I sat on the patio ledge near the side of La Alhambra and watched my feet dangle off the edge. I was mentally planning a retrieval route in case one of my shoes fell off into the garden below when my mother came up next to me.
“We kinda dropped the ball on this one didn’t we?”
I looked past her, squinting in the 11 p.m. darkness, to the jumbled mess of people waiting in a long line outside the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra.
“Yeah, we really did. What’s wrong with us?”
My mother and I are usually very studious travelers. We don’t over-plan our adventures, but we certainly find out all the details and activities of the area before we get there. But Granada was different. We just sort of showed up, not realizing how much of a destination point it was at the beginning of September. Needless to say, when we moseyed down to the Alhambra from our hotel that morning we found ourselves face-to-face with a long line to purchase tickets just to get in. By the time we got up to the ticket booth, the Nasrid Palaces, which require a designated entry and exit time, were sold out for the afternoon. So instead we bought tickets for the special nighttime viewing of the Palaces and thought (again) that it shouldn’t be too crowded.
Fast-forward another 10 hours and we came upon another long line waiting to get into the Nasrid Palaces at 11 p.m. Neither of us being the wait-in-a-crowded-noisy-line kind of people, we shrugged our shoulders in defeat and wandered over to an upper patio that looked toward the Sierra Nevada moutains of Granada (something that didn’t require a ticket.)
As we sat there with a mild “I am a failed tourist” feeling sinking in, I began to really look out into the dark hills of Granada…It looked like I was in front of a green screen. The view was unreal, like something out of a movie or a desktop picture, not something I accidentally happened upon on a late summer night.
A warm breeze danced through the patio and over my body. I was completely entranced. The shadowy hills were filled with golden balls of light that were shining from the distinctive square European windows…it was something I’d never seen before. The hills were alive with a magical, silent presence, that made me want to cry, laugh and sigh. I sat there, not caring anymore if one of my shoes fell off, thinking about…thinking? It was a rare moment in my life when I really wasn´t thinking about anything. At least nothing on the laundry list of to-do’s that I carried around with me. I became philosophical; impressive, grand thoughts filtering through my mind, but I let them go… This was a time to enjoy a feeling, not a thought.
My mother and I sat there for almost an hour, not really saying much to each other, a rarity in itself, simply looking out at the scene before us. Life slowed to a snails pace, nothing seemed to matter because I was fully in that moment.
We eventually got up and passed by the still-long line into the Nasrid Palaces, joking at how we had been so clueless. As we walked away and I turned back one last time to seal the image in my mind, I realized we had a more spectacular 60 minutes than if we had toured though the ancient palace. As magnificent as the Alhambra is, I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will stay with me forever. And it was more than just looking- it was feeling the moment.
I didn’t learn about Moorish architecture that night, but I did learn this: leave time for the unexpected. Don’t plan every second of a trip. We had a list of activities we wanted to see and accomplish in Granada and that certainly wasn’t one of them. But it stands out as the brightest, sharpest picture in my mind. You never know what you’ll discover or feel when you simply let yourself live.