Our stay at Granada was sadly short. We only passed one full day in this city, which I think I would never tire of, and which I will try to describe more with photos than with words. Walking just a bit past the end of the wide Gran Vía, where our hotel was located, we found a delicious vegetarian restaurant far from the beaten tourist path. The menú del día was under our school allowance, so I proceeded to order a gouda and walnut salad as the primer plato, followed by a segundo of seitan curry, and a slice of chocolate cake for postre. The salad was fresh and crisp and tastefully dressed, a refreshing change from the average Spanish salad, and the seitan curry was one of the best plates I have ever eaten, period. The scent of curry sent us all back to the little ethnic restaurants so common in the states that we all miss dearly!
Returning to Gran Vía and turning up, one can wander past the Universidad de Granada through the narrow winding streets of the Albaicín and Sacromonte neighborhoods,
stopping to rest in a tetería, where Arabic music, low couches, and embroidered cushions provide the perfect ambiance for a pot of té palestino, spiced hot milk served in a metal teapot with a decorated glass cup,
or perhaps continuing upward to the mirador at the top of the hill,
a patio equipped with benches and a giant cross that looks out over the Alhambra (whose name comes from the Arabic word for “red”).
The lookout is flanked by a mosque-turned-church and a modest modern mosque.
On the descent, one can turn into an enclosed monastery, the Monasterio de Santa Isabel la Real, inhabited by nuns who decide to never leave the building once they enter and spend their days in service to God, and baking. We were lured into the patio first to look at the convent’s architechture, and then a sign reading “Hay dulces” – “There are sweets today” – led us to pull the doorbell chain, and soon we heard a voice asking us to open the wooden door.
Opening the door did little as far as vision goes: Apparently they also vow not to see people from the outside, as we were now greeted by a lazy-susan type wooden rotating shelf. We explained that we’d like to buy sweets, and were informed that today there were only mantecados de almedra y limón, lemon and almond cookies, which suited us just fine. The nun placed the box of cookies on her side of the shelf and spun it around, where we took the sweets and placed our 5 euro bill in its place. We thanked her profusely, and left rather stunned by the intensity of the experience: a business transaction with a nun who we couldn’t see, who had vowed to live a solitary life and only interact with other sisters in the convent.
The experience of that night couldn’t be farther removed. After dinner, we boarded a mini bus and headed to a cueva – cave – where we’d see a flamenco performance. We passed through the narrow streets of Sacromonte again, stopping at the mirador to gaze out at the Alhambra at night, hearing folkloric stories from the flamenco-bar man who led the way. Flamenco is a typical Spanish dance that was born in Andalucía and originally performed in white-washed caves like the one we went to. The dance is always accompanied by Spanish acoustic guitars, a singer, clapping in complex rhythms, and occasionally a cajón – a simple box-drum played with the hands. The dancer improvises copiously, combining set steps in new ways with clapping, hand twirling, stomping, foot tapping, spinning, and light steps.
The show was incredible. The caves are naturally at the perfect temperature year-round, 21 degrees Celsius, and we were a bit crowded. The music absolutely filled the small space, decorated with photos, posters, and articles about flamenco, and the dancers were incredibly talented. The women’s heels slapped the floor faster than I would have thought possible, and the room reverberated with their rhythmic pounding. I was fascinated and enthralled – and of course I would now love to learn flamenco!
But I have left out the most famous aspect of Granada – the Alhambra
. Built as a residential “city” for the Arabic monarchs in the thirteenth century, the building was augmented by Christian kings as well. However, the 16th century Carlos V’s palace is true to its Renaissance style: incredibly boring, especially in comparison to the rich decoration covering the Arabic buildings. The Nazarí palaces, on the other hand, are stunning.
The decor is intricate and breathtakingly beautiful:
sculpted plaster with traces of its original bright coloring,
cut and mosaic-ed ceramic, carved wooden doorways, horseshoe and other styled arches resting upon slender columns,
all surrounding lush patios with lovely fountains.
Contemplating the tendrils and geometric details of the plaster with the calming bubbling sound of the fountains in the background, I felt as though I truly would have loved to live in the Alhambra, and then began to imagine actually living there in the 14th century.
Imagine waking up every morning and hearing the sweet gurgle of a clear fountain and the rustle of leaves.
Imagine walking out your intricately carved door, looking up at the latticed windows and elaborate cornice, and hearing birds chirping, and then reaching up and picking an orange.
Imagine relaxing on a couch set into a ceramic-ed recess with a mocárabe overhead,
with a silver plate of olives contrasting against the bright color of the embellished cushions.
Imagine watching the sunset through an aisle of slim columns topped with decorated arches. What a beautiful life – almost as great as the one I am living now.