My initial impression of Granada was accurate. I love it here. The people are warm and the city is beautiful, but in a real way where the history is underneath and surrounding the people going about their business. Yesterday I took a walking tour of the city and visited the Alhambra, for which I will write a separate post.
Granada is where Spain was born in 1492 when Ferdinand defeated the Moors, but, of course, its history extends far beyond that. There is too much to go into in a blog post, but basically, lots of Muslims and Jews lived here, and when the Moors were defeated by the Christians, Ferdinand and Isabel were initially respectful of these people. Eventually, and unfortunately, due to various factors, the Muslims and Jews were expelled to the extent they would not convert to Christianity. The north African history and influence is obvious everywhere you go — the architecture, tiling, tea and spice shops, and the souk-like street markets, as well as the Moorish quarter called the Albayzin, definitely give this Spanish city a unique twist. There is also a beautiful cathedral, the second largest in Spain, and the Royal Chapel, holding the tombs of Ferdinand and Isabel that are fascinating to visit.
(We have all seen those silver street men, and I am sick of them, but I have never seen one with a dog who holds perfectly still playing dead for a long time — amazing!)
Across from my pension is a cute park on a square (of which there are many) that is swarmed by thousands of birds each night — Mom, you would love this. They are so loud! Needless to say, I don’t walk through there at night and am very careful where I sit during the day, as there is a plethora of bird poop.
As far as food goes, I am thoroughly sick of pork/ham/cured ham (jamon as they say here), not that I was ever a huge fan. Last night, I made the mistake of ordering it yet again. In the U.S. when I order a “hamburger” I incorrectly use that term interchangeably with “burger,” (the latter implying beef and the former, technically, implying ham) as many people probably do because in the States, beef burgers are the norm. Well, here, a hamburguesa is actually a patty of ham, not beef as I had been craving. This was stupid of me, but I had been on my feet from 8:30 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. and was exhausted and hungry. To make matters worse, I ordered a “hamburguesa completo” assuming that completo meant lettuce and tomato. It did mean lettuce and tomato, but it also meant fried egg. Yuck. This experience was particular disappointing because the night before I had a “scramble” with shrimp, ham, and mushrooms, the consumption of which resulted in a stomach ache of course. The bartender (more on bartenders as waiters below) told me (well, acted out to me) that if I ate the whole portion, which was as big as my head, I would be fat. I didn’t finish it.
One thing that I love about the food culture here is the bars and coffee shops that are usually indistinguishable from tapas restaurants (though there are some tapas places that are clearly restaurants). There is often a long bar made of wood or metal and you just walk up and order coffee (or beer, depending on the time of day) and some food. There are bar stools, but most people just eat standing up. I think this is similar to coffee shops in Italy. The bartenders are the waiters and they are usually characters — friendly, funny, and warm, but disguised as grumpy old men for the first few minutes you encounter them (kind of like superintendents in New York). There is an old world quality to these places, almost like they have frozen in time. Below is a photo of the little place I had breakfast this morning. Breakfast is plain here, usually just bread and coffee, which works for me. A few minutes after I ate, I came back with my camera to take this photo. I was a little embarrassed when one of the bartenders saw me, but I smiled and he smiled warmly back.
Just for completeness, this is the place where I ordered lunch yesterday. It is a shop selling meat and some cheese and they prepare fresh bocadillos, or sandwiches, on a baguette. As I have said before, pork and cheese are really the only options, although there are a variety of both, but the sandwiches are good and fresh.