The first of many months in Spain
As the full moon rises behind the Alhambra, marking a month since our arrival, the sounds of flamenco guitar waft through the windows and I am reflecting on the beginning of “our year in Spain”.
Thankfully our arrival was a soft-landing due in part to forward planning but mostly to the generous welcome of our neighbours and local community. We are ensconced now in the ‘hood of the Albaicin, the ancient Moorish neighbourhood of steep, cobbled pedestrian streets and white houses clinging to the hill that faces the famous Alhambra – a palace, fortress and city all in one.
The Alhambra and Albaicin are UNESCO listed for their historical significance having been built and inhabited by the Moors for nearly 800 hundred years until their expulsion by the Catholic kings in 1492. The neighbourhood has mostly been preserved to this day and you can imagine what life might have been like. Walled Carmens (old houses with Arabic-style gardens) and aljibes (wells for collecting water) remain dotted throughout the place.
We chose to live in Granada despite never having set foot in the city before. The decision was based on an assumption that Spaniards in the south of Spain were friendly and relaxed and would therefore be more open to welcoming interlopers from the antipodes who would leave again after 12 months. We were also attracted to the climate and surrounding nature consisting of mountains and beaches. (See the blog post about why Granada)
So far the assumption has been proven correct. We have been welcomed warmly and to this day I have not encountered a single “stressed out” or even a hurried person. People here, while educated, creative and earning a living despite the country’s economic woes, appear to fulfil the concept of life balance and prescribed down time (like siesta and Sundays).
Participation in community activities is high and people always seem to have time to stop for a chat on the street. The bars and cafes are full every evening from 8pm until late and the siesta is lauded as a necessity. Nearly everything shuts down between 2 and 5pm.
Certain inefficiencies and inconveniences are the price to pay for this lifestyle, but to me, it is a small price and actually it presents other opportunities: Since much of the city shuts down on Sunday we have decided to spend Sundays in the surrounding mountains and national parks for walks and bike rides (as do most Granadinos it seems).
With so many warm and happy people everywhere, I think the Spaniards might just have something on us stressed-out, big city dwellers. Ok, so the Spanish economy is reeling since the GFC and unemployment is at an all-time high but when I see the laughter and loud talking in the plazas and outdoor bars each night, I know that Spaniards will draw on their strength of community to ride it out.
As you can tell we are really enjoying this new Andalusian life while still adjusting to certain aspects…
One of the biggest adjustments we have had to make is our approach to time and how the daily routine unfolds. The siesta is well and truly alive in Granada. Do not attempt to do anything but eat and rest during the hours of 2pm to 5pm. Between 8pm and 11pm (or even later) everyone is out on the streets having a glass of wine, dinner or eating tapas. Kids are playing in the plazas and older people play dominos. Our children have deep bags under their eyes as they have not been to bed before 10.30pm since we arrived.
Bureaucracy Spanish Style
There is a highly involved process for most administrative tasks so we try to avoid it wherever possible. Few people (even those paid to know) actually know how to work the bureaucratic system so it can take a lot of effort and frustration to complete simple tasks.
We have been very lucky to avoid or circumvent much of the administration and paper work that I have heard Spain is famous for. We have been trying to live under the radar of bureaucracy and so far so good. Thankfully our EU passports have saved us much worry and angst around visas. The only hurdle we faced was opening a bank account. At one point it seemed to be a process of insurmountable obstacles however, thanks to a local friend with a friend in a bank, we eventually managed to open an account without having to jump through all the hoops.
Never again will I buy bottled water
The water that flows from the taps and water fountains in Granada comes from the sierras surrounding the city and tastes better than anything you could find in a bottle. We no longer need to carry water bottles around with us (BPA free or not!). Water was a big part of Moorish life in Spain and I love that you can still drink the water from the many aljibes around town which are serviced by the same aqueducts built nearly 800 years ago.
Amazing tapas and it’s FREE when you buy a drink
When the drinks are cheap and the tapas is free, one has to learn how to self-moderate but this can only be achieved after experiencing the consequences of excess. With a beer costing 1.20€ and served with delicious types of tapas, it is hard to resist. And despite walking up and down hundreds of stairs and cobbled streets in the Albaicin each day, I think I will be returning home with additional “baggage” around my waist.
Mind the dog poo and “herb” cigarettes.
It is not possible to gaze longingly at the incredible architecture in the Albaicin, for if you do; you are usually only one step away from landing in the mushiest dog turd you have ever seen. I am not sure what the dogs eat around here, but I am likely to become an expert by the end of this year. Frankly, I have never seen so much dog poo in my life as I have on the streets on the Albaicin. The only saving grace is that the hippies (who own most of the dogs here) spread themselves evenly throughout the neighbourhood, and smoke vast amounts of marijuana which tends to mask the smell of the dog crap. We have informed the kids that the ever-present aroma is a type of arabic herb cigarette. We are hoping that will stick for the year.
Get Fit in the Albaicin
Forget the gym, the Albaicin has its very own circuit. Precariously cobbled streets made from river pebbles on steep inclines, thousands of stairs and narrow winding walkways. I am noticing I am less puffed each morning when we climb the steep hill to school everyday. And even the children have come to graciously accept the daily incidental exercise. They have stopped complaining and are also puffing less. My calf muscles are so big now I am straining to zip up my boots!
The children are adapting to school well and are enjoying the new challenges despite a few expected melt downs in the first two weeks. Here the children are fed a cooked lunch at 2pm and the wonders of peer pressure are turning our fussy eaters into well rounded healthy eaters. Our son has joined the local football (soccer) team and junior tennis club and our daughter is learning contemporary dance. There is little time for the kids to wonder about what is happening back in Australia and overall I can see a new sense of independence emerging in our otherwise coddled kids. Can’t wait to see the changes that await us after one year!
Stay tuned and I promise I will update more frequently!
I am currently studying Spanish at the wonderful Castila Language School in the heart of the Albaicin.