After the first week of Session II classes, Shelby and I headed out to Granada on Friday, July 5th. My family dropped us off at the Madrid bus station, Estación del sur, on their way to visit a family friend’s vineyard in Ciudad Real. Our five hour bus ride was not bad– I watched two movies in Spanish, including X-Men. After arriving in Granada, we decided to take a taxi to our hostel as we weren’t quite sure how to get there by walking and we didn’t want to melt since it was SUPER HOT—close to 100 degrees F. It was actually my first taxi ride in Spain, or anywhere else for that matter (study abroad is full of many “firsts”!). We were concerned it would be really expensive since we couldn’t see the fare meter, but it turned out to be a reasonable 7 euros in total. We then took a relaxing descanso, walked around the city, found a little plaza with a pretty fountain, and bought some 1 euro ice cream! Dulce de leche ice cream is now my new favorite! I get it almost every time I buy ice cream in Spain.
We woke up refreshed on Saturday, ready to start our La Alhambra adventures. We ate a typical Spanish breakfast of tostada con marmelada (toast with marmalade) at the hostel which was included in the cost of our room and then set off with our prepaid tickets to find La Alhambra. This castle and fortress complex was originally built in 889 and used as a palace in 1333 by Yusef I, the Sultan of Granada. After the Reconquista period (the time from the first Islamic invasion in 711 through the fall of Granada in 1492 to the Catholic Monarchs), portions of La Alhambra were used at times by Christian rulers, and the Palace of Charles V was built inside the complex in 1527. La Alhambra is one of my top places that I had planned to visit in Spain. It is also listed in my Lonely Planet guidebook as the #1 sight to see in Spain. I first learned about La Alhambra in my Spanish 223 class, Intro to Hispanic Cultures, at UW-Madison, as one of the most important and obvious remnants of the Arab reign in Spain. We learned about the Arab era like a trilogy: La Alhambra in Granada, the Mezquita in Córdoba, and the Torro de Oro in Sevilla.
After talking to the helpful person at the ticket counter, we learned that the tickets we bought online covered everything except the Nazari palace (the main attraction), so we had to buy completely new tickets that covered everything. We also purchased audioguides which were very helpful. We toured the nearby gardens and it was breathtaking. Everything was very symmetrical/geometrical, and throughout the whole of La Alhambra, there was the main theme of water; the audioguide talked about the importance of water every other minute and had the sound of rushing water in the background constantly. Even when we were hiking up to get to the entrance, there were man-made streams rushing and tumbling down both sides of the path. Visiting La Alhambra and seeing all of the water features makes you believe Spain isn’t as dry as it really is! The water supplying the fountains, gardens, streams and reflecting pools is brought via a five-mile long aqueduct from the river Darro which is located above the city of Granada.
I had been warned many times about purse-snatchers and pickpockets both from my parents before I left home and from CIEE Director Cristina during orientation. But, I was not warned about fortunetellers! After leaving La Alhambra, Shelby and I were approached by a woman who handed us each a sprig of rosemary. I took the herb since I assumed she would hand it to me, then walk away. But she then proceeded to tell me that I would meet a handsome guitar-playing Spaniard in Granada (sounds like the Disney movie Cheetah Girls 2!), fall in love, marry, and have two babies (Shelby will have three). After, she demanded that we pay 5 euros each for the fortune. At least it was an inexpensive life lesson to learn not to talk to strangers and to just say no.
After returning from La Alhambra, we took another long siesta as the heat had taken its toll on us. We then met up with my UW-Madison friend Megan who is a summer au pair in Zaragoza (a different Megan than the one in Madrid). We found a lovely place to eat outside and I had natilla for dessert which is a custard treat that is like the Spanish version of my favorite sweet, crème brulee, though without the caramelized sugar on top. It was, of course, DELICIOUS. We then headed over to El Templo de Flamenco for our flamenco show – 20 euros for the show and a drink. I was initially thinking that this show would be different from the one I saw in Alcalá as it would be more “authentic” since flamenco originated in Andalucía. The show was pretty much the same, except that we had one more male/female flamenco dance act this time. The venue was a ‘tablao’ or flamenco gypsy cave which made it colder and more comfortable. I would have to say my favorite parts were the costume changes and the male flamenco dancer. He was amazing!
We spent our final day in Granada walking along the river and in the Albaicín area, which is the gypsy neighborhood, full of winding, narrow streets and a beautiful view of La Alhambra from a distance.
It seemed like a ghost town since we were almost the only people walking outside due to the extremely hot weather. We were able to find our way back to Gran Vía and we snacked on churros con chocolate for brunch at a cute little café. We then took another taxi back to the station to catch our bus at 3pm. Then, from the Madrid bus station, we walked to Atocha, the big transportation depot, to catch a train to Alcalá. From the train station in Alcalá my dad picked us up to finally take us home.
One of the most noticeable differences I heard in Granada was that people there talk with a very different accent as compared to Alcalá. In Andalucía (including Granada), they do not use the “th” sounds that I wrote about in my last blog entry (“Gracias” as compared to “Grathias”). What’s interesting is a reason that Latin Americans do not speak Spanish using the “th” sound is because Latin America was colonized primarily by Spaniards from Andalucía since most of the ports are in Andalucía.
A note about fashion in Granada: lots of people wore what Shelby and I called “Aladdin pants”, meaning the baggy harem-like garment worn by Aladdin in the Disney movie. Tons of people were wearing them and almost every little street shop was selling them, even in kids’ sizes!