5 days in Andalucia: Day 1 in Córdoba

5 Sep

I continue my food and history quest, this time in the south of Spain in a region called Andalucia. First stop: Córdoba. This is a city of about 300,000 people, so it’s not small. However, it very much has a small town feel to it, especially in the “old” part of town where I’m staying near the Mezquita Catedral.

Here’s a brief history of Córdoba, according to Lonely Planet, that I think is necessary to understand if one is going to understand all of the different architecture of the Mezquita, especially.

The Roman colony of Corduba, which is most of modern day Andalucia, was founded in 152 BC. In 711, the city of Córdoba was captured by Muslim invaders and became the Islamic capital of the Iberian Peninsula. Córdoba’s heyday came under Abd ar-Rahman III (912-61). The biggest city in western Europe had dazzling mosques, libraries, observatories and aqueducts, a university and highly skilled artisans in leather, metal, textiles and glazed tiles. The multi-cultural court was frequented by Jewish, Arab, and Christian scholars. Lonely Planet, page 737.

Since these were the “glory years”, I’ll leave the history at that for now, as that part of Córdoba’s history is really what I wanted to see.

Moving onto my journey, first, I have to give props to my hotel – Eurostars Patios. This is one of the best hotels I’ve stayed in during my journeys in Spain. It was very inexpensive (49 euros per night) and it was fabulous. The hotel is super modern and new, all the rooms are soundproofed and all the rooms look out onto one of their many designer patios. My room (#108) was at the end of the hall and away from any stairs or lift, so it was really quiet. It was exceptionally clean and it had a nice amount of space, as well.

The true lux about the place was that it had pillow service. If you didn’t like the pillows that came on the bed (4 very comfortable ones), you could call room service and order off the pillow menu – awesome! Finally, the shower had a modern rain shower head, instead of those awful handheld things that come in most hotel showers and annoy me because if you adjust them, they tend to fall off the wall.

So, I arrived late on a Sunday afternoon and it was the perfect day and time to arrive. Córdoba is very quiet on a Sunday afternoon and most everything is closed, so you have a chance to do a great walking tour of the city and to see the old buildings and different neighborhoods without being bombarded by so many tourists. Below are a few of my pictures from Sunday.

Right next to my hotel are some old Roman ruins of a temple:

Plaza Tendillas:

The closer view of the guy riding the bird as well as the ornate work done on the top of the building (I love this one):

Another view of a building in Plaza Tendilla:

A cute house, with some typical tiles, I walked by on a narrow street as I made my way to the outskirts of the old town:

One of the things I loved about Córdoba was that some of the pedestrian walkways were covered with white banners of sorts to block out the sun. Córdoba was very hot when I arrived, like around 98 degrees F/36-37 degrees celsius. So, this was a fabulous idea. Here’s a pic of the banners overhead from one of the pedestrian streets:

So, I make my way over the where the 2 big “must sees” are in town: the Mezquita and the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, or so I think I’m going toward them. I know they are both closed at the moment, but I thought I would take some photos of the outside. I end up overshooting a bit and come upon an old wall that was the outer wall of the city at one time and now which is called Calle Cairuán. Here is the magnificent wall:

This wall goes on for several typical city blocks and it has pools surrounded by flowers next to it. Just gorgeous.

I walk some more and come down to the Rio Guadalquivir (the river). I decide to walk across the Puento Romano bridge to check out the structure at the end of it called Torre de la Calahorra. Here’s a pic of the bridge and the Torre de la Calahorra:

As you can tell from the picture, the countryside is super brown. It gets scorching hot here in the summer and the dust is palpable when it’s windy.

I wander back over the bridge and around the outside of the Mezquita. *Side note: I won’t include any pictures of my first day’s view of the Mezquita, as light was waning and the streets were narrow, so the pictures with flash don’t do it justice. But on day 2, I’ll include a ton of pictures of the beast. It’s truly a beast and amazing.

I find the museum of the Spanish Inquisition and decide this looks like an interesting place to browse. Here’s the entrance:

I didn’t know much about the Spanish Inquisition, other than it was an attempt by the King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms. There were inquisitions in Rome and Portugal, as well, but the Spanish one was the most “substantive” (read: brutal). Under their rule, the Spanish Inquisition began in 1480 with the invention of the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, which was under the direct control of the monarchy. It was not definitively abolished until 1834 under Queen Isabella II. So, there’s a long history of terrorizing people here over religion or lack of religion. Oh wait, we still do that the world over, don’t we? Oh, I digress.

So, after the museum I decided it was time to eat. Nothing says “it’s time to eat” like some wicked history. I took a cue from tripadvisor and went to their number one rated restaurant in Córdoba: Regadera. Well, it was cute. Here are a few pics of the place:

The bar area (cute):

Entrance to the dining room. If you look to the left of the door at the end of the bar, you’ll see a small fountain. Also, the doorway to the dining room is a very typical Moorish style door:

Well, the food was hit and miss. Since I was inland, I decided to go with meat. I ordered the suckling pig. The skin, which if done right is incredibly crispy, was burned! So were the top and bottom of my scalloped potatoes. Really novice cooking here, folks.

My young waiter knows something is wrong when, after 4 bites, I push the plate away. So, he asks. I try to be nice and say I’m critical because I’m a chef (yep, I pulled the card, mostly because I wanted something else that was good). I say I want you to bring me your best plate. He goes back to the kitchen and comes out with a duo of tartares. I’m thinking “Sh-t! I don’t know if my stomach can handle any more raw fish, and we’re inland so I’m not sure how fresh it is.”

But, I accept the explanation and dive in. The tuna tartare is the same old same old I’ve had everywhere now in Spain when someone thinks they’re going to serve me their “best dish”. It’s raw tuna with avocado and wasabi. No offense, folks, but we’ve been doing that in Hawaii since, I don’t know how long but way before anyone else on the planet save the Japanese, I’m sure. It’s good, but it doesn’t blow me away because I’ve had it so many times.

Moving onto the salmon tartare. Now, I’m really freaking out… there is no way this salmon is fresh. I taste the lemon foam on top – wow! That is sensational! I taste the green chili-cumin sauce on the bottom and it is also sensational. Those two are keepers. The salmon was mixed with sweet onion and green apple, which is a great combo with salmon. The tartar itself would have been excellent had the fish been fresh, but definitely it was not.

Here’s a pic of the tartares:

I ended up with a chupito of a green apple liquor – yummm! Time for bed. Tomorrow…the mammoth Mezquita and a tower of inquisition surrounded by a magnificent garden….

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