La Alhambra y otras cosas: Where do I fit within a city of tourists and students?

Noah Heil
October 26, 2017

As October draws to a close, and as the fall weather finally begins to settle in, I’ve had some time to comfortably reflect on the the last two months of my life spent here in Spain. A lot of my time thus far has been dedicated to learning Spanish, getting accustomed to a routine of spending time in classes, with friends, and taking various excursions on the weekends, while also trying to absorb all the inspiration I get from the people, places, and art that I see. Up until now, I am quite pleased with how I’ve managed to take away something valuable from my various experiences, be it learning how to say colloquial phrases such as ¡y un jamón! (or “no way!”) or understanding aspects of Spanish history with new clarity after discussing films by Pedro Almodóvar in one of my classes. These experiences help make my time here even more enjoyable, and also feel worthwhile – like I am taking the time to stop and to appreciate the the beauty of Granada and of Andalucia.

At the same time, it is sometimes hard to not feel like a tourist disguised as a student for a semester, away from my “real world” of classes and college in the United States. I do want to visit all the museums I can and buy clothes and souvenirs and eat delicious Spanish food while posting pictures of it all on Instagram, and sometimes these instincts are impossible to ignore.

That being said, I do think it has been important for me to understand that two important characteristics of Granada are LAS TURISTAS and LOS ESTUDIANTES. While it is important for me to take the time to appreciate a culture different than my own, that doesn’t mean I have to prevent myself from doing “tourist” things. In fact, a balance between tourism and academia, between enjoying my opportunities for downtime and enjoying my opportunities to learn and work, has been a helpful mindset to have. I appreciate being able to take trips to neighboring pueblos, while having professors and guides informing us about all the rich history we have alrededor de nosotros in Andalucia. Two weekends ago, my class Lorca y la tradición literaria andaluza spent the day visiting the childhood homes of Federico Garcia Lorca, the brilliant poet and playwright who is particularly famous in Granada. We visited Fuente Vaqueros and Valderrubio, which are pueblitos only about a half-hour bus ride outside of the city. After spending the first half of the semester reading his poems and plays, seeing the preserved houses and the eclectic towns which left a huge effect on Lorca’s life was amazing. The beautiful landscape and la tierra andaluza were majorly influential to to his childhood appreciation of nature and art, and are very symbolic in his works. Here is a picture of my friend Ansel outside the casa Lorca in Valderrubio:



The next day, a group of us returned to the same region but visited el Parque Natural de la Sierra de Huétor and spent the day hiking in the mountains, with BEAUTIFUL views of the fresh snow on the Sierra Nevadas. The landscape there reminded me a lot of Northern California, with the smell of pine trees and fresh air in the high elevation. Our guides brought us along a route of las Trincheras del Maúllo, where we walked through the remains of defensive structures left over from battles in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Afterwards, we went to a pastelería in the nearby small-town Alfacar and made delicious home-made bread with some very funny and informative bakers. Here is a view of the Sierra Nevadas and a section of las trincheras, and also a silly pic of us students and the orientadores basking in the sunlight outside the toasty bakery.




It has been so nice to have these little trips organized for the weekends, they always leave me feeling appreciative, intrigued, and well-informed. This past weekend, my friends and I stayed in Lanjaron, which is a tiny town that is a part of the Alpujarra, a particularly beautiful region just off the Sierra Nevadas. The bus ride up was very windy and my friend and I felt a little nauseous, but upon our arrival there we knew we made the right choice in coming. There was a little path close to the place we were staying which led up to an amazing view of the town, the highway, the mountains, and a reservoir in the distance. It was a beautiful place to spend the weekend, with friends and amazing scenery all around us.



On top of all these smaller excursions, tomorrow we are being presented with the unique opportunity to take a five day trip to Morocco, crossing the Strait of Gibraltar via un barco, and arriving by sea. I am full of anticipation. We are going to visit Tánger, Asilah, Rabat, Ouezzane, Chefchaouen, and Ceuta, staying with host families along the way and focusing on learning about the intensely different culture which exists so close to Southern Spain. I am a little nervous, as I have never been to a country or within a culture with such strict and traditional gender expectations, but this agitation is far outweighed by my excitement. I am very much looking forward to the intimate opportunity to learn about Moroccan culture first-hand with the other students and with well-informed tour guides and trip leaders.


Bueno, I hope you enjoy the painting I did of the Alhambra at the top of the page, que turístico, I know. Like I said, I think it’s important to have a little bit of tourism in my life while also appreciating the opportunity I have to be here. This has more or less been my last two weeks here, time really is flying by. I can’t believe how soon I will be back in Minnesota, where apparently it just snowed! Needless to say I’m okay with the fact that it has not yet gotten below about 10ºC (about 50ºF) here and, is usually much warmer. My host family has a dog named Boira – she is adorable and loooooves to bask in the sun on the balcony of our apartment, looking fab while doing so (see below). I feel just as spoiled getting to spend this semester out of the cold, but of course I’m excited to return and see all my family and friends! I hope you enjoyed the read, I will update you on my future trips in mid-November!

Hasta Luego,


Noah Heil

<p>Hello! I am the type of person who always likes to keep busy and having fun. I am a Minnesota native and go to school about a 45 minute drive from where I grew up. Recently, my summers have been spent traveling around in the United States; for the last two years, I have spent the entire summer in Vermont working as a camp counselor and as an art teacher. I love being surrounded by wilderness and natural beauty, with quick and easy access to more 'urban' life and culture nearby. I love working with and mentoring kids, particularly having the opportunity to get them interested and invested in visual arts. Aside from these recent happenings in my life, I like dancing and singing in the shower, meeting new people, and making things!</p>

2017 Fall
Home University:
Macalester College
Northfield, MN
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