A change of scenery is always good for getting out of a routine, and in this post we're jetting off to Granada.
If you’re looking for sun, greenery, and a chance to brush up on your secondary school Spanish, Granada, Spain is the place to go. Well-connected with the rest of Spain by rail, Granada is one of the places where the past is still very much present. On the streets—many still narrow and cobbled—Arabic is still spoken, and for a few euros, a street artist will make you a calligraphy plaque with your name.
Granada was one of the last Moorish strongholds in Spain hundreds of years ago. Their touch is evident; from the flowing aqueducts and fountains, orchards, terraced land, and lovely gardens of the Alhambra (“The Red Palace”), one of the must visits.
If you wish to visit the inside of the Alhambra, it is highly recommended to purchase your tickets in advance, as it is, unsurprisingly, an immensely popular site to visit.
If you don’t mind a slight chill from a sea breeze, Hondarribia (also known as Fuenterrabía) is a quaint fishing town only a stone’s throw from France (truly—you could throw a stone across the Txingudi Bay and hit French soil), in the Northeast corner of Spain. It is small, and those fond of Madrid’s nightclubs and hustle and bustle might feel distinctly out of their element. But for a short, restful weekend trip with sand, calm waters, picturesque buildings, and great restaurants, it can’t be beat.
Only a short bus ride from Hondarribia is another town called San Sebastian, a slightly busier area with a fantastic beach, a castle, and an excellent aquarium. It may not be on the radar as much as central or southern Spain, but Basque country is well worth the time.
Just below Spain, through the Strait of Gibraltar, lies Morocco—a country that, according to King Hassan II, has “roots planted in Africa, but branches which extend into Europe.” While Arabic is Morocco’s official language, one can get by perfectly well with French. Most Moroccans are bilingual, if not trilingual or better. If you’re looking for more of a tourist experience, Agadir, in the south, is the beach location to be. For a more traditional look into Moroccan life, the small idyllic “blue city” of Chefchowen is a must-see. For something in between, Rabat offers modern city structure complete with trams and traffic with an old crowded medina center; partly surrounded by an old wall, shops on top of shops (be prepared to haggle), fruit vendors, vegetable vendors, sellers of leather, fresh juice stands, small cafés for quick harira (type of soup) or mixed sandwich, and of course, a stand that makes a special Moroccan fried treat called svenge.
But of course, what Morocco is best known for is its tagines, a kind of North African stew. No matter what restaurant you are in, they will have tagine and they will have mint tea, although if you’re not fond of sugar content that makes your eyes roll back in your head, it is advisable to request your mint tea without sugar. If you’re seaside, a fish tagine is highly recommended. Lamb tagine is always tasty as well, and kefta or beef meatball tagine with egg is a consistent favorite. For the less carnivorous, vegetable tagines are available, along with tasty side dishes such as zaaluk (eggplant-based) or a Moroccan “salsa” with red onion, tomatoes, olive oil, lemon juice, and spices. To get the true Moroccan experience, you must eat your tagine with bread and your hands—and share it with a friend. Moroccans never skimp on the food, and your tagine will in all likelihood be able to easily serve two.
Now that you’re excited about visiting one of those places—or perhaps you have had another idea entirely—here are some practical considerations to keep in mind while traveling:
Plan, but don't OVER plan, It’s good to have at least a sketch of an itinerary to give yourself some structure, but you would be selling yourself short if you’ve planned every single minute of every day and did not give yourself time to just wander, or sit on a bench and people watch. You never know what you might find that isn’t listed in the guidebooks.
Don’t overdo it when packing. Unless you have military-grade folding skills, packing excessively is going to hinder you more than it is going to help you, especially when re-packing and moving from one location to another. Bring a laptop or an iPad, not both. One hat, one pair of sunglasses, one swim suit. Think of clothing items that are multi-purpose. Think about what you’re definitely going to be doing, what you might be doing, and what you’re almost definitely not doing. If worse comes to worse, you can wear that pair of socks again. Just be sure to air them out.
Check the weather in advance for the area that you are visiting, particularly what is expected or typical for that time of year. Few things are more irritating than having to take time out of a vacation to buy clothes you will be comfortable in—or is socially acceptable, if you happen to be visiting a more conservative country.
General advice: bring layers; easy to add on and easy to take off. One good pair of jeans and a pull-over is essential. Shoes—ditch the heels, unless you’re planning on spending most of your travel in nightclubs. Cobblestone roads, high hills, and getting on and off public transportation are not conducive for wearers of restrictive or poorly designed shoes. Invest in a good pair of boots or trainers.
Bring a practical bag. Purses and drawstring bags are fine, but if there is to be a lot of walking involved, a nice backpack with sturdy straps and pockets of varying sizes is preferable. It is easy and safe to store money, glasses, sunglasses, a water bottle, sunblock, and perhaps a purchase or two. Keep in mind if you are visiting a museum or something similar, your bag will probably be checked, so avoid keeping anything in there that could be construed as dangerous. Checking online in advance what is acceptable in some places and what is not will easily avoid this potential hassle.
Stay safe. Be aware of your surroundings at all times, especially if you happen to be alone. Tourists are pickpocket’s bread and butter, so try not to look too much like one. Don’t carry your passport around with you. Store it out of sight in your hotel or hostel room somewhere in your luggage. Keep money in your front pockets—jackets with zippered pockets are ideal for this and your phone. Ladies, the old money-tucked-in-bra method is always reliable, though this may not be ideal in hotter months and climates. Never take anything strangers hand you, and be cautious if you must give to beggars—it’s entirely possible another person is nearby waiting to see where you pull your wallet from. Use common sense when wandering off the beaten path. The fewer people there are and the less well-kept the buildings begin to look, the more likely it is you should turn around.
And there you have it! No matter where you decide to go this world travel week, keep in mind that a fun trip doesn’t have to be expensive, or long, or even to a popular destination. It only requires your willingness to get out of your comfort zone, an open mind, some patience, possibly a friend or two, and of course, a good pair of shoes.