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August 26th 2016
Published: September 6th 2016
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After a series of trains and automobiles we are finally on a plane to Belgium! We checked out of Hotel Maimonides in Córdoba 7am to catch our 7.50 train to Madrid. I name the hotel be because although the great proximity to the Mezquita (directly opposite) it was not comparable to the other hotels we have stayed at (for starters the air conditioning didn’t work properly and with 45 degree days we needed it!) The girl at the desk, whom also checked us in spoke English however insisted in giving us directions to the non-existent taxi in Spanish. I hate to be one of those tourists who complain, and we do try to converse in our limited Spanish, but we thought it was a bit ridiculous since we knew she spoke English. Anyways after walking out of the old town and in the new town we found a taxi to take us to the train station. What amazed us was a) its still dark at 7am and b) there was hardly anyone about at the hour. I suppose long days would impact on the times people go to work, school etc. So after our 2 hour journey to Madrid, we transfer for a local train to get to the airport (for free since we came on a long distance train). Another transfer later we miss the actual train to the airport so half an hour later and not too much time to spare we finally get onto the airport train which goes slow for the most part. Finally we are at Aeropuerto T4 we need to catch a bus to T2 – get this it was about 15mins drive across the highway in a completely different building!! Eventually, drenched in sweat we make it to check-in – we thought we only had 5 mins to spare, but later looking at the flight confirmation check in supposedly closed 15mins before hand! But we got on, and the last ones to check in! Now we are sitting comfortably on a Brussels Airlines flight to Brussels and we can laugh about our comedy of errors later! I don’t normally go into mundane details in my travel diary, however it was quite stressful in parts so I needed to share that. And to serve a warning to allow at least 2 hours to travel the relatively short distance between Madrid Atocha station and the airport!!

Córdoba, which is what this diary entry is about. Córdoba, the ancient capital of Andalucía. Home to Romans, Visigoths and then the more modern civilizations of Jews, Muslims and Christians living side by side. In fact, around the 10th century Cordoba was the most populous city in Europe with around 500 000 inhabitants, quite impressive to think as London or Paris only had around 4000. So after we checked in we walked around to orientate ourselves. Cute narrow cobblestoned streets, built this way to resemble an Arab Medina, old city. Our hotel was in a good location next to the Mezquita, the old Mosque built in the 8th century. Its no longer an active Mosque, but instead an active Cathedral inside the Mosque! We ate dinner at one of the many courtyard patio restaurants and afterward went for a long walk across the Roman bridge.

The next day we set out for our free walking tour. We love doing these now, gives you a good grounding for the city, and also great discounts for any paid tours too. We saw the (reconstructed) Roman ruins and numerous famous Plazas. Our guide, Elena, a Córdoban native, was enthusiastic and knowledgeable about her city. She showed us the patron Saint, San Rafael who protects the city and told us everyone in town will know a Rafael, have a Rafael in their friendship group and family as it such a popular name and for good reason too! She also took us briefly around the Jewish quarter and introduced us to Maimonides, a Jewish philosopher who’s large statue is on display and legend has it if you touch his feet you become wise like him (of course I touched his feet)! After the tour we went to Casa Andalucía, a museum of a classic Andalucían house with courtyards, lush patios and fountains. That evening , we went to a restaurant with live a Flamenco performance. As we didn’t book we had to sit upstairs. It was really fantastic- the singer passionate, the Guitarist wonderful and 2 dancers, male and Female, took the stage with grandeur and passion. I love it – ole!!

The next day was Bill’s birthday!!! What a place to spend it in beautiful Córdoba. We went to the Alcázar, palace of the Christian Monarchs built by Alfonso XI upon Roman and Arab structural remains. Unlike the Alcázar in Sevilla, it was quite run down, however had lovely views up the tower and restored mosaics inside where we could see outside there was excavation going on. Bill got a piece of good luck on his birthday – pigeon poo on his shoulder! Good luck for the year ahead! The winning attraction of the Alcázar is the gardens – well maintained gardens and trees which line several large fountain pools. Afterward, we met our guide for the Jewish quarter as we had booked a guided tour of the Jewish quarter and the Mezquita after our free tour the day before. It was only us, so our guide took us around the area explaining all the different Jewish and Muslim philosophers of the area and showing us their statues. The highlight was the 13th century Synagogue – Sinagoga -, and you could see the influences the Muslims had with the intricate design. On one wall around an arch you could see an example of 3 religions living harmoniously- a Christian cross, Islamic design and Hebrew inscription. As our guide in Granada had explained, the Sephardic Jews came from Spain and were eventually exiled. Now, one can actually apply for Spanish citizenship if you can prove you are a Sephardic Jew, a ruling which came into place around 2 years ago. Elena explained the day before (which Bill knew anyway) when the Christians were forcing people to convert they would know if people were Christian or not by making them eat pork. Another way was hygiene as Christians hardly bathed back then!

After the Jewish quarter tour we joined another group at the Mezquita for the tour. Such a fascinating place. Built in the 8th century by Muslims, it was actually built upon an ancient Roman temple, and then with the invasion of the Visigoths ‘Barbarians’ they built their church and then the Muslims came. The grandeur of the Mosque with over 1000 arches back in the day – now there is around 800 left. The interesting thing is the Mihrab, the beautiful intricate arches within and around the Maksura where the imam prayed and the horseshoes design ensures his voice amplifies for all the faithful to hear. The Mihrab, which is supposed to face Mecca, is actually facing south, not southeast which is the direction that Mecca is. One of the stories is that the architect was from Damascus, and being homesick he designed Mosques like in Syria hence the Mihrab being 17 degrees out! So King Charles ordered a Cathedral to be built within the Mosque as he did not know how breathtaking the Mosque was. Nowadays, its really incredible to walk around the Mosque-Cathedral. What I have admired about our trip to Andalucía is how enriched the culture has become with the Moorish influence, and to this this day Andalucíans are thriving on their Muslim past to distinguish their culture from the rest of Spain. I hope that current events don’t hamper relations or views of the two cultures now in modern days.

Afterward we crossed the Roman bridge in the blazing heat to go to the Andalucían museum which had audio guides and interactive guides of dioramas if the great philosophers, the Alhambra and of what life was like in the day of the Moors. I was pleasantly surprised that with Spanish and French descriptions I could only understand the French and translate for Bill! Afterward we tried to visit the Flamenco museum again but it was closed, even though siesta was over. And yes we discovered siesta is quite a thing, particularly in Córdoba where many shops and attractions close for hours in the afternoon. That evening we had Bill’s birthday dinner and our last dinner in Spain at another courtyard restaurant where we ate delicious local specialties and vino Rosado! I love Spain and Andalucía in particular, partly because of its rich Moorish history and well preserved heritage, but also the typical ‘Spanish culture’ romanticised by Flamenco and the c’est la vie lifestyle that we found in the South. Next time we must also go to the Basque region as well as Catalonia which we got a taste of in Barcelona in 2010. Adios for now España!!!

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