The cobbles glisten along the Carrera del Darro and little rivulets of rainwater rush downhill as we walk up, our feet sodden in their inadequate shoes. The weather gives K an excuse to duck into one or two craft shops on our way but she isn’t buying today. She’s in good spirits though; I’m making her laugh – something I regularly try and fail to do.
We’re sharing a tiny umbrella so the view is downward, at the pavement and the street; the rain has managed to take us by surprise and we will be wet through by the time we’ve hiked up to our little cave in Sacromonte, the old gitano quarter that these days is a warren of tablaos that truck tourists in for a bite to eat, some flamenco, and out again.
Wet, cold and happy; we’ve spent the morning and afternoon wandering through our favourite place. Like a lion’s paw resting on mown grass, a few outcrops of the Sierra Nevada come to a stop here on the flat of the vega, the vast flood plain on which sprawls the modern city. Above it, on one of the lion’s claws, the old red fortifications of the Alhambra. On the next claw, the rambling, crumbling, tumbling network of streets and patios, palaces and carmens that makes up the Albayzin. Bougainvilleas and cypress trees pop up amongst the stone-walled gardens and dusty red roofs of old, white-washed town houses, churches and former minarets.
We passed the caracole bar on Plaza Aliatar and walked down Calle Agua del Albayzin to Plaza Larga and through the old Puerta de las Pesas. For once the views from San Nicolas didn’t stop us in our tracks – those from higher up in Sacromonte are even better, and we took the steps at the side and wandered down to Plaza San Miguel, then turned to descend to the city proper, stopping at an old minaret and saying hello to the two little stray cats that napped behind some rails there.
At each corner we stopped to sigh and hold hands. Spain is full of beautiful towns – the old stones of Extremadura and Castilla, the moss-strewn, misty villages of Galicia, the pueblos blancos of Andalusia – but there isn’t anywhere like this. A pair of heavy, happy souls were reminded of the reason we came to this country. It’s been over a year since we set foot in Granada and we castigated ourselves for it, resolved to come more often. It isn’t enough to say there isn’t anywhere in Spain like it; there isn’t anywhere on Earth.
What makes the heart attach itself to this place or that? I don’t know what to tell you about the city; some will feel it and some won’t. It’s a cultured, university town that nobody has gentrified. It still has an edge at night and some cranky ciudadanos – we see more than one street protest on our two-day visit. Flamenco and jazz provide the soundtrack, the visual motifs more Arab here, for obvious reasons, than anywhere else on the peninsula. Down-to-earth bars serve delicious, down-to-earth tapas (the only kind I’m after) for free; the pedants will tell you that a caña will cost you more here but it’s never enough to account for the generosity.
K’s two German friends, T and K2, have spent the morning up in the Alhambra so we’ve had the opportunity to stroll down to Gran Via, the city’s most handsome street, for a coffee. The other two will have seen the Courtyard of the Lions up there, no doubt – now refurbished and complete. All we’ve ever seen on our umpteen visits was scaffolding. Even so, we have preferred to opt out and grab some time with Granada, stepping in to some galleries we’re fond of to browse the work of local artists. One of them, on Reyes Católicos, is packed to the rafters with beautiful things we can never afford but love to look at. Another, on the other side of the street closer to Plaza Nueva, has more affordable things and a little engraving of a kitten grooming itself catches K’s eye.
We’ll return in the morning to buy it. Of course it reminds us of our own two felines – especially the smaller, wilder one we took in off the street. They’re an extra factor in our lives now and yes, we are ridiculous and yes, we do miss them and worry when we travel. They’ll have to come with us if we ever make good on our dream to live in this storied city.
For now though we need concentrate only on navigating the Darro and then the Paseo de los Tristes, then the steep Cuesta de Chapiz, then the curling Camino de Sacromonte that will take us into what is more or less countryside, a mere fifteen minutes from the cathedral. We giggle, our soaked feet warmed just a little with wine, and I play the fool for K’s entertainment.
When I lift the umbrella or tilt it to tease K we suddenly see the old red fort above us, the Comares Tower crowned in rainy grey mist, looking down on us as it has done so often. It’s an old friend.
As we reach the serpentine camino the gypsy houses pile up to our left, many of them caves built into the hillside, homes for hobbits in the Andalusian heat. We get out of our wet things and sit by a heater, rejoining the others for an account of their Alhambra visit. The cave is cosy – not a straight line in it and easily warmed. In the morning, before we leave town, we’ll take another walk, to pick up the engraving and to say goodbye again to Granada.
But we’ll never really say goodbye to it. Even if we never realise our dream to live here, it has become a part of us. It’s a symbol as well as a place. It reminds us each time we come, and always does it so wonderfully, even in the rain, that we need to keep reaching, that we have everything to hope for, that we’re on our way.
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