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Granada: the land of tagine and Moroccan mint tea

A number of years ago, I took a trip to Morocco with my family and was in awe of the tiny streets of Tangier’s medina twisting and turning until it was impossible to tell which way was north or south. My dad summed up the confusion by making a bet with me: if I could find a street that ran straight through the medina (literally, a straight line), he would give me $1000. While I failed to find a street that lacked curves, I was excited to explore the tiny alleyways, even if I could only explore with the accompaniment of my mom and dad. 

While realistically, I won’t be making a trip down to Morocco this semester, as it’s not the best place for a young American woman to travel alone, I was pleasantly surprised to find many aspects of the Moroccan culture that I thoroughly enjoyed on my trip to Tangier alive and present in Granada this past weekend. 

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The carless streets of the Albaicín.

The juxtaposition of modern, city-life Granada with the Albaicín, or the old Moorish district, is absolutely incredible. I could walk five minutes east of my hostel and find silent, residential streets complete with women banging out dust from carpets on terraces and men chatting in neighborhood parks together. Walking five minutes west of my hostel would bring me straight into the commercial district of Granada, filled with honking taxis, beckoning waiters, and gypsy women offering up rosemary to all of the guapa women around (avoid eye contact at all costs or they will follow you trying to “give” you rosemary only to snatch it back if you do not give them money for their “gift”). In between those areas, I saw Moroccan immigrants chatting in Arabic while sitting in front of their shops, never to be found without their tea in small glass cups.

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Albaicín market area at night.

When my family traveled to Morocco, we often would pop into small shops, mostly carpets, for my dad to admire the handiwork of the local artisans. In one carpet shop, as soon as the owner learned that my dad is Iranian, he brought us up to his second floor to show off his special carpets and try and impress my dad with his collection. As he and my dad wandered around the shop together, we were served delicious sweet green tea, piping hot in glass cups, filled with fresh mint to the brim. That became my first tea obsession and I longed to recreate that same flavor at home.

This past weekend, I may have had that tea five or six times. I took no delays in making friends with one restaurant owner at a lovely Moroccan place called Tagine Elvira one night, chatting in Spanish and laughing at his “tsk tsk” to my “Mi papa es de Irán.” When I returned the next day for more tagine, I was greeted by the owner with the customary Spanish two kisses, as if our displaced North African and Middle Eastern selves were already great friends. 

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View of the Sierra Nevada and la Alhambra from the Mirador del San Nicolas.

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Jang, Josh, Brennan and I.

While I spent most of my time exploring the Albaicín and visit the older, Moorish-influenced areas of Granada, I did visit both the cathedral, or catedral, and the Monasterio de San Jerónimo. The cathedral was grand and bright and beautiful, located directly in the center of the most metropolitan area of the city. The monastery, on the other hand, was located slightly farther north and, upon entering the central courtyard, I was met with absolute silence and serenity. If only I had brought a book along for the day, I would’ve sat there for hours reading.

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Interior of the Catedral de Granada.

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Interior of the church in the Monasterio de San Jerónimo.

Of course, one of the absolute highlights of my weekend was a visit to la Alhambra, the Moorish palace and fortress located on a hill always visible from downtown Granada. While I visited la Alhambra with my family years ago, it was just as beautiful seeing it again.  

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El Patio de los Arrayanes in the Nasrid Palaces of la Alhambra.

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Me at the end of the Nasrid Palaces.