“Es esta frita in la manteca de cerdo?” That’s the line that Google Translator told me to say if I wanted to ask “Is this fried in lard?” in Spanish. I figured I would need to know how to say that to find out if the churros a particular place sold in Spain were fried in lard. I practiced it a few times and it worked! However, folks? Having churros at the fair at Cordoba wasn’t such a great idea.
The above was only one part of the trip I took to Spain with my sister as part of a tour of Islamic Spain. Led by Haroon Moghul, an expert on Islamic history, the tour took us through several days in Seville, Cordoba, and Granada, with stops in Medinat Al-Zahra and Ronda.
There is no doubt – I had an amazing time.
As we navigated through Andalucia through all the historical sites, we all marveled at the structures that were built by the Muslims and although some of these places (well, all of these places) weren’t Muslim spaces anymore, their legacy and influence is still quite apparent in parts of Spain. For example, the Mosque-Cathedral in Cordoba (which is beautiful, by the way), although it has been consecrated as a Cathedral, still retains the arches and other architectural elements it had back when it was a mosque, even the mihrab is still there.
When we boarded the bus to leave Seville and then a few days later, Cordoba, I was excited to see what was next even though I had enjoyed my time in the cities. When we left Granada though, I couldn’t help the feeling of sadness that came over me.
There wasn’t one experience in Granada that made the trip, it was a series of them that really cemented how awesome Granada is.
We visited the Alhambra on one afternoon. It was hard to take a picture clear of all the tourists that were there but as a tourist myself who probably got in the way of a ton of other people’s pictures too, I could hardly complain. If anything, I was struck by the number of people that were visiting the Alhambra just on that day, taking pictures of the architecture and the Arabic calligraphy that adorned the walls, a lot of it consisting of the phrase “God is the only Winner” (or “Victor” or “Conqueror”), over and over again. People were taking pictures of this! They were looking at this site for what it was and embracing it, not looking at the Arabic and letting their knowledge that this site was constructed by Muslims prevent them from visiting this place.
During our guided tour of the Alhambra, I asked our designated guide, Margarita, about where the postcards that have a picture of the Alhambra from an outside perspective were taken from. Mirador San Nicolas, she told me, in Albayzin. The Albayzin was the old “Moorish” area that goes uphill the further you walk up its narrow, winding streets. Fortunately, the entrance to his whole area was just across the street of the hotel we were staying at.
The next morning, I got up early and took a cab to that viewpoint. I had consulted a map with one of the guys who was working in the reception area of our hotel (Javi) and he said that it was walkable but it was early, still a bit dark, and I didn’t know where I was going so I went via cab.
The streets were still pretty quiet as the cab driver took me through Albayzin and dropped me off at the spot. He left me his card in case I needed a cab again and drove off as I walked over and… wow. Masha’Allah. There it was in all of its glory – The Alhambra.
I had a stupid grin on my face as I took it all in. Even though there were a couple of other people there, they were sitting off to the side and were immersed in their own conversation (I did say “Hola” to them though, which they acknowledged and said hi as well). I felt like I had this entire place to myself. I wanted to stay until sunrise at least so I stood around for a while, stared at the structure that seemed so close, and also took a few pictures. Besides the Alhambra, I could see a lot of the city from my vantage point. Soon, parts of the city started to light up from the sunrise and then the Alhambra started to change color too. I took out my phone to send a text update to my Twitter account to say something about what I was seeing but I put my phone away. For a little while at least, I wanted this moment to be mine and mine alone.
Later that day, I debated whether or not to go back to Mirador San Nicolas to see the sunset there as well. It was our last night in Granada and I didn’t want to have any regrets.
This time, I walked up through Albayzin starting at Calle Caldereria Nueva, taking a bit of time to take a look at the Middle-Eastern themed shops and the menus of the tea places.
When I finally got there, the scene was much different than the one from the morning – the restaurants were open and a lot of people were milling around. There were small tour buses and taxis going through the area as well. Nothing bigger would actually be able to fit the streets of the Albayzin. I joined the large group of people at the lookout point- the camera hanging around my neck was not out of place in this sea of tourists. I ended up talking to a few people – an older guy who turned out to be an American from Half Moon Bay (not too far from where I live) and some students from Belgium, one of whom was there that morning and recognized me.
I took some more pictures, hung out for a while, and then went looking for the mosque so I could do the Maghrib prayer. The problem was that I didn’t know the exact location of the mosque, just that it was nearby. It turned out it didn’t matter as I (accidentally) walked straight to it since it happened to be pretty much right next to Mirador San Nicolas.
This mosque was built in 1992, the first mosque to be built after Spain made it officially “OK” to be Muslim. Before, it was kinda sorta illegal even though there were Muslims living in the country. Before the prayer started, I happened to meet a lady there who was visiting from Abu Dhabi for a calligraphy class that was being taught there. Look at me! Meeting new people!
When I got back to my hotel, I couldn’t shut up about my experience at Mirador San Nicolas to my sister and some other people that were part of the group. I was like a little kid who had too much sugar: “And then this happened! And then that happened! And then…! And then…!” I couldn’t help it though, this was all so much fun for me.
Later that night, I went to have dinner with a few of the girls from the group when we stopped off at a vendor on the main road who was selling customized Arabic calligraphy. The girls were picking up their pieces and even though the guy was ready to close up shop, so to speak, he worked on a few last minute orders from me and one of the girls. She and I hung back as he worked while everyone else set out for dinner while we waited for him to complete our pieces. We talked to him for a bit and it turned out that he was originally from Iraq, where he taught microbiology before he left due to all the chaos there. He bounced around a few places before ending up in Spain. He seemed like a pretty nice guy.
It didn’t occur to me until later about how random it was that some of my souvenirs consisted of Arabic calligraphy. I mean, I wasn’t visiting a country in the Middle East, I was in Spain and it was on one of the main streets in Granada, Reyes Catolicos (The Catholic Monarchs), that I bought custom Arabic calligraphy from an Iraqi Muslim. Before 1992, nothing like that could have happened. I loved it. Just one more cool thing to happen while in Granada.
I could keep on going on and on, but I’ll end it with this:
Words and this blog entry can’t do it all justice for how incredible it all felt to me. I felt so humbled to have had this opportunity to go on this Spain trip, meet all the cool people in my tour group, and have a chance to see all those parts of Islamic Spain. It was very inspirational and really makes me want to make something of my life. InshAllah, may we all make something of ourselves and InshAllah, let us all be able to travel (or continue to travel) to see all the cool things that are out in the world.
Here’s hoping the jet lag wears off soon…