NOW I’M REALLY solo. For the first few days of my monthlong European trip, I had the company of good friends and I was a known quantity: me. Yesterday, wandering around Cordoba on my own, was an adjustment. I felt like just another nameless tourist with a smartphone, stopping every two seconds to take a picture of an arched doorway or a chunk of Roman wall.
Not that it was a bad day by any means — entirely pleasant, in fact. I arrived in Cordoba by train Monday afternoon from Malaga and took a taxi (7 euro) to my hotel in the historic center, Casa de los Azulejos, (59 euro), above, which couldn’t be lovelier, friendlier or more Spanish in feeling. (With the poor euro falling steadily against the dollar — it’s worth only $1.07 at the moment — everything seems very inexpensive, by the way.)
Cordoba’s heyday was the 10th century, when it was a university and library center under tolerant Muslim rule, with a thriving Jewish community. There are spectacular monuments from every era. With a couple hours of daylight remaining, I headed to the Plaza Corredera, below, an unspoiled 17th century plaza the size of several football fields, and walked around taking photos of Cordoba’s evening storefronts, above. Stores were still open as night fell, and I picked up some grapes as large as plums and sweet oranges for my evening meal, an antidote to several days of feasting in Andalucia.
Tuesday morning, after breakfast in the hotel, I headed to the Mezquita and the Jewish quarter, both of which I’d seen hurriedly before (I refer to you to this post from January 2010 for more photos and information on both, should you want them). Below, a characteristic view into a flower-filled patio courtyard, taken in the Jewish quarter.
This time, I succeeded in actually gaining entry to the Mezquita, below, with its forest of 856 candy-striped arches and marble columns, within which is a Catholic cathedral built between the 14th and 18th centuries. I meandered around the cool dark interior, easily finding quiet corners away from school groups and tourist hordes, marveling at how the light from stained glass windows plays on the marble columns. Somehow, the over-the-top Christian iconography doesn’t detract, or even clash, as much as I thought it would from the monumental Moorish architecture.
Wandering again through the Jewish quarter, which contains a modest synagogue that’s the oldest in Andalucia, I stopped in the Casa Andalusi, below, an intimate 12th century townhouse with high beamed wood ceilings and planted courtyards. On every surface, there’s something for sale: books, tiles, paper products. But the commercialism is not too offensive, and the house has enormous charm.
Back I went toward the Guadalquivir River to check out the Alcazar des Reyes Christianos (Palace of the Kings), below, a massive stone fortress of the Middle Ages with expansive formal gardens and reflecting pools. Unmotivated to get an audio guide, unwilling to carry a guidebook, and with no WiFi connection for my phone, I searched vainly for signs in English to tell me which kings these were, exactly, and when they lived (Ferdinand and Isabella were among them, it turns out).
Lunch worked out serendipitously at the wonderful Taberna Salinas, below, just around the corner from my hotel. I ordered scrambled eggs with asparagus and was surprised when it arrived with big chunks of jamon — ham. Menu didn’t say anything about ham! I sent it back, they took it graciously, and returned with the same dish, this time with shrimp substituted for the ham. Fortunately, I do eat shrimp and didn’t mind it; it was delicious. But vegetarians need to be ever-vigilant here. With a glass of local beer, the bill came to under 10 euro.
Another recommended taverna that’s been around since the early 19th century: Casa el Pisto, below.
In the late afternoon, I taxied back to the train station for the under-three-hour trip to Zaragoza. My global Eurail pass is first class, supposedly (the only way they come), but I have yet to travel first class. Why? Because although the railpass is essentially a hop-on, hop-off ticket, all but the slowest trains still require compulsory advance reservations, and it costs a significant amount to make them. I made a reservation in second class (perfectly comfortable) for 10 euro; a first-class reservation would have cost 24, and that was annoying. The railpass was definitely going to be a savings over point-to-point tickets in first class. In second, I’m not so sure.
Above: Roman wall and columns on calle San Fernando.
I chose Zaragoza for an overnight because it breaks up the journey nicely between the south of Spain and the South of France. Three to four hours on the train is enough time to relax and recharge without eating up an entire day. Zaragoza was completely unknown to me (and to most Americans, I would guess). You’ll be hearing about it next…