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Manhattan to Spain via the Bronx

I wanted to revisit Barcelona earlier this year. Had reserved a room at a hotel that’s located steps from the Ramblas. I was excited. For years since I left Barcelona, I had not felt the urge to return. My experience has so shaped me and my view about travel, I wanted to preserve the memories.

But quite unexpectedly, I started feeling that I needed to go. What would Barcelona look like since I was a student there 20 plus years ago? Would the images I’ve clutched to my heart look like anything I’d see? Would I recognize the street I used to live on?

All these questions flooded my brain as if the door behind which they had been stored had finally been opened. I was excited to find out.

Then life intervened and I returned to New York nursing my disappointment. It had been a perfect plan.

Things looked up late in May when I noticed an article in the New York Times about an exhibition that was set to open at the New York Botanical Gardens. Titled Spanish Paradise: Gardens of the Alhambra, it seemed an answer to my longing for Barcelona and Spain.

The Alhambra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a palace that was built in the 14th century by the Moorish leaders who ruled Southern Spain. Its gardens are beautiful and legendary. Although I had studied the history and architecture of the Alhambra, I had not seen it during my time in Spain. An exhibition was not Barcelona, but I knew it would satisfy my longing. So last weekend, my friend and I, cameras in tow, made a trip to the New York Botanical Gardens.

Located in the Bronx, the New York Botanical Gardens spreads approximately 250 acres. An oasis of tranquility and beauty, it houses plant laboratories, gardens, plant collections, old growth forest containing oak, beeches, cherry, birch, tulip and white ash trees, some more than 200 years old, a cascade waterfall and wetland area. It’s the perfect location for an exhibition of this nature.

The focus of the Spanish Paradise is the replica of a Spanish garden that takes over 15,000 square feet of the Haupt Conservatory. With the aroma of lavender, jasmine, sour orange and lime trees, olive, fig and saffron, you are transported immediately to Southern Spain.

It’s an exhibition that appeals to the senses. Poems about nature by the Spanish poet, Frederico Garcia Lorca, line the Poetry Walk while Flamenco dancers provide entertainment on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Sangria and tapas are available in the cafe.

In the library, rare prints, 19-century photographs of some of the courtyards of the Alhambra, paintings and other artifacts can be viewed. The exhibition also pays tribute to American poet, Washington Irving, who lived at the Alhambra while he was writing his collection of essays and sketches, Tales of the Alhambra, which sparked renewed interest in the palace. The Alhambra is one of Spain’s major tourist attractions.

Spanish Paradise sated my appetite temporarily. Now, I want to see the real thing.

Spanish Paradise: Gardens of the Alhambra will run until August 21, 2011 at the New York Botanical Gardens. 2900 Southern Blvd., New York. 718-817-8777.

Hours: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays

Tickets: All Garden, $20. Grounds only, $5. The grounds are also free all day on Wednesdays and from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturdays.

The Botanical Gardens are accessible by car or public transportation. If you’re in the New York area or planning to visit, add it to your list.

Enjoy!