Jaén: Our first date

Jaen and Catedral de Jaén at night

My first meeting eye to eye with my new home, with my new life, happened somewhere between 23 and midnight, on an empty bus station which bathed somnolence and the end of a day.

The bus left immediately after we stepped out and left nothing but silence for us to fill. The only people out there, or as it seemed – the only people in the whole world we stepped in, were us: two lost girls, and them: two boys who came to pick us up.

The boys, one our new roommate (you know him as the co-author of this blog), and the other one a great friend to be, filled up the silence in the air with welcomes, smiles, and anything that could put a mask on the confusion towards this new situation we got ourselves into. It made a nice and cozy feeling that we are not alone in this new world.

And this Jaen, well, I’ll tell you: however much I tried to find something about it, whichever amount of hours I spent before arriving looking for pictures, texts and opinions that could get me to know it, that could build up something I could hold onto and expect, in the end, out the first meeting was a truly blind date.

Unveiling the mystery of Jaen

Landscape of Jaen from Castle of Santa Catalina
The landscape of Jaen from Castle of Santa Catalina

If you tried to search for Jaen on Google, you would see for yourself that the information is rather mere and poor. You would find some articles saying that Jaen is a forgotten Andalusian pearl, but more than that – hardly. It would require the skills of an investigative journalist to put the puzzle together.

That is because Jaen is a shy and modest city. The one that doesn’t brag about its past, history, and existence. The one that doesn’t wave to tourists to get attention, and that deliberately chooses to stay in the shadow of gracious cities of Malaga, Seville, and Granada, relinquishing the throne to them and cozying up to the warmth of its shell.

Jaen is like a celebrity with no desire for the spotlight, the one that avoids the press and media, flourishing behind its gates and caring for the ones that are already in. It is like a monastery: all are welcome, but none are persuaded.

Google street view is NOT your best travel buddy

So, as we walked out the station gates, I gasped to myself in a surprise. You see when you search for Jaen, and you don’t find many pictures, you turn to Google Street View, and, well, nobody ever tells you that you should not do this. That is because, no surprise, you lose so much from just a view.

Those empty streets, sunny rooftops and wild sideroad meadows I saw from the street view, looked like one hot day in the industrial area; a lazy and silent atmosphere. I imagined people sitting in their homes, watching television, almost sleeping in their chairs. It looked almost like that rolling bush from Western movies will be the one expecting me when I step off the bus. But the truth was much more optimistic.

Let me start with one simple and easy-to-understand description – the thing you won’t see in Google Street View is that Jaen is a city of SUPER steep streets.

Jaen is a city of steep streets
Jaen is a city of steep streets

This steepness gives those streets so much character that is non-existent through the camera. Don’t get me wrong, I am born and raised lowlander, the street from my native city are all ironed out, so I say flat is also pretty.

But, when a city is rich in those precipitous roads, its soul hides within every step up and down. Primary speaking, the angle and the position of buildings, cafes, and malls differ from the impression you get from the pictures, that it feels as it is not the same city.

The camera makes the city look plain and boring, while in real life, the city is bold and perky! High buildings make this place a city and colorful balconies make it local. It just has a soul so strong that it twirls your head around when you step into it. That first glance, and you already know you are going to fall in love with this city.

Streets of Jaen - La Magdalena
La Magdalena – One of the highest points of the city

The next advice, now, is very serious, so listen carefully. NEVER forget that Google Street View operators find some time of the day where there are as few as possible people on the streets. So, if a city seems empty and lonely, don’t believe it, because you are watching it through the eyes of a robot; lounged in your chair, in some other world, with some other air.

Neighborhood in town of Jaen
City of Jaen according to Google Street View

You are missing the summer breeze that caresses the trees, you are missing the teeth of the sun on your neck, the silent whisper of olive trees guarding the city, the peace when the city sleeps in the afternoon, and the energy that it produces when the sun starts to settle. And most importantly, you are missing the people. Those who bring life to these blocks of bricks. You are missing all of these, so no, you are not looking the same city as you would with your own eyes, you are looking at an empty architectural plan with no real meaning.

Falling for the real Jaen

That night we came, there weren’t as many people on the streets (which suited our expectations), but that is because an Octoberfest was going on in a park. Now, I am assuming that everybody was there, or on some other spot for get-togethers. The station was probably the loneliest place in the city, maybe even the Earth. But even without people, I knew from the beginning that this is not a lonely town, I knew there would be a revelation. Looking through the pictures online, not finding much information, and needless to say, not hearing for this place ever in my life before, got me thinking that this is a small town and not a city, that there are no people, nothing to do, and that all the life happens in Granada and Malaga.

But the lights on the streets were telling a different story, the music somewhere far away was giving away a good feeling, and all those shops proudly standing tall down the street, all that was telling me I was very wrong about this place.

Our apartment was 5 minutes’ walk from the station, but those 5 minutes got me excited for the next day. I was still not excepting too much, but I felt this city would love me and I would love it back. We got up to our building, passing these narrow streets and friendly windows. The hallways were astonishing: white clean marble tiles, welcoming yellowish light, and big green plants in those white Antic Greek pots. It was like a hallway of a ministry or embassy and not a hallway of a regular living area.

Our apartment was on the top floor (with only two other apartments below us), and it was enormous! Marko gave us a quick tour, and we settled in our bedrooms. It was all so new, but all so familiar. I rearranged my room so it would reflect me and opened the windows. Below I saw a terrace and in the bottom a patio, those were of or neighbors.

Behind the wall across me, 4 buildings were rising in the distance, waving me with laundry that was drying in the wind, with lights of tv devices and life of the locals, which welcomed me as one of them. I felt secure and I felt home. It was like I was meant to be there, I slept like a baby that night, dreaming of the things that waited for me the next day.

Buildings in Jaen at night
The view from my bedroom of buildings in Jaen

And that is how it went – the first date with the city that soon will be taking my heart.

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