Sacromonte & The Albaicin
Why is this city different from all other Spanish cities? No, the answer is not found in your household Haggadah, but rather, in the Moorish quarter of the town. Granada is the last place Arabs occupied during the Spanish Reconquista, and so, has some of the strongest Arab influences through out Al-Andalus. The majority of these remnants lie Sacromonte and the Albaicin. While the city of Granada is noisy, crowded, and new, Sacromonte and the Albaicin are quiet, sparse, and old. I have found myself drawn back to these foothills many times, yearning for that sense of calm and tranquility.
Sacromonte During the Day
Every year, "Abadia del Sacromonte" takes place in the Sacromonte neighborhood in honor of the patron saint of Granada, San Cecilio. Beginning at 10:30 in the morning, a sea of people flow towards Mt. Valparaiso to celebrate the memory of their first bishop. At noon, a municipal procession ascends the Abbey, adorned with flags of Granada, Andalusia, and Spain to the tune of baroque music. After, various regional bands and dance troops perform for the crowd. Many watch while standing in line for traditional foods, such as beans, cod, and salaíllas (salted bread). Beautiful women dance to the beat of traditional Spanish folk music, accompanied by their castanets and male partners. Not only do they take the stage with their flamenco expertise, but also with their eye-catching outfits, appearing from a distance like a rainbow of ladybugs.
Sacromonte At Night
The hike through Sacromonte is completely different at night. One of the more popular places to visit is called "El Camborio". This club consists of a series of underground caves, bars, and a rooftop dance floor complete with a view of the Alhambra. Now, ask yourself, can a discotheque get any better than that?
One evening, my friends and I decided to surprise Sam for her birthday. We met at Plaza Nueva, yelled, "supresa!" and stuffed her into a cab, blindfolded. We got out and walked up the pebbled (and slightly dangerous whilst in heels) walkway to Venta el Gallo - Cueva de Baile Flamenco Restaurante. I didn't really know what to expect at this dinner-and-a-show restaurant, but boy was I blown away! For my first course, I ordered a salad mixed with green olives, tuna, tomatoes, white asparagus, and no salad dressing. It is not popular to drown salads in dressings here. Sometimes you get a little oil, but nothing more. For my second course, I can honestly say, I had the best lamb I've ever tasted in my life. The crispy outside, tender inside, enhanced with a savory brown sauce, transported me into lamb heaven. Poor sheep, but happy taste buds. For my third course, I ordered the fruit platter, which had slices of apple, pineapple, and kiwi. One of the gifts for Sam was a plate of tarts, which the waiters brought out at the end of our meal with sparklers, drawing everyone's attention to our table. We all wished her a happy birthday and dug into the tasty finish. Of course, there was a flamenco show going on while I was eating my very distracting meal. However, I think my dinner "took the cake" that night, so to speak.
One Sunday morning, Elissa and I woke up to the sun shining through our curtains, enticing us to come outside and play.
"Lets try to find that patio in the Albaicin our coordinators showed us!" I suggested.
We told Eloisa our idea and she packed us sandwiches, juice boxes, a fruit for our journey, and off we went! After winding through the old white houses, narrow cobble-stone streets, and passing the same fountain twice, we finally found the plaza, our plaza. We sat on a comfortable stone ledge with a view of the Alhambra in front and the city to the right and below. I people watched, drew in my sketchbook, and took in the warmth of the day.
I have returned many times to this place. Sometimes its filled with dreadlocked hippies hanging out on a Friday afternoon, and other times it is completely vacant. It is a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and just be.