‘Granada: I am falling under your spell’ are the opening words to the song made famous by such stars as Frank Sinatra, Placido Domingo and Frankie Laine. You can ‘youtube’ it if you want to see both the operatic (Nisusline) version with some interesting pictures of this city and the Frank Sinatra concert. The opening bars of the song give away the passion and blood that is said to flown through the streets of this city. Passion and blood are the foundations of flamenco, guitar and the poetry of Granada, which has been fought over for centuries.
In Barcelona we became aware of the recent election in which the Catalonian separatists had challenged the Madrid government. There were Catalonian flags everywhere – hanging from windows and balconies all over the city. Catalonia has a different language and culture from the rest of Spain (or the Castillian version of Spain) and is seeking independence. Also the people of Andalusia, Gaelacia and the Basques would all say they have their own culture and some of their own language. In Catalonia however many road signs and tourist signs were in two language; Spanish and Catalan. Similarly Andalusia (where we are now living) has an autonomous government and culture. The myth of a uniform country called Spain was created by the bloody Spanish Civil War (1933 -1936) and by the autocratic fascist government of Francisco Franco (in power 1936 – 1975). Since the democratization of Spain there have been growing independence movements some violent like ETA of Basque peoples, and some more subtle like Catalan and Andalusia promoting cultural and linguistic independence.
Martin and I decided to take the house in Granada after listening to those several versions of the Granada song and talking to a friend about the beauty and significance of this city and its colourful history, plus the fact that house we were looking at is located in one of the most interesting parts of Granada – el Albayzin. When we arrived in Granada we met the agent for our landlord on a tiny street in the middle of the Albayzin (or Albaicin) a cobbled stoned area, mostly too narrow and stepped for cars with white stone houses tumbling over each other and the streets.
Our car is parked as close as possible – 5 minutes walk through the alleyways and up stone steps. I thought I had stepped (excuse the pun) back in time and to a developing country rather than an EU state. Many of the inhabitants of this barrio seem quite poor, especially the elders, and no-one is living well off EU benefits. Other households like ours, look better off, and are certainly part of the gentrification of the Albaicin. Our house is on the border of the Albaicin and Sacromonte an area where some young people (mainly arty hippy and rasta types) still live in the caves. Many of the houses in the Albaicin are also partially in caves (our basement included). Caves are very chilly places to live, which is great if the outside temperature is 38C but not so nice when it is 8C.
Our first two weeks in Granada are a bit of blur: we were really really cold – in part because the air was so damp and the stone house so cold and it was almost impossible to warm up, even with radiators and a wood burning stove. Of course the rain queen (yours truly) had arrived and we endured almost two weeks of chilly damp windy foggy weather that felt like we were living in the raincloud. For a while we actually were in the raincloud as our house is about 500m above sealevel. Our arrival also coincided with a garbage strike so there was rubbish piled up everywhere and lots of doggie doo on the pathways. In the neighbourhood there are quite a few feral cats and a few free range dogs so we had to be careful where we put our feet and our garbage.
The few sunny days we had, allowed us a couple of hours outside – time to dry the laundry, go for walks on the hills or get the shopping in from the local market. Sunny afternoons we also sit up on the high terrace, look over at the Alhambra and listen to someone practicing Spanish guitar in the neighbourhood; very nice just not very often.
One evening we invited the neighbours – a couple of very athletic gay Englishmen (very sweet guys) who lived in our house for a few months in 2012, then moved next door because it was smaller and cheaper. They were not encouraging about the weather, indicating that last winter was also cold wet and quite miserable – but they were interested in the skiing in the Sierra Nevada so were quite happy with any weather that brought snow.
Since we arrived here a few weeks ago, we have been getting use to life in Spain. The hours of business opening are very different – in France most stores are closed between noon and 14:00 or 14:30 and close again at 19:00. In Spain the stores are open at 10:00 and then closed between 14:00 and 17:00 or 17:30 (siesta) and close again at 21:00. They all stay open for 8 hours per day but just a different 8 hours to anywhere else. Of course, everywhere, except the restaurants, is closed on Sunday.
People here have breakfast early then have a second larger breakfast around 10:00am traditionally served with a glass of wine or beer. Dinner is served very late at 9:00pm. Spaniards tend to stay up later (especially in the summer when it is cooler and there is no aircon), and catch up on their sleep in the afternoon. We often walk down the steep steps to the downtown around 2:00 and have lunch – lunchtime is around 2:30 – 3:00 and check out the stores, squares and churches that were open during siesta. It felt a bit strange to have a siesta time when the temperature is 8C but I am sure it makes eminent sense when it is 38C. I am glad the Spaniards have been able to resist the pressure to conform to the North American ‘open all hours’ policies and preserve their traditional heritage.
After a couple of weeks of enforced rest and relaxation (mainly reading and doing Spanish on line) we had had enough of the grey weather, and took ourselves off to the coast where the temperature was considerably higher (about 12C higher = +18C). We drove down to Motril, only 45 minutes away down a fast highway, and reveled in the ability to sit on the beach, have lunch and watch some brave souls go swimming in the Med. Feeling the sun on our faces and the warm air was a bit of a wake up call to move away from our hunkered down lifestyle to something more active.
I was quite determined however to go the Alhambra before we went too far afield. So on a dreary Sunday we walked down into the valley of the Darro River, then up the other side to the entrance of this famous Moorish fortress and its many layers of conquerors and restorers. The Alhambra was started in 889 and completed by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada in 1333. The complex did not have a master plan but was developed over the next four hundred years as a Moorish fortress, gardens (Generalife) and palace.
We spent so much time in the buildings that we have to go back to the Alhambra to visit the Generalife gardens. It is great traveling in the winter, cos even the most visited site in Spain, is still relatively quiet and easy to walk around.
After 1492 and the conquest by ‘Reye Catolicos’ and the use of the Alhambra by the Catholic monarchs, the building fell into disarray by the late Renaissance. It was not until the mid nineteenth century when the scholars and explorers began a restoration of this ‘pearl set in emeralds’ – the title given to the Alhambra by Muslim poets. Today the Alhambra and the Albaicin are World Heritage sites.
On our way back home from the Alhambra we chatted to a local tour guide who offered to let us try a Segway. A Segway is a two wheel vehicle with an electric engine and stand up steering – not sure how legal they are in Canada. There is a first time for everything and this was interesting – a little wobbly but we quickly got the hang of it. The Segway tour is another day out for us in Granada.
After we our visit in to the Alhambra, we decided to take ourselves out and about on some excursions. The next sunny day we took a drive up to the Sierra Nevada – where this is a brilliant 8000 ft mountain and ski resort located about 25kms from Granada. The big alpine village at about 2000 m above sea level, and has two gondolas and 18 lifts on a huge hill. One lift/run goes to the main peak from where, so legend has it, you can see the Mediterranean and the Atlas Mountains of Africa. So we are planning a day of skiing on the hill. Martin, of course, wants to test the legend and take the lift to the peak and ski down a difficult run.