Granada Part 2: Canyoning, Cooking, and Jumping over Fire

And just like that, 5 weeks fly by and this Part 2 on Granada feels so long ago. Clearly keeping up with a blog schedule isn’t my strong suit, but I am vowing to change that now that we’re in our last 4 months abroad. We want to cover topics like balancing travel/work, eating well and staying healthy, coworking spaces, travel trips, etc. Adam is going to start writing as well! Stay tuned 🙂

Okay, all that said, our reflection on Granada wouldn’t be complete without this Part 2, so the show (and blogging) must go on.  In an effort to rein in my long-windedness, Part 2 on Granada is a top 3 list. As in 3 experiences, we would be amiss by not including in our reflection of Granada. Oh, and a few honorable mentions at the end because I just can’t contain myself.

1. Taking a paella cooking class in Malaga
Before visiting, I knew Malaga as a sunny beach town Ed Sheeran sung about where Europeans flocked to party. Although completely true, Malaga has a lot more to offer in terms of culture, food and landscape. We made the weekend trip to Malaga because Adam had booked us a cooking class with Spain Food Sherpas. From beginning to end the 4-hour class was the highlight of the weekend. We mosied around the local market, Mercado Central de Atarazanas, with our guide Simone while tasting and picking up our ingredients.

With all our ingredients in hand, we moved on to the cooking portion in a robust, well-designed cooking lab with the sweet Chef Amparo. We began by having an olive and olive oil tasting where we tried 3 oils, one of which was homemade in Amparo’s hometown. It was a treat to compare and contrast the different tastes while learning about the olive oil production in Spain. Apparently, Spain is the world’s leader in cultivating olive trees and is thus responsible for a majority of the olive oil in the world – be it by making the oil themselves or selling olives to other countries. Can you imagine, all that famous $$ Italian olive oil might really be made from or fortified with Spanish olives. Scandalous.

Once we were all oiled up, we began cooking our menu of seafood paella and a simple gazpacho. To our surprise, the paella wasn’t difficult to create! Sure it takes time, patience and quality ingredients, but I had always thought it to be an intimidating, multi-hour, laborious meal. Paella actually originates from Valencia, Spain so many argue that one can only get ‘authentic paella’ from that region. However, Amparo learned how to cook her recipe in Valencia so we think it’s pretty legit. As we let the paella sit and fluff-up, we started the gazpacho consisting of only 6 simple ingredients, tomato, pepper, onion, breadcrumbs, olive oil and water. It was so delicious, Adam nearly drank an entire pitcher with the *most delicious* paella. Safe to say, we waddled out of the kitchen back to our AirBnB for a nap.

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Get in my belly!

2. Canyoning

“Canyoning, also known as canyoneering is an adventure activity that combines rock and water activities into a sport full of adrenaline and natural beauty. When you go canyoning you will be trekking through river gorges, around rock pools and behind waterfalls. You will find yourself abseiling down waterfalls and tackling cliff jumps into stunning water rock pools.” – Not my words

I hadn’t even heard of canyoning until Adam discovered an ecotourism company called Saltarios that led canyoning excursions south of Granda near the coastal town of Nerja. The appeal of this adventure combined with a weekend at the beach was enough to lure us 1 hour south for an exciting weekend getaway.

Canyoning is the most liberating outdoor experiences we’ve done together. As the description above alludes to, there are no rules or ‘right way’ to traverse down a mountain following a pretty heavy stream or river. Sometimes we swam, others times rappelled, then trekked and often jumped hoping not to hit one of many boulders below. Our guides were laid back and easy to follow, but our small group also had 6 crazy middle-aged Spaniard men, not afraid of anything. Full speed ahead.

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All smiles when rappelling

To begin the adventure, we hiked a mile or so in our bathing suits with wetsuits and gear tied on our backs. Nothing else. No phones, pants, chapstick, water — nada. Once we got to a good area to begin, we suited up with excitement. Full body wetsuits, helmets, harnesses, neoprene socks and hiking shoes. The day was filled with unpredictability and gave us this kid-like adrenaline rush of playing in a completely natural, and slightly dangerous, waterpark. At one point, I was so anxious to jump over the first waterfall, I invented a new landing technique mixing an unathletic bellyflop with running (for embarrassing video, check out our Instagram). Protip: don’t do that. Collect yourself and jump like a pencil with loose knees. During another point on the excursion, we had to repel straight down 50′ of rushing water. Adam made it all look so effortless and I have a feeling that it won’t be our last time canyoning.

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Pro Canyoner

3. Fire jumping at the San Juan Festival in Nerja
The San Juan festival is a vibrant annual event across many beach towns in Spain and is a strange and lively mix of Christian and Pagan traditions. From what I read, the celebration is the culmination of ‘Christianizing’ the Pagan holiday, Summer Solstice by changing the meaning to celebrate the birthday of John the Baptist.

On the evening of June 23rd, there are thousands of beach bonfires up lighting up the night sky where family and friends gather to celebrate all night. They jump over the flames to symbolically leave the past and their sins behind and quite literally jump into the future with a renewed spirit and optimism. Some even WALK on the coals, ouch! It is also common for people to write down their hopes and wishes then burn them. Ah, and I can’t forget to mention kids cathartically burn their schoolwork from the previous year. Math homework makes for nice kindling apparently. Finally, the clock struck midnight and the majority of people run straight for the ocean like crazed zombies. This ritual is supposed to bring 12 months of prosperity. Naturally, Adam and I participated in all of this madness… expect the walking on the hot coals part. We’re not that tough.

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The huge central bonfire burned a wood carving of a fish

San Juan is a crazy fun holiday. Kids are up all night, there are Chinese lanterns and copious amounts of fires, food, music and alcohol. It’s a party like we’ve never seen. Google “San Juan Festival”, as I know my words don’t do this firey holiday justice.

Honorable Mention Experiences:

  • Having a spontaneous evening tapa crawl with friends Alex and Amy, whom we met on our missed and then severely delayed flight. #vuelingsurvivorsclub
  • Rendezvousing with my hometown friend Emily who not only tutored me in Spanish before our departure but whom I also travelled to Spain with during high school 12 years ago!!!
  • Making friends at the coworking space Errant. Special shoutouts to Wendy, her husband Hicham and friend Gonzalo for making us feel so welcome!
  • Indulging in velvety jamón ibérico – a must try when in Spain, no exceptions.
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  • Hiking Los Cahorros – Pictureqesue hiking area where Adam and I rode our bikes to… on flat tires.
  • Watching talented and fierce Flamenco dancers tear it up.

Granada Part 1: Land of Tapas, Alhambra and Hammam

Charming, walkable, Alhambra, flamenco dancing, caves, Darro River, 45 minutes from the coast, and oh yes… and free delicious tapas with every drink. There is so much to love and appreciate about Granada that three weeks wasn’t enough so we decided to stay a whole month.

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That glorious thing behind us is Alhambra

Granada oozes Spanish culture, history, a rich food scene and friendly people. I especially was looking forward to this leg of our trip because I speak a solid amount of Spanish and if one thing has been limiting us on our travels, it’s when we don’t know the language well enough to communicate (on a basic level). That being said, Granada is in a region of Spain called Andalusia and we very quickly learned that Andalusia is known for its distinct and fluid accent, aka very difficult for me to understand. Although I was able to limp us along the first few days, my drive to learn the language better was intensified after not being able to communicate as well as I had hoped. After some googling, I enrolled in an intense 2-week program with ImSol, which consisted of 1.5 hours per day of spoken Spanish classes for conversation comprehension. My class was small (3-4 people) and completely in Spanish, zero English crutches. After two weeks, it did help slightly with my confidence to just speak as well as my acclimation to the speed and style in which the people in Granada speak. If anything, the classes and time in Granada ignited the drive in me to learn Spanish fluently because being able to communicate in another language opens up that many more people to communicate with and learn from.

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Our view along the Darro River on our daily walk home to our AirBnB

Tapas, tapas, tapas. We all know the word and I’m sure visions of delicious, small shareable plates are flooding your mind. However, tapas in Granada and Andalusia as a whole are special because this is where they originated. The OG of tapa culture. Although many explanations exist, we learned the term originally derived from a story where a piece of meat was promptly used to cover the King’s glass of wine to prevent insects and sand from getting in, an edible ‘tapa’ or topper. In Andalusia, tapas are gratis, or free, with every round of drinks be it alcoholic or not. We also learned thanks to the bloggers of the great internet, that tapas get better when you stay at the same restaurant or bodega for multiple rounds. Our 2nd and 3rd tapas were often so delicious we would play a game guessing how much it would cost in America, often $8-$12 per tapa in our minds WITHOUT the drinks. Not to mention good local wine is only 2-4 euro!

As you can imagine we did lots of tapa research… and also joined a gym. We probably only paid for a “real dinner” a total of 5-6 times in the month. Tapa crawling was a way of life.

  • Adams favorite tapa was at La Botillería: Veal pot roast and vegetables (3rd tapa)
  • My favorite tapa was also at La Botillería: Beef slider (2nd tapa)
  • Our favorite tapa close to our apartment was at La Hermosa, a brewery making a delicious beer called Sacromonte: huge and fresh homemade potato crisps, the *best* olives, and cured meat cubes with freshly made bread

Okay, now on to one of the most beautiful wonders of the city. Without a doubt, the most notable attraction in Granada is Alhambra, which I am embarrassed to say we didn’t know about before arriving which is a damn shame because we would have done a major history dig. If you haven’t heard of this majestic palace either, stop right now and pay a visit to Google images. Alhambra is absolutely jaw-dropping. It’s an impeccably preserved Moorish castle from the 9th century with more handcrafted detail than you could ever imagine. Not to mention its fascinating history of daughters locked in towers, secret caves, Turkish baths, and various dramatic conquests. Unlike most monuments or castles, Alhambra is in its own category. Adam and I spent about 4+ hours wandering around the massive complex admiring the attention to detail, security measures, grandiose and ingenious design. I could write an entire blog dedicated to Alhambra… and will if I ever get caught up on blogging.

Another great experience we indulged in during our time in Granada was the Hammam, or Turkish Baths. Now since these are private baths, I don’t have pictures because that would be weird, so I’ll have to use my words to paint a picture. However, if my words aren’t enough you could also visit their website which is completely worth it. In a lot of ways, the baths mimicked Alhambra with the tile work and attention to detail. I was really thankful we visited Alhambra before the baths as it gave us a richer experience because we knew more about the reason for the baths and style of design.

Upon arrival for our 10pm soak, called “emerge”, we were led to a calming waiting room thoughtfully decorated with exotic Turkish design touches and helped ourselves to mint tea in a beautiful ornate silver kettle, you know, to start the relaxing process. Then a staff member took each one of us back to our respected dressing rooms with little slippers over our shoes, where we walked through curtains of flowy linen with dim lighting, earthy scents, and tranquil music. Once changed, we entered the baths, yes with bathing suits. Historical and more traditional Turkish baths we learned were sans suits so there were no determining factors of class or hierarchy; everyone equal as God made them.

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The dreamy Hammam waiting room

There were roughly 30 people allowed in the baths at once for a 90-minute soak. Although that might seem like a lot, it never felt crowded because there were multiple baths and rooms; one warm, two hot, one cold, steam room, a hot stone to lay on, showers, and one room to just lay and pour water on yourself if it suited you. There were also hundreds of candles and delicious tea in more ornate silver kettles. I really liked the kettles if you can’t tell by now. Adam particularly liked the cold bath. And when I say cold, think ice bath. I was reluctant to ease into the frigid water myself, but once in, it really made you feel alive. Like every single nerve ending was electrified. The whole experience was incredibly relaxing and felt delightfully indulgent, despite its modest price. Hammam rules.

Okay, clearly we loved Granada because this blog is long and I haven’t even got to cooking paella in Malaga, hiking Los Cahorros, our co-working space, drool-worthy Iberian ham, or our weekend beach getaway to Nerja yet! Look out for Granda Part Two coming soon!

Cheers!

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Now that I have you drooling with our cooking adventure making paella — stay tuned for Part 2!