“Jolin, que sitio bonito!” said the lady at the post office when she saw my postcard from Granada. “Jolin, querría visitarlo!” In English, “What a beautiful place! I would love to visit it!” with a few colorful exclamations thrown in. And she’s right. Granada, with a mix of historical and cultural significance and laid-back ambience is one of my favorite cities in Spain. Okay, who am I kidding? So far, Granada is my favorite city in Spain.
Over the river and through the mountains
On the way to Andalucia (the south of Spain where Granada is located) we got to drive through the mountains. (If you want to follow my journey click here to see a map of the trip from Madrid to Granada.) And these weren’t just any mountains. These were olive tree covered mountains. Apparently, Spain is famous for producing olives. (I’m surprised I’m just finding this out now.) Anyway, picture a huge bus driving on the side of mountains so steep you could look over the side and see the base of the cliff. Nervous? Me? No way. I kept scooting closer to the side of the bus closest to the cliff to see as much as possible. Our bus driver (who smoked cigars and spoke in the most gravely voice I’ve ever heard) had it all under control.
All-you-can-eat buffet in a four-star hotel?
After dropping all our stuff off at Hotel Carmen (a four-star hotel with the most amazing buffet) we toured the city. Something about this city was different. The architecture. The people. The ambience. Earlier on the bus, Javier, our proffesor/guide, explained that Granada was one of the last Moorish strongholds before the Muslim population was forced to either convert to Christianity or be expelled to Africa. Well, the Muslim cultural influences from the time period are still flourishing today. We toured a some of the cathedrals before just walking around the streets looking at all the vendors selling scarfs and purses on the street kind of like an open air market. After trying on 30 different perfumes at an aromatherapy shop, (I have such a hard time with decisions!) we sat on colorful cushions at a café and devoured an almond flavored nut bar along with our vanilla and cinnamon tea. We proceeded to stuff our faces at the hotel buffet, and decided that the orange mousse was by far the best.
La playa (the beach)
Salobreña. Someday my vacation home will be in Salobreña. Or maybe I will just live there. (Only if my family moves with me, of course.) When Javier said that the tropical environment allowed avocados and tropical fruit to grow there, I knew this was the place for me. This deceptively small city looks like Greece. Clean, white and full of bright blue pots. Basically, it’s a city of contrast. After climbing to the top, which seemed like a five mile walk (like I said, deceptively small) you can see the snowy mountains on one side and the beach on the other. We finally made it to the beach. Just sitting on the shore, watching the waves crash, smelling the sea air and listening to the kids playing in the waves was one of the best moments the entire weekend. Except for the time when we ordered a salad with avocado, tomatoes, mozzarella cheese with little pepper things, swordfish, calamari and caramel Snapps to finish it off. Yep, that moment runs a close second.
Can you dance flamenco?
After being anywhere near the beach, there is no question about it. You need a nap. Plus, we had to conserve energy for the Flamenco concert later that evening. After ANOTHER buffet-style meal, we hopped on a bus that drove through the streets of Granada. We stopped at one of the neighborhoods, Albaicín to walk around. Because the streets were only big enough for one car to drive comfortably, every now and then someone would yell, “Cuidado, coche!” (Careful, car!) and we would all flatten ourselves against the wall like pancakes. After hopping back on the bus and waiting two hours for the buses going the other way to pass us, we finally made it. Flamenco. I had been looking forward to this moment ever since my last blogpost about flamenco. We all ordered Sangria and watched the most intense, powerful dancing I’ve ever seen. Then I decided it would be a good idea to try out this intense, powerful dance. Check out this video of my 30 seconds dancing Flamenco to decide for yourself if I should be a Flamenco dancer when I grow up. But really, who cares about that? It was so much fun! On the way home we belted “I will survive” in our mini bus. At one point, we drove by a beer commercial being shot. Later that night we searched for discotecas (dance clubs) and found two that were open and playing 70s music. And that pretty much sums up my night.
Next day we went to the Alhambra. Javier told us that there are three things to remember about the architecture. When the architects constructed the Alhambra for the last Muslim Emirs (important rulers) they used three different forms of art because the human body was never used in artwork. 1) inscriptions 2) nature and 3) geometry. The amount of detail in all the architecture was almost overwhelming, but the gardens were so clear and beautiful. You could almost see the entire city from the open roofs. Halfway through, I got to sing some opera in one of the gardens. It was a magical moment. Especially, when we all started singing The Sound of Music’s “Do-Re-Mi” together after. That was truly magical.
Home, sweet home
We finally got home after six more hours driving and watching Two Weeks Notice on the bus…in English! I think it was a much deserved break from thinking in Spanish. We came back to a carnaval celebration in the center of Alcalá. One lady wore a costume made entirely out of bottle caps, some people were dressed like cans of Fanta orange pop, one man was even dressed as a “Just married.” Don’t ask me how he figured that one out. The little boy my host mom watches was dressed like a duck. This weekend, everyone was wearing costumes. We just wanted to sleep.
The next day, I realized that I needed this trip. In Granada, I finally got to take a break and enjoy all the little moments. Hey, guess what I just realized? We can do that every day, no matter what we’re doing. Like my friend Alesia says, we don’t have to wait until we’re 60 to enjoy all the beautiful things God created for us. Life is too important to wait for that perfect moment. When that paper is finally done. When you’re done with school. When you’re done with grad school. When you’ve started your family. When your career is successful. Enjoying life shouldn’t be a vague hope or thought in the future. No matter what you are doing, it’s so important to enjoy the present moment. The time is now.