Jan 23 2008

Granada: Gypsy Flight and Flamenco Night

Published by at 6:14 am under Andalucia,Spain

Because we’re masochists, we decided to make the eleven-hour journey from Barcelona to Granada by way of overnight train. Because we’re cheap and stubborn, we opted for airplane-style seats versus the sleeper couchettes. So, once again, we found ourselves on mass public transit, faced with the challenge of sleeping through the night upright and next to strangers.

The train is a vastly preferable form of transportation to the bus, with seats that actually recline, leg room, and the ability to walk around (and dining cars! hooray for dining cars!).

What I dread most about train travel is the trip to the bathroom, which is inescapably a dramatic, humiliating affair for me. The first challenges are 1. finding the bathroom, 2. determining if it is occupied, and 3. figuring out how to open the inexplicable contraption they call a door. But I can generally accomplish those tasks with minimal embarrassment. What I truly dread – what haunts my dreams at night – are the toilets. Because I swear they are OUT TO GET ME.

When it comes time to flush, I turn and warily face my opponent. I slowly reach down, press the button above the toilet and brace myself for the flush. Just when I think I must not have pressed the button correctly, I’ll shakily reach down to push it again. And then, no matter how long I’ve waited – the very moment I determine that it’s simply been too long between push and flush to be functioning properly and bend over the toilet to flush it again – the water is violently sucked out of the bowl, spraying me with blue toilet water and scaring the bejesus out of me. I yelp, spring back, hitting a limb or my head against the mirror or sink, and crash against the door.

I’ll emerge from these battles, bruised and bespeckled, to face a small crowd of inevitably ultra-hip Europeans, who have heard my screams and bangs and curses, and who look at me while they puff away at their cigarettes like I am the least cool person alive.

(And, by the way, if anyone has any tips on how to squat over a toilet on a moving train without peeing all over your pants, I’d appreciate it.)

We arrived in Granada the next morning like we arrive in all cities – tired, hungry and confused. Once we fumbled our way to a hostel, we promptly crashed in our assigned bunk beds, only to sleep through the entire day. Which of course meant that we couldn’t sleep that night. Which of course meant that we had to nap all day the next day. So we successfully spent two entire days in Granada without leaving the hostel at all, except to get food from a nearby mercado. The hostel staff/our roommates were confused by this behavior, and began to eye us suspiciously whenever we ventured out of bed.

Granada overlookWe finally did emerge from the hostel on day three to walk around Granada’s traditional silk market, on the border of the old town’s Arab quarter. Granada is in Andalucia, the southernmost region of Spain and a hop, skip and jump away from Morocco. The African Moors dominated the region for hundreds of years; hence the Muslim influence here is prevalent. The art and architecture is Arabian in style. The street vendors sell hookahs, exotic teas and traditional Muslim attire. The silk market, which I can only assume at one point actually sold silk, has cornered the market on cheap tourist souvenirs. So if you want a Don Quixote statuette or giant poster of a matador, visit Granada’s silk market!

Granada is strikingly different from Barcelona, and it’s incredible that these two places are in the same country (random side note: if it were up to Catalonia, the region that includes Barcelona, they wouldn’t be. The Catalonian and Basque regions of Spain, each with their own distinct languages and customs, have been lobbying for independence from Spain since … well, forever).

After the silk market, we visited a teteria, or teahouse, in the Arab quarter. We’ve seen all sorts of ___erias (pastisseria, baguetteria, fruteria, ferreteria…) in Europe, but never a teteria, which happen to be ubiquitous in Granada. We spent the better part of an afternoon sipping tea and eating Arabian pastries.

gypsy caves of sacramonteWe also visited the infamous gypsy caves of Sacramonte with a tour guide from our hostel. The caves are actually small dwellings carved into the side of a mountain. They are surprisingly modern, with electricity and appliances and even a few windows. Our guide informed us that mostly hippies live in the caves now, as the gypsies have moved on to the suburbs of Granada. This of course prompted many jokes from Ben and me about “gypsy flight” and gypsies driving Dodge Stratuses.

The next day we decided it was time: today is the day we’ll visit the Alhambra! The Alhambra is the reason most people come to Granada, and one of the most celebrated attractions in all of Spain. Originally built as a fortress, the castle was occupied by numerous Moorish princes and their harems, each prince adding to the compound’s lavishness. Some author (Washington Irving?) wrote that you HAVE NOT LIVED if you haven’t seen the Alhambra. It’s true that the Alhambra is fascinating – it is incredibly well preserved and so different than most anything we’ve seen in Western Europe, with its rounded arches, intricate Arabic script, and elaborate fountain structure.

inside the alhambraIt helps your enjoyment if you can ignore certain disturbing tidbits of history such as: “this is the room in which the king kept his favorite girl (or boy) of the moment” and “this is the room in which the king slaughtered 36 princes because he suspected one of them had been intimate with his favorite.” Ben said such tidbits are the best part. I want to imagine every place we visit in its heyday as a magical fairy princess castle. To each his/her own.

But my favorite part about Granada was flamenco night! The hostel receptionist had recommended a good place to watch flamenco dancing, and on our last night in the city, we ventured forth to see the show. Having never seen flamenco, I had no preconceptions about it beyond the dancers’ attire, which I expected to be red, polka-dotted and frilly.

Upon entering the bar, we were directed towards a room near the back. The small, cave-like room had a rocky, low, curved ceiling, and a slightly raised platform at one end. We worked our way through the bibulous throng to two unoccupied stools off to one side. A few moments later, two women and a man cut through the hushed crowd and sat on the stage. The man picked up his guitar and began to play. He was the most amazing guitarist I’ve ever seen perform. He didn’t strum the guitar, but plucked. Each finger moved rapidly over the strings as if independent from his hand, but completely in harmony, like the legs of a spider scampering up a wall.

And then the woman next to him began to sing. She sang with intense passion, her whole body and face reflecting the words of her song. I could understand maybe one of every 12 words she sang, and yet found myself nearly moved to tears, or joyfully cheering, as she told her story through music.

Finally, the young senorita stood up, moved to one side of the stage and started to dance. Her feet moved rhythmically and swiftly, pounding the stage as she swished her skirt and clapped her hands. She gave a deeply emotional performance, using her fists and facial expressions to convey the mood of the dance – from woeful to fierce.

The crowd was riveted. But soon after they began, when the performers were drenched with sweat, they broke the trance, stopped and bowed. The trio exited to cries of “olé!” and roaring applause.

I am writing this from a tiny town near the coast of Spain called Arcos de la Frontera, where we’ve been for over a week. The story of how and why we ended up in this town is for another entry. The good news is: we are almost (finally!) caught up on our blog.

NEXT: The other side of long-term travel »



9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Granada: Gypsy Flight and Flamenco Night”

  1. MAPSU Momon 23 Jan 2008 at 11:00 am

    Dear unsanitary woman who threatens to disrupt our only beacon of cleanliness that is the squatting female,

    seriously, how gross is pee on the seat? pretty gross. is that not why you are squatting in the first place? but this is a cyclical problem. someone squats to pee, pees on the seat. other people figure, well, the seats are being peed on, so i should squat.

    If you must squat/stand, I do have a few tips from our website:
    things you can do instead of peeing on the seat while squatting:

    -pee outside. you are squatting anyway. pee outside and then if you want, you can go inside to wash your hands. this also saves water. you could also just pee right in the drain on the floor. maybe you don’t want to pee in front of everyone, but they don’t want to sit in your pee either.

    -put paper down so you can sit. i am amazed at how often bathrooms that provide toilet seat covers will have pee on the seats. at least put the cover on the seat before you pee all over it. you can also get toilet seat covers in travel packs.

    -bring a little bottle of sanitizer with you and -clean- the seat. if that’s not enough protection for you, clean it after you have peed all over it, instead of just leaving your pee there. you can also get cleaning wipes, like clorox wipes, in travel packs.

    -practice squatting at home. i do believe people when they tell me that they have never peed on the seat while squatting. but don’t practice in public. practice at home until you are -certain- you aren’t going to pee on the seat.

    -lift the seat. if you aren’t sitting on it, why do you need it there? left it up. penised folks are supposed to, in general. and you know why? because otherwise they accidentally pee on it.

    -just sit down. there are more germs on the door handle of the bathroom than on the toilet seat. unless you pee on the seat.

    There is another alternative, called the TravelMate. Just visit http://www.travelmateinfo.com.

    Please consider our suggestions. Your blatant disregard for the hygiene of others is something that you will have to live with on judgement day.


  2. Abbyon 23 Jan 2008 at 10:26 pm

    Wow. I love the comment above me – I just visited the MAPSU website, and I totally need a t-shirt.

  3. Brittanyon 24 Jan 2008 at 7:27 am

    Hi MAPSU mom! At first I thought you were kidding and hilarious with your whole COMEUPPANCE ON JUDGMENT DAY bit. But then I saw the links to your website/organization/plastic attachable penis-mimicking device and realized that you might be serious.

    You’ll be happy to know that Europe is a few steps ahead in terms of bathroom hygiene: most public toilets, including those on trains, don’t even HAVE toilet seats. So it’s hover or fall in, I’m afraid.

    You can rest easy tonight — I do not pee on toilet seats. One less person MAPSU has to convert! Though I can’t seem to shake my annoying habit of licking all the keyboards in internet cafes.

    Sometimes I wonder how people find our site. Who’d have thought our blog would become a forum for discussion on the merits of squatting vs. sitting? I love the internets!

    Abby – Let’s get matching MAPSU pink ringer tees!

  4. Hollyon 24 Jan 2008 at 2:56 pm

    That is hilarious! I totally thought is was one of your funny friends with too much time on their hands. I got your back Brit.

  5. Ben's Momon 24 Jan 2008 at 5:08 pm

    Who is this ‘MAPSU Mom’? I’m pretty sure I can take her!

  6. Stellaon 25 Jan 2008 at 11:46 am

    Oh I KNOW you can take her.

  7. Dadon 27 Jan 2008 at 8:11 pm

    Get the claws out ladies!!! GO for it!!

  8. Home Security :on 30 Oct 2010 at 12:53 pm

    stainless steel toilet seats are good too, we always use them on our newly built house instead of ceramic toilets “”

  9. lalazamiron 01 Nov 2010 at 2:51 am

    I love granada very much all over the world.but i can not travile there because i have not so much monies.thank you/

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