Once our two nights in Madrid were over, my family and I took a five-day, four-night guided tour around the Andalusia region, located in the south of Spain close to the Iberian Peninsula and home to rich diversity of culture and history, especially having belonged to the Moors back when the region was under Islamic rule. From places like Seville to Toledo, our few days in the Andalusia region were very different to what I’d been accustomed to in the other places that I’d been to in Spain, namely Barcelona and Madrid. Nonetheless, it was all enriching.
We woke up super early to head over to the tour agency in Madrid, from which we would depart for our first destination: Córdoba. Our guided tour group was a small, but pleasant bunch, with another family of four from Texas, a couple from Malaysia, and a woman from Puerto Rico. Our tour guide was friendly, and he spent the four days speaking to us both in English and Spanish (the latter for the Puerto Rican woman), which for me not knowing Spanish was a nice, indirect way of picking up bits and pieces of the language. Knowing French is a plus, since there are many similarities between the two Romance tongues!
Around close to 8h00, we left Madrid and spent the next three to four hours driving over to Córdoba; it was a rather long trip, since we were pretty much going from central Spain (where Madrid is located) to the south- we also had a couple of pit stops along the way, including time for lunch where besides ordering a chicken-rice dish, I got the napolitana de chocolate, which is Spain’s version of the pain au chocolat and is absolutely heavenly. I’m not joking when I write that I basically had at least one napolitana de chocolate every day that I was in Spain. Really, the pastry is just covered with chocolate, from the delicate sprinkles on the outside to the rich ganache slathered on the inside. Again, the French’s pain au chocolat got nothing on the Spanish napolitana- most of the time, the French skimp on the chocolate anyway, so I’m all about the Spanish nowadays!
Pastry-tangent aside, we had a good (and inexpensive) lunch at the pit stop before continuing our trip over to Córdoba. From my experiences traveling in Spain, much of the landscape is desert: sandy, dry, and with the occasional rocky hills in the background that remind me so much of home back in the United States where my family and I would make family trips over to Las Vegas and the national desert parks in Utah and Arizona, passing through similar-looking terrain. All of that vast landscape stretching for miles and miles without end to the naked eye impressed me as a kid, and so being in Spain definitely brought back those sublime memories.
We finally arrived in Córdoba in the early afternoon, where we met our local tour guide who took us around the city. What makes Córdoba interesting is the fact that it used to be the capital of Spain back in the eighth century, when it was under Islamic rule; it wasn’t until the thirteenth century that the Spanish reclaimed it as their own. The city had been a very prosperous one, home to a rich, multicultural blend of different people and backgrounds, including Catholics, Jews, and Muslims, all of which had lived in harmony before the Spanish Inquisition in the fifteenth century, when people were forced to convert to Catholicism or otherwise be expelled from the community.
Today, Córdoba is home to plenty of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a few of which we visited during the time we had that afternoon. Our tour guide first took us over to the fortified walls of the city, before guiding us through the twists and turns of the medina of the Arab quarter. Along the narrow passages, we saw some door handles shaped in a crooked hand, which our tour guide told us represented humility as depicted in the Quran. We also stuck close to our tour guide, making sure not to wander off since, as he’d told us, it is easy to get lost in the maze of the medina.
After a tour of the Arab quarter, we reached the mosque-cathedral of Córdoba, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the highlight of our visit in the city. As its name suggests, it once used to be a mosque, but was taken over by the Spanish and today is officially considered a cathedral. However, the interior had elements of both Islamic and Catholic influences, with one part of the place filled with luminescent, arching pillars from the mosque to the grandiose, towering nave from the cathedral. I’d never seen a place quite like this one, especially having two styles of very different religions within the same site, but it was awe-inspiring!
Once we finished touring both sides of the mosque-cathedral, we headed out, thereby subsequently wrapping up the tour of Córdoba. We were given a bit of time to explore the area, as well as shop around, so my family and I headed over to the Roman Bridge, which we’d seen as we were coming into the city earlier that afternoon, to take a few photos and admire it; apparently, the bridge was used as a setting in Game of Thrones, which is quite cool. From its rather stoic architecture, it’s no wonder that it was chosen to do so!
Around 16h30, we headed back to our tour coach, shortly afterward leaving Córdoba for our next destination in the Andalusia region. While our time in Córdoba was brief, I was nevertheless charmed by its old walls and medina, all of which were steeped in history. The mosque-cathedral was very distinctive as well, since I’d never seen anything quite like it before. Plus, the architecture was worth the visit!
More to come on my visit to Spain during les vacances de Noël; next up: Seville, Spain!