A Sensory Carnival in Granada’s Albaicin Neighborhood

Buzzing mopeds, the exotic scent of incense and hookahs, fierce color, and leathered gypsies offering sprigs of rosemary… We’ve finally arrived in Granada.  And it’s incrediblel!  Our family who is travel weary and coming off of a nasty stomach bug,  immediately snaps back to life. We’re so grateful to enter this vibrant, boisterous place of mixed culture and wild history – both of which play leading roles in shaping the electrifying city known as the “Moorish Jewel”. Gritty and provocative, brilliant and benevolent, Granada is as unapologetic as it is welcoming.

After we get settled in our cozy apartment near the Plaza Nueva  we venture up to the Albaicin area and the eye-candy souk that serves as this neighborhood’s entryway.  Although it’s a gray and dreary day in Spain, color beams from every corner of the Albaicin!  For our family, the souk of the Albaicin embodies the city and keeps the tempo at a family friendly vibe (*see side note at the bottom of this post).  The colors, cultures, sounds and scents melt into a seductive, heady concoction. Our kids’ walk the streets, wide-eyed, only stopping to ask questions (or eat gelato).

Our first stop in the souk (Calle de la Caldereria Nueva) was a small, Turkish lamp shop operated by a kind man, who was happy to let a foreign family browse and take pictures.  The lights were heavenly.

Luscious color sparkled from every globe, and as our Turkish friend flicked different plugs in and out to show-off the light’s brilliance, our kids’ stood silent; fascinated by the light show. Wishing we could own the 900 Euro glowing blue chandelier, we opted for a much smaller and much more affordable table top lamp.  It’s our favorite souvenir.

Making our way up through the souk, we played the “Game of Senses”.  How many different things could we smell?  (Coffee, incense, perfume, smoke, spices/cooking) What catches your eye? (big, baggie & bright “hippie” pants, colorful tea cups, scarves, hookahs, colorful bags, leather) What do you hear? (laughter, guitar music, singing, different languages, dogs). It was a fun way to get our kids’ to connect with their new surroundings. Everything they saw, smelled or heard, was familiar to them and because of this, the city became familiar, or at least more comforting.  It was a fun way for them to connect with Granada and make the city theirs to enjoy. 

We continued to stroll the streets finding small alleyways and courtyards tucked into the Albaicin’s labyrinth.  Color and moorish influence was found at every stop. Street art abound.

Eventually we wound our way up to a (kind of seedy) playground.  We found out later (on an incredible, kid-friendly segway tour – post to follow!) that this playground once housed a secret passageway for Mohammed XII  (aka Bobadil), the last Moorish ruler of Granada. He used his underground passage to sneak from the Alhambra to the Albaicin neighborhood to visit his mother who was living in a nearby palace.  Bobadil was not very popular with his family let alone his enemies, so the secret protected passageway was necessary to his survival. The entry to the tunnel is still there but encased in an rub-el-hisb, or eight-point Islamic star made of marble. The eight point star symbolizes the end of passages. A poignant fit for Bobadil.

As our feet and our kids became weary, we stopped for a drink and tapas at the top of the Caldereria Nueva.  We were dazzled by street performers, and enjoyed a free tapas while sipping sangria. A perfect end to a great beginning in Granada.

The vibrance and soul of the Albaicin and Granada embraced us.  Even though we were surrounded by fellow tourists while walking the streets, we weren’t bombarded by tacky, airport souvenir shops or the artificial properness and antiseptic feel that’s typical in some tourist towns. Granada proudly wears her scrapes and bruises.  This city begs you to experience it.  Through that mantra, we fell in love with this provocative Moorish Jewel. We can’t wait to go back.


For a more in depth look into the city’s culture, a nighttime jaunt into the Sacromonte district (Gypsy neighborhood) to see a Flamenco show would have been eye-opening.  We were warned that this was not a good idea with young children, however if we had a few more nights in Granada we may have tried a taxi ride up to see the clubs and neighborhood after dark.  (We did visit the mysterious Sacromonte during the day.  Incredible! More to come in a future post!)

Family Travel Planning & Reading Lists: The Spain Edition

For us, family vacation planning is like child development.  When your child is born you first confirm that all of the large, gross motor skills are functioning then move on to assess the more detailed, fine motor skills.  With trip planning it’s generally same thing. We get the big heavies out of the way first… planes, trains, and automobiles.   When this stage of travel planning is complete  my husband & I heave a long, sigh of relief and start planning the details.  What will we see, do, eat, and experience?  This is the fun part. The “fine motor details” of the trip, necessary to having fun and being efficient with our time.  This is crucial especially when traveling with kids.


S reading at Shakespeare & Co., Paris


The development that goes into your vacation planning can foster your child’s personal development.

Reading about our destination (in a non-travel guide format) is just as much a part of travel planning as is scouting out local markets or researching historic sites.  We try to nurture our kids’ personal development, education and cultural mindfulness through our travels. Choosing captivating reading material to peruse ahead of time is a fun way to launch the adventure.

We create family book lists for all trips, domestic or international.  (Unless we’re going to Disney.  They’ve been adequately schooled.  Thanks Walt!).  If our lists are done well (and followed through with…) it’s fascinating to watch the kids’ minds puzzle together pieces from their reading, their travels and their school education.  Below is our book list for our upcoming trip to Spain.


The Story of Ferdinand  by Munro Leaf

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

“Ferdinand” was first published in 1936 and it weaves the tale of a young bull from Andalucia, (Ronda as it looks from the illustrations) who finds his inner strength not from being the chosen bull for the bull-fights in Madrid, but by being himself and enjoying the simple pleasures  in life that HE treasures.


Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.

Don Quixote of the Mancha (Everyman's Library Children's Classic) by Miguel de Cervantes adapted by Judge Judge Parry

Classic, Spanish and fun.  Although we are feeling bad for Don Quixote right now…


Platero y Yo  by  Juan Ramon Jimenez

Platero y yo / Platero and I by Juan Ramon Jimenez

Jimenez paints a beautiful picture of the Andalucian countryside in his touching tale of a young man traveling with his donkey Platero. He describes the life and children of Andalucia and bits of their rich heritage.  We bought the bilingual version so we can practice our Spanish.  Honestly, this has not “grabbed” our kids yet, so excerpts from the book will do the trick.  There are more kid friendly all-Spanish versions available.  Hopefully a good read for post trip reflection.


Building on Nature: The Life of Antoni Gaudi by Rachel Victoria Rodriguez

Building on Nature - The Life of Antoni Gaudi by Rachel Victoria Rodriguez

“(Antoni Gaudi’s) home is in Catalonia, a place of jagged mountain peaks and silvery olive trees, splashed by the sparkling sea. The wild beauty of this landscape makes a deep impression. He thinks of it as the Great Book of Nature, and he will read from it all of his life.

Gaudí becomes an architect, learning the rules of form and structure that buildings are supposed to follow. But the shapes and colors of the natural world still inspire him, and he works them into his buildings. Leaves climb up walls. Pillars are giant animal feet. A long bench snakes around a playground.

Antoni Gaudí turned nature into art, and in the process he revolutionized the world of architecture.” (text courtesy of Rachel Victoria Rodriguez and Amazon.com)


Messi: The Inside Story of the Boy Who Became a Legend – (a biography) by Luca Caioli:

Messi: The Inside Story of the Boy Who Became a Legend, by Luca Caioli

Now, even though Lionel Messi is Argentinian, he has become a legend for Spanish soccer (and beyond!).  Our son adores him and this book was for his enjoyment and pre-trip excitement.  Now if we could only get our hands on four Barcelona vs. Real Madrid tickets.  Sigh.


The Story of the World: Volume 2:  The Middle Ages, by Susan Wise Bauer

Story of the World, Vol. 2: The Middle Ages, by Susan Wise Bauer


Great children’s history series!  This volume covers the fall of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance and honestly, and I cannot wait to read it!  Again, this is another “excerpt” read for now, but the info collected in this series is really well-done and will be a great cross-over book for future European exploration with the kids.


Trip planning and child raising both have unique development phases.  But a well developed trip can help form a well developed child.  

PLEASE feel free to add your suggestions in the comment section.  We’d love some more ideas!

Happy Reading!




Daily Photo – March 2, 2012

S & S checking out the Rockies in Wyoming


In like a lion, out like a lamb!  March is here and that means summer vacation is just around the corner.  Here is a photo of our kids just before we entered Jackson, WY last summer.  We visited Grand Teton National Park and then headed south to Crested Butte, CO.  Idyllic summer break.  Fresh air, big sky and endless outdoor adventures.  We’ll trek out west again this summer and we can’t wait!