Monday, August 25, 2008

Granada me encanta! (enchants me)

So, Granada. What a cool place! Super tranquil, beautiful setting in/at the base of the hills, with a great mix of Arab and Spanish cultures. I got fat on chicken schwarma and chicken kebobs. The schwarma rivals Chipotle as the best food for the money on the planet. A "schwarma completo" comes with chicken, egg, cheese, some secret special sauce, beets, onion, cabbage, olives, falafel, carrots, and probably a few things I´ve forgotten. The description sounds disgusting, but it was AMAZING!!!

I stayed at the Oasis Backpackers´Hostel again, one of several in the chain, as it was recommended by travelers I met at the Oasis hostel in Sevilla. This Oasis didn't have a pool on the roof, but it was a really, really cool old Granada building, four stories high, with open, dark wooden balconies on each floor overlooking the ground level...and each balcony had long, green, spider-like plants covering the railings and hanging down into thin air.

I met some great people there...Simon from England/Belgium; Chris from Melbourne, Australia, Laurie from Brussels, Belgium; Eric from San Francisco, CA; Andrea from Norway, and Sue-Tan from Singapore. I also saw once again Jessie and Georgina from north of Toronto, Canada (had hosteled with them in Sevilla). I met Emma and Jane from North Ireland and learned all about the Catholic-Protestant tensions that are still going on there...crazy. There are parts of town the girls can´t go to because they´re Catholic and people will report back to their parents, etc. They could even get beat up, so if they dare go, they only go in a group and they watch their backs closely. I can't relate at all; we really take our complete freedom for granted, don't we?

One night, Eric busted out his guitar and a large group of us spent the waning hours of the day up on the hostel roof watching the sun set, drinking beer/Sangria, and singing/playing songs. It was wonderful!

Oooooh....the Alhambra...this is an amazing, historic Arabic military fortress/king's residence that still stands and looms large on the hill above Granada. It is simply magical. The Spaniards, after nearly a millenium of conflict throughout Spain, finally conquered the Arabs in 1492 and retook Granada/the Alhambra. There are so many visitors every day now that you have to go and buy a ticket in the morning and then come back at whatever time they print on your ticket. They do this to make sure there are never too many people inside the fortress at once. I got lucky when I went to buy a ticket because I was alone and that meant I could go in immediately; people that showed up with several friends often had to wait several hours to be allowed in. Anyway, the Alhambra was amazing! First of all, the setting is idyllic and you can see for miles in all directions. Secondly, the architecture is stunning, with an excruciating attention to detail, and you can see how it was essentially impregnable, unless they wanted you in! I guess it was built over several hundred years and each Arabic king added his own stamp to it. It's amazing to imagine something that impressive being built in the years 900-1500 A.D. There are amazing gardens, huge towers, lavish interiors, city views, and immeasurable charm. Photos can't do it justice, but if you'd like a glimpse of the Alhambra and my time in Granada, check out this link:

On my fourth and final afternoon in Granada, I wanted to buy a souvenir to remind me of my time there so I went into a small shop selling a lot of local wooden crafts. Keep in mind, I had been traveling for over a week in Andalucia (Southern Spain) and really couldn't understand anyone, nor could they understand me. Their Spanish was so fast, and so different (they don't pronounce the last letters/syllables of many words) that it was like learning a new language. Then, I met Maria José, who was working at the souvenir shop (currently her father's, and her grandfather's before that). She is 37 years old and was born on that same street on which she was working the store that day, and has never lived anywhere but Granada!!! She and I just seemed to hit it off immediately, and we could understand each other!!!!!!!!!! I probably hung out there for 45 minutes talking with her in between her times helping other customers. She's been to New Mexico so she was very interested in meeting someone from the western U.S. and talking about her time there. At one point, I decided I wanted to ask her to have dinner with me or something because this was the first person I'd been able to communicate with in Spanish since I arrived. When she came back from helping a customer and I was about to ask her out, SHE asked ME out! Yeah!

Before meeting up with María José, I spent the rest of my afternoon eating one last chicken schwarma and wandering around Granada's crazy maze of streets (the Albayzin, a UNESCO World Heritage neighborhood), in which my hostel happend to be located. I spent a really great hour also with Laurie from Belgium sharing music from each other's iPods, turning each other onto artists the other hadn't heard of. We shared ear buds from the same headphones and we had a bonding moment through music.

Later, María José and I met at the Plaza Nueva at 1030 pm, after she got off work. We walked together, chatting casually, all over her lovely town, with her pointing out various landmarks, talking about the history, etc. We went to her favorite little pub/restaurant for some tapas (small, appetizer-sized dishes popular throughout Spain) and a beer. We ran into her lawyer and his wife on the street and all chatted for a few minutes. We walked along a small creek through town to another plaza, this one directly under the Alhambra up on the hill, which was gloriously lit up at night. We ended up at a little Arabic tea house in which the plan was for me to teach her some English (that plan got scrapped because we were enjoying talking too much to stop the Spanish). Neither of us wanted to smoke the hookah, so we just chatted and chatted. All in all, we ended up spending about 5 hours together and I walked her to her parents doorstep at 330 a.m. (her house was a 30 minute walk outside of town so she wanted to just crash at her parents' place, which was a 5 minute walk away from my hostel and the plaza we were in.) With a gentle hug and a sweet, quick, friendly kiss, we said our goodbyes and wished each other well. That was probably the most special experience of my entire Spain trip; getting off the tourist track isn't always easy to do, so you have to relish the moments when you can bond with someone local.

I arose early the next morning, having already packed my backpack the night before. I hoofed it down to the train station and at about 7 a.m. I hopped on an 8 hour train to Valencia to go meet Gema, a friend of a friend back in the States. I had never even seen a photo of Gema or spoken with Gema, so I had no idea what to expect when I arrived. I hoped it would be fun and not awkward or forced...

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