I woke up in Grenada, Spain today. It only took about two hours to get here by flight from Paris, but, just like many parts of Europe, every culture you visit finds you in a new world. I get up from my bed in an old hostel and peer out the window to find, even in the dead of winter, a bright sky and a warm, brown Spanish villa across the road. Geographically speaking, Grenada is situated next to the Mediterranean (which explains the heavenly weather) and is greatly influenced by Moroccan culture. In other words, there’s a cultural fusion here that has melded together the most beautiful parts of Islamic architecture with, of course, some Spanish flare. And even though the weather is cooling down a bit, the warmth of Grenadian energy is alive and certainly animating the set of Flamenco dancers I can hear celebrating just down the street.
I’m only here for about two days, so I set out to discover the town and, fortunately for me, I have a friend studying abroad here who can show me where to go. I first head to the Albaicin neighborhood, a UNESCO World Heritage site, that’s even more famously known for its narrow, winding streets and quaint, white houses spread across the Andalusian hillside. The paths up the hill are paved by cobblestone, and the small streets are lined with homes decorated by soft, fuchsia flowers and overgrown vines. The door to every home in this town is a shade of wild colors, and on occasion you might be able to find a Casanova sitting next to one, serenading the passerbys. It’s truly a romantic place.
I make it to the top of the Albaicin and am struck by the view from the adjacent hillside. Sitting across from the Albaicin is the Alhambra, or Al-Hamra, meaning “The Red One” in Arabic. It’s an ancient, Nasrid-style fortress built in AD 889 that housed the local royalty throughout history. It has also been an inspiration for the many artists and storytellers of the region. This is the first time I’ve seen the Alhambra in full, panoramic view, and it has taken me by surprise by how expansive it is. In the late afternoon sun, the stone of the castle lights up with a reddish hue, and, sitting high above the city below, it resembles what I feel the Statue of Liberty looks like to Americans—a powerful and beautiful symbol of cultural precedence.
I’ve got to find a way to get over there, I thought.
I begin to make my way down the Albaicin in the direction of the Alhambra, so I can get to the castle before sunset. Shamelessly, I look to Google maps to find my way and eventually stumble upon a hillside path leading in what I hope is the right direction. At the peak of the hill, I come to a massive door, which leads me through a dimly lit tunnel. The walls I can tell were once painted but are now aged and faded with time, much of the artistry curling off in peels like sun-baked bark. As I near the end of the corridor, I’m immediately met with panoramic views of the city—I’ve made it to the castle. I look down at my watch, and it’s only a few minutes past the hour, so I’ve come in time to watch the sun set behind the (other) Sierra Nevadas, the snow-capped mountain range sitting just outside the city. And as if on cue, the sun makes its final descent and hundreds of birds leap into the sky, casting shadows across the terrace as they fly past. I feel lightheartedly envious of the generations of kings who once called this place home and watched this sunset every night. It’s a beautiful sight to behold.
With no difficulty I’ve fallen in love with Grenada. The only real challenge is trying not to because if this isn’t Eden I’ve found, the real thing can’t be too much different.