Sophia – “Hold my hand and I will show you a beautiful place.”
Anthony Bourdair once said, “This is the dream of all the world. The dream is to live in Granada. You know, work in the morning, have a one hour nap in the afternoon and at night go out and have that life; eat tapas and drink red wine and be in a beautiful place”.
This is what these narrow bustling streets of the little Spanish town echoed. With an exquisite history of the Nasrid Dynasty and the spectacular Moorish architecture, one cannot help but imagine what the kings and the queens would have felt walking through the passages of the ‘Palacios Nazaries’ to the gorgeous lush green gardens of the Alhambra. There is so much authenticity in the palaces and the monuments of this town, that one cannot miss being in – as described by Anthony – a beautiful place. Although, to me Granada will always be a conflate of ancient authenticity and modern day lifestyle.
I had a friend Ross, back in England who once happened to mention that his grandparents lived in Spain. He knew my genre of travel and suggested I make sure to visit this town. When I asked him to describe this place to me, he said “Granada is as beautiful as the sky midst the setting sun; as mellifluous as the Spanish lady’s footsteps; as rustic as the falling autumn leaves and as genial as a small child playing across the street”.
A wandering soul like mine couldn’t resist those words and I instantly found myself booking an apartment for a 3 day trip in the town of Granada. I looked through pictures of the place over the internet but what I witnessed was so much more abundant than what was on the internet. I was in the town where once lived the Romans and the Nasrid’s. While the Romans brought in early architecture and culture to Spain, the Moors and the Nasrid’s brought in royalty and Islamic décor during the later history of the town. I was walking the narrow streets of Granada where there existed abundant history and war and blood and lust. Here, in this ancient southern Spanish town, I could be anyone, do anything. I felt like a free bird trying to find a new home away from home.
And so, one fine summer morning of July, I decided to be a bird. I was the crimson rosella parrot. That morning as I stepped out of my apartment in the city center, I let my predominantly red-blue feathers flip-flap back and forth as I flew myself swiftly across the charm filled atmosphere of the town. I let the warm summer air kiss my tinted lips and the bright sun twinkle in my eye.
In no time I was at the Palace of Alhambra, getting lost in the mysterious walled gardens hidden from prying eyes, walking through the Arab baths, wondering what all the intricate designs in the Alhambra’s salons and courtyard’s really signified and what all those words engraved and carved on the walls and ceilings of the palace really try to convey.
Post a well exercised morning, as the sun reached the midpoint in the sky, I was roaming the streets of Granada, glancing through the windows of old vintage shops and passing by groups of people eating tapas and drinking chilled beer. It was almost 4 by the time I rested my tired legs in a café and ordered myself a tall glass of cold coffee sided by a tomato-mozzarella sandwich. Every restaurant in here had tiny water sprinklers suspended from the roofs and umbrellas which really help fight the scorching heat during peak summer days.
Post a light lunch I was out again, doing my thing, being myself, the free-spirit person I am, engaging myself in the hustle-bustle of the town life as I encountered a square seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The locals were building something that looked like a stage. The stage lay in a bucolic setting of tiny cottages and had a rustic charm to it.
As I looked around, I saw people whispering among themselves and talking about what was about to come up. I saw tourists trying to hold maps, shutterbugs not leaving their cameras alone and this one tall petite woman in a long cotton gown with a sling bag. Her round glasses were raised above her forehead and she was busy making some notes and clicking pictures of the whole set-up.
I landed myself next to the young lady, maybe about 24-26 years in age. She was preoccupied with her camera, sitting over the stairs of the square. I sat by her and introduced myself, hoping she spoke English. I asked her in Spanish, ‘tu hablas ingles?’ (You speak English?) immediately replying ‘no hablo Español mucho’ (I don’t speak much Spanish). She looked at me with a gentle welcoming smile and started talking to me in English. Her English had a Spanish lilt to it, and I knew she was a local.
After a brief introduction she told me the whole set up is for a series of tap dance performances lined up by the locals. She gave a brief introduction of what the traditional dance form of Spain was and how culturally centered the people of this country are when it comes to learning ancient art forms. Flamenco is a passionate seductive dance form in a mysterious culture dated almost over 500 years ago. This dance form is colored in passion, dance, drama, story and romance. Women were dressed in colorful gypsy style dresses, silk shawls and hand painted fans in an array of dazzling designs. Some women were also dressed in capes and corsets in red, black and white while men were covered in red and black tuxedos tightly wrapped around their waists. There were men playing live music by clapping their hands and tapping their feet over the strong wooden flooring. The old men, with faces scorched and cracked like the bark of an olive tree, their hands swaying, making movements that could describe a saga by themselves and the courting couples dancing the most dramatic sevillanas, a symbol of life in this wonderful southern town of Granada. Their bodies moved in Spanish lilt while their feet tapped the wooden flooring making hard-hitting sounds to the ears. The expressions on their faces spoke a language that broke all linguistic barriers among all us variant travelers gathered in that little square from different corners of the world.
Being a dancer and culture enthusiast myself, I was left startled in the brilliance of the Tablao Flamenco. This dance form was theater in itself.
It took me a few moments to gather my wings back up and stand on my feet to wave in the flow of the evening. As I turned to leave, I thanked Sophia for the time spent together. It was almost 9 pm and my stomach had started to growl. I was starting to get hungry. Sophia called out for me and asked if I would like to have light dinner somewhere around. A little part of me was relentless but I gave in when she said she knew a great coffee shop around the city center where we could have a quite conversation over some neat Tapas and hot chocolate. I informed her that I was a vegetarian and she surprised me when she said she was vegan herself.
We started walking through the dark narrow lanes lit with hundreds of fairy lights, some shaped in butterflies, some others in net shaped candles while some were painted in the colours of rainbow. A little part in me couldn’t believe these were the same streets I walked through all morning. They were much livelier, filled with people playing music and women dancing to it. It looked like a mini carnival. I lost count of the number of restaurants we crossed, but I cannot forget how crowded each restaurant was even on a weekday. There were restaurants with females dancers swaying around, belly dancing in their outfits and serving food from one table to another. There were belly dancers on the ends of every street. There were people chatting loudly in a language that made no sense to me. And yet, there I was, slurping up every step of this town, like freshly squeezed strawberry juice.
In between all my momentary observations, Sophia and I exchanged details of our respective countries. She asked me how I got here and where I was headed to after. She helped me with things I could do in Seville and Madrid. In about 20 minutes we reached Plaza de los Girones. The café where we ate was a cosy little setting filled with artistic pleasures. Restaurante Hicuri Art Vegan had warm interiors and was filled with walls painted in different colors. There was so much vivid art and graffiti on every wall in so many mixed colors. Sophia knew the staff since she was a regular here. She mentioned this place was ranked highest and one of the best vegan/vegetarian cafes in town. We sat by the corner resting upon a bright yellow wall. I am a foodie at heart and always in for trying new dishes and so I insisted she order the food. She ordered creamed vegetable soup followed by a main dish (which I can’t remember. Sob!). I insisted on bunking hot chocolate and sipping on some traditional wine. The wine selection at the restaurant was fairly small but justly so, they honed in for perfect selections including some organic options. We built conversation as we ate and I learned how similar we were in terms of our perspectives on life and travel. She was a photographer and aimed to be a fulltime traveller. And I could see her going a long way with this by the glitter in her eyes every time she spoke about a new city or a new country on her bucket list. I introduced India to her in a very authentic way and gave her a list of places she should go backpacking around the country.
As the sky turned from purple to deep blue to coal black, what started as a fun filled conversation, turned into a beautiful unintended intellectual conversation. We shared stories from our past. We spoke about our families and friends, about what life meant to each of us and what the purpose of love really is. I told her how different the concept of marriage in India is and that back home my family was looking out for me to settle. That moment Sophia told me something which I will never be able to forget all my life. She said, “Sakshi, before you find someone, make sure to find yourself. Or else, you will break all the hearts in the process.” Her words moved something in me. I knew what she meant and I connected to her words so well. For a moment I could literally visualize those words, the alphabets from her statement move around me. In that moment I understood the importance of perspective.
What I thought would last a small talk, extended to a late night dinner at a random art café with a glass of organic wine and long endless conversations. It’s been a year and a half since that day, and I still haven’t been able to forget that serendipitous evening in Granada. As the stars took over the sky and formed a blanket over us, I knew Granada was magic in some little way.
And before the night ended, I went back to that little square, sat on the stairs and lay on the tiled floor, staring up at the sky, trying to locate the stars and breathing in the musical air one last time before I headed to my apartment. Once in my apartment I changed into a pair of shorts and made myself a hot cup of coffee. Sitting on the edge of my balcony, I looked down at the empty streets and wondered if this is what ‘home-away-from-home’ really meant. That night before I cradled myself to sleep, I wrote a little about this beautiful town that I’d like to mention here:
A jubilant love affair – con amor Granada
When you shed your skin and take another form
You know you might see yet another storm.
Or you might just come across a calm ocean
Stretching its arms ahead of time’s notion.
You could either crib to feel out of place
Or simply relish the sweet escape.
Into a town so beautiful where the Alhambra stands
Looks like a musical and welcomes you with open hands.
Where the sun sets in pink and the night turns purple
Where your heart beats in sync and your soul feels coral.
Where the streets stay awake with all the hustle
And its people eat pray love with a whole lot of bustle.
I knew I found me, a bit of myself here
I know I will come back, with another story to share.
And as I finish my cuppa, breathing reliance
I can’t help but brood, about the sweet dalliance.
Did you enjoy this article? Have a similar experience? Comment below and let me know 🙂
Have any questions about Granada? Hit me up! And I’ll answer.