I’ve fallen in love again. Quite possibly harder than I have in the past. I’ve fallen for the vast landscape of seemingly infinite olive groves, the mash-up of cultures, the nonsensical zig-zagging of streets and alleys, and the lack of any true sense of urgency that seems so prevalent with the people that call this region of Spain their home. I have found myself in the heart of Andalucia, free to roam the streets aimlessly in search of tasty tapas, some local vino, and listen nonchalantly for the distant sounds of the foot stomping of Flamenco dancers that escape from the hills of Sacramonte.
Seville: The Soul of Spain
Following a four night stay in Madrid, the capital of Spain, I found myself on a two and an half hour train journey, being whipped quickly away from the heartbeat of the country toward Seville, the soulful epicenter. Immediately upon exiting the train station, bright blue skies flooded down on me and wistful clouds like strong brushstrokes moved slowly against its contrasting backdrop. In the air, a strong aroma of oranges, emanating from the thousands of trees that line the boulevards throughout the city zapped the senses. I felt the warm energy, the easy pace, and the vibrancy of the city embrace me from the moment I stepped into winding, maze-like streets of the Santa Cruz neighborhood.
The whitewashed buildings, cobblestone streets, and of course, tapas bars, is the exact image that you would come to expect in this part of Spain. It’s all there, but you don’t even have to see it or smell it, you can feel it hovering in the air. The feeling is there, but it is not a forced, nostalgic Disneyland type of place specifically designed for tourists. This is the real deal. This is Andalucia. This is the lifeblood of España.
For three days and three nights I strolled at a pace slightly quicker than a crawl, but a step slower than a walk, throughout the city center. I got lost quite often, stumbling occasionally upon lively squares filled with tapas bars, storefronts adorned with the hanging legs of the local Iberian Jamon, and the soft-colored glow from the street lamps. I felt at home in this foreign city, finding joy in discovering what waited to greet me around each turn.
I became entranced by the magic of Seville, stopping often to admire the architecture of the homes, sights, and the beauty of the main cathedral that towers above the city center. I basked happily in the warm, late autumn sun that drenched me as made my way throughout the gardens of the Alcazár, and throughout the stunningly beautiful buildings. If my trip would have ended at this time, the palace, built in the 14th Century by Moorish Muslim kings would have unquestionably been the most impressive sights along my journey. However, Granada, and The Alhambra loomed just a few days into the future.
As the bus made its way heading eastward, moving slowly past miles and miles of olive groves away from Seville and further up into the hills and rockier region of Spain, I felt the sense that something magical awaited. I had read about the fascinating history of Granada, seen pictures of The Alhambra perched high up on a hillside with the snow-capped Sierra Nevada looming majestically in the background. I knew with certainty that books and photographs would not do this place justice, so I stared anxiously out the window, anticipating the four nights that still remained.
Granada: Free Tapas, Albayzín, Sacramonte, and The Alhambra
The taxi ride from the bus station to a rented apartment whisked us quickly up steep roads, down narrow, cobblestone lined streets, and eventually to a small, one-bedroom apartment on the edge of the Albayzín district and close to the famous caves of Sacramonte. From the front door, The Alhambra stared directly at us, perched just above eye level, towering on the ridge high above the city of Granada. Stepping out into the cool, clean air, I felt my heart flutter, as I quickly fell for this old, ancient city.
With autumn came a canvas of colors, dotting the hillsides with auburns, burnt orange, and eye-popping yellows. In the heart of the city, tapas bars were filled with locals and tourists alike, speaking in their native tongue. Small beers, called cañas, or the vino tinto were poured, resulting in a free, hearty tapa that consisted of everything from albondigas to shrimp, to local cheeses and fried fish. Next beverage? Next tapa. The food kept coming, and I kept consuming.
Throughout the next four days, miles of footsteps along beautifully designed cobblestone streets led me past Plaza Nueva, down the tapas-lined street of Calle Navas, and into the Alcaiceria, a fantastic bazaar, selling everything from Arabic silks to spices. Many times I had to stop and ask myself where I was. Did I somehow venture a bit further off the path, somehow being magically transported to another foreign land? No. This was still Spain, but the historical influence of past cultures and dynasties could still be felt here.
Further up the hill, in the Albayzín district, I was greeted by the one of the most beautiful areas of the city, and perhaps the most delightful. Here I gorged myself on delectable olives, los caracoles (snails), and many various types of local wines. This is where my heart belonged, and this is where I wished it could stay.
To talk about a visit to The Alhambra would require more than a mere few hundred words. There is a reason why it is Spain’s most visited sight, and a reason why it should be on just about everyone’s bucket list. This extraordinary palace dates back more than 1,000 years, and features some of the most jaw-dropping architecture, design, and sheer brilliance that I have ever encountered. There are no photographs, words, or descriptions that could do a place like this justice. To see it in person is to see something greater than a structure.
The precision of patterns, light and darkness, mathematics, astrological and metaphysical brilliance that adorns the various rooms and palaces of the complex goes well beyond my general understanding. The gardens, tranquility of slow running water, and views overlooking the city of Granada is something that will forever be engrained into my memory. My mind will forever be filled with fabulous food, stunning history, and a warm, outgoing culture of people. As I stared down, high atop the hillside looking out over the city, my heart again flipped. Mi amor, my dear Granada. Mi amor, my dear Andalucia.