Int. Travel: The Big Easy

The Moorish streets of Granada, Spain are alive with a new Bohemian rhapsody. Simon Rowe gets into the rhythm of Andalucia's laid-back city.

In Costa Rica, a typical exchange between friends on the street might begin with the greeting "Pura vida?" which loosely means "Are you livin' the sweet life?" In southern Spain, there is no need for such words. The "sweet life" goes without saying. And no more so than in the old Moorish city of Granada, eight hours by train south of Madrid, where life bustles to a rhythm far more subdued than in many other big European cities.
"Welcome to Spain's Big Easy," an old barfly I met hunched over a glass of some unknown concoction said on my first night in town. He explained that the many fountains, ponds and subterranean watercourses, built by Moors centuries ago and still criss-crossing the city, keep tempers cool during the long torrid summers, but what I think he really meant to say is that the booze is cheap. Indeed, many believe that it's Granada's 20,000-strong university student population, coupled with the enormous number of bars, cafés and live music venues scattered about the labyrinthian streets that keep the city's spirits youthful, laid-back and wonderfully intoxicating.

The cup runneth over
"Laid-back" was too strong a word to describe the mobs of red-eyed students ordering hairs-of-the-dog outside Las Cuevas (The Caves), a small bar on Caldereria Nueva Street in the city center. Saturday's hangovers were being thawed with afternoon sunshine and copious ca–as (pronounced "can-yahz"), shot glass-sized draught beers, tossed back to the accompaniment of brassy Jamaican ska music.

Las Cuevas is popular not for its cheap drinks alone (bottle beer costs ¥150), but also for its location on the edge of the Albaicin, a hillside district reputed to be the largest and most distinctive Moorish quarter left in Spain. It's jokingly referred to as the place of "women, wine and water." Streets like Aljibe de Trillo (Trillo Water Tank Street), Calle del Agua (Water Street) and Plaza Aqua are so narrow in places that you are forced to duck and dive in and out of doorways to allow cars to pass, while the white-washed houses either side of them bear women's names like "Carmen," "Marcella" and "Maria" on their painted tiles.

As for wine, there is no shortage at the groovy Taberna El 22, a stone's throw up the hill from Las Cuevas, and opposite the 16th-century Iglesia de San Gregorio church. Whether you stand at the tiny inside counter with its upside-down flower pot lamps swinging dangerously overhead, or take a rickety table on the sloping terrace outside, EL 22 is the perfect nook from which to swill a rough rioja and scope out the Albaicin's passing throngs.

The movable feast never let up as I sat nursing mine; French-speaking tourists with big blue hair-dos, shaggy teenagers with north-American accents, drunk gypsies and wild-eyed vagrant types—the whole world seemed to be flowing into and out of the neighborhood. At one point, a man burst from a side street on a farting Vespa, dismounted and borrowed a chair from a nearby bar, then to the accompaniment of his classical guitar, performed a sorrowful Andalucian song that peaked each time he rapped his palm over the guitar's battered body. Buried in his sunburned head were eyes as glassy as polished snooker balls—a look you see a lot in the Albaicin, which is home to Spain's largest gypsy enclave.

For artists' sake
Gypsies of another kind can be found lurking on Caldereria Nueva Street where half a dozen Arab cafés squeeze between jewelry ateliers and kebab shops. "Granada is the new Bohemian capital of Europe," said Per Haegh Henriksen, a Danish artist I met inside La Flor del Te, a teahouse styled on a Moroccan souk. "It's a very open-minded city, unpretentious and accepting of all types of people, and the students who come from all over Spain and Europe bring with them a fantastic mixture of ideas and artistic expression."
Henriksen came to Granada ten years ago, found his groove within the easy-going lifestyle and decided to stay. He now earns a modest income as a writer-designer for an artists co-operative, and spends his nights hopping from café to bar handing out bookmarks inscribed with a poem, and collecting a couple of hundred pesetas off those customers who want to keep them.
Business is good for Henriksen in places like Cafe Dar Zizyab, at Caldereria Nueva St. 11, where you can lounge in dimly lit alcoves filled with cushions and its highly caffeinated clientele—mainly students and travelers—are looking for mementoes to bring home with them from Granada; though next day memories may be blurred on account of Dar Zizyab's tobacco menu.

For 800 pesetas (¥542) you can puff on a meter-high hookah pipe, a contraption that looks a lot like a kit-set toy rocket with an inhaling tube attached and arrives at your table with a pellet of smoldering apple or honey tobacco set on top.
With my lungs badly in need of a cleansing brew, I headed across to Kasbah, at Caldereria Nueva St 4, where funky north African hip-hop and spicy-smelling beverages are the order of the day, and customers can pull up a stool beneath walls decorated with old Bedouin musket rifles and goat skin lamps. Its tea menu reads like the index of an atlas: Algerian, Bangladeshi, Bedouin, Libyan, Nepalese, Pakistani, and the list rolls on.

Around midnight a massive electrical storm rolled down from Granada's Sierra Nevada mountains, pounding the rooftops of the Albaicin and sending mobs of bar-hopping students scurrying between watering holes with sodden newspapers for protection. At Cafe Central, on Calle de Elvira Street, waiter Antonio Lopez-Luna was taking a positive view of the tumultuous weather: "Granada's spring weather reflects the temperament of my customers—some days fiery, other days languid." he smiled, splashing wine in my glass.

He might have been talking about the patrons of Cafe-Bar Boabdil, across the street. "Tinto! tinto!" (red wine! red wine!), the wee-hour drinkers were clamoring. To appease them, the barman tossed more glasses onto the bar and poured along the line without lifting the bottle once, while from the kitchen out back, an endless stream of tapas—small dishes of succulent spicy snails, marinated tripe, pan-fried chicken and fish served on hot, greasy bread—flowed along the counter. Slurping his portion of callos pecante (tripe in spicy sauce) and between gulps of red wine, one seasoned sozzler turned and gave me a beaming smile full of chilli peppers and onions.
Despite that lasting image, I returned the next morning to Boabdil for a coffee and bocadillos—mini baguettes stuffed with dried ham and cheese. A short, moon-faced man sidled up to the counter and offered me a sip of his coffee. Served in a short glass and spiked heavily with brandy, he had ordered what is locally known as a "carajilla" and is guaranteed to leave a smoking hole where your head should be.
"It is dangerous to be drinking alone in Spain," he said. "Yes," I replied, "but it's more dangerous to be drinking carajillas at this hour of the morning."


Getting there

Granada is a bit of a trek from Tokyo, necessitating generally two connections. Air France (Tel: 03-3475-1511, English) flies daily to Paris, where you can catch a connecting flight to Barcelona or Madrid, where you then board a domestic Iberian Airlines flight to Granada. KLM (Tel: 03-3216-0771, English) also flies daily to Amsterdam, with similar connections.


More information

The Internet and travel agencies have a wealth of English information on Granada. Some excellent sites offering advice on accommodations, restaurants and entertainment are www.andalucia.com/cities/granada and www.eel.es/granada/gruk
Spain has a tourist office in Tokyo at, Toranomon Denki Bldg, 3-1-10 Toranomon, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3432-6141/2. You can also contact the Municipal de turismo, Avenida de Europa s/n, Palacete la Najarra, Almu–ecar, Granada, Spain, 18690. Tel: (34) 5863-1125.

Photo credit: Simon Rowe

B u y  i t  o n l i n e !
Hokkaido Highway Blues: Hitchhiking Japan

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Travelogue
HIS Experience Japan is offering tourists and residents of Japan a chance to experience “real Japanese culture,” in addition to the usual tourist spots. The company has nearly a dozen programs that allow participants to learn directly from professionals. Activities include sushi-making, yuzen silk-dying, calligraphy, karate and ninja lessons, taiko drumming and lantern-making, among others. Guides who speak English, Chinese, Korean and Spanish are available, and reservations can be made online at http://hisexperience.jp/. Further info is available in English by calling 03-5322-8988.

From August 26 through September 13 (excluding September 7-9), Tokyo Dome Hotel is offering a late summer accommodation promotion, in which rooms will be discounted by up to 45 percent. During the period, the rate is ¥14,000 for a single room, ¥18,500 for a twin or double and ¥21,000 for a triple. Fifty rooms will be available per day. A variety of events are being held at Tokyo Dome City during this period, including the 78th Intercity Baseball Tournament (August 24-September 4) and the popular children’s program The Jukensentai Geki Ranger Show will be performing on stage at Sky Theater until September 2. For reservations, call 03-5805-2222 or visit www.tokyodome-hotels.co.jp. CB

INT. TRAVEL ARCHIVE:
677: The Little Island
Escape the late-winter blues with a tropical blast from the past
675: Scenic Spirituality
Commune with religion and nature in an ancient land
673: Aoni Onsen
Return to a forgotten time at one of Honshu’s most remote getaways
671: The Golden Rock
One of Burma’s many splendid attractions hangs by a hair
669: Hida Takayama
For personal trips gentle to the soul, seek out the old-time charm of Hida Takayama
665: Okayama
A serene stroll through history awaits at this seaside retreat
663: Cruising the Bay
Ha Long Bay offers a breath of calm away from Vietnam’s urban rush
661: Agamachi
Fox fires and bar codes help a rural Niigata town reinvent itself
535: Hotel California
Mark Parren Taylor kicks up the desert dust in Palm Springs, the perennial Hollywood star retreat.
531: Race through time
The Xterra Saipan triathlon journeys through tropical jungle, up steep mountain paths and across the sands of history. Tama M. Lung joins the chase.
527: Bohemian rhapsody
No visit to Paris would be complete without taking in the Montmartre district. Bon vivant Simon Rowe dusts off his French to go exploring.
523: Slow Motion
Mark Parren Taylor touches down in the timeless former seaport of Lukang, Taiwan.
519: Rock of ages
From ancient times to the present, Gibraltar has always been an island of legends. Stephen Mansfield sifts through its history.
515: Go west, young man
Simon Rowe takes in the big skies and dust trails of Western Australia's East Kimberley region.
511: All mixed up
Mark Parren Taylor makes land on Macau and finds an enigmatic blend of cultures, cuisine and heated competition.
505: Earth, wind and fire
A historically imperiled town in Papua New Guinea holds the keys to a magical getaway. Carlo Niederberger splashes ashore.
501: Off the rails
Braving the 2,010 kilometers of Vietnam's Reunification Express from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi is quite the adventure. Simon Rowe goes along for the ride.
493: Rites of passage
From firecrackers and cheek piercing to divinations and buffalo races, Thailand's most colorful customs come alive at two annual festivals. Mark Parren Taylor joins the crowds.
489: Paradise found
Beaches, battlefields and a colossal casino provide tropical pleasures on the Pacific isle of Tinian. Carlo Niederberger touches down.
485: Through the grapevine
Stephen Mansfield drinks up the delights of the Château Monbazillac in southwest France.
481: Pleasure island
Saipan awaits the young and young at heart with its pristine beaches, pointy peaks, and perfect amount of entertainment. Carlo Niederberger checks in.
477: Reservoir of dogs
Simon Rowe visits the Kingdom of Tonga, where storms burst without warning and wild canines rule the night.
473: Into the bat cave
Sarawak’s Niah Caves are home to hairless bats, birds on the brink of extinction, and lots of bugs, according to Simon Rowe.
469: A fork in the river
Laos’ ethnic minorities battle the forces of time. Stephen Mansfield goes upriver in search of them.
465: Action scene
Sick of the short, humid Japanese summer? Tired of the winter? In NZ it’s summertime and the living is easy, the food and drink inexpensive, and the evenings long and lazy. Mark Devlin heads south to explore and party.
457/458: In living color
Simon Rowe soaks in the glow of Samoa's kaleidoscopic streets.
454: From Jamaica with love
Michael McDonagh soaks up the atmosphere in James Bond's balmy birthplace
449: See worthy
Dan Grunebaum drops oar in the stunning caves of Thailand's Phang Nga Bay
445: Great heights
Simon Rowe packs his hiking boots and sets out for Malaysia's Mount Kinabalu
441: Split personality
There are few cities with such an exacting dividing line between past and present as Lijiang in China's southwestern province of Yunnan
438: Fierce creatures
Simon Rowe introduces us to the untamed charms of Australia's Kangaroo Island
434: Leap of Faith
Simon Rowe dives into a tropical island paradise of waterfalls, reefs and bush rugby on the Fijian archipelago
430: A week in Provence
Stephen Mansfield explores the historic festival city of Avignon, a medieval diamond in the south of France
426: Outer space
Surreal sites, lunar landscapes and UFO sightings go with the territory in Chile
422: The Big Easy
The Moorish streets of Granada, Spain are alive with a new Bohemian rhapsody
418: Small awakening
Japan's microbrewers
414: Fowl play
The animal kingdom comes alive in the Galapagos
410: The river of spirits
Wading through soulful waters in Varanasi, India
406: Heading north
Marching to the beat of a modern drum in North Korea
403: Santa's lap
Santa's lap - enjoy saunas, Santa and sightseeing in Finland’s Lapland
399: Shanghaied
Seeking the past in China's megacity
395: Rising from the ashes
Mary King explores the rich history, culture and art of Croatia’s phoenix city, Dubrovnik.
391: The betels and the stones
Simon Rowe rolls with the tropical exotica on the obscure island of Yap
387: Prague
World heritage site
383: South Africa
Land of hope
381: Hawaii
Pearl Harbor
377: Salt of the earth
Tour the Uyuni Salt Pan
374: China
Suzhou and Hangzhou
370: The Nile
The river mild
367: Tibet
Top of the world
363: Laos
Memo from the Lower Mekong
360: Cuzco, Peru
Lost cities
357: Namibia
Call of the wild
354: Southern India
Mad about Madurai

ISSUES 349-   
ISSUES 299-

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