This past Saturday, I was generously offered an invitation for a private “tour” of my new town with two of my friends from school. Taking them up on their offer, I met them around 5:30pm to walk around the city. I was most excited to venture to the Alcazaba, a Moorish citadel in Badajoz built several centuries ago (the exact century is widely debated and not firmly established).
Spanish culture heavily promotes the concept of “hanging out” with your friends and staying out late is generally permitted by most parents; in fact, most parents want their children to go out with their friends and have fun. Children often stay out of the house much later as well, usually returning home right around their curfews (1am or so). Moreover, most people here prefer walking to places within a reasonable radius, and most groups of friends can be seen walking around town before gathering to eat at a bar (a bar in Spain does not signify alcohol — most bars serve snacks, food, and soft drinks).
Leaving my house, I met my friends outside on my street, and we slowly proceeded to walk towards the Alcazaba. I remember earnestly asking my friends to speak slower for me and pronounce their words clearly because I usually understand very little when they speak with each other, incorporating heavy Extremadura slang and several curse words of course. We ventured into the Alcazaba through a beautiful garden surrounding the fortress. Before coming to Spain, I read a beautiful poem in my AP Spanish Literature class called “Romance del Rey Moro que Perdió Alhama”. The poem details the story of a Moorish king who lost his kingdom. As I walked through the Alcazaba, I could not believe I was standing in such a fortress, like the one I had read about in the poem; I knew I was not in the same fortress as the one I had read about, but nonetheless, I was absolutely enchanted by this magical fortress.
I recently came across a word in Welsh: hiraeth. Hiraeth deeply resonated with what I felt in that moment. According to the BBC, hiraeth is “a blend of homesickness, nostalgia, and longing that conveys a distinct feeling of missing something irretrievably lost.” Standing in the outer perimeters of the Alcazaba overlooking the beautiful city of Badajoz, I was overcome with the eerie feeling of almost being transported to the magical historical era when the fortress was undoubtedly alive and bustling with the numerous inhabitants it supported.
The views from Alcazaba (which sits much higher than the rest of the city) were beautiful; the fortress itself was beautiful as well, almost watching over the city of Badajoz and protecting it.
After walking the entire perimeter of the Alcazaba through its outermost walls, we ventured into the center of the city. We walked past a beautiful cathedral and we were even able to enter the cathedral to take some pictures. I remember entering the cathedral very quietly, as we observed people in prayer, and we stood there in silence for a few minutes before heading out again. As we ventured out, we walked through a Plaza that included a small book fair. I remember seeing many English books at the fair, only that they were Spanish translations.
The most lively scene certainly was our next destination: Rincón Nazarí. One of the most beautiful streets I’ve ever seen, La Calle Manuel Cancho Moreno houses a beautiful Arabic bar (the bar is called Rincón Nazarí) that offers a selection of unique beverages, many of them non-alcoholic. The narrow street featured many colorful doors with several planter pots posted on the walls; the leaves of the drooping plants provided a touch of green against the warm color scheme of the buildings. The bar was very crowded the first time we entered, so we decided to leave, walk around for a bit, and come back.
Inside the bar, I remember standing over a transparent part of the floor that showed a beautiful underground brick passage through which water flowed. Suddenly, a lady behind me “pushed” me forward a bit, giving me quite a scare that I was going to fall straight through the floor into the water flow below me. She cackled loudly, and upon seeing my confused face (especially since I did not know what I could even say back), she cackled more in Spanish. My friends were both amused and concerned; the incident as a whole was funny, but they certainly told me all the words (and curse words) they would have used back at the lady, had they been the ones to receive such a scare.
My friends (Javi and Lucía) and I tried to take a selfie inside the bar; the lighting was very dark and the picture quality was lost as the iPhone tried to adjust the lighting.
I remember drinking a very interesting juice blend that night, and it was ironically called a “San Francisco”. We sat there for a while discussing shows on Netflix and actors we liked before heading out to eat dinner at an Italian restaurant in the center of the city. After dinner, they slowly walked me back to my neighborhood before heading back home themselves. I remember being quite surprised that I only reached home around 11pm (this was the first time I had arrived home so late).
I was really surprised by the beauty of this Arabic bar and how flavorful my fruit blend was. The drinks were served with a traditional Spanish snack mix including Quicos, the Spanish corn nuts that are very popular back home, and roasted chickpeas.
Upon reaching home, Roberto and Laura (my host parents) were so genuinely interested to hear what I had done. They even taught me a new word in Spanish: cotillar (the act of sharing everything things, almost comically, as if with a girlfriend — including all the “tea” and gossip). They were delighted to learn what I had done, and they let me go to sleep as soon as they heard all that they wanted to hear.
Going out on Saturday certainly was one of the coolest things I’ve experienced. Every day in Spain reinforces to me the fact that a foreign country will not mould itself for you; you have to bend yourself to align yourselves with the customs and culture. I’ve certainly felt helpless more than once after coming to Badajoz, but every day that passes, I’ve grown more comfortable in feeling helpless; there’s a certain childlike magnetism in exploring the unknown. I suddenly feel six years old again, discovering things anew and stopping to wonder about every single thing that appears new in my path. Exploring the city with locals certainly taught me more than I would have learned going by myself, and I am so grateful to Javi and Lucía for taking me out :)
This is kind of how we grew up in India. After school, in the evenings and weekends we would hang out with friends & have fun - though no bars :). I'm beginning to wonder will you return at the end of the semester or decide to stay for one more! :)
Good that you had an opportunity to visit Alcazaba where Jevi and Lucia gave a good company and took effort of taking you around,, am sure you will overcome homesickness soon and enjoy being there by the end of your semester . Loved the drink pic . Next time expecting without mask😍