Friday 21 April
A very early start today as we had a train to catch before 8am. The hotel made us up a picnic each as breakfast is only served from 8am. We thought that was very decent of them. We caught our first taxi as it was still dark, the wind was gusty, and the case-dragging walk to the station would have been uphill taking about 30 minutes.
A short train trip while we enjoyed our picnic and the marvellous country side. We could not take our eyes off it. About an hour to Antequera, where we changed trains, and then only 30 minutes to Córdoba. We missed the second train as ours was a little late getting in and we only had 10 minutes to change platforms. As we discovered once before, in Spain if you miss your booked train you have to buy another ticket – even if it’s not really your fault! They would argue that 10 minutes is not a long enough time to for us to leave for changing trains when we booked! Anyway, there was another in about 40 minutes and it only cost us 4 euros each.
A nice intro to Córdoba as we walked the 30 minutes to our room. The weather in Córdoba is nice, it is not windy, and it is flat and really pleasantly laid out. Our room, Hospederia Alma Andalusi, is in a tiny street. It is a lovely little place with about 10 rooms. We would strongly recommend it and it’s friendly family feel. In the old city, and near everything you want to visit. Our room is tiny, but it has a double bed (not two singles pushed together) and an ensuite – what more could you want? The room was not ready when we arrived so we sat in the shared courtyard where tea, little cakes and fruit are provided, and planned our 5 days in Córdoba – and ate more of our picnic breakfast. Such a shared area is rare in accommodation in Spain. We have never had a kettle in the room, and only on rare occasions have there been facilities for making tea – so different from even the most basic places in Oz. It must have a lot to do with the eating and drinking-out culture in Spain.
We then took ourselves on a walk around our area – the old city centre of Córdoba. The Islamic past is much more evident here in its buildings, and monuments. Streets are very narrow, and most have a surface of large stones in a pattern. Not easy to walk on at any speed, but they add to the charm. The flowers in window boxes are a huge feature. We instantly found ourselves liking the place and are very pleased we have 4 nights here.
We also found a laundromat – another rarity in Spain. We have mostly been just washing undies since Madrid so you can imagine what our shirts, tshirts, jeans etc, are like. This will do us at least for the next 10 days. We will probably wash again in Barcelona.
We now have Andy Cawthera with us – he arrived a few hours after us. He and Al went out for a meal and left me to nurse my cold. That was great and I slept nearly 12 hours.
We decided today, Saturday 22, to visit the Mezquita as it has such an important bearing on Cordoba generally. We spent 3 hours, a fairly intensive time, using an audio guide. I was feeling a lot better although I must say that as I settle now at 7.30pm to write this blog, I wonder how far I will get. I was curious to discover what the word Mezquita means – is it another word for Mosque? With a bit of help from Google it seems that Mezquita is the name of this structure only, and not a general name for a mosque. Anyway – this huge place was founded as a mosque in 785 AD – not that long after the Muslim invasion of the area in 722. Before that a collection of buildings had occupied the space, most important of which was a Visigoth Basilica from the mid 6th century. Three times over the centuries the mosque was extended, with it being able to hold 40,000 people after the final enlargement which was opened in 991. I could not believe my ears. 40,000!!! The whole thing is a forest of pillars, domes and arches, each extension having slightly different features, with Roman, Greek and Byzantine touches. The mihrab, which is the prayer niche in the wall indicating the direction of Mecca, is an incredibly rich structure with 1,600kg of gold in the mosaic patterns. Quite a surprise really – it was more like the extravagance of some of the early churches we have seen.
The Christians captured Córdoba in 1236 and the Mezquita was consecrated and used as a church until the 16th century when a cathedral was constructed in the central aisles. That part of the building is equal in extravagance, with a superbly decorated altar and a beautiful choir, with the choir stalls made of superbly carved mahogany. It is still used today as a Christian church and looks as rich as many of the cathedrals in the western world.
I suspect that is enough to detail. If not too much. I have a pamphlet which you may want to see some time. I was sad to read – the audio guide didn’t tell us – that there have been attempts by Muslims living in Spain, to lobby the government and the vatican with a view to praying in the Mezquita. So far these requests have been rejected. We will be interested to follow up and find out just how many Muslims live here now. They certainly are not noticeable – but maybe they have learned not to be.
Lunch at 3pm was the next on the agenda. We found a lovely quiet little corner in one of the tiny courtyards in the city. The 3 of us found ourselves low on energy after that but we did enjoy a visit to the city’s main art gallery – especially the modern stuff. Housed in an old convent, it’s early works were pillaged from the city’s convents and monasteries as we have come across before in Spain.
We had a real treat for dinner when Andy took us to a restaurant recommended by a friend in London who is married to a woman from Córdoba. It is called El Churrasco. We were welcomed with a very dry sherry. We all had great meals. 3 starters – called tapas here – fried mushrooms in garlic, stuffed sardines (fresh of course), and anchovies in sauce. Al had a Churrasco which is a grilled pork fillet, I had a grilled piece of salmon, and Andy had sword fish. The guys had cheese cake and strawberry sorbet, and Andy a flan. I had an expresso. It was a fabulous meal, terrific service, lovely spot on a patio. A step up on our usual meals – although I think we have had a few step ups lately! The funny thing was that Andy booked this from London, and we had all forgotten about it. He knocked on our door after 8 and had just remembered. And it was an 8pm booking. Fortunately we were close by and were only 20 minutes late, and were still first on the patio.