Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Travelling Spain: Granada

The mountains that I flew over into Málaga were the same ones I bussed through on the way out. When touring Canada five years ago, I remember being humbled by the landscapes of British Colombia. A similar feeling descended en route to Granada, especially when the snow capped Sierra Nevada appeared in the second half of the journey. 

The colder climate of this high inland city was the most noticeable factor upon arrival. It's been a crisp few days, with the average temperature hovering around thirteen degrees. Yet even in chilly November, the Spanish sun has been strong enough to sit in and worry about getting burned. The evenings have been closer to a less comfortable two or three degrees. But I'll take cold over wet any day. 

Granada is a much nicer place than Málaga. Even its tourist districts have no hint of the disposable "getaways" that emanate from the Costa Del Sol. I stayed in a charming spot just west of the supremely mounted Alhambra. A bohemian atmosphere surrounded my digs, with dreadlocked buskers playing acoustic versions of the western world's favourite songs. This is usually a jaded kind of scene. But Granada's example felt a little more authentic. 

The day after I arrived, I trekked up through the Albayzín quarter. The sight and sound of a vibrant Arabic community is almost like a revival of Al-Andalus itself. Structures and streets looked closer to images of North Africa than anything I ever knew existed in Spain. Narrow streets where cars and buses barely squeeze by are a staple of Granada. Paved with ornate cobblestone, they twist around elevated areas revealing building after building of irresistible charm. This was probably the nicest thing about my stay. 

Visiting the Alhambra itself fulfilled one of the primary objectives of my whole trip. Rough Guides champions Granada because of the "sensuality" of this fundamentally Moorish complex. Christian additions also play their part in making it a very impressive experience. But I'm less likely to forget the folly of racing back up toward the Nasrid Palace after realising I was in danger of missing my designated entry time. My arrival amidst teaming sweat was confirmation enough that running around Kilkenny isn't as pointless as it sometimes feels. 

Granada was also where I encountered a religious procession making its way through windy streets at night. I was told that these sombre advancements have less to with genuine religiosity and more with a time-honoured Spanish tradition. But it looked suitably God-fearing to me. Carrying a grand effigy of the Virgin Mary were fifteen suited young men. Behind them were candle-holding girls, older members of the congregation and a brass band playing foreboding music. I couldn't help but marvel at the eeriness of it all.

My ongoing journey is being underscored by reading The Battle For Spain by Anthony Beever. That La Guerra Civile happened here less than eighty years ago is inducing both captivation and horror. Accordingly, I watched a left-wing protest making its way through central Granada on Sunday morning with considerable intrigue. It's interesting to see young families march with students and trade unionists under hammers, sickles and the republican tricolour. It reminded me of trying to teach English to Italian teenagers a couple of years ago, and being taken aback by them knowing what Das Kapital is. Ideals in southern Europe seem an integral part of life.