Eurotrip Day 34-35: Granada

Left Sevilla and went to Granada by train. 

Arrived in Granada in the afternoon and checked into the hostel. Hostels in Europe are all pretty good, actually. They’re clean, comfortable, cosy and have this built-in friendly atmosphere that allows you to make friends. But I was feeling pretty unfriendly and introverted during my stay in the Granada hostel, so I mostly kept to myself. Sometimes I find myself getting tired of making small talk with people at the hostel, only to just leave a few days later. That’s the biggest difference with couchsurfing I guess. Through couchsurfing, I feel like I’m building a friendship, but staying at a hostel feels like just passing through. Its true that sometimes even such passing encounters lead to good memories, like in the hostel at Sevilla, but right now, I just need to be by myself, quiet and alone. I need to regain the feeling of independence and freedom that propelled me to travel alone on this trip in the first place.

Woke up early the next morning to queue for tickets at the Alhambra, Spain’s most visited tourist destination, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an attraction that had its tickets for the next two weeks sold out online, the last stronghold of the Moorish before they were driven by the Christians from the Iberian Peninsula during the Reconquest. Everyone I’ve met who’s been there, every review I read online, all pointed to an amazing, almost life-changing place. It was even described as “on par” with the 7 wonders of the world.

Well, its not. I much preferred the Alcazar in Sevilla, which was free-of-charge for students (the Alhambra had a 12 euro admission fee) and didn’t require any queuing. Sure, the Alhambra is beautiful, and has a great view, but it stops there. Sevilla’s Alcazar is lavish, grand and jaw-dropping in its intricacy and beauty. In contrast, Granada's Alhambra feels like a disjointed public park of sorts, with no interconnectivity between the buildings. One moment you’re in a paid area and the next you’re walking through what looks like a modern thoroughfare lined with souveniour shops and then you suddenly come to an old building again, before finding yourself in a garden of sorts that looked like it could have been built anytime between the 12th century and today, such was its "timeless” look. Really, the Alcazar was better, and the Alhambra somewhat disappointing.

Anyway, I got there at a quarter to 7 when it was still 7 degrees celsius at dusk and whiled the almost 2-hour queue by talking to a fellow traveller from Brazil. She’s taking a semester abroad in Madrid (a lot of the people I meet on this trip are actually doing that, and there's especially a ton of Americans studying in Spain. You know what Europeans say about Americans -- you can hear them before you see them). Learnt quite a bit about Brazil and Spain in general by talking to this traveller.

We had an interesting conversation about languages and culture. I’d rank Spanish as one of the major world languages, along with English, Mandarin and Arabic. The great thing about being Singaporean Chinese is that it immediately gives me a huge advantage in that I can speak two of these major languages.

Europeans are fiercely European, I’ve realised. They like to learn each other’s languages, and basically live in a world where there’s only other European countries. Cosmopolitan in that they readily embrace the ideas, cultures and languages of other European countries, but also un-globalised as compared to Singapore or other Asian countries in that they don’t look outside of Europe much. At least Spain doesn’t. Many Spanish I meet can speak French, German, Italian, Portuguese, i.e. languages that used to be as widely spoken as English is today, but they don’t know anything about Asia at all. They are European, but not globalized. We know much more about them than they know about us, which I think is definitely a pity. 

After wandering through the Alhambra for a bit, the Brazilian girl was so tired that she fell asleep on a bench and I tried to pick myself up and went to explore the Albazyin, the old Arabic quarter. I had a pretty good time, actually, climbing the steep cobblestone streets and admiring the whitewashed Mediterranean houses. This area is authentically lived-in, and doesn’t feel like a Disney-Granada like so many old historic towns feel (especially those in Japan, with all the old houses converted to omiyage shops). In Spain, all the old buildings are actually lived in by residents, some of whom may not be wealthy, despite the heritage of their buildings. I can’t tell for sure, but the people living in the Albazyin, a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Granada, don’t look like rich folk. A positive point in Spain’s favour is that it has managed to preserve so much of its heritage as it modernises. Take the old buildings for example. There are so many of them around even now, still lived-in by residents. Its a huge pity that China is demolishing so many of those as it rushes headlong into becoming a world power, as well as during the Cultural Revolution, absolutely one of the most horrible episodes in world history.