There have been multiple accounts written from the perspective of women traveling in Italy. Some, have been turned into Hollywood blockbusters, for example Under the Tuscan Sun and Eat, Prey, Love. It’s understandable as Italy’s landscapes, food, wine, cities, and people are all the narrative for perfect travel writing. Similar to almost every other globetrotter, really do enjoy spending time in Italy. But it is Italy’s friendly neighbor across the Mediterranean, the southern part of Spain, Andalucia, that owns my heart.
Many consider Andalucia to be Spain’s beating heart. It straddles the Mediterranean, Atlantic, and is just a few kilometers north of Africa, across the Strait of Gibraltar. Away from the coastline, Andalucia is home to Spain’s highest peaks, in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. From the famous white towns, to the sunny coastline, to the golden landscapes dotted with olive trees, to the impressive Moorish architecture, scenes from Andalucia often grace the covers of guidebooks about Spain and generic Spanish postcards. And perhaps one of Andalucia’s biggest selling points? In many Andalucian towns, they still serve free tapas with a glass of wine.
It is not hard to love Andalucia. And the Andalucian city of Granada is where I fell into deep and uncontrollable love.
My travels have taken me all over the world, spanning six continents, usually with nothing but a backpack, a Lonely Planet guide, and a loose plan. Having love for various dots on the map is nothing new to me. But as soon as I landed at Granada’s small airport and saw the snowcapped mountains in the distance, I knew that Granada was not just another love. With only four days and determination to make the most of it, relaxation was not on my Granada agenda. Getting lost in the maze of the Albaicin, Granada’s old Arab quarter, hiking around the areas surrounding the Alhambra, shopping in the small stores that carry everything in my style: hippie/bohemian chic, smelling the hash on the streets, exploring Realejo, Granada’s historic Jewish heart, drinking fine Rioja Gran Reserva, always with a free tapa vegetariana, Granda and I took our romance to a new level. Since I didn’t plan ahead well enough, I couldn’t get a ticket to visit the Alhambra on my initial visit. “That’s okay,” I said outloud as I left, “I’ll be back.”
Keeping that promise, I’ve returned to Granada, not only once, but on several occasions. And yes, planning far enough in advance, I’ve been to the Alhambra multiple times, during the day and at night. At this point, I often spend months at a time in Granada, working from a co-working space on Gran Via, and living as much like a local as I can. The flat I rent in the Albaicin has Alhambra views from every room, including the bathroom. And it’s not unusual to find me on the terrace at sunset enjoying a glass of Spanish wine, completely at peace. But like any hometown, some of my memories of Granada are bittersweet. For weeks, I was stuck in my flat with a broken foot and strict bedrest orders from my doctor, very hard for that neighborhood consisting of cobblestone steps. It was during that time that I also learned that my mother was dying. Flights were changed and that trip to Spain ended much earlier than I had planned.
Severely depressed, and in tears when I departed Granada that time, a dear Spaniard friend of mine suggested that I read about Boabdil, the last Moorish sultan of Granada up until 1492. Legend has it that after peacefully surrendering Granada to Isabella and Ferdinand, Boabdil climbed to a vista in the nearby mountains, tearfully looked back at Granada one last time, and sighed. His own mother scolded him not to weep like a girl for the city he could not defend like a man. My feminist views aside, the story resonates with me, and I wish I could go back into time and tell Boabdil, “I feel ya, bro.” Thankfully, unlike Boabdil I’ve returned to Granada since then, and even rented a car so I could go to the vista point where Boadbil let out that famous sigh.
My confidence to navigate the city must come across as very high, as tourists often stop me on the street to ask me for directions. And I usually know how to get where they are going. The people who work at my local Granada haunts know me, and I know them. Leisurely sipping my cafe con leche in outside in Plaza Romanilla, writing and people watching, is one of my favorite ways to spend the day. Granada has taught me to embrace the simplicity, which has not always been my forte. And my meager, yet constantly improving Spanish, is often peppered with the signature Andalucian accent, ignoring the final sixteen letters of each word.
My dream is to one day pull a Frances Conroy-esq move and buy a place of my own in Granada. I have visions of living in an old flat with my cat, welcoming friends to come visit, and sipping wine on my own terrace,with Alhambra vistas, at sunset. But until then, I will continue to visit Granada regularly, because, as my friends says, it is my “soulhome.”
My name is Karen & travel is not only my passion but also my profession.