As my second month in Europe, and first as a part-time resident of Spain comes to a close, it is difficult to reflect on the wide range of emotions and experiences the past four weeks have contained. I have been homesick, exhausted, frustrated, and disappointed, but more importantly, and certainly in much larger quantities, elated, liberated, joyously content, and constantly stimulated. My intensive Spanish course has finished, and academically it was certainly a challenging month. Grammatically I still have work do to with my Spanish, but after four hours a day of class time, in addition to my host family not speaking a word of English, I feel much more confident with my language abilities. Beginning next week this newfound strength will be put to the test as I begin my classes for the remainder of the semester, including two classes alongside Spanish students at the University of Granada (the other two are in the UGR’s foreign student center). I will also begin my internship for the semester, six hours a week at a hotel in town, in addition to really ramping up the travel plans. The next three months will certainly be filled with ample activity and action, and I cannot wait for the days to come.
As a city, Granada offers multiple, striking contrasts. Teeming with thousands of years of history, an amazing old town, with the mystic Gypsy caves of the Sacromonte, twisting, narrow alleys of the Arab-influenced Albaycin, and warped elegance of the Jewish Realejo offer three different sections of a city that is easy to get lost in, literally and figuratively.
These magical streets clash with an urban, modern majority of the city that is larger, wider, and often loud, smoky, and stinky. Proud locals, many of whose families have lived in the city for hundreds of years, quietly go about daily lives alongside massive hordes of tourists, in town to see the Alhambra, the most visited sight in Spain. Mountains rise up behind a city that lies less than an hour from the Mediterranean, and a peculiar climate brings cool mornings, scorching afternoons, and the dry air mixed with the combination of auto exhaust and cigarette smoke yield a falsely damp, humid inhalation of Spanish life.
The tempo of Spanish life is paradoxically hurried yet relaxed; the impatient, rapidly speaking Granadinos eat and work at a pace quite unfamiliar to Americans. Overall it is a city that certainly takes time to know well, and I feel like I am just scratching it’s surface.
There are countless secrets to be found in Granada, small gems that are not in the guidebook. I have stumbled across two museums on forays around my neighborhood that have been a perfect example of what can be found beneath the surface. The first, called Casa de los Tiros for a shooting that occurred there hundreds of years ago, displays history of the city, and old photos of the Alhambra and the Sacromonte before urbanization took hold left much to be desired. The second was a section of the news building that housed a small press museum, clearly not frequented as my 2 Euro ticket gained me a personal tour from the overenthusiastic manager. There were copies of the Spanish constitution guaranteeing the rights of free press, countless old instruments, typewriters, and cameras, and really cool exhibits.
There is also amazing Banksy-like street art around the city, and I find a new mural every time I take a different route to class or to the gym. An anonymous painter named El Niño does his work at night, and the following gallery can serve as just a small sampling of his works I have found in random deserted alleys and on main streets alike.
A little exploring in a place as dense as Granada definitely pays off in rewarding ways.
While not exactly a hidden gem, last week we also visited the Cathedral and Capilla Real, the burial sight of Isabella and Ferdinand. The chapel was a bit eerie but I was nonetheless impressed with a sense of its significance. As a history major, they are among the most influential people in the history of the Western world, having introduced the Americas the rest of the globe, and their resting site is quite grand. The Cathedral itself is spacious and provides an amazing amount of cool angles and shadows to admire.
While supposedly nothing compared to cathedrals in Toledo and Sevilla, it was still a cool visit.
Spanish attitudes overall are very strong, and carry a certain degree of pride. Things are done here because they have always been a certain way, and anything to the contrary is simply not considered. Through conversations with my host parents, their friends, and teachers at school, I have gained an impression of Spaniards as a patriotic, no nonsense type of people. A fair amount of stubbornness does exist in regards to nationalistic, political, and general attitudes about lifestyles, but these views are rarely condescending; it is just an illustration of differences. Spaniards place little trust in and are extremely critical of a government constantly in flux and facing charges of corruption on many levels. The country is struggling economically, and unemployment is a frequent lament for folks here. In addition, many aspects of American capitalistic individualism are viewed quite negatively here, both in political and personal terms. While I certainly am not a fan of many aspects of American life, I have found myself defending much more of my home culture than I expected. When I return to the States, I expect to be quite appreciative of many things about our society I took for granted, as well as things I previously did not particularly enjoy. Overall, the Mediterranean relaxation permeates deep within the Spanish mindset in a way that makes them love their lives and view other forms of living with a certain degree of superiority.
As far as eating goes, Granada has been pleasing, if not slightly underwhelming on a personal level. Food is a great example of the stubborn Spanish attitude – fats and oils other than the sacred EVOO are absolutely scorned as being literally toxic to the human body. Nuts, seeds, and dairy of all kinds are sparingly utilized in the Andalusian diet, are avoided at all costs, and are criticized substantially. However, the cuisine here is very healthy, if not unspectacular; fresh produce, legumes, fish, and yes olive oil are consumed in abundance. The flavors are not very strong, as everything is usually drenched with a combination of olive oil and salt, and as not the biggest fan of both white bread and ham the Boulder foodie snob in me is still navigating meals with a degree of trepidation. What I would give for some black pepper and some hot sauce! However, homey, fresh dishes are always very good, very cozy, and extremely filling. When I can negotiate a dinner earlier than 10pm, I am able to handle the relaxed eating schedule very well, and I go to bed full and content every night.
Life at home has definitely been an experience, and the first month was eventful to say the least. However, I now feel settled in and am very happy with my living situation. Angela and JuanMi are very kind at heart, and while they reflect the Spanish swagger so apparent in older locals, they mean well and aren’t too insensitive.
We have had deep talks about everything from politics to abortion to generalisms about differences in our philosophies on life, and I have gotten to know them really well. Last week, after a bit of a communication snafu, with a divide of language, understanding, and expectations, my roommate Miles decided to switch host families. I am now by myself in a good sized apartment, and am el hombre y el dueño at the same time. It was sad to see Miles, a good friend, pack up and leave, but everything happens for a reason. I love talking with my parents, and Angela even took a few students and myself to her flamenco dance classes for the month, taught in a cave in the Sacromonte by a professional dancer and accompanied by a guitarist who happened to be her husband (the Gitano families here are all very large and interrelated).
With the semester starting up for real this week, I am comfortable in my house and enjoying living in Granada.
After experiencing the wide boulevards of Madrid and then the Quixote plains of Castilla-La Mancha, the varied outdoors of Andalusia have been phenomenal. This weekend I took a trip with my Colorado bud Erik to Ronda, an old Roman city perched on a hill.
Discovered by the Germans in 1605, they named it Ronda, which in German means…you get the picture. Ron Burgundy aside, the city is awesome, as it is literally perched on top of a cliff overlooking the surrounding valley. After running across the tracks in Granada to catch the train (time #2 in Europe) we enjoyed a lovely ride through the countryside, past green fields, olive groves, rugged mountains, and picturesque white towns. We booked a sweet apartment in the center of town and, after a home cooked meal of lentils and veggies went to bed.
Saturday was an awesome, very full day. Up before dawn, we set off to hike the serrania surrounding Ronda. We unfortunately just missed the bus into the mountains, and after a couple hours of wandering around eventually found a trail heading off into the hills. The hike took us through the countryside, past simple farm houses, horses, and packs of barking German shepherds.
The landscape was deserted but absolutely gorgeous, and as we climbed up into the hills of Grazalema some great views of Ronda came into form.
Lovely shades of red and pink soil contrast with the dry green of the olive trees, the whites of the mountains, and the lush greens and blues of the river valleys in ways that do not exist in Colorado. On the return trip a forecasted storm delivered as promised, and we hiked for a while in the rain. However, the clouds parted just as we arrived in town, and after a much needed lunch and siesta we set off to explore the city. We toured the Plaza de Los Toros, a bullfighting ring and museum that has existed for over 300 years. Ronda has a long history of bullfighting, being the birthplace of Pedro Romero, founder of the modern Spanish bullfighting technique, and the bovine creatures roam the hillsides surrounding the city.
Before I left JuanMi, who has a deep fear and distrust of the mountains and all things to do with nature (clashing nicely with myself) warned me of the perils of this week’s adventure, namely the possibility of encountering bulls on a hike. Despite his misgivings we unfortunately did not run into any wild bulls (I would have loved to). However, I really enjoy the image and symbolism of an angry, strong, majestic bull, captured perfectly by Goya in a set of works done late in his life.
Following the bullring we then hiked down to a viewpoint of the bridge connecting the old Roman town with the rest of the city, and it was absolutely spectacular. The strategic and architectural feats required to construct the city are obvious.
Walking through the small old town we stumbled upon a procession coming out of the church, which ended with a massive Virgin Mary being paraded through the streets, followed by a large band.
As we walked upon the city walls at sunset, built with Roman and Moorish influences, I was absolutely in awe with this gorgeous city.
After putting Eric, a varsity swimmer at Colorado College, to bed after a long day of hiking, I finished the day with the Real-Athletico Madrid game in a bar on the main square in between screaming Real fans. Athletico had an upset win on the road (I was quietly elated), and a great full day in Ronda had come to a close. On Sunday we had breakfast, Eric grabbed a coffee, and we took the train back to Granada, another traveler’s weekend in Europe complete. Standing at an overlook of the countryside, I was completely in love with Ronda, and it is easily one of the top five places I have ever been to. Following trips to Mulhacen and Cabo de Gata, Ronda also provided another completely different natural getaway from Granada, a gorgeous small town in the rolling fields of Andalusia. The train ride through southern Spain, with hilltop white villages, multicolored fields, rows upon rows of olive trees and wineries, large windmills, pinsapo pine trees and whitish/grey rocky cliffs was absolutely magnificent and really pleased a boy, and I am quite content and lucky to be experiencing these amazing locations. I was definitely three of three for my September trips in Spain, and am looking forward to a great rest of the semester.
With a month down, my semester begins anew this week with new classes, a whole new schedule, and a full slate of trips that keeps growing by the day. Now that I am settled in to my home and Spanish culture a bit more comfortably, it is certainly time to keep on digging deeper beneath the touristy surface of Granada, with new friends and experiences waiting to be had. There are a paralyzing amount of opportunities to be grasped, and I cannot wait for what the future holds.
Until next time,