I’m broke, and yet here I am in another beautiful city. Is it luck? The cheap bus tickets in Spain? My mom? (Thanks mom)
As you know, I’m studying abroad in Spain for the summer, spending most of my days in the beautiful city of Salamanca, where there are drinks the size of my head for four euros and I can dance the night away… nevermind the heartbreaking amount of coursework I’ve got.
Fortunately I only have class Tuesday through Thursday, with some weekends open for travel. At the end of June was a perfect weekend to travel, and I initially thought an international trip was in order to Porto, Portugal. The city is famous for it’s amazing port wine and sites, including this beautiful bookstore that inspired J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Sounds like a good plan right? Except, as I mentioned before I am a bit short on funds. I waited till the last minute to get a bus ticket, so unfortunately it was just not happening.
Meanwhile, the girls in my program were making extravagant plans for Rome and Paris. I didn’t want to crush their dreams, but you can’t do Paris in a day (at least not comfortably). With nowhere to go, I thought maybe I’d just stay in Salamanca. It wasn’t all that fun going to a bar or club by yourself though, and that’s all my little town had to offer in terms of excitement. I decided I must go somewhere, so I called an Australian I met in Madrid (the cute one, yes), and followed his advice all the way down south.
Granada was the place to be apparently.
It was quite easy to get from Madrid to Granada by bus, through companies like ALSA. The ride was more or less five hours, which usually can be incredibly a bore but I can’t offer any complaints. The views of the mountains that enveloped and twisted around each road were awe inspiring. Moments like those in life turn my ego on it’s head. I can’t stress how small you’ll realize we are all compared to this beautiful natural world.
Alright enough poetic jabber… After arriving and walking through the dry heat and winding streets, a little pathway to Morocco stood in front of me. This narrow strip was bustling with shop keepers, selling bags, hookahs, dried fruits, and pants that looked like they were stolen from Woodstock (Yes, I did buy a pair of hippie pants). A bit confused, I walked up the street looking for my hostel. Mid way through, I turned down a corridor and finally, made it.
By recommendation, I booked Oasis Backpackers Hostel for my long weekend free of homework, full of vino and amazing food. The hostel had a nice, chill vibe just like many others I’d enjoyed in Spain. I can’t say I was enchanted necessarily by the atmosphere, but it was a good place to stay for a fair price.My first night there was rather tame, but to be fair I was exhausted from the five hour bus journey and sweltering heat. The next morning I had to wake up at 5am. Why such an ungodly hour you may ask?
ALHAMBRA THAT’S WHY
Ok so what is this? As a lover of architecture, history, and all things odd and artistic, I was already unsurprisingly aware of this beautiful ancient city within a city. Alhambra is a palace built thousands of years ago, known worldwide for just how brilliant and extravagant the entire structure appears. Dare I say, Versailles has nothing on this.
I bought tickets through my hostel a week before heading to Granada (this is absolutely necessary, it’s sold out months in advance) for a specific entry date. Only the universe understands why I chose such an early entry date, but I was allowed into the Nasrid Palaces at 8am. It recommended online that I arrive half hour early, soooo I woke up at the exact moment sunlight peaked over the horizon, showered, dressed, then started my journey to Alhambra. It took me a half hour to hike up the winding stone roads and through the deep green gardens. I must admit though, my time getting to Alhambra was not a stroll, but rather a rampant, frightened expedition to find where I could enter. I got lost at least three times, but I did indeed make it.
When I finally arrived my heart sank and then nearly dropped out of my chest as I read the sheet of paper I got from the hostel to redeem my ticket I needed my passport…. I had forgotten my passport.
I panicked, partially because my Spanish wasn’t all that magnificent and from my hereditary anxiety. Of course, who’s the first person you call when you’re young when something goes wrong? My mom answers her phone (mind you it’s 1am back home).
“Mom please please pleaseeee can you send me a photo of a photocopy of my passport?”
and of course, she saved my young, stupid life. I arrived at the window to claim my ticket, a little nervous that my slapdash, pdf of my passport on my phone would not suffice. If you’re from the United States, you know how strict businesses can be about IDs.
“Oh that’s fine, any form of ID is fine”
You’ve got to be kidding me. I spent nearly half an hour on the brink of crying, calling and waking up my poor mother at 1am for you to tell me that all that stress was for nothing? Let’s just say I didn’t tell my mom this part of the story.
This frustration and stress vanished as I entered the gates of the palace. It felt like what I imagine first entering Disney World as a child for the first time feels. It was simultaneously an explosion of color from the various plants in the gardens, and beautifully crafted monochrome buildings. The most mesmerizing view was of the rest of Granada from inside Alhambra.
I made my way through the dirt, dry paths lined with towering green bushes to arrive eventually in front of the entrance to the Nasrid Palace. My mouth hit the floor when I walked in, and it was just the beginning. As I weaved from room to room, it was hard not to notice how the palace was so intricate and planned in every aspect.
Nearly all walls were covered in Arabic scripture. If you happened to gaze up, you’d wonder if they were attempting to portray heaven. The ceilings were certainly crafted and carved to look as such. Tiles and stones ran along the bottom of walls as if waves of color followed you with each turn. Towards the end were the gardens, nearly a destination of their own. I couldn’t help but take pictures of every tree, every flower, every view overlooking Granada.
It was one of the most magic places I’ve been in my travels. Others seem to think so too, as it’s definitely a romantic spot for couples. I was alone though in this adventure, quite happily so. The guards noticed I was by myself and congratulated me on being independent and adventurous, and all in Spanish. It’s a little less thrilling to go to out for the night by yourself. Granada is known for it’s vivid night life though so of course, as lame as I felt, I set out by myself to the first tapas bar on my personal list.
If you don’t know what tapas are, it’s probably because everywhere else in the world is nowhere near as chill as Granada. Tapas are small plates, like tastes, of food that usually come free with a glass of wine or beer at a bar.
However, this wonderful custom of handing you free food with your drink is nearly exclusive to Granada. In other parts of Spain, like Madrid and Barcelona, you have to pay for each tapa, which can be a major rip off when you add up how much each you’ve paid vs. how little food you’ve gotten. It’s the perfect scam that trendy tapas bars in the U.S have utilized to, in my opinion, give people as little food for as much as possible. Still, I recommend having a good, long tapas night with friends even if you can’t happen to make it to the south of Spain for the night.
Tapas bars are everywhere in Granada, with varying types of dishes in each location. There was so much to try, so many glasses of wine to drink, and so little money to be spent. I managed to make my way to three noteworthy places that I wanted to name drop just in case you’re ever in the area:
- Bodegas Castaneda – the wine was a-mazing, the tapas were divine, and there was no where to sit in this bustling little restaurant within walking distance from my hostel. I recommend getting here early, and staying as late as you possibly can. One draw back to this place is that you don’t get to choose what you want as your tapa, but HEY free food, who’s complaining?
- La Riviera – This place is always packed and for good reason. La Riviera is a classic bar for tapas and good drinks. I can’t say the food was inspirational, but I spent two nights here with good food and even better company. Oh, and there’s tons of English speakers here so if you’re feeling homesick, drop by.
- Bar Poe – THE BEST TAPAS. I was having some intense withdrawals from spicy food since arriving in Spain. This little bar was my remedy. Surrounded by young travelers, the solo bartender in the middle of the island counter had us all covered, in whatever language we spoke. Tintos de verano (wine spritzers) went around the table along with dishes like Pollo en salsa Thailandés (Thai Chicken), or Portuguese Salt Cod. I cannot recommend a better place to be.
If I fed myself solely with tapas I probably would have survived, although constantly tipsy for how easily I become intoxicated off very little wine paired with how much food I require to feel full. However, I was rather excited to try the nuts and dried fruits whose aromas danced through the shops near my hostel. I also had some bomb falafel and split a chicken shawarma with a guy I met at the hostel. Quite possibly one of the best things I ate was the paella from Oasis Backpackers Hostel. It’s a classic Spanish dish of rice with various seafood. Once you’ve tasted a well-made paella in Spain, you’ll never want to leave. Of course, this was one of many bowls I enjoyed that dinner.
I’ve taken you through my journey to Alhambra and the food of Granada, but I haven’t explained why the world is so small.
As I’ve stated, I went to Granada alone. I was a solo traveler, and I had forgotten how boring that can be. Besides seeing Alhambra, there was really not much more to be done other than go to the mountains (which I couldn’t do because I forgot my sneakers) or eat. It can be better to be alone if you’re also adventurous. Putting yourself out there is easier if you aren’t traveling with a partner or friend. Being alone meant that I absolutely had to talk to someone at the hostel, and that happened to be Heather.
Oasis Backpackers Hostel had a gorgeous rooftop that overlooked the city. I spent a lot of my time up there, reading and enjoying the dry heat. Everyone else and their mother had the same idea as me, crowding the rooftop and chain smoking cigarettes in dead silence. My second night there, I was looking up at the stars, enveloped in dead silence and tobacco smoke. There was a girl on a couch across from me and a young looking kid sitting in a chair off to the side of her. Heather wasn’t smoking, rather sitting on her phone and pretending none of us existed, mimicking everyone else concentrated on their screens. Bored and annoyed by the silence, I finally said something.
“Do you speak English?”
Her head popped up and smiled.
“Yeah I’m from the US!” she replied.
I was a little excited, after speaking only Spanish all day. I asked her where she was from. Maryland.
“NOOOO WAYYYY,” I yelled much louder than I thought I had.
Of course, she picked up on the fact that I was, indeed, also a Marylander. Turns out, she’s from the same town as me, and went to high school right down the road from mine. We could have easily met at home, yet Heather and I were destined to meet thousands of miles away from it.
Her story was much more interesting than mine; a love story that brought her to Ireland and then all around Europe. She met her boyfriend, an Irish rugby player, two years ago and they never stopped talking. The long distance relationship just wasn’t going to cut it anymore though! So she moved to Ireland to attend grad school for computer science. This girl was living the dream, traveling around Europe with her love. I was lucky enough to bump into them in Granada.
Unfortunately though I wasn’t that lucky, as I didn’t get to see her for more than two days. The two of us parted ways with a smile and a wave goodbye. I had classes and she had an adventure to continue.
Granada was truly a magical city.