If you’ve been following along on my travels in Barcelona, you’ll know that my first few days in Spain were somewhat frustrating. Logistical flubs, plus some less-than-awesome food, combined with an impossibly long list of recommendations, left me feeling lukewarm about Barcelona, and that I’d somehow missed out on the best of what the city had to offer. Plus, it just didn’t feel as “Spanish” as I thought it would. It seemed very international, too touristy for my tastes, and English was everywhere. I had a feeling my Spanish experience would take a turn for the better in Granada, and I couldn’t have been more right.
From the moment I stepped off the plane in Granada, the air felt different. Warmer, brighter, with cyprus trees all around and mountains in the background. The airport was so small, we walked on to the tarmac, and got our bags in 5 minutes. As our cab driver whisked us in to the city, I thought,
“I know this place, and I haven’t even arrived yet.”
Somehow, it reminded me of both Aix-en-Provence and Grenoble in France, where I studied abroad. As we approached the city, I felt as if I recognized the buildings, the small streets, the fountains and lampposts with flowers hanging from them. When I arrived at the IES office in Granada, having only spent about 2 minutes outside, I was already smitten.
The IES office is in a beautiful old apartment building, with tiled floors and walls, and every once in a while a fountain for good measure – reminiscent of the strong Moorish and Islamic influences in Granada. My colleague Javier whisked me from one meeting to the next, at one point dashing around a tottering host mother who’d come to pay a visit to a staff member. Apparently we HAD to get in front of her, lest she keep said staff member occupied for the next hour, and so we slid in to the office just in time to be at the front of the queue. When I asked if I could have a coffee, my colleague Natalia led me across the street to a cafe, where they gave me whatever I wanted without payment, because “They know us here.” I had lunch with a group of students on the terrace, where we talked about Spanish slang and FOMO over ravioli and tiramisu.
As I walked back to my hotel after an afternoon full of visits and meetings, totally blissed out, I thought,
“THIS is what I thought Spain would be like.”
Unfortunately, while I was blissed out of my mind, poor Keith was feeling terribly ill, and had been convalescing at the hotel all afternoon. I found him in bed with the curtains drawn, groggy but on the mend, and determined to go out with me later. As the sun went down, we explored the neighborhood and realized 2 key things about Granada:
- nothing opens before 8pm (restaurants, that is), and
- Granada is infinitely walkable. Nothing is more than 20 minutes away.
We bought some groceries for our breakfast the next morning, then joined up with a wine-tasting hosted by IES Granada.
It was all in Spanish, and I am proud to say that I understood about 60% of it, and even asked a whole question in Spanish! I made no progress on my Spanish-speaking goal in Barcelona (admittedly, because I was mostly speaking French), but a few hours in Granada and I am not doing too shabbily.
When we left the wine-tasting, we went to a nearby bar, Los Tintos, that Javier had recommended for more drinks and tapas, and experienced my favorite Granada tradition: when you order a drink, a tapas comes free! Some places let you chose, some surprise you. At this place we got to choose, so we picked fried eggplant, fried quail egg on bread, and then ordered a Spanish omelette to round out the “meal.” Plus 2 wines, and everything came to about 8 euros. The bartender was running the whole place, delivering drinks and food to all in the 8ft X 20ft space, and food appeared incredibly fast from a little window that led to the kitchen. We peaked inside on our way out – only 2 people, making everything from scratch! And it was delicious. We will be returning to Los Tintos, no doubt.
Our first full day in Granada began with a stroll through the winding narrow streets around the cathedral, poking into shops as well as the central market. There was the typical array of meats, fish, and olive oil, enormous peppers and tiny apples. Despite seeing plenty of produce at the markets, I hardly see any at restaurants. If salads are on the menu, they are boring. If veggies are on the menu, they tend to be fried. I am on the hunt for some really good, cooked veggies that are not potatoes.
One thing that has surprised us both is how CLEAN the streets and sidewalks are – in Barcelona too, but especially Granada. Sometimes they are so clean they are actually slippery, and I’ve had to grab on to Keith’s arm more than once! I am just so used to a certain amount of grit and grime in a city from living in NYC and Philly; I can’t imagine how they keep everything so clean.
Oh, and the orange trees! They are everywhere! All of the oranges at human-reaching height tend to be gone, so I do wonder if people just pick oranges from the trees and eat them. I sort of want to do so myself. Must ask someone about this.
We wandered through the center of town, up to the hilly Albaicin neighborhood. With twists and turns and some incredibly old buildings, it is a beautiful maze showcasing some of Granada’s Moorish past, as well as local musicians on every other corner and square.
Our destination was the restaurant Torcuato, where we dined on little fried sardines, pork in grape sauce, potatoes, bread, red wine, and the local Alhambra beer. Several musicians stopped by to play while we were there, playing guitar and singing everything from (what I assume were) Spanish songs to Amy Winehouse.
Our final stop in the Albaicin was the Mirador San Nicolas, with a spectacular view of the Alhambra. We are going there for a tour tomorrow.
On the way back down to town, we made friends with this window kitty. Well ok, I made friends.
Keith and I took the Spanish siesta tradition to heart and spent a quiet late afternoon/early evening back at the hotel, and headed out for dinner around 8, the moment when bars and restaurants suddenly spring back to life in Granada. Desperate for some veggies, we settled at an outdoor restaurant and watched life pass by on the street next to us.
So much meat. So much cheese. So much wine! I had a salad too, but I REALLY must find more veg tomorrow. This is my only complaint about Granada. If I have no luck with the veg tomorrow, perhaps I will just grab an orange from a tree to stave off the scurvy.