This past week, Mr. Dame in Spain and I motored down south to meet up with visiting family. (We didn’t manage to escape the gray drizzle that seems to have blanketed all of Spain for the past week). We arrived very late at night, GPS was no help at all, and I was not a happy camper pulling my well-worn, three-wheeled suitcase through the steep cobbled streets searching for our AirBnB apartment. But I was immediately charmed by Granada: the treacherous-but-beautiful cobblestone streets, the friendly stray cats, and the Alhambra glowing in the very near distance. We finally found our apartment and guzzled down an Alhambra beer.
The next day we strolled through the ancient streets, marveling at all the Arabic influence in Granada (colorful tiles, keyhole doors, intricately carved details on stone). Granada was founded in 711 by the Moors, then ruled by the Muslim Nasrid Dynasty from 1238 up until the Reconquest by the Christians in 1492. We toured the palace/fortress/marvel that is the Alhambra, which has been a fortress since the 9th century and a palace since the 13th century. (Travelers tip: You absolutely need to book your Alhambra tickets early).
We also walked around an ancient but wonderfully-preserved Arab bathhouse called The Bañuelo. Apparently the bathhouse survived the razing from the Christians because it was attached to a private house, and also because the Christians considered Arab baths akin to whorehouses, so they didn’t want to touch it.
On Thursday afternoon we looked up where to see a Flamenco show and were delighted to find that Peña La Plateria, one of the oldest Flamenco “clubs” in Spain was only open one night a week: Thursday. For me, flamenco is an acquired taste, mostly due to the guttural wailing that passes for singing. But the guitarist and dancer were both excellent and it was fun to be packed in a room with true flamenco aficionados. (They sat in the front rows and seemed to have mastered the complicated task of keeping the rhythm with their hands and yelling out just the right words of encouragement to the performers).
The following day Mr. Dame and I soaked in some traditional Arab baths at the co-ed Hamam al-Andulus, an experienced I enjoyed much more than the time I laid naked on a slab of stone in Istanbul while a women washed me in a way only cars were meant to be washed. It was extremely relaxing to float in warm water while starting up at the little rays of light poking through the star-shaped cut-outs on the ceiling.
Before departing Granada, we stopped into Reez, a glass design shop run by two Argentinians. People in town drop off their used glass bottles to the pair, who then re-purpose them into creative and chic industrial-vintage designs, like the light fixture we bought made of pallet wood, recycled liquor bottles, and industrial electrical cord. And some adorable beer glasses made from beer bottles.
We also spent two nights in the Mediterranean seaside town of Nerja. Aside from the sea views, I wasn’t taken with Nerja, or really any coastal town I’ve visited in southern Spain. Lots of souvenir shops and restaurant menus with pictures on them.
But, on the drive back, Mr. Dame and I passed through the province of Jaen, as we have a few times before. This region of Spain is olive-oil central: The province of Jaen is the largest cultivated olive-growing area in the world. Which is not a surprising fact when you see it: Much of the province is knotty olive trees for as far as the eye can see.
We stopped for lunch in the lead-mining town of Linares in the province of Jaen. Linares didn’t look like much when we parked our car, so I was surprised when I had one of the very best meals I’ve had in Spain at Los Sentidos restaurant. I find it baffling that the country that produces more olive oil than any other country in the world (yep, more than Greece, more than Italy) doesn’t capitalize on it more. It’s very rare to be served olive oil with your bread in most parts of Spain. But at this restaurant knows what a good thing it has and they drop off a whole bottle of “liquid gold” to the table. Perfect for dipping their amazing flaky artisenal rolls. A guy at the table next to me filled his wine glass up a quarter of the way with olive oil and drank it down in a viscous gulp. It looked delicious.
To glass bottles, Arab baths, and Extra Virgin Olive Oil,
The Dame in Spain