Even though the “Costa de la Luz” tempts the traveller to just hang out by the beach and do nothing, our little travel party was more determined to discover and to explore the cultural beauty of Andalucia.
Part of our travel arrangement was a trip to yet another gem in Andalucia’s tiara – Córdoba.
You may recall – dear reader – that I had suggested to always go to Cádiz by catamaran and not by car, my recommendation now is to always take the train to Córdoba and not the car.
If you are German you will certainly appreciate travelling by Spanish Railways – called RENFE – the acronym for “Red Nacional de Ferrocarriles Españoles“. They beat German trains comparing punctuality, travel comfort and the overall condition of the trains. Not so much – I am afraid – as far as their suspectability to strikes is concerned.
Let’s take a step back:
We had booked the train ride online and well in advance on RENFE’s official website. In combination with their mobile App we held the e-tickets for the four of us in Manfred’s phone. Quite straight forward and very handy – just like handling plane tickets these days.
As a rule of thumb for all visits – get there early. An early start repays you by avoiding the masses of tourists hitting the main sites from 10:00am on.
In the past years Manfred and I were lucky to catch one of these great, very sleek high speed and high comfort direct trains that would only stop in Sevilla. This time we we had to get on one of the trains that transport the day-commuters from Cádiz to Sevilla instead. But even these trains are heaven compared to what you usually find in Germany. On our way back however – we were able to get on a high speed direct train. Have a look at our itinerary below.
But as mentioned in this blog on a couple of occasions – “The journey is the reward” – so we got to stop in small cities and villages that we only knew from the signs on the highway.
As I said earlier – tickets were purchased in advance and stored safely in the bowels of Manfred’s Android – what I have not mentioned yet: the trip was scheduled to take place on Tuesday, June 14th.
Yes, dear reader, do not be confused to find this blog entry under Wednesday, June 15th.
Here is what happend: On Sunday, Manfred received an email sent by RENFE to inform us that there would be a train operator’s warning strike on Tuesday, June 14th and that the scheduled trip was at jeopardy.
We were offered a later connection for the day but also given the opportunity to cancel or to reschedule the trip to one of the following days. Cancelling the trip was out of the question – of course. We decided to postpone it to Wednesday, June 15th.
To cut a long story short: Changing the booking online did not work (for some strange reason, I suppose the strike threat came on short notice and the respective booking systems could not be updated fast enough). Manfred got in the car and drove to the train station in Jerez de la Frontera and got it fixed. Sometimes – and even I realize that – you have to do the things “old school”.
So, here we are back on the 15th of this lovely June 2016, leaving the “Hotel Playa de la Luz” at 6:00am – without breakfast. Empathetic readers such as you feel for me, knowing how important breakfast is for me.
We said we would find something to eat in Jerez before getting on the train. We got to the train station right on time to only find that the public parking of the station was closed. Very weird, so we turned the car around and were lucky to find a place in “Calle Méndez Nuñez” – no obvious signs that we were not allowed to park here.
There were a couple of bars/caféterias already open around “Plaza de la Estación” to serve early commuters – though the food offering was not that great, we settled for a “café solo”.
Jerez train station is a beautiful building – I just love the Spanish tiles used to decorate the surface.
8 stops and 1:11 later we got off the train at the “Sevilla Santa Justa” train station, the travel hub in Andalucia, connecting high speed trains serving the “Cádiz-Madrid” line with all the other connections into the region.
In fairness to Deutsche Bundesbahn – the Spanish railways network is by far not as dense and as frequented as the German network.
Changing trains – going to our connection to the high speed train on a different track. I looked at one of the station clocks, enough time left to get food into my system.
The sandwich I got in one of the cafeterias in the foyer of the train station tasted dreadful. Hoping for dinner was the only consolation at this point in time.
I used the analogy to air travel at the beginning of the blog entry – boarding a high speed train in Spain is like getting on an air plane… you have to pass your luggage through an x-ray, your tickets are being checked at the entrance of the platform.
Having left Seville – the train sped up to 300km/h. No surprise we arrived at Córdoba 45 minutes later just as scheduled.
The barometric column had already risen above the 25 degree mark – Córdoba is one of hottest Andalusian cities.
We started to walk towards the “Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba” one of the most impressive contemporary witnesses I know.
But before we get there, let me contemplate a little on the city of “Córdoba”. History is not my field of expertise and I highly recommend that you do some research either online or by reading (old school) books about it – believe me, it will enrich the experience.
Let me share with you what I know: eventful history influenced by Carthagians, Romans, muslim conquerors, Jews and Christians. Ancient capital of the Emirate, later Caliphate of Córdoba, 500,000 inhabitants at a time and – I think it is fair to say – one of the first major cities in Europe.
Depending on what colour the glasses have, through which you see life – Córdoba was either the place that demonstrated that muslims, jews and christians lived in peaceful co-existence and hence are responsible and facilitators for a flourishing trade, culturual and scientific life, or – all that peaceful co-existence was only the result of a trade and a tax: “Dhimma” that secured the right or residence and was imposed by the muslim occupiers upon all non-muslims living in the Caliphate.
The Caliphate fell victim to the “Reconquista” – the reconquest of occupied regions on the peninsula – in 1236 – the “Mezquita-Catedral” is a living witness to that – if only it could tell us the story.
The building is – again, depending from where you look at it – either an amalgamation of islamic and christian architecture/culture or an atrocity to culture and architecture. Be that as it may – I see both, but accept that history cannot be undone, however we should learn from it.
We had started walking and had entered the park nearby the train station and made our way to the Mezquita. Given the heat, Manfred and I quickly revisited the “agenda” and decided to eliminate two sites and to keep the visits restricted to the Mezquita, the Alcazar, Torre de Calahorra and the “Juderia”. While the area around the train station is predominantly modern development with all the major modern department store chains, there is great historic substance spinkled in and even more so moving towards the river Guadalquivir.
And there it was – sourrounded by those thick and impenetrable walls – frightening almost from the insight but nonetheless granting access – through the four gates – to a courtyard with fountains and wells, with trees planted all in a strict geometric order as it seemed.
While we were approaching the Mezquita, Manfred had left our little travel party to give us a head-start at the ticket counter. When M., B. and I arrived he had already purchased the tickets.
Even though I love the Mezquita, I skipped the visit inside as I wanted to head to the Alcazar to get the entrance tickets for there. As we were early all the sites were still relatively empty, Manfred and I knew that this would change dramatically in about 45 minutes when the masses of tourists unloaded from their tourist busses on the other side of the Guadalquivir would make their way across the “Puente Romano”.
So, Manfred, M. and B. went off to visit the inside of the Mezquita / Cathedral.
It was a good call to come here so early – Manfred, M. and B. could take pictures from the inside of the Mezquita without having to avoid too many fellow visitors, and I could take some pictures from the outside of the Mezquita, the “Puerta de la Puente” and the “Puente Romano” itself.
But first of all – I walked the 500 meters over to the “Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos” to get the tickets. No lines – had the tickets within 10 seconds and had time now to walk back to the Mezquita, cross the “Roman Bridge” to double check the opening hours of the “Torre Calahorra”.
These pictures were taken around 10:20am.
When our travel party crossed the bridge again at 11:00am – it was flooded with tourists swarming in from the other side of the river.
The “Torro Calahorra” used to be part of one of the many entry gates to the city of Córdoba – today it houses the “Al-Andalous Living Museum”. It is one of my favorite Museums as it portrays all the facets of Andalusian history. The exhibition is state-of-the art: media-rich, well structured, informative, educational and entertaining at the same time.
We were more in sightseeing mode today and a proper visit of the museum takes an hour’s time at least. So, we admired the tower and made our way to the Alcazar.
You may have guessed it – there was a long queue at the ticket counter of the Alcazar. Not for us: We showed our tickets and cut the line, it pays back to plan ahead.
If you ask me, Córdoba’s Alcazar is nice and most certainly worth a visit, however it is not half as impressive and breathtaking as the Alcazar in Seville.
Even though its name suggests an arabic origin it has an equally eventful history as Córdoba: Visighoths, Umayyads and finally in 1236 the Christians. It served as primary residence of Isabella I and Fernando II. The center piece of the structure is the garden.
Climbing on one of the towers also offers a great view across Córdoba.
Inside artifacts from past times and tennants can be admired.
At the time of our visit, the restauration of the old baths was in progress.
Even though it had become really hot, we felt pulled towards the garden as its attractiveness cannot be resisted.
Moving on: The Alcazar in our backs, the Mezquita ahead of us, we took a left turn to walk towards the “Jews Quarter” with the remainders of the synagogue. Walking through narrow streets – though not quiet as there was this constant stream of groups of tourists from all over ther world. Each group trying to distinguish itself by a special telltale sign wrapped around a stick the guide wore like a sword, risen above his head as if he was to strike the competitors any time soon.
Compared to the wealth of the muslim and christian legacy in Córdoba, the “Judería” appeared small and rather insignificant. Not so surprising once consulting the respective chapters in the history books of the history of the “Reconquista”. And I guess it has to be stated that the Christians were not much different in the take on who was “a believer” and “who was not”. The “Dhimma” kept the social system in peaceful balance under muslim occupation, I am not aware of any such concept installed by the Christian “reconquistas”.
Dear reader, you do (painfully) recall that:
- I had to forego breakfast,
- the substitute consumed in Sevilla was dreadful
- I thought I could last until dinner
Guess what – the flesh was weak – in other words, I needed food – soon.
Manfred and I had never eaten in Córdoba during any of our past visits, in addition we were on unknown turf in the “Judería” – the worst that can happen to a travel party is to be without destinct course, almost like a ship with a captain who lost his bearing.
We continued north bound, kept to the right as we did not want to get back to the train station too soon. The streets were pleasant to wander and there was a lot to see – and by just wandering around the understanding and the appreciation of how ancient/medieval cities functioned grew.
All the narrow streets all connected like a neural network, opening out into small “Plazas”, where the social interaction of the inhabitants and tenants took place. Small self-sufficient urban units all forming the bigger whole. Fantastic.
Finally – at the “Plaza de la Trinidad” – I saw a friendly-looking cafeteria “O mundo de Alicia”. I left my fellow travellers no choice really as I had entered faster than they could watch.
We had lots of “aqua mineral con gaz”, cañas, coffee and serveral platters of food.
Like a baby that has been fed properly I was happy man and ready to face the rest of the day. We stayed a while and as the time was nearing 2:00pm we got back on the street and walking again.
Above “Plaza de la Trinidad” we entered the “Plaza del Doctor Emilio Luque” – a small plaza, half-round with nice looking buildings – and a bust of the “Doctor Emilio Luque”. As we were looking at the bust, a Córdobese woman explained to us that Emilio Luque is the local hero, a saint as he had helped the poor and had provided medical care to those who could not afford it.
Moving on we eventually reached the “Plaza la Tendillas” with its splendid looking buildings.
On our way to the train station we paid the local “Corte Inglés” a visit, looking for a leather bag for a friend of ours. We left the department store with no purchases made, took a right and entered the park we had already crossed this morning.
We stopped at a quite unusual memorial – easy to be missed – commemorating “two good people, their humbleness and their sacrifises in life…”
Back at the train station we had to wait for “boarding” – the train arrived on time and brought us back to Jerez de la Frontera without having to change trains. We all were a bit tired and took a nap while the train made his way through the Andalusian lowlands at 300 km per hour.
5:03pm we stood on the platform of Jerez de la Frontera train station again headed towards where we had parked the car. Manfred and I stopped at one of the little “supermarkets” to buy essential supplies: mineral water and red wine. We were all in a really good mood with all the impressions, the great things we had seen, the train ride and all…
You, esteemed reader, should have seen the looks on our faces when we discovered an offically looking piece of paper squeezed behind the blade of the wipers of our car. Yes, you guess correctly: it was a parking violation ticket.
The thing though that really aggravated us was the amount of fine looking at us:
My adrenaline level rose in fractions of seconds and I started to see myself storming into the city administration with a pump gun – the headlines of tomorrows newspapers before my mind’s eye:
German Tourist Upset with Ridiculous Parking Fine Runs Amok at City Hall!
With my face to it in hand-cuffs.
Well, well – those of you who know me are aware of my melodramatic side – of couse I did not plan a blood-shed – at least not with a pump gun, but I had begun to draft an acid and baneful letter to various recipients.
By the time we reached the hotel, my mind had returned to normal and we did of course what grown-up people do: We asked for advice at the front desk.
As I had correctly assumed – they knew the solution:
- Go back to the street where you parked within 24 hours
- Look for the next parking meter in that parking zone.
- Enter the PIN given on the ticket along with car’s registration number,
- Pay the amount indicated
- Forget the ticket
Actually – and I am not ashamed to admit it: Had we read the ticket carefully while being in Jerez, Manfred would not have to return that very evening.
The procedure worked and we paid only EUR 8.89 which was OK and corresponds to the amount we would have paid, had we parked in the train station’s parking.
In retrospect I am impressed with this system compared to the bureaucracy and paper shifting a parking violation ticket causes in Germany.
Before dinner that night we took it easy – some sun on the beach, letting pass the day in our minds.
All in all another just perfect vacation day.