Cordoba – May 2018

We drive to Cordoba from Granada along secondary roads and takes us about 3 hours with a stop for coffee/tea in a small uninspiring town. Well, it can’t always be great. The views along the way were olive trees…..olive trees in the valleys, olive trees on the hills, olive trees in every small town along the way. Of course, many olive oil manufacturers along the way. So nice to have the time to drive along the secondary roads and take ones time. Some lovely looking towns along the way.

I had contacted the owners of the apartment when we first booked to arrange for parking. The parking is located in a private parking lot in the old town about a 3 minute walk away from the apartment. When I tried to put the directions into our GPS our Google Maps, it would not pick it up. The reason being that a lot of the area is pedestrian only and vehicular traffic limited to locals only. In addition to this, the parking garage is located in an alleyway. When I read the reviews of the apartment, those that had taken advantage of the parking indicated that you must have a small car and that parking was quite the experience. Well, we now know what they are taking about.

Our landlord sent clarification of how to reach the parking garage, but in the end, he sent the house cleaner to meet us near a square. That was a good thing. She walks in front of the car to direct us down several alleyways and finally to the garage. Once inside the garage, she tells Robin to proceed forward, then backup, then crank his wheels so that he can park behind a pillar……yes, you read that right….behind a pillar. After about 5 minutes of going backwards and forwards and turning his wheels every which way…..and by the way, a car right next to us between us and the pillar…Robin finally gets the car into the spot. Should be fun getting out…not! Did I say that the cleaning lady, Luisi, does not speak any english at all, so really quite interesting with our limited Spanish. Oh well, we managed.

Luisi shows us around the apartment all the while speaking very quickly in Spanish. Amazing what one can understand with pointing, sign language and the odd word of Spanish. Our apartment here is in the old town and very close to the Guadalquivir river and a 15 minute walk to the Mezquita – Catedral de Cordoba, the crowning glory of Cordoba.

Cordoba has a population of 326,000 and has an elevation of 110 meters (360 feet), so much lower than Granada. I like knowing the history of places we visit; so here goes. The Roman colony of Cordoba was founded in 152 BC, became capital of Baetica province, covering most of today’s Andalucia. In 711 Córdoba fell to the Muslim invaders and soon became the Islamic capital on the Iberian Peninsula. Córdoba’s heyday came under Abd ar-Rahman III, who in 929 named himself caliph of Al-Andalus’ and freedom from the caliphs in Baghdad. Córdoba was then the biggest city in Western Europe and it had dazzling mosques, libraries, observatories, aqueducts, a university and highly skilled artisans in leather, metal, textiles and glazed tiles. Abd ar-Rahman III’s multicultural court was frequented by Jewish, Arab and Christian scholars. Córdoba was captured in 1236 by Fernando III.

First afternoon here (Monday, May 21st) we get our bearings and stop at the Plaza de la Corredera for a light lunch. This plaza is reminiscent of the Plaza Major in Madrid, but on a much smaller scale.

Have a nap in the afternoon…. well had to after our encounter with the rooster in Granada! In the evening we head out toward the river where a great deal of restaurants are located. Our landlords have provided us with many recommendations and we try one. Robin has “Secreto Iberico a la brasa y humus de calabaza” (Gilled Iberian pork and pumpkin hummus) and I have “Puerros confitados rellenos de tape y gambas con slasa de marisco” (Candied lees stuffed with monkfish, prawns and cream of seafood). Both very delicious. I had ordered fish at this restaurant, but they were all out. They buy their fish early in the morning from the local market so once it is gone, that’s it. Most of the restaurants that cater to tourist, have english translations on the menu, but I love the Spanish names of the dishes.

We then walk along the river and make our way to the Roman bridge to take some evening pictures. A walk along the Mezquita and back to our apartment. Along the way, we see numerous ladies dressed in Flamenco style dresses and we assume that they are heading to the local fair. We saw a ferris wheel and other fair rides as we were driving into Cordoba. My guide books say that the “Feria de Mayo” takes place the last week in May and is held near the river. Music, horses, carriages and traditional dress are the mainstay and one of the big festivals of the year for the locals. I guess one could compare this to the Calgary Stampede when we locals dress in western gear.

The pictures above are of the beautiful Senoritas dressed in their traditional Flamenco dress. We asked several if we could take pictures of them and they were more than happy to oblige, were very flattered that we asked.

Another festival that is held in Cordoba is in early May and is called the “Fiesta de los Patios de Cordoba”. Cultural festivities abound during this time as well as locals open up their private patios for viewing. Must say from the courtyards/patios we have seen, there certainly are some lovely ones. I try to take pictures, but mainly in restaurants vs private patios; do not want to disturb peoples’ privacy.

The guide book talks about the food of the area. They say that the staples of the Andalusian area are jamon (cured ham) and olives. The ham is either serrano (about 90% of cured ham in Spain, made from white-coated pigs) or iberico (more expensive and comes from black pigs). Also known for their cheeses, mainly Grazalema (a goat cheese) and Cadiz (similar to manchego). Funny enough, the names of the cheese are both cities/towns we are visiting. Earlier I wrote about the olive trees we saw on our drive from Granada. Spain if the world’s largest olive-oil producer and my research tells me that there are over 100 million olive trees in Andalucia. In some shop windows you can see sandwiches piled up. I thought they would be stale, but we had some and they are very fresh and sell very quickly.

This area is also know for its vegetables, but must say you don’t see a lot served in restaurants. The local fresh food market is in Corredera Square and has fresh meat, fish and vegetables. The market is open every day and closes at 3 pm. Cordoba is also know for its gazpacho andaluz and rabo de torro (ox tails). I am not really a fan of gazpacho so will pass on that one.

On Tuesday May 23rd we meet up in Plaza de las Tendillas for our walking tour. Our guide today is Carmen and our tour last 2 1/2 hours. We find that this is certainly a good way to get to know our way around the city. This square is where the city celebrates events, such as football matches; but Carmen says not a lot of these! A clock in the square chimes to the tune of flamenco music. Our guide asks the crowd what we know about Cordoba…..everyone is silent. She says “people, we will be spending 2 1/2 hours together so it would be nice to have a conversation”! She tells us that Cordoban women are known to be strong willed with strong character, well I guess she just proved that with her previous comment.

We walk to some Roman ruins by the City Hall. There is a large hole in the middle of the roman ruins and she tells us that in ancient times this hole was filled with sand. It apparently held reduce the shock waves from earthquakes. I guess one has to believe what a guide tells us; I am not going to fact check this!

Next stop is Corredera Square, where Robin and I had lunch yesterday. It is just a couple of minutes from our apartment. This square was built to house the richest and most important people of Cordoba. Today the buildings are still used as housing and many small restaurants abound and they have tables in the square. Our guide says that these bars/restaurants are frequented by locals; so a good place to have typical food at low prices. Yesterday we shared fried squid was was very good and yes, inexpensive. Little did we know! She tells us to try oxtail and eggplants with honey as these are two local delicacies. One of the buildings in the square is totally different than the others. Legend has it that a powerful widow was fighting with the local authorities to build something different. The judge ruled in her favour, but made her put fixed shutters on the windows so that she could not see what was going on in the square. So there! A lot of the windows here are covered with raffia blinds and these would act as a type of air conditioning many years ago. Our guide tells us that temperatures reach 45 to 50 degrees centigrade in Cordoba in the summer months. Our guide book does mention that the best times to visit Cordoba are May and June or in the fall. A lot of raffia products sold in the square (baskets, purses, toys, etc). Another building in the square was used during the Inquisition.

We then walk through the narrow winding alleys to Plaza del Potro. Their is a fountain here which has a statue of a small horse on top; not sure why but there is a small plaque which refers to “the Man of La Mancha”. At the other end of the Plaza is a large monument with an archangel on the top. Carmen asks the group “which archangel is this?”. The group answers…Michael or Gabriel. She laughs as we clearly do not know our archangels. It is Raphael and he is the protector of Cordoba. Further along in our walk we see numerous statues of Raphael throughout the old town.

We head towards the Medina and the Jewish quarter which are a maze of alleyways and dead ends. Once again we are told that is to help lose one enemies, catch robbers and provide shade.

Carmen relays the history of the Mezquita. The building was originally built in ancient times as a Mosque but has since been converted to a church, which is built inside the mosque. Quite unique in the world. Will comment more after our visit to the Mezquita tomorrow.

Carmen says that today there are three mosques in Cordoba….two for men and one for women.

The Jewish quarter is located within the walls of the Medina and it is said that this was quite unique and was allowed as the Jewish intellect provided guidance and funds to the Caliph. We come across Plaza Maimonides with a statue of Maimonides named after a medieval Jewish philosopher who became one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages. Legend has it that if one rubs his left foot you will gain wisdom and if you rub his right foot you will return to Cordoba. There were so many groups of tourists here I had to weasel my way to simply take a picture; did not get a chance to rub either foot!

A little further on is a synagogue. A very simple and nondescript building. Carmen says that the Jews were allowed to build their synagogue in the Medina but it had to be simple in design so that it would not out shine the Mezquita.

One again we are told that centuries ago the Arabs, Jews and Christians all lived in harmony. The Arabs controlled the political, military and religious fronts, the Jews controlled the financial world and Christians had little or no power.

There is also a statue of Seneca nearby. He was born here then moved to Rome. He acted as an advisor to Nero.

Our tour ends at the Alcazar, which we will visit tomorrow. Carmen tells us that weddings are held in the Alcazar gardens and that there is a two year waiting list and she said she just put her name on the list. I asked her if she had a boyfriends. Her reply…”will not be a problem in 2 years time!”

Once again, enjoyed the walking tour and certainly gave us a good feel of this city.

We head off to find a place to have lunch, pass on a couple of places and settle on a small bar/restaurant called Taberna 10. Funny thing, once again we realize that this was a recommendation by our landlords. They mention traditional food with a great wine list. Think what caught our eye were the casks of sherry. I try the “Berenjenas abunueladas con miel de cana” (frittered aubergines with cane syrup), one of the local specialties and Robin has “Secreto de Iberico con patata gypsy y mahonesa de ajo” (bbq pork) the same dish he had the first night. Once again, delicious. We ask the young waitress about the sherry casks and she proceeds to give us 3 different tastes of the sherry. One was one year old, another thirty and then an Amontillado. Even I had a little sip of the three and must say that the thirty year old could knock your socks off, so smooth, so flavourful.

More walking through the alleys and we pass a Hamman. OK, I know I said I wouldn’t go to a Hamman, but we look at their menu of services and find that they offer massages along with baths. We book massages at Hammam Al Andalus for later in the day and go back to the apartment. Robin is not convinced that the bath sounds like something he wants, especially after my experience in Morocco. We head back later and we are escorted in by Antonio, and told to change into our bathing suits. We are led into the interior of the Hamman and Antonio explains that after our massages, we can come back to use the baths for as long as we want. The interior is indeed very lovely with its Moorish influence. He explains that there are three different pools. One is tepid, the next one is very hot and the last is very cold and one should spend five to seven minutes in each in the order presented, and finish in the steam room. Great massage, helped the legs after all the walking and really enjoyed the baths. You could also take advantage of tea that was available either plain or with sugar. All in all a very good experience and glad we went. One is not allowed to take pictures but I have taken one of the entrance and will try to get one off their web site. The following pictures are of the courtyard of the Hamman.

Out for dinner at La Cazuela de La Esparteria, a recommended local restaurant. Our landlord describes it as a charming restaurant, with traditional food and good prices. Sounds good to us. I decide to try the Rabo de toro (oxtail) and Robin has Chuletitas de cordero lechal (lamb chops). The menus had no english translations and I used my Google translator for a few of the words I did not understand; after all this is a local restaurant. Excellent once again. We had a bit of a chuckle. While we were waiting for our meal, three Italian couples sat next to us. Between their Italian and the waiter’s Spanish they discussed the menu. One of the men asked what “cordero” was and although the waiter tried to explain, the man could not understand. Finally the waiter made the “baa” of a sheep, very cute and everyone laughed. The one thing that we find is very good is that a lot of the restaurants offer “1/2 racion” or “racion”. So, we usually end up ordering the 1/2 orders which are sufficient.

On Wednesday, May 23rd we head off to visit the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba or locally known as the Mezquita. The original building was built by Christians on this site in the mid 6th century. When the Muslims arrived, the area was divided and used by both the Christians and Muslims. The original mosque was built in 786. Unlike other Muslim mosques, the qibla wall does not point towards Mecca, but instead faces south. Apparently there are some exceptions, but not sure why in this case. One explanation is that is faces Damascus. Over the centuries the mosque was added onto, the prayer hall being expanded (year 833-848), a new minaret reaching a height of 40 meters and a large second enlargement in 962. The last extension was built in 991 adding eight new naves. With the conquest of Cordoba by the Christians the mosque was consecrated as a catholic church. In 1489 transformations were made to adapt the mosque into a church, installing a main chapel. A transept was completed in 1607 combining the caliphal naves into what was more accepted by the catholic church. When I first heard about the Mezquita, I was told that it was a church within a mosque. Hard to describe, but once you are inside you would understand. An actual church in side with an altar and pews and a church choir area. It is now a Unesco World Heritage site…..yes, another to add to our list. My guide books says that in 2004, Muslims petitioned the Vatican to be able to worship in the Mezquita again, but they were declined.

The first set of pictures below is the Mosque then below is the Catholic church which is inside the mosque. Seems hard to picture, you almost have to come and see it for yourself.

Our next stop is the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos just next to the Mezquita. At first I don’t think that this monument is very interesting, and once inside the fortress itself it isn’t, but the gardens are breathtaking. It was built in the 13th and 14th centuries on the remains of a Moorish fort/palace. Ferdinand and Isabel first met Columbus here. He petitioned them for funds for his expeditions but was turned down. There is a statue of the three of them in the gardens. If you recall from my Granada blog, Columbus was successful in getting his funds from Ferdinand and Isabel in Granada in 1492; which funding really came from the Jewish community in Granada. It is said that one of the towers of the Alcazar was used during the Inquisition period. Terraced gardens are full of fish ponds, fountains, orange trees and flowers, absolutely beautiful. Gardeners were in the process of planting additional flowers.

Continue walking through the Jewish quarter and yes, getting lost in the winding streets and alleyways, but that is half the fun of these places. Back to the apartment and we go scout out how to get out of our parkade and how to find the main road, as we want to go visit a mountain tomorrow. We think we have figured out, but only tomorrow will tell.

Later we head out to the Museo Julio Romero de Torres, a famous Cordoban painter. He is known for his paintings expressing his sense of Andalusian female beauty. Also inspired by flamenco and bullfighting and he did some “poster type” pictures for several exhibitions in the area. Quite enjoyed it, but unfortunately, could not take any pictures. Below are pics from the internet.

Out for a wonderful dinner tonight at Bodega Campos a restaurant suggested in our guide book and by our landlords. A more expensive restaurant but we are told a must during our stay. We are not disappointed, probably the best meal to date. Ok….here goes the descriptions of our meal…..you may want to skip over this with the exception of the foodies! We started off by sharing “Ensaladilla con Vendresca de Atun y Lagostinas” (Spanish potato salad with tuna and prawns). I know it sounds strange to have potato salad, but once again we tried this as it is a local specialty, very good. I had “Raviolis de Bacalao, Sepia and Gambas” (Cod ravioli with cuttlefish and prawns) and Robin chose the Cordoban specialty “Rabo de Toro Deshuescado con cremoso de patatas” (deboned oxtail stew with potato puree). Robin also indulged in a desert, which he doesn’t do often, “Brownie con sopa de chocolate blanco”……don’t think I need to translate that one…..I had a taste!

Thursday, May 24th and this is the real test. We want to drive to the mountain town of Zucheros about one hour away. Will we be able to get out of the parking garage and will we find our way through the winding alleys to be able to get out of the City? Then the big question is will we get back? Glad to report the answer was “YES”.

Zucheros only has a population of 700 and has an altitude of 625 meters (about 2,000 feet). The guide book describes the town as “sitting in a supremely picturesque location, and its tangle of white streets and a crag-top castle”. A wonderful drive through the countryside. The town is on the edge of the Parque Natura Sierras Subbeticas. Once we reach the town you are surrounded by craggy limestone hills on one side and olive groves in the valley below. We park the car on the edge of town and as we are walking up to the castle, a lady from the bakery tells us to watch out for the bikes. We had seen a few cyclist on our drive through the countryside and there was even a caution sign on one of the smaller roads regarding cyclist on the road. When we arrive at the town square, we see perhaps one hundred cyclists. When I ask one of them what is going on, he tells me that these cyclists are on a four day cycling tour through the area.

Drive back to Cordoba and get back to the parking lot. A little easier to park as no car next to us.

We have certainly enjoyed our time in Cordoba, lovely winding alleyways, a lot of history and great cuisine.

Next stop is Cadiz for three nights.

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