an insider’s guide to getting lost in granada {el albaicín}

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What better way to see everything than to let yourself get lost in a new city? By ditching the guidebook, you’ll find tons of hidden gems that you might have missed had your nose been stuck in a map all day! Plus, it’s a great way to meet locals. In a place like Granada, where the Andaluz people are so warm and welcoming, you’re likely to make a new friend by stopping to ask for directions. Hey, they may even invite you de marcha along with them!

I’ve put together a little guide of my favorite neighborhoods to get lost in my querida Granada. This will be the start of a new series where I’ll post my guide to a new area once every few weeks.  Each of these places offers unique activities, art, restaurants and watering holes; you really can’t go wrong.

 El Albaicín

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One of the most enchanting things about Granada is that it synthesizes so many seemingly conflicting elements. It’s an hour from the bright Mediterranean waters to the south, and the snow-capped Sierra Nevada to the east. It is a representation of Catholic Spain, dedicating endless landmarks to the kings that expelled both Moors and Jews, but it also represents a revival of the Granada of the past; where many religions and peoples lived in harmony. A stone’s throw from the very cathedral where the Reyes Católicos are buried, you’ll find a hub for the colorful culture they thought they drove out of this city in 1492.

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Start at the base of the hill off of Calle Elvira, where you’ll smell the mint tea and incense wafting out of the many cafés, and know you’re in the right place. The streets are lined with colorful fabrics and tapestries, glittering lanterns, handmade stained-glass tea cups and endless treasures. Be sure to pop in for a te marroquí and traditional Moroccan tapas at my great friend’s tetería, Dar Ziryab on Calle Calderería Nueva. You’ll be treated like family, and feel like you’ve been transported to Morocco. Your senses will be overwhelmed with the pleasures that surround you.

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On your way to the top, follow your curiosity. Wander down the tiny side streets that smell of wisteria, and keep an eye out for the small wonders that are hidden all around you. El Albaicín is filled with love notes and poetry scribbled on the cracked white walls. For an artist, writer or photographer, it promises endless inspiration.

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There’s beauty around every corner, be it a pop of bright flowers hanging over a white wall, or an open patio offering a rare glimpse into the private lives of the Andaluz. No matter what you see, you’ll feel like you’re in a different world. The enchanting sights, and the sound of spanish guitar that is always echoing down the cobblestone paths, will make you stop and pinch yourself.

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If the base of the Albaicín represents the Moors of Al-Andalus past, the top is all about the fabled gitano, romanticized by Cervantes, Mérimée and my beloved Lorca. The gypsy culture is still alive in Granada, though nowhere near as visible as the days when these men haunted Andalucía. If you’re lucky, you may find a small band of gypsy men de toque y palma under the late afternoon sun.

 The real jewel here is, of course, the Mirador San Nicolás. The plaza offers the perfect ending to a long day of wandering and sensory overload. Pick up a bottle of Rioja, find a seat on the stone ledge, and enjoy enjoy the sounds of the city while you watch the sun fall over Granada and her Alhambra. Reflect on the art, the mix of cultures, the love letters, the colors and the history that you’ve seen in this little barrio and let the wonder wash over you.

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my love affair with a man named lorca: why i chose to study in granada

Verde que te quiero verde…

One line and I was hooked.

I first read Romancero Gitano in high school, falling madly in love with Federico García Lorca at age 17.

So in love that I spent a semester researching the symbolism of nature in his poetry, exhaustively scouring the library for works that could help me expose the metaphor of Lorca’s moon, wind, and the color green. The granaíno took the nature that surrounded him in southern Spain and made it speak.

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You could say I came to Granada chasing Lorca’s luna. I romanticized the city; loving the the olive groves, the mountain winds and the gypsies from afar.

I wasn’t disappointed. There was not an evening in Granada that I didn’t find myself in a dream-like state. It is at night when the city grabs your heart. From dusk til dawn, the city is alive.

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On a 6 am bus ride from Granada to Sevilla, surrounded by sleeping friends,I found my nose pressed to the glass window. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the full moon hanging low over the rolling olive groves.  The fog rose to meet the hovering ball of light. The luna granaína spoke to me, just as she speaks in Lorca’s Romance de la luna, luna. There was something magical about it, something that can’t be put into words. Something that simply washes over you.

source: thecareyadventures

source: thecareyadventures

After that morning, I found myself constantly staring at the night sky. Upon leaving one of our favorite discos in the caves of Sacromonte shortly before dawn most weekends, I’d sit on the city walls and just watch the moon lower itself over the Alhambra, slowly disappearing behind the breathtaking fortress. I couldn’t tear my gaze away.

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Then, there were the gypsies. Hearing the toque gitano, the soft olé‘s that seemed to rise up from the soul, and observing the strong presence of tradition in barrio Sacromonte at sunset gave me chills.

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I came chasing Lorca’s inspiration, and Granada guided me to it without me having to look. It’s a magical city. A sensual one that makes you feel deeply. A city that speaks to the heart in both culture and nature, and promises to enchant you each and every day.

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I leave you with some words I wrote for the magazine Por Granada at the end of my time living there:

Quien pasea por las calles del Albaicín o las cuevas del Sacromonte puede imaginar la historia de los árabes y gitanos que una vez poblaron estos barrios granadinos.  Esta imagen necesita como complemento indispensable una banda sonora de guitarras y quejíos flamencos.  La música de la historia de Granada parece sonar a través de sus calles.

Los últimos meses han sido unos de los mejores de mi vida, llenos de diversión, risa y aventura. La historia, la poesía y la música del pasado aún viven en las calles de Granada. Cada vez que salgo de tapas o a las discotecas, la vista de la luna de que habló Lorca y la belleza de la Alhambra me deja sin palabras. Para mi, Granada es un sueño.”

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street artists capturing the essence of Granada

“Whoever walks the streets of the Albaicín or explores the caves of Sacromonte can feel the presence of the Arabs and gypsies that once populated these neighborhoods. This image is complemented by a soundtrack of guitars and the sounds of flamenco. The music of Granada’s past seems to play throughout its streets. The past months here have been some of the best of my life, full of fun, laughter and adventure. The history, poetry and music of the Granada of the past still live in its streets. Each time I go out for tapas or to a club, the view of the moon that Lorca spoke of combined with the beauty of the Alhambra leaves me without words. For me, Granada is a dream.”

source: flickr

source: flickr