Adventures in Granada Province

Our adventures in the Province of Granada took us to tiny villages, old churches, and, of course, to the world famous Alhambra.

Our adventures in Granada Province were top notch during our one month house sit in Andalusia, Spain. We explored every inch of our small, mountain-top village, several of the nearby villages, and the capital city of Granada. As per usual, we didn’t see nearly as much as we wanted, but we sure did try.

Freila

Our village of Freila is about an hour’s drive east of the city of Granada. It doesn’t offer much in the way of tourist attractions, but as with any foreign land, there was still plenty to see and experience. For one thing, I have never been to a mountain-top village before. It was really striking how the houses layer on top of each other and how narrow and steep the roads were in order to accommodate the tight, hilly quarters.Freila, Granada, Spain - The Places We Live

Each house we saw was so beautifully Spanish. I loved the rock and tile work that decorated nearly every home. And although some places looked fairly old and run down, each doorway was still maintained with a meticulous eye for detail.

The church was the largest building in the village, dominating the western side of the mountain. Built on prime property, the public landing/gathering space provided views of the Sierra Nevadas, the neighboring lake, and most of Freila. You could tell it was the pride and joy of the village, as it was easily the cleanest and best maintained area of town. Given how strongly the Spanish identify with Catholicism, it’s no surprise.

Church of Freila, Spain - The Places We Live

Although I didn’t enjoy seeing the wealth disparity between the church and the neighboring homes, I did appreciate feeling the community of it. We were able to explore almost every inch of the church freely, including the cool and inviting terraces that dotted the cliff-side walls. It was very beautiful and felt like a place built for the people’s enjoyment.

Province of Granada’s Villages

Because we rented a car for this stay, we had more freedom to explore a little farther afoot. We drove through many of the neighboring villages and nature reserves. Each was unique and fun in their own right. Several of the villages were mountaintop cave towns like ours, but others were built in a circular shape in the middle of a vast valley. There were cave homes scattered about on the roadside, as well as large orchards and tree farms.

Freila Lake - The Places We Live

The neighboring town of Baza (pronounced Ba-tha) was an easy drive and a fun mini adventure in Granada Province. We had a couple of meals there and even took an afternoon to explore the town center. Once again, the central church dominated the city. We had hoped to see the historic baths that reside in Baza, but unfortunately they were closed each time we visited.

Baza, Spain - The Places We Live

Alhambra

Finally, the main event: the Alhambra. It started as a small fortress in 889 CE. 400 years later, the fortress was renovated and became a palace for the Moorish sultans ruling over Granada. By the 1500’s, the Christians took over and it became the royal court of the Spanish monarchy. The complex continued switching hands and experiencing bouts of abandonment and renovation throughout most of the rest of its history. Now the collection of fortresses, palaces, and churches that make up the Alhambra is one of Spain’s most famous tourist attractions and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Alhambra, Granada, Spain - The Places We Live

Because of the long and varied history of the complex, the Alhambra is a feast for the eyes. There is a mix of Moorish buildings, Christian paintings, and Italian furnishings. Every corner holds a different story from a different time. We spent almost three hours exploring the Alhambra and absolutely loved it.

Exploring the Alhambra

The Alhambra hosts a limited number of guests each day, so it is important to buy tickets in advance. As we were there during the off-season, we were able to buy ours only a few days in advance from the official sales site (€14 each). Our tickets gave us access to nearly everything plus a strictly scheduled reservation for the Nasrid Palace.

cabecera-plano-alhambra.jpg

We started our walk through the gardens. Although I was floored by nearly everything we saw that day, I think was most impressed by the garden. It was spring, so everything was in bloom, the weather was perfect, and the crowds were light.

Adventures in Granada - The Places We Live

From there we wandered in and out of each building. I loved seeing the clash of cultures. The stylings weren’t all perfectly blended, but some of the areas were very beautifully paired. It was just another reminder of how small the world truly is and how even the most different cultures can come together to create something truly special.

Alhambra -  The Places We Live

That’s a Wrap

So ends our stay in Andalusia, Spain. It was a visit I will never forget and the type of journey that I am sure I will be searching out for the rest of my life. Next up, we head north to the cold, gloomy, and surprisingly playful country of England!


Food in Andalusia

In Spain, food isn’t just about sustenance. It is an art and a way of life. This is what I love about food and one of the many things I love about Spain.

The perfect weather, laid-back lifestyle, and beautiful people were enough to sell me on the idea of Andalusia, Spain. But this amazing region does stop there. Spain is world-renowned for their cuisine, Andalusia even more so, for their tradition of serving free tapas! I was in a foodie’s paradise while also in literal paradise.

Spanish Cuisine

Spanish cuisine has a unique flavor and style thanks to their varied history and climate. Two of Spain’s most famous dishes are paella and jamón. Paella also happens to be one of my favorite dishes in the world. It is a rice dish originating from the region of Valencia, the neighboring region to Andalusia. There are several types of paella, but my favorite is seafood paella, which requires the rice to be cooked in seafood broth along with a hefty helping of fresh seafood. It is heavenly.

kaitlin-dowis-VjM2t7VH9Uo-unsplash.jpg
Photo by Kaitlin Dowis on Unsplash

Jamón is one of Josh’s favorite dishes in the whole world. It is cured ham most often cut directly from the leg before serving. Like most cured hams, it is deliciously salty and flavorful. We not only enjoy the flavor, but also the show of it all. I would love to one day have a leg of pork sitting up on my kitchen wall, ready for when guests arrive. There is something very intimate and special about it.

z-s-OHGhGg4cuvE-unsplash.jpg
Photo by Z S on Unsplash

Spanish Tapas

Tapas are small dishes used as appetizers or snacks. They are most often enjoyed along with a pitcher of sangria or a local beer. The word “tapa” translates to “lid” or “cover”. It is believed that tapas may have originally been created as a literal top for one’s drink, a slice of bread to keep the flies out of your beer. There are several other theories, some of which are quite funny, but we found this one to be our favorite…

Anthony Bourdain did an excellent piece in the Province of Granada. This is a 4 minute clip about tapas.

As tourism throughout Spain has increased, the distribution of free “lids” for one’s drinks has decreased. People still enjoy tapas, but throughout most of Spain they are no longer complimentary and must be ordered separately. The region of Andalusia, however, has held on to the tradition of complimentary tapas as a way of life. They feel it creates a better feeling of community and encourages socializing. Because of this, it is very common for diners throughout the region to be served a free tapa with every drink order.

Food in Andalusia

I could not believe that Andalusian tapas were being served for free with drink purchases. It seemed too good to be true. But time and time again, pub after pub, restaurant after restaurant, we were treated to delicious drinks and amazing, FREE tapas. On top of that, even the full-sized dishes were incredibly cheap and well made. Check out this single meal we enjoyed one day at the local, lake-side restaurant:

Round One – Tinto and Beer ($3.95)

We sat ourselves at a lovely table overlooking the village lake. When the server arrived, I ordered a tinto de verano (translated as The Red Wine of Summer) which is one part red wine and one part soda. Josh ordered a beer. The server returned with our drinks, then again a few minutes later with a plate of six shrimps and a large pile of green olives.

20190519_165549.jpg
I was so excited to eat, I forgot to take a picture first. Haha!

Round Two – Pinchitos ($2.03)

Although I knew we could simply continue to eat delicious free food, I opted to order a small plate of pinchitos. They are similar to a kabab and originate from the times when Spain was under Moorish rule. We were shortly served four perfectly prepared pork skewers, along with some slices of fresh bread.

Food in Andalusia - Tapas

Round Three – Tinto and Beer ($3.95)

Upon delivery of our pinchitos, we ordered another round of drinks. They arrived shortly after, along with another delicious tapa. This time, we were served two slices of lightly toasted bread topped with cheese spread and Spanish tortillas. Spanish tortillas are not the same as Mexican tortillas. Some people called them Spanish Omelets, but I thought they seemed more like a potato quiche. They were thick, creamy, and absolutely delicious!

20190519_171716.jpg

Round Four – Jamón and Queso ($8.50)

Once again, I let my stomach do the talking and ordered off the menu. I asked for a large portion of jamón and queso. The server returned promptly with a big plate of cold cured meats, slices of cheese, and a basket of warm bread. Although far from free, it was still well worth the price. It tasted so fresh. I’m salivating just thinking about it.

Food in Andalusia - Jamon and Queso

Round Five – Tinto and Beer ($3.95)

We could have easily stopped eating by this point, but I wanted one last drink for the road. So, we ordered one last round of drinks right as the kitchen was closing. This time we got a bowl of hand-made snack mix. While eating in restaurants in the touristy areas of Granada, we were either charged $1 for tapas or given a tapa like this. It was just their way of saying “Socializing time is over. We want to go home.” It wasn’t fancy, but it was tasty and the perfect ending to a perfect afternoon.

20190519_175903.jpg

The Damage

20190519_181517

We had several meals just like this during our month house sitting in Andalusia. Every-other night for dinner, we would walk to Freila’s best (and only) tapas bar. We would order two rounds of drinks and one main dish. Our tapas were always free and always amazing. One time, we even got a plate of six, full garlic squid, a dish that we estimated would have cost us at least $12 anywhere else in the world. At Bar El Veneno, our entire dinner cost $10! The Spanish put a lot of love into their food and I could taste the difference. Everything we ate tasted fresh and was cooked to perfection. And if that wasn’t good enough, the low prices were unbelievable. The meal I outlined above, with the five dishes, six alcoholic beverages, and a view of the lake cost us $22!

Spain is a magical place with food that left me screaming and kicking across the border. There hasn’t been a day since we left that Josh hasn’t had to listen to me whine about how much I love the food in Andalusia. “Spain, I love you and I promise that one day I will return and never leave.” – Jen

Spanish Beer

Our adventures in tasting beers around the world continues in Spain. Although I frequently mixed things up with my beverage choices, adding in the occasional tinto or sangria, we did enjoy our fair share of Spanish beers… ten unique brews to be specific.

Spanish Beer - The Places We Live

The Spanish beers did not provide us with much variety in flavor, but they were exactly what I wanted out of a beverage on a hot day. They were light and refreshing. My favorite of the collection was Estrella de Levante, a pilsner brewed in the province of Murcia. It was light, smooth, and surprisingly malty.

Food Lover’s Paradise

If I haven’t made it clear enough, I am in love with Spain, its people, and its food. From the refreshing beers and free tapas, to the carefully prepared Spanish dishes, there is something for everyone to love about Spanish cuisine. In Spain, food wasn’t just about sustenance. It was an art and a way of life. The meals brought together the community. Bars were regularly filled with laughter and restaurants packed with extended families. This is what I love about food and one of the many things I love about Spain.

 


House Sitting in Andalusia

Anyone who has spoken with us knows that house sitting in Andalusia was the adventure we were most looking forward to. It was our immediate connection with Barcelona that really spurred this whole adventure. So, I was pretty sure that Andalusia would make us fall head over heels all over again. Not to spoil the upcoming posts, but I was totally right. Don’t be surprised if we are living in Andalusia once this crazy adventure is all over!

Freila, Andalusia, Spain - The Places We Live.jpg

Freila, Andalusia, Spain

This was our third trip to Spain after a life-changing 10 days in Barcelona and two quick shore excursions to Alicante and Valencia. This time around we were in a southern region of Spain called Andalusia. My bestie, Rick Steves, has said that the area is one of his favorite places in all of Europe. I would have to agree. With its hot weather, spellbinding flamenco music, and tradition of free tapas, what’s not to love?!

Andalusia Tapas - The Places We Live

The region of Andalusia is divided into eight provinces. Our tiny village of Freila was located in the Province of Granada. It is about an hour’s drive from the capital city, which is called (you guessed it!) Granada. In addition to the cultural pleasures of the region, it is also home to the Sierra Nevada mountain range and the amazing ancient fortress-city known as the Alhambra.

Alhambra - The Places We Live
The Alhambra. We did not house sit here.

Freila is a hill village located in the northern part of the province. It is home to three restaurants/bars, a grocery store, and less than 1,500 residents. Like other villages in the area, many of the homes are built into the side of the mountain, and either have or simply are caves. There’s a reservoir nearby for keeping cool in the hot weather, and plenty of little hiking trails through the nearby arroyos.

Freila, Granada, Spain - The Places We Live
The village of Freila

House Sitting in Andalusia

Our home was located on the edge of the village, overlooking the reservoir and nearby mountain ranges. There were three living areas on the property: the main house, a downstairs apartment, and a livable cave. The house itself has three bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms, a large kitchen with dining nook, two living areas, a laundry room, and a multi-level terrace.

House Sitting in Spain, Freila - The Places We Live

While house sitting in Andalusia, we stayed in the downstairs apartment. We had our own terrace along with one bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and living area. It was beautifully appointed and was incredibly quiet and peaceful. As it was below the main house and tucked into the hillside, it always stayed cool. We didn’t need to turn on the AC at all, and instead enjoyed a light breeze through the windows.

 

Trusted House Sitters Referral Code: RAF156424

 

Below us was another huge terrace, along with the traditional white cave house. The cave had a bedroom, living area, and a built-in bar. We didn’t spend much time in the cave, but I could definitely see the appeal with the fun architecture and cool temperatures.

White Cave House - The Places We Live

Our Family

Unlike most other house sits, we were actually living with our host and her nephew, along with her seven cats: Smarty, Charlie, Pepper, Benjamin, Bently, Raya, and Maximus. Our host is a retired English woman who moved to Spain over 10 years ago. Since then, she’s seen it all. She even blogs about her experience and provides helpful advice as an expat in rural Spain. We enjoyed spending each morning chatting with our host and her nephew over coffee before all heading our separate ways.

Smarty the Cat

The cats spent most of their days outside, but otherwise lived in the main house. Smarty was the queen of the house and also one of the main reasons for our visit. She is diabetic and needs twice daily injections at specific times. Since our host was commuting back and forth to Granada, we were there to help take care of Smarty and the others to free up her time.

House Sitting Medication - The Places We Live

All of the Cats

The remaining cats were all special in their own way, as cats generally are. They each had a personality that could put the whole village to shame. Charlie is a lovely Siamese cat who regularly reverts back to being feral. He is a bit scruffy and easily spooked, but enjoys the occasional pet, as long as it lasts no more than 13 seconds. I honestly didn’t see Pepper very often, and when I did, it was only long enough for her to leer at me. Benjamin acted much the same. Although, they did look alike, so I don’t actually know for sure if only one of them hated me or they both did. [Editor’s note: I got to pet Pepper, and she’s sweet :p]

House Sitting Benjamin and Charlie - The Places We Live

We arrived at the house while our host was out, so we sat on the terrace and got to know three of the more curious cats. To pass the time, we gave them each a name. The smallest of the bunch (Raya) was very pretty, sweet, but also a little saucy. We named her Sansa. Bentley, who we later found out was a proper little gentleman, was temporarily named Princess Fluff. He is adorably fluffy and could easily pass for a pretty little lady. Finally, there is Maximus, whom we had named Tank. We weren’t too far off. He is a big boy who loves pets, but also enjoys being in charge.

House Sitting Bentley, Raya, and Maximus - The Places We Live

Our Lives House Sitting in Andalusia

Again, this sit was a little different than most due to the hosts being on-site. But we were able to maintain our regular routines of work and adventure without any problems. We were up early each morning to feed the cats and administer Smarty’s medication. Then it was time for a little bit of chat time with our host over tea or coffee. From there, the afternoon was pretty much ours. I would water the plants and do one major chore each day, but otherwise spent most of my time either working, reading (Infinity Born by Douglas E. Richards), or meditating.

House Sitting in Spain - The Places We Live

In the evenings we ate out for dinner, rotating among the three restaurants in the village (when they were open, which wasn’t often). There was another evening shift of feeding and medicating the cats, but overall the evenings were incredibly peaceful and cool. It was my favorite time of the day. I often found myself just sitting on the terrace and watching the sunset. Again, don’t be surprised when I announce that we’re moving permanently.

Adventures Ahead

Get excited for nearly a month’s worth of Andalusia adventures coming up! The region is famous for their food, so we obviously ate everything we could get our hands on. We took our usual daily walks through the village, but also explored a little farther afoot. Our adventures while house sitting in Andalusia took us to neighboring villages as well as an unforgettable trip to Granada. We love Spain and I can’t wait to tell everyone why. Stay tuned!


 

Discount: RAF156424

Journey to Our House Sit in Spain

Our journey from Switzerland to our house sit in Spain was an adventure in itself. Once again, the flights were a little overpriced, so I put my crazy planning skills to work and found us transportation for a fraction of the price. But the road was long and more than a little bumpy. Only days before we set off on our 1,000 mile journey from our house sit in Mannedorf, we received a sad call from our host. But I’ve skipped too far ahead. Let’s start at the beginning…

Travel Expenses

This may be a bit unsurprising, but our biggest monthly expense is transportation. It’s relatively inexpensive when compared with the US, but still an obstacle to overcome when working with a budget of less than $30 per day like we are. Our house sit in Spain was in the small village of Freila, located in the heart of Andalusia. There are no airports in the village and very little public transit (as in one bus, once a day). So, I set to work looking for an airport that wasn’t too far away nor too expensive to get to, as well as the best option for car rentals.

Mannedorf to Freila.jpg

After days of research, I was flummoxed. I tried every conceivable angle. I put together numerous departure and arrival combinations, using plane, train, and bus schedules. All were expensive. After a few more days of trying, I finally cracked the code and found the perfect solution, and managed to cut our travel expenses from a minimum of $250 to a total of $110. Oh, the things I do for the pleasure of finding the perfect price! Haha!

Männedorf to Freila House Sit

Finding travel arrangements for over half the price of a direct flight or train isn’t easy, nor does it come without some extra discomfort. This time around we had some strange layovers and two extra travel days, but we made it comfortably, happily, and with $100 extra in our pockets. I still call it a win.

Switzerland - The Places We Live
View from the bus window: Zurich to Milan

From Männedorf, we took the train 12 miles to Zurich. Next, we hopped on a bus and enjoyed a stunning 200 mile bus ride to Milan, Italy.  We stayed one night in a surprisingly nice hotel near the Milan airport for only $45. Then from Milan, we then flew via RyanAir to Alicante, Spain for $13 each. That whole journey, including the hotel in Milan cost only $110, including food (breakfast was free at the hotel).

In Alicante, we hired a car and booked an AirBnB on the beach while we waited for our sit to begin in Freila a week later. But before we even left Switzerland, we received some troubling news.



Change of Plans

Our house sit in Freila, Spain was booked months in advance. We had been chatting with our two hosts (sisters) throughout our European journey. Shortly before leaving Switzerland, we got an update that broke our hearts.

My sister had a heart attack last night and is in the hospital in Granada (45 minutes away). She is booked for surgery in a few days and I have been visiting her as often as I can.

– Host in Spain (highly adjusted)

Josh and I began making back-up plans in case the sit was cancelled when Josh mentioned how hard it must be to drive back and forth so far with a diabetic cat. I wrote our host back and offered to come earlier if she needed some extra help with the cat, but half expected she would cancel the sit entirely. To our surprise, she welcomed the help and asked us to come early. We cancelled our hotel in Alicante and instead went straight to her house upon landing.

An Unusual House Sit

Although understandably blue, our host was extremely welcoming and kind. We spent our time taking care of the house and pets as we usually would, but with the added benefit of chats over tea afterwards. Josh was able to provide our cat, Smarty, with her twice daily insulin injections so that our host could travel freely between home and the hospital.

Injections at our House Sit - The Places We Live

Unfortunately, less than a week into our stay, her sister passed away. We did what we could to try and make the situation a bit easier, doing extra little chores around the house, baking cookies on our day off, and making ourselves available to talk. We also did our best not to complicate the situation further by being too “present”. After all, it’s a difficult enough situation to navigate without having guests (near strangers, no less!) in the house.

On the day of the funeral, we assisted with the post-service gathering at the house. We cleared our schedules and helped clean up, fried up some potato pancakes (which turned out delicious), and welcomed the guests while our host was taking care of some final details in town. Circumstances aside, it was a surprisingly enjoyable occasion. We got the chance to learn more about our hosts, met an expat from Idaho(?!), and ate some tasty finger foods. I’m not sure if fun is the right word, but it was far from melancholy and we really appreciated the chance to mingle with the local expat community.

20190515_145132.jpg
Fried German Potato Pancakes topped with horseradish and smoked salmon

Looking Back

Although our usual social awkwardness made us a little extra edgy during this sit, we actually had a wonderful time. I loved the area and came to truly love our host and her nephew. The experience made for a very unusual sit, but it was also positive in a lot of ways. It wasn’t just a first day meet and greet where everything goes perfectly to plan and our best “meeting-the-hosts” outfits stay crisp and clean. It was real life, day after day, getting to know each other in our pajamas, with laughter and tears. This was an opportunity for us to step up and be there for someone in need, a goal we hope we achieved. I learned a lot on this trip and am so glad that we went, and can’t wait to get back to Freila to visit our new adopted aunt.


Spain – Alicante & Valencia

The last two stops of our Trans-Atlantic Crossing were in the cities of Alicante and Valencia along the southern coast of Spain. They were little slices of paradise, each one beautiful and special in their own way. Unfortunately, we only had a few hours ashore in each city, which merely whetted my appetite to explore more of this amazing country.

Alicante, Spain

After several weeks of rainy, overcast skies and sloshing, whitecapped seas, we were treated to a warm and sunny day in Alicante, a coastal city of about 300,000 people. From the moment I got off the boat I was in love. It was only a short walk from the port to the city, where we came across an ornate marbled promenade that tracked the coast for a mile or so. Just off the promenade were beachside restaurants where people sat enjoying paella, sangria, and sunshine. Nearby, an ancient castle stood on a hill overlooking the entire city.

Alicante - The Places We Live.jpg

While the cruise offered several tempting shore excursions, we chose to simply wander around and enjoy the beautiful weather. I loved all of the colorful, pedestrian walkways and the random art installations. Our walk included stops at a couple quirky shops, a grocery store to buy some wine to share with our table mates (you can bring up to two bottles on board), and an enjoyable visit to a local market.

DSC_0554.JPG

I’ve already mentioned how much I like grocery stores, but markets are even better. There’s something about the craftsmanship on display that makes each booth special. However, my favorite part is watching the shoppers. Watching the locals visiting all their favorite stands, I like to pretend that the market is my market, too. What color shopping tote would I have? Which stall owners know my name? Do I get my usual, or ask for a recommendation for something new? It might be a bit silly, but it’s a fun way to feel a part of the community, if only for a little while.

 

The limited amount of time we had in Alicante wasn’t nearly enough. Due to our limited budget, we didn’t get the chance to try out any of the local delicacies, nor did we climb the hill to explore the castle. This is one of the downsides to cruising, that each stop isn’t enough time to really get to know a place. Thankfully, we’ve got the time to come back and visit.

Valencia, Spain

Thankfully, our time in Spain wasn’t completely over. We had one more stop in the nearby city of Valencia. If our time in Alicante was too short, then it was way too short in Valencia. The city hosts a population of 2 million people and is packed with things to see, experience, and eat. Once again, the weather turned poor on us, cutting our exploration time down even further, so we didn’t even see a fraction of what Valencia has to offer.

Valencia - The Places We Live.jpg

Although we were dying to see the beautiful and modern City of Arts and Culture, we were limited to the port area due to rain and high transportation costs. However, it did clear up long enough to enjoy the feel of solid ground underfoot before our last day at sea. Needless to say, we are planning to return to Valencia as soon as we can so that we can see all this beautiful city has to offer.

Journey’s End

After 14 days on the ocean, we finally landed at Rome’s nearest port, Civitavecchia. After all is said and done, I am still very happy that we took the cruise instead of an airplane. We met some amazing people, ate some great food, and got some much needed exercise, relaxation, and peace of mind. It was a little more expensive than flying, but for all we got to experience, it was definitely worth it. The boat pulled into port, and it was time to for our European adventure to begin.

165410

And what a way to start! As soon as we landed, we hefted our backpacks and said goodbye to the ship, then hopped on a bus into town, hiked to the nearest train station, rode the train into Rome, then finally got on another bus, this one taking us overnight to Germany, all so that we could reach our next house sit THE FOLLOWING DAY. It was a hectic adventure, but more on that next time 😉