Exploring Granada

After leaving Frigiliana, Phil and I returned our rental car at the train station in Málaga and boarded the train for Granada. A short while later, we left our bags at our hotel and were off to explore the ancient city at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. There is also a Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. I assure you, it’s not the same one.

We loved Granada and really wished we would have allotted ourselves more time there. It is definitely a city we would visit again. My favorite area of the city was the old Muslim neighborhood of Albaicín with it’s thin, climbing, stone streets, teterias (tea houses), spice shops, restaurants, and many other merchants tucked closely to one another. It feels much more like a snapshot of Morocco than of anything else I’ve seen in Spain.

One of the things I took away from our month in Andalucía was how different the south of Spain is from the north; the people, the history, the food, and architecture. Of course they’re different. Same as anywhere (of course they’re different, same as anywhere?). What I mean is, if I spent a year in Rolla, Missouri, after that year, I’d have a decent insight into the people of Rolla, Missouri; the general character traits of the citizenry, the vernacular and idioms, and regional culinary specialties. Could I say I knew more about Americans? Well sure but had I spent that same year in Jackson, Mississippi, Boise, Idaho or Boston, Massachusetts; would I walk away with the same perception of Americans? Definitely not.

This afternoon in Granada was spent wandering around Albaicín, eating a tasty late lunch at the very cute and reasonably priced Ras Cafe Bar where we shared some of the best pâté and lamb I have ever eaten.

My favorite part of our visit to Granada was meeting up with our friend, Reyes, the following day. Reyes is the sister of our friend Diana, from Gijón, whom I’ve written about many times. We were lucky enough to get to know Reyes a bit during her visits to Gijón. She lives in Granada and let us know that when we visited, she would be happy to show us around. We had a full day together that started with a delicious lunch, the star of which was an amazing shrimp risotto (no photo because I could waste no time getting it into my mouth).

After lunch, we climbed our way through Albaicín, passed the shops of leather goods, beautiful Moroccan lamps, and teterias. We stopped at one shop selling loose leaf tea, spices, soap, and chocolate. It smelled amazing inside. I wanted to buy everything. When living out of a suitcase (that you have to haul around yourself) practicality dictates that accumulating things isn’t really an option. So, I bought a few super tasty dates and a dark chocolate bar with cinnamon knowing those items wouldn’t stick around long.

On we went with Reyes to the Mirador de San Nicolás, high above the city with gorgeous views of Granada below. Being a Sunday afternoon, there were many other folks at the mirador; families with picnic lunches, local teens drinking beer, kissing couples, and groups of friends enjoying the lovely afternoon.

After descending the mirador, we joined some of Reyes’s teacher friends (Reyes is a teacher at a local high school) for drinks on a rooftop bar. They were all very lovely and welcoming. We left with a few other suggestions of spots to check out from Reyes and plans to meet for breakfast on Tuesday.

When we woke up the following morning, we headed out to find a teteria in Albaicín. I really wanted to have tea and sweets for breakfast. When peeking into the tea shops the day before, I noticed delicious looking layered, filo pastries. These types of pastries are my very favorite, typically consisting of layers of filo dough, nuts, and honey among other ingredients. Baklava is probably the most popular (in the west anyway). When we lived in southern California, I was lucky enough to try many of these delicious little gems at the local Greek Orthodox church’s annual festival in Long Beach. I also had an Armenian co-worker who brought in two huge boxes of various tiny filo pastries around Christmas. She also used to make the BEST Armenian coffee that I actually still think about sometimes, but I digress.

Luckily, we had slept in because it became apparent as we went in search of a teteria that they were not breakfast spots. In fact we entered one and were told to come back later because they weren’t open yet. We did find our spot, Teteria Diwan, shortly thereafter and ordered up a small pot of tea each. Phil had a black tea with ginger and clove and I selected one with cardamom and cinnamon. We both drank the tea with milk and a little sugar, something we don’t do at home (we drink our tea straight up) but we both agreed adding just a bit seemed to really amplify the flavors. We shared a couple of small pastries and enjoyed them so much, we ordered two more. Our waiter/tea maker seemed to be pleased by my love of the pastries as after we’d paid, he gave us one more on the house to try. Everything was delicious and we really enjoyed our time there.

After our tea and treats, we again headed up, up, through the Albaicín toward the Gypsy (or Roma) neighborhood of Sacromonte (holy mountain). Reyes had recommended we visit the area, in particular the casas de cuevas (cave homes). We went to the Museo Cuevas del Sacromonte where I learned so much about the history of Gypsies, Gypsies in Granada, and of Flamenco dancing.

The Gypsies (Gitanos as they’re called in Spanish) were considered outcasts and made their homes high in the hills on the outskirs of town. They welcomed into their community other marginalized groups such as Islamic Moors and Jews who refused to convert to Christianity (and refused to leave the country) following the reconquista. The mountains surrounding Granada are made of relatively soft stone so the Gitanos carved their cave homes into the mountains and whitewashed them. They had separate caves for sleeping, cooking, working, and for livestock.

Both Gypsy and Gitano come from the word Egypt. Europeans thought these nomadic peoples came from Egypt though now we know they migrated from India. The first Gitanos came to Granada in the 15th century. Spain passed many anti-Gitano laws over the years including banning traditional language and dress. In the 1950’s around 3,600 people lived in the cave homes of Sacramonte. In 1963 major flooding forced most Gitanos from their cave homes, then Spanish government forbade them to rebuild. Today, a few cave homes remain and around 50,000 Gitanos continue to call the neighborhood of Sacromonte home.

The roots of Flamenco dancing in Spain, while a bit mysterious, are believed to have originated with the Gitanos. In the summer, some bars located in former Sacromonte cave homes, host Flamenco shows and musical concerts.

On our final day in Granada, we had breakfast with Reyes and then toured the famous Islamic palace and fortress of Alhambra. Alhambra is huge and consists of many different buildings and garden areas. In addition to exploring the grounds, we visited Nasrid Palace and the Generalife (hen-er-al-leaf-ay). The Generalife served as a leisure palace for the Kings of Granada when they wanted to get away from the stressors of Nasrid Palace. “This palace is too darn palatial and beautiful. I wish I could get away to a palace or something but like another palace that I can see from my main palace.” #palaceproblems

Nasrid Palace requires an appointment while the rest of Alhambra can be explored at your leisure (with a ticket, of course). We finished the day by boarding the train to Seville where we were to meet up with my cousin and aunt. Leaving Granada too soon but excited for the next adventure.

Published by yogibarrington

American expat living in Gijon, Asturias, Spain

4 thoughts on “Exploring Granada

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