Sunday, December 1, 2013

Travelling Spain: Córdoba

The outskirts of Córdoba looked more like American suburbia than an ancient European city. Arrival at dusk coloured my search for the right way in an orange glow. Enclosed by blocked streets lined with palm trees were the luminous signs of fast-food chains, soft-drinks and auto-parts. It was close to the images I conjure of southern California, most directly influenced by watching COPS a lot when my house got the "English channels" in the mid nineties.

A taxi journey into town changed all that. Within minutes I was back in that familiar maze of streets and alleys. The driver described Córdoba in minimal English. My replies came in even scanter Spanish. But it didn't matter; you know when someone is trying to make you feel welcome. Courtesy, patience and Latin animation have compensated for almost all communication difficulties in Andalusia so far.

Perhaps due to my arrival on a Wednesday, Córdoba was at first quieter than Granada. This was nice. I enjoyed sauntering around slowly and picking away at tapas in empty bars and restaurants. "Little and often" might describe my dietary regime so far. However, with some exceptions, I've found vegetarian options quite limited. Pork is particularly tricky to avoid- Spain's taste for bacon is said to have arisen during the inquisition, when it became an expression of Christian identity.  

Backpacker Al-Katre was my nicest lodging yet. A small open yard gave access to a common area, bathrooms, bedrooms and a stairs to the first floor. One of the hostesses told me she learned English in Cork, and that accordingly, she could understand every variation of the language. An Argentinian traveller shared a room with me. He too was documenting his trip, and made me feel amateur by being gone before I awoke and returning only after I fell asleep. 

Rivalling the Alhambra for the most visited of Spain's 44 world heritage sites, is the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba. Its famous red and white arches bestow a sense of vastness, once filled by thousands of Muslims on their knees, facing toward the spectacular Mihrab. As in the Alhambra, Christian additions and restructuring is plentiful. Chapels, statues and all-out extravagance, though impressive, come across as an attempt to outshine the subtle magic of the Moorish original. In total, this stunning structure took about two hours to see. Other highlights included the minuscule ancient synagogue and the Roman bridge (pictured). 

Unfortunately, my enduring recollection of Córdoba will be, once again, centred on folly. On the night before leaving, I returned to the hostel around 0:10. The door to Al-Katre was shut, allowing only guests with a key access. But even when I unlocked it, the door refused to budge. There followed around twenty minutes of cursing, victimhood and repeated knocking. Eventually the hostess opened up and asked if I had forgotten my key. "It doesn't work!" She me asked to show her. I did. And figured out that there were two locks, the second of which was released by a extra turn to the right. I shuffled off to bed wondering if she had happened to meet anyone like me in Cork. 

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