Thursday, August 12, 2010

European stop 7: Cordoba, Spain

Let's get this out of the way first: why did we take a bus from Granada to Cordoba? If you know me, you might already know the answer, but let's play along anyway. We saved not only money but also, somewhat shockingly, time! The bus is super cheap at 12 Euros per ticket, but more importantly a train ride from Granada to Cordoba takes four hours whereas our bus route took a mere two hours and 45 minutes. With both time and money in our favor, this was the obvious choice.

Cordoba was by far the tiniest city we visited during our trip, so this was also our shortest stay (and therefore my shortest European city blog post!). Many friends I spoke to before the trip told me they didn't even spend the night in Cordoba and instead made it a day trip when they visited, but we did at least have a hotel and one night in this little city.

When-to-travel tip:
Much of Italy and Spain seems to shut down in the month of August. Nowhere, though, was this more pronounced during our travels than in Cordoba. Even though we visited in mid-July, the city was somewhat of a ghost town during our trip even though businesses were still technically open. I can only imagine what it's like when everything is truly shut down. Most restaurants we walked by, including the one we ate at, posted their hours in their windows along with a note that they're closed the entire month of August.

Total time in Cordoba: 1 day, 1 night

NH Amistad Cordoba
Plaza de Maimonides 3
This hotel is a converted mansion...I only stay in converted mansions when on vacation
Price we paid per night: $145
Location: Is it possible for a hotel to have a bad location in Cordoba? My assumption would be no. It doesn't take many minutes for you to walk around this entire city. That said, this hotel had a perfect location, a less-than-five-minute walk to the Mezquita and surrounded by great places to eat.
Room: The part of the hotel we were staying in had just undergone renovations, and the other part of the hotel was still being renovated, so the room was exceptionally modern and well decorated. We also enjoyed the layout -- this room had the same hallway and door separating the bathroom from the bedroom as the room we had in Granada, and the extra door therefore also blocked out any hallway noise.
Find Stephanie in the bathroom mirror...
Breakfast included?: No
Service: This is one area where this hotel did not score as well. The three times we found ourselves at the front desk we were ignored for several minutes, and there were several receptionists behind the desk each time (doing inexplicable work because there was not a long line of guests waiting to be helped), so it seemed surprising and borderline unacceptable. I don't mind waiting; I just think hotels of this caliber should acknowledge their guests even if they have to wait.
Internet: Fast, free Wifi in common areas
TV: Decent-sized flat screen with good channel variety
Overall assessment: This hotel is beautiful and convenient, let's just make the front desk as great as the rest of the hotel. I would definitely recommend staying here during your trip to Cordoba.

Given the fact that we only had one night in Cordoba, I really only have one (fantastic) meal to write about. Thank goodness it was such a good one!

Taberna Salinas
Calle Tundidores 3 (right near Plaza de la Corredera and not far from Plaza de las Tendillas)
Genre: Quasi-upscale full-service tapas restaurant
How we found it: Our Lonely Planet Spain book made this restaurant, founded in 1879, sound so good we just had to check it out.
What we ate: The portions at this restaurant are huge. We were hungry and everything on the menu looked so good that we were prepared to order six tapas, the way we might at a tapas restaurant in America where the portions are so much smaller. Our nice waiter laughed and asked us to scale back to four dishes. He was oh so wise. It was a ton of food -- these are not your ordinary tapas! We shared fried eggplant with honey, stewed spinach, grilled calamari and lamb chops, plus a pitcher of sangria. At the end of the meal your waiter brings you a complimentary glass of montilla, a drink quite similar to sherry but so syrupy that I had trouble getting it down.
For some reason I look really saucy here...perhaps it's all thanks to the fried eggplant.
Total cost: 35 Euros (a bargain for all this food!)
Overall assessment: I appreciated that this menu included tapas we did not see anywhere else in Spain. I also appreciated that even though these tapas were more expensive (6.50 Euros here compared to 2.50 Euros elsewhere), the portions were so much greater that the prices were quite reasonable. Our dining experience was made even better by the fact that we had the nicest waiter in Spain and Italy here -- and it probably doesn't hurt that he was the most attractive waiter to boot!


The Mezquita
The Mezquita is the main reason to visit Cordoba, and even though we saw tons of fascinating and unique architecture throughout Italy and Spain, nothing compares to this structure that started as an ancient Visigothic church that transformed into a mosque in 785 and then had a giant 16th-century cathedral plopped down in the middle of it all. Talk about identity crisis. Whatever it is, this place is massive and beautiful.
Price: 8 Euros (adult ticket)
I don't have any specific tips for visiting this site, except maybe be prepared to play around with your camera settings a lot because there is very little light inside the mosque/church and there is tons to photograph.
The exterior walls of the Mezquita dominate the historic area of Cordoba
The trademark red and white arches of the original mosque are awe-inspiring in person
The mihrab portal is elaborately decorated
The cathedral in the middle of the Mezquita is odd. Here you can see the attempts at mimicking the original red and white columns of the mosque, but rather than using bricks they used paint, and the stark contrast is way worse in person.
Cultures collide...

Of course, of all the places we visited, it would make sense for us to run into someone we knew in Cordoba. While approaching Plaza de las Tendillas we ran into one of Matt's colleagues who was in Cordoba taking guitar lessons. Appropriately, in the Plaza de las Tendillas there is a musical clock that plays flamenco guitar music of Juanito Serrano on the hour. Random, but cool.
In the middle of Plaza de las Tendillas, El Gran Capitan is still decked out in his Spanish flag a week after the Spanish World Cup victory.

We've got one stop left -- Madrid! -- before I wrap this thing up and share with you more overall reflections on our trip and my much-anticipated packing for international travel post. But that will all have to wait until next week, because tomorrow I head out to Atlantic City for the weekend with some lovely ladies whom I have not seen in a very long time!

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