Saturday, February 11, 2017

Más España –- Anadlucía’s Greatest Hits, Part 2 -- October 31–November 9, 2016

This post about our fall tour of Andalucía, España is part of a current project to get some computer-relating things done before we leave the (relatively) good Wi-Fi of Banana Bay Marina. For anyone who needs a bit of context for this post about Spain, you're welcome to see our first post on Andalucía -- HERE.

Ronda To Córdoba And A Discounted Brush With The Law – October 31

Our drive from Ronda to Córdoba took us through miles and miles of olive groves. Every bottle of Spanish olive oil now reminds us of legions of grey-green trees marching to the horizon.

Olive Trees As Far As The Eye Can See
And A Cute Little Olive Hauling Tractor

Olive Trees: A Close-Up

At the outskirts of Córdoba we were rudely jolted from the lull created by those undulating olive groves. We passed a flashing, red 50-kilometer-an-hour traffic sign. Ugh. Flashing isn’t good. Flashing means a camera.

Three months later we received notice from the Spanish government that for the crime of driving eight kilometers per hour over the posted speed limit (that’s less than five miles an hour, BTW) we were being fined 100 euros. Yeow. But the notice also contained some odd, but good news: Fines paid within 30 days of the date of the notice would be discounted by 50%. Really. Someone in the Spanish traffic department has been to biz school . . . or has a degree in psychology.

Travel Tip: Heads up when driving in Spain! Even with a prompt payment discount, during a favorable exchange rate period, and using a no-foreign-transaction-fee credit card our lack of attention cost more than $10 per excessive mile-per-hour. 

Córdoba – October 31 – November 4

We dropped off our liability – uhm, rental car – and took a cab to the Patios de Córdoba hotel (part of the Eurostars chain); very nice and well located.

A Traffic Calming Project Near The Hotel
And New Use For Left-Over Roman Columns

Plaza de la Corredera - 
A Lovely Breakfast Stop Near The Patios de Córdoba Hotel

That night we followed the advice of the front desk staff and wandered to a restaurant along the Rio Guadalquivir, the river that was Córdoba’s original reason for being. We enjoyed some tapas and red wine - que tan español!

During the next three and a half days we saw many of the Major Tourist Attractions and enjoyed more wandering and soaking up of atmosphere.  

               Day Wandering:

During our daylight wanderings we saw street art:

Two Dimensional Street Art

Three Dimensional Street Art
(Prowling Cat Is Metal)

We saw architectural reminders of / homages to the 500 years (711-1236) the city was a cultural hub for Iberian Peninsula Moors:

Privacy Screen For Modest Women

We walked along the old city walls (and tucked inside for a nice lunch).

Old City Walls

We were constantly reminded of the city’s touristy present.

A Bit Of The Old Olé To Take Home

Tourists Cruising La Juderia

One afternoon, in search of a restroom, Molly entered the Centro de Art Contemporaneo and found, in addition to the hoped-for clean restroom, some very amusing pieces of graphic art. Recognize yourself?

Always Someone Else's Shoes To Clean

Take It Or Make It?

               Evening Wandering:

One evening we turned a corner not far from our hotel and wondered if we had gotten lost. It seemed we had found a Mexican religious procession:

La Virgen

The Procession

               Tourist Highlight: La Mezquita - Cathedral/Mosque:

As in other Spanish cities, the cathedral of Córdoba was once a mosque. Unlike other cathedrals, however, this one was built inside of the pre-existing mosque rather than upon its ruins.

A condensed history of La Mezquita:
  • Mid-6th Century: The conquering Visigoths built a basilica.
  • 711-ish: Conquering Moors purchased half of the basilica property for use as a mosque; the other half continued to be used as a basilica.
  • 756: Córdoba became an independent emirate.
  • 786-788: Abd al-Rahman I purchased the basilica, demolished it and the original mosque, and built a large, new mosque.
  • 991: A third and final enlargement of the mosque resulted in  space for 40,000 worshipers.
  • 1236: Upon the re-conquest of Córdoba the mosque was consecrated as a Catholic church.
  • 1371: The royal chapel (which, BTW, tourists can’t enter or even peer into) was built into the center of the mosque.
  • 1489 – 1800s: The cathedral nave was completed in 1489 and other work continued into the 19th century.
  • 1816: The mihrab (the Muslim prayer niche) was restored (enlightened for 1816 Spain, no?).
  • 1984: UNESCO declared La Mezquita a World Heritage Site.
There is an often-repeated story that Carlos V, during whose reign much of the construction of the cathedral was done, said upon seeing it for the first time: “You have taken something unique in all the world and destroyed it to build something you can find in any city.”

While we agree with the monarch that the cathedral is a lot like many others in Spain, we think the very fact that it is set within a restored/retained mosque makes it unique; worth its World Heritage designation and certainly worth a visit by anyone touring Andalucía. The contrast between the elegantly simple lines of the mosque and the Gothic cathedral is a lesson about the artistic sensibilities of the two high cultures of that time. 

Cleaning An Olive Tree In 
The Courtyard of Orange Trees

Fountain In The Courtyard of Orange Trees

The Mosque Surrounding the Cathedral

The Mihrab

               Another Tourist Highlight: The Roman Bridge and Museum of Al-Andalus:

If you’re a Roman history fan you may enjoy walking across the "Roman Bridge" across the Guadalquivir, though it would be disappointing to spend a lot of time thinking about how little of the original Roman structure is left.

The Bridge And Gateway

The Museum of Al-Andalus (the Moorish name for the area from which Andalucía comes), across the river from most of Tourist Córdoba in the Calahorra Tower, is worth a stop. Molly enjoyed the dioramas and the audio of the surprisingly similar teachings of Seneca (Roman scholar), Maimonides (Jewish scholar/physician) and Averroes (Muslim scholar/lawyer). Her enthusiasm wasn’t shared by everyone.

Calahorra Tower (Originally Built By The Moors in 12th Century)

But on one level there were ..... Roman mosaics (which make up for the Bridge's low level of Roman-ness)! 

Tragic Actor

                An Okay Tourist Stop: El Álcazar of the Catholic Monarchs / Fortress of Isabelle and Ferdinand II:

If you are on a tour of Andalucía, don't worry if you miss this particular Álcazar (fort). There are better Álcazars. But if you have time there are some nice views from the walls and some pretty gardens. 

Álcazar Fountains

Stroller Parking Lot At The Álcazar

               An Informative Tourist Wander: La Judería (The Pre-Expulsion Jewish Quarter):

One afternoon, as Bryce treated a bout of Tourist Fatigue with a nap, Molly soldiered on and explored an interesting part of Córdoba: La Judería.

As background, we offer the following, highly simplified information about Spain’s Sephardic Jews. 
  • A “Sephardic Jew” is, simplistically put, someone descended from the Jews of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). Interestingly the Hebrew word for Spain is pronounced “se-fah-rahd”.
  • The Moors allowed the Iberian Jewish population to live unmolested – for a price. They levied a tax on both Christians and Jews during their period of control; the original "pay-to-play".
  • As the Moors were driven out, town by town, life became more difficult for the Jewish population. Apparently there were some nasty pogroms as early as 1391 which prompted many to convert to Catholicism. Historical evidence suggests that many of these conversos were only nominal converts and that they continued to live separately and practice some aspects of Judaism in secret.  
  • At some point in time before 1492 the Jewish residents of Córdoba were “encouraged” to move to a small area of town north of La Mezquita.
  • In 1492 the Catholic Monarchs finally reconquered all of Spain and expelled the Moors. On a Catholic purification roll, they issued a decree offering practitioners of Judaism residing in Spain a choice: convert or leave the country (the “Alhambra Decree”). 
  • Those who converted and the pre-existing conversos were not left in peace. The Inquisition (an arm of the Catholic church supported by the Spanish monarchy) relentlessly "investigated" them on charges of heresy (practicing Judaism in secret) for the next 400+ years (the Inquisition operated into the 19th century).
  • In 2015, the Spanish government offered a streamlined citizenship process to descendants of expelled Sephardic Jews to atone for The Alhambra Decree.
Because she knew some of this sad history, Molly visited the Casa de Sefarad, a private museum with the stated mission of recovering and restoring the Sephardic identity as a fundamental component of Spanish identity. Despite this lofty goal, Molly entered the Casa de Sefarad with a healthy dose of skepticism due to an unfortunate visit to an embarrassingly hokey “Inquisition Museum” in Mexico several years ago. But the Casa de Sefarad was much better than she had feared.

This isn’t a world class museum – but it is an earnest attempt by some Sephardic Jews and scholars of Sephardic Judaism to provide information about the culture and its diaspora. It’s definitely worth a visit.

Molly’s other stop in La Judería was the Sinagoga (Synagogue) – the remains of a small, possibly private or family synagogue built in 1314-15. The building was seized following the Alhambra Decree and used as a hospital. Over the centuries its purposed morphed and by the 19th century it was being used as the chapel for a shoemakers' guild. The its original purpose was identified in 1884 by a priest when some plaster fell off a wall and some Hebrew inscriptions were revealed. 

The Women's Gallery

Mezuzah - Exterior Doorway

The Sinagoga is a small site – but very worth seeing. One can't help but think of the 170 years of prayers and rituals that took place there before its congregants were forcibly evicted.

               A Personal Mission:

One of our afternoons in Córdoba was spent casting our votes in the now infamous 2016 Federal Election. We left the US before our California ballots were available and had made arrangements to vote as non-residents. The process seemed very easy: request ballot via the Internet, print out ballot, fill out ballot, send ballot via mail or fax. We of course waited too long to mail our ballot because it sounded like it would be easiest to just fax it in. Sadly we gave no thought to just how old school faxing has become!

No one at our hotel seemed to know how to work the fax machine. So we hired a taxi and, armed with the addresses of two different Mailboxes Etc. stores (yes, in Spain!) at opposite ends of Córdoba, we set off to vote. One office had been closed permanently, the other did not have a working fax machine. The young woman at the open office looked at us as though we were asking to send a telegraph: “We don’t use faxes in Europe much any more.” Disheartened, we returned to our hotel where, eventually someone worked through how to operate the hotel’s fax machine. We performed our duty as Citizens of the Republic.

Not that it worked out all that well for us.

Resort Living In Marbella And Más de los White Villages November 4 – 9

On to the resort living portion of our program: We took the train (32.60 euros each with our senior discount) from Córdoba to the beach-side resort of Málaga where we met our friends Bob and Kathy Romano. We picked up a rental car and Bob drove us to the even tonier beachside resort of Marbella (Spanish pron: mar-BAY-yah) where they had invited us to stay in their lovely two-bedroom condo at the Marriott Marbella Beach Resort. It’s good to have friends; even better are friends with time-share units on beautiful beaches!

For the next couple of days we did damned near nothing. We didn’t even take pictures apparently.

Once we had attained a sufficient state of relaxation, we took a day trip through some of The White Villages (for some background on The White Villages, see our prior post about Andalucía -- here.We insisted that Bob and Kathy should see Ronda, so we went there first. We walked through the old town, enjoyed a nice lunch and walked under the New Bridge.

The Romanos Of Ronda

We enjoyed showing Bob and Kathy around Ronda, and we even saw a few things we hadn't noticed before. One was a bird sculpture (we didn't confirm what it was made of) perched out on a . . . very precarious place.

Bryce Wonders What Persuaded The Guy Who Put It There . . . ? 

From Ronda we drove to another of The White Villages: Setenil de las Bodegas.

Setenil is famous for structures built into rock overhangs overlooking a river gorge (often called “cave houses”). A lot of people go there to see these structures. On Sunday the town’s population of about 3,000 at least doubles with people gawking at the unique “cave houses”. 

Travel Tips: (1) Do NOT drive through Setenil unless you have purchased a complete insurance package for your rental car.  (2) Do NOT go to Setenil on a Sunday. Trust us on both of these points.

As we entered town we passed several parking lots which appeared to be full – some with large tourist buses. This should have been our first clue. But we pressed on. Our driver, Bob, drew our attention to the fact that every single car parked along the narrow roads of Setenil had a scraped quarter panel. That could have been clue number two. Soon it became clear that we could not turn around – we were committed to continuing to wherever the narrow, one-way road would take us.

And then we entered the high tourist zone: a rock overhang above us, tourists to both sides of us. We could have reached out the car windows and swiped drinks off of the bar tables we were passing. We think Bob and Kathy got some pictures – but Team Arnold-Andrews was too terrified that any pictures we took might be evidence of the rental car side-swiping some tourist’s tapas. So the following shots are from the internet. These shots do not appear to have been taken on a high-impact Sunday afternoon, but they give a general idea of how narrow the streets are . . .

As the road arced out of town the four of us let out a collective sigh of relief: no rental car damage, no squished tourists, no tapas were damaged. Finally, we passed a parking lot with an available space. “Anyone want to park and walk back into town?” asked Bob. Uh, no.

On Monday we took another day trip from our resort base, but we’ll cover that in a separate post because – it was A Whole ‘Nother Country!  We went to GIBRALTAR. Passports and all. Very cool; more on that later.

We lost Tuesday to Election Shock. We all felt a bit queasy and stunned and were too upset to even drink wine as a remedy. But this is a travel blog, so we'll leave it at that.

Then we departed for a few nights in Granada, one of the subjects of our next posts!

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