The city is at the base of the Sierra Nevadas, a physically beautiful spot. Architecturally, it has a very strong Moorish influence.
The location has been inhabited since humans first lived in cities and eventually became an extremely important center for trade. Granada is commonly referred to as the last stronghold of the Moors in Spain but was always a multi-cultural city. For generations, the Moors, Jews & Christians co-existed in the city (some times more peacefully than others). But in 1492, same year as Columbus set sail for the new world, the last Moorish leader surrendered control of Granada to Isabel & Ferdinand. The Jews were immediately expelled from the city and the Muslims were forceably converted to Christianity. Of course, I am no historian and I cannot do the history justice. The point is that the Moorish influence is everywhere. Their structures were both beautiful and functional. At a time when most of Europe was mired in the dark ages, soaking in their own sewage, Granada had sewers and canals to control the water.
There is an obvious arab influence to the food, which was just dandy for me. Except for some tapas, I had ethnic food at every meal. I enjoyed huge, cheap (2.50euro) falafel wraps most days, Indian curries, even sushi (I hoped the wasabi would clear out my head…nope).
My hostel (Funky Backpackers, baby!) was in an excellent location (by Plaza Nuevo) and I lucked out having a room with only 3 single beds (in a hostel, the fewer people in your room, the less chance there is that someone will saw logs all night. In this case, ironically, it was me who snored…). It was easy to meet people and I went on a walking tour of the city my first morning. A group of us planned to hit the beach one day (1.5 hours by bus, over the mountains) but the bad storms they had wrecked the beaches for a bit.
So I did a lot of wandering in El Albayzín and a lot of eating and window shopping. For 2 days, I was pretty sick and it’s all I could really manage. There are fun shops at every turn, selling colorful goods from Morocco, Turkey, India, Nepal. I found the prices quite good, although I resisted buying things because i plan to head to Turkey myself. Plus my bag is way too small to lug a bunch of souveneirs. The streets are very steep – sometimes they turn from roads into steps – and narrow. There are a lot of buskers (street performers) and college students (Univ of Granada is very popular for Study Abroad) and some Roma and a smattering of colorful hippies who often live in the caves above the city and of course lots of tourists. It makes for some excellent people watching!
I also enjoyed an Arab bath – it was the cleanest I’d felt in about 2 weeks. There were 3 pools (one hot, one cold and one tepid). You showered before getting in, then just soaked yourself silly, bouncing between the pools and sipping sweet mint tea.
On Wednesday, I had my ticket to the Alhambra. It gets it’s own post.
Thursday, an awesomely positive Scottish woman named Gillian and I went to Sacromonte, the Roma (gypsy) neighborhood, to an open-air museum high on the hill, where we learned how people did (and still do) live in caves. We really enjoyed the museum because it also addressed the natural history of the area. She had come from England where she taught English in the summers to visitors from across Europe. She is contemplating getting a job teaching English in Spain for the winter. I really do envy people from the EU – they can move to a different country the way we move to a different state. Obviously there are language barriers, but employment is possible without all the crazy visa hassles.
There is more I could write about Granada, but I’ll summarise by saying that I am pretty sure I’ll be back (hopefully with a lover since it is a very romantic city! 😉