September 15, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain, Trips to the US

What is your favorite place on the planet? When approached with this question for a Lonely Planet BlogSherpa Carnival, I couldn’t really imagine how to sift through the heap of awesome places that started flickering through my brain. My favorite place to live? To visit? To eat? So many locations flash into my mind, and surely yours too. Last month it would have been Halong Bay, Vietnam. Last week I would have probably said any Spanish terraza willing to serve me my beloved tinto de verano, a plate of manchego cheese and some gazpacho. And then growing up, my choice would have been Vashon Island, Washington – that weird little island where I built some solid clam digging skills. But of all time? I suppose a couple of places do stand out – two places that tickle all my senses and make me feel like I’m frozen in a dream.

Let me start by taking you on a journey to the first location. It’s a very precise spot in the best city ever (I’m only slightly partial) – San Francisco of course!!! This little spot can be found on the water side of Broderick Street, right before you reach the row of Broadway Street mansions. Sitting there, propped up on the steep incline of the carless block of Broderick, the Marina sits in front of you like a stage. The bustling neighborhood below gives way to the sailboat-speckled waters of the slate-blue Bay. In the distance to your right, Alcatraz pokes gloomily out of the water. Then to your far left, the ebb and flow of marine fog engulfs the Golden Gate Bridge. And just over the hill behind you, whether you can hear it or not, hide the noise and chaos of the big city. Here, in this little piece of heaven on earth, the crisp marine air kisses your skin, and everything around you seems to stand still. I’ve spent countless moments in this very spot reflecting on a stressful day, pondering life-changing decisions (to move to Spain or not to?), or simply reminding myself how grateful I am to have such a special city wrapped around me like a familiar hug.

I have to tell you friends, if I haven’t made it clear already, this is the best place on earth. The rolling hills lined with colorful buildings and filled with equally colorful people, the fusion of international cultures and cuisine, and the weather….no, NO, NOT the weather. This is the one thing I do not miss – except perhaps the mild overcast mornings with the fog horn humming in the distance, carefully soothing me out of my slumber, as opposed to the blinding Madrid sun that does everything short of scream “rise and shine amiga!”

This can’t be my only favorite place, though. There is another, that is perhaps less sentimental and more universally acknowledged as one of the most amazing places in the world – the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. I’ve tried to capture in words before the paradise that is the Alhambra. But honestly, until you are there, and even right now as I write this, it is hard to recall the sensation of walking through the Moorish wonderland. The thought of a palace, for me anyway, typically recalls fancy chandeliers, vast gardens filled with perfectly groomed shrubbery, and ornately tasseled rugs and curtains. While impressive, it certainly seems forced and perhaps a bit excessive, doesn’t it? But this palace, oh this palace, it’s like nothing that you have stored in the corners of your imagination. It’s equal parts elegance and austerity. The Arabic architecture, with its open rooms and intricately carved details, blends naturally with the dribbling fountains. You can’t escape the trickle of water traveling through the palace and gardens, which overflow with everything from roses to fruits and vegetables. When you walk through this palace, everything is in perfect harmony. Nothing is ridiculously lavish, but at the same time, it feels like the richest place on earth – rich with color, smells, sounds and life. It can only best be described as a drug that heightens all your senses – smell, touch, hearing, sight. It is truly euphoric. This would be my kind of palace indeed. Speaking of which, Jacobo, are you taking notes??

Lucky for me, I will be returning to the Alhambra for a third time in just a few short weeks, at which time I will be taking my own notes on what I’d like in my personal (imaginary) Moorish palace (an Andalucian patio and a balcony full of electrically colored petunias are musts!). Meanwhile, if you’re itching to know some other sweet locations around the planet, stop by the Lonely Planet BlogSherpa Carnival hosted by Sophie’s World, to find out what other expert travelers are saying about their top spots and favorite places.

17 Responses to “There’s no place like…”

  1. Sabrina Says:

    You really make San Francisco move up on my (unwritten) list of places I still want to go see 🙂 Sounds beautiful! What is the best time of the year to go?

  2. Erin Says:

    This is a no-brainer – SF should be on the top of your list of places to visit in the US, hands down! As for weather, most San Franciscans will quote for you Mark Twain’s alleged comment on the weather (“alleged” as there is apparently no real evidence that he said it): “the coldest Winter I ever spent was a Summer in San Francisco.” Summers in San Francisco are especially cold as that is typically when there is the most fog (and bone chilling wind!). I think early Fall would probably be the best time of year to go. Either way, if/when you go, bring lots of layers as you just never know what you will get. Head about 15 minutes north, south or east of the city, though, and the weather is generally much more pleasant and predictable. Ok, now go book your trip 😉

  3. Sabrina Says:

    Thanks for the tip! I’ll keep that in mind. This fall looks pretty packed already. I have some fun work trips coming up and the wedding of a friend. How’s SF in spring? Alternatively, I could always plan it for next Fall 🙂

  4. Erin Says:

    Yep, Spring would be good too!

  5. Status Viatoris Says:

    You have excellent taste, querida! I absolutely adored SF when I was there a couple of years ago, and also spent two very happy (if slightly impoverished) years in Granada. I worked in Hotel America, which is within the walls of the Alhambra! After my evening shift I had the place to myself, and it was utterly magical; just wandering around breathing in all that history, without having to battle my way through the tourists. For a short time a friend and I also ran guided visits of the Albaicin and the Sacromonte. Special times, I am very envious of your impending visit!

  6. Erin Says:

    Well, if I had to spend a few impoverished years somewhere (outside of the present, post-wedding/honeymoon impoverished times that I seem to be experiencing now), then I think Granada might just be the place I’d do it. I adore the Alhambra, but unfortunately haven’t spent tons of time getting to know Granada the city outside of the obvious tour stops – so Miss Guia, any special recommendations on what to do? And BTW, is Granada perhaps from where Pooch hails? Or does he come from elsewhere in Spain?

  7. Status Viatoris Says:

    Pooch is from Estepona, Málaga…

    With regards to places to visit, I’ve always been more of a ‘general atmosphere inhaler’ as opposed to a ‘specific monument hunter’. In my day (beware we are talking 12 years ago!) an evening spent eating falafel and drinking cerveza on the terrace of one of the little Moroccan restaurants in Plaza Nueva was a lot of fun. (Watch your bag – loads of pickpockets). A stroll round the Sacromonte, especially in the evening is also amazing, and seeing the Alhambra by night from the Mirador de San Nicolás in the Albaicin is an unmissable thing. There is a wonderful little square with cafes up there, and I think there is also now the first mosque to be built in Spain since the Reyes Catolicos kicked Boabdil to the kerb!

    I would just say walk, walk and walk some more. Go all round the Albaicin, all round the Sacromonte, up Caldereria Nueva where all the tea shops and Moroccan/Lebanese etc restaurants and shops are. Walk along Calle Elvira to Puerta Elvira (there used to be a little place on the corner next to Puerta Elvira called El Arco Iris that sold seafood and things. I would highly recommend it. If you carry on over the little square and passed the army barracks, you are nearly in my old street! Aaaahhhhh!

    Just enjoy, and breathe in all the special granadino sniffs!

    I leave you with two geographically specific sayings:

    El granadino, ni puto, ni fino.
    Darle limosna, mujer, que no hay en la vida nada como la pena de ser ciego en Granada.

  8. Erin Says:

    All noted – particularly the refranes!!! Thanks SV!

  9. Status Viatoris Says:

    Oooo! And in case you haven’t already read it, can I recommend the magical book ‘Tales of the Alhambra’ (Cuentos de la Alhambra) by Washington Irving. Try and read it before you go and it will open up a whole new spectrum of things to get misty eyed about whilst there!

  10. Erin Says:

    I haven’t read it so I just popped by the bookstore and got it! I was looking for a new book to read, so it’s perfect timing. They didn’t have it in English, so I got it in Spanish – perhaps not the best way to enjoy a great American author, but better than nothing! Thanks for suggesting it!

  11. David @ Quillcards Ecards Says:

    I remember San Francisco very well and the thing I recall most that I liked about it was the afternoon sunlight on the rooftops that lead all the way down to the sea – that an the Coit tower that I recall from an album cover – was it Jefferson Airplane?

    Grenada always felt like an uphill struggle to the Alhambra – and I feel I gave the town itself short shrift – but the palace itself is a delight of course.

    I like the way Spanish houses hide themselves away from view – enter through a small door and find yourself in a cool courtyard.

    Of course this is partly a way of dealing with the sun, but it always reminds me of what I was told once about the Arabic feminine approach to architecture – to make the entrance modest and the inside a delight.

  12. Erin Says:

    I’m in love with the Spanish homes of the South – if my own apartment weren’t so small (well, and sandwiched between two other flats), I’d insist that we gut the center of it and create our own Cordoban patio! As you said, from the outside the houses of Southern Spain are pleasant enough, but you’d never know that behind such simple doors are actually tranquil patios filled with fountains and lush plants. The concept is of course practical, but I think I appreciate even more the charming Arabic philosophy! Thanks for sharing it!

  13. Sarah Says:

    I love San Francisco. I also love Monterey and Vashon soooo much. I’d have a very hard time with this assignment!

  14. Erin Says:

    Ahh, and Carmel!! I’m starting to get a bit homesick actually…..

    I think I’ll go nurse my blues away with a nice glass of Spanish wine 😉

  15. Jason Says:

    Great post about a great city. I know the exact spot on Broderick that you are talking about…when visitors come from out of town I invariable stop the car there for some great views. I like your evocation of the Alhambra, as well.

  16. Erin Says:

    Thanks Jason! There are undoubtedly a million great spots to see an incredible view of the Bay in SF, but I don’t know, there’s just something about that spot on Broderick that seems extra special. I’m glad you agree!

  17. Indian Bazaars Says:

    I liked your “its equal parts elegance and austerity” and also your idea of an imaginary moorish palace…enjoyed reading your post!

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