Córdoba is a beautiful “little” city of around 325,000 people. It seems small and quaint coming from Madrid, but the impression of its size depends on what you experience. If you stick to the old town and the historical sites, you feel like the city is a tiny little village. But if you keep walking to the northern part of town, you see the old start blending with the new, and suddenly, you’re in a bustling area full of modern stores and packed with people. It is a charming duality I didn’t expect. Everything I read before the trip about Córdoba focused on the historical sights, but like many places, it is more than the headline attractions.
We began our day with a tour of the most well-known historical site, La Mezquita. Our ticket was for a 10 am entry, so we lined up about ten minutes before that and were already a hundred or so people back. The line moved quickly once they opened the doors, and we began our exploration of the stunning architecture inside. The former mosque converted into a Catholic Cathedral didn’t disappoint; it lived up to its billing. The candy cane arches were terrific, and at the right angle, they looked like they went on for infinity. I wish the lighting had been better for photography, but I still got some pretty good shots. I could shoot this location all day; it was spectacular.
After exploring inside, we walked the courtyard outside for a bit and decided to make our way to the next site. The Calle de las Flores is a beautiful little patio/square between several buildings with lovely flowers hanging on the walls and a fantastic alley view of the tower from La Mezquita.
After looking at the patio, we checked out a large square and market and some Roman columns on the side of the street. Seriously, they’re just kind of taking up space on a corner next to a modern hotel. Then we made our way to the other side of the old town to see the famous Alcazar of the Christian Kings. The walled compound is every bit the medieval-looking fortress you would expect. The best part of the complex is the gardens outside the castle but still inside the walls. This is allegedly where Christopher Columbus briefed Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand on his plan to find a route to India.
We walked the neighborhoods around the castle to see if we could spot any of the famous flowered patios. We were in town right after the annual festival of the flowers ended, so many of the patios were closed, and the ones that were open required tickets to get in. We managed to get inside one for a quick look around and a photo before we were told to leave because we didn’t have tickets. The door was wide open, so it wasn’t obvious you needed to pay to enter; our bad.
Dinner that evening was at the Mercado Victoria, which was pretty cool. Like the San Miguel market in Madrid, there are several food vendors to choose from, a few different bars, and open seating. You order what you want from any of the restaurants and sit and enjoy. We had fantastic Mediterranean food with some of the best falafel I’ve eaten since two Iranian brothers opened a sandwich shop on my college campus.
To walk off some of our dinners, we had Google lead us to the Plaza de las Tendillas, a cool square with a giant statue and some beautiful buildings surrounding it. It is the site of the NYE countdown; apparently, the clock chimes a guitar riff instead of bell chimes. Very modern shops and stores surround the town’s main shopping area. I think we passed eight different shoe shops in a row.
We decided to take a day trip to Seville to explore the city. The train from Córdoba was cheap and relatively quick, and hotel prices in Seville had tripled since I began planning this trip, so we thought this was the best plan. The train platform teemed with people wearing the same blue shirts, soccer fans; the first sign this would not be the day we expected. Apparently, we timed our one day in Seville with the Europa cup final game between the Glasgow Rangers and Eintracht Frankfurt, hence the hotel room price explosion. This meant our trip would be stained by the drunken buffoonery of over 100,000 soccer fans.
We were greeted at the Seville train station by heavily armed police looking very stern, for reasons we would understand later. Every cafe in town was a sea of blue/orange or white as the two teams’ fans were everywhere. Beer indeed was for breakfast as they were chugging beers at 9 am to get ready for the 9 pm game. We later learned the stadium only seats 43,000 people, so over 70,000 fans we encountered wouldn’t be going to the game; they were just there to party.
We found a nice little cafe near the main cathedral for breakfast and then began our walk around town while we waited for our 1 pm tour of the palace and cathedral. The Plaza de Espana and Parques de Maria Luisa were our first stop. The plaza is incredible, but it was also the home of the fan zone for the tournament, so again we were bombarded by chanting soccer fans. The park is enormous and has several fountains and benches to find a bit of shade and peace in the city.
After the gardens, it was time to stroll along the river and head to the Torre del Oro, which looked cool, but we didn’t try to go in or climb to the top; too many people (all German soccer fans waiting to go on river cruises). We walked along the river to the tourist information center, conveniently across the street from the historic bull-fighting arena. The bullring is one of the many locations in Seville used in the filming of Game of Thrones.
We made our way through more winding streets downtown to see the Metropol or Setas de Seville. The very cool wooden sculpture looks like a fan or umbrella over a square and would’ve been a great place to explore, but we were against a time constraint to make our scheduled palace tour, so we couldn’t stick around. Just time for a quick photo. Plus, the area was teeming with already drunk soccer fans… notice a theme yet?
Our guided tour of the Alcazar, Cathedral, and Giralda Tower was amazing. Our guide, Miguel, was super friendly and knew his stuff (he was a Spanish history major). The Alcazar is another excellent historical site of many cultures and styles, from Roman to Muslim, to Catholic. It was also used as the kingdom of Dorne in Game of Thrones, so that was cool. As impressive as the architecture and the ornate tiles and decorations were, the gardens were spectacular. The peacocks roaming the grounds were very friendly and happy to have tourists back after the grounds were deserted during COVID lockdowns.
From the Alcazar, we hit the cathedral, which is different from other massive cathedrals we’ve seen. This is mainly because its footprint was determined by the previous mosque on the site. It had a very wide footprint with five main chambers, so the height of the building’s massive domes was restricted. The inside is incredibly ornate and houses the largest altarpiece in the world. It is simply amazing as it contains pictographs that tell the story of the entire New Testament. The cathedral is also home to the monument/tomb of Christopher Columbus, which might be the most impressive monument I’ve seen inside any cathedral anywhere. His importance to the history of Spain cannot be understated, so it makes sense that he has such a place of honor.
By this point, we were dehydrated and hungry. We found a restaurant with indoor/outdoor seating that wasn’t full of soccer fans and had a decent meal. Then it was off to see the last sight of the day, La Basilica de la Macarena. This adventure was the icing on the cake of the soccer hooligans impacting our trip. About halfway to the basilica, we encountered a police blockade. Apparently, a fight broke out in a square between German and Scottish fans resulting in chairs thrown and a huge melee, so we had to walk a few blocks west and then turn back north to try and reach our destination. Mobs of fans were everywhere, most of them piss drunk and chanting. We finally got to the basilica and went inside to see the incredibly ornate statue of Mary at the altar. It was terrific, but I’m not sure it was worth the effort to get there. A 30-minute walk later, we were on the train back to Córdoba.
What a day. We were both exhausted by the time we got on the train having walked about 11 miles in the 90-degree heat.
A day off
The day of rest. We’ve been going strong for ten days and averaging a little over eight miles of walking every day. With seven weeks to go on this trip, a rest day was in order. We wanted to make a day trip to Cadiz after hearing so many good things about it from people in Madrid, but it was over three hours away by car or train, so that was not going to happen. Our time in Córdoba has ended, and we are glad we stayed here. Our Airbnb host was terrific, the apartment was perfect for us, and the area has so much to offer. I highly recommend visiting here if you come to Spain, even if it’s just for a day.
Granada via Ronda
We left Córdoba for Granada via a detour south and west to see the famous cliff town of Ronda. We found a spot to park and walked to the first overlook on the cliff’s edge, looking down into a beautiful valley. We could see the trail we needed to hike down to get the view everyone posts online. Even with crappy lighting, I knew I could get a great photo of this fantastic town and bridge. After getting a few good shots, we hiked up to the town and looked for a snack spot. The place we found was a bit of a letdown, but they had strong coffee for me, and Crystal enjoyed her fishbowl of sangria.
We arrived in Granada around 5:30 pm, which kind of sucked, but not nearly as much as navigating the amazingly tight roads the car navigation sent us on to reach the hotel. There were a few minutes when we weren’t sure we could make it. The narrow streets didn’t look like we should be driving on them, but we were going the right way. Thankfully they were all one-way streets because there is no way two cars could fit; I don’t think two mopeds could fit. We parked in the bottom floor of a parking garage in a space so small we were an inch away from the back wall and still stuck out of our spot. After walking around the city a bit, it’s clear there was an easier way to get to the place, but oh well, it makes for a good story.
Granada offers some interesting sites, less than many of the places we have visited, but that doesn’t mean there is a lack of things to do. The city is smaller than Córdoba but has over 60k college students and therefore is lively and vibrant. But it also has an immense history for Spain during both the Muslim and Christian dynasties.
We began the day by touring the Royal Chapel to see the tombs of Ferdinand and Isabel. The chapel was built after a decree by the royal couple to be buried in a chapel built on the side of the already existing great cathedral in Granada. The chapel is small but beautiful inside, with lush and ornate decor, as you would expect for the final resting place of the most significant royal family in the country’s history.
The tombs are so massive and ornately decorated that they defy my descriptive capabilities. They are imposing, spectacular, and awe-inspiring for their artistic wonder and sheer size. Photos are, unfortunately, not allowed so I couldn’t capture their detail, but you can Google pictures of them.
After that, we meandered around the markets and shops of the old town to see if there was anything worth buying, but there wasn’t. We grabbed a quick bite to eat at an overpriced but not bad restaurant on the main square before tackling the great and massive Alhambra. This is the most famous structure, site, etc., in the city. If we hadn’t just come from the Alcazar of Seville, the palaces would’ve been some of the most impressive areas of the trip. The most remarkable thing about the Alhambra is its sheer size. The height above the city and, therefore, the tactical significance of the fortress is clear; it’s imposing.
The gardens are beautiful and need to be explored to admire the variety and detailed pruning of the flowers and shrubs. Everything is perfectly manicured and curated; it’s a level of perfectionism I’ve rarely encountered in a place of this size. The other surprise for the gardens is the use of water. The people who built this facility were absolute master engineers, and how they captured and delivered water throughout the palace was just mind-blowing. It flows everywhere using gravity to great advantage to send water to the flowers, plants, fountains, and structures all over the grounds. I would love to have a guided tour detailing the aspects of this feat because it is awe-inspiring.
The palaces and buildings that occupy the rest of the Alhambra are notable, but we have seen several facilities in the last few days that I think rival or beat what the Alhambra has to offer. Even with that said, you cannot diminish this place’s importance or historical significance.
We spent the evening in entertaining style as we took in a traditional Flamenco performance. There are many options in Granada to see flamenco dance, but many are touristy and maybe a little campy. We chose a small theater, La Alboreá, that had excellent reviews and was not disappointed. The show was outstanding, and the gold star for the night goes to the guitar player, who basically doesn’t get a break for a full hour. He was a master.
That capped off our stay in Granada; next up is the first of many seaside towns on our trip, Valencia!