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)
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.