that same anxiety when redeeming the online voucher for the actual timed ticket in Germany.


  13. The photos are amazing. What a beautiful place to visit … another must do now added to my list
    thanks for the info.


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