Spontaneous Adventures in Granada

Spontaneous Adventures in Granada

Granada is a city that, to me, is unparalleled in culture, history, attitude, inspiration, and charm. Whether you’re taking a stroll along the Darro River or you’re exploring the ancient cobblestone labyrinth of the Albayzin, somewhere along the way, Granada steals your heart.

Because of its rich culture and the infusion of various traditions, Granada brings out a supreme level of creativity in all who visit. This could be why you find such an alternative crowd of nomadic gypsies, lost artists, and street performers, and it is no coincidence that I happened to meet a certain happy-go-lucky Parisian tourist named Eric in Granada. Our day together reminded me that exploring a city should be playful and creative. Our interaction went something like this:

The story starts out like any other day exploring a city by foot. I’m happily strolling through a Moroccan street in old town Granada, taking in the sights and smells. There are hookah bars, deliciously spicy Moroccan food, camel leather, and eccentric shops with overpriced nics and nacs galore.

On this particular morning, I’m on a search for the graffiti area of the city as I heard it was an explosion of creative expression, and I had to see this! I open my map, searching unsuccessfully until I realize the map was upside down. I begin searching again after laughing at myself. A few moments pass when an equally jolly tourist with a mix matched patterned shirt and shorts in his late 50’s approaches me.

Hello! What are you searching for?” he asks me through an extremely French accent.

I explain to him that I am looking for the graffiti street.

Ah, yes…ze graffiti iz amazing! It is zis way,” he says as he points to a part of the map.

I thank him and begin walking in that direction. As I continue walking, I notice that he is walking steadily next to me with a smile on his face. We begin talking and I discover he’s from Paris and is extremely proud of that, like most Parisians are. After ten minutes of walking together and deciphering what he is saying through his thick French accent, I accept the fact that I am no longer exploring the city alone today.

At first I feel resistance to this, but then, I decide to go with the flow of what is happening. He is, after all, traveling alone and we have good conversation, yet as a woman traveling alone, I am also hyper aware of my surroundings and instincts. Growing up, you learn to be cautious of strangers, to never trust anyone, things like that. I think what should really be taught is to trust your instincts and inner knowing. As I listen to this part of myself, I feel that a day of sightseeing with my new Parisian friend would be a delightfully spontaneous adventure.

After some time walking and talking, we find a street with graffiti, yet I’m not too sure it is THE graffiti street, but from there, we continue our adventure to the exterior area of the Alhambra, which is the palace and fortress of the Moorish monarchs who ruled over the land back in the day.

 

As we marvel at the architecture and beauty of the Alhambra, an unprompted photoshoot of sorts unfolds. Eric suggests I do a funny pose on this fountain that’s a probably a million years old.

Turn to ze left a leetle bit. Now do sumsing funny!” he instructs.

“No, no, not like zis,” he says disapprovingly.

“Why don’t you try?” I say to him with the slightest attitude.

He jumps onto the fountain and starts making ridiculous poses. It feels like everyone is staring but he is having too much fun to notice or care.

And the day went on like this, joking and posing ridiculously in front of ancient fountains the way that only real tourists could. It taught me an important lesson of being playful and not caring so much about what others think. I was grateful to have spent the day with a stranger who became a friend.

At the end of the day, we ate tapas at my favorite tapas bar, wished each other well, and went on our merry way as solo travelers once again.

 

Life in Sacromonte: A Nomadic Cave Dwelling Community

Life in Sacromonte: A Nomadic Cave Dwelling Community

History of Sacromonte

Nestled in the foothills behind the city center of Granada lies the neighborhood of Sacromonte. Legend has it that after the Christians conquered Granada in 1492, they convinced the remaining residents of the city to relocate to Sacromonte, assuring them the land was sacred. “Sacre” translates to sacred and “monte” means mount. Whether this legend is true or not, Gypsies, or gitanos in the 1500 did indeed establish homes in the hillside by carving out caves big enough to live in.

An important thing to note is that there’s often confusion when throwing the word “gypsy” around. Sacromonte became a Gypsy (with a capital “G”) neighborhood, Gypsies being people from Romani or Gitano descent.  Nowadays the residents of this neighborhood seem to be the artistic, out-of-society, free spirit type of people who often call themselves gypsies. My intention is not to place any unnecessary labeling on any group of people, but to portray and honor the culture of this interesting and fascinating aspect of a city I love. One of my favorite things to do in Granada is visit this part of the city for a glimpse into a lifestyle so different than mine. And not to mention, the views from up there are amazing!

Inside the gyspie homes

The hostel I stayed at in Granada offered a free walking tour through Sacromonte, which turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the trip. Normally I am absolutely against joining guided tour groups, but this one seemed to be different. The hostel workers befriended some of the people living in the caves in Sacromonte, and they offered to open their homes to us where we could sit out in their front yard to watch the sunset over the city. In return, we each bought a beer or two from the Sacromonte residents so they earned some money as well.

The tour started out in the maze-like Albayzín. Like most cities constructed during this time period, it was actually meant to be a labyrinth of some sorts to act as a defense when intruders entered the city. Today the steep, extremely narrow roads are nearly impossible to drive through, reminding me to never, ever rent a car in Granada. When cars pass by, the only choice you have is to lean against the wall and hope your toes don’t get run over.

Our little tour passed through one of my favorite viewpoints in the city, the Mirador de San Nicolas, which features an impressive view of the Alhambra. In this plaza, the liveliness of the city is tangible, and someone is almost always playing live flamenco, adding to the magical atmosphere this place has to offer.

Moving right along, we reached The Highest Staircase Ever without any side railing, so if you happened to have too many sangrias and miss a step, you’re doomed to roll violently down the hill to your very probable death. Focused, I gasped for air as we climbed up.

We finally made it to the top of The Highest Staircase Ever and were greeted by an extremely cheery Senegalese man. He welcomed us with open arms and beer for sale at a euro each. We each bought a beer after we came to the conclusion that this would be the unofficial cost of the walking tour. He then welcomed us into his makeshift cave home, which had reggae music blaring from two speakers inside. There were two bedrooms, a living room/kitchen, and an outdoor covered area for eating and hanging out. There were also tattered chairs of all shapes and styles placed out along the road for us to sit and watch the sunset.

 

The view from up there was absolutely beautiful. All of the city lights twinkled in the distance, and the Alhambra especially stood out at nighttime, dignified and golden. As the sun faded into the distant mountaintops, I felt truly present with the experience, totally enveloped in the magic of Granada.

 

After some time, we thanked our hosts, bought a beer for the road, and then we made our way down The Highest Staircase Ever, which somehow was even more terrifying on the way down. As we winded our way down through the Albayzin once more, I remembered the quote by Francisco Alarcón de Icaza:

“Dale limosna, mujer, que no hay en la vida nada como la pena de ser ciego en Granada.
(Give him alms, woman, because there is nothing worse in life than to be blind in Granada).

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Where to Stay in Córdoba, Spain

Where to Stay in Córdoba, Spain

During the few days I stayed in Córdoba in Spain, I stayed at Option Be Hostel. I highly recommend staying here on your travels through Andalucia. Hostels can range from cozy and inviting to absolutely disgusting. That’s why it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into before you book a place to stay.

The owner of Option Be Hostel, Jose, has backpacked around the world and knows exactly what makes a hostel comfortable for backpackers. You can tell just by talking with him that he genuinely wants you to enjoy your time in Córdoba. Not to mention, this place is super new and sexy. It’s extremely modern and sleek in design and even has a rooftop pool. When staying in hostels, it’s all about the minor details that makes a place really feel comfortable. Option Be has free breakfast offered all day along with fresh oranges and a juicer to make orange juice. After a long day visiting the Mezquita Catedral and traversing through the narrow streets of Córdoba, you’ll definitely want to come home to a beautiful, comfortable hostel like this one!

 

La Mezquita Catedral in Córdoba

La Mezquita Catedral in Córdoba

 

When visiting Córdoba, you can’t miss the stunning Mezquita Catedral. This massive structure is the centerpiece of the city’s old town, and with good reason. It’s one of the world’s greatest Islamic buildings, demonstrating the brilliant architectural design and cultural influence they’ve had for centuries. Construction began in the 8th century when the Islamic kingdom ruled over Spain. When the Christians conquered the city in the 12th century, they elected to modify instead of demolishing it. You can notice the mix of Islamic and Christian design as you walk through the interior. Absolutely stunning. Enter for free from 8:30 to 9:20 a.m.

 

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Arriving in Córdoba, Spain

Arriving in Córdoba, Spain

As it turns out, I’m starting this whole backpacking adventure in the country that made me fall in love with traveling in the first place: España.

My first stop in Spain was the Mediterranean island of Ibiza, a place that I called home for two years. After revisiting my favorite beaches and seeing my best friends, I decided to take a trip to the classic, undeniably beautiful region of Andalucía.

The cultural richness in Spain’s southernmost region comes from a mix of centuries of history and tradition. The first stop on this spontaneous tour of Spain starts in Córdoba, a city in which I admittedly knew little to nothing about before visiting, but I had plans to meet up with a friend of mine who’s traveling there.

After the flight from Ibiza to Sevilla, I waited awkwardly at the corner of the drop off/pick up zone at the airport. I laughed silently to myself as I realized this scene is extremely reminiscent of “Taken”, a movie about an American girl being kidnapped in Europe. Only I decided to go one step further by offering to hop into a stranger’s car and hope for the best. This is the idea of Blablacar, a ridesharing company I decided to use for the hour-long trip to Córdoba from Sevilla. Here goes nothing, I thought, as my new Spanish friends Antonio and Luis helped put my backpack into a tiny, bright blue European car.

Half an hour into this adventurous excursion, we’re passing white washed villages and rolling fields of endless olive trees. Flamenco music is blaring on the radio, and I’m trying to keep up with conversation over the music and through their thick Andalucian accents. It went something like this:

Incomprehensive Spanish is directed towards me

Slight anxiety kicks in, so I laugh uncomfortably and pray it wasn’t a question 

“Em, otra vez?” I ask Antonio politely.

Antonio repeats exactly the same thing in the same incomprehensive way

“Si, si, claro” I respond as anxiety sky rockets.

We make eye contact through the rearview mirror. I quickly drop the act and admit that I had no idea what he is talking about. We all laugh and thankfully he turns the music up, cruising through the countryside with flamenco singers telling stories of the region’s ancient history. Life is good.

ARRIVING IN CÓRDOBA

My initial impression of Córdoba is that it’s just as charming as one imagines a small city in Andalucia would be. Narrow alleyways, tapas, sangria, cobblestone, old stuff everywhere. Córdoba has all of those things.

I unpack my bag at the hostel and take a stroll through the city. One of my favorite things is taking in a new city by foot, choosing the day’s destiny at each crossroad. Left or right? And in this case, vino or una caña? Can it get any better than this? A good friend of mine has a motto, “The better it gets, the better it gets.” That certainly seems to be the case with southern Spain.

After an hour of aimless wandering, I take a lunch break in the cozy Plaza Jeronimo Paez. I choose a café with outdoor seating. In true Spanish fashion, there’s un cortador profesional de jamón (professional ham cutter) at this café, awaiting requests for the most precisely cut jamón you’ve ever had in your life. With the two solid legs of ham all propped up on his stand, it all looks very Spanish. Not to mention, there’s a guy in the corner of the square playing classical Spanish songs on guitar in the hopes of selling his latest CD. I look at the menu and feel inspired to try something new, something Cordovan. I opt out of trying the fried oxtail because life is short…but not that short. Instead, I try salmorejo, a cold tomato soup of sorts with jamón and egg. Simple and refreshing. After taking in the scenery one more time, I use my best Andalucian accent and say “grathiahh” to the waiters. As I leave the café I remember, the better it gets, the better it gets.

El Camino de Santiago Photo Essay – Week 5

El Camino de Santiago Photo Essay – Week 5

El Camino de Santiago

A Spiritual Pilgrimage – Week 5

Photo Essay by Jamie Gominger

Day 30.

Hiking through Galician forests.

Memorial along the Camino.

Notes left dedicated to loved ones who’ve passed.

Camino friends in Sarria.

100 km to Santiago.

Day 31.

Resting and writing.

Day 33.

Nearly there. Passing through a forest of eucalyptus trees in the rain. Magical.

Day 34. Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. 

Elation and exhaustion.

Pilgrim’s passport.

The “Compostela”, a certificate of completion.

Some say it’s a ticket to heaven.

Never thought I’d be capable of pushing

myself so far…finished

strong on the last day!