Granada: Gypsies and Game of Thrones

As I said before, Granada quickly became one of my favourite cities. The free tapas definitely had a pull, but the city offers so much more than just free food and cheap beer (as if that wasn’t enough). Luke and I spent nearly 7 hours hiking around the town of Granada and we never ran out of things to see. Our hostel was in the middle of an Arabic market, right next to the winding corridors of the Jewish Quarter. The walls sported intricate mural graffiti from a local artist that reminded me of the decorated side streets of Valparaiso or Melbourne.
Granada is nestled in a little valley, which means most sightseeing involves some rigorous uphill walking. After wandering the lower streets of the city, we meandered uphill towards the Alhambra.
The Alhambra is the main sight in Granada. Not only it is the most popular tourist attraction, but it can also be seen from almost anywhere in the city. It’s an ancient fortress and palace, clinging to the side of a cliff top. Originally built by Arabs in the 800’s, the Alhambra is a stunning sight. The palaces within the fortress have walls of intricately carved marble and areas with stained glass ceilings. And for those that are Game of Thrones fans like I am, filming for the next season is taking place here and at the Alcazar in Seville. This will be Dorne! (A fact I couldn’t quite get over as I explored the area in childish excitement). There are so many royal gardens and forts and lookouts that the Alhambra takes nearly four hours to walk around completely. We managed to see the major sights faster than most tour groups and finished the highlights in just over two hours. With only one full day to see Granada, we wanted to make sure we saw more than just where the royals lived. We wanted to climb the hill to the church of San Miguel, where we were supposed to find both stunning views of the city, and Gypsies living in caves…
The hike up to San Miguel was more than we had anticipated. It’s definitely an uphill battle when you are climbing in the high heat of the afternoon in all black. But the sights along the way made it all worth it: tiny streets with whitewashed buildings and plazas full of locals, the mirador of San Nicholas with postcard views of the Alhambra, and finally the beautiful and towering church of San Miguel itself. And our guidebook was right: the views were incredible. From the top of the mountain you could see all of Granada in it’s glory, and particularly the immense size of the Cathedral that sits right in it’s center. We sat on a wall surrounding the church and gazed over the hill we had just climbed until we sufficiently caught our breaths. Granada really was amazing.
On our way down we joined up with a young guy from California to explore the gypsy caves. These are natural caves, found in the side of the mountain, that the Gypsy people have turned into homes. While some are very primitive, others have doors and furniture and even wifi! Some budget travelers prefer to squat in the caves with the gypsies instead of paying for a bed in a hostel. Although a great story and a money saver, I suppose you run the high risk of being robbed, or in the case of a man we met that lived there, being bit by a two foot long centipede while taking a siesta.
While some of these caves are homes, others are communal areas where gypsies will put on private Flamenco shows for money. We only explored the “residential” part of the caves… If you could call it that. As the three of us wound our way downhill through bushes and dirt paths, it was less a magical gypsy land and more like the slums of Granada. At one point we were fairly certain of being attacked by a wild dog that gave us a stare down and growled at us the whole way past him. We were very relieved to reach “normal” civilization without getting either robbed or rabies. But all part of the fun of exploring!
On our walk home we meandered along the riverside into the center of town. Probably one of the most picturesque views of Granada I’d seen. It was leisurely and quiet, with some cafés and churches along one side of the path, and the winding river on the other. We arrived back at the hostel almost 7 hours after we had left it and were absolutely famished. At least we’d earned our fair share of tapas for the evening!

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Tapas in Spain

Everyday, multiple people ask me what I’m doing in Spain. Why, of all the places in the world, am I here? Although my answers have varied slightly – to practice the language, to fill an empty gap on my travel map, because I love the laid back lifestyle – more often than not it boils down to one common answer: to eat.
There’s nothing I love more in the world of food than tapas (well, other than cheese of course). Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I have an irrational fear of making decisions, or maybe I just prefer the social aspect of it all. But ultimately, I adore the idea of sharing many small dishes instead of eating one large one alone.
When I arrived in Madrid I was ecstatic to start eating. My first evening I ventured to a 10€ all-you-can-eat tapas at a restaurant called El Tigre. It was overwhelming. The restaurant managed to cram over 100 people inside it’s tiny walls. It was a standing only venue, with waiters carrying platters of tapas and trays full of 1/2 litre beers and sangria stacked three tiers high. I felt like a failure as a server after watching these men carry upwards of 24 beers at once through the crowded bar. The tapas, however, were great. So much bread and cheese and meat I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. But after 15 minutes of eating such a carb loaded feast, I found myself craving even the smallest of vegetables. But the platters kept coming, and every time I ordered another drink I was handed another platter of tapas: more than enough to fill a table of people.
I was worried this was what all tapas were going to be like here in Spain. Although fairly decent food, I was sure to get scurvy within the week if I kept eating like that!
When Kelsey and Peter arrived in Madrid it was more of the same. We spent the evening floating from one tapa bar to the next getting little snacks here and wine there: calamari, croquettes, chorizo. The food at these more refined restaurants was much better prepared than the quantity over quality of Le Tigre. I was happy to have found a variety of dishes, and ones that didn’t include a chunk of bread with each bite. If this was what Spanish food was like, then I’m in! And then I hit Granada…
Within hours, Granada became one of my favourite cities of all time. And tapas are its finest feature!
I sat next to an Aussie guy named Luke on the bus down to Granada. It just so happened we were staying in the same hostel and the same room when we made it to the city: a sign of insta-friends. After a six hour journey down from Madrid, we were starving. We were recommended a nearby tapas bar to go for dinner and a drink. When we got there we noticed that the menu had no prices on it. In my experience, if you have to ask the price, it’s too expensive. In Madrid, 3.50€-5.00€ was a decent starting price for tapas. Then again, you could run across a place that was closer to 8€ and end up with a crazy bill after a few dishes each. We just about gave up on the restaurant when the waiter came out and I decided to ask what the cost was.
“Cuanto Cuestan?”
He stared at me for a second confused. I figured he just didn’t understand my still shotty Spanish and was about to ask again when he smiled and said “Libre!”
Free. They were free? As long as you bought a drink (and that did not have to be an alcoholic drink) you got your tapas for free! Well in that case, we decided to sit down for a beer!
With the price of beer being 2.50€ and the food for free, we were doing way better than any place I’d been in Madrid!
Turns out, nearly every restaurant in Granada is like this. You can’t drink in the city without having some sort of food! And the food is outstanding. It puts every meal I had in Madrid to shame. On my last evening in Granada, I went out on a tapas crawl with a crew from the hostel. We went to three restaurants, each more delicious than the last. We picked away at pineapple pork skewers and coconut chicken with polenta. We had falafels and mini Moroccan tagines full of delicious meat. We tried grilled cod and baby shwarmas. We spent 4 hours wandering from bar to bar, enjoying glasses of wine, catching up on all our travels, and talking about food. It was exactly how I want to eat every meal I ever have from now until forever!
This is why I’m in Spain. If I am to be truly honest with myself, I’m here for no other reason than to eat!

(Also, I sadly have zero photos of my tapas in Granada. I was just so excited when they arrived, that I had eaten them before thinking about photos!)

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