I had thought we had a pretty good game plan before arriving in Granada.
The Granada study abroad program is very popular with Spanish minors at UIUC, so both Julie and I had plenty of recommendations from our friends who have lived there. We had a full two days of sightseeing (and eating!) planned, but like most things during a study abroad semester things didn’t go *quite* as planned.
The train ride from Madrid to Granada was over four hours long, so it was already in to the afternoon by the time we got to Granada. We checked in to our hotel and after realizing public transportation in Granada isn’t really a thing, walked in to the center of town.
It wasn’t hard to find the Catedral de Granada. As we walked around to the side of the cathedral we saw a small gathering of people lined up next to one of the doors (left). Being the curious travelers that we are, Julie and I decided to join the line. A few google searches later we realized it was Semana Santa!
Semana Santa is what the Spanish call Holy Week (last week of Lent, right before Easter). While Holy Week is obviously a big deal in most Catholic regions of the world, it’s especially big in Andalucía, the southern most region of Spain where Granada is located!
There are 32 “fraternities” in Granada, and during Semana Santa each brotherhood processes through the streets of the city. Each brotherhood’s procession features two “floats”, one of Christ and one of the Virgin Mary. These floats are accompanied by women dressed in the traditional Spanish black lace, hooded cross-bearers (which is really freaky since they look like KKK costumes), and bands. That being said, each procession is unique. Each brotherhood decorates it’s floats differently, takes different routes, and process at different times during the week.
Anyway, the crowd outside of the cathedral grew and 45 minutes later the doors opened and the procession began! Let me tell you, the processions are an absolute spectacle. I really wish I could figure out how to post the videos I took to this blog, but take my word for it and try to judge from the pictures how cool it was. The sheer number of people involved is amazing, especially when I realized the floats are literally carried on people’s shoulders. No wonder everyone claps when they make a turn or maneuver a flight of stairs.
This was the first of many processions we saw during our couple of days in Granada. It meant the city was packed and a lot of times it took us a while to get places since the streets were blocked off, but the inconveniences of the crowds and detours were well worth it. Like I said, before arriving in Granada we had no idea Semana Santa was going on. We got incredibly lucky to be able to be a part of such a wonderful tradition, it made our experience in Granada very authentic and memorable.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around and getting a feel for the city. Keeping with the religious theme, we stopped by the Monasterio de San Jerónimo and the Basilica de San Jan de Dios, each known for their history and beauty.
That night we went Casa del Arte Flamenco to watch a flamenco show. Originally we had planned on going to a flamenco show in Madrid, but we had trouble booking a reservation (obviously very popular with tourists), so we decided to wait until Granada. Turns out this was a great decision, since flamenco originated in Andalucía!
The performance at Casa del Arte Flamenco was incredible. The venue was very cool since it was a small room like the original café cantantes, and the guitar player, singer, and male and female dancers were incredibly talented. It felt like a very authentic cultural experience, and I was absolutely blown away. There’s something about Latin countries that always makes me want to sign up for dance classes…
The next morning we found ourselves waking up at the crack of dawn in order to see Granada’s most famous landmark, the Alhambra. The number of people allowed to enter each day is limited and since we weren’t able to buy tickets in advance we had to get up very very early to wait in line and make sure we got inside.
Luckily we did get inside, and we started at the Generalife, the palace and gardens that served as a sort of vacation spot for the Muslim royalty when they wanted to relax. It’s a beautiful estate and was a very peaceful way for us to start the morning.
We then made our way to the Alhambra, a fortress/palace for rulers and government officials when the Muslims ruled Spain. There is a lot to see in the Alhambra, with all of the different palaces and towers and walls and such. Our scheduled time to enter the palaces wasn’t until 2pm so we wandered around and enjoyed the view.
There was no way we were making it until our 2pm appointment without eating lunch so we walked down to the Carrera del Darro, one of Granada’s oldest streets that runs along the river. We found a cute cafe nearby where we I got one of my favorite Spanish foods, pan con tomate, as well as a cappuccino and fresh squeezed orange juice.
From there it was back to the Alhambra for our turn inside the palaces. There are so many different rooms and courtyards and chambers it felt like a bit of a maze. Personally, my favorite was the Court of the Lions, but everything was absolutely gorgeous. Given the fact that the Alhambra and Generalife were built around the 1200s-1400s it’s incredibly well preserved and a great reminder of the Moorish rule of Spain.
After that we walked back down to Albayzín, the old Moorish neighborhood. We slowly made our way up the picturesque (but also winding and narrow) streets to the Mirador de San Nicolas. From that vantage point there’s a beautiful view of the Alhambra with the Sierra Nevada in the background. This is definitely the postcard shot.
Once again we were getting hungry so we walked back into the center of the city and got gelato from a place called Los Italianos. Since I live in Italy I was pretty skeptical of getting Spanish gelato, but Kristen recommended it and when Kristen Cantieri tells you to do something you do it. Also the casata that I ordered came in wedge form, so I figured it was different enough that I was cheating on my host country. As usual, Kristen came in clutch and the gelato was A+
The rest of our time in Granada was spent eating and walking. Granada is such a cute, quaint city we really enjoyed strolling the streets and stumbling upon procession after procession of the Semana Santa festivities. The city is pretty small compared to the other places we’ve visited so even though it seems like we walked a lot it was definitely manageable.
That night we had some fantastic paella for dinner (oh Spanish food how I miss you), and the next morning we actually slept in for the first time in what felt like forever. We had a long, relaxing lunch outside in the beautiful Spanish weather before heading to the Granada airport.
Being the good, safe travelers that we are, Julie and I showed up at the airport 2 hours before our flight which ended up being completely unnecessary. The Granada airport only has a couple of flights to Madrid and Barcelona (yep, that’s it) each day so it was empty when we arrived. So while that part of our trip home to Milan was relaxed, our connection in Madrid was the opposite. The Madrid-Barajas airport is GIGANTIC, especially compared to the usual airports our budget airlines fly us to, so we were a little stressed as we ran across the airport to catch our flight.
Thus concludes Part 1 of my three week Spring Break. After being gone traveling for over a week, it felt great to get back to Milan. That being said, I loved Berlin and I loved Spain so I was excited by the prospect of falling in love with even more places in the coming weeks!