Three flights, a couple movies, a bunch of Downton Abbey episodes, several Coke Zeroes, and some 20 hours later, I arrived yesterday in Granada, Andalucía, Spain, around 4am Seattle time (1pm, or 13:00 in Granada), wretchedly exhausted and sleep-deprived, but both thrilled and in awe to be in this beautiful country for the first time.
After just over a day here, I think it has finally sunk in. I am in Spain. I live in Granada. Crazy stuff.
I flew US Airways on the first two flights (Seattle to Philadelphia, and then Philadelphia to Madrid), followed by Iberia for the third leg of my long journey (Madrid to Granada).
All three flights were relatively smooth and hassle-free, the Philadelphia flight notable for the complementary (that’s right, FREE) movies AND meals (just when I thought all airlines were charging for these sorts of things now). I was stoked to be able to fulfill my original pre-departure checklist item of seeing Argo, which I thought was fantastic (even though I really should’ve heeded my mom’s advice and taken a sleeping pill on that 6.5 hour flight…).
It was dark when we landed in Madrid around 7 in the morning, and as I walked around the long windowed hallway down to customs, I surprised myself when I teared up. While most of the past couple weeks preceding my departure were shrouded in my disbelief and bridled (as opposed to what should’ve been UNBRIDLED) excitement, my touch-down in Madrid (like the prompt delivery of my visa) was another confirmation of my dream of studying abroad in Spain was well on its way to coming true.
Despite my vigilance in keeping track of my passport, and my obsessive checking of the visa printed in it (note again this recurrent disbelief of mine in concerning the reality of this trip), the customs agent neither said a word to me nor did he even check for the visa. So apparently in the end Spain does not go to the same lengths in checking for student visas upon one’s entry into their country as they do in enforcing strict application requirements. But what the heck.
At baggage claim, I waited in vain for my giant suitcase, somewhat frustrated with my overflowing purse and awkwardly-stuffed (but beautiful and new) Go-Lite backpack. Eventually the conveyor belt stopped, and it took my first usage of Spanish with the lost baggage claim booth staff to discover that I could retrieve my luggage in Granada, unlike what the US Airways agent back in Seattle had told me. The patient Spaniard also instructed me on how to get to Terminal 4, from which planes of Iberian Airlines depart.
Unlike the train system I’m used to at SeaTac, an outside shuttle system in in place at Madrid-Bajaras Aeropuerto Internacional. This was particularly exciting for me because to board this shuttle, I had to physically go outside the airport, that is, leave, the airport; which in my book means I have now been to Madrid.
The video feed on the screen behind the driver also showed a tourist commercial…featuring the members of the Real Madrid squad, which of course I was childishly psyched to see. “Visit Madrid,” each one of them said, from Ronaldo to Özil to Ramos and Benzema, in their respective foreign accents. I was already planning on returning to Madrid anyways, but still…I think I became that much more convinced after seeing this video. How cool it would be to see a La Liga game…
I got to practice my Spanish again at Terminal 4, with the Iberian Airlines agent at the check-in and another one at the customer service kiosk midway through gate K. There was an annoyingly long layover, through which I tried to stay awake by watching Downton, as I didn’t want to fall asleep and by some really bad luck have someone jack my luggage. The specific gate number (K60, K70, etc) had still not been confirmed by the time I was supposed to board, so after talking to the agent I continued to check the screen for any updates on where my flight, Iberia 8058 to Granada, was departing from. At one point it had been listed as delayed until 13:19 instead of 12:05 (trying to adjust to the 24-hour clock here), so I figured it was safe to continue watching a Downton episode on my laptop, pausing every 15 minutes or so to check the screen just in case.
This obsessive-compulsive behavior in effect saved me; I looked up at the screen, and in horror saw the words last call on the “Status” column. Luckily the designated K68 was some 50 feet away, so I rushed over and was the last one to board the bus, which drove us out to the tarmac to board the small Iberian jet.
There may have been a few more tears in my eyes when I sat down in my aisle seat next to a friendly-looking Spanish woman, in my panic about nearly missing my flight and my (almost) inability to shove my Go-Lite pack into the overhead compartment (and of course my debilitating sleep deprivation), but I closed my eyes during take-off, and when I opened them again we were landing. So I guess I got some sleep during my flights…
It was sunny and breezy on the walk outside to the tiny little Granada airport, but I found my baggage easily and chose to catch a cab rather than lug my luggage (whoops) onto the much cheaper city bus.
Something about the amicability of my cab driver and the gorgeousness of surroundings rejuvenated me. I am not quite sure how long the cab ride was, as I was too distracted by our animated conversation, and the beautiful landscape passing us by. I gazed in absolute wonder out the window as we talked, like a child on Christmas, most particularly stunned by the beautiful snow-covered mountains of the Sierra Nevada in the distance, of which I have a great view from behind our apartment complex on Calle Primavera in the Zaidín district of the city. I wish I had taken out my iPhone in the car and snapped a picture, but I was too tired and too in awe of it all for it to cross my mind.
What greeted me when the cab driver pulled up outside the orange-ish bricked apartment complex on the Calle Primavera? An adorable payaso (clown) of an almost-two-year-old, Alejo, and my homestay mom, Verónica, from one of the second story balconies. Fernando, Verónica’s husband, arrived shortly after, and both of them were, and continue to be, so warm, welcoming, and attentive. They gave me the tour, and I was thrilled to discover that the second-story balcony is in fact in my room. How cool is that? And there’s a view of the city too…I could not be any luckier.
For lunch we had a sort of vegetable-based stew, with chicken, tomatoes, carrots, peas, and olive oil, with cheese sprinkled on top. It felt like good, old-fashioned, home-cooked comfort food. I’m not sure if it’s a typical Spanish dish or not, but it sure was tasty; Verónica and Fernando are originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, so perhaps it’s something they picked up back there? I keep forgetting to ask them.
Despite my overwhelming urge to sleep, I went with Verónica on a walk through the city, passing through areas I cannot wait to revisit and explore more thoroughly: the Albayzín, an older, cobblestoned neighborhood with narrow and sloping streets, and the River Darro, the man-made river running east-west, the easterly part of which the renowned Alhambra majestically overlooks.
It sounds dramatic but my heart literally stopped when I looked up and saw it, high upon a steep hill above this dried out river and stray cat-haven they call the Darro. It blows my mind that it’s just there. The thirteenth-century royal residence of the Islamic Nazarí dynasty. To see a monument I learned about and did a group presentation on in my “History and Culture of Spain” course at UBC this past semester, was truly remarkable. I cannot WAIT to actually get up there and take the tour. It will be euros well spent, so I’ve heard (and 100% believe to be true).
We looped back to our home on la Primavera, where I organized my room and somehow managed to stay awake until dinner…at 9pm my time. At that point I’d been up around 36 hours, so after showering (in a shower with EXCELLENT water pressure…the little things, people!), I took that sleeping pill and quite literally passed out.
12 hours later, I woke up to a simple breakfast of toast with cream cheese and jam; there is a LOT of bread in the Spanish diet, assuming Fernando and Verónica eat similarly to native Spaniards. There has been a small basket with slices of fresh baguettes at every meal, which my homestay parents have fed to Alejo in excess, torn up and eaten, and used to scrape up leftover sauce, like the stew of lunch and dinner yesterday, and the salad dressing from today’s simple salad of lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes, along with unseasoned but DELICIOUS cerdo, or pork.
After planning out my bus routes, with a 2004 map of the buslines Verónica gave me, Transportes Rober online (Granada’s transit website), and a second city map we obtained from the tourist office on yesterday’s walk, I visited the Universidad de Granada (UGR) Campus de Cartuja, their northeastern campus, by catching the C bus from the Andrés Segovia stop in el Zaidín, to the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras stop. It’s pretty convenient that each faculty has both its own building AND its own bus stop…the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras (the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature) is the building in which my classes (starting February 18th) will take place.
From there I bussed down to the Campus Fuentenueva, another UGR campus further west along the Avenida Constitución, which runs into the Gran Vía, two of Granada’s busy main streets. Some of the orientation events next week take place there, so I thought I’d venture there as well, relishing my Crédibus card, a reloadable card Verónica let me borrow which gets you discounts on the bus fare, from the usual 1.30 to .70 euros. With that discount, that’s about 94 cents CAD. So between Vancouver, San Francisco, and Granada, Granada is the winner in bus fares…and for some reason that’s really interesting to me.
From Fuentenueva I followed the Gran Vía, the Calle de los Reyes Católicos (the street named in honor of the famed “Catholic monarchs,” Fernando e Isabel, who took back Granada from the Moors), and the Carrera del Genil, a gorgeous walkway from los Reyes Católicos to the Darro. During this paseo, or walk, again in gorgeous sunny and crisp weather, I did make more of an effort to take pictures. And it was truly chilling every time I wandered briefly off the bustling Gran Vía onto a narrower, cobblestoned side street, when the noise abruptly dissipated…and then I realized it was around 15:00, the time of the siesta, the activity or “national sport” of napping, something which Verónica confirmed for me is still exercised by most Spaniards. So between the hours of 14:00 and 16:00, or even as late as 17:00, according to Verónica, people take their siesta (nap), most stores and restaurants close, and the city is almost entirely dead. But that did make for more relaxation and reflection during my picture taking.
And later this afternoon, I went on my first run through through the city. Following the advice of two of my closest friends who spent the last semester studying here, I headed for the river and ran along it, crossing over it and back to make a loop out of it. It’s so nice to run in the late afternoon without the darkness of early evening settling in. And Granada’s weather is literally my FAVORITE running weather: sunny and clear, but cool and crisp, so you don’t get too hot or uncomfortable.
So I think it’s clear based on the length and enthusiasm in this entry that I am quite content and at peace with where I am. After all this talk about this study abroad venture and over a year of preparation, I am here. I am in Granada…
…actually, I live here. And that, my friends, is a truly miraculous fact. Y así comienza la aventura nueva…and so the new adventure begins.