Weeks of sorting and organising thousands of photos have enabled me to discover albums of hidden gems I had almost forgotten about. With our blogger friends (Oli and David) living it large in Malaga, I can’t help but reminisce about the last trip Mo and I made to Spain over a year ago. I wrote about our weekend exploring Madrid, and then that was it. I’ve not really shared much else.
So let’s jump from the beginning… to the end!
Last stop on our 10 day Spanish road trip: Cordoba
Visits to the South of Spain are usually centred around the coastal resorts, Granada or Seville if you head west. Cordoba is still part of the Andalucia region but perhaps not top of the list on places to visit. Or at least I didn’t think so.
Where we stayed
We stayed at the Ayre Hotel, Cordoba. A decent hotel. We had a lovely room, the hotel itself seemed a bit dated (quite 80s), but it was pleasant, clean surrounded by beautiful greenery and reasonably priced, so we weren’t complaining.
We enjoyed a meal at the hotel restaurant, again nothing to write home about but it was nice. There was also an outside pool which we couldn’t wait to check out – although it took us a while to step inside as it was FREEZING. And watching people get in and out was great entertainment, all of us egging each other on to at least give it a go.
What we did
There’s quite a bit to do in Cordoba but Mo and I were slightly pressed for time. Well actually, we probably could have done more, but we did choose to spend an afternoon by the pool, sacrificing sight seeing for an afternoon of relaxation. But of course, we made sure that the one place we did visit was the beautiful Mezquita.
Truly a unique building, Mezquita is known not just as the Great mosque of Cordoba, but as a mosque-cathedral. Famous for being one of the most accomplished examples of Moorish architecture, this is one not to miss when you’re in the city.
To briefly touch on its history, a small church originally stood on the site which was apparently used as a prayer site for both Muslims and Christians (however this latter point has been debated). In 784 when Abd Al-Rahman took control of the city, the construction of the Great mosque began, and the building was considerably expanded by later Muslim rulers. In 1236 Cordoba returned to Christian rule and the building was then converted to a Roman Catholic Church, how it remains today.
It’s quite surreal walking through the archways and rooms, as the presence of both religions is visible. The archways themselves threw me right back to those we regularly saw in the Holy mosque in Makkah, so similar in colouring and style and in some places, material.
The most striking feature once you walk in is that of the hypostyle hall, over 800 columns made from Roman temple remains and onyx and marble and jasper I believe. The ceilings are high, the lighting varies as you walk through, the arches inspired by those from Al Aqsa mosque in the Palestinian capital, Jerusalem.
The mihrab (from where Muslim congregational prayers are led by the Imam) is absolutely stunning, full of traditional Islamic art feature such as geometric patterns, religious calligraphy, fluid patterns and lots of symmetry. For those who don’t already know, the mihrab is the part of the mosque which indicates the ‘qibla’ – the direction Muslims face when praying. The mihrab is usually a semi circular niche built into the wall, you’ll find them or variations of them, in nearly all traditional mosques.
Of course, as the mosque was converted into a cathedral, there are also a lot of Christian elements. The minaret was converted into a bell tower, which you can check out actually, the views over the city from the top are quite spectacular. And of course spend some time in the courtyard too, appreciate the scale of this heritage site and enjoy the fresh pools and orange trees that add a bit of tranquility to this popular tourist hot spot.
Aside from Mezquita, we also spent some time exploring the nooks and crannies of the city, wandering from street to street with no real plan, except to enjoy the fresh, warm air and the new environment.
What we ate
Probably the most iconic food story of our trip happened here, in Cordoba. So you may want to pay attention…
It was our final night in Spain. It had been an amazing trip, Mo and I had loved every second of our journey, even the hours spent in the car had felt like an adventure and we were quite sad to call an end to it all. But alas, the trip had to end some time, so we decided we’d see it off in style with an extra special meal out. We both put on our finest outfits. I even spent time straightening my hair, totally going above and beyond my normal holiday get up and go routine.
Our hotel was slightly outside of the city centre so we were excited at the prospect of finding a local restaurant, one that would boast authentic food, charming atmosphere, preferably some good quality tapas. We looked around on google for places nearby and we were a bit stumped, so we decided to go down and have chat with the hotel concierge. Map in hand he mentioned an area of trendy restaurant bars, popular with young professionals, where locals in the area go. That was it, that was exactly what we were after.
We hopped into the car and drove down to the location hotel concierge man had mapped out, and yes there it was, a street lined with trendy looking joints, Mo and I were excited for a lovely evening ahead. We parked up and started walking down… both of us wondering whether we should be concerned at how quiet it seemed. It was definitely dinner time? There were plenty of cars? Where were all the people?!?
A few strolls up and down we found there was only one place that seemed to be truly open for business, it looked nice, everyone around us spoke only Spanish. Looks like we hit the jackpot. We walked to the back where everyone seemed to be congregating and asked the lovely waitress for a table for two. She looked oddly at us, pointing to a few options in a gesture that sort of signified ‘take your pick.’ Being outdoor, a lot of the other tables were occupied by smokers, so we picked a place slightly away from the action.
All smiles, Mo and I were excited again. Food time! The waitress popped back asking if we wanted drinks, as she popped a bowl of peanuts in front of us. We asked to see the food menu. Again the waitress looked quizzically at us. We asked again and to our surprise we were handed a one page third of an A4 leaflet with poor lamination advertising no more than four food options (yes I’m a graphic designer so the paper quality means something to me).
Oh dear. What the heck was going on.
Trying to stay positive, we’d already made all this effort to get here we might as well just order what we can and make the most of it. So… two pizzas it was as that was literally the only thing we could actually eat on the menu. To be fair we’d had a really good baguettini style pizza before so it wouldn’t be so bad having it again. And this was a nice place so surely they can’t go wrong with a margherita.
Midway through our chat about how odd this ‘restaurant’ was Mo gasped. Eyes popping out of his head.
Mo: You’re not going to believe this
Mo: The waitress is making our pizza
Me: So? What’s the problem?
Mo: You need to see how she’s making it
Mo: She has just reached into the freezer.
Mo: Picked up a double pack of Dr Oetker pizza
Me: what… the….
Mo: She has taken them out of the box
Me: are you su-
Mo: And into the microwave they go.
Needless to say not long after dinner was served. We had a good laugh. It didn’t taste that bad. But boy oh boy that was one) not the fancy meal we had in mind and two) as if we just paid EIGHT Euros for a ready meal pizza!??!?!
Luckily, the next day we redeemed ourselves, determined to ensure the fine dining German chef Dr Oetker was not our final food memory of Spain. After our visit to the Mezquita, we thankfully enjoyed the meal we had been craving. Taberna La Romana – Reasonably priced, freshly-cooked (I repeat freshly-cooked) with tables looking out over the bridge to the Calahorra tower and for anyone who’s after a great gift, there’s a beautiful silver jewellery shop just next door, Joaquin Espaliu Designs.
When I grew up in Saudi Arabia, there was actually a compound named ‘Cordoba’ where a number of school friends lived. It’s quite weird thinking that back in those days I never realised Cordoba was actually a city, let alone one with such a great history and such beautiful landscapes. Our trip there was short but it was sweet and we’re glad we took the time to pass through on our way back to Madrid.
As a Muslim, the South of Spain is a truly special place, as it really is so interesting to learn and to see so clearly the influence the Ummayid leaders left behind and what part it played in shaping some of these areas.
Of course, the question we always ask, would Mo and I go back?
Definitely, there’s so much we didn’t get a chance to see: Calahorra tower, museum of fine arts and the Roman temple of Cordoba to name but a few.
However the next time we do make a trip over, we’ll be sure to do a much more comprehensive search on restaurants and fine dining beforehand. We’ll save Dr Oetker for the Aldi shop back home.
Have you been to Cordoba? What did you think?