As we cross the Puente Romano in Cordoba, a breeze picks up creating a swirl of motion around my body. My red dress floats on the warm currents of air and my hair becomes a thousand little tendrils curling around the sun’s rays. The breeze is wonderful and seems to push me along the roman bridge towards the live music that fills the area with a gypsy beat. Cordoba is hot and reaching almost 100 degrees to create a slowness in my pace and an eagerness for shade on the other side of the river. I stop to lean over the railing and marvel at the massive support beams that water pushes through and has since the time of Emperor Augustus. This is what happens in Europe. You realize the ancientness of places. You wonder at the ages and history. You marvel over the considerable feats of engineering and architecture.
Days have become different and I lose track of the set schedule that once ruled my life. Mondays no longer signify work and each day is equal to the last. It’s as if Saturday has taken over my calendar creating a calmness as I pass through time. On one of these continual Saturdays, I walked through the cathedral and mosque in Cordoba, one built within the other, in complete awe of what was created hundreds of years ago. The mosque is the largest in the western world and you must see it to believe it. I entered from the bright light of day and took a breath in the dark to blink and see what seemed like endless rows of columns and arches of an M.C. Escher drawing. The darkness wasn’t heavy or somber, but a cool and quiet retreat. I could spend hours here. I quickly came to appreciate the Islamic architecture more than the Christian details that had been added later. While it was interesting to see the two styles together, the gaudy curves and ornate gold detail with eerie statues of old men suddenly choked my senses in comparison to the Moorish design. The simplicity of the mosque elevated me while the cathedral weighed me down. The jewel of the mosque to me, the mihrab, was like something out of a fantasy dream world. A giant, intricately carved, keyhole doorway casting golden light into the area left me speechless. Intricacy knows no bounds in Spain. From this doorway, to the ceilings of the Alhambra, to the detail on a matador’s jacket, to the lace-like quality of the local jewelry, intricacy is everywhere.
The Alhambra is a memory that resonates most with me from my journey to Granada. It is what most people come to see and I was one of them. One thing I am going to have to get used to is the amount of tourists everywhere. They travel in unfashionable herds, slowly shuffling their way through each monument in town. They appear as mules, following their selfie sticks like carrots, documenting every single step of their journey. The Alhambra is a place you must wait in line to see with all the rest of the masses, each person holding up their phone while taking photos in unison of each beautiful room of the palace. And who wouldn’t with sights such as these? It’s simply amazing. I become one of them, neck craned, looking up and snapping photos of everything in sight. The ceilings are like lace of the finest thread, making a pattern of beauty I’ve never seen in architecture before. As we wander farther into the palace, the crowds break up and every once in a while I find myself in a room completely alone. I stand in awe of my surroundings, camera down by my side, and just breathe in the silent splendor. Outside of the palace lie the gardens which are equally as stunning. There are far less people here and one can get lost on paths of cypresses and myrtle for hours. It is a truly magical place and needs a slow pace to fully take it in.
We returned to Cordoba and I started the solo part of my journey by getting lost on its winding streets. I found myself turned around on many occasions confusing one long white walled cobblestone path for another. It was what I set out to do though and I took each wrong turn with grace, often finding a beautiful patio or balcony to admire. Oh how I love the patios of Cordoba! With each new one I stumbled upon, I grew to want more. I found a tour of private patios and wove my way through quaint, quiet streets from one courtyard to the next. The home owners spoke to me completely in Spanish as I gazed at their colorful creations. Potted plants hung from walls in patterns creating a work of living art. I shyly took my photos and said a quick, “muy bonito” and “gracias”, as I exited each one.
I will have more to write on Spain later as I will return in September, but for now I can say it has been good to me. The food, the people, the music, the architecture, is all a feast for my senses. I have made new friends, tried something new to eat every day, listened to a beautiful language I’d love to learn, sat in awe of its architectural beauty and communicated greatly with smiles and sign language. And it’s only the beginning. So far so good.
Below are more photos and some helpful tips are listed after.
Los Patios Del Alcazar Viejo – You can take the patio tour “Los Patios Del Alcazar Viejo” by walking down to San Basilio 14 and buying your ticket in the building there. They will give you a brochure and you walk to the 6 nearby patios in the area. You can find the hours by clicking here.
El Trillo Restaurante – My best meal in Granada was here. Unique and creative food of all kinds are offered. They even have a good selection of vegetarian meals. The setting is outside and quite nice. I recommend arriving in time to leave just before sunset. You can wander the streets and view the Alhambra in the golden hour afterwards. There is a scenic viewpoint at Mirador de San Nicolas which is just above the restaurant. It can be overcrowded but is worth the view. You can also go a street down to view the Alhambra in silence through a few alleys and viewpoints without the crowds.
The Alhambra – No visit to Granada would be complete without a visit here. It is well worth it. Book a few weeks in advance to guarantee your time. A nice tip would be to buy the Granada City Card which also gets you into the Alhambra at a reserved time and a few other monuments in town. It also gives you 5 rides on the city buses which are more like nice shuttle buses. If the Alhambra is sold out, this is a good backup plan. It was sold out when I went to buy tickets, but once I bought the city card, I could reserve a time. If I had to do it over, I would book my main ticket one day and then take just the evening tour another to see it in both lights.
The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba or “Mezquita” – This is a must see and truly inspiring. If you arrive early, about an hour before they are scheduled to open, you can get in for free. I arrived around 8:30am and people were already inside. The guards will usher you out close to opening time and then you will have to pay.
Organico – A great little vegetarian restaurant in Cordoba. I had a delectable salad sitting outside at a small plaza watching locals walk by. It’s away from all the tourist crowds and offers very healthy, tasty, organic food. Mostly sandwiches and salads. It has a cute, colorful vintage vibe and friendly service.
Siesta – This is real. Being on a different time schedule than Spain, this posed a problem when I walked far to multiple restaurants/shops only to find them closed. The siesta for shops and businesses is from approximately 2pm until 5pm while bars and restaurants close from about 4pm until about 8 or 9pm. Spain comes to life right before sunset.
Museums and Monuments in Cordoba – Here is a handy guide on the hours of the important sites in Cordoba.
At the Airport in Madrid: To get from the airport to the Atocha station you can now take a Renfe Train (C-1) from Terminal 4 for only 2.60 Euro. It takes 25 minutes and is very easy to locate downstairs. It beats paying much more for a taxi. I also read this ride can even be free if you have paid for a train ticket out of Atocha after. I’m not sure of the details on this as I did not do it, but the people at the Renfe desk in the airport are very helpful.