Trip Start Apr 11, 2008
Trip End Jul 03, 2008

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Flag of Spain and Canary Islands  , Andalusia,
Saturday, May 31, 2008

On Friday, May 31st I left work a little early to catch the 2:30pm AVE (fast train) down to Cordoba, in the south of Spain.  I planned to visit both Cordoba and Seville while in the area, but I'll only cover Cordoba in this entry.

Unfortunately, I waited a little too long to purchase my train ticket and by the time I did, the only way I could leave before 10pm Friday night was to buy a 1st class ticket.  Not to worry, the price difference was only about 30 Euros and since my time on Friday afternoon was far more valuable than this, I didn't mind.  Plus, a first class train ticket entitled me to lunch - and a very nice one at that - which I needed as I didn't have time to eat before I left the office.  The AVE is really the way to travel around Spain. It doesn't go everywhere, but it really is very nice.  Plus, you only have to get there 3 minutes before your train leaves so you don't have to spend an hour or more sitting around the airport waiting for your flight.  Plus, you carry your luggage with you, so there's also no waiting at baggage claim (which in Spain usually takes about 45 min - 1 hour).  You show up at the station, hop on your train, and when you arrive, you can be in a cab within 5 minutes.  It's great.  So, I enjoyed my lunch accompanied by a very nice rioja from my favorite Spanish region and watched "Fanstastic Four" in Spanish.

Upon arriving in Cordoba - only took about 90 minutes since the train goes 125 mph - I quickly grabbed a cab and within about 7 minutes, I was going to be at my hotel.  One thing I noticed right away was that in such a relatively short distance from Madrid, the weather had changed drastically.  When I left Madrid, it was cool (mid-60's) and dry.  Cordoba was much warmer - mid-70's and humid.  It actually felt kind of good since Madrid has been experiencing an unusually cool and rainy spring, so it was nice to be outside and not feel a chill in the air. 

Cordoba has a very strong arabic influence - as I understand most of the cities in the South are still showing the influence of the Moorish rule back in the early centuries A.D. until King Ferdinand ("The Saint") took over in the 1200's and brought Christianity back to Spain.  With the change in weather, there is also a change in the dialect, the cuisine and even the look of the people.  Being closer to Morrocco, people from Southern Spain tend to have darker complexions, and really, look more "Arabic".  The language is still Castillian, but the accent sounds a little more like Latin American Spanish except they have a tendency to speak in "half-words", which makes it a little difficult to a foreigner to figure out what the heck they're saying.

On the drive to the hotel I could tell immediately that I was going to love this city. Everything was old and well maintained . The streets were made up of a millions of hand-laid stones all in a very arabic-looking design that resembled a mosaic.  My hotel was right next door to a Mezquita, and ancient Arabian Mosque built by the Moors.  The construction of the Mezquita lasted for over two centuries, starting in 784 AD under the supervision of the emir of Cordoba, Abd ar-Rahman I.  Under Abd ar-Rahman II , the Mezquita held an original copy of the Koran and an arm bone of the prophet Mohammed, making it a major Muslim pilgrimage site. This Mezquita initiated the so-called Califal archiecture style, which combined Roman, Gothic, Byzantine, Syrian and Persian elements and was the starting-point of all Arabian-Hispanic architecture of the centuries to come, up to the Mudéjar-style of Arabians living in the Spain reconquered by Christians in 1236.  It was enormous (23K square meters) and was truly amazing.  The architecture all around my hotel was like this - all Arabian, with the rounded arches and onion-shaped windows.  Really beautiful.  Best of all, I could tell that Cordoba was not over-run with tourists, so you could still experience how the people live just by heading to a local restaurant. 

Upon arriving at my hotel (which was very cheap and very nice), I was informed that the Mezquita was closed on Friday due to "La Feria de Cordoba", which is a local annual fair in Cordoba that is celebrated for a 10 days in late May/early June each year.  So, I could visit the Mezquita Saturday morning, but I had no idea how lucky my timing was of being in Cordoba to experience La Feria on that very weekend. 

I wandered around the city that afternoon, taking in the sites.  Toured the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos (Castle of the Christian Kings).  You can see the pics in this blog.  The gardens were gorgeous and the views of the Spanish countryside were beautiful.  That night, I stopped for tapas at a restaurant that had been recommended by a friend of mind in Madrid, "La Bodega Campos" (Bodega means "winery").  I walked in, sat at the bar and ordered a glass of vino tinto (red wine) which was outstanding - where other than Spain can you order wine by the glass and actually get something that is not only drinkable, but truly outstanding?  I also really enjoyed my meal....a "salad" of roasted red peppers topped with tempura-fried anchovies - sounds strange, but it was delicious.  Then came my 2nd course which on the English menu read, "Beef tenderloin bites with fresh vegetables" - which ended up being a kind of beef stew - but was very lean and very good.  While there, I met a group of people (6 girls and 3 guys) 2 of which lived in Cordoba and the rest where their friends who were there to celebrate Feria.  They invited me to go with them since I was there by myself.  We left the bodega and walked only about 10 minutes to the bridge to cross the Guadalquivir River.  From there, the view was gorgeous - it looked like Disney World at night.  About 10,000 white lights (as I am told) decorated the buildings on the other side of the river.  As we got closer, the streets were lined with vendors selling fresh local fruit, homemade candies, and churros (the Spanish equivalent of chocolate-covered funnel cakes).  Inside, it was the usual carnival rides, other food vendors, and tent after tent of bars filled to the rim with mobs of people dancing (I think being born in Spain gives you an automatic ability to flamenco-dance - both men and women were doing it), singing, smoking, drinking and just have a good-ole time.  Many women were wearing flamenco dresses with the typical mum-like flower afixed directly on the top of their heads (it was kind of silly-looking, to be honest).  My new friends bought all of my drinks (which was Spanish whiskey and Coca-Cola Classic - it's what they all drink at night in the bars) and showed me a few dance moves and finally after doing this in a few different bars, it was approach 3am, and I knew I didn't want to be exhausted tomorrow.  So, I said my good-byes and headed back to my hotel.  It was a truly wonderful night. 

One thing I have to point out to all the Americans who are reading this - these late hours are simply part of the Spanish lifestyle.  In the US, we are so used to evenings ending around midnight even on the weekends and anyone out until 3am (my friends probably didn't go home until 7am or so) must either be really drunk, or worse yet, on drugs.  The funny thing is that I really didn't notice that anyone had over-embibed, and certainly none of them appeared to be on drugs.  Even when I was leaving the Feria, there were tons of people of all ages - from kids running around to grandmas and grandpas in their 70s still out.  I couldn't believe it.  My friends here in Madrid tell me that people from the South don't like to work - all they think about is fiesta and dancing.  From my perspective, it looked like they certainly were enjoying themselves no matter what they were thinking about. 

So, the next morning after sleeping in until about 9:30am (late for me) and a little breakfast in my hotel, I stepped outside for a visit to the Mezquita.  I know my pictures don't do it justice, but that place is amazing.  It's a huge facility that includes an outdoor courtyard filled with orange trees and more mosaic-style sidewalks, then the inside area of what was originally a mosque is now an enormous cathedral.  When King Ferdinand conquered Cordoba for the Christians, he reclaimed the Mezquita, which had originally been an early Christian church called the Iglesia de San Vincente which was mostly destroyed by the Moors to build the Mezquita.  The remains (although there are few) of that first church are still visible at the mosque. 

So, after that, I walked around the city, did a little shopping, stopped for a coffee and then headed to the train station for my 40 minute ride to my next stop, Seville.  It was a beautiful day and I was looking forward to another wonderful experience - but I'll cover that in my next entry.  Hope you enjoy the pics!

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