Monday, May 24, 2010

Sunday (Toledo to Cordoba)...

Started what would turn out to be a long, long walking day with a short walk to Iglesia de San Ramon, a small 13th century church with some beautiful frescoes and Mudejar achitectural features. It also housed a small collection of artifacts from the Visigoths...all explained in our eyes were mainly gazing upward at the colorful wood ceiling.

A quick stop for pastries and cappuccinos, and back to the hotel to pack up and say goodbye to Toledo. A quick taxi to the train station. And with a quick ride on the hourly AVE train, we were back in Madrid...or at least the Atocha train station. Snack time.

The AVE train to Cordoba was lightly populated...tourists and locals scattered about the blue and white seats. Leaving Madrid, the terrain was gently rolling, keeping the eyes entertained and the mind soothed. Rows and rows of olive trees. Fields of bright-red poppies. Pallets of bricks. As we moved south into Andalucia, the rolling fields gave way to rocky hills with jagged ravines topped with pines and short, deep-green oaks. Grazing livestock filled in the gaps. Numerous pitch-black tunnels created a slide show effect as we swept from valley to valley. Scattered sun-bleached haciendas with terra cotta tiled roofs and enclosed courtyards.

But soon enough, we transitioned back to green and gold fields as we neared Cordoba. Our arrival was smooth, into a modern glass-and-metal train station. Took a leasurely 20 minute walk through a wide city park, past fountains and Roman ruins to reach our hotel. Certainly a gem of a hotel...ultra-contemporary design with an outer shell of copper panels peppered with holes. Reminiscent of the de Young museum in San Francisco. Our room was bright and sophisticated, with views of a fountain and the Mezquita.

Took a soothing dip in the roof-top pool. The cold water instantly whisked away the fatigue of the intense afternoon sun. Refreshed and cooled, we began a long walk that became dinner that became a late night. No interiors this was an orientation stroll through old Cordoba and its unique blend of Moorish, Christian, and Jewish cutures. Started with the long 12th century city wall, with long cascading pools outside. This led us to the Alcazar de los Reyes Christianos...the former royal fortress. We skirted the outer wall and walked along the Guadalquivir River...which we heard but only occasionally saw...a wide river at the fall line...with a grass and tree-filled flood plain. Approached the impressive (and imposing) Mezquita, and circled its sandy-orange walls, with Moorish arches, golden doors, and intricate stone carvings. The belltower caught the afternoon sun, while the streets below were hidden in shadow.

As evening set, we wandered through the narrow, winding streets of the Jewish Quarter. The low residential buildings were all painted in shades of white with trims in yellows and golds and oranges. Needless to say, the Medieval street pattern combined with the uniformity of the building made keeping a sense of direction difficult. We found a tempting outdoor tapas restaurant...Casa Rubio. Once again, an amazing mixture of flavors. Moorish potatos with a savory spicy curry sauce. Tender pork with a rich truffle sauce. A creamy Spanish omlette. Oh, and of course...manchego cheese...this time drizzled with olive oil and topped with toasted almonds. We finished with a light-yet-rich rice pudding with cinnamon ice cream.

We walked off all those calories with a long route through the Jewish Quarter, around the lit-up Mezquita, and across the cities Roman bridge. Happened upon a city carnival, full of late night revelers. Even after midnight, kids were clutching their balloons and adults were indulging in twisty churros and waffles piled high with ice cream. Women dressed in flamenco outfits. The bridge and adjacent buildings were lined with lights.

Legs and feet need a break. Time for bed.

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