Monday, April 4, 2011

Granada Travel Guide: Savoring culture shock

Hola Bloggy Friends,

Patting pussies
Our Granada arrival was tons more pleasant than the last experience. We left Caravaca early in the morning, cruised down a sleepy highway and dropped the car off near the airport so we wouldn't chance crazy city driving again. It worked like a champ.

Our first stop was Macià Basilios, our hotel located within a monastery of the same name. From there we set out to explore Granada's Old Town. Right off the bat, we could feel the city's vibrant energy. The streets were bustling with carousers, and the cafés and public plazas were alive with squatters, street performers and waiters rushing plates of tapas from one crowded table to the next. Coming from lazy Caravaca, we were practically drooling over the excitement.

On our first day was all about orienting ourselves. We perused Alcaiceria (pronounced al-kay-thay-REE-ah), a tight alley of shops that was once a Moorish silk market; popped inside the impressive Granada Cathedral; and dodged aggressive gypsy ladies trying to sell us expensive sprigs of rosemary. For me, the most intriguing thing about Granada is the city's strong Moroccan influence. If you wander only a few yards from the main thoroughfare, you can easily imagine that you've been transported to North Africa, with incense wafting through the air, locals donning flowy harem pants and eateries decorated like the inside of Genie's bottle. The culture shock is exhilarating. We celebrated with dinner at an authentic Moroccan restaurant called Arrayanes and sipped exotic teas in Tetería La Kasbah.

Isabel's crown and scepter
Our second day started with one of the highlights of my trip so far: a tour of the tomb of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand in Capilla Real. Being one myself, I love a good queen, but I wasn't expecting to be as captivated by this experience. The hourlong visit not only afforded us access to their giant tombs but peeks at their caskets underneath, Isabel's crown, scepter and prayer book, and 30 or so pieces of her private art collection. For a female-oriented history buff like me, it's mind blowing to realize Queen Isabel actually toted this stuff around. And as morbid as it sounds, seeing her coffin made me feel all giddy inside.

Later, we set out on an exhaustive tour of what lies beyond Granada's main hub. First, we strolled through the Albaicín neighborhood, a bohemian district that's characterized by hilly cobblestone streets, hippie-run cafés and stellar views of downtown Granada and the Alhambra (we'll get to that later). Even further beyond that, Sacromonte is a still-thriving gypsy community with narrow alleys of sometimes-tattered, pueblo-style housing and restaurants run by feisty women who would do anything short of wrestling you to make you come in for dinner. High above the city, Sacromonte is known for the caves that can be seen dotting the surrounding hillside. For centuries, these little holes-in-the-hills have played home to homeless gypsies, wayfaring travelers and lots of feral cats. Meow.

Though it definitely encapsulates some European characteristics (think a mish-mash of Paris and the Haight-Ashbury), we feel like we've ventured into a magical little world that can't be found anywhere else on the continent. Dark-skinned Africans walking alongside pale-but-black-footed hippies; square, urban families sauntering past hecklers manning the fragrant Moroccan markets; and traditionally-draped Muslim men chatting with exasperated gypsy ladies who can't seem to pawn off that last handful of rosemary: These are the characteristics that make Granada my favorite stop so far — and we haven't even stepped foot on the Alhambra yet ... Stay tuned!

Love, Josh

1 comment:

Bill Fogle said...

I really, really enjoyed this! This time, I looked at the photos on Facebook first (I usually read the blog entry first), so I do have a sense of what you just described. I went on Google Earth and checked out the city and the Alhambra. WOW!

You saved the best for last!