Córdoba 

Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba

Today’s day trip is a visit to Córdoba, a city a little over an hour from where I staying. Córdoba is famous for La Mezquita – a mosque/cathedral, as well as its beautiful garden patios. The city is rich in Muslim and roman history.

Ten years ago I tried to visit Córdoba as a day trip from Sevilla. I had planned that trip with lots of unreasonable expectations; it is hard enough to keep yourself to a timeline and even harder if you have another person traveling with you. We couldn’t make the day trip to Córdoba happen. It has always been in the back of my mind that I needed to return. Therefore I am here today doing that day trip, finally.

The train ride to Córdoba is about an hour long from Granada. I book the 7:30 am train and knowing that sometimes trips sell out I book my return trip as well. The afternoon train times are pricey so I decide to take the 8:10 PM in the evening and decide I’ll just enjoy the extra time in the city. This is a poor decision on my part for reasons I will explain shortly.

Today’s itinerary contains a number of planning failures. Today is a Monday and I failed doing the appropriate research for visiting on a Monday. I correctly booked in advance my visit to La Mezquita (Catedral de Córdoba) since those tickets are limited. However I failed to realize that a great number of places of interest are actually closed on Mondays. This is amateur error on my part – I am typically good at picking up these nuances. Things being generally closed combined with face-melting heat make this day trip an interesting visit (my analogy for today’s weather is that it feels similar to what you see in the Raiders of the Lost Arc when the nazi’s, rightly so, have their faces melted).

Upon my arrival I start from the train station and wander the quiet streets of Córdoba with the destination of La Mezquita de Córdoba .

I enter the courtyard and patiently wait for the opening of La Mezquita which also happens to be my scheduled reservation time. While waiting I hear the bells chime from the Bell Tower.

Finally its time to line up and enter.

The structure I am entering was started as a Visigoth basilica in the 6th century and then turned into a mosque and then a cathedral. In its history it has expanded many times by different rulers. The diagrams and audio tour talks about each expansion. La Mezquita another good example of mixing lots of different styles into one building.

I notice another painting of my now favorite giant from the bible, Saint Christopher.

The mezquita is quite large but I have finally reached the end of my visit. I’ve worked up an appetite so I stop for a quick snack.

Manolas Empanadas

After my snack I hit my first road block: the Museo Taurino de Córdoba is closed on Mondays. However behind the museum and down the alley is a nice little artist alcove. It is here I finally get to see one of the patios that the city is famous for.

Museo Taurino de Córdoba

I almost find myself buying some earings by an artesian here but unable to decide on a pair I walk away empty handed.

Nearby I view Estatua de Maimónides, a bronze sculpture of the philosopher, theologian & doctor, Cordovan Ben Maimónides.

I walk on to discover the La Sinagaga is another place closed today. I am not averaging well for my sightseeing checklist so far.

Bodega Guzmán is nearby. I stop here and order boquerones and a glass of a local wine Montilla-Moriles. The wine is more of a sherry. The place seems authentic. I am glad I stop here to escape the heat.

I can’t stay here all day and drink so I venture back out. I walk inside the city walls as well as along the outside. I notice the residences along the walls.

Eventually it seems like a good time for lunch. I end up at Taberna Rafaé based on a recommendation I viewed online. I order an traditional oxtail dish to get a feel of the regional cuisine. The stew has very good flavor and reminds of a type of boeuf bourguignonne.

There is more wandering after lunch, for whatever is actually open, which is not much. Instead I eye buildings, statues and gardens.

Another popular place to visit in town is the palace Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos but of course it is closed today as well, though I read I didn’t miss much here except maybe the gardens.

I walk by the Puente Romano de Córdoba the historic picturesque bridge in town. It is a 1st century Roman bridge.

Its been hot all day but its about now when it becomes face melting hot (100+ degrees farenheit). I find a shaded bench in a park and try to nap and cool down but the best I do is do some reading on my phone. I don’t last long here though because I get bored. I want to head back to Granada but the earlier train times are sold out or too expensive.

My visit to Cordoba would have been enhanced with viewing some of the patios the city is famous for. Unfortunately I miss the festival of patios by a month or two. There are still some patios that can be viewed for an admission price but there are limited hours for the touring and I have missed the window for this today. Today is really poorly planned. I do sneak a look at patios through gates inside a quiet residential area. The streets are empty. Only crazy tourists like me are outside in this heat.

When I return to the main tourist area all the day trippers are gone. At least I have a mostly solo visit to the beautiful Calleja de las Flores.

I’ve given up sightseeing and start looking for a place with air conditioning or something similar. I find a courtyard bar with shade and misting fans. It is not busy and I end up getting a free glass of wine. I am loving it here because I rarely get anything offered to me for free.

Eventually the courtyard bar completely clears out and so do I (I don’t want to be the only customer). My next destination is a market I remember this morning when I was walking from the train station. The major tourist areas are too quiet and hot for my taste and the market is at least closer to the train station. The market, Mercado Victoria, is beautiful indoors. Not many vendors are open because it is early but I get a very delicious Negroni cocktail while I relax in the air conditioning. It seems like others here have the same plan as I.

It is finally time for me to walk over to the train station to take my train back to Granada.

When I arrive back in Granada it is late so restaurants are closing along my walk back to the train station. Luckily the street that contains my hotel has some late night eateries. I stop at Restaurante Tetería Palmira which is a Syrian/Lebanese/Moroccan restaurant. I order the shish kabob platter and it hits the spot after a long hot day of sightseeing.

It is late but the streets are still alive nearby. I’ve had a long day so I call it a night.

Tomorrow I have a scheduled reservation for the Alhambra. I’m anticipating that will take up much of the day. Good night.

Moving on to Granada

Cathedral de Granada

It is very early. As I walk from my hotel to the train station this morning there are young people still coming back from the clubs, I didn’t even know there were clubs in Ronda.

It’s funny to see people coming back from the clubs when I am out catching a morning train. Seems like a lifetime ago but I used to be a person coming back from a club as the sun rises.

A thing I notice is that there are no cafe’s open for me to get a cup of coffee. My room in Ronda is the only room I stay in this trip that doesn’t have a coffee pot for me to at least make instant coffee. I can go without food but not coffee. I feel like I am going to die (being a little dramatic here). I didn’t plan this morning well at all. Fortunately the restaurant at the train station opens just in time for me to get a café con leche to go a few minutes before my train arrives.

For my journey I have to switch trains in Antequera once more; this time there is no drama. I arrive in Granada around 10:30 am but I am still many hours from check in to my hotel. I have saved instructions for taking the bus to my hotel but since I have so much time I decide to walk to get a feel for the area, it is only a 20 minute walk and the weather is not too unbearably hot, yet.

I head to my hotel and as I suspect I am way too early for my room. Instead of just dropping my bag I decide this is a great time to clean my clothes, this later proves to be a great idea because I quickly sweat through everything the next couple days. I have a laundromat mapped out down the street but I need detergent. It is challenging finding a store that carries detergent and when I do it is a very large bottle. I don’t like carrying extra weight when I travel so the plan is to just leave it for the next consumer at the laundromat. When I arrive to the laundromat I notice that none of the washers need detergent added since they all automatically provide their own. I find this to be common in Spain during the rest of my travels. I leave the detergent bottle there anyway. There is some drama with another customer and a dryer not working well. I try to chat with him in Spanish the best I can. Luckily I have my eye on one of the smaller dryers anyway.

By the time my laundry is cleaned and repacked into my backpack my room is ready at Hotel Posada del Toro. The hotel is located in a 19th century building and has lots of interesting architectural details. My room is a good size and has working air conditioning! I also have a view of the courtyard but I keep my window mostly closed due to privacy. I can see leaving this window open during cooler months though.

I drop my things and head out. The hotel is located in the old town of Granada. I eye many middle eastern restaurants nearby and I start planning which ones I want to visit later. There are also many shops selling different clothing and other things tourists may want. I am not much for shopping but I eye the displays.

I end up near the cathedral. There is a street performer break dancing so I stop to watch the performance.

I enter into the nearby Iglesia Parroquial del Sagrario. It is free and a retreat from the sun.

Around the corner is the Capilla Real de Granada or Royal Chapel of Granada. This is where some past royals are entombed, including Ferdinand & Isabella. I tour inside but they don’t allow photos.

I finally find the entrance to the Catedral de Granada and spend some time touring inside.

It is getting late and I don’t want to miss eating lunch due to siesta so I settle at an outdoor cafe that seems to be a local chain, Los Manueles Restaurante (Catedral). I order the very rich and filling noodles with prawns and squid ink sauce. It is good and I ask myself why I rarely order pasta dishes anymore. The meal gives me the energy to wander some more.

I discover the Plaza De Bib Rambla. There are a number of appetizing looking cafes here. I make a mental note to return at a later time.

I do some window shopping and wandering down the different alleys.

I’ve had a large late lunch so I’m not particularly hungry for the evening. I find a wine and cheese store where I purchase a bottle of local wine and an assortment of Spanish cheeses. I have a refrigerator to keep it all so I can snack on this the next few days. It is hot so return to my room and go to bed early. Tomorrow I have an appointment to visit the alcazar in Córdoba.

Out to fancytown, my Michelin experience

Today I spent the day exploring Ronda but tonight I have fancy dinner plans. I am dining at Bardal, a two-star Michelin restaurant.

I return to my hotel to prepare for the evening. Not important but it is a chance to display the cool hallway.

hallway in my hotel
Puento Nuevo again

Bardal is close to my hotel. I arrive early so I walk the surrounding area and look at the bullfighting ring. I take a picture from the outside but that is the extent of my visit. I am not a big fan of using animals for sport anymore in fact I’m not sure why I am not a vegetarian….perhaps because I like the taste of meat too much to give it up totally. Maybe someday I’ll evolve.

Plaza de Toros (bullring) near restaurant
bardal restaurant

I still arrive a little early for my reservation that was made well in advance. I am a solo diner but they don’t make me feel like I am a freak as some places often do. The staff defaults to speaking English, I assume because it is a high end restaurant and most of the guests around me are English speaking. I usually take opportunities like dining out to practice my Spanish vocabulary but this meal will be too complicated for me to understand every item and I really want to know what I am eating.

I have been to only a couple Michelin starred restaurants and those were in NYC. What I am experiencing tonight is a bit different from those experiences. Dining here is expensive and I expect that but this is a once (or rare) in a lifetime experience; I am willing to pay the money for it.

Chef Benito Gomez specializes in small dishes concentrating on ingredients found regionally. There are two menu choices and I order the smaller menu with the accompanied wine pairings. The smaller menu is a good choice; even though the dishes are small in size, the sheer number of them still leave me quite satisfied at the end of the evening.

The dishes and style of serving are very unique. It is like I am looking at individual works of art as each one arrives at my table.

We begin with a long line of starters and their wine pairings.

The first course came out with 3 items…..The mushroom course

I am instructed how to eat each each item. I don’t pay attention enough to the instructions so when I try to bite down on the mushroom bun the insides explode all over the place. I’ve made a mess and it is only the first course. I like this course very much and enjoy the different ways the mushrooms are prepared.

Starting top going clockwise: Pine nuts pudding and sour juice of mushrooms, creamy mushroom and cadiz blue cheese bun, mushrooms and pine nuts infusion

There are three more courses of appetizers. Many are served on top of interesting platters that are not meant to be consumed along with the item. Fortunately I am told what I can eat and what is decoration only. This meal needs an instruction manual! For the Rossini picanha I eat in what I later learn is caveman style: I grab the bone with both hands and eat the meat out of the middle. Also in this course a tuna is served on a bed of rocks surrounded by non-edible seaweed and a sea urchin is served in stone bowl to be scooped by a wooden spoon.

From the bottom left going clockwise: tuna and seaweed, rossini picanha, sea urchin and raifort

The next starter is another type of meat I have never tried, a cock crest. I had to do some research on this afterwards; the cock crest, or comb, is the fleshy part on top of a chicken (or turkey’s) head. I read it is hard to prepare because is both a hard to clean and rare to find. In this case it served over a bowl of dried corn (not edible). No complaints with this unique course.

cock’s crest with bernaise sauce

The last starter is the “salad”. It is a tasty inner piece of lettuce with a creamy beef sauce.

Grilled lettuce hearth and beef emulsion

Soon the main courses begin. We start with a lobster with split peas and caviar. A piece of bread accompanies the dish with a spicy Spanish salad spread.

Next is the sea anemone with green sauce. It is my first time trying a sea anemone and I am quite pleased. Look at how gorgeous this plating is?!?

sea anemone with green sauce

Next is the calçot with payoyo cheese (a local cheese). A calçot is a type of green onion (also similar to a leek) that is grilled. It is a simple and small but very enjoyable course.

The next course is the bread course. I normally don’t get excited about restaurant bread but the two different types of breads with the accompanied olive oil and butter are amazing. I forget the story behind the butter but I love butter with a story. The calories and fat don’t count as much when the butter has a good origin story, right?

For the next four courses, the two standouts are the aubergine fricando and the baby goat. I am not a fan of the consistency and accompanying sauce for the hake cheek with corn, coriander and vanilla. I find it strange this course doesn’t work for me because I normally like fish cheeks and the flavor of coriander; perhaps the corn and vanilla combination is a turn off for me. The monkfish a la espalda is good but not one of my favorites from all the courses. The final savory course is a baby goat with spinach and a kidney with perigordine sauce. They were both very good. I’ve had goat before but never this way and this is my first time trying kidney. I’ve read it is healthy to eat organ meat. This is a good alternative since I do not care for liver.

Finally we reach the dessert courses and the first item is a celeriac cake with fennel. I am not a fan of fennel but I don’t mind this dish. Celeriac is a turnip like root vegetable sort of related to celery. I am not sure I’ve ever noticed it in supermarkets in the USA. The cake has a nutty flavor and the fennel compliments it. Also it isn’t too sweet. I don’t care for desserts that are overpowered with sweetness.

The next course of chocolate and almond is not overly sweet as well.

The final course it is a collection of petit-fours or smaller items. Being very full from all the food and wine I take a bite out of each one but I don’t completely finish this course.

At this point in the evening the generous wine pours kick in and the conversation volume levels get louder in the room. One of the servers brings out another piece of art, but no it is the bill only. I am also given a list of all the dishes served this evening. This is a nice touch because there is no way I can remember all that is served. I do really wish I had the wine list though because I loved most of the pairings and would have liked to share them with others. Probably the only improvement on my experience would be including the wine list at the end.

I am very glad I booked dinner at Bardal. It was worth every EURO.

Spain: Into the gorge of Ronda

Peacock at La Casa del Rey Moro

I don’t have much sightseeing planned in Ronda but one thing on my agenda is to hike down to an old mine to get a view of the gorge from down below. The access to this is through La Casa del Rey Moro. But first breakfast.

I’m taking many stairs today so the goal is make sure I have a large enough breakfast to hold me over a few hours. In addition, I have a fancy dinner scheduled this evening; I want to skip lunch so I have the appetite to enjoy all the courses tonight. More on that later.

Not many things open early in this town but I do find a restaurant a nearby that serves breakfast early enough. The breakfast is perfect. I order coffee and one of the biggest dishes on the menu. I am excited when plates of things are brought out to me. Many Spanish breakfasts consist of toasted bread with a spread on it such as crushed tomatoes. This morning I am given a number of choices to spread all over my toast: crushed tomatoes, olive oil, butter, jam, sobrasada pate (ground pork sausage, paprika and spices), zurrapa de lomo (another pork pate), and zurrapa de hígado (liver pate). I had fun making all kinds of combinations with all the toppings. The only one I didn’t care for is the liver pate but I am not a fan of liver normally. My order also includes a side of eggs and ham. In retrospect I didn’t really need the eggs and ham since the toast is more than enough. I am now well nourished for my day.

I head over to La Casa del Rey Moro to check out the water mine. La Casa del Rey Moro is palace is from the Nasrid period that has never actually housed a moorish king (the translation of Rey Moro). The appeal of this property is its gardens and water mine. Currently you can not visit the house but you can take about 300 steps down to the gorge below to see the remnants of a water mine and the clear water below.

I pass the gardens and head directly to the mine. I am expecting it to be busy because it is one of the few things to do in town but surprisingly I only see a couple people attempting the stairs. I head down the wet, cavernous stone staircase. I should have downloaded the audio guide in advance because there is no WIFI available. I feel like I am missing out on some important commentary on the way down. (Note: I am always forgetting to pre-download audio guides this trip).

With things like these I always get a set of stairs that are very tall which are always challenging for my short legs, this place was no exception.

I reach the bottom and get a great view of the water. It is very clear. I have the urge to jump in and swim. There is no sign prohibiting it nor is there any security or persons around to see me, but I don’t attempt it. Perhaps on a warmer day I might have taken the chance.

I stay a while and observe the birds flying above. I am by myself for at least 20 minutes, probably more. Another couple comes down the stairs onto the deck area, I chat with them a bit then start my ascent, giving them the same privacy I was given.

I stop a couple stories up to what looks like a storage area that might have been used during battle times.

I return to the top and explore the gardens and the view from the gardens.

There is an adorable peacock chick in the garden. I watch it carefully following its mother around.

After my visit I head towards the Baños Árabes or arab baths. It isn’t too far from here.

church near Baños Árabes

Baños Árabes Yacimiento Arqueológico is positioned at the beginning one of the old town entrances. During the days of Muslim rule a person had to enter the baths in order to enter the town. I watch a movie that describes how the baths work and how steam is used instead of warm pools. There is also a garden outside that is recreated as it would have been in the past for aid in the purification of the body and the soul.

I continue my day by following around the edge of town to look at the muralles or old stone walls. There are beautiful patches of wildflowers along the sides of the city.

I circle around to the south end of Ronda. A bride and groom pass me of the road in an old timey car.

There are a couple more things I can see in town but I done with sightseeing for the day. I find an outdoor cafe and have a beer.

Soon I’ll be heading to my fancy dinner. More on that later.

Spain: Sweet Ronda

I am leaving Madrid and heading to Ronda this morning. Today is an early morning start since my train leaves at 7:30 am from Atocha. I take the subway to the train station. The ride from Madrid to Ronda is anywhere from 3 1/2 hours to 4 1/2 hours. I choose the 3.5 hour trip but it includes a stop and a train change. On this train ride is where I start to notice that train cars will occasionally not have the coach number on the outside making it especially challenging when trying to find your correct car (Spain has assigned seating for all its long distance trains). I eventually find what I believe is the correct car by process of elimination. Travel by train in Spain is mostly pleasant: trains are clean, they are roomy even in economy class, temperature is comfortable, and noise level is low. I do occasionally treat myself to an upgrade while I travel if the price is right. For some reason (perhaps it was lack of sleep) I thought that this particular route was one I upgraded myself for. When trying to find my coach this train of thought combined with the lack of numbers outside led me to sitting in the incorrect car in someone else’s seat (the seat number matched though). There is an awkward situation of me getting kicked out of the business class. So here I am with my bulky backpacks, trying to quickly pack up; I already spread all my junk out for my trip….breakfast sandwich, ipad, coffee, etc. I am pretty sure I was a disturbance to all the business travelers that morning. Once packed up I pass through a couple of coaches and find what I believe is my seat, and confirm it with the train employee this time. My correct seat isn’t terrible. I can relax again.

We arrive late for our train stop in Antequera. I have some anxiety for this since there is only ten minutes allocated for my connection. Luckily the train to Ronda is held because a majority on my train are heading there as well.

We arrive to Ronda little after 11:00 AM. The hotel is about a 15 minute walk from the train station. I still have many hours before check in but I am heading to the hotel to drop off my bags. I walk down a busy shopping pedestrian street. There are many shops and cafes. A person eating at one of the cafes notices my college t-shirt and stops me to chat a bit since he is also an alumni. It is fun to see my commuter school grow to the popularity it has now over the years. When I first started traveling internationally I would have never met someone from my college.

Main Ronda shopping district

I drop my bags off at my hotel and wander around a quiet part of Ronda.

There are some day-trippers and tour groups but overall the town is not ruined by over tourism. The pandemic seemed to hit this town like everywhere else (closed businesses, etc) but for the most part it seems to do well. They don’t have many “must-sees” so it doesn’t get crowded and has maintained it charm somewhat. I love staying in slower paced towns like this. It is like a vacation from my vacation.

I spend some time at one overlook area where a guy is playing contemporary songs on the Spanish guitar.

I find a park and admire the flowering trees.

Bring on all the flowers…..

I feel the need for a snack or even lunch. I search restaurant menus for the special gazpacho of the region (ojo blanco -Spanish White Garlic Soup) but I can’t find it. I settle for a café that has the local cheese payoyo that I want to try (goat cheese). I order cheese and a normal gazpacho. The cheese plate is very large for one person; getting too much cheese is a common theme for my travels. It is in Ronda where the idea occurs to use the Ziplock bags to carry my cheese, and sometimes croquettes, to go. Yes, I’m the person squirreling away food in my purse… thank goodness I carry Ziplock bags with me when I travel.

After I eat I finally check into my hotel and clean up. The hotel, Hotel Don Miguel, is not fancy but it is clean and has a million dollar view.

Later on I go for a walk around town and find a park with curvy paths and a view of the cliffsides and bridge. I see olive trees that make me want to reach out and grab the olives with my fingers.

Oives

I take a smaller stone bridge across the crevice.

I start walking back toward the main street that crosses the crevice. I hear peacock noises. I know them well because we have random peacocks in the neighborhoods I used to do my training runs in Florida. There is one sitting on the fence of the place I plan to visit tomorrow.

Tonight the goal is to try some local wines. I find the perfect tapas bar close to the hotel to do this. I have a view of the iconic bridge and a nice breeze from a cool late afternoon. I try the white asparagus, another regional item, and some other tapas such as ham and salmon. I also get to try a couple local wines.

It’s still early and I want to enjoy my view from my hotel so I buy a bottle of wine and some chocolates for dessert to enjoy on my balcony. Have I mentioned how I love the temperatures here? It is hot during the day due to the humidity and sun but the temperatures are not unbearable. The evenings are gloriously cool. It is almost like it is still spring in this town. I love it!

golden hour

While I sit on my patio Spanish guitar player plays Stairway to Heaven across the way.

I enjoy the view from my hotel room until after dark. Loving the Andalucía life.