I’m broke. Really, I don’t have money to be traveling around Europe, or even Spain for that matter but guess who has her middle finger up to reason? (It’s me guys. I think that’s an obvious rhetorical question).
As you know, I’m studying abroad in Spain for the summer, spending most of my days in the beautiful city of Salamanca getting drinks the size of my head for four euros and dancing the night away… oh and doing TONS of homework. Fortunately I only have class Tuesday through Thursday, with some weekends open for travel. I had a free weekend at the end of June. Nearly peed myself with excitement; I was planning on going to Porto, Portugal. There is this beautiful bookstore J.K Rowling was inspired by when writing the Harry Potter books. God, that would have been cool right? You know what’s not cool though? The amount of money it cost to go. I waited till the last minute to get a bus ticket; it was just not happening.
Meanwhile, my friends studying abroad were making extravagant plans for Rome and Paris. A small glimmer of a thought crossed my mind that maybe I should just stay. Although I love being barracha (drunk) and dancing with guapos (you can look this one up) in the discotecas in Salamanca, it’s not fun going by myself. Also, if it hasn’t become apparent yet because you’re just not paying attention to my long ass blog posts, I really like to travel to new places, make friends, and eat amazing food.
There was a simple solution to this. I kept my middle finger up to my bank account, 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. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it in the first place; I deserve to be shunned as a lover of cheap and good food.
After arriving and walking about forty minutes, a little pathway to Morocco stood in front of me. The street was bustling with shop keepers, selling bags, hookahs, dried fruits, and pants that looked more comfortable and hippie than anything I’ve ever seen in my life (Yes, I did buy a pair). 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 (I’m just on a roll with the jokes here huh?), full of alcohol and amazing comida. It was a cute little place with a bar, kitchen, and nice rooftop. I wouldn’t say it’s THE place to stay but it was good for the price and it was close to everything.
JUST A TIP: I will say, in general, if you stay alone at a hostel and want to make friends, a bar crawl can be worth it but I recommend focusing on meeting people at dinner if the hostel serves free dinner or, in this case at Oasis, paella for five euros. I think it’s better to meet at dinner and go out together instead of paying a lot for a bar crawl. That’s just me though (I got ripped off at another hostel, still salty).
My first night there was disappointingly quiet, but I had to go to bed early anyway. I had to wake up the next morning at 5am and the reason was ALHAMBRA. As a lover of architecture, history, and all things odd and artistic, I was super pumped to go to this beautiful ancient city within a city. 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 permitted into the Nasrid Palaces at 8am, but I had to be there a half hour early. Soooo I woke up super early, showered and dressed, then started my journey to Alhambra. It took me a half hour to walk, or rather hike, up the scenic winding roads and through the gardens. I got lost three times, but with no money to take a taxi. 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.
“THE ONE THING YOU NEEDED, YOU HAD ONE JOB MEGAN!”
I freaked the fuck out to say the least. Called my mom, 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, my birthgiver (that’s what I call her) saved my entire life. Got up to the window to claim my ticket, a little nervous still that it wouldn’t work. If you’re from the United States, you know how much of a hardass some people can be about IDs. “Oh that’s fine, any form of ID is fine” …. you’re fucking kidding me. I spent nearly half an hour on the brink of crying, calling home and telling my friends I loved them and my life is over for you to tell me I could have just chilled and handed you my student ID WHAT.
A wave of anger and relief simultaneously washed over me as I entered through the gates and on my walk to the palace. My mouth immediately dropped when I walked into the first room, and it was just the beginning. Every single wall was covered in Arabic scripture. The ceilings were tall and intricately cut to look like heaven was directly above where you stood. Tiles and stones ran along the bottom of walls as if waves of color followed you with each turn. My first thought was “this is absolutely remarkable, 11th century? I would stay here forever if I could,” and then came the “wow how much human suffering had to be thrown at this place to make this happen” train of thought that I couldn’t ignore after thinking about how intricate even the smallest section of one wall, in one room, in this huge palace was.
And then there were the gardens, nearly a destination of their own. I couldn’t help but take pictures of every tree and every flower, every view overlooking the city I hoped to never leave. Since I was by myself, all my pictures were either awkward selfies or landscapes. The guards noticed I was by myself and congratulated me on being independent and adventurous, and all in Spanish. All those tinder dates with Spaniards were paying off I guess!
Not to change the subject but I sincerely hope you know what tapas are. If you don’t, I also sincerely hope you’re nowhere near me when I find out. I don’t know how I lived before Granada, but my life was a lie. It was like taking the red pill (yeah that’s a Matrix reference and it’s totally appropriate for this situation). Admittedly, it’s not my fault that the rest of the world has not gotten on board with the idea that you should basically be rewarded for buying a glass of wine with free food. I REALLY like this rewards program though, and it’s all throughout Granada. Tapas are little dishes of food you can get, almost like a sampling of delicious things in moderation. I laughed a little bit when typing that because moderation is the exact opposite description for my tapas experience. In my mind, I had to have all or nothing, and I sure as hell got it all.
Tapas bars are everywhere, 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 highly recommend getting here as soon as you can, and staying as long as possible. Just don’t make it obvious you’re American. One con 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 – Always packed and for a decent reason. This bar was a staple for tapas and good drinks. I wouldn’t say it was the best place I’ve ever been, 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 missing spicy food a lot; picante in Spain is NOT picante to me. 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, sooo good) went around the table along with dishes like Pollo en salsa Thailandés (Thai Chicken), or Portuguese Salt Cod. I could not recommend a better place to be.
Tapas were not my sole form of sustenance though. Paella was a must, along with nuts and dried fruits I bought in the beautiful merchant streets right next to Oasis. I also had some bomb falafel and split a chicken shawarma with a guy I met at the hostel. Speaking of which, I haven’t explained how small of a world we live in.
So, I went to Granada on my own. I was a solo traveler, a lone wolf. I didn’t realize 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’m an idiot and forgot my sneakers). Seriously, no one to talk to or go out with. I love it though because it forces me to make friends and be sociable in dead awkward silence; that’s how I met Heather.
Oasis Backpackers Hostel had a gorgeous rooftop that overlooked the city and I spent a lot of my time up there. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same exact idea as me to take a seat up there and chain smoke cigarettes in dead silence. My second night there, I was charging my phone, looking up at the stars and, again, enveloped in dead silence and tobacco smoke. There was a girl on the couch across the rooftop 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, just like everyone else there was doing. I was incredibly bored, and annoyed at the silence so I finally said something.
“Do you speak English?” Her head popped up and smiled. “Yeah I’m from the US!” she replied. Bingo. I was a little excited, after speaking only Spanish all day I thought I could use a break. I asked her where she was from. Maryland. “Nooooo way,” 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 city 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 (wow her and I have similar tastes don’t we?), a year or two ago and they had been talking ever since. The long distance relationship just wasn’t going to cut it anymore! So she moved to Ireland to attend grad school for Computer Science. This girl was living the dream, traveling around Europe with the guy she dreamed of being with. 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. I follow her on Instagram and I don’t think I could be anymore jealous, but also happy for her.
Maybe someday I’ll be that lucky 🙂