Looking over Granada

Friday, February 17, 2012

Dear Spain- I like you, let's be friends.

When I first arrived in Madrid I was a lost dog, roaming around the East side of the city near the business district. I couldn't even recognize a market to buy a pack of smokes. Giant buildings with business laden logos taunted me and pushed me around. I asked a man for directions to the Plaza De Espana, which I thought was close. I wasn't close at all, not even to the St. Domingo district even after seeing a street sign for St. Domingo; in fact, I was pretty fucking far from it. The man told me to hop on the metro and stroll into town. Simple enough right? Well, maybe for someone who didn't just spend fifteen minutes trying to escape the metro station. In my defense, that station was especially tricky, and every time I followed the "Salida" sign, I would end up where I started. I'm not even sure how I eventually made it out, but I felt victorious, and then overwhelmed.

So my searched continued, looking more lost and helpless than before. I stopped on a corner to look at my "Europe on a Budget" book's map, and was instantly approached by two men. "Hey," one shouted, "do you speak English?" This was my saving grace. "Yes!" I nearly yelled. We exchanged stories. They were traveling from Morocco. Buda, a native of Morocco, was attending a heavy metal concert that night, and Josiah, who had been traveling for six months, followed Buda from Morocco. I can't explain how comforting, and how lucky I was to stumble across two other travelers, especially since they approached me. We all decided to hang out and they led me to my hostel where I checked in and dropped off my bags, and then we headed out to eat. I am in forever indebted to these two men whom made my life invariably easier that day. Thank you.

My first meal wasn't great by Spain's standards, but not bad either. I stuck to what I knew- fried chicken strips with fritas and a fried egg, served with a copa (cup of beer) and olives. They pretty much only serve one type of Cerveza on tap in Madrid, Mahou (it's pretty disgusting), and when you order a cerveza or vino, they typically serve with olives and/or tapas (blood sausage, chorizo, Jamon, chips, etc). This is something I'm not accustomed to in the states. Giving away free food is almost unheard of; a ghastly gesture. But here, in Spain, they take care of the people.

We met up with Josiah's friend Jenesa and carried on with our day. Buda ended up departing for his black metal concert. I thought it was funny that such a soft spoken and humble man named Buda was going to a Black Metal show. But in Europe, the metal heads are some of the most harmonious people on the planet. Not all, but some. After Buda left, the three of us took advantage of the free entry at the Museo De Prado. The walk through Balboa Park to the museum was beautiful, even in the rain. And once inside, we were overwhelmed by the size of the Prado.

The styles of paintings varied from 19th century Renaissance to Italian Renaissance to El Greco. Spanish artists like Velázquez and Francisco de Goya had entire rooms dedicated to their works. There were also great interpretations of the last supper, including inspiring materpieces by the well know Italian artist Botticelli ( whom I ended up seeing and appreciating more of his work at the Ufili Museum in Florence). I stumbled through most the museum like a zombie, suffering from massive sleep deprivation and jet lag. I was most impressed by Heironymus Bosch's, "The Garden of Earthly Delights." If you haven't seen this painting, look it up, it's a utopian concept with everyone feasting off the natural delicacies of the earth. It insinuates sexuality, and an ideal society where everyone is as free as they choose. That was my interpretation.

I made it safely back to the hostel and passed out. The next day I met up with my friend Cassondra, who I graduated with at Sonoma State University (holler back). We walked and talked, went to a tapas bar or two, and hugged goodbye with the sunset behind us, igniting powerful hues of red and orange. The sunsets in Madrid are some of the best I've seen. Another great thing about Madrid, and traveling in general, is that days are slow enough to enjoy. Whether it's sitting alone at a park, enjoying local graffiti or a sunset, or sitting at a bar drinking a glass of vino, things slow down, and are still always entertaining. People seem to appreciate the little things. They don't sit around and text each other, or waste their days on a laptop; they simply communicate face to face. And drinking at any time of the day is never frowned upon. The lifestyle in Madrid is a very interesting and pleasant dichotomy, it's slower and yet faster at the same.

Saturday night I took a siesta and then headed out around ten. I met a girl from the Hostel named Catalina who was traveling alone from Brazil. We went to the Plaza De Santa Anna and ate at one of the oldest tapas bars in Madrid. That night I made a breakthrough in my diet...I ordered a dish that other people were eating, having no idea what it was. When it plopped down in front of me, I hadn't realized there was calamari on it (I hardly eat seafood). It was a toasted piece of bread topped with caramelized onions, a roasted bell pepper, a round slice of goat cheese, and calamari drizzled with olive oil and Vincotto. It was fucking delicious.

We headed out and back into the strip, checking out a dance bar called Sunset. It was interesting, lots of older Spanish people dancing to eighties pop music. Entertaining as it was, we weren't nearly as drunk as everyone, so we left. Next we went to another tapas bar where we indulged in more drinks and sampled my first taste of blood sausage. It came sliced and was nearly black. The taste was bitter, like a faint bronze, and had a tint of sweetness to it. It was really good, especially with a Spanish vino Tinto.

Near the end of our second drink, a guy sat next to us and insisted on sharing his wine. His name was Cesar, from Peru. His English wasn't exceptional, but good enough to communicate. He convinced us to meet his friends at another bar. On the way, we were a little hesitant because of his demeanor. He seemed overly excited. We agreed to at least check it out, and if it was shady, we would leave. We showed up and his friends embraced us with hugs and kisses without hesitation. We danced to American rock n roll, and took shots of Jagermeister and red bull. They all ended up being bartenders at one of Madrid's most popular clubs- El Cool. Cesar gave me his number and wished me luck. The Spanish people can be very friendly and eager to befriend people of all types.

The night ended at around four in the morning as people still loitered the streets, chatting and drinking beer. Drinking in Spain is different, It's more moderate, and people don't get horribly shitfaced like they do in the states. They also have street cleaners working on a consistent basis, although the streets still smell like stale piss. Despite our early exit (yes, four am is considered going home early) the morning still sucked. I had to wake up early to check out, and was slightly hungover. I headed to Cassondra's house in La Latina, who is awesome and welcomed me with open arms. We enjoyed a nice walk up and down the Rastro and enjoyed a beautiful, sunny day. The Rastro is a traditional flea market that they hold every Sunday. It starts on top of hill, the Plaza De Cascorro, and you decline down the street. The market spills onto other surrounding streets as antique shops and food markets open their doors for the large crowd. Vendors sell everything from purses to belt buckles, homemade accessories and imported goods from Morocco. You can get imposter designer clothing for cheap, while others sell old items and heirlooms from their homes. The Rastro means "The trail," and the story goes that when the Spaniards would slaughter and transport cattle, the blood would run through the streets.

Later that night we met up with her friend Cady and hopped around a couple of tapas bars, including a mushroom cave where I ate sauteed mushrooms and spiced peppers. On the walls, which were rocky and curved, were painted mushrooms. Most the buildings and businesses in Spain have been slightly renovated, but they manage to preserve the old architecture, renovating it just enough to conduct a safe business. That night we drank some more and headed back to Cassondra's after stopping at another bar where I had the best burger in Spain (was topped with a fried egg). We spent the rest of our night on her balcony, catching up on old times, and watching drunken people mingle and stammer around, soiling the streets with urine and beer.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Granada, what a pleasant surprise

My original plan was to fly into Madrid and head over to San Sebastian in the Basque county. The plan, however, was thankfully hijacked. After staying almost a week in Madrid, I realized how much time I had and how easy it was to travel. So when my friend Cassondra asked if I wanted to follow her down to Granada for a weekend, I shrugged my shoulders and casually answered, "sure, why the hell not?"

The journey was not all that easy, of course, and due to my incompetence to wake up, I nearly sabotaged it. The previous night I had gone out and stayed up late. Cassondra informed me that she would be leaving at around seven am to meet up with her friend Cady, and that I could take a later bus and meet them there. We were staying at separate hostels so it really didn't matter if we took different buses. I awoke to my phone vibrating. It was a text from Cassondra reading, "we missed our bus. Long story. If you want you can take the 10:30 bus with us." It was nine am. I figured this was more than enough time for me to get to the station, so I languidly took my time in the shower. When I got out it was already nine thirty. Shit, I had to go! I secured my backpack, which was mostly already packed up, and headed to the metro.

I arrived at the station a few minutes past ten. I wasn't too nervous until I saw a humungous line. I secured my placed and crossed my fingers, constantly glaring at the time, which seemed to be speeding up. A couple behind me pleaded in Spanish to the woman in front of me and cut ahead. It was a moment I really wished I knew Spanish. I stated my plea in English but only received blank stares. Finally, my opportunity came. I asked for the ticket and the vendor was surprised I wanted the bus that was leaving in five minutes. "Vominos," she said as I ran off to the platform. Finding the platform should have been easy enough but it wasn't. I was running all over like a fucking idiot, asking anyone I could for help. Finally someone spoke enough English to direct me to the right escalator. I ran up that bitch to the platform where the bus was just pulling out. I flagged him down with my ticket and for some reason he stopped. He yelled a bunch of profanities at me in Spanish and let me aboard. Cassondra and Cady were laughing as I was panting and sweating. "Thank fucking God," I said as I walked passed them.

The bus ride from Madrid to Granada was beautiful. Granada is almost directly South of Madrid. The six hour bus ride took us through the small cities like Toledo, and quaint mountain towns and villages like Manzanares and La Carolina. This was the first time in my life I had taken a bus through hilltops and mountainsides. It's really amazing to see inhabited isolation; villages literally exist on the side of mountains, or in a canyons, surrounded by boulders and trees. I remember at one point listening to Deadmau5. Just when the song started to climax, the Sierra Nevada Mountains came into clear view through the large windshield of the bus. It was unreal.

Once I got there I settled at my hostel, the White Nest, located in the old quarter of Granada. The streets were very slim with rustic, Spanish style housing. It was down the street from an old Cathedral where a wedding was being held, creating a lively and happy energy that stained the air.

That night I went out with the ladies. We bought a cheap bottle of Spanish wine and roamed the hills of Granada, settling on a ledge that overlooked the city and its most famous attraction, the magnificent Alhambra. The night was chilly, but the beauty kept us warm. As we walked up and down jagged streets and paths paved with uneven cobblestone rocks, we frequently stopped in awe of the fantastic graffiti that lent a more modern and artistic feel to such a preserved place. Many times I huddled underneath a tree, gazing around me while soaking in the romance. Screw Paris, this was the real capital of love.

That night I checked in early, playing the guitar (which I had dearly missed) and checking in on Facebook (guilty). Next to me was a bald man who ended up sleeping in the bunk above me. I didn't know it at the time, but this man and I would be connected by more than just bunks.

The next day we went on another hike up in the hills of the Old Quarter. I scoped out the inhabited caves located on the dry hills of the Sacromonte (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacromonte). While prancing ignorantly up the Valparaiso hill, which was built on old Roman catacombs, I heard some scrambling coming from one of the caves. I looked up to see an elderly man leaning on a cane. His skin was thick and wrinkled like aged leather. He was starring intently at me, like he was casting a spell. I looked to my right and noticed another man squatting on a mattress. Bed sheets barely covered his trite expression. I carefully turned my body around and ran down the hill without looking back. That moment really encapsulated and defined my journey. I was a foreigner in a land that wasn't mine.

When we returned from the hill we ate at Kebab King and roamed the city. That night the girls checked in early because they were going to the Alhambra early in the morning. I stayed out and ended up meeting a guy named Taylor at my hostel from Colorado. We chatted and decided to grab a beer and some tapas. He went to grab his friend from the hostel. He returned with the bald man from my room. His name was Henrik, from Denmark. We all talked about our adventures and future endeavors in life. They told me about their experience getting ripped off in Barcelona. I should have learned from their story, but in Barcelona apparently everyone gets robbed. That night Taylor headed in early, and Henrik and I headed out for some more drinks. We ended the night in front of our hostel at three in the morning with two Asian guys who were drinking Jameson. We helped them kill the bottle and retired for the night.

The next couple days were a blur. Henrik and I became good friends, and saw people come and go from our room. One night, a girl and her cousin checked in. We all went out that night and got to play tour guide since we had discovered the good tapas bars. We stayed out til about four in the morning and I was to check out the next day. I also had yet to see the Alhambra. So at eight thirty in the morning when my alarm went off, I felt like pure death, contemplating whether or not to go. Without giving much more thought, I threw on a pair of pants and headed out the door, forgetting to tell the front desk that I'd have to check out late.

While I was walking up the hill to the Alhambra I ran into a pack of college kids I had met the night before. They were in just as terrible condition as I was. We were sweating out the booze from the night before, trying to follow the signs in Spanish to this great monument. They had lost one of their friends the previous night, and were all getting frustrated, bickering at one another. I broke away from them and explored the Alhambra solo. I can't really put it into words how amazing it is up there. There is a aura in the air that completely overtakes you, and no, it wasn't just the hangover. I staggered through the enormous complex built of ancient Moorish palaces. I was in awe by every site and story explained by my automotive guide. If you haven't ever heard of this place, follow this link and explore its History.

I returned to the hostel and the receptionists immediately asked, "Are you Anthony?" I responded with a timid, "yes..." And they exploded with laughter.

"Thank God you are alive. We thought you may have disappeared, or were dead." I was a little shocked those were their first thoughts.

"Does that happen a lot?" I asked, naively.

"Well, more than we'd like. Good to see you back, but can you check out please?"

I gathered my belongings and said goodbye to Henrik. We exchanged numbers and I told him I was off to Malaga. On my way out I ran into a couple who were also traveling to Malaga. Apparently they also knew Henrik and Taylor, and so we decided to travel together. It was the beginning of a beautiful journey into Southern Spain.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Favorite Spanish Eats

Restaurant Botin (Calle De Cuchilleros, 17 Madrid, Spain)- Madrid's claim of the "earliest restaurant in the world," was founded in 1725 by Sebastian Botin. The outside of this quaint, two story restaurant features two windows. One is etched with words from Earnest Hemingway, a writer who was heavily influenced by Spain and it's rich culture of food and wine. Underneath is are paintings of bulls and a matador, along with an image of Hemingway. The inside does not have ample space, but creates a unique and intimate dining experience. Tables are close to each other as every toast of a wine glass and thud of a Sangria bucket is heard.

Artichokes with Iberian Jamon

Roast Suckling Pig and Roast Baby Lamb with Potatoes

Tarta De Queso Con Chocolate Blanco (Cheesecake with Chocolate Sauce)
Flan de huevo con nata

Meson del Champinon (Calle Cava de San Miguel, 17, 28005 Madrid, Spain)- Literally inside of a cave, there are paintings of mushrooms on jagged rocks that protrude from the walls. The tapas are delicious, and the mushrooms and 'Pimientos de Padron' are a must (pictured below).

Pimientos de Padron and Mushrooms

El Tigre (30 Calle de las Infantas, Madrid, Spain)- This place fills up quickly, but gives very generous and typical Spanish tapas. A great place when you're on a budget. Also very international.


Taberna Almendro 13 (C/ Almendro, 13, 28005 Madrid, Spain)- Best burger I had in Spain, hands down. Also check out Home Burger Bar, and New York Burger. Pretty decent, but this place in the La Latina district owns...

Mercado de San Miguel (Plaza San Miguel, S/N 28013 Madrid, Spain)- A huge indoor market filled with vendors selling local Spanish wines, Churros Con Chocolate, Piaya, fresh fruits and vegetables, along with various pastries, candies, and much more.



Mercado de San Miguel

Churros Con Chocolate

Museo De Jamon (Carrera San Jerónimo, 1 28014 Madrid, Spain)- This place is filled with every type of Jamon you can imagine. Everything from Iberian to Acorn fed, and you can choose the Bocadillo (Spanish Sandwich) of your liking.

Museo De Jamon

Tapas Bars in the Plaza de Santa Anna (Madrid)- I went to two amazing tapas bars that I unfortunately missed the names of where I experienced some amazing food.

Toast topped with Roasted Red Bell Pepper, a slice of Goat Cheese, Baked Calamari, and a sweet Vincotto sauce. 

Blood Sausage

While in San Sebastian I stopped at a cafe along the coast. I could hardly understand the menu but when I glanced at the specials board I noticed they had Foie Gras (Duck Liver). It had recently been banned in the United States and figured there was no better place (other than France) to try this dish. It was delightful, served with a sweet jam, pimento aioli, sliced almonds, and fresh bread.

Foie Gras in San Sebastian

The Menu

Heavily Wrapped in Amazing

Published on www.waybeyondborders.com

Heavily Wrapped in Amazing

By Anthony Presti

Imagine a palace on a hill, surrounded by a fortress of trees that preserves its beauty. Castle-like pillars and towers poke their ridged roof tops through the greenery. A steeple with a cross tops a bell tower, and a long wall of chambers hides a Romanesque coliseum. One’s imagination could go only so far beyond the reddish brick that builds this palace. Mystical and unreal, and - when illuminated by the moon - it offers up an image reminiscent of a Van Gogh painting. This is the Alhambra, one of Europe's most visited attractions, steeped in history and heavily wrapped in amazing. It is an icon that heralds an important part of Spain's great history and serves as the backdrop for the ever-amazing Granada, in the heart of Andalucia and at the foothills of the illustrious Sierra Nevada Mountains, an amazing vacation destination in its own right.
Without a doubt, Granada captures and provides an authentic Spanish experience. Together with Seville, Granada is one of the home cities of the Flamenco and that helps give the city a very indigenous feel. The cobblestone streets are ridged and jagged, with every step taking you back to the early periods of Spanish history. It’s been said they made the paths this way to keep the foreigners out and to preserve its integrity. Rustic looking buildings lean on each other, while people enter and exit with a lazy, careless swagger. The aura is free and happy, contradicting its oppressed history and the fight they’ve endured. Every moment of every day provides the perfect time to sit back with a fresh baked loaf of bread and a bottle of Rioja, as time seems to stand still. When the sky is dark, the vendors light up the narrow paths with homemade accessories and imported souvenirs. Intertwined with hookah bars and restaurants, Granada offers a diverse nightlife. Whether you desire a night of Flamenco dancing and drinking a bucket of sangria, a romantic sunset with a bottle of vino, a modest night hidden in a tapas bar with friends or an all night extravaganza at the discotecha, Granada will appease your nightly entertainment needs.
Granada is divided into two districts, Old and New, with each offering unique qualities. New Granada is more developed and progressive, covered in paved streets and modern businesses. This complements nicely the Arabic and Moorish influences found throughout Old Granada. The districts are formed by divisions that further highlight the city's historic diversity. The Realejo, once populated by the Jewish immigrants, is now flooded with Andalusian villas and gardens, while the Cartuja, which features a gothic and baroque style monastery of the same name, is close to the Universidad and the Hospital San Juan De Dios, the heart of New Granada.
View over the cityView over the city
The Bib-Rambla epitomizes olden-day Spain, made up of narrow pathways with rustic buildings and flowered terraces. It is also home to a number of restaurants, giving the opportunity for visitors to sit on a covered patio, enjoy a tortilla and a café con lech while looking up towards the Sacromonte, which is located on the hill of Albaicín, along the Darro River. Its nickname, Valparaiso, means 'Valley of Paradise'. Here, along with great hiking and views of the river, you can find a plethora of other sights and activities, including inhabited cave houses dug into the hillsides. There is a precarious path that leads to the unique caves, but it is not advised for tourists climb. Sacromonte is also the center for Flamenco song and dance clubs, many of which are often held in caves and typically feature a family style of flamenco called the Zambra. The Venta El Gallo, one of the many clubs along the Camino Del Sacromonte, is one of oldest and most popular Flamenco spots. If you hike up a little further you’ll enter the Albayzin district, an ancient Moorish quarter of the city where you can catch a stunning view of Alhambra, set against the backdrop of a gorgeous sunset from the Plaza De San Nicolas. The Zaidin district, mostly derived of neighborhoods and houses traditionally populated by Gypsies, features a large outdoor market every weekend with fresh produce and handmade goods. 
On the topic of comida, Granada’s ethnic melting pot lends for some of the best and most diverse food in the country. Its Middle Eastern and West Asian influences translate into some delicious authentic food. Indian cuisine, such as lamb or chicken curry are always on the menu, but if you want something simpler and more 'on the go', stop into the Kebab King to grab a cheap and filling chicken or pork Shawarma. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the American Kebab, served on a roll with French fries. The tapas here are similar to those you’ll find all around central and southern Spain, including small bites such as tortillas (Spanish omelette), bocadillos or bocatas (Spanish sandwiches usually filled with jamon or tortilla), Spanish olives or croquettes (a fried bread-roll typically filled with mashed potatoes or béchamel, and jamon or chicken). If you’re going out for a nice dinner, take advantage of the gastronomical cuisine that epitomizes Granada. They use many fresh vegetables creating mouth watering gazpachos and stews. You must be ambitious, however, as they use all parts of most animals. Start with the Olla de San Antón, a hearty stew made up of lima beans, pig's ear or head, bacon and blood sausage. Incidentally, you must try blood sausage in Spain, there is no exception. If you’re a vegetarian, stick with the Ajo Blanco, a cold Almond based soup. Indulge in some Plato Alpujarreño, made of Fried potatoes, fried egg, cured ham and spicy sausage, or Espetones or fried sardines, while you wait for your main entrée, the Cazuela de Pescado Frito, a fried fish casserole. Wash it all down with some Vino Tinto or Blanco, Sangria, or the popular Tinto De Verano, a combination of red wine and lemonade or Sprite. For dessert relax at a hookah bar and try a decadent and light chocolate crepe or some baklava. 
Murals depict the city's rich history of danceMurals depict the city's rich history of danceWhile eating the day away is a great possibility in Granada, there are many other activities to enjoy as well, including cheap day trips to hot springs as proffered by many local hostels and hotels. Granada is well known for its water, being so close to the mountains. You can actually drink from many of the fountains found around the city, and though you can drink the water, you can also bathe in it. Lie in the natural reserves while fresh mountain water soothes your skin, soak up years of tradition and whiff the pungent smell of sulphur mixed with the cool Spanish air. Check out the Alhama de Granada, about 50 km outside of Granada, where the hot springs are found at the banks of the Merchan River. If you’re not feeling well and are in need of natural treatment, take a trip to Lanjaron, about 44 km outside of the city, where it is said the spa waters cure various health and digestive problems. If you want to stay local and still get a similar alternative experience, seek out Arab baths, which are also called Turkish or Hammam baths. They provide aroma therapy sessions and various rooms with different temperature baths and pools. And while you’re relaxing in the spa, letting the water rescue your body and mind, let your imagination focus on that magnificent palace on the hill. 
The Alhambra, which is from the Arabic for "the red one", is a gigantic palace with elaborate reddish temples that are detailed with sketches and decorated with tiles both inside and out, while small ponds surrounded by beautiful gardens are found in its grandiose courtyards. Originally constructed in the mid-14th century by early Arab rulers, parts of the Alhambra were inhabited by Christian rulers who built additions to the fortress after the 1492 end of the Reconquista - the centuries-long campaign to reclaim the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors. In the 19th century the palace was abandoned, used by the homeless for shelter and bathing, but was inevitably restored and turned into one of Spain’s most visited attractions. The layout of the Alhambra doesn’t follow any particular or strategic format, as it was continuously built upon by its rulers, and therefore has a number of significant parts. 
At the top is Charles V’s palace, which was added after the Reconquista by - you guessed it - King Charles V. The outside is an intricate, square renaissance style palace with a Romanesque coliseum type layout inside. It was meant to be covered by a dome, but was never finished as the King’s son Phillip II abandoned the project to build his own palace. While standing on the second story, admiring the beautiful marble pillars and its impressive design, there is a surprising feeling of seclusion. No matter how many people weave throughout its columns, or gather in the middle of the palace, it can be mesmerizing and taunting. The palace is still a venue for popular international festivals and also has an inside exhibit of artists produced or influenced by Spain, such as M.C. Escher. 
The Alcazaba are the old Moorish temples and the oldest quarters of the Alhambra. While its maze-like courtyard and impressive views of the city are one to admire, it’s hard not to imagine what this place was like in its prime, the days before its destruction when the Christians invaded, the Muslims fled and Napoleon made his mark as a passerby. The Palacios Nazaries is the Moorish palace, so exquisite and elaborate that the thirty minute wait to get in is worth it and the anticipation is not felt in vain. There are buildings and rooms with intricately carved wooden ceilings, stucco and tiled walls, and ponds with bubbling fountains found in courtyards loitered with colorful flowers and plants. The Court of Myrtles is one of these courtyards, featuring a rectangular pond surrounded by hedges. Notice the reflection of the temple in the water as it slowly ripples and let it hypnotize you. These courtyards were especially important to women, whom were seldom allowed to leave the palace. In this palace there are many rooms, such as the Boat Room, which features high ceilings with intricate designs and narrow walls, and the very significant Hall of the Ambassadors, the largest in the Alhambra. It is in this room where sultans would conduct their business, and where two highly significant turning points in Spain's history would take place: it is where the Moorish king surrendered terms to the new Christian rulers that saw the completion of the Reconquista and where Isabel and Ferdinand inked the deal that in effect financed the voyage that would take Christopher Columbus' to the New World. 
The Court of the Lions, with a fountain made of twelve lion statues said to resemble each of the Moorish tribes, embodies a feeling of power. Its 124 pillars in the courtyard - an impressive sight indeed - convey their limitless boundaries to embellish the palace. To the right is the Hall of the Abencerrajes, and at the end of the courtyard, is the Hall of the Kings. The Hall of the Two Sisters, with backwards tiles that influenced M.C. Escher’s infatuation with shapes, is followed by Washington Irving Room and then by a magnificent hallway leading out of the palace where you can catch a stunning view of Albayzin and Sacromonte. Follow the signs for the grand finale, the Genralife Gardens. 
The Genralife is an illustrious exhibit of lush plants and gardens intertwined with fountains and ponds. A maze of vegetation, the sultans used this area to grow fresh vegetables and fruits. Trees engulf pathways, creating a shady tunnel of greenery with the sun moderately peeking through. Rustic Spanish stairways lead to different levels of plant life with fountains spraying simultaneously in ponds as if they are saluting the royalty that walked the paths. The water looks fresh enough to swim in, and fountains of giant coy fish plead you to emulate their existence. The plants seem to bring you extra life, their oxygen filling your lungs with pure botanical inspiration. When you reach the top yet another beautiful view awaits you, but this time overlooking the Alhambra and every previous monument you’ve enjoyed. When you walk down the cement steps, there is a stream of water inheriting the hollowed out hand rails. It’s relaxing, tranquil, and a perfect way to sit and digest one of the most historical attractions in the entire world.
The Alhambra, a palace that has stood the test of time to represent power, pain, sorrow and beauty in Spain's history, cannot be missed on any journey through Granada, which in turn should not be missed by anyone travelling through the country. The city and all its glories are safe for all types of travelers and offer a wide array of accommodations. Let this romantic destination captivate you, but be careful because once you’ve been, you might never leave.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Poems from the Road

Bus of Blues and Love

Blue skies lead me out of the city.
The sparse clouds, each on their own time, replace a simple faith
with thoughts of mine.
I thank you, Autobus, for not making such a stink or a fuss.
I thank you, more or less, for enabling me to see
these beautiful, dry fields of Spain
and the decrepit buildings and towns
who are given a name with a tin can of spray paint.

Blue skies lead me to lamented desolation,
on a bus with a perfect destination.
The spared shrouds of green seem only to envelope me.
I thank you, friends, for helping me.
I thank you, friends, for the envy.
These beautiful, curved mountains of Spain
call me from a distance, without saying my name.

Blue skies lead me above
on this bus of Blues and Love.

Cracked Marble Steps

I walk these steps in the dark
The darkest night of my life
The life in which I tried
And figured out it wasn't really mine
These steps are seemingly never ending
Collapsing under my feet
Before I can even step off them
I barely elevate higher
Aspiring greatness and inspiring tasteless
Arks of cement, originated by grain
and hopes of riches and fame

It's so dark I can't see
This isn't really true to me

I could be the next greatest
This could be the next greatest
step towards advancement in my life
These steps are gratuitous
beautiful, but not the newest
These arks are old
Bold, brazen, and cold
A card game I'm unwilling to fold
and truth be told- I like the mystery
The pilgrimage of misery
For the first time I'm alive
even if I can't see
even if I don't survive
These cracked marble steps
against my swollen feet
are ever so divine


Maybe I've only seen you in Ruins
but you still catch my eyes
Still beautiful as before
as I've heard you to be...

If this is your city in ruins
than you have much to live for
Optimism peaks through
the dirty windows and whispers
"I will be back"
Though to me you never left

In the mornings you claim to be ruined
A sight for no puritan
not even a heathen
but the make up washed away
from the floods have only made
you more appealing to me
more pure and more free

Maybe I've only seen you in Ruins
in high heels and stalkings
not the attire you're used to wearing
You can embellish yourself with gems
but in the end
you're still as beautiful
as the emerald on your finger

This is such a pity of ruins
ruined by disaster
some months prior
but plans can always be redrawn
and cities can always be rebuilt
and love will never cease to exist
it lives in another form, with another twist

I was closer to the tomb than your ruins in bloom
walking into traffic blindly like a zombie
of Baccus
a slave to the grape crusher
And your city awakened me
It gave me hope that we can develop

So maybe I've only seen you in ruins
but I'm glad
to have seen you so vulnerable
and sad
and to have picked you up off the sand
hold your hand
and help you forget, even for just a day, your city in ruins

I was an architect
and you were the plaster
and because of our ruins
we molded together

Rock Cave

The Rock Cave is a place for me to hide
But a place for you to live
How vain of me to Gawk while you observe
spreading your mountain wings
like a sharp hawk- you protect your rock

In the Rock Cave I'm enslaved while you live freely
I'm a stain on your home
couples come out like drones
Red Eyes peer out of Black Days
Gold Eyes blend in with Tanned Greys
Of Stone
The confines you call home

The Rock Cave is a place for me to hike
but a place for you to sleep
outside of small villages
on the top escaping pillages
The Caves are not recommended
or neither all that splendid
for the spoiled and toiled
but for you it's a sanctuary
a place for visionaries
All That IS True

How vain of me to think I could hide
in a Rock Cave with a Thousand Eyes

Steer Me Alone

All the places that we find
or desire with our eyes
are all here waiting for us to see

All the fire we wish to warm
heat the logs that we adorn
have burned to ash waiting for us to plea

All the pictures painted past
histories of all the clash
tell a story waiting for us to read

The wheels that hike up paths
in the mountains, through the grass
have sprouted waiting for us to plow

All the birds that fly so high
and gawk and squawk with vocal cries
have nested waiting for us to hatch

All the walls that carve from stone
form a castle with a heavy throne
there sits a goblet waiting for our lips

All the tears we shed when we depart
on our adventures seeking art
to see the beauty that awaits us
will still remain in our hearts
and are willing to spend time apart
from our families and our friends
until our return, when we commence

our legs will burn
our nests will warm
our eggs will hatch
our birds will swarm
the bus will stop
the castle will rock
the goblet will nourish
and the soul will flourish

For all the places that we find
will change our lives and our minds
and will always be there
waiting for us again

Monday, February 13, 2012

I support Tacheles

I fought through every drop of rain and every ball of hail that pelted my cold Californian face, hoping that this walking tour would be worth it. Several times a previous conversation repeated in my head.

“You’re going to freeze to death?” The walking tour guide’s guarantee echoed.

“Why do you say that?”

“Because you’re only wearing a t-shirt and a jacket, and you’re from California.”
I wished she was wrong. I was from California and shouldn’t have underestimated Berlin’s weather in early December. With every slippery step I took on the history laden concrete of Germany’s capital, my soggy socks reminded me that people had to trek in much worse conditions. During World War II, people lived in constant fear. The Battle of Berlin had taken hundreds of thousands of lives. Buildings were blown to pieces and soldiers roamed the streets with unveiled weapons, searching houses unannounced and killing families with unwarranted reason.

I learned of these tragedies in history books and college courses, but when I faced monumental devastation first hand things became real. After seeing the Berlin wall I couldn’t help but feel humbled. I remember walking across the street as the sun was setting. A faint moon appeared in the darkening sky through the shadows of the trees. The Wall stood proud, absorbing the sun as it hit the gleaming water, illuminating the graffiti that exemplifies the battles and struggles the German people endured. The famous wall was resurrected by Eastern Germany in 1961 after the Cold War. I touched the wall and imagined the American and German tanks facing off at Checkpoint Charlie. Suddenly every ball of ice that hit my face seemed harmless compared to the bullets of the StG 44, the most famous assault rifle used in World War II, that penetrated the skin of thousands of innocent people.
“How are you holding up?” My guide screamed through the bellowing wind, interrupting the reenacting terror in my mind.

“Just fine,” I answered with a crooked smile, evoking a surprised, yet excited (and somewhat concerned) expression on my guide’s face.

“Great, you’re going to love this next place.” Once again, the tour guide was right.

We took the metro to the Mitte district and walked to Oranienburger Straße, the old Jewish quarter of Berlin, and waited on a corner until the rain and hail subsided and then crossed with a few umbrellas used more like shields. I glanced up at a huge stencil that read, “How long is now,” a question that plagues Berliners and seems to have been adopted as their motto. I couldn't help but ponder this thought as we stood in front of the large cement building, blanketed with bullet holes and devastation from World War II.

The building was erected in 1908 as a shopping complex with an extended passageway from Friedrichstraße to Oranienburger Straße. This five story mammoth of a building displays several architectural styles such as Modern and Gothic. Its grey hue casts a gloomy plea for freedom. After World War I, an underground chamber was built, and during the World Warn II it was inhibited by Nazis who held French prisoners captive. During the 1980’s, the building was to be demolished. The dome was ripped off and the popular movie theater was shut down. In the 1990’s a group of artist furloughed the demolition. These people were the Kunsthaus Tacheles.

Tacheles is Yiddish for "straight talking," which is what these artists did. They had the building surveyed to evaluate its “architectural integrity,” and found that it was in surprisingly good condition. Shorty after, it was deemed a historical landmark, and temporarily untouchable. It was expanded with apartments where artists lived, until they mysteriously burnt down. There were suspicions that it was to pave way for a new art centre, as there was constant strife between West and East Berlin artists and their visions of the building. After the wall was torn down, a vision was shared and Tacheles made progress to what it has become.
Inside were vibrant colors. Thought evoking graffiti filled every space with new art layered over old. The damp smell proved its prevailing age as the scent of stale cigarettes and beer reminded me that it was not only an artist exhibit, but exhibited by squatters and party animals. Every level held magnificent and original art. The artists barely paid attention to the storms of people entering and exiting, who took pictures in awe that a place like Tacheles exists. It’s the epitome of free expression, all the way up the four sets of stairs until you reach the fifth floor. There is a wall with petitions and hundreds of pictures. A wooded table sits in the middle of this desperate, desolate room. There are more papers strewn across the etched table top, and pens to lend your John Hancock for the freedom of this building. In 2011, an eviction notice was given, but the artists have striven to keep Tacheles alive.

My advice is simple- Get to Tacheles as quickly as you can. It might not be there for long, but will forever pulse through your veins.