This past February I had the opportunity to visit Granada (and the Alhambra) for an entire weekend thanks to a few days of paid vacation for Entroido (Carnival). I didn’t miss much in Galicia as it rained during most of the week that I was gone and a lot of the Carnival activities were postponed or still celebrated but done so in the pouring rain. I wasn’t too disappointed that I missed out since I stayed for Carnival the previous year and had a lot of fun checking out the festivities around Ourense, a destination spot for most Carnaval-goers in Galicia.
However, the Galician winter was about to get well underway and I had to escape down to the sun-drenched streets of Andalucía and check out Granada.
Andalucía is the stereotypical image of Spain — warm and sunny weather, flamenco, bullfighting and an over-abundance of olive oil — but for me, it’s my happy place. Ever since I lived there in 2010 and every time I go back to visit the region, I get so excited yet relaxed at the same time. Something inside me loosens and calms down. A feeling I usually only experience each time I arrive home in Dayton, my hometown. And to me this makes sense. This part of the country – a country that is not my own – has become like another home to me.
And speaking of second homes, Sevilla, in particular, is like that for me and not only because I’ve lived there before. It’s because I integrated myself into the culture and made some wonderful lifelong friends in the few short months I was there. It’s where I learned how to speak Spanish and, after a lot of hard work and countless headaches, become fluent in it. Where I learned to live and thrive after having experienced a few tough lessons that semester abroad. I came back from those experiences stronger and with a greater appreciation for that region and the Spanish people themselves. And whenever I head back over that way, I’m like a kid on Christmas morning. I can´t sit still nor can I concentrate on anything else. And you definitely can’t wipe the ear-to-ear grin off my face or the damper the joy I feel inside when I go.
However, Granada and specifically the Alhambra has been calling my name for the last decade. It was a shame that I never went while I was a student in Sevilla but sometimes life presents you with a second chance and this past February I got mine. And everyone knows that if you plan a trip to Granada you MUST go visit the Alhambra – especially when you’re still in your twenties and can get a little bit of a discount on the entrance ticket! 😉
Two things, in particular, motivated me to visit Granada and the Alhambra this year instead of putting it off once again. I’ll start with one of the reasons that doesn’t make me tear up as soon as I think about it for too long, as I’m not as emotionally invested in this one as I am the other one.
First off, at the school I’m working at here in Santiago there is a beautiful little girl who was born blind. Besides noticing that she needs assistance getting to and from her 5th-grade classroom to other classrooms and that she uses a special Braille typewriter to complete her homework assignments, she’s a normal 11-year-old girl. In the beginning, when I first started working with her in the art classes I assist, I was nervous around her and I didn’t know how to best communicate with her. I got frustrated with myself when I didn’t relate well to her or when she didn’t understand the point of the activity we were doing at the time.
That all changed when I started really paying attention to how she views the world and which of her other senses she uses to best communicate with those around her as she can’t rely on her sense of sight. At first, I felt sorry for her, to be honest. Especially the moment I came to the realization that she can’t see the color purple -my most favorite color in the world- with her own two eyes, no matter how much I desperately want her to see it. It took me some time to accept that she isn´t able to see and that it´s not something that she can change about herself. But, after I learned that she experiences the world best through touch, I began to focus my words and actions around touch whenever I interacted with her. I found this quote from a well-known poem about Granada again and it wasn’t until after I met this wonderful little girl that I truly understood its meaning.
“Dale limosna, mujer, que no hay en la vida nada, como la pena de ser ciego en Granada..”
(Give him alms, woman, there’s nothing worse in life than being blind in Granada.)
-Francisco Asís de Icaza
I ended up getting tired of seeing or hearing this quote as it was mounted on a plaque near the main plaza in the center of the city but I let the words sink into my mind and I mulled it over those few days I was there. The little girl I’ve gotten to know, Paula, has changed my perspective on life and I am more grateful for my sight now than I ever have been before. She was once someone who made me so nervous to be around but now she brings me so much joy. I love seeing how she sees the world with her hands and she impresses me with her love for extreme sports such as surfing and horseback riding. She actually showed me horses communicate best by touch so she can communicate perfectly with them. In a way, she is more in tune with the world than most people ever are in their lifetimes. She feels the same emotions that most kids her age feel but what’s different about her is that she also takes time to absorb experiences and get her hands on them too so to speak.
So, as I made my travel plans for Carnival, I decided that I had to take advantage of going to Granada and while I was there, I had to see the Alhambra. It wasn’t as if I would lose my sight any time soon –knock on wood– but I felt that it was now or never.
Secondly, a terrible start to 2016 was also a big motivator for me to go to Granada and not put it off any longer. I woke up to the news that my oldest cousin, who lived in California, passed away at age 32 from her grueling battle with first, breast cancer and then later the following September, lung cancer. As the new year drew near, the cancer ravaged her body even more until she went peacefully on the very last day of 2015, surrounded by my mom’s family. I cried my eyes out when I awoke to the news and the days following. After a while, I pulled myself together. Or as best as I could while living far, far away from my family.
Thoughts and plans I had once put off overwhelmed me as I pondered over just how short life truly is. I also wondered if there was a dream place that my cousin had ever wanted to go see in her lifetime. I don’t know if there ever was as it was something we hadn’t ever talked about before. One place in particular for me stood out and I couldn’t dismiss the thought or put it off any longer. I had to see the Alhambra before I die. It was an item on my bucket list that I had yet to fulfill and there was no time like this year to cross it off. And not only would I do the trip for myself but I would do it for these two special people in my life who have taught me so much in such a short time. I would go for Paula, a joyous little girl who may never be able to see the world as I do, and for my cousin Jenna, a beautiful and kind soul who left this world far too soon. I would go for them and I would enjoy every single sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch along the way.
Now, getting myself to Granada and not running into any roadblocks along the way was the only challenge that lay ahead of me. I had the burning desire to go and I had my reasons for going firmly in my mind. The only things that could slow me down or hinder me from going at all were technology and the various modes of transportation that I needed to take in order to arrive there in one piece.
When I finally made it to the entry door of the Nasrid Palace (the starting point of any tour of the Alhambra) and the man who had told me earlier to go to the taquillas first to exchange the ticket I had printed off at a La Caixa ATM for an official ticket, . He recognized me from earlier and the tone of his voice as he said, “Vente amiga. Hay tiempo para todo,” urged me to walk faster towards the ramp and into the magical palace that was just a few feet away.
As the barcode scanner passed over my ticket and beeped, I realized I had completed the final step of my journey. I was in. No one told me that I had arrived too late and had missed my entry time into the Alhambra. No one told me that I had bought the wrong ticket and that said ticket wouldn’t allow me to enter. I was in and it was finally my turn.
And as I took my first steps down the path that lead to the main door, the tears came. And not in a soft and graceful way, but in a more intense, please-no-one-look-at-you kind of way. You know, the kind of tears you shed after you complete something very strenuous or you hear of bad news about something or someone that’s very close to your heart. The kind of tears that ruin mascara and good makeup, haha.
Images and experiences of what it took for me to get there flashed before me: a flight from Santiago to Madrid, the Cercanias train from the airport to the Atocha station and a short walk to the bus station in Madrid, an overnight bus to Granada, a brief early morning check-in to my accommodations and then finally, a taxi up to the hilly area where the Alhambra palace is located. I had arrived. And I was finally seeing the beauty of this palace that I had dreamed of seeing for so, so long. I continued to cry and wipe my eyes as I walked into the first room of the Nasrid palace and I took in all of the tiles, designs, and Arab architecture. I waited for a couple of groups to pass by me and got my bearings. I had no idea what kind of a treat my eyes were in for later as I continued to make my way through all of the palaces and gardens that make up the Alhambra.
The sunrise I saw over the ancient Albaicín neighborhood earlier that day and the six hours total I spent on the grounds were more than worth my time. It was an experience that I’ll remember for the rest of my life and while I will cherish it forever, I would not be opposed to visiting both the palace and the city again.
The Alhambra and Granada are two magical places that can’t be replicated. And I must confess that I fell in love with the city in less than half a day. That’s a first for me! I’m so honored to have had the privilege to see them both and for the memories I made there. I know I’ll be back for a visit and perhaps I’ll cry then too or perhaps it is possible to visit the Alhambra with dry eyes. I’ll have to find out if this is true! 😉