A Sense of Place – Living life in the Albaicín

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One of the reasons we picked to live where we do is because we wanted something different.  A place where we weren’t a two-car family.  A place where there is a strong sense of community.  We wanted the ability to live like many Europeans where darn near everything you need on a daily basis is accessible by foot, or at worst, by bike.  And boy did we get it.

The Albaicín (Albayzín)

In the shadows of the Alhambra.
The white neighborhood in the shadows of the Alhambra.

We live in a very old neighborhood mostly famous for being on a hill opposite the Alhambra palace.  We’re situated about one-third of the way up this hill.  From our house, city center is 70-90 stairs down depending on the route and our boys’ school is 130 steps up toward the top (yes, I counted).

The hike up to school.
Only 10 of the 130 stairs up to school.

That is over 200 stairs from bottom to top, not to mention the steady incline that already exists.  And no matter where you are or where you are going, it always feels like you need to go a little further uphill.  To add to this, the nearest drivable road is 150 meters from our front door.

The “streets” are a series of maze-like worn, cobblestone pedestrian hallways, often no wider than my outstretched arms.  They are alleyways delimited by the white-washed houses and garden walls that make-up this unique barrio.

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To say this poses some logistical challenges is an understatement.  Gone are the days of loading up a week’s worth of groceries from the all-inclusive supermarket into the back of the minivan and lugging them from the tailgate to the kitchen all within the comforts of an attached garage.

These challenges may sound like a pain, but I love it.

Our neighborhood is filled with a “sense of place”.  Places of meaning and character.  There are dozens of plazas and miradors (viewpoints) in which to gather and spend time.  Some are more formal and host bars, cafeterias, and restaurants.  Others are quite bare with nothing more than a fountain and a couple of benches.

Almost every home has a unique view of Granada's crown jewel.
Almost every home has a unique view of Granada’s crown jewel.

It’s amazing the stillness that exists when there are no cars or motorbikes to drown out the more natural sounds of chirping birds, church bells (every 15 minutes), and general conversations of pedestrian passerby’s in all kinds of languages.  The narrow passages and friendly plazas also make ideal acoustics for an instrument.  Impromptu classical guitar or jazz “concerts” pop-up organically and without advance notice.  Yes, we get an occasional eruption of noise from over-served patrons that just exited a nearby restaurant at 2am in the morning.  Or the long-distance music echoing from the concert being played across the way at the Alhambra, but all of this adds to the charm of the place.

Never a dull moment.
Never a dull moment.

I also love it because the structure of the place naturally forces more interaction with your neighbors.  I’ve met as many here in 8 months as I had in 8 years back home.  And it has nothing to do with me attempting to be more extroverted or any such thing.  If anything I’m quite less so as a result of operating in a foreign language.  These relationships have developed because of the more frequent interactions that inherently occur while living “on the hill”.

Our children are also feeling the benefits of our living arrangement.  They venture out and play with the neighbor kids frequently and without supervision.  They get to gain confidence and push the limits of their own independence when we let them venture out with little worry that they’ll be run over by a car.  They enjoy being able to go buy candy, football cards, or pastries all the while interacting with the community on their own.

Water fight in a local plaza.
Water fight in a local plaza.

There are many things to love about living in this neighborhood, but it isn’t for the faint of heart.  It takes work and a certain commitment when your home is embedded among the unpredictable, cobbled passageways only accessible by foot.

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Because everything is hiked to the house on my back or in my hand, grocery shopping remains an almost daily activity (usually an every-other-day exercise).  There are small grocery and specialty shops toward the top of the neighborhood, but the largest selection remains (down) in the center of town.  For those trips, I usually resort to using my bike.  Once my backpack is full, I know I’ve reached my hauling limit.

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Beer run!

There are also the health implications.  I’d guess most days I walk at least 4 miles.  This has really slimmed me down and I don’t need to consider other types of workouts.  Any extra sports, bike rides, or hikes are purely for my entertainment and not out of need for more activity.  Downsides include my bout with a painful case of Plantar Fasciitis since early January due to being on my feet so much.

All things told, I feel very fortunate to have landed in what really feels like a magical place.

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22 thoughts on “A Sense of Place – Living life in the Albaicín”

    1. Nope. Just going to try to take advantage of our time here and re-think how this may impact how we live when we return home.

      1. I’d like to live in a European style town myself. I have always felt that this is what draws travelers to cities across Europe. There are such advantages to living in smaller countries too, with access to others nearby.

  1. So nice to hear you all and enjoying yourselves and truly living. I so miss that about Spain, the simple things were the most rewarding… a stroll in the evening, day at the market and taking time just to “take it all in”. Ahhhhh! 😉

    1. Yep, this country certainly lends itself to slowing down and appreciating the simple things. Just go with the flow and all…

    1. Good call on the bikes. Get yourself a decent lock and go explore. I’ve heard Seville is one of the better biking cities in Europe.

  2. Hi Jed! Love connecting to you via blog and so glad your mom has kept me in your loop!..As I read I wonder if there is ever a sense of claustrophobia with the narrow alleyways and the lack of space and vista that we Americans are (spoiled by and) used to…(this from a lady who flies in the confines of a plane ONLY with the aid of a Valium or two)…. I would not expect the boys to have “learned” this type of illogical response but wonder if this has occurred to any others….

    1. Hi Edie. No, no sense of claustrophobia. Some of the streets are wide enough to fit cars and small buses going one-way, so that opens it up a bit. It also helps we’re on an incline so you do get glimpses of the valley and Alhambra beyond. Check this video and you can tell me if it feels tight!

  3. Great post, Jed! I still think it’s insane though, and we were only there for three days haha. I think the thing that drives me the most nuts is the grocery stories you told us. Ugh. Alas, the benefits clearly outweigh the drawbacks for you, and we’re glad you’re happy there!

  4. Great post! My husband and I are moving to Lisbon at the end of the summer, and the things you describe in this post are some of the reasons we’re going! We love that lifestyle–getting around on foot/bike, and the beauty and sense of history of the old neighborhoods.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Deb. Safe travels. Still haven’t been to Lisbon but have it on our list to visit in the next year or so.

  5. That’s a great intro to “daily life in the city” where you are. Sounds strangely appealing and exhausting at the same time. 🙂 I like my relatively flat 0.3 mile walk to our neighborhood supermarket and make the walk when I can (and also follow the 1 bookbag full rule 🙂 ). Though we drive for groceries more often than not to save a few more bucks at a store just outside our neighborhood.

    Keep living the good life!

    1. Hear, hear! As soon as I get the technical issues worked out, I’ll post a video of my bike ride to the grocery store. Should be pretty cool.

  6. Jed,
    This is maestra Flor. Radhi shared this blog with me. I’m enjoying reading about your new home. Looks like a great place. Please, say hi to the kids. We miss you all at school.
    My husband and I are also moving out of the country. We plan to move to Peru next summer. We want to grow our family and raise our children with the big family down there.
    Abrazos,
    Flor

    1. Great to hear from you, Flor! We’ll have to keep in touch because I could see us visiting Peru sometime in the future. Abrazos!

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