There was a moment of anxiety under the bridge of the River Darro. The journey across was precarious as the rapids were fast and furious, and a crowd gathered to watch the journey. Many whispered, Ay pobrecita!, and all the while I was transfixed as if I was in the midst of a night terror. My journey was interrupted, and nothing would be resolved until I knew this little one’s fate.
You should know that we gathered to watch a scraggly cat cross the bed of one side of the river to another. We watched its many attempts to find different rocks as a means to cross, because can you imagine the current carrying the kitty downstream? I mean, I can’t. Don’t ask me to. I would’ve had to fly home to hold Felix for an uncomfortable period of time. That cat eventually did make its way across to then rest on a Panama hat someone must have lost, and all of us who were watching on Plaza Nueva thundered with applause.
In the midst of this, I was speaking to a group of college kids, in Spanish. Granted, my Spanish was appalling and halting, but when I heard them speak–all rapid flash in their native tongue–words careened back in a way that I can only describe as an assault. Words I could understand in context with other words. I guess this is what makes comprehension and reading easy for me because I become a sleuth in figuring out the meaning of the sentence once I know the verb (my strong suit) and some other words which will help with the pile of nouns of which I don’t know or remember. Or perhaps the easy way of Granada, a city that reminds me Of Biarritz with its lazy cafe culture, minus the sweeping cliffs, barnacles and the ocean. The water is replaced by towering majestic mountains, rendering a certain kind of calm I only thought I could have when being by water.
Granada (loosely translated to “Hill of Strangers” in Arabic) is a small city, easily navigated by foot, and the furthest point clocks in at 34 minutes. Unlike Barcelona, the Arab influence is pronounced here–from the famed Alhambra, a Moorish citadel and palace, to the Andalusian fare and colorful silks and jeweled slippers in the souks, to the Islamic architecture, which oddly (and beautifully) complements many of the Baroque, Gothic, and Roman pieces to the slight shift in how Spanish is spoken (clipped, with the ‘s’ excised)–rendering this city rich in culture and flavor.
Today I took over 200 photos because every street is a photograph waiting to be taken. I didn’t have an itinerary, just a book, a ticket for a hop-on, hop-off tour (since a great deal of sites (and food markets!) are closed on Sundays, and a bottle of water. I wandered through the famed Cathedral, spent a great portion of the day in the two predominant Arab districts, The Bib-Rambla (famed for its gastronomy–I had an unforgettable lunch at Restaurante Campanario Granada–and the Alcaicería market, which occupies a half-dozen small, winding streets and alleyways) and the Albayzín (a UNESCO site) (the ancient part of the city, home to a slew of small shops, tapas bars, artists). From violet perfumes to teas (I’m bringing home SACKS of them) and hand-sketched drinking glasses to iridescent lights, I got deliriously lost weaving in and out of the small streets, which was such a sharp juxtaposition to the ornate churches, cathedrals and monasteries.
Later, I walked from the Plaza Nueva (where I encountered the cat in the midst of an intrigue) and climbed the steep hills to the Sacromonte, a district that offers breathtaking views of the Alhambra as well as cave apartments, home to gypsys who started flamenco dancing. The steep, pebbled hills offered quite the workout but also a great deal of quiet and calm after spending a day in markets and immersing in Spanish.
After seven hours, I made my way back to my apartment. But first, I picked up a lemon Fanta (!!!) and noted that the pup game in Granada is pretty strong and the Spanish are incredibly kind, friendly and chill in a way that makes coming home to work on a novel a retreat rather than an escape.
A few bits of touristy bits:
*Tours + Getting Around: I’ve been booking all of my tours via Viator, and I highly recommend the service. They aggregate tours for most European countries, and offer a one-stop shop system, and their app is pretty awesome. However, as I learned today, some tours don’t accept mobile vouchers, which made me fleeing to find an internet cafe quite an adventure. The hop-on, hop-off (red bus) tour was pretty meh, so I’d recommend Feel the City Walking Tours (free!) and The Grayline Tours. Though, most of the city can be viewed by foot with a guidebook, or navigated using their convenient bus system (1.20 Euro/trip).
*Language: I’ve noticed that most people who own businesses speak Spanish, Catalan, French and English. Although most people (except university students) don’t speak English, so when I asked for directions I used Spanish.
*WCs/Bathrooms: Free toilets aren’t abundant, so you normally have to buy a drink to get access to the bathroom code.
*Tapas: The cool thing about Granada is the FREE FOOD. Most bars offer free tapas with drinks (wine, beer, coffee, tea, refrescas, or sodas!) They’ll vary in terms of allowing you to pick your tapas or eating what they serve. The drink + tapas deal is normally 2-3 Euro.
*Museums/Tourist Sites: Most churches and cathedrals are closed on Sundays, as are the food markets (which are only open in the morning, Mercardo San Augustin is the one I plan on hitting this week). The Alhambra is open, most restaurants and smaller attractions are open, and the Cathedral is open at 4pm on Sunday.
*Cost of Goods: WHOA. Compared to Barcelona, Granada is CHEAP. I went to the supermarket yesterday to load up on groceries, and a pile of greens, fruits, gluten-free goods, sundried tomatoes, almond milk, etc, ended up costing me $22. The same sack of food would’ve costed me double in Barcelona, same in New York. Overall, the cost of things here is fairly inexpensive, unless you hit the tourist spots or fancier restaurants.
*New Food Obsession: Tortilla Espanola. As my friend Amber so sagely says, GET INVOLVED.
*Choice Finds: Herbolario Esencias de Granada (for teas), Alquimia Pervane (for extraordiary oils, essences, and fragrances), Antigua Bodega Castañeda (tapas/bar), Exceliente Comida Sin Gluten (great shop with loads of yummy GF foods)