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.

IMG_0342
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.

IMG_0372
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.

IMG_0578
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!

IMG_0634
Now that I have you drooling with our cooking adventure making paella — stay tuned for Part 2!

Viva la Vida en Barcelona

So let’s pretend we’re dancing in the street, in Barcelona
Come on and dance with me in Barcelona
Drinking Sangria, I just want to be in Barcelona

Ed Sheeran had it right. I don’t think its possible to ever get sick of Barcelona. Marvellous beaches, long pedestrian promenades, vibrant street life, dramatic architecture, an efficient metro system, *phenomenal* food, and a neighborhood to fit any personality. Barcelona is a multi-layered, culturally rich city you can just get lost in, in the best way possible.

IMG_0207
Montserrat Beauty

One reason we were so excited for this leg of the trip is that we were meeting up with our two good friends, Kelly and Cory. They had planned a 10-day trip which happened to time up perfectly with our time in Spain! We had been missing our friends from home, so seeing them renewed our spirits and warmed our hearts. Our first day meeting them was without a doubt our favorite day in Barcelona. It was a beautiful sunny day as the four of us wandered around the beach and hidden streets of a fishing neighborhood called Barceloneta. We stopped to snack on Iberian ham, patatas bravas, little fried seafood, and of course ice cold, bubbly cava. By happenstance, we even stumbled on a lively festival that weaved through all the streets of Barceloneta. Although we still don’t know the exact meaning behind the animated festival, we deducted it had something having to do with ancient fisherman selling their fish for meat… or so I translated from a young girl describing it in Catalon. *Side note: the Catalon language spoke it is quite different than Spanish, so I was a little out of my league with communication.* There were hundreds of colorful dancers, costumes and musicians belonging to different themed groups. It was a wild time and continued late into the night, keeping the fun bar high for the day. We kept wondering, soaking up the atmosphere and ended up finishing the day with some seriously delicious paella at Arrosseria L’arròs. Cory and Adam’s choice of a squid ink variety won us all over. Drooling just thinking about it.

The following day, the four of us took off on a wine/cava tour we had planned months in advance. We hopped on a bus with a small group and made our way to our first stop, Finca Can’Estella, a small boutique winery built in the late 18th century.  Aside from being so quaint and charming, we learned a lot about cava and got to enjoy our first sip in a candlelit, historic stone vat listening to the almost musical sounds of the bubbles. After the rest of the tour, we tasted 3 additional cavas paired with tapas of bread and tomato (pan con tomate), various hams, olives, tortilla española, and local chocolate, among many others. The tapas just kept coming! With full bellies, we hopped on the bus and continued on to the second winery, Oller del Mas Cellar. This was also a very beautiful setting as it is located in a former medieval castle with a 1000-year history of winemaking. You could literally feel the history embedded in this place. We tasted 3 different organic wines and snacked on an assortment of cheeses… all delicious because honestly, everything is delicious in Spain. It was such a fun experience sipping our way throughout the day with great friends, local wines, authentic tapas and excellent tour guides.

The rest of our time in Barcelona was a little more balanced with work :). Kelly and Cory wen to explore Ibiza for a few days and we found a nice co-working space just a 15-minute walk from our AirBnB with welcoming owners and great coffee, called CoCo Coffice. We bought a 5-day pass on Barcelona’s metro and zipped all around beneath the city with ease. Travelling on such an excellent and efficient metro system really made us realize why Barcelona is able to thrive as such an expansive, diverse and desirable city.

Other highlights of Barcelona that have to be mentioned include:

  • listening and dancing to live jazz at the Harlem Club
  • the tour of La Sagrada Familia
  • sitting in Plaça de Sol, located in the awesome Gracia neighborhood, with all the area’s bohemian locals eating pizza by the slice and sipping on our cava we bought from the wine tour
  • meeting up with some locals for a day of very windy beach volleyball
  • the best tapas we had in Barcelona at Samsara, also in the Gracia neighborhood
  • our goodbye dinner with Cory and Kelly at Cera 23 (thanks again you two!)
  • a day trip to stunning Montserrat 
  • the drool-worthy, vibrant market of La Boquería
  • wondering around the Gothic Quarter
  • snail tapas (don’t knock ’em till you try ’em) and rendezvousing with my sister’s friend Kim and her husband Dink at Los Caracoles

Looking back now, we treated Barcelona, unlike the other cities we’ve been in thus far. Since we only had 10 days, we ‘lived it up’ more than we typically would have, indulging in the food scene more frequently, splurging on touristic adventures, using the metro instead of renting bicycles, and spitting time between a hotel and AirBnB. All in all, it was a fantastic time and Adam and I both think it’s a city we could have easily spent a month in and really sunk our teeth into. There are so many neighborhoods with their own distinct charm, so if you plan on going, do your research! Also, contrary to popular belief, Barcelona doesn’t have to be an expensive city for a vacation. Again with a little research, there are a lot of affordable options for accommodations, dining and entertainment. Barcelona is a must see that I would love to experience again, as the city has so much to offer that it would be a completely unique experience each time.