Sunday we woke up late once more (a product of staying out until around 4:30), but we did actually leave the hostel relatively quickly because I wanted to see the Cathedral and Capilla Real (Royal Chapel) before it closed for siesta. Also, I figured what better day to visit a church than on Halloween! Anyway, there was no rain when we left the hostel, but the temperature and clouds did not bode well for the rest of day. Still, being naive idiots, we neglected to bring an umbrella with us. When we arrived at the Cathedral it had yet to open (and wouldn’t open until 4) because it was a Sunday and masses needed to be held. It was close to 12, so we had four hours to kill. Courtney suggested a walk through the Albaicin, one of the older neighborhoods of the city which is built into the mountains behind the city center.
The Albaicin is a gorgeous old neighborhood of impossibly narrow streets (through which cars still manage to pass), small, white apartments and an aura of its own small town. It’s quiet and peaceful unlike the downtown of Granada which constantly resonates with the sound of bar-hoppers conversing the days away. The Albaicin, on the other hand, retained the quiet aura of a suburban neighborhood. I guess, in a way, it is a suburban neighborhood (except that it’s a five minute walk from the city). The rain held off as we wound our way up the slope of the mountain. Courtney wanted to take me to a place where I could view the city. We came out in a little piazza overlooking the city and in front of a church. The small square, winding streets and ancient buildings reminded me a lot of Greci (the incredibly small town in the South of Italy from which my family originates). It’s ancient and could very well be transplanted to Renaissance times if the cars were removed from the streets. The piazza and neighborhood, on their own, were beautiful, but the view that they had of Granada made them infinitely better.
From the vantage point of Albaicin, Granada appears tiny, nestled in between the surrounding mountains. The white buildings of the city pop out of the green trees and brown earth creating quite the contrast to the eye. There are few very tall buildings, which allows the church towers to rise elegantly above the skyline. The Alhambra sits across the other side of the valley serving as another backdrop to the magnificent panorama from the Albaicin. I was stunned. And in that moment, the sky opened up briefly, allowing a few rays of sun to shine through, which only increased the splendor the city before me. Again, it’s hard to not understand how Courtney is in love with this city.
We continued to walk around the Albaicin for a bit, but then the weather turned foul. Rain poured from the sky and we had to take shelter under an awning for about half an hour until the storm passed. Silly us for not bringing umbrellas. When the rain finally subsided it was about 1:30, which meant that we would get back to the city just in time for the lunch rush. Courtney’s “mom” had recommended another restaurant to her to which to bring me. It, like all other things in the city, was less than a five minute walk from the hostel. We made it there around 2. The place was packed, but there were rows of cured pig legs (the Spanish version of Prosciutto) hanging from the ceiling. I didn’t want to leave.
The restaurant system in Spain, however, is quite strange. There’s no person waiting at the door to instruct you to a table or to take your name for a table. Courtney had to find the waitress with the list of seats and then try and get her attention. The place was packed so the waitress spent about 5 minutes completely ignoring Courtney’s presence. Finally, after a couple of tables opened up she took heed of our presence and ushered us to a small table. We deliberated over the menu, full of ham related items, before choosing a tortilla (in Spain these are like frittatas) with cured pork, an egg scramble with mushrooms and cured pork, a plate of sliced Iberian ham and a plate of Manchego cheese. It sounds like a lot of food, but in reality it wasn’t too much. We ate slowly, as per the Spanish tradition. My eggs were delicious and so was Courtney’s frittata, but the star of the show was the ham. Though not as good as prosciutto, the salty (yet slightly sweet) Spanish cured pork was delectable. The fat melted in the mouth leaving only its tasty aura on the tongue to commingle with the soft meat. What an item!
After lunch we finally managed to enter the Cathedral. This place is immense. Carlos V (one of the most important kings in the history of the world and great-grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella, the first Catholic King and Queen of Spain) constructed it as a monument to his great-grandparents. It is a beautiful Cathedral with massive pillars, paintings, golden figures and giant doors. Everything is huge. As beautiful as it is, I might say that Carlos V went a bit too far. The size is almost off putting; it’s too grandiose. Sometimes the simpler things in life are better! Still, I enjoyed the decorations, the paintings and the carvings. Most beautiful, though, were the hand-decorated music books which displayed the notes of the song in beautifully painted designs.
Once we left the Cathedral we walked next door to the entrance to the Capilla Real where Isabella and Ferdinand (along with three other royal Spainards) are buried. The Chapel itself is tiny, but beautifully decorated with a large painting behind the ornate tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella. I’m glad Courtney was with me to help give me a history lesson on the importance of the place (oh her and her smart ways). We saw the caskets of the royal leaders and some of their original royal gowns. It was quite powerful to be in the burial grounds of some of the most important people of their time.
Right next to the Capilla Real is the market area of Granada and the really old part of the city. We walked through a narrow bazaar where two people could not walk side-by-side through the aisles (I will not even call them streets). This was the Islamic part of Granada, the part that managed to retain its Muslim originality, right next to a church! The bazaars were strikingly similar to those of Istanbul. In fact, I would say that I had gone to the two most Islamic European cities in two consecutive weekends, which is quite interesting. Granada began as an Islamic city; Istanbul began Catholic. Each was conquered during the 15th century and each switched from one religion to the other. Still, in each city its possible to find remnants of the founding religion. The Alhambra in Granada, along with the remaining Albaicin, tiny streets and few bazaars present a constant, giant reminder of the impact of Islam on Southern Spain and the Western world, whereas the Hagia Sophia does the same for Istanbul. The religions live in conflict, but in constant contact.
Courtney took a long siesta once we returned to the hostel, while I read and finished some homework (school really gets in the way of this whole abroad experience). Once we were ready to leave (me already in my Halloween costume) it was about 10:15 and I was beginning to be hungry. Courtney took us to a small tapas bar where we managed to eat a full meal (of tapas) and have a couple of drinks each for under 15 euro. The food was actually very good (especially the duck pate) and the bartender even threw in a plate of olives because Courtney told him that I was begging for them! We left the small bar and went to one of Courtney’s favorite desert cafes where she ordered a full plate of churros (stick donuts) and a cup of thick hot chocolate sauce. Now, I don’t eat many deserts so poor Courtney was left to eat almost everything. I don’t think she minded much, though. Girls love their sweets!
After desert Courtney dressed in her Kermit outfit and we met up with Jayson. We were coaxed into going to some bar hidden up some stairs by a man in a vampire outfit (he was a promoter). I didn’t like the place too much, especially since it was all older folks, a couple of whom accosted Courtney a bit (no offense, but European men are creepy). We left there quickly and went to another bar before meeting two of their other friends and going to a club in the Albaicin. We had a wonderful time dancing the night away, even though Courtney almost lost her clutch (a wallet type thing that girls hold in their hands), but luckily one of the bouncers found it. We left at 5 in the morning. Another normal night in Granada.