1st – 14th Nov 2013
An overdue trip report to Andalusia last November. Warning – it is very lengthy! (had posted this in Andalusia forum too).
Part 1 of 3 - Malaga/Cordoba. Part 2 & 3 will follow (hopefully) soon.
It was the too-good-to-be-true airfare to Europe that turned our dream to visit Europe into reality. The Alhambra has long been on our bucket list and now is our chance!
So I rather nervously boarded our midnight flight to Zurich, with husband and 2 year old daughter in tow. It was lil M’s first long-haul flight and as any parent can tell you, it is rather nerve-wracking not knowing what to expect. As it was, I had nothing to worry about. As if on cue, lil M fell asleep as soon as the plane takeoff and only woke up on time for breakfast!
True to (Swiss) form, we reached Zurich right on time, on a cold, wet and still dark morning. Our first step into the European continent! Zurich airport was a sleek-looking steel and glass building, there is a seriousness and no-nonsense air about it, right down to its shops and officers. We walked out past Duty-Free, admired the national Swiss chocolates at its standalone store, and spend the next 3 hours at the transit lounge waiting for our 9+am flight to Malaga.
We arrived in Malaga close to 1pm, and my what a difference 2 hours made! It was so sunny, and when we first stepped out of the airport, pleasantly cool. We made our way to the train station and managed to get on the next train to Maria Zambrano station, in downtown Malaga. Our first Renfe experience was very efficient and pleasant, and so glad there are elevators cos we had 2 big luggages with us. Walked past the many shops at the train station, and saw the big board with train schedules and realized next train to Cordoba is leaving in 15 minutes! I had asked on the forum about this and at the time decided to get the 1800hrs train tickets, thinking we might miss the 1430hrs train. In hindsight, I should have just bought the tickets for both times. After a 20-hour flight, we just wanted to get to our intended destination fast and also I belatedly realized that our time in Cordoba is so short. I decided to buy new tickets (can’t change or top-up the original tickets as those were discounted fares) and we boarded our train. Our first AVE train experience, and we were so impressed! The train itself looked new, so modern and sleek, with its nozzle-like ‘airplane’ head. Interiors were clean and warm, with the auto-sliding doors to each cabin, swishing open and closing silently as you go through (it felt like those cool scenes from the movies ya know?). We settled down and admired our first views of the Andalusian scenery as the train glided past. Acres and acres of land, something we don’t have in our very compact city state. Very smooth journey and it felt like we reached Cordoba in no time at all.
It was about 5ish when we reached Cordoba, still sunny. We quickly got a cab and made our way to the hotel. The lady of this family-run hotel, upon seeing our daughter, exclaimed something and started talking rapidly in Spanish of course, although she realized we don’t understand a word she said, but she just talked anyway, rummaged in her bag, took out a hairband and tied up my daughter’s hair! We realized later how much the Spaniards seem to adore children and I smile everytime I remember this fond memory of our feisty landlord, or landlady. We checked in and freshened up, and it was turning dark by the time we made our way out to see Cordoba. We stayed in the Judeira Quarter and my first impressions of the buildings and people was of refined elegance. We walked the narrow, winding cobblestone streets, breathing in our first Andalusian autumn evening air, taking in the beautiful old buildings, finely wrought iron balconies, the colourful shops, outdoor cafes and restaurants. It was like walking into a novel. There would be groups of people walking together, out to dinner I suppose and we saw a Halloween-inspired group of teenagers going about. I thought the Cordobans (especially the older set) were the most best-dressed people I’ve ever seen anywhere! We actually stopped to gawk at them! They seemed to have turned ‘dressing up’ into an art form. Color-coordinated outfits, with the hats, scarves, gloves and the bags, really the works and they made it look so elegant and effortless. I can go on and on, but my husband and I were seriously impressed by the way the Cordobans dressed up. If you had read anything about Singapore, we’re known for our rather casual style of dressing, being from the tropics and all. So we had never seen anything like it! Like I said, it was like walking into a novel. And strangely enough, we didn’t see this phenomena anywhere else except in Cordoba. We settled for some kebabs which we came across and I popped into a supermarket (I love checking out local supermarkets!) and bought some toiletries and snacks, pleased to see the price of chocolates especially quite cheap. It was only 9+ish, still early by Spanish standards, but the cold and overall tiredness meant we had to make our way back to the hotel for a much needed rest.
The next morning, up bright and early, we eagerly made our way to La Mezquita. I’m quite embarrassed to say, I hadn’t even known about the Mezquita till I was researching for this trip. Now this was a Sunday, and quite hampered by our lack of digital connectivity (haven’t managed to get the local data sim cards) I had forgotten that the only day that it wasn’t free in the mornings is a Sunday. Well no matter, we paid anyway, and entered the mysterious and solemn interiors and I find myself wishing if only they could open all the doors as it originally was, to see it bathed in natural light. It was quite breathtaking..the columns that seem to go on forever and then there was the Cathedral, which you came across rather abruptly in the middle. I have to say that it must have taken some ingenuity to not even ruin any of the surrounding areas when they were building that right in the middle. It was our first time in a cathedral, and I found it quite impressive. Two places of worship in the Mezquita. I had planned to return to Mezquita the next morning, so we didn’t linger very long. I found the kiosk that sells the bus tickets that can take us to Madinat Al-Zahra but unfortunately the tickets were sold-out for that day. Thanks to this forum, I recalled that its possible to take a taxi there, and so we stopped by a café for ‘desayuno’ (breakfast). And so it was here I discovered what a typical Spanish breakfast is like, with the delicious ‘café con leche’ and ‘tostados’. Breakfast, in Spain, is my favourite part of the day.
Suitably fortified, we took a taxi, taking about 20 minutes to reach Madinat Zahara. Here was also a place that was highly recommended by the other travelers, and after my museum visit I understood why. You really have to see and experience it for yourself, especially that amazing short film on the history of the Ummayad dynasty (thank God lil M fell asleep when we got into the theater!). Really enjoyed the museum and the site too. We had to call a taxi (at the museum they can call one for you) and shared a taxi with a lovely Belgian couple. It really is so nice to get to interact with people from other part of the world. The husband was quite astonished we had travelled from so far, he personally considered the Far East too far for him to travel to.
It was evening by the time we reached Cordoba where we dropped off near the Mezquita. We had a quick tapa lunch and then proceeded to cross the bridge, itself busy with people going to and fro, to get to Torre de la Calahorra. This museum was a must-visit for me, and though small, the mixture of visual and audio exhibits were very well curated and I enjoyed it immensely. We crossed the bridge again and sat down in the small square, enjoying the sounds of a solo violin player playing nearby. It was here that we admired the lovely (dare I say stylish) Cordobans as they walked about and spot a couple who really stood out because they were so beautifully dressed up. I wished I had gone up to them to take their photo.
It was our last night in Cordoba, and I bought a few souvenirs. Walking back to the hotel, we somehow ended up on the opposite side, at the Muslim Quarter and only had a short time walking around here as it was already dark and getting colder, and we had a long walk back to the hotel.
The next day, we revisited the Mezquita but alas the gates were closed early for Mass, so this time a much longer queue to buy the tickets. We took our time, taking gazillion photos, and I admired the Mihrab which I hadn’t seen the day before. Outside we walked past the same kiosk yesterday, and here again I saw people qeueing up at another small kiosk which I had thought were for lottery tickets (which seemed to have kiosks everywhere) but upon closer inspection I saw they were taking away churros! So I joined the queue and got us some plus the delicious chocolat. We had to rush back to the hotel, as we have a train to catch at Noon. The lady manager gave a loud dismissive ‘Baahhh’ when we told her we were heading to Seville (I found out later from our host in Seville, that apparently the Sevillans and Cordobans are not too fond of one another? We find this quite amusing). The hotel called a taxi and we managed to get to the train station in the nick of time. I really felt that I didn't do Cordoba justice and if I ever return, I would definitely revisit Cordoba, which was one of my favourite cities.