Granada, Córdoba, Valencia and Lots of Tapas

There is no such thing as a free lunch.

This statement was often said in economics class to describe the idea that while you may not have to pay for something, it still took time and resources from somebody to create.  But you can get pretty damn close to a free breakfast, lunch, and dinner in Granada thanks to the city’s love for its tapas culture.  At almost every bar and restaurant when you buy a drink a tapa comes along for free.  Sometimes you can choose your tapa from a menu, other times it is just whatever the house tapa is at the moment.  Order a delicious sangria for 2.50euros and you can get yourself a plate of fried octopus legs, eggplant fried in honey, or a variety of other Spanish delicacies like salmorejo (similar to a tomatoe based gazpacho) and rabo de toro (ox tail).  What better way to start a night out than by sharing a few drinks and a bunch of tapas with friends?  You can have a delicious night out for less than 10 euros.

Granada is definitely my style of city.  Very laid back, friendly people, the nature of the Sierra Nevada mountains a stone’s throw away.  Many shop doors and facades are grafittied with elaborate artwork.  That´s a mean looking Louis Armstrong!

Overlooking the city lies the Alhambra, an ancient Moorish fortress of impressive stature.  I didn´t get the opportunity to explore inside as tickets sell out weeks in advance.  A limited amount of tickets go on sale each morning but the lines to buy tickets queue up at six am, which depending on your night might be when you are just rolling into bed.

There are gardens filled with peacocks and beautiful trees, and flowers and plants flow freely down the whitewashed walls of the city’s houses.

A short hike above the main city brings you to Sacremonte, the ancient caves where legend has it that gypsies created the passionate dance known as flamenco.  Watching a flamenco performance you cant help but become mesmerized by the raw passion and confidence that the dancers exude with their mix of flowing twirls, hand clapping, and stomping.  To me it appears that the dancers tap into whatever it is that allows them to become a dancing warrior or warrioress, fully empowered by the music flowing through them.  You can catch flamenco performances in the intimate settings of the caves which have been around for over 800 years (I saw some free amateur performances but the professional performance I saw later in Seville blew me away).  The caves naturally keep the temperature constant, much cooler than the sweltering heat in the exposed sun outside.  In fact there is a community of squatters who live in a settlement of caves.  They have even installed solar panels so that they can get their electricity for free, living off the grid, dependent only on themselves as they live without rent or electricity bills.  They can drink the local water running down from the Sierra Nevadas, some of the purest mineral water in all of Spain.

One day we decided to trek into the Sierra Nevadas to admire their beauty close up.  The hike from Monachil to Los Cahorros took us over many suspended bridges, through some cave tunnels, and provided no shortage of views of the mountain terrain.  After being in cities for a few weeks getting back in touch with nature was a most welcome feeling.

Before arriving in Granada I spent two days in the city of Córdoba.  Córdoba is known as the city of three cultures, a mix of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish culture is evident in its architecture.  This mix is on grand display in the Mezquita, and ancient mosque that has a cathedral built into the middle of it.  Visigoth arches and chandeliers line up row after row and a magnificent cathedral stands in the center.

Just like almost every other city in Europe the influence of the Romans who founded the city is apparent.  Remnants of the ancient Roman bridge crossing the river provide a great nightscape.  The city itself is very small, yet there are ancient buildings around every corner.

The same goes for the city of Valencia, although it is much bigger than both Granada and Córdoba.  Located on the Mediterranean coast north of the Andalusia region it has nice beaches and is famous for oranges (although August unfortunately is not orange season.)  A very unique aspect of Valencia is the Turia Park.  It stretches for more than 10km throughout the city, making taking the scenic route both beautiful and convenient!  The park used to be the Turia river, but the river was diverted from the city after a fatal flood in 1957.  Now it is home to many different trees, fútbol fields, and is crossed by a number of bridges to connect the city.

Valencia has a blend of modern and ancient architecture as well.  The City of Arts and Sciences is home to an aquarium, science museum, a huge screen that shows movies and functions as a planetarium, and much more.  The city center is picturesque and home to some of the biggest celebrations that are part of Las Fallas festival.  Every March huge satirical statues are burned if effugy, firecrackers explode in vast numbers, and the valencianos party for three weeks!

No Spanish city would be complete without a number of plazas and a giant market full of delicious food.  Valencia is famous for paella.  Contrary to popular belief this dish traditionally contains meat such as rabbit, not seafood.  Although you will find plenty of fresh seafood in Valencia.  Spanish cities also usually contain remnants of ancient city walls, like the Serrano Towers.  Only two towers from the ancient walls of the city still exist, the others were knocked down to expand the city.  So why were these two spared?  Because they used to serve as the male and female prisons for the city.  Lucky they were preserved because they are quite impressive, and it was here that I met and had some interesting conversations with a man Emilio who has been living in the Turia Park for the past two years.

Spain and especially Andalusia has been easy on my eyes and easy on my wallet.  It’s free to walk in nature, see ancient history, and eat as you throw back a beer or some sangria, regardless of what they used to say in economics class.