2014 France, Spain & Portugal Letter 6

Monday, 22 September 2014 12:24 pm

Calm Cordoba & Grande Granada

I am getting further and further behind with our travelogue, but being a mature Virgo I just can’t give up!

We are now in Granada, but you have not even met Cordoba, and we are soon to leave here too.  We packed and departed Seville, not without incident, but nothing compared with our arrival in Cordoba. I will scout out and find interesting accommodation in the oldest parts of the city, built before the chariot was invented, and looking at some of the lanes we have seen I very much doubt the horse had been considered a form of transport!

Our Cordoban accommodation was a three story ‘town house’ on a tiny square 150 metres from the main tourist attraction the Mezquita de Cordoba, also known at the Cathedral of Cordoba. It came with a ‘garage’; handy for people like us travelling with a small car. The drive was fine, I hopefully have not picked up too many speeding fines. The passenger was happy and the Sat Nav worked perfectly. We drove through the newer and uglier parts of the city, crossed the River Guadalquivir, turned right as directed onto the Avenue de Alcazar, and was then directed to turn left then right, so I turned left then right and was confronted with a very large sign with lots of incomprehensible Spanish, plus a few of those restricted entry signs they will stick in the most inconvenient places. It was then pouring with rain, (brief but heavy shower). We both decided that it more or less said “Do not enter, except residents and tourists etc. exempt” (we did not note the times, morning and night but not in between). We were actually less than 500 metres from our ‘home’ so off we took, driving along the back wall of the Mezquita, arriving more or less safely, but at the wrong address, a few minutes later!

The gorgeous “Amelio”, our host, more on him later, had given me the address of his other apartment, (think 450 year old Moorish palace). Thankfully we were just across the square, but he instead on driving: he was finding my attempts at 16 point turns agonizing. He then had us at our correct house in about 30 seconds, even managing to get into third gear for a mini second!

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The ‘Sign’, The ‘garage’ and the little townhouse and that’s him up the top!

Anyway, Amelio was wonderful; helped with luggage, sorted out Wi-Fi, touring (on foot only: no way was the car coming out until it was time to leave) plus with places to dine. He also showed us his other accommodation, and seemed to cope quite well in dealing with two elderly, doe eyed, and lovesick clients. He was 6’2” and movie star stunning; tanned, with a mouthful of very white teeth, dark hair with just a hint of grey at the temples, and very tactile. He was wearing dark blue suede moccasins, skin tight linen jeans, a pale blue shirt – and did I mention he was handsome? Sadly, or thankfully, we did not see him again during our stay!

Dorothy and Roger had arrived the day before, so we have playmates again.  We had drinks and nibbles at their apartment, (bigger and nicer than ours but did not have the excitement of a garage) and then moved on to a nearby restaurant for a local dinner, well a dinner of traditional dishes.  We also had lots to drink; whites, reds and Pedro Xeminez for after’s, so the stress of arrival was somewhat numbed.

IMG_3888   We had play mates again! (Roger was doing his ‘serious’ look)

Next morning I walked, He slept, and then we were first in line for tickets to the Mezquita de Cordoba. It started out as a smallish mosque for 10,000 people built between AD 785-787 and had a few additions made over the ensuing centuries until it could hold a tad over 40,000 people. They liked to pray.

Things change; Christians returned, claimed it, turned it into a church again and then in the 16th century stuck a great big renaissance cathedral in the centre, while keeping the rest.

Whilst Ms. Dorothy was lining up for tickets, we boys stood guard at the audio guide store (you need ticket first, audio second) so we were all in the first handful to arrive inside!

Nothing, and I mean nothing, can prepare you for the sheer beauty of the building; thankfully the 16th century bit is a long way in, so you do not see it for some time. However a service was just concluding and the huge, (well one of them, they have two), pipe organs was playing. Gently lit, stunning, serene Islamic architecture and VAST! Something like 850-900 marble and granite pillars (re-used from Greek & Roman temples) support a similar number of double arches of yellow ochre and terracotta. Carved timber ceilings and repetition of shapes and arches. Even though there are subtle changes, it is at one with itself. I have never felt such tranquility, other than at the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul. Get on a plane and go visit.

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Mezquita de Cordoba, acres and acres of columns and arches then the ‘new’ bit in the middle

We all had a bit of a WTF moment when thinking of what’s happening in the world today between religions, and what is being done in the name of religion; but I’ll save the sermon for another day! We were all sadden when I read that the local Muslim community has been lobbying since 2000 to be able worship within the building as well. Sadly the local diocese and the Vatican have repeatedly denied the request. The place is big enough that every denomination could have a corner. Would not that be a step in the right direction for ecumenical salvation?

Next stop was the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos that King Alf XI built for himself, then was turned into a venue for the Inquisition, and then a prison. However it has wonderful gardens with numerous water features and ponds. The remains of the fortress now houses an impressive collection of Roman mosaics. It’s a lovely spot for a meander and does wonders to body and soul. I found some interesting statuary amongst the conifers, but you need to see the Facebook version to appreciate them.

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The gardens of Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos with some unusual statues

Dinner was my responsibility, and thanks to Amelio, [remember him?] we dined at La Boca, following drinks taken on our third floor terrace while gazing at the Mezquita in the moonlight.

Picture a courtyard setting.

We started with glasses of Cava, then got serious with wine:

Cara Nord from the Prades Mountains, which I gather is steep. [She/he makes a red wine and a white]. We did the red; several bottles in fact. It’s a grenache/shiraz. Then some little number called “Garrut Blend” slipped down a treat!

But the food!! Goat cheese and walnut salad; duck ‘prosciutto’ and mango salad with Pedro Ximenez dressing (we all love salad); oxtail tacos in a fresh taco shell, coming in its own little presentation box; then a grilled foie gras with fig ‘jam’ and vanilla ice-cream.

Then we did all the desserts on the menu…….. washed down with our desert wine of choice Pedro Xeminez (think dried raisins in a glass, and you might just get close).

Our final day was “Patios” and operas. Cordoba does patios, and no they’re not the Australian “Besser Block” numbers of the 1960’s & 1970’s. These are fine courtyards of great beauty and tranquility: green and with water features, plus tiles and paving of marble, or fine gravel, even terra cotta tiles.

Our first stop was a house being restored around the corner. It’s on a lane that was once a Roman road, so it has a bit of age. There we met “Manuel” who’s restoring this five hundred year old house called “Casa d la Cabeza” and making it half museum.

Soon he will have included several holiday apartments upstairs. He was a delight, and we helped his project by purchasing and thereby adding a few more bits of ceramic to our luggage.

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“Casa d la Cabeza” courtyard, emerging from the cellars and the ‘sitting’ room

Next stop was the huge Palacio Viana. Started in the 15th century it’s grown into an amazing collection of rooms with thirteen courtyards and gardens. Like every garden in Spain they take ‘clipping’ to new levels and like every garden they take planting, training and clipping of Seville orange trees to new and wondrous heights.

We lunched late and were vegetable/salad free! Plates of cheeses, fried squid, croquets and a mystery dish, that the non-English speaking waiter expressed great surprise at us ordering. On arrival it turned out to be a stew of liver. We think cows’ or bulls’ liver, but there were traces of onion, so at least we had some vegetables! Loads of bread and wine later, we felt fully sated on carbs and protein!

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Palacio Viana, a museum of courtyards. Still those funny statues keep popping up.

A siesta for some, and then a night out at the Gran Tetra de Cordoba for a production of Guerrero’s famous comic opera “Los Gavilanes”.

Now this was a ‘pre’ birthday gift from R&D to moi, so we did pre show tapas and wines (with salad and veg this time; held off on the cheese and meat).

The opera story is a typical opera story: nasty mother sells off daughter to older man, leaving both daughter and her young love- interest heart broken. Boyfriend leaves for overseas (and makes a fortune). Daughter bears a daughter, then the old man she was forced to marry dies. The “Ex” returns and is looking forward to seeing his old flame and is even more excited to learn she’s a widow! The two meet, all looks good, but then the daughter drops by. The “Ex” falls in love with his ex flame’s daughter, because she looks like his ex girl friend when he left…….!

Nasty grandmother approves of this turn of events, so tries to force granddaughter to marry her mother’s ex boyfriend. Keeping up everyone? Anyway, daughter already has a boyfriend, and he’s not going anywhere, so daughter tell her mother she’s off and eloping (that brings on a bucket load of drama in what is a comic opera anyway). Love wins. Mother gives in. Grandmother has an anger moment. Ex boyfriend sees his life being reflected in the young man. Everyone sings a very dramatic finale number!

Curtain down. End of comic opera!

We still don’t know if the ‘ex’s become one or not! Now if you’re confused, please remember we did this in Spanish, without surtitles!

We had a box, shared with two ladies with orange hair in front of us: mother and daughter we think; daughter, dark orange, mother pale orange – and she liked to sing along! In fact a few people liked to sing along, along with mobiles phones pinging, plus a bit of drama with someone’s hearing aids causing feedback, plus a few of our party had fun waving madly at other people in other boxes…… nothing like a night out with big children!

IMG_4180 Moi, in my box at the opera!

After all that comic drama we needed a sugar fix, so more Pedro Ximenez to calm the nerves followed!

Back to our arrival into Cordoba! It seems I might be in line for a substantial fine as I may have broken just a few rules by driving along the Mezquita back wall, plus it’s under 24 hour camera surveillance, and the time I chose to do my drive was outside the designated times….. oh well, we won’t forget it (besides, I still don’t know how we could have got there any other way!)

Saturday was my birthday, and I faced an onslaught on Facebook. Being a “Facebook virgin”, I had not realized that everyone would know. Thank you all!

We extracted the car, filled it will luggage, and squeezed down the street, and off to Granada to the extravagant part of the holiday – The Parador de Granada: once a The Monastery San Francisco, built in the 1400’s. It’s nice, very bloody nice, and best of all, it’s slap bang in the middle of The Alhambra, so no dealing with the masses! Plus we get to drive in! However there was a slight confusion with our booking. I had made it for both us, and for Dorothy & Roger, plus telling them that one of the party was having a birthday. Dorothy also got in on the act and told them it was my birthday! End result: we were all upgraded to suites! I’m now hooked up with “Mrs. Dorothy Beagley”; which more or less left Himself and Roger hitched up together! All that, plus a complimentary bottle of Cava and nibbles was left in Roger’s room with a ”Happy Birthday” note addressed to no one in particular.  So if you’re confused, just think how confused we are!

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One of the courtyards at the Parador de Granada, a room with a view, this time across to the summer palace & nibbles

Where does one start with The Alhambra? With a plane ticket, then just get here! It’s a city within a city, and it would take another day of me typing to even give you an idea of the history, so just Google it please and save my fingers.

Highlights: well travelling with Dorothy, she is a queue jumper extraordinaire. Although she prefers to be known as “a queue opportunist”!  We should have had an inkling after the Mezquita experience, but as we had booked night tickets to the 10 p.m. viewing of the Nasrid Palace, we sat on the terraces of the Parador and drank Cava and had nibbles, then wandered around at 9.45 p.m. to see huge queues waiting, but all sitting on walls etc., so we just sidled up to where we had worked out was the beginning of the queue; only no one was there!

At 10 p.m. everyone was told to “get in line”, [behind us!] So…. we were actually the first four people to enter this surreal world of carvings and Islamic architecture. Beautifully lit. It was amazing! Eventually the hoards caught up with us, but for the first 10-15 minutes it was if we had the entire place to ourselves. Later we returned to the Parador for sweets, nibbles and copious glasses of Pedro Ximenez!

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The Nasrid Palace at night, tiles, carvings, arches and tranquil beauty.

The tour continued the next day, I walked, He slept. We all breakfasted; we all walked into the old parts of Granada, took the little touristic train/bus and toured the city (yes we squeezed into the front of the queue again!) and ended up back in time for the tour of The Summer Palace. Known as The Palace of the Generalife, we have nicknamed it “the Palace of the insurance company”. Hours spent walking the gardens and terraces, and then the ‘palace’ which is really little more than cloisters over-looking pools and fountains. I could see another garden, so even though there was a “No Entry” sign, it was in Spanish, and I don’t do Spanish, so in we went, and an hour later we re-emerged just where I was hoping we would.

A quick beer, and onto the last monument, The Alcazaba, the oldest part of the Alhambra and more or less the military camp. All that does nothing to add to the actual beauty of the entire area, but if you have time, look it up!

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The Palace of the Generalife, (Summer Palace), which is more or less gardens and courtyards

Our ‘suite’ overlooked the summer palace, and was lit at night, so we were happy little chappies. We ended the three day birthday extravaganza with dinner at the Paradox: superb food and wines, but if one wanted to be picky, the dining room, which is also the breakfast room, was a little sterile and I was desperate to find light switches and turn a few lights off to create an atmosphere! However we as a group added a bit of colour dress-wise to the dining room. I’ve made “coral” the new beige, but I’ve added aqua to highlight it!

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Statues!

Well we need to go. Cumbre Del Sol on the Costa del Sol calls. We now have a few days with Anne & Richard, the lad’s lovely cousin and her man. Hopefully they have been on an alcohol free week awaiting our arrival, and have booked a detox for our departure!

Thanks to everyone for the dozen of emails. I’ve given up all hope of ever replying, but we do enjoy hearing from you. There are also too many bad photos on Facebook [the David Hay page, not the Thorn Park page!]

“Despedida de los dos!”

Me and Himself XO XO

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