It is said that the last Moorish ruler of Spain was forced out of Granada in 1492 to the Catholic Kings he sighed looking back on the city he loved so much. I can't blame him. Melanie and I spent 8 days in Andalusia traveling around and we have both fallen in love with Granada.
We went to Cadiz, Tarifa, Tanger, Algeciras, Malaga, Granada, Cordoba, Seville but Granada was by far our favorite. Maybe it's because when we got there we saw the city's first ever anti-bullfighting protest and of course we participated (more on my opinion in a bit). And it was the last day of the citywide week-long festival. It also happened to be World Naked Bike Ride Day, so obviously Granada is an amazing city. But more than just protests for just causes and public nudity, Granada had something to it that is calling me back. We spent most of our time just walking around the city, not seeing anything in particular, just soaking it in. It was very hot while we were there, the type of heat that makes you understand why a siesta is more than just a nap but a practical necessity.
While in Granada we participated in the slow march of the anti-bullfight protest as we worked our way from the center of town to the bullring. I was enlisted to help carry the GIANT coffin (I guess it was bull sized) and Melanie stayed with the group of students yelling "not with our taxes" and "abolition". There was also a very good, mainly shirtless drum corps helping us make some noise and get noticed. We checked the local, regional and a national paper the next day and the regional one had one column mentioning it and an awful picture that was just a blurry close up on the coffin (but none of the carriers were in it). They said 200 people were there and confirmed that it was the first ever in Granada.
We also chilled out in two tea shops enjoying iced Moroccan-style tea while lounging on pillows and keeping out of the sun. The whole world is better when you make tea drinking a process and you just rest in the shade. It's something like the opposite of the cozy feeling knowing that wrapped up in your bed you are the only warm thing in the world. Sitting in a darken tea shop in Granada with a fan lazily spinning and listening to birds chirping makes you think that you are in the only cool place there is.
I never once used the word "fresquita" (a little fresh and cool temperature-wise) before going to Andalusia, while there it was said at least four times a day. Yes the Cathedrals of Granada and Seville are beautiful works of art with centuries of history and the tombs of The Catholic Kings and Columbus (respectively), but one of the most important reasons you go in them is because they are "fresquita." When it is 40 degrees Celsius outside on a normal day, "fresquita" is your best friend.
A very surprising thing about the tombs of Isabella and Ferdinand in comparison to Columbus's is that his is far cooler than theirs. The supposedly greatest kings in Spain's history, the kings who unified the nation and conquered it all, the kings who financed the trip to the Americas got what seems to me to be a pretty standard tomb. Yes it's in the center of the Cathedral in Granada to put their stamp on the place of their final great victory, but it was just a big stone sepulcher, nothing too special (although seeing the crown of Isabella was pretty cool, I mean come on, it's a crown!). But Columbus's was amazing. It was a giant metallic tomb being carried by four larger-than-life-sized bronze statues with stone faces in royal regalia. Each of the statues had the symbol of one of the four kingdoms of Spain: Aragon, Castille, Navarra and Leon. Here is the Wiki picture:
I think the reason I loved Granada so much was that it is proud of all of its heritage. The thing that bugs me a lot about Spain some times is how it's Muslim past is treated. I get the feeling that Spain views its historical arc in terms of Catholicism (hence why they call the Catholic conquering of Spain the Reconquest) which puts its 700-year Muslim history on the side just to be called on when talking about architecture or language. But Granada seems to have embraced its past in a very positive way. The biggest and grandest thing to see in Granada is The Alhambra, which was the palace and gardens of the Sultans. I got the impression that there is a strong sense of ownership of the Alhambra, as a large point of pride in Granada and I loved that. Maybe it is because while the Muslims built the palaces and planted the gardens, it is the responsibility of modern Granada to maintain and care for them. Maybe it is this shared act of love of that beautiful place that makes Granada so special.
When I look back at Granada I will always remember taking a siesta with Melanie in the shade of a small tree in the corner of a little plaza siting next to a fountain. Perfect.
The other cities were great too. The tourism department of Cadiz has got their act together. They have painted several different walking tour paths in the city with different themes (military, religion, political, etc) and there are informational panels along the way. Much like the Freedom Trail in Boston but painted on. Cadiz is known for being the oldest city in Western Europe (in your face Athens!) and it is right on the Ocean with a great port. The cruise liners at dock were gigantic. We were staring at one for a while and then Melanie said "wait, that's a BOAT?" and then became very impressed. The first things we saw in the city when we arrived was a massive boat and then a plaza and memorial dedicated to journalists. Cadiz has a special place in my heart now. The only damper in my time there was that I lost my Jewish Star/Hamsa necklace that I bought in Jerusalem a year and a half ago in the Atlantic. Sigh.
From Cadiz we went to Tarifa, the southern most point of continental Europe. You can see Africa easily from Tarifa. YOU CAN SEE AFRICA! When the bus was rounding the corner and we got our first view of the city in the distance Melanie pointed to the mountains further out and said that that was Africa. I didn't believe her. You can see another continent from Tarifa! Africa! From Spain!
It is also very, very windy there as the warmer air masses from the Mediterranean meet the cooler ones from the Atlantic. Hence Tarifa is famous for windsurfing. But as Spain is a forward-thinking country, the region also hosts more wind turbines than I have seen anywhere else. Somewhere between taxis in New York and corn in Iowa there are wind turbines in Tarifa.
From Tarifa we took a day trip to Tangers with a very touristy tour group. We got off the ferry, got on the bus and then we were taken to various spots, let off the bus and then asked to buy stuff. Melanie and I bought pastries at the market. A pound of pastries for $2, excellent. There was one that was some sort of crunchy, syrupy sesame seed covered pastry which was by far the best. It reminded me strongly of sesame chicken which was a little odd, but it was still very good. Really Tangers wasn't extremely exciting. Seeing and hearing Arabic was very cool, as was the fact that I was in Africa, but there wasn't one thing in particular to see there, just soaking it in. Fun fact, when you are in a massive group of tourists, street vendors will practically mob you with there wares. If you are alone they leave you alone. Because Melanie doesn't have a passport (oh the EU) we could only go for a day trip so it was more of a symbolic thing. My friend Allison is going to study in Fez this summer so I'm looking forward to reading a more in-depth report on the country in her blog.
From Tarifa we went to Algericas with the plan to go to Granada in the afternoon. But Aft Ang Aglay we ended up getting sunburned and missing the last bus to Granada so we took a detour to Malaga. Melanie was very unhappy with the sunburn. It was her first one ever and so she was trying to wrap her head around the idea of how people can live a life where sunburns are normal things. She was shocked at how much they hurt.
In Malaga we met up with a friend of hers who is studying there. After getting off on the wrong foot (the first thing she said to me was -translated- "Damn, dude what an accent") she gave us a night tour of the city. We climbed the mountain/fortress and looked out at the moon over the Mediterranean with boats twinkling in the distance and I decided to forgive her. She and Melanie spoke a lot of French together and I was able to get a very general gist of it.
From Malaga to Granada and then to Cordoba. I don't care what the Catholic Church says, I think building a Cathedral inside the Mosque was a cultural crime. The Church has a pamphlet where they describe how they are so great since by making the Mosque into a Cathedral they were able to preserve the Mosque. Since you know, NOT messing up the biggest Mosque in Europe is just out of the question. The whole tone of the little pamphlet really ticked me and Melanie off since it just tried to justify the fact that they ruined and horribly disrespected the site. But the Mosque is so great that even though it has been adultered by the Church it is still the most beautiful building I've ever entered. Pictures do not do it justice.
It was Monday when we were in Cordoba so everything else of touristy interest was closed, we did find the statue of Maimonides though, so a small victory. Cordoba was odd, it was like going to an amusement park that only had one amazing ride. Yes, the ride's amazing but...
From Cordoba we finished up in Seville. We had a great tour given by an American just out of college guy who had a lot of energy and love of the city. The odd thing about Seville is that besides the Cathedral there isn't much else that's tall. Seville is a city on a human scale and seeing it from above does not do it justice. The beauty in the city is in its alleyways and tree-canopied plazas. We checked out the Museum and Archives of the Americas where Melanie will probably spend a good chunk of her life as that's what she studies. We saw the neighborhood Macarena, and we both joked about the song since we are tourists. We were too beat to really explore Seville but the tour and a little of our own wandering has given me a taste and I want more.
In short, Andalusia seems like it might be more my speed than Castilla y Leon. God I miss Granada.
Oh and we slept in our tent in camp grounds for 4 of the nights. A quick point about tent buying, when one person in the relationship is about 5'3 and the other is 6'1, the shorter one should not be sent to pick up a tent with the only instruction of "the cheapest one we can get." I would love to post some of the photos of our little home next to the other tents, but my camera isn't working so I can't. I will say that the tent was an ideal size match for her. Me not so much. I also learned that there is a difference between "camping" and "roughing it". I always thought "roughing it" is what people meant when they said camping, as in no running water, no one else around, lost in the forest somewhere with bears. My camping experience