Adios Beautiful Pool, Hola Madrid

After returning to the parador from our visit to Cordoba’s Alcazar, etc., I took another luxurious swim in the pool. It was about 100 degrees out, and the water felt heavenly. Later, we went to dinner at the Parador restaurant. By this time, it had cooled down to a lovely temperature and we sat on the restaurant terrace.

The hotel cat came by to see if I would drop some food. This cat haunts the restaurant terrace, scrounging food, but never bothers anyone. She just sits nearby and stares at you with her beautiful, strange, light-blue eyes. If nothing is offered, she quietly moves on. Last night I asked if she had a name–and she does: Rosita. I dropped a small chunk of my excellent steak, and Rosita sniffed at it, but wouldn’t eat it. The server said she only likes fish–but this morning, I gave her some chorizo, and she liked that well enough!

The lovely Rosita

The lovely Rosita

I had thought at first that Rosita was a feral cat, because they are everywhere in Spain. I’ve never seen so many before. But Rosita is too plump and calm and healthy-looking to be a feral–though she may have started that way, because there are certainly feral cats around the parador.

We departed this morning for Madrid. It was a three and a half hour drive on minimally-travelled freeways. It looked a lot like driving in the central coast area of California, except that instead of grape vines as far as the eye can see, it’s olive trees. Every once in a while, there were gigantic shapes by the side of the freeway in the shape of a bull, a Flamenco guitarist, or a donkey. They are essentially billboards–flat cutouts–but there’s no verbiage or other explanation for them. It may remain an unsolved mystery unless we remember to ask someone. If they are just supposed to be iconic Spanish motifs, where’s the Flamenco dancer?

A montage of the three strange "billboards" we kept seeing by the side of the freeway

A montage of the three strange “billboards” we kept seeing by the side of the freeway

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once in Madrid, the traffic became horrible, of course. We had to re-rent the car at the airport, which sucked up some time, and then we headed for the hotel–only to find they had no parking. Tom did find some public parking, but then we had to walk to the car to get the luggage. It’s about 100 degrees here, too, but as they say, it’s a dry heat.

We pulled the luggage out of the car, but then I tripped and landed hard on the filthy floor of the parking garage, hitting my head and bruising my ribs. I was furious with myself. I’ve been so careful on the cobbles, in the slippery showers, going to the cave with the prehistoric pictures–and I trip over a suitcase! After ascertaining that I was essentially OK, we struggled up the steps (later, someone pointed out the elevator). On the way, a very kind man hoisted my suitcase up to the street level. (Now don’t go saying Tom should have done it. He had his own suitcase and a couple of other bags to deal with.)

It’s always hard to come down in your station in life–or in hotels. After the lovely, comfortable, spacious parador in Cordoba with its wonderful pool, this hotel looks several steps below Motel 6 (though it does have an elevator, thank god. We are on the fifth floor–in U.S. terms, that’s the sixth floor.). It’s a cube with a washbasin in the bedroom and a sliver of soap as its major amenity. We had to ask for drinking glasses. But again–it seems clean and the bed is comfortable, which is what really counts.

I am missing that pool, though.

A Chair on the Wall and a Surfeit of Palaces

Restaurante Choco, where we ate last night, turned out to be up to the very latest minute in chi-chi gourmet food. We had the tasting menu, and every dish was presented in some artistic manner. It also happened to be delicious, which is kind of the point. Oddly, it’s in kind of a run-down neighborhood of Cordoba. You can’t see it from the street. There is a tapas bar called Choco Bar. If you inquire at the bar, someone walks you around the side of the building to a most unpromising entrance fronted by filthy cobbles. Inside, everything is avant-garde white on white, with odd embellishments like a chair on the wall, backed by painted cardboard and encrusted with what looks like someone’s homework.

The chair on the wall at Choco

The chair on the wall at Choco

I don’t remember all the courses, but each one was presented with some artistic flair. There were cornichons of dried seaweed filled with pickled vegetables and presented on a large piece of white coral. There were raviolis stuffed with something yummy that we don’t remember, draped over a piece of driftwood. There were coddled eggs in the shell, presented in a nest-like basket. I had been hungry when we arrived, but after a while, I became somewhat worried about finishing. The servings were tiny, but there were a lot of them, and after the final dish was served, they came by with more–little cookies which I surreptitiously wrapped in paper napkins I had in my purse for emergencies and tucked away for future consumption.

Coddled egg at Choco

Coddled egg at Choco

Duck "pasties" at Choco

Duck “pasties” at Choco

We returned to the hotel quite late and headed for bed. I slept until almost 10 am this morning. We ate breakfast and headed back to the old town to see the Alcazar of Cordoba. Today, the temperatures were more like what we had been warned about–it got up to at least 100 degrees.

Our first stop was the Museum of Al-Andalus Culture–Moorish culture–the museum that had been about to close when we visited the day before. It is not large, being lodged in an ancient Moorish defensive tower at the end of the Roman Bridge. They had some wonderful models of the Mezquita and other buildings in Cordoba–as well as the Alhambra. I actually think one of my favorite parts was a room where there were four wax dummies representing Maimonides, the 12thC Sephardic Jewish philosopher; Averroes, a Moorish philosopher and polymath (real name: Abū l-Walīd Muḥammad Ibn ʾAḥmad Ibn Rušd); Ibn Arabi, a Moorish Syufi mystic; and King Alfonso X, called “the Wise.” As the spotlight rested on each in turn, a recording played a quote from each man . All of them had astonishing insight for their day about acceptance, inclusion, the role of science and religion, and more.

This is actually a tiny model of La Mezquita, showing it as it was originally built by Caliph Abd al-Rahman I. In the Museo de Vida Al-Andulus, Cordoba.

This is actually a tiny model of La Mezquita, showing it as it was originally built by Caliph Abd al-Rahman I. In the Museo de Vida Al-Andulus, Cordoba.

Before we left the museum, we asked where the bathrooms were. They were behind this tiny, Alice-in-Wonderland door, then down a flight of stairs.

Before we left the museum, we asked where the bathrooms were. They were behind this tiny, Alice-in-Wonderland door, then down a flight of stairs.

If you plan to come to Spain and want to see some palaces, I recommend starting with the Alcazar in Cordoba, because after seeing the Alcazars of Seville and Granada, the Cordoba Alcazar is pretty disappointing. It’s an ancient Moorish defensive castle, heavy and grim, that was gifted by Ferdinand and Isabella to the Spanish Inquisition–and it retains some of that feeling. Kind of dungeon-ish, though the gardens are beautiful.

Tom and me in the gardens of the Cordoba Alcazar. A nice French couple took it.

Tom and me in the gardens of the Cordoba Alcazar. A nice French couple took it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By now, we desperately needed hydration. We walked through the winding streets to a nearby restaurant that Tom had researched, El Churrasco. This was nicely air-conditioned, and we sat in a pretty (enclosed) patio. I ate a cooling lunch of water, gazpacho, water, wine, water, salad, water, and a drink made of sparkling wine and lemon sherbet. And then we had some water.

Patio ceiling, El Churrasco, Cordoba

Patio ceiling, El Churrasco, Cordoba

We had talked over visiting another palace next, but decided to skip it. I did some shopping on the way back to the car, but had lost my enthusiasm for more palaces. I am sure I’ll recover, though.

The Mosque with a Cathedral Inside–Or Is It the Other Way Around?

We arrived in Cordoba after an easy drive from Sevilla (it was easy for me because Tom was driving). Our parador sits above the city in a pleasant neighborhood, and overlooks the entire city. Even more important, it has an elevator, which I greeted with cries of joy. Our quarters consist of four rooms–bedroom, sitting room, dressing room, bathroom and a large, sit-able balcony. It may not be as romantico as the parador at the Alhambra, but it is lovely, and there is a pool, which I took immediate advantage of. I enjoyed floating in the cool water, watching the birds drink. There were swallows, which drink on the wing, doves, and little yellow birds that look like goldfinches. There was no one else in the large pool, and the surrounding gardens are full of palms trees, hibiscus and orange trees. Paradise. The lifeguard speaks French, but not English, and I speak French but not Spanish. Between the two of us, we managed to miscommunicate in three languages.

The view of Cordoba from our balcony

The view of Cordoba from our balcony

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today (our first full day here), we visited La Mezquita, the Great Mosque of Cordoba, which has been turned into a Catholic church. La Mezquita is one of the buildings I studied in art history, so it looked weirdly familiar, as though I had been there before. It has an odd history. It started as a Visigoth church. When the Moors came in the 700’s, the sultan bought the Visigoth church from the Christians, knocked it down and built a mosque. The mosque was added onto until the expulsion of the Moors. The Christians had the good sense not to tear down this incredibly graceful and beautiful building, but they did plonk down a gaudy sanctuary, altarpiece, and choir in the middle of it and appropriated the side niches as chapels.

The result is a mishmash of styles that mingle awkwardly together, like neighbors who get together to socialize only on Fourth of July weekend.

There was far too much detail to capture on camera, especially my iPhone camera, and some of the interesting things were behind glass or wrought-iron screens. but I will let La Mezquita speak for itself.

The famous striped arches made of stone ad brick.

The famous striped arches made of stone ad brick.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ceiling, La Mezquita, Cordoba

The ceiling above the Christian sanctuary in the mosque.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christianity meets Islam in the ceiling

Christianity meets Islam in the ceiling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

High altar, La Mezquita, Cordoba

High altar, La Mezquita, Cordoba

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pipe organ in the choir section, La Mezquita, Cordoba. A matching organ sits on the wall opposite. The position of the pipes is very unusual.

Pipe organ in the choir section, La Mezquita, Cordoba. A matching organ sits on the wall opposite. The position of the pipes is very unusual.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This thing is called a monstrance. I don’t know what it is used for, but it is solid gold. (OK, there’s some silver in the base section. Tom insists I be accurate in my reporting!) It is in the treasury of the cathedral/mosque, Cordoba.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I should mention something about Spain, apropos of nothing. All the historical places we have visited have had benches or chairs here and there so people can sit and rest their feet and appreciate their surroundings. I deeply appreciate this–more and more every year. I remember after touring the Louvre many years ago, we were beneath the big I.M. Pei pyramid. I was dying on my feet, and sat down on the floor, as there was nothing–not even a low wall–in sight. A security guard immediately came over and told me in French that it was not permitted to sit there. I asked why and got the most Gallic shrug ever seen. Later, walking around Paris, I sat somewhere random and got told to move along again. I began to feel like a vagrant, and my feet were miserable. Spain has the right idea.

After viewing the mosque, we went in search of the Museum of Al-Andalus Life, that is, the culture of the Moors. This is housed in an ancient Moorish defensive tower that is reached via a bridge across the Quadalquivir River.

View from the Roman bridge across the Guadalquivir River toward the Museum of Al-Andal Life

View from the Roman bridge across the Guadalquivir River toward the Museum of Al-Andal Life. The museum is in the square building at the end of the bridge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of the bridge, some enterprising people had set up a large stall selling hats and cold water. Did I mention it’s in the mid-eighties today? Not horrible, but we both bought hats to keep the sun off our faces. We went to the museum, but they were closing for siesta in a half hour, so we stopped at a cafe, which, judging by the clientele, is a local fave. I had a beer, which to my nearest and dearest will indicate just how warm I was. Also tapas–of course!–as it was mid-afternoon.

View of the Old Town (Barrio Judica) from the Roman Bridge

View of the Old Town (Barrio Judica) from the Roman Bridge

We decided to backtrack across the bridge and go to the archeological museum. This was open, and we managed to get through prehistory, the Romans, and the Moors before this museum also closed. By this time, it was pretty hot, so we took a taxi back to the Parador, and I, for one, am going swimming!

My beloved in the center courtyard of La  Mesquita

My beloved in the center courtyard of La Mezquita