Cordoba is bigger on the inside

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March 26th 2015
Published: March 26th 2015
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What a gem! I'm very glad that I did this trip, despite all the hassles that come with a VERY touristy part of Spain.

I went with Julia Travel again (the same crew that took me to Gibraltar yesterday), and it was much better today. I was the last person to be picked up, which made the trip both there and back shorter and more enjoyable. We stopped at some random hotel/restaurant on the way there and back - I'm guessing the tour company has some kind of deal with them. Whatever. I didn't buy anything. I always bring my own snacks for these trips, because you just never know. I met a Cornish couple, Peter and Alice, in their 50s, who were taking 2 weeks in Portugal and Spain before heading back to work on Monday. They were great to chat with during the bus rides and a few times in town, too.

The first thing we saw when we got out of the coach was the Roman Bridge. It's over the River Guadalquivir (which is a modified transliteration of the Arabic phrase "big water" - I guess it's like the Mississippi?). A short walk later and we were at the Cathedral grounds. The tower was impressive to look at, but everything else looked rather plain. So we waited for our tour guide to arrive (they divided us up by language, and we got a local guide to give us the tour in our own language). Maria led us through the Old Jewish Quarter first, since the cathedral was packed. Good idea, in principle, but by the time we got to the synagogue, we had to wait there about 10 minutes or so because it's very small. And there was already a group in there. And a group in front of us. But it was well worth the wait. I enjoyed seeing the Hebrew carvings - done by Muslims, of all people! Apparently, they used to get along a lot better, at least in Cordoba. These days, there are fewer than 10 Jews in the city - we know this because there must be at least 10 to support a synagogue, and there is no functional synagogue in Cordoba.

On to the cathedral. It used to be a mosque, because it was built when the Muslims had control of Andalucia, this region of Spain. One Muslim aesthetic holds that paradise is on the inside, and what lies on the outside is ordinary. This is in line with their theology. Boy, was I surprised when we all walked in. It takes a good bit to impress me these days, in terms of a church or castle, or really a whole lot of things. But consider me impressed by this one. I couldn't take my eyes off those columns. The pictures simply won't be able to do it justice, but I'm including them just so you an get an idea. They were fantastic, and everywhere. We found out about all the additions to the mosque, and how it was simply turned into a Christian cathedral in the 12th century when the area was retaken by the Christians. Its reconsecration saved it during the Inquisition of the 15th century - otherwise, it would've suffered the fate of most other mosques in Spain. The Christian parts were nice, but not nearly as impressive as the earlier Islamic ones. It truly was a unique experience. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The rest of Cordoba, alas. There were good places for food, I'm told, though I did not experience them. I'm here for 11 weeks, after all, so I can't splurge as often as someone on a one- or two-week vacation. I settled for a street cafe that had a deal with some Spanish pizzas and gelato. It left a lot to be desired. I broke down and bought my first fast food on this trip - Subway, so I could have something to eat later on.

There were A LOT of people there. I cannot stress this enough. Apparently, this is the height of tourist season in Cordoba, because it reaches 110 F on a regular basis during their long summer from May-September. Lots of school groups, lots of tour groups, lots of gypsies. I normally do not loathe people, but I do have to draw a line somewhere. I had two of their ladies gang up on me right outside the cathedral while our group was waiting to go in. I had opened a bag of chips and was eating them a little above the crowd. One approached with her hand out, and when I said no and continued to eat, she called her older lady friend, and the two of them came over to try and make a spectacle. I gave them dirty looks, closed up my bag of chips, and put them in my book bag. That was finally enough of a sign for them, I guess. Several from our group gave me silent applause. Later on, while I was waiting for my cheap pizza, an old dude came up to my table with a cup in his hand and asked for money. I said no, as politely as I could, and started looking at the pictures on my digital camera, trying to give him the hint. He didn't take it. He just stood there, loitering above me. I waved my hand dismissively at him and said firmly, "Go away." He did. Then when I was mid-bite on my pizza about 10 minutes later, he came back and tried the same stunt. I was firmer this time and just said "Go away" and waved me hand. It really felt like big talking pigeons were all over the place. It's unnerving and ruined my already poor dining experience.

It's made me want to avoid the really tourist parts of Europe from now on, if possible. I'm glad I don't have much more in the way of big touristy places besides Prague and Rome on the agenda. This is supposed to be a relaxing trip, and that kind of crap just puts me on edge. I'm no novice in dealing with them, but it doesn't mean I either enjoy it or an inured to it.

The cathedral was still awesome. And I'd do it again. Tomorrow is the Alhambra - a massive palace complex - in Granada. I hope it lives up to the billing!

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